Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic? (by Helix)

Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic: these are the three adjectives that introduce AndersonFaery.org at the top of every page. All three are commonly used by initiates to describe Anderson Faery witchcraft. What do they mean?

Bardic

Historically, a bard is a traveling poet who composed and recited epic poetry, usually while playing an instrument.  Over time, the term has loosened to include poets in general, with “THE Bard” often referring to William Shakespeare, a word artist of both poetry and prose.

Poetry, song, storytelling, and drama are ways in which a group performs its shared values. Our ancestors both entertained themselves and learned about who they were through group gatherings where stories and songs were shared around a fire. Many of the world’s religions continue these practices of singing and storytelling, though in the West they have become more structured. A visit to nearly any Christian church, for example, includes reading of scripture (much of which is narrative) and singing of hymns; similarly, historical and mythic narratives and traditional songs are key elements of most Jewish holidays.

Poetry and song have always been an important part of Faery Craft. Part of their importance is to retain knowledge of history, myths, and lore, an understanding of which connects Faery witches to the past and ties them together in relationship.  Gwydion Pendderwen, one of the Andersons’ first and most influential initiates, recorded two albums of music that celebrated nature spirituality, folk lifeways, and the Gods. He also penned liturgical pieces for use in private rituals. Faery witches continue to sing Gwydion’s songs and recite his poetry, both to connect with the ancestral traditions that Gwydion felt called to, and to connect with the memory of Gwydion himself.

Gwydion Pendderwyn
Gwydion Pendderwyn

Poetry was also a passion of the Andersons. In 1970, with Gwydion’s logistical support and Cora’s life savings, Victor published Thorns of the Blood Rose, a passionate book of poetry that led many future initiates to seek the Andersons out for teaching. Victor’s poetry celebrates the natural world, the Gods, and sexuality; but like those of Yeats, the great occult poet of the twentieth century, his poems are also densely layered with meaning and can act as keys to occult revelation. Victor’s poetry rewards the patient and careful reader who is willing to read and reread, recite and contemplate again and again.

Victor was adamant that the images in his poems were not intended metaphorically. Poetry is a way of expressing realities that cannot be captured by linear thought and plain speaking; it is a way of gesturing toward mysteries that are beyond our rational understanding, but that we can experience in our bodies as beings of flesh and spirit.

Cora was also a poet. Some of her simple, striking verse is included in her memoir Childhood Memories (now out of print, but a version of the book called Kitchen Witch is still available). When I met Cora near the end of her life, she spoke with great pride of the poetry that she and Victor had written. She clearly considered this creative work to be one of the great achievements of their lives.

Though not every Faery witch need be a poet themselves, Faery witchcraft cannot be worked without poetry. Poetry and song bind us together. Through them, we share our innermost dreams, longings, and desires; we connect to the ancestors and the Gods; and for those with ears to hear, we convey our most precious truths.

Shamanic

A shaman is a healer and spiritworker who is in service to their local community. On behalf of that community, the shaman seeks altered states of consciousness in order to communicate and negotiate with spirits. Shamanic practice may include the use of local plants to heal and work magic, as well as magical practices based on spirit relationships. Although the term “shaman” probably originally came from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia, in Western religious studies it is now used to describe this kind of spiritworking cross-culturally.

Image by David Revoy via Wikimedia Commons. Artwork for the Durian-Project of the Blender Foundation (durian.blender.org).
Image by David Revoy via Wikimedia Commons. Artwork for the Durian-Project of the Blender Foundation (durian.blender.org).

Faery witchcraft is worked in a container of beloved relationship. This includes relationship with one’s human community, but even more importantly, it includes the local plants, animals, streams, and hills in all their aspects (physical and spiritual), as well as the Gods who manifest through the land and through our flesh.

Third Road founder Francesca De Grandis wrote, “A healthy priest makes all things sound.” Faery witches seek harmonious relationship with the land and people where they live. We seek to be whole and balanced in ourselves so that our positive influence ripples outward through all we touch. At times, of course, seeking harmony may require conflict, as we are called to defend human or other-than-human beings in our community who are in danger. A witch’s action to restore harmony may take place in the human realm, in the newspapers in the courts; or it may take place in privacy, through magical intervention or one-on-one negotiation with humans or spirits. In any case, right relationship is the source of a witch’s power. A witch’s work involves constantly strengthening ties and setting boundaries—but our responsibilities are not just to the human community.

Serving in a shamanic role is not easy. The conflicting needs of humans and other-than-human beings can lead to difficult decisions, and as a result the witch may not always be appreciated or loved by other humans. When we serve as mediators between humans and spirits, between the wild world and what we speak of as “civilization,” we put ourselves outside of ordinary human society, and we may suffer for it—if not through persecution, then through being treated as an outsider or a fool. To serve as a shaman means having knowledge that others do not, and this state can be uncomfortable and isolating.  It is not a glamorous role, though the moments of beauty and connection it brings may be worth the pain.

Like the rest of our society, twenty-first-century Faery witches struggle with environmental damage and community erosion caused by the ways we have chosen to use technology. Some of us were lucky enough to be raised with a spiritual awareness of the land where we live; others, having grown up disconnected and rootless, must work hard to form the relationships that make a powerful witch. But without being integrated into a community of all types of beings—without, in other words, taking on a shamanic role—a Faery witch’s work is not complete.

Ecstatic

Ecstasy is a rapturous state of altered consciousness where the usual boundaries of the self are left behind. The original Greek term, ekstasis, translates as something like “standing outside oneself.” Ecstasy is a sensual, embodied, fleshly state; it is not one where we transcend the body. However, it is transcendent because in this state, our awareness of our individuality and our boundedness from other beings falls away. We transcend our everyday selves and experience communion: with other Selves, with the Gods, with God Herself.

Allowing ourselves to experience ecstasy can be a difficult and even frightening process. In order to freely let go of one’s ordinary everyday self, one must be comfortable with that self and know it well. Our society, however, often does not support individuals in forming a healthy, stable self. Mainstream society is full of casual boundary violations, especially of the bodies and selves of marginalized people, as well as complicated social expectations that may encourage inauthenticity or even be actively exploitative and damaging. If a person is struggling to build good boundaries and experience healthy relationships with other human beings, it is natural that they may cling to whatever sense of identity they have already built—in fact, it is probably healthy to do so!

Ecstatic experience loosens and breaks down individual identity. It may change small elements of our personalities, like preferred hobbies or tastes; or it may leave us questioning elements we thought were foundational and defining, like sexual orientation or professional calling. Ecstasy can be a joy so big it bursts the heart open, leaving pieces that no longer seem to fit neatly together. It offers us freedom, but at the cost of structure we may have come to depend on.

Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cave painting, dance scene. Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cave painting, dance scene.
Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Ecstasy is life force itself. If we are willing to let it flow through us undammed and be changed by the flood, our ability to contain that force expands. We become more powerful witches—but “power” rarely looks like what we imagine beforehand. There is no predicting where ecstasy will take you, or how it will leave you when its surging waters recede from the banks. Those who stay out of the way of the flood—either out of fear, or because they genuinely love themselves the way they are—are not unwise. But for Faery witches, there is no life without ecstasy. We embrace its risk, and its freedom.

Bardic. Shamanic. Ecstatic.

Faery.

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