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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Among the core principles agreed to by the Anderson Faery initiates represented on this site is this statement:
We prefer to teach individually or in small groups. In all our teaching, direct personal contact between teacher and student is essential.
Witches are above all things practical. My preference for the apprentice method of teaching comes primarily from practical considerations.
In giving my views about this point, I need to underline at the outset that what follows very much reflects my personal experience and the guidelines I follow in my own work. Although we in this group have agreed to stand by these principles, each of us has different ideas about how to teach. Some of the differences are subtle, and others are dramatically different.
Both the apprentice method and the coven model are rooted in strong mythic, archetypal patterns that recur in many streams of magical teaching. For apprenticeship, one of the most familiar examples is the story cycle of Myrddin instructing the young Arthur. Images of the coven seem to echo the somewhat more mysterious circle of the Nine Maidens. (The Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Scottish play may have their origin in the legends of the Sacred Nine.) Madeleine L’Engle played with this latter archetype in her book A Wrinkle in Time and the ways in which the Three interacted with Meg on her journey. In some of the legendry around Myrddin (or Merlin)’s instruction of the boy Arthur, the child experiences shapeshifting into different animal forms. According to some, these experiences represent in symbolic form an apprentice’s journey through different phases–or processes–of Initiation and deepening realization. (A recent exploration of the apprenticeship archetype was offered in episode 3, “The Nightcomers,” of the second season of the series Penny Dreadful, featuring Patti Lupone’s brilliant performance as the Cut Wife.)
Teaching Faery brings with it many challenges. Even in the world of initiatory systems, it must be acknowledged that Faery—Wild Faery, as a dear Sister of the Art has called it—is in its own category. After many years of study, practice, and teaching, I have had to conclude that the Faery current truly has a mind of its own. I have known a number of cases where those who have not gone through the Initiation, or even had any formal training, have been touched with the Faery Gnosis. Some have even manifested the Faery Power. You are truly riding a bucking bronco if this happens to you. But some find great joy, beauty, and clarity in the Mystery of this untrammeled wave.
Each Teacher has to ask hirself the question: what are my goals in taking on the task of teaching an individual the Craft? Another of the shared Principles is that teaching is always with a view toward initiation, although there is no guarantee that every student will be initiated. Many of us say that we will only consider teaching a person who “smells like Faery” or “feels like kin.” In other words, the evaluation process involved in taking on a student is visceral, gut level, heavily involving the Fetch and thus, intensely physical. Witchcraft itself is an intensely physical Art, deeply rooted in the Body and hir Mysteries. So, we take on the teaching with the idea that the goal is Initiation. I would add that there are further goals I look towards beyond the point of Initiation–but this is ultimately a separate topic.
For a student to come through the long, difficult, painstaking journey to stand before the Gate requires shepherding through several phases. In the legends about Myrddin and Arthur, the wizard’s magic catalyzes the child’s experience of taking wing into the element of Air as an eagle. He dives into the Waters of a mighty river as a fish. He roams through the Earthy realm of the Forest as a young buck. And he may even have danced in the mystic Fires as a dazzling salamander.
On a less mythic level, a teacher needs to listen, observe, question, moderate, challenge, push, nurture, and remonstrate with the student at various moments. In some cases their lives will become deeply intertwined; in nearly every instance, there will be spaces, sometimes lengthy ones, where the teacher leaves the student to get on with things and make hir own way with the work in hand.
(My own late Teacher almost invariably spoke of himself as a tour guide. He liked to remind us that the map is not the terrain. And Faery is not “information.”)
Willow Moon provides a nuanced appraisal of the work shared by a teacher and apprentice in his beautiful 2003 essay, “Is Feri an eclectic system or a Tradition?” (originally published in Witch Eye issue 8). Willow thoughtfully observes:
A personal communication or instruction on an ordinary subject would be conveyed by much more than words. There are facial expressions, tones of voice, cadence, gestures, designs, postures, pauses, etc. that make a complete packet of information along with the instructive words. How much more important is this non-verbal part of communication when trying to learn something as unusual as Feri? That is why I think Feri can only be learned by hanging out, sharing food, magics and stories with one’s teachers in a warm, caring manner.
Later in this article, Willow offers a valuable insight into Victor’s teaching methodology:
Even though Victor applied diverse methods to working and describing Feri, he was consistent in his approach and style. After listening to him teach for seven years, I concluded that although he talked about Feri in many different ways, they were congruent. His consistence lay in his emphasis on basic self-respect. Respect for the world, its places and its powers flows naturally from the spring of self-worth.
The magical techniques taught in Faery to bring the Triple Self into alignment (or harmonious convergence) are the foundation for true self respect and self realization. In this work, the true inner Reality of a human–sometimes expressed magically as the true Will–is brought into harmony with the outer lived experience. Cholla Soledad expresses this journey brilliantly and beautifully in her essay “Ecstasy and Transgression in the Faery Tradition” (Witch Eye 7, 2003):
Commonly, the personality clouds the true desires of our souls. … For the most part, people have no idea of what they want. Ecstasy peels off those layers of societal conformity and the need to please others. What is revealed underneath is the soul and divine will. …. Feri witches practice aligning the three souls. In an ecstatic state, with an open heart, the soul is revealed in its true form. … Suddenly, what was hidden by expectations and good manners is revealed to the self, and we can know ourselves in our most innocent state. It is a state of grace in which we can truly be free. In that state, we recover and have compassion for the parts of ourselves we have rejected, and in that moment, all three souls are right within us. We become part of the pattern of God Herself.
In my own experience, it is the teacher’s job to mentor a student as safely and smoothly as possible through this process. Faery by definition isn’t safe. Perhaps no true practice of Witchcraft is. But as a teacher, I have to do what I can to guide the traveller through the most perilous streets and across the most sharply cracking ice. I have to shepherd her towards the next challenge brought by the Work, to the best of my ability. And this requires building relationship with the student in a manner most aptly characterized as the apprenticeship model. The coven model works well too; in some ways, it may be superior, since the tapestry of the student’s experience of the Art is woven by many hands and sung through many voices.
It all begins with what you decide is your goal, or sequence of goals, in teaching. My goals are to mentor the student towards initiation, to offer spiritual direction and what guidance I may have to give, and to witness the student coming into the full awareness of hir own Power, the complete realization of hir fully aligned Self, and the beautiful accomplishment of hir true Will.
Using historical references found within Gardnerian and Wiccan mythology, I will demonstrate how history supports the inclusion of Qwyr folks in Gardnerian and Wiccan circles as working partners. Based on ancient folk customs, I show how transvestites are explicitly connected to fertility rites still performed in our modern world. Finally, I explore how modern Witch mythology informs the intimate connections between ecstasy, fertility and creativity and what that could look like in Qwyr ritual magic. In addition, I explore the benefits to our society of the collusion of Qwyr magic with non-Qwyr magics.
