Changes in trad over time
Been contemplating Feri trad, and how it's changing. Or rather, how public perception of it is changing.
Feri's a small trad. A cluster of lines, really, pointing to a single originator (although there's some debate about lines that don't trace to Victor Anderson, there are few enough of them, and they're not publicly active much, so the debate remains mostly academic). So: fifteen years ago, Feri was a little-known Wicca-ish variant active in the SF Bay Area. (It's not really Wicca-ish, in that it doesn't trace to Gardner at all. But it does cast circles, call four elements, honor a moon goddess, and so on. From the outside, especially from a non-pagan outside, it looks like Wicca. Fine.)
Then Francesca DeGrandis published "Be A Goddess," which was an introduction to Third Road, her variant of Feri. Then Thorn Coyle started teaching Feri at various spots around the country--a two-year course that meets every other month for a full-day intensive. (Or maybe a weekend intensive. I dunno details; I just know that it's definitely not the traditional coven structure.) Around then, Gabriel started teaching Feri online, emailing students lessons and having them discussed on a Yahoogroup. Eventually, many Feri witches (sometimes called Faery, but that makes them too easy to confuse with RJ Stewart's stuff and Orion Foxwood's stuff and the McFarland Dianics and some other trads out there) went online, and Yahoogroups-Feri occured. And exploded. And was shut down due to internal trad politics. Somