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Feri Tradition

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So, just what is the Feri Tradition?

Niklas Gander

July 25, 2010


See also: Faery Tradition, Anderson Faery Tradition


It has seemed to some of us that the Feri Tradition of witchcraft has received much press during the last two decades, but not necessarily accurate press, at least from the perspective of students of the tradition.  These accounts have been complicated by descriptions by the many offshoot traditions claiming roots in Feri, such as Reclaiming and The Third RoadÔ.  I hope to give some of my own experience as an initiate of this tradition in this article, while trying to steer clear of too much historical or biographical description – providing only as much of it as is necessary to understand the origins and the flavor of the Feri Current.


Victor Anderson, the late Grand Master of our Order of Witchcraft, was the most potent vehicle in the dissemination of the Feri Tradition in the twentieth century.  Most accounts of our tradition begin with events from his biography.  But, in keeping with Victor’s own narrative of the origins of our Order, I will go back to the mythic history that he invariably appealed to.  Firstly, Victor was not terribly sectarian when speaking of the Craft.  To him, Feri was the origin of all magic, and its ultimate repository.  Thus, many Feries tend to be quite open with other Witches, that is, if they display the requisite traits whereby we recognize our own.


Victor used to say that our Tradition originated in Africa.  Some of the more literal-minded of his listeners balked at that, claiming that we had no written proof of its existence prior to Victor’s first writings in the early twentieth century.  I have since interpreted his account as a poem or a myth, so that I understand him to say that as long as there have been humans, there have been Our Kind.  Witches have existed in all places and in all times, back to our beginnings as a discrete species.  In this, Victor was quite correct to say that Feri went back to the oldest species of man.  By making this claim, he not only made his stand against racism in finding our origins on the African continent, but he also facilitated a view within Feri that allowed it to be a more agglomerative tradition, able to absorb from many and diverse magical traditions.  Lest one think that this makes it “eclectic,” I caution the reader to await making that evaluation until I have discussed it further.


Victor was enamored of mystery, and so if speaking of the British origins of our tradition (of which there is much evidence), he spoke of the small, dark Attacotti, the small Pictish tribe that preceded the arrival of the Celts in the lands of Albion, Eire, Cymru and Caledonia.  In fact, the only real inheritance we have from these mysterious tribes are their peculiar style of petroglyphs.  Some Feries have spent great time and energy researching these and other subtle traces of their energy.  Victor was also not exclusive, making it clear that the little people were in all times and all places.  The Menehune in Hawai’i, the Tomtar or Nissar in Scandinavia, the Picti in Albion, the Pygmy of Africa, are all remnants of the reality of this lore.  The recently discovered remains of a diminutive race, endearingly dubbed “Hobbits” on the island of Flores in the Pacific might lend some weight to other stories of literally small people as co-inhabitants of our world. Victor himself was a man of diminutive build, and claimed ancestry from the Attacotti.  It was obvious to all who met him that his blood-line was quite mixed. His name was Scottish, but he loved his Mexican mariachi music!


The members of the Harpy Coven, the coven into which Victor was welcomed in 1932, were primarily from the Southern United States, from the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.  The tale as we were told it was that the Harpies represented a diverse group who sought to escape the Great Dust Bowl of the 1920s.  They all found similar kin when they arrived in Ashland, Oregon in the early twentieth century.  Victor used to say that it was a small town, and the folk who covened together in Harpy passed as Christians among their neighbors and in their community.  It was quite possible that they were regular church-goers on Sundays, while on certain strange nights, they might assemble to celebrate the Old Rites to venerate the Old Ones and to work their magic.  While the names of the members of Harpy Coven were passed to some among us, we were enjoined by Victor never to reveal their names, since their descendents continue to enjoy good reputation in the towns they inhabit.


Victor himself was born on May 21st, 1917 in Semini, New Mexico, on the Buffalo Horn Ranch.  At an early age, he sustained a head injury leaving him with severely damaged eyesight, a fact that would later prove to endow him with another kind of Sight.  His great-grandmother on his mother's side was one of the “blue people” found in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia, the result of an hereditary condition. These blue-skinned folk have a reputation for the uncanny, as did Victor.  Victor used to say “I have some strange relations!”


Victor moved from New Mexico to Oregon while still a young boy, and he used to say that he had studied with what he called Druids from Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee for a lengthy period of fourteen years.  When he was finally welcomed into the Harpy Coven, he remained with them until about the age of twenty-six, which would have been in the year 1943.


He was a talented musician, and played the accordion for dances at local Elks’ Lodge meetings.  This was one way he contributed to the financial maintenance of the household, once he was married and with a family.