A historical basis for including Qwyrs in Wiccan circles
Despite institutionalized homophobia and the heterocentric notion that the God/Goddess pairing is the only way to operate within a Gardnerian or Wiccan coven, there is a liturgical and historical basis for including Qwyr people in these rites. Wiccans often use a well-known piece of liturgy called the “Charge of the Goddess.” This liturgy is published in the Farrar’s book Eight Sabbats for Witches and starts with the words: “Listen to the words of the Great Mother…” The Farrars write:
In the [what the Farrars describe as an Alexandrian] Book of Shadows, another sentence follows here: “At her altars [of Artemis] the youth of Lacedemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.” The sentence originated from Gardner, not Valiente. (Farrar: 1985, 42)
According to the Farrars, most covens omit this historical reference, considering it to be too “gruesome” for modern Craft practices. Oddly, this same piece of information that points to a historical antecedent of modern Witchcraft is also a precedent for including sexually active Qwyrs as working partners in Wiccan circles. Curiously, in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance this historical reference is omitted in her version of the Charge. In most Faerie circles the Charge of the Goddess isn’t traditionally used, but it is still loved and preserved by many Witches of different traditions who feel it expresses their concept of the Goddess.
Shedding light on the Charge of the Goddess
The early Dorians in the 12th century BCE established their capital at Sparta. They maintained many of the most ancient traditions of earlier ages, especially with respect toward women. Spartan women wielded the power to compete with, publicly praise, or censor men, and they had greater authority over property than anywhere else in Greece. Elsewhere in Greece, women were only allowed to call their husband “Lord,” were not allowed to eat meals with their husbands and only lived inside the house. In addition, Plutarch wrote in his 1st century CE book Lives that “the unmarried women love beautiful and good women” (Evans: 1978, 34).
Homosexuality had a high status among the Dorians. In fact, homoerotic activity was more highly regarded in Sparta than in Athens during the later classical period. Male homosexuality often took the form of paiderestia – the love of an older experienced man and a younger, more inexperienced man. Paiderestia was a form of religious, military, educational and sexual training. The experienced man initiated the younger man into men’s mysteries. The holy act of transferring semen conveyed an older man’s soul power to the youth and was called “inspiring” the inexperienced man (Evans: 1978, 34). In fact, this is still practiced to this day by some of the Kahunas of Hawai’I as explained to me by Kahunas I met there.
Doric paiderestia is a continuation of familiar shamanic and religious concepts that date back to the Stone Age. The Dorians, though coming later than the Mycenaeans, remained much closer to the earlier sexual traditions. According to the German scholar Bethe, the myth that homosexual men are always contemptuous toward women flounders on the fact that precisely in Sparta and Lesbos, where man-love and woman-love are best documented, the sexes associated more freely and women had more economic and political power than anywhere else in the Greek city-states (Evans: 1978, 33-35).
Historically, social acceptance for homosexuals is associated with a high social status for women. Patriarchal authorities have always oppressed both women and men who “act like women.” Therefore women and homosexuals often have a natural bond born from a personal understanding of the nature of oppression. Witches often tout that the Craft is female affirming; according to this historical reference, the Craft is also homosexual affirmative. Although in Faerie Witchcraft, the Charge of the Goddess is not used much, we do often work with the Divine Twins who are intimately connected to worship in Sparta. The Divine Twins Castor and Polydeuces, the youths of Zeus, are native to Sparta. They grew up with Helen in the house of King Tyndareos, and They fetched Their sister back from Aphidna in Attica.
In the ancient Greek world, these Gods were referred to as Dios Kouroi, Kouretes or Kabeiroi. The worship of heavenly riders of white horses clearly derives from a much older common Indo-European heritage, paralleled in Vedic mythology by the shining horse-owning brothers called Asvin. Twin horsemen who rode white horses were also the legendary founders of ancient Thebes. These divine Twins, found in various cultures, are described as being in the service of the Goddess. The Dioskouroi were called Tyndedaridai in Sparta and had a special relationship to the dual kingship of Sparta. The Spartan cult of the Divine Twin lovers flourished in the context of a warrior society in which initiations included an encounter with death (Burkert: 1985, 212).
In another rite, young Lakedaimonian males, in preparation for combat, flagellated themselves and engaged in same-sex eroticism at a festival honoring Diana (Conner: 1997, 69). [i]
The worship of the Brauronian Artemis by homosexually active men was brought from Tauris (Taurica Chersonnesus or Crimea) to Attica by two male lovers called Orestes and Pylades ”whose romantic attachment to each other has made their names synonymous for devoted self-sacrificing friendship.” Orestes was the son of Agamemnon, who had incurred the wrath of the Furies by avenging his father’s death. The Oracle at Delphi told him the only way to pacify the Furies was to bring the statue of Taurian Artemis from Tauris to Attica. Upon arriving on Tauris, Orestes and his faithful friend Pylades were seized to be sacrificed; however, Orestes’ sister Iphigenia happened to be the officiating Priestess of Artemis there (Berens: 95).
Previously, Iphigenia was to be sacrificed by her step-father Agamemnon prior to the Trojan War, but Artemis transported her to Tauris on the north shore of the Black Sea and left a deer in her place to be sacrificed instead. She became one of the legendary women called aoroi, or those who die before their time. These immortal female attendants of Artemis are often renamed Hekate (Von Rudloff: 1999, 43-70).
With the help of his male lover, Orestes and Iphigenia recognized each other and they all escaped back to their homeland. They stole the statue of Taurian Artemis and carried it with them to Brauron in Attica. Thus She became known as the Brauronian Artemis and human victims were bled to death in both Athens and Sparta (Berens: 96). The sacrifice to Artemis in Sparta at the Ortheia festival was scouring until blood came (Burkart: 1985, 152).
The revolting practice of offering human sacrifices to her continued until the time of Lycurgus, the great Spartan lawgiver, who put an end to it by substituting in its place one which was hardly less barbarous: namely, the scourging of youths, who were whipped on the altars of the Brauronian Artemis in the most cruel manner. Sometimes they expired under the lash, in which case their mothers, far from lamenting their fate, are said to have rejoiced, considering this an honorable death for their sons (Berens: 96).
It is interesting that initiations into the religion of the Divine Lover-Twins were associated with an encounter with death. This is similar to the modern Craft traditions where initiations are also associated with an encounter with death. This may reveal a connection between Spartan traditions and modern Wiccan traditions, referred to by a published Book of Shadows.
According to the Heritage dictionary, “youth” means a young person; especially a young man. So it seems that the “youth of Lacedemon in Sparta” refers to homosexuals and that the “due sacrifice” to the Spartan Artemis was scouring. If this historical reference was meant to include cross-sex flagellation, then surely the word maiden would also have been included to make clear the scourging was only with male and female partners.
The Charge of the Goddess says the youth made due sacrifice, and Berens states that the youth were the sacrifice. So in Sparta, in worship of Artemis “due sacrifice” was young men scourging other young men! Even though scourging was later introduced in Sparta to replace human sacrifice to the Goddess, sometimes the scourging was so severe that the Lacedemonian youth would perish. Presumably, this is what the Fararrs considered to be too gruesome to mention. Later in the Charge, the Goddess says She demands no sacrifice and so it is in modern times – but She will accept a sacrifice given freely with love.
