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Everything You Know is Wrong:
a personal vision of the Craft

by valerie walker
©2008

A personal vision of the Craft: Over the last thirty years, whenever I have spoken about "the Craft," I have frequently used the term as a shorthand description of Witchcraft in general. More recently, however, I have come to think of it specifically in reference to the Faery/Feri Tradition. This is due to the influence of Cora Anderson, widow of its founder, Victor Anderson, and retired Grandmaster. I was Cora's weekend caregiver for five of the nine years she has been disabled physically by a stroke, and have found her to be not only a delightful person, but also a mine of information about the Tradition. She has been the primary influence on me in both writing about Feri, and in my progress in the Craft.

There are those who think of Feri primarily as a faith or an art; but Feri to me is a tool-kit for dealing with paradox... and I am doing my best to deal with the paradoxes that come with the tool-kit. It is not easy to express much of what I have learned, because most of the secrets of Feri are secrets in that they are inexpressible. However, there are enough pieces of lore that can be passed on in words and pictures that I do not simply shrug and give up trying to pass them on to the interested student or inquirer. I think that honest questions deserve answers, as much as it is within my ability to give them. And, as Serge Kahili King said, "Knowledge held secret is about as useful as money under a miser's mattress."

What do Feris believe? is often the first question I hear, and the answer is not at all simple. We human beings get too hung up in our metaphors, forgetting that the map is not the territory. Reality and belief also have their own gradations:

-- Ultimate reality: unknowable. You just have to trust that things are. This is the area of Mystery. I don't talk much about this, because it's really not a subject that the English language is constructed to talk about.

-- Memetic/consensus reality: there are memes which have become very powerful over time and with increased numbers of believers, so that they have assumed an almost physical reality (this level of reality is where I see the gods living; Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods takes this view and expresses it very well).

-- Physical reality: If I bang my head into the wall, I will get a headache and establish that the wall exists. However, for a quantum physicist that wall is made up of teeny little packets of something which may or may not be there, so in theory it might be possible to walk through the wall. Perhaps physical reality is also faith-based.

-- Personal reality: my own particular mishmash of beliefs in memes, things, objects, states of being, and so on. I can't communicate it to anyone else except through metaphor. And I can never be quite sure that they are getting it in the same way I get it. As Buddha said in the Shurangama Sutra, "a person pointing his finger at the moon... should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also."

This is where we all run into trouble, because it's so easy to forget that personal reality is not necessarily physical reality is not necessarily memetic reality, even though all are subsumed under ultimate reality. It's all true. It's all lies. It's all sacred. It's all bullshit. It's all based on where you stand. "Your doubt is your faith if necessary in your particular case perhaps," as the Morgan Tarot puts it.

And since it's all based on where you stand, you can take that hypothetical wall of physical reality and paint it, decorate it, knock it down, find windows and doors in it, sit in its shade, jump over it, tunnel under it, go around it, walk along the top of it if your balance is good and you happen to be headed in that direction... or even walk right through it. So. Here's my take on the core Feri beliefs.

What is the Feri Tradition? In the (nonexistent until some fortunate future date) Encyclopedia of Paganism, my entry for Feri would read something like this:

Feri (also spelled Faery, and occasionally Fairy) is a non-Gardnerian tradition of Witchcraft which derives some of its tone and teachings from such widely-scattered origins as Hawaiian Huna, Haitian Voudon, Qabala, and British Traditional Witchcraft, among others; there are also some apparent Thelemic influences as well. Victor Anderson (1917-2001) is credited with being the main advocate of a Feri approach, but he apparently did not admit to being the creator of the tradition, but rather the transmitter of knowledge that he'd received himself.

Victor was an autodidact, a shaman and a charismatic teacher whose influence is still felt. His private library contains many books on occult subjects by authors ranging from Max Freedom Long to R. J. Stewart, Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, and Robert Graves (just to name a few), with several of whom he corresponded, and whose influence can be seen in his teachings. In an open letter that he wrote to Llewellyn publishers over 10 years ago, Victor Anderson stated [his spellings and punctuation are retained]:

August 21, 1991...
I don't consider myself the founder of the "fairy" tradition, but I am a Grand Master and a fairy chief. I am the founder of the chapter of my faith on the West Coast of the United States.... I was initiated in 1926... by a priestess from Africa.... The worship of the Goddess was the very heart of our religion and magic....

