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.
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?
In the future, this blog will feature a series of essays from multiple authors, examining and expanding on the 2011 Faery statement of principles. Of these principles, “We do not charge for teaching the core of the Faery tradition” receives the most public attention, perhaps because among the principles, it is the most concrete and easy to grasp. In that way, I think this principle has overshadowed other parts of the statement that were intended to have equal or greater weight. In light of this attention, I chose to address the statement’s last principle first.
Although our opinions are diverse (with some having a more liberal and others a stricter view), many of those who embrace the statement of principles affirm that a witch can ethically charge and accept barter for a wide range of magical services. These may include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Spiritual direction or counseling sessions
Short-term in-person teaching of non-initiatory, skill-based Craft material
Writings and instructional videos of non-initiatory, skill-based Craft material
Long-term teaching of herbalism, personal development, occult philosophy and history, astrology, traditional medicine, bodywork, or other knowledge that may inform but is not formally part of an initiatory Craft tradition
As a group, our commitment to offering initiatory training without monetary obligation is rooted in our own experiences of economic instability and hardship and those of our loved ones. Unlike so many of the other occult innovators of the twentieth-century, Victor and Cora Anderson were not born into economic privilege. Their young adulthood was lived during the struggles of the Depression and World War II, and both experienced the death of close loved ones during childhood. As a young married couple, they experienced profound poverty and even, at times, hunger. Although the Andersons struggled financially throughout their lives, they taught their students free of charge. Especially during the Andersons’ later years, those who benefited from their work showed their gratitude in many ways, including gifts of food and money, visits, errands, and other support.
Some of those who embrace the 2011 Faery statement of principles are blessed to find themselves in comfortable economic circumstances now but have struggled in the past. Among us are those have experienced major illness, or supported families during the major illness of a spouse; who have struggled after a divorce or death, sometimes as single parents; who have lost jobs and unsuccessfully sought work for months on end while bills mounted; who have pursued advanced education and took on heavy debt, only to graduate in a contracted job market; and who have lived on a meager pension or disability payments. Some of us still struggle in those circumstances and are quietly helped by loved ones. We know that difficult times come to many individuals and families, especially in the political and economic climate we find ourselves in today, and we share a commitment to provide aid to each other and our communities during times of crisis.
Although some of us paid teachers for parts of our training, many of us were taught without financial obligation and fed in our teachers’ homes, even when our teachers themselves were struggling. Some of us were trained during financially difficult periods in our lives when we could not have afforded to pay for training. As teachers, we do not want the financial situations of either our students or ourselves to create barriers between us. With the generosity of the Andersons and our other teachers in mind, but knowing that our resources are finite, we have committed only to teach as many students as we can meaningfully welcome into our homes as family. This practice helps to create the permanent, stable, emotionally intimate relationships that are essential to our Craft.
We celebrate those among us who make a living teaching knowledge that, while not part of the Craft itself, informs our understanding of it: poetry, literature, religious studies, ethics, history, anthropology, psychology, biology, physics, and more. We do not, however, consider teaching to have a higher status than other kinds of work. Among us are health care providers, craftspeople, workers in the service industry, administrators, and many others—all of whom bring their insights as witches to relationships with co-workers, clients, and the public. We affirm that all these professions can be the right work of a witch, who creates a subtle but pervasive positive impact on hir community.
May we all be prosperous and surrounded by loving kin; may we all find our right work.