Not only is Artemis mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess, but so are Diana and Aphrodite. Diana was famous for Her loving attachment to Her female attendants. Diana’s religion was organized like a bee hive, Her priestesses were called melissae or “bees” and Her high priestess was the queen of the bees. Diana was also served by a special class of antineirian priestesses. These particular priestesses were women who rejected marriage, loved hunting, were skilled warriors, hated patriarchal values, and enjoyed the company of other women and gender variant men. These priestesses danced around a sacred oak or beech tree at Ephesus in a circle with their shields and swords (Conner: 1997, 69). [ii]
Portraits of the gender variant priests of Diana called the megabyzoi were hung in Diana’s temples and in tombs contrary to the wishes of Quintillian, a Roman rhetorician of the 1st century CE. He insisted that painters and sculptors refrain from depicting any megabyzoi on aesthetic and moral grounds. Apparently, Quintillian thought these priests were ugly and indecent (Conner: 1997, 229). [iii] Unfortunately, Quintillian was not the last, frightened male to object to the flamboyant freedom of Qwyrs.
The megabyzoi wore a mixture of feminine, masculine and priestly articles of clothing. They shaved, powdered and painted their faces. They wore their hair in a feminine style by looping one lock in front of each ear. They also wore long-sleeved murix-purple garments decorated with golden circles, meanders, diamonds, swastikas, flowers and animals which were all sacred to the Goddess. The color of purple they wore was associated in the Greco-Roman empire with both royalty and effeminacy (Conner: 1997, 229). [iv]
The megabyzoi and melissae were not the only gender variant priests and priestesses who honored Diana with cross-dressing. In the kordax, a religious dance-drama, women dressed as men and wore lombai or “enormous artificial phalli” which they used for penetrating the male dancers who were dressed as women. Not only is the Goddess Diana homoerotic friendly, historically She is bisexual. Britomartis, Cyrene, and Anticleia were Diana’s female lovers who were the first to wear Diana’s gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders. So wrote Callimachus, the royal poet and lover of Pharaoh Ptolemy Philadelphus in his hymn to Diana (Conner: 1997, 69).
Aphrodite was above all a Goddess of love in all its forms, so much so that She was nicknamed Philommedes, “genital loving.” In fact, the Greek term aphrodisia, meaning the “things of Aphrodite,” refers to sexual intercourse according to the classical scholar K.J. Dover (Conner: 1997, 64). [v] Aphrodite has Her own bearded gender variant forms and through Her association with the castrated Cronus is linked to gender variant males. It is She who gave birth to Hermaphroditus, the essential divine form of gender variance. Her beloved priest Cinyras, a legendary ruler of Cyprus, was a transvestite and lover of Apollo. Even the apparently heterosexual favorite of Aphrodite and abductor of Helen, Paris was said to be “unwarlike and effeminate.” He was so favored by Aphrodite that She blessed him with a retinue of eunuchs (Conner: 1997, 64). [vi]
Since ancient times, the Goddess of Love — especially in Her form of Aphrodite Urania, or Heavenly Aphrodite — has been known as a patron of men-loving-men. K.J.Dover points out that in the homoerotic verse of Theogenes, his beloved is considered to be a “gift of Aphrodite” (Conner: 1997, 64). [vii] When Aphrodite appears as a hermaphrodite with female breasts and an erect phallus, She was called Aphroditos or Bearded Aphrodite. She was associated by the ancient Greeks not only with the planet Venus but also with the moon (Conner: 1997, 64). [viii]
In ancient times, this Goddess mentioned in the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess was certainly a patron of sex, one who did not discriminate based on who entered whom. Gardner’s fear and the inclusion of the condemnation of homosexuality in the brand of the Craft which bears his name was contrary to the way his own Witch teachers did things. Gardner’s initiator Dorothy Clutterbuck lived with Elizabeth Slatter instead of with her husband. Elizabeth was described by locals as Dorothy’s “companion” and she went by the name of “John.” Dorothy also wrote passionate love poetry to mysterious women (Hesselton: 2000, 126-176). Perhaps Gardner was caught up in the Christian moral of hating homosexuals, or perhaps he found Dorothy’s lesbianism to be sexy and only condemned male homosexuals.
The sexiness of lesbianism (making it tolerable) may be the reason why some Wiccans insist that two men cannot stand next to each other in circle or work together as partners while at the same time allowing women to stand and work together. Conceivably, it is merely practical for women to be together as there aren’t enough men to go around. However, if Wiccans were really serious about the “rule” for alternating men and women, they would only allow equal numbers of both sexes in circle. There have been many times that I have been in Wiccan circles where the women outnumbered the men. There seem to be objections only when two men stand or work together. Like so many other such “rules,” they are only enforced when useful. Regrettably, too many people still think for a man to emulate a woman is unnatural – that it is improper for a man to relinquish his privileged status. Regardless of prejudged attitudes, the Wiccan Goddesses’ all-encompassing, libertine-loving nature is still remembered in Wiccan circles every time She says, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”
The ancient association of transvestites with fertility
Perhaps the rule that men and women should stand alternating in a Wiccan circles is a mis-remembering of the tradition of cross-dressing in connection to fertility rites in ancient Britain.[ix] Those individuals who say that there is no place for sexually active homosexual priests or priestesses in a fertility religion should give more thought to the purpose transvestites played in most fertility folk customs throughout Britain. Of course not all transvestites are homosexual, but the language of queerness is applied to both and they both express a non-standard gender.
In Britain, the horse was the most frequent animal disguise used to promote fertility in humans, the earth and in animals. Appearing frequently along with the sexually endowed horse was a man dressed as a woman. In 33 ancient sites in eastern and northern Kent, the transvestite “Mollie” carried a broom and appeared with the “Hooden Horse.” In southern Wales, a black-faced transvestite called “Judy” also with their broom cavorted with “Punch” during the appearance of the Mari Llwyd or “Grey Horse” previously called the Aberyn bee y Llwyd or the “Bird with a grey beak.” In villages around Sheffield, the broom-wielding, black-faced transvestite was called “Our Old Lass.” He took on the role of an old woman appearing in a hero-combat play between the butcher and the sheep-headed horse called “Old Tup.” Even today during the Horn Dance, which still takes place at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire in early September, there is a transvestite called “Maid Marian” who carries a collecting ladle as a token of their sacred office and appears with the “Hobby Horse.”
The sacred transvestite did not only appear with holy horses, they appeared as an important figure in all manner of fertility rites. In Kent, during the Horn Fair at Charlton, any man could appear in public dressed in women’s clothing. On May Day the lucky London sweeps celebrated with “the Lord and the Lady,” who was, of course, a transvestite. In the May Day battle between the Queen of May and the Queen of Winter on the Isle of Man, the Queen of Winter was a man.
“Moggies” together with his husband can still be seen during the fertility rites on May Day at Ickwell in Bedfordshire. In north Wales the principal character of the fertility dances held in May was the transvestite “Cadi.” The transvestite “Bessie” blessed the ceremony of Plough Monday while the transvestite “Betty” carrying a broom sanctified the Goathlan Plough Stots in north Yorkshire the following Saturday. Ritual cross-dressing for the purpose of promoting fertility was a worldwide folk custom of antiquity which was first recorded in Europe around 400 CE by Severian when he wrote about the kalends (Bord: 1982, 201-218).