I am a Kahuna. This is a fact of my racial heritage, personal experience and training. The word Kahuna means "the secret," and is the same in the fairy tradition and the Polynesian religion and magic. Although we were willing to learn new things, we already had a definite and coherent body of knowledge and tradition of our own.

So we were not mainly eclectic. The fairy tradition has much in common with Voudon and Santeria.

.... Ashe....


"Some people have been driven mad by this": Years ago, I went to Death Valley as part of a group vision quest, during which the members of the group each went off by themselves for three days and three nights alone in the desert, fasting. I was warned during the many preliminary meetings that many people found this experience highly traumatic.

But when I got out there, I had several significant dreams, collected a lot of rocks, wrote in my journal, chanted, made prayer-sticks, and had a good time making a stone circle (which may yet be out there) and watching the stars all night. It was fun. Just like doing the daily practice is fun. Just like casting a circle and doing magick and hanging out with the gods is fun.

Was there something wrong with me? Shouldn't I have been more scared? Or is it rather that there are more than one, or two, or a dozen ways of being with oneself and ones' gods? That it's different for each person?

Similarly, many people over the years have told me that there is something in the unique "current" passed during Feri initiation which can drive the initiate mad, that it's dark and dangerous, and "not for everyone."

Victor Anderson expressed the opinion that Feri initiation was something which would alter the initiate's DNA, both figuratively and literally, in order to make him akin to the little dark people who were the original Fae. A Feri friend told me: "I remember hearing that years ago. I don't know if I believe it or not, but I can tell you what I do believe: Victor rewired your brain!!!"

Now, THAT I can believe. Victor was a shaman, a trickster, and an extremely opinionated man. It's probably just as well that I never met him, because I feel sure that we would have butted heads a lot. But I have been a close associate of his widow Cora for several years, and have asked her many, many questions about Feri, Faery, and "the Craft." And I feel that if the Feri Tradition of Witchcraft is to be more than simply a cult around the memory of one man, it should be made clear that we each rewire our brains as we go along (with a little help from our friends, of course). Mine is completely different than it was even ten years ago, and not all of that is due to the Feri Tradition. As a matter of fact, I would say that finding different ways in which to rewire my brain is a continuing hobby with me.

"Everything you know is wrong...": When I was eighteen and in my first year of college, I came across a book called The White Goddess, by Robert Graves. I was instantly captured by the idea that everything I had ever been taught about history and religion was false, and that there had been goddess-worshiping religions long before the Greek Olympians. With a mounting sense of having been betrayed in some vital way, I paged quickly through the book, and when I had finished it, began it again....

Segue (imagine, if you will, the movie cliche of the calendar flipping and losing pages like leaves in the wind...appropriate, if over-used) to my late thirties. I had gone through three marriages and three divorces, with three children to show for it. It had not been very many years since I had left Chicago for San Francisco. The last shreds of the hippie movement were still floating in the air; the ambiance was moving from the Summer of Love to Tales of the City, but there were still plenty of free or cheap things to do before the seventies really took hold. In an issue of a free newspaper I found an announcement of a class on "The White Goddess," taught by someone called Starhawk. "Oh, Graves, cool, gotta take that class," I said, and sallied off to Cole Valley. Little did I know that the class was really Wicca 101, and that it would change my life...again.

I took the class; I went to the coven meetings; I got initiated; the coven broke up, as covens do; I became a teacher of Witchcraft; I became a Faery initiate without quite realizing that that was what I had become. I initiated others, both into Witchcraft and into Feri. And then I was initiated into Feri again, in a completely different style. Finally, I became a teacher of Feri. A long strange trip, indeed...

But back to going crazy: Having been initiated once into the Craft and twice specifically into Faery/Feri, I am in the unique position of being able to compare and contrast the nature of the "current" as expressed in different styles of initiation used by at least two different lineages of Feri. My first, Wiccan, initiation was performed by the whole first generation of Compost Coven. Plenty of energy was passed to me, but I didn't feel that it was "dangerous" at all. This was a peak experience for me, but I never for one moment felt threatened.