He used to say that he had met Cora “on the Astral” in Bend, Oregon, and they were married three days later.  I really have no doubt of this, as after their brief courtship, they were thoroughly devoted to each other for the rest of his life.  Cora also had roots in the Southern root-doctor or cunning tradition. Cora came from a Druid family in northern Alabama, but they were all members of the Baptist Church.  She would narrate that all of her family ringed their graves in stone, with a stone “T” at the head of the grave, this being a remnant of their Druid ancestry.  Her grandfather was an herb doctor and a “Druid.” Victor and Cora’s union would produce a great deal in terms of a magical partnership.  Cora’s way was primarily in the kitchen, as she would imbue her food preparations with the magic she meant to impart.


As far as Victor’s history in the Tradition, we can say that there were two distinct initiatory experiences by which he became our beloved Grand Master.  The first was a solitary experience, when he was initiated into certain mysteries as well as certain herb lore.  This tale can be read in Margot Adler’s wonderful volume Drawing Down the Moon.  By all accounts, this happened in 1926, when he was a mere boy of 9.[1]  One can imagine that a young boy, just beginning to feel the first pulses of puberty, might be ripe for such an experience. We have no name of his initiator, only the narrative of the experience which is beautifully relayed by Victor in Margot’s book.  Victor was recognized and brought into the Harpy Coven in Ashland, Oregon in 1932, when he was fifteen years old, which is conceivable as at that age, he would have been sexually mature and able to participate in the rites as a mature male. 


It is clear that the members of Harpy had recognized the experience he had previously undergone, and initiated him into their number as he had undergone an experience that made him well suited to their company.  There were stories he told about their coven meetings, and the special role he played in them as the youngest member, but these are not the type of thing we would discuss with those not of our number.  What he did mention was that the Sabbats were celebrated much like a church supper, with a potluck with music and dancing.  Most of the more subtle magical work was carried out in individuals’ kitchens by just a few of the members at a time.


His 11 years with Harpy, from the age of fifteen to the age of twenty-six, would impress upon him the working style that he would continue to teach and work in throughout his life.  His own workings were decidedly not ceremonial, nor flavored by the typical Gardnerian style of working that would become much more available during the 1970s in the US, and has become a hallmark of modern neo-pagan Wicca.  A ritual was just as probable at the kitchen table as it was in his special room where he kept his power objects.  Circles were not a requirement, though later it became a shared technology that allowed many of us to share ritual space together.


The Craft that Victor taught and practiced himself was primarily bardic and shamanic in flavor, well suited to an individual’s personal experience of the power of the Divine, rather than a belief structure to contain and perhaps delimit it.  For this reason, many Feries remain solitary in their working of the tradition, and actual working covens are relatively rare in the community.  This is also the reason that our magics often find their most potent expressions in poetry, or as Victor called them, “love letters to God Herself.”


Victor was a voracious reader, and consumed Gardner’s publications nearly as soon as they found their way to the US.  After reading one in the mid 1950s, he said that if Gardner was being so open about the Craft, perhaps it was also time for him to take on apprentices.  Not long after, a playmate of his son’s, Gwydion Pendderwen, himself a bard of considerable skill, would be initiated and take his place among the number of the most influential of Victor and Cora’s initiates.


It is possible to attempt a litany of initiates at this point, since the Feri Tradition has morphed through each initiate it has touched, and as a result looks cosmetically a bit different from person to person, from group to group.  This was the beauty of Victor’s teaching method, believing as he did in both the autonomy and the empowerment of each individual that came into contact with this current.  It remains, however, that there were some items that remained constant in his teachings, and I will try to enumerate some of them here.


Firstly, the dispensability of the circle.  Victor never required that a circle be cast in order to perform potent magics.  When working in coven, it was clear that a delineation of space was useful in focusing the group’s will, but the power of the incantation was paramount.  His poetic output through the years exhibits an attention to magical themes, and to meter and rhyme that would rival Shakespeare.  Actually, much of the Feri liturgy emerges from Victor’s poetic oevre, from the circle casting to the calling of our Guardian Spirits at the six directions.  Subsequent generations of initiates have been similarly tickled by the muse to produce musical settings, and additional elements of poetic magic.


Our group meetings might look a great deal like a Wiccan coven’s, though the informing principles are quite different.  For example, exorcisms are dispensed with in favor of a recognition of the inherent purity and power of the natural elements.  Clitoro-Phallic God Herself is honored as the giver of life to the universe, and the Mother of all the Gods who walk the Starry Way.  A physical polarization of deity is dismissed as an oversimplification of the variety of the manifestations of the Divine. For this reason, gay men and lesbians often feel more comfortable in Feri than in traditions that focus on a heterosexual spiritual model. We honor what might be called a Pantheon of Gods and Spirits that are unique to our Tradition.