Cross-dressers appeared at many fertility folk customs throughout ancient Europe. Sometimes the man (like the Cadi) was dressed as a woman only from the waist down. The image of a man dressed as a woman (in part or completely) carrying a broom was an essential ingredient in most rites to invoke fertility. Feasibly, this is in honor of the role that the mythic bisexual progenitor played in the creation of life on earth. Similar to the image of the brush and pole of the broom which they carried, the image of a single person embodying both sexes implies the psychological/physical/energetic/mystic union of male and female. This is not the union which comes after creation, but their union prior to the forming of men and women that is the source of maleness and femaleness. Thus gender variant individuals participate naturally in the source of creation. To honor them is to honor the act of creation itself thus promoting fertility for man and beast.
What could Qywr magic look like in today’s world?
The Holy loves us with the same love with which we love each other, but raised to the level of the Divine.
–Victor H. Anderson
The Minoan Brotherhood and Sisterhood were created in the 1970s by Edie Buczynski and Lady Miw because they were frustrated with the homophobic attitudes enshrined within the Gardnerian tradition. Part of the Minoan tradition’s mission was to do magic to promote the social acceptance and legal equality of GBLTQ folks. In the Minoan Brotherhood, the Great Goddess of our people is the Mother of the Divine male Lover-Gods. This is similar to the Faerie Tradition of Witchcraft which views the Star Goddess as the progenitor of all life in the universe. Her first born are the Divine Twin-Lovers who can be male-male, female-female, or male-female pairs. They switch gender at will to appear to us in the most suitable and helpful form. They also appear in diverse shapes, sometimes terrifyingly awesome or stunningly beautiful. They always appear in the form which has our best intentions at heart.
This mythology is similar to many different cultures throughout time and in diverse places. Many ancient peoples not only recognized the social reality of homosexuals born of heterosexuals but also recognized their value to society as well. In the recent past, Qwyrs had lost all standing in society but were still valued for their entertainment and decorating skills. Now that the will to oppress homosexuals/bisexuals/transsexuals/queers is lessening in society because of the weakening power of religious ideologues, once again gender variant people can be valued for the multi-skilled talents they so often possess, as well as for simply being who they are.
The mythology of a Mother Goddess and Twin-Lovers is ideally suited to informing Qwyr religion, myths, customs and magic, not only because of its venerable history but also because of its simplicity and beauty. The mythos of a primal Goddess giving birth to Divine Twins of indeterminate gender is so powerful because such a mythic arrangement naturally participates in the magical triangle of manifestation. The power of the One becoming Two and the Two becoming One is the power of creation itself!
The fact that Divine transsexuals such as Ymir, Vishnu as Mohini, Shiva Ardhanarishvara, Baphomet, Hermaphroditus, Mollie, Judy or Bessie are associated with creation and fertility is because They can bridge the gap between women and men and directly show us that within every man and woman lies the power of creation. Every man has female hormones, and every woman has male hormones, each person with their own unique balance.
Utilizing the power of creation — which is the power of love and desire — provides the ecstasy that raises power directly from our bodies and feeds our spells and magics. The use of ecstasy as a main path to the Witch Power is a specialty of gender variant covens. Qwyr folks are adept at ecstatic states which bridge the gap and discharge the force needed for spells because we naturally understand in our guts the intimate connection of ecstasy and creation. This may be why even during the worse times of our persecutions, Qwyr folks were often associated with creativity. This would explain the prevalent folk custom of including a transsexual in fertility rites to represent the ecstasy of union that empowers all kinds of fertility and creativity.
Qwyr culture not only has a spiritual role but also has a supporting role for heterosexual culture. Heterosexual pairings can create families based on bonds of love and caring for each other. However, it is the bonds of love and caring between men and other men as well as women with other women that creates community. It is the circle of community that surrounds the family units to protect them and provide services. Perhaps it is the Great Goddess’ design that we help each other. Heterosexual people give birth and nourishment to Qwyr people who in turn provide multiple services that enriches and enlivens society.
In today’s modern times we can forgo human sacrifice. Our Gods no longer demand blood sacrifice, as ancient Pagan societies started changing their beliefs in the need for and efficacy of blood sacrifice, in addition to recognizing its cruelty. Governments are now the arbitrators of human sacrifice, demanding their populace (but not the politicians) sacrifice their lives and livelihood to their gods of war.
We also don’t need paiderestia as an accepted social institution any more. Now we know the damage done to children from abuse by adults in power is counterproductive to healthy minds and normal social relations. In turn, the damage done to pedophiles destroys their sense of compassion, social appropriateness and their ability to relate to others without controlling them. This type of behavior can lead to abuse of power over others because that is what sex with students by their teachers is often based on. Those with smaller, less encumbered egos tend to try to please those they perceive as more powerful. This kind of abuse of power over others is passed by example onto other generations, destroying slowly the social fabric of community. One cannot build community while hiding sexual misconduct; eventually it will destroy any trust upon which a community is built.
Besides a mythology to help build forms of worship, one needs a healthy understanding of the relationship of sex and love. Victor Anderson used to say that if we had a real understanding of sex, we would feel no dichotomy between love and sex. Our sexual sense is one of our natural senses. It is just as natural as seeing something beautiful and feeling pleasure in the sight of it, or hearing a beautiful sound or music and being transported to an ecstatic state. In today’s world most of us are sexual cripples, crippled by religious morals, sexual predation, a lack of sexual education and a true understanding of sexual abuse as a power play. Most people in the societies of today are taught to ignore or be afraid of our sexual urges that separate our bodies from our nature and the nature of the world. It is no wonder why many people feel disassociated from others and the world.
Victor also said that the association of sex with guilt was accomplished by men who wanted all the power they could grab. They betrayed women and girls by enslaving the weaker willed into submission and taught this perversion down through the generations. Because people were not allowed to choose their own sex partner, but were told who they could and couldn’t have sex with by men in authority, sexual predation and abuse has been nourished up till modern times. Masses of people have easily become perverted into hate which has fed racism, intolerance and the belief that greedy men are natural rulers that ought to be emulated. Because love and sex have become separated, the natural urges that drive evolution became separate from natural sexuality. Our sexuality, once separated from our natural urges, became associated with violence and war. This is the force behind the world’s ubiquitous rape culture that blames women for the indiscretions of men.
Sex magic, on the other hand, can change all that because of its marvelous healing and creative power! It is wonderfully healing, self-empowering, and creative, because rites of sex can allow us to remove the fear, confusion, guilt and shame that authorities use to control us. The Divine desire to create the universe is reflected in our own personal desire for sex. When we realize that we as animals have the right to have sex with any consenting adult, we are naturally closer to the Divine power of creation because we are exercising our own choice rather than someone else’s.
In the ancient Pagan cultures, there are many examples of both acceptance and tolerance and in some cases an elevated status for Qwyr people. These attitudes were reflected in the myths of their Gods and in their laws. It isn’t until more modern times that homosexuality was raised from an ordinary Christian sin, like eating shrimp, into a crime that exceeds the prohibitions of even the 10 Christian Commandments. Consider how often some fundamentalist monotheists bear false witness with the lies they spread about Qwyr folk.
