The Dread Oath: A Different Mystery (by Cholla)

Following up on Helix’s challenge for us to write an article on each of the principles, this piece addresses Principle Five: We honor our oaths to aid and defend our brothers and sisters.

In 2011, the Feri Tradition split. Why that happened will be attributed to as many causes as there are initiates. I have heard people claim that the division is a false one, because we share the same Mystery and Current and we share the same gods. But this is not entirely true. For whatever reasons I hear others give as to why Anderson Faery and Feri split, for me it was that we did not share a crucial mystery. We did not share the Oath as a value across the tradition.

I say this because for me the Oath is a mystery. When we receive the Great Mystery that makes us a Faery witch at initiation, it changes us. It makes us something else. You can see it when you circle with initiates. At some point in the circle, their facial features change. Their eyes become longer; their teeth sharper. They look feral, a word that shares a root with our very name. The Mystery awakens something in us that culture has tried to breed out of us, something precious and terrible.

But the Oath is a mystery of its own, a private mystery that is internal to the initiate. It is a transformation born of submission, the willingness to bend the knee and swear allegiance with powers that are wild beyond imagining, and to the others who have done so before you. It is not surrendering your life force, it is offering it as an act of power, affirming that you are the only being in all the universes who is able to do so.

Doing this transformed me. Where the Mystery that we share made me something else, swearing the Oath made me something more. The Oath bonds the initiate to the tradition and makes that initiate part of something greater than themselves. For those who want to never have to consider others in their actions, or enter into the social contract of a tradition, it is the wrong thing to do. It should never be sworn. But for those who want to be part of something larger, it is the right thing to do, and cannot be omitted.

My Oathmother used to tease me about my initiation. When the time came for me to take my oath, she began the preamble about what I would be swearing to. She asked me if I was willing to swear this Oath. And I just stood there. And stood there. And stood there. She laughed that they were going to grow old there waiting for me to step up and speak. Keep in mind that I had already studied for 7 years in this tradition. Initiation had always been my goal. But in that moment, I still had to think about it. I mean, if you are going to swear to something forever, five minutes might be understandable!

As I heard her speak it, for some reason it occurred to me for the first time, that this was for real. An Oath is a magical act. It would seal my fate forever. The Oath was not a collection of pretty words. It is not a formality. For me, it was offering up all I had and was to the gods I had come to know and adore as my own. It would tie me to a tradition of lore, spirits, and initiates. After I said the words, I would belong to them. They would belong to me. I would never be alone.

My tradition has seen some hard times. Infighting, court trials and issues of sexual exploitation are just a few things that have challenged us. The fighting had grown endless and the lack of accountability was making us hopeless. People had decided to post lore online, were turning Feri into a business, and laughed that none of us could stop them. This was true, we could not. One person had even laughed that my students would be sworn to aid and defend him, but he and his would not have to reciprocate. Which, of course, is not how oaths work.

I will admit that I had a crisis of faith at that point. Was I the only initiate who believed in my Oath? Yet, I knew that something had moved in me, something had happened. I had experienced a mystery. In the end, it did not matter what others thought. In that moment, I understood something that changed how I thought about this forever. The truth came to me as a whisper, and it broke my heart. I realized that this person was not my kin. I was not sworn to him for the very reason that he was not sworn to me. That he and I were different. We were both witches, but we were different kinds of witches. We belonged to different traditions and had a different experience of what it meant to belong to a tradition. When I swore, I had experienced a mystery. I had embraced the part of me that could swear forever and defend with my life. And he had not.

In all the upheaval that happened at this time, it became apparent that I was not alone. There were others who also took their Oath seriously. For all these people, the Oath was a mystery. They too had come away in a sense of wonder, not at some magical happening, but at a realization about themselves. They had found a commitment and ferocity they had not really understood before. That clarity moves something deep inside. You realize in those years you were studying, you had changed. You had become someone you had hoped you would become. You stood there to swear on your own damnation because you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were up to it.

There are lots of people in the Feri tradition who keep their Oaths. The great majority of them are unaligned Feri who wanted nothing to do with this split. There are many still there who I respect deeply, and many whom I still call friends, even in our difference. At the same time, the lack of accountability in the face of very real crisis saddened me. So, when an elder of the craft bid us to secede, we did. We could no longer conscientiously allow what was happening to go on in our name.

If you think it was easy, you are wrong. If you think it was done in a fit of pique, you are also wrong. It was done in sorrow and despair and was something that should have happened much earlier. It was the effort of last resort, and it took courage to leave. The Oath is for forging those bonds that hold a tradition together, and those bonds were absent. Honestly, if folks had not been so open about how little they valued their Oaths, we would likely still be there fighting. For me the split meant that I knew where I stood and who I could count on. I admit that I was surprised both by those who swore, and those who felt that speaking those words were a formality. It felt right to me. It felt like I could finally stop fighting.

If you do not have what is required to swear the Oath and mean it, you will break when things get hard. That is also what the Oath is for. It is for making a witch who cannot break. It is for making us stronger, a blade of the Star Goddess, forged in a star and doused in the great abyss. So, yes, I took five minutes. And then my eyes grew long, and my teeth grew sharper. And I said, “Yes. Yes, I will swear.”

So no, we do not share all the mysteries. We worship the same gods. We have some lore in common, and some lore that is different. Both traditions are home to poets and bards and sorcerers. The more time we are apart, the more we grow into different cycles. We hold the same Current, we keep the same Names, and have known the same Mystery. But in the end, the difference is woven into our skin and flesh. We are not made of the same stuff. This does not make me their enemy, nor does it make me their kin. What it makes these witches is different. And what it makes me is a witch of my word.

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