Most of us consider the Rede and the so-called Law of Threefold Return irrelevant in Feri, seeing them as remnants of magical teachings that have been corrupted over time.  Another point of difference is that Feri has only one initiation, and is not divided up into a degree structure as so many Wiccan traditions have done.  This often means that initiation only happens after a lengthy period of training with a teacher, since after initiation, the initiate is technically able and authorized to go out and begin the training of another apprentice.  Having only one rite of entry into the tradition, Feries tend to eschew hierarchical structures in working groups, and the office of High Priest or Priestess tends to rotate on a regular basis, if recognized at all.


What we do is not merely a reaction to what has been published in Wiccan texts however.  In fact, we are quite seldom concerned at all with what Wiccans do.  Rather, our magic springs from a place of inner balance, peace and order, what we call “kala.”  Kala is a term that comes into our tradition from a Hawai’ian word that is quite difficult to translate.  The term in Hawai’ian can mean “forgiven,” “magically potent,” “clear,” or “made right.”  All magical acts must proceed from this state, or the magic is warped.  It never reaches its truest expression.  Cora Anderson has often said that when one is kala, one can ask anything of the Gods and it will happen.  Our experience is that this is very true.  Thus, we have created certain exercises in order to cultivate this state of purity, of forgiveness.  Our tradition seeks to explore and perpetuate creative approaches to attaining this state.


We gather energy with our breath.  In the same way that to “animate” is to imbue with life, and anima is both soul and breath, we seek to increase our own life force by means of disciplined breathing coupled with concentration.  Inspire originally meant to breathe in. We use many words for the power generated from the breath, from “mana,” “pneuma,” “anima,” “máttr ok megin,” to any number of terms in different languages. In this, we look back to Victor’s teaching that Feri is the birthplace of all magic, and its ultimate repository.  We breathe a requisite number of times to charge our bodies, and we release that energy to do its work.  Of course, we also have very lovely spell texts, that can serve to focus that energy even more.


We have a concept of the tripartite nature of the Divine, and also of the Human Soul.  There is that part of us that is concerned with survival, and is attracted to display like the candles and incense of ritual. Then there is that part of us that interacts with others, and defines our “Self” in terms of social status and communicative efforts and is characterized by a certain charisma. Finally there is that part of us that is Divine, and that participates with the Gods as an equal on their level.  Each of these has names in our tradition, some coming from different languages and cultures.  We understand these names amongst ourselves, even when we might use others in our own workings.


We have Gods and Spirits we work with in Feri, and they may or may not be the same as some of the daughter offshoot traditions that claim Feri as Mother.  We have very specific Guardian Spirits that we call from the four directions as well as from above and below.  They have unique qualities, and we call them in very specific ways.  This is different from Reclaiming’s call to “Elements,” or other eclectic practices.  We also have specific deities, Divinities, that we establish relationships with during our apprenticeships.  A simple web-search will probably reveal something about Their identities, though a personal introduction might be a kindness before attempting to reach them in ritual.


We have techniques of balancing ourselves prior to working magic, so that we will be fully focused on the work that we undertake.  Some of these have been popularized by Reclaiming, as the Pentacles of Iron and of Pearl.  Reclaiming has done a great job in popularizing these tools for the benefit of a wider public.  One can usually tell the source of the specific technique by the small variations one finds in the specifics it contains.


There are many other Feri-specific teachings that we pass to our apprentices, but one thing is not perhaps such common knowledge: that is just how special we know these teachings and relationships to be.  Feri is, above all else, a relationship with the Divine, and our own divine nature.  One isn’t initiated into this Family blithely.  It is often said that sometimes there are Feri casualties, where initiations have gone horribly wrong, and the candidate does not re-emerge unscathed.  As has been said, one returns from the realm of the Fae either dead, mad or a poet.  I myself have known some of these casualties, and I know the terrible power that was channeled through Victor to many of us.  Feri is not necessarily safe.  In this, it most definitely is not Wicca. 


And finally, what is it about the name?  Well, Victor and Cora have both told me that in the early days, what we did was called simply “Witchcraft,” or “The Craft.”  That was enough, and would be enough for one of us to recognize our own.  As various teachings of Witchcraft entered the US during the 1960s and 1970s, many of which were quite different in method and philosophy from the Craft that Victor and Cora had inherited from the Harpies, it was decided between Gwydion and Victor that in communication with initiates of other traditions that we would call what we did the “Faery Tradition” (spellings varied according to the notions of the speller). 


In the mid to late 1980's, several books were published by UK authors that dealt with reviving ancestral traditions which included working with the faery realm and spirits of the land. As interest grew in these topics, several US authors penned works dealing with what they called “faery wicca” or other such titles.