Modern Witchcraft culture itself has struggled with acceptance or tolerance of gender variant behavior. On the one hand is the libertine nature of the Goddess accepts all love and pleasure, which translates into a respect for all of human nature. On the other hand are the centuries of accrued prejudice layered onto the psyches of people by authorities. However, even Gardernians who had no problem with Qwyrs would often bend the rules of conduct because they recognized how ridiculous the rules were. It just wasn’t talked about, like so many other Qwyr things. However, not all Traditional Witchcraft traditions view Qwyrs with the same ambivalence. Some still remember the traditional inclusion of the transvestite in fertility rites to invoke the power of creation.[x]
Berens, E.M. Myths and Legends of Greece and Rome. Clark and Maynard: New York, n.d.
Bord, Janet and Colin. Earth Rites: Fertility Practices in Pre-industrial Britain. Granada Publishing: London, 1982.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Trans. John Raffan. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 1985.
Conner, Randy; David and Mariya Sparks. Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. Bath Press: Bath, 1997.
Evans, Arthur. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Fag Rag Books: Boston, 1978.
Sex is not a doorway leading to something else, nor is it a metaphor for so-called spiritual love, but a sun and moon lit path leading across the sea of life to an infinite horizon.
Introduction to Part One
In Part One, I briefly put forward ideas of how the Witch power operates with Qwyr people in the context of Faerie Witchcraft. I then discuss and contrast ideas of how the Witch Power is believed to work in some other modern Witch traditions in the context of polarity. I show how polarity works not only as a model for heterosexual couples but also for Qwyr couples. Then I introduce an ancient idea of non-gendered polarity and how that exists and functions in our world today in the context of creation. Later, I delve more deeply into Faerie Witchcraft ideas about how the Witch Power moves within a magic circle based upon our mythology. I give the examples of gravity and plasma as to how the Witch Power moves within nature and mimics its natural movement within the circle.
Attitudes about Qwyrness in Faerie Witchcraft culture
Believing as they did in both the autonomy and the empowerment of each individual was the exquisite beauty of the Anderson’s teachings. The Tradition can morph to fit and empower the individual, but at the same time there are some items that clearly distinguish Faery from Wicca.
Faery meetings might look a great deal like a Wiccan coven’s, but the informing principles are quite different. Victor and Cora dismissed the physical polarization of Deity by gender as an oversimplification of the Divine’s multiple manifestations of every conceivable mixture of gender. (Gander: 2010, 3)
I feel that the power in an Anderson Faerie Witch circle doesn’t flow only between men and women or even simply between individuals. Like life-giving dew forming from moist air, sexual attraction between people makes the Witch Power condense onto their bodies, giving them a feeling of pleasure in the other’s company. I feel the power raised in a circle before it is formed into a spell or cone to be like a bubbling cauldron: full of potential yet free flowing throughout the cauldron of the circle and freely available to every member in circle regardless of sexual proclivity.
The common understanding of Wicca tends to stress the importance of male-female workings and focus on fertility. Anderson Faery magic has always had a primary focus on ecstasy instead of fertility. This may be due in part with the plurality of Deities we work with. As a result, sex of any stripe is honored as a gift from and to the Gods. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, polysexuality, transgendered sexuality, in short all of sexuality, is our holiest mystery. We have no reason to simplify the profound mystery of sex into redundant and meaningless roles. The Anderson Faery Witch is complete in herself, needing no other to complete her magic (Johnson: 2001, 3).
Gender and Polarity in Wicca
Polarity can mean a lot of things to different people, but to many modern Pagans it means that magic is believed to work by raising energy from paired couples of men and women. Thus it is sometimes believed that, in order to properly raise power, it must flow only between alternating male and female partners. Some covens insist on alternating men and women in their seating or standing arrangements. Some covens will also only pass initiations or magical tools from men to women or women to men. Some covens also believe polarity to mean a division of labor based upon sexual characteristics and they have fixed roles for priests and priestesses in ritual. What are the principles underlying such ideas?
From talking with those who work magic in a format of gendered polarity, I learned that underlying the idea of polar gender-oriented ritual is the desire to maintain a literal interpretation of a symbol set and the use of a sexually charged atmosphere. This atmosphere is charged by the release of psychic energy, subtle and obvious sexual signals, pheromones and possibly other bio-chemicals.
“Polarity” has been the term used to denounce the workings of same-sex couples, while at the same time shoring up the privileges of non-gay couples. “Polarity” is the “reason” why gay people cannot work together in a Gardnerian circle. If one were to ask what “polarity” is, one gets conflicting answers. One well-known and highly respected Priestess in the Long Island line of Gardnerian Craft once explained “polarity” with a scientific sounding proof. She said that “polarity” operated like pheromones in that they flowed from male to female or female to male and caused an excited state which could be tapped into as a source of magical power.
However, pheromones are a specialized type of hormone. They act like hormones in that only an extremely small amount of the chemical is needed to have a great effect on the body and they actonly on specific receptor sites. Pheromones spread throughout the entire environment in all directions, like hormones which spread equally throughout the whole body and its tissues. As one’s body emits pheromones, they do not flow through the air only to one receptor site (an opposite sex body), but are available to everyone in the area equally, regardless of sex. However, only those people who are susceptible to the pheromone would be affected. Heterosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the opposite sex and homosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the same sex. The same man in a circle can affect the bodies of both heterosexual women and homosexual men. The effect is not determined by the preference of the emitter of the pheromones but by those who react to it.
The Gardnerian Priestess’s explanation wasn’t an explanation in favor of “polarity” working only for non-Qwyr people or a “reason” why same-sex working couples were taboo! Using pheromones as a model to explain “polarity” actually shows why “polarity” would work for Qwyr working couples as well as non-Qwyr couples. A gay man would be affected by the pheromones of any man in the circle that he found attractive! Thus, I have come to believe that “polarity” is simply the same thing as good old sexual attraction. It is the sexual attraction felt between two people that acts as a source of magical power. It is sexual attraction that makes the working “juicy.” It can be physically felt only between those who are attracted to each other. “Polarity” would not work between a non-gay and a gay man, but only between gay or bi-sexual men. It makes sense that Gardner as a heterosexual would feel “polarity” only with a woman, and write about it as such. It is incorrect, however, to assume it is the same for everyone in all Gardnerian circles.
Looking at “polarity” from an electrical theory viewpoint, between two separated poles there exists a gap that can become charged. When the charge becomes intense enough or when the poles connect, they discharge the force collected between them. When there is sexual attraction between people, the attraction can build until it is released with orgasm, which is like discharging a charge. The charging and discharging of a space is like raising a cone of power which is sent to the target upon total relaxation of the coven members.
This ancient idea of a gap of charged atmosphere as the source of manifestation was known by the folk of Scandinavia. They called it the Ginnungagap and it was seen as the source of all creation. The word Ginnungagap comes from the old Norse ginning which means a charged potential and gap which has the same meaning as in English – a space in-between. This primal space was charged with a mighty, magical force and is from whence all reality springs. This primal place was not formed, it just existed.