My second, Feri (Faery, as it was spelled then), initiation was with my high priestess alone, and while the energy passed was intense, I again didn't feel threatened in any way by it. Years later, my second Feri initiation was just as energy-filled, and certainly gave me a great rush which put me in an exalted space for several days. But despite one of my initiators' warning beforehand that "some people have been driven mad by this," I felt just fine, and was able to bathe and bask in the energies evoked. I have felt doubts about specific pieces of lore and beliefs that have been passed to me since then, but none whatsoever about the current of energy. In fact, either I'm very much at home in it or I didn't get it at all, because I really don't know why anyone would be driven mad.

I must say this, however: it did change my life, yet again. I made decisions and started projects which I might not have done without the boot in the rear which this jolt of Feri current gave me. And I can see where someone who has a lot of unresolved issues and other baggage can be jolted into divorcing, changing cities, job loss, physical illness, and other seemingly unrelated life changes which have been brought about by the new energies running around in her psyche. From the outside, this may look as if the person has gone mad; but there is a difference between a deep reconstruction of one's life (no matter how inconvenient it might be to one's nearest and dearest), and insanity. Perhaps it didn't drive me crazy because I tended to change my life radically every so often anyway, and radical change was familiar enough that it didn't faze me... much. So, no, we are not crazy. Initiation is intended to be a milestone, not a millstone. As Cora says, initiation is like getting married to the gods--there's no taking it back. Once a Feri initiate, always a Feri.

It's my considered opinion that when we all mature and get serious about Feri, that it will only serve to illuminate whatever our personal core beliefs have been during our lifetimes. And this illumination will help us shed those things which are neither useful nor beautiful, and keep those things that are.

Oathbound material: Remarkably little is actually oathbound material, according to Cora Anderson, Victor's earliest initiate: the Names of the Feri deities and Guardians, and the inexpressible current of energy which is passed from teacher to student at initiation. However, as Victor's initiates initiated others, and these others initiated still others, the practices, lore, theology, and viewpoints of the various branches departed farther and farther from Victor's original teachings, although his pronouncements were still taken very seriously. (And, of course, as Victor's own way of thinking evolved, it changed somewhat -- although not in the essentials.)

As in other religious groups, the interpretations and reinterpretations of the founder's statements became more and more baroque, giving rise to a veritable Midrash of often-conflicting views. Adding to this trend was the habit of most initiators to regard the proprietary lore of their particular line as "oathbound material," i.e., not to be passed to anyone except initiates into that particular line of initiation descended from Victor Anderson. And since the lines talked to each other less and less as the years passed, the result was a tendency in recent years to regard more and more information as oathbound. Ironically, some material which was originally quite secret, such as the Iron Pentacle, is now widely disseminated.

Naturally, in such a secretive, brilliant, cranky group of people, the revealing of information was looked on as a supreme evil, even in cases where this information had been spread all over the Internet for years. The politics of Feri is much like the politics of any occult group; one has only to look at the squabbles among Aleister Crowley and his fellow-Thelemics to get a sense of the intensity of the fireworks which greeted the appearance of every piece of writing from an acknowledged Feri.

What I am trying to do in Feri: I have been attempting to take the incredibly baroque version of ritual and lore given to me by my second Feri initiators and others, and simplify it, while still keeping the flavor, the important things, and not denying the truths that I have painstakingly garnered in the years since my first Faery initiation. I think it's possible, like reducing a sauce in cooking -- you don't have to add a lot of ingredients, but you have to cook it slowly and with care and patient attention for a long time. And given that time and care, there's a transformation of what may have been simple ingredients into something wonderful. It's like inner alchemy, or any of the really important bits from the Western magickal tradition. You don't need to keep adding and adding. And that's the mistake I think people have been making with it. Cora Anderson has told me repeatedly that "it's really simple."

The reader should understand that my version of Feri is not quite like anyone else's... which makes me just like every other Feri. We are all cranky, highly individual, fiercely devoted to our own personal vision; the difference is merely that I don't claim to have all the truth, and have never stopped asking embarrassing questions at "inappropriate" moments.