By then, however, the connection between Faery and Victor Anderson was pretty well established in the Craft community that knew them. Victor changed the spelling to “Feri” to differentiate his teachings of Witchcraft from these other published works.  It still

has roughly the same meaning, though with enhanced associations that many of this generation of Feries find satisfying.


Feri is immanently practical, both as a path of Gnosis as well as a method of changing one’s circumstances.  It is a way to experience the Divine here and now, and live to tell about it.  It is our Faith and our Art, and we guard it with all our strength.  It is also malleable, and can change its outward forms, just as a lump of clay can be molded with varying skill by a potter into any shape while still using the same gross materials.


Having said what Feri is, perhaps it might do well to write a bit about what Feri is not.  Firstly, Feri is not obtained by reading books or websites.  Yes, much of our mythos can be gleaned by a good bit of research, but Feri is primarily about personal connection, and that connection cannot be created in a vacuum.  Feri has always been taught and received in an apprenticeship.  Repeat:  you cannot get Feri out of a book or off the web.  Initiation can only be passed from one human being to another.  Any other use of “Feri” as a reference to a Tradition is mistaken.


Among our membership, there have been debates about whether this means that ultimately, teaching over email is misleading.  Some of us have tried and succeeded, others of us have tried and failed.  It is for each initiate to find their own comfort level in this sort of thing, and while I have my own strongly held convictions in this matter, Feries I know and trust have come to different convictions, and we celebrate our diversity on this count.


Another issue that frequently makes an appearance in a discussion of Feri training is the charging of money for instruction.  It is a well-held premise that in Wicca, since it is primarily a religion, no money changes hands in its instruction or for its initiations.  People naturally compare Wicca and Feri Witchcraft, even though they are not at all the same thing.  To answer this, I can refer to what Victor himself said on the subject:  “Although it is wrong to charge for classes leading to initiation, there is no proscription about receiving gifts given freely from the heart, a true sacrifice.  If one is training someone for initiation, and they also want to take classes for which you are charging, that is okay, as long as you do not make the classes mandatory for initiation.” (VHA, 4/25/1995).  He also said that teaching classes in various techniques such as Tarot-reading or psychic development, just as a teacher in a college might teach anthropology, was certainly something one could charge for.  But when you have accepted someone as a suitable apprentice, then you are preparing them to become a part of your family, and you wouldn’t charge a family member for teaching them the family trade.  It is true, however, that both the Reclaiming and Third RoadÔ systems charge for classes that can and often do result in initiatory experiences, but I am unprepared to discuss this as it relates to the Feri Tradition proper.


Another matter is that with so much autonomy in the practice of our ways, just where is the limit beyond which the student or apprentice or initiate is no longer practicing what it is we understand by our Tradition?  This will, of course, vary from one initiate to the next, but through the decades of the twentieth century, certain core teachings have remained part and parcel of the Tradition, and one would delete any of these to the peril of any of one’s own apprentices.  This has happened a number of times in the Tradition.  One of the more public instances of this is with the formation of the Reclaiming Collective.  Starhawk was and is a duly initiated Feri initiate of Victor’s himself.  But what she attempted to do in the early years of the Collective was vastly different than what she had received from him.  This is why many Reclaiming practitioners say that Reclaiming is “Feri-derived” but is not Feri itself.  Another public example is Francesca DeGrandis’s The Third RoadÔ School of Faery Shamanism. 


Each of these owes a significant debt to the teachings of Victor and Cora Anderson, and yet have veered away from the core teachings of the Tradition.  This is not to say that they each have no value, and I am a great fan of some of the new techniques developed in each of these new communities of practice.  But if someone hopes to understand Feri as a modern reflex of the Old Magic of the root doctors and cunning folk who helped shape it in its current form, it may be best to go back to the source and study with an initiate who actually teaches the Tradition.


It also should be said that Victor felt that anyone with devotion could work our rites and approach the Gods and Spirits of the tradition.  In that, we have very little that might be considered “oathbound.” However, working or studying Feri is quite different from taking the initiatory “plunge,” and only a Feri initiate can “make” another Feri initiate.


So, Feri Tradition Witchcraft is certainly not Wicca, having no overt or covert ties with the New Forest Tradition that spawned Wicca in the twentieth century.  It is simple Witchcraft.  It draws on certain spirits and powers that change the individual, either empowering them or driving them mad.  It is not, as we have now seen, a recent construction, though Victor was its primary spokesperson in the Western US State of California during the latter half of that century.  Though he did introduce a fair number of innovations to what he was himself taught by a coven of Dust Bowl refugees in Ashland Oregon in the 1920s, it remains a cohesive system or set of teachings that brings about change in the individual, in the world and in all worlds with which we connect.


Feri is a magical force to be reckoned with.



[1] Some of us received the year of 1929, which would have made him 12 years of age.  With his death in 2001, we have lost the ability to check things like this.



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