Fire and ice were formed billions of years later as the extremes that defined the outer limits of the Ginnungagap. The northern part was frozen, solid and dark whereas the southern part was molten, flowing and glowing with light. The middle was as mild as the warm air of a summer’s evening. Due to the warm breath in the middle – from the melting ice the first life arose from the mists. Life arises from the middle not at the extreme poles of fire and ice. The proto-space filled with magic power moves from formless potential into form, in this case as the giant Ymir: “He incorporates the double function of creation – conception and birth” (Lindow: 1988, 467).
“But it is said that while he his legs got a son with the other, and that is where the families of the frost ogres come from. We call that old frost ogre Ymir” (Sturluson: 1973, 34). Snorri refers to two groups of beings created by Ymir – men and women from His arm pit as well as a son produced independently by His two legs. Perhaps this son of the primordial bisexual Giant was Qwyr. The myth of Ymir can be seen as an ancient reason why gender variant people are associated with creation and thus fertility. Similar tales of creation arising from a hermaphrodite progenitor are found not only in Norse myths but also in ancient Iranian, Egyptian and Indian cultures. Even though sometimes the Gods rose up against Their progenitor and killed Him/Her, They still bear the marks (genes?) of Their Giant ancestry. As we are children of the Gods, then all people must also bear the marks of the first born bisexual progenitor. Thus it makes sense why heterosexual relations give rise to bisexual and homosexual people, because they carry the genes for it!
Although the Alexandrian tradition was started by a bisexual man and they have historically been much more welcoming of gay men and lesbians as equals in their circles, in America this seems to be changing. Apparently, some American Alexandrian Witches are introducing alternating male-female partners in their circles. One Alexandrian Priestess once told me in her experience and the experience of her coven, power only flowed from a woman to a man to a woman in a straight line across the circle. I think this is a worthwhile observation, but I wonder if these observations are related to the sexual orientation of the group members or simply their expectations. Ironically, I have seen this bias insisted upon in circles where two men are not allowed to stand or sit together while at the same time everyone on the other side of the circle are women. Three to five women for every man – talk about gender imbalance! However, it only seems to bother the “polarity” people when two men are together!
It doesn’t bother some gay men to only work with a woman as a partner in circle; they follow the rules and they are happy. They have told me that it is no big deal to work magic with a woman for only a few hours a month. I understand, as I have worked magic with women to wonderful effect. However, it is my feeling that when one is in the sacred circle and in the presence of the Gods, it is the most important time to be honest about your true self! To play the role of a heterosexual so the other people in the circle feel okay about me is not what I want to do in the Gods’ presence. I feel it belittles my relationship with the Gods to try and trick Them by playing the role of something I am not.
In the lore of ancient peoples all over the world, Mountain and Lake were primal polarities that manifested the genesis of our world and were primeval symbols of fertility. However, the Holy Mountain and Sacred Lake are polar fertility symbols that are not gender specific. Mountains and lakes are often viewed by local peoples as having a particular sex, but the same sex is not allotted to either mountain or lake. Sexual characteristics ascribed to masculine or feminine traits are not the same for all people.
Some of the surviving ancient images of the Goddesses Astarte, Tiamat, and Aphrodite include apparently masculine traits, even those most strongly associated with the male, such as a beard or penis. Likewise Baphomet, Agditis, the Hurrite God Kumarbi, Zarvan of Akkadia, the Hittite Teshub, the Hindu Shiva Ardhanarishvara and the wooden God image from Somerset, England also display breasts and vaginas. Even the sacred island of the most masculine of the ancient warrior Hawai’ian God, Ku is named the “Vagina of Ku.” Since primary sexual characteristics such as a penis or vagina are displayed as both characteristics of Goddesses or Gods, then surely They share secondary and tertiary sex characteristics such as hair, hair styles, clothing and gender roles.
The ancient non-gender specific model of polarity has been almost forgotten in our modern Pagan world. However, since the universe is infinite and unlimited, the generative power of creation must also be unlimited. Since the blinders of religious prejudice have been dissolving before our collective eyes, it is possible to see that in nature heterosexuality is not favored over homosexuality. It is very common for animals and humans to be sexually attracted to members of their own sex at least once in their life. Some try to insist that nature conform to their way of thinking, but it does them little good.
Polarity and Gender in Faerie Witchcraft
In Faerie Witchcraft we do not talk about “polarity” as if it were a process that demanded women and men alternate positions. Victor Anderson himself was bisexual, and he never said anything that could be construed as homophobic or heterocentric to me during the many years I visited him and Cora. In their opinion, a man was equal to a woman in power and could do anything a woman could do except give birth. They told me that of course a man can cast circles, initiate and work with another man, and it is the same for women working together. This is the general consensus of our tribe: that all are equal in the circle of initiates regardless of gender. As it is for the Faerie Witch, so do the Gods display every combination of gender, just as humans in diverse cultures have done for centuries. In our tradition the extreme points of masculine and feminine (on a sexual spectrum) are respected and honored and They are seen as the exception that They are in life.
Just like us, the Gods can assume a multiple variety of gender roles. They do this to meet the needs of the people. In Faery Witchcraft we say: “God is self and self is God and God is a person like myself.” We do not have to fit ourselves into outdated gender role models to connect with the Gods, we just need to be ourselves. For this reason Lesbians, Gay men, and Transgender folk often feel comfortable in working Faerie magic, because they don’t have to pretend to be something they are not.
There are many forces like polarity that are mysterious to us. For instance, gravity is strange to us. It doesn’t come in discrete little packages of energy. It seems omnipresent and it is totally continuous without break. If there is no break in the force of gravity, then there can be no gravitational polarity. Gravity is the origin of our world and universe – the origin of duality. If the origin of duality is ceaseless then it is non-dual. In the same way that an apple seed produces only an apple tree, then a fundamental force of nature that is non-dual can only produce a non-dual reality. This pointing out of the identity of non-dual and dual modes of reality is exactly what the image of the gender-variant individual is alluding to.
If the point of polarity is to explain how we raise power from our bodies within a sexually charged space to empower a spell, then it seems it is most important to raise our libido. This can be enhanced in many ways, such as through movement, hearing, smell, taste, touch or sight. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the sexual arousal of homosexuals and heterosexuals, so the power raised is the same. How would the power move in a circle of people if the popular model of an electromagnetic field was not used to explain the phenomena of polarity? Even without any explanatory concepts, power would still rise with the libido of the coveners. Libido is usually defined as sexual interest, but it is also the passion for life and life’s experiences, as well as a driving force behind all kinds of creativity.
Most of us are familiar with three forms of matter: solids, liquids and gasses. But there is a fourth form of matter that is found in the dark heart of stars and also within the huge gas clouds that move between the stars. This is a form of matter that starts as a gas but becomes ionized by extreme heat and is called plasma. If the temperature of the material is very high, all the electrons separate from their nuclei. The particles which make up the gas are split apart into smaller positively and negatively charged particles. In plasma, the electrically charged particles moveindependently of each other, not in a linear fashion like electricity.
Instead of marching in line, these independent particles move wildly in any direction, pervading the entire plasma field. Plasma has diametrically charged particles and so is a phenomena of polarity, but the charged particles do not move in a predetermined configuration based on detached opposites. Plasma is a substance which demonstrates non-dichotomized polarity. Due to the electrical charge which pervades plasma, it behaves differently than a gas and is also affected by electromagnetic fields. Although on earth we are often not familiar with this substance, it is by far the most common state of matter in the universe. Plasma is a primal form of matter from which all the atoms in the universe congeal.
The reality of plasma can be used as a model for understanding how power moves and works in a magic circle. Instead of conceiving that an electric-like charge flows from one person to another in a straight line, the charged particles released from our bodies move about freely within the circle. As water brought to a boil inside a cauldron where the molecules move in every direction, so too particles of pheromones from our bodies rush in every direction within the confines of the magic circle. By intensifying the libido thus increasing the pheromones, the contents of the charged atmosphere in the circle is brought to a “boil” that allows the power to build to the pitch necessary to manifest magic. If pheromones or other bio-chemicals are a part of the process of raising power, then a model based upon the roiling movement of power as with a boiling cauldron makes more sense than an electrical linear movement of power in a circular space. The bio-chemicals wouldn’t move in a linear fashion but pervade the air like a fragrance smelled by all present.
Those of us who identify as Faery share, among many other things, a statement of principles of conduct and affirmations about what the Tradition is, who can teach it, and how. One of those principles reads, “We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.” The two clauses that make up this statement establish a balance between autonomy and accountability, where neither one trumps the other, but are seen as part of an integral ethical whole.
I’ve heard it said that, unlike some forms of modern Pagan spirituality, Faery lacks a guiding set of ethical principles. This is, of course, nonsense. To be sure, we do lack anything as pithy and quotable as the Wiccan Rede or the Ten Commandments, but I would suggest that, taken together as a unified whole, the powers and principles encapsulated in the Iron and Pearl Pentacles form the basis of a truly Faery system of ethics or moral philosophy. The trick is, of course, that they are the basis of that philosophy, not an explicit statement of that philosophy, nor a collection of instructions on how to enact it. As with so much else, one must do the work of putting it together oneself, or with the help of one’s teachers and fellow students and initiates. (That can be a pain in the ass, to be sure, but anyone who says that Faery is “easy” or “convenient” is lying to you, and shouldn’t be trusted.)
The Faery Pentacles are multifaceted, fulfilling multiple roles within the practice of Faery, and I won’t presume here to give instruction on the use of these most holy symbols, meditative tools, and complex magical sigils. I will restrain myself to mentioning that one of the points of the Pearl Pentacle—and, therefore, one of the key principles of Faery—is named sometimes as Liberty, sometimes as Power. I’m quite sure most folks interested in Faery are familiar with both concepts. I’m equally sure that most readers have an idiosyncratic and deeply nuanced definition of, and relationship with, those concepts. While I’m focussing on the point as Liberty, I want to keep us aware of its equally valid identity as Power; indeed, as mentioned later, an awareness of the relationship between Power and Liberty can usefully inform how we approach either concept.
What I mean when I use a conceptual term like “liberty” is not, and cannot be, identical to what you mean by that same term; even if we agree on the denotative meaning, our individual personalities and histories will give us connotative meanings that cannot be equated. I do think it’s reasonable, though, to start with agreed-upon denotative meanings and work from there. More than reasonable, I think it’s necessary. We need to talk about liberty, autonomy, sovereignty, and accountability: what those words mean, how they’re related, and why understanding those ideas is important, not only for Faery, but for life in general. The trouble is, these are pretty heavyweight concepts, better suited to university-level philosophy courses (or late-night pub sessions) than to necessarily-brief blog posts. Nevertheless, if we’re to have any real grasp of what Faery looks like in practice, of how to walk as a Witch in the real world of actions and choices and responsibilities, we need to understand them as well as we know the sound of our own hearts beating.
Westphalia is a region of Germany known for producing camper vans. It’s also known as the place where, in 1648, three treaties were signed in the cities of Münster and Osnabrück. At the time, Europe was in the midst of throwing, not one, but two wars (designated “the Thirty Years’ War” and “the Eighty Years’ War” by historians) which were ravaging the populace and destabilizing the whole region. These three treaties, collectively known as the “Peace of Westphalia,” ended both of them.
They also created the modern political world in which we live, move, and have our being.
To unpack that a bit: the Peace of Westphalia established the concept of “the state” as an independent entity with total and unquestioned control over its own internal affairs, free from any external influence. In the Westphalian system, each state is equal to all others, no matter how great or small, and no state is permitted to impose its will on another merely by dint of force. This concept, referred to as “sovereignty,” became a central component of international law in Europe and, later, throughout the world.
Sovereignty is a tricksy concept. It seems quite simple on its surface: “supreme power or authority,” as the Oxford Dictionary would have it. The nuances are where it becomes interesting, and harder to nail down. Following Westphalia, the term took on a particular set of connotations: independence, freedom from coercion, absolute control over one’s own actions and interests. Sovereignty is also applied to people at times, often people wearing funny hats: emperors, kings, bishops, and the like. The meaning is quite the same: a sovereign is someone over whom no one else has power, someone who has total and final control over their own actions and lives. When speaking of a head of state, or (as some Christians do) of a Supreme Being, it carries with it the implication of control over the lives of everyone under that individual’s power, as well.
It’s a compelling idea, as you’d expect from anything that’s been the core of modern geopolitics for going on 400 years. At its best, sovereignty supplies the logical foundations for self-determination and resistance, enabling a small nation to tell to a larger nation, “No, you may not invade us and take our goods, our land, or our lives, because we are us and they are ours.” At its worst, it tacitly supports the worst atrocities the state can bring to bear on its own people, as in the U.S. massacre and genocide of Native Americans, or the Nazi genocide of German Jews.
So, a bit of a mixed bag, as it were.
Autonomy is similarly tricksy and complex. The word, from the Greek αὐτο (auto, self) + νόμος (nomos, law), literally means “self-legislating,” as in “being a law unto oneself.” In ethics, it refers to the ability of an individual to make unhindered, un-coerced choices. Like sovereignty, though, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Deriving in great part from the work of Immanuel Kant, autonomy specifically refers to an individual’s ability to make moral choices: to choose to act in a manner consistent with an objective or outside moral standard, regardless of any desire to the contrary, precisely because that choice is consistent with the moral standard. To be autonomous, in other words, is to have moral agency, to be able to choose to do the right thing… even if you don’t necessarily want to.
In modern parlance, autonomy has taken on some of the characteristics of sovereignty, to the point that many people equate the two. For the purposes of this essay, however, I suggest that they are quite different things: related in their approach to questions of power, coercion, and self-determination, but ultimately referring to two different categories of entity: states (to include autocephalous entities such as churches) and individual people. Simply put, only states (and heads of states, who are effectively the State personified) have sovereignty. Likewise, only people can have autonomy.
“What’s the difference,” you may well ask, “and what the hell does any of this have to do with Faery?” Valid and valuable questions, both of them.
Sovereign Westphalian states exist in relationship to one another, but as separate entities without interconnectedness; in other words, they may have foreign policies and treaties with their allies, but their internal affairs and sovereign conduct are intrinsically isolated from the opinion and coercion of other states, even their allies. This is why, for instance, the United States can criticise other countries for their shabby treatment of children or the environment, but has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Kyoto Protocol, the tossers. They’re sovereign, which means they can do as they bloody well like within their own borders, even when doing so ultimately hurts everyone else.
Autonomy, by contrast, exists in the context of an interconnected moral universe. I can choose to act or to refrain from action, to speak or to remain silent, based on my estimation of the ethical weight of the choice, which necessarily incorporates the effect of my words or actions, or of my silence or inaction, on the world around me. Autonomy requires responsibility as an intrinsic component of moral agency. In other words, there is no autonomy without accountability. Thus, whatever autonomy means, one thing it cannot mean is “license,” defined as “I do whatever I want, whenever I want, without regard for the outcomes of my actions.”
South Park references aside, I hope the relation of all this philosophical blather to Faery is beginning to come clear.
What we’re talking about when we talk about “autonomy” is not merely Liberty, but the interrelation and interconnection of Liberty with all the other points of the Pearl Pentacle, and with Power, its own other name and its corresponding point in the Iron Pentacle. Liberty is an essential core principle of a truly Faery ethic… but no greater than any of the other points. It does not trump Knowledge and Wisdom, nor Love and Law, and without them it becomes nothing more than license, which is not a magical virtue, no matter what that one pseudo-Thelemite guy at the pub meet tried to tell you, all the while staring at your ass and offering to buy you drinks. In fact, even Aleister Crowley—that noted proponent of license, impropriety, and Doing What Thou Wilt—made it quite clear in his writings that there was a bloody great difference between “doing one’s True Will” and “doing whatever the hell you want.” Faery can, and should, have at least as solid a grasp on that distinction as Crowley did.
Blessedly, we do… and characteristically, perhaps even frustratingly, it doesn’t express well as a sound-bite. If I have learnt anything at all about Faery (an open question, surely, but go with me on this), it’s that Faery is about relationships, about being in relationship: with Gods, with spirits, with our kinfolk, with our families and friends and neighbors, with the worlds around us and within us.
A central part of the work of being in relationship is being aware of how what I say and do affects those around me, and accepting responsibility for that: accountability, or as some would say, “owning it.” Sometimes, owning our words and actions means apologising and attempting to make amends. Other times, it means arguing, negotiating, or standing on our principles and refusing to budge, even in the fact of conflict with those we love. Sometimes, it’s mildly uncomfortable. Others, it’s excruciating, or joyful, or dull drudgery. In all cases, it’s about being authentically we you are, exercising moral agency, and accepting responsibility for what that means.
Accountability is the other half of autonomy, without which there can be no autonomy. Lacking accountability, the individual believes itself to be sovereign, as a state or a Supreme Being is sovereign, and inflates its own ego to the point of collapse (or prolapse, if you like). From there, everything else—magic, relationships, personality itself—follows suit. Accountability is what connects us to the world around us, what enables the very relationships that lie at the heart of Faery. To whom are we accountable? Why, to those with whom we’re in relationship: Gods, spirits, our kith and kin, the world in which we live and move and have our being. If we treat with them, we do so with the force of our very beings, and in so doing, we make ourselves accountable for what we do. This is why our oaths are sacred, why our words are imbued with power and meaning, why our actions cause change far beyond the range of our sight: because through them, we are accountable. If we are not accountable, we betray our words and actions, and the power leaks out of them as through a hole in our cup.
In the context of Faery, let’s look again at that statement from the beginning: “We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.”
Viewed through the lens of autonomy and accountability, as defined above, this statement begins to unfold to us. After all, I cannot make a choice that changes the world without, y’know, changing the world. Of course, some choices are more impactful than others, and affect others’ choices to a greater degree.
Let’s say, for instance, that I decide to eat an orange. No one else may eat that orange, but that’s unlikely to cause much strife even in my home, where we lurve oranges. If there are no other oranges in the house, I can always pop out to market and pick some up. However, should I be amongst a group of friends when I decide to, say, spoil the new Star Wars film, my behaviour would get me tossed out on my ear, and rightly so. In both cases, I am accountable to those with whom I am in relationship, and to the fact that my choices affect theirs. If I eat the last orange, I merely need to pick up more oranges at market, but if I choose to spoil a movie (or book, or whatever) for someone, I’ve permanently ruined an experience for them, which is potentially an unforgivable offense. At the very least, it reveals me to be a churlish boor, and I’d have no leg to stand on if they chose not to invite me to future engagements… or to take a poke at me, for that matter.
So, then, how much more so with Faery? What if I wish to publicly reveal some shared material of the tradition considered by other initiates, folk I consider “kin,” to be oathbound? Or, if not oathbound, then “merely” sacred, to be held in confidence and secrecy? What if I should suggest to students, seekers, or other interested parties that my particular, idiosyncratic take on Faery is normative, and that Faery who practice in some other way are somehow beyond the pale? What if I decide to charge students money to be “initiated” into Faery, or to demand sexual favors from students, or to dox my fellow initiates, publishing their names and personal details for the world to see? When someone (or, more likely, several someones) comes to me with criticisms, grievances, even outright anger, how should I receive that?
Well, if we are in relationship to one another, as suggested by the term “kin,” then I am accountable to them. If it is my claim that we are part of the same tradition, I owe it to them—I am obliged—to hear their words, to consider their counsel openly and honestly, and to allow that counsel to inform the choices I make. If someone with whom I am in a relationship tells me that my choices are impeding or harming their own choices, I have a responsibility to take that seriously, to consider the possibility that I am behaving in an immoral and unethical fashion, and to modify my behaviour accordingly.
Because at the end of the day, as a wise woman once said to me, we are the choices we make and the stories we tell. The choices we make show us what kind of people we are; the stories we tell shape the choices we believe we have, and put those choices into some kind of context. If my story is that I’m wholly independent, beholden to no-one and nothing—save, perhaps, the Gods—then my choices I perceive will be limited in scope, and will tend to reinforce that worldview. If I see myself as sovereign, as hermetically isolated from other initiates, I am denying our kinship, spinning a story in which we have no relationship, and in which I’m therefore not accountable for how my choices affect theirs.
At the risk of belaboring an obvious point: that’s magic. It’s a spell… or, if you prefer, it’s a glamour, an illusion. It’s illusory, because sovereignty is a delusion. What we have, instead, is Liberty: power and agency. We have autonomy. We exist in a moral context, in relationships with others of our lineage and with the world around us. Our choices change the world, and affect the choices others can make, which makes us accountable.
At our initiation into Faery, we formally acknowledge and accept both our autonomy and our accountability, each as part and parcel of the other. However, being an initiate doesn’t grant autonomy; we have it merely by being human. As such, it shouldn’t require an oath to enforce accountability. All it should take is a basic level of consideration for others: Say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t steal somebody else’s things. Ask before you use them. Don’t spoil the movie. Share nicely, and without pouting. You know, the things we expect children to learn before they leave primary school.
After all, if we cannot be at least that accountable, if we cannot own our own words and actions, however do we expect to treat with spirits, Gods, or our own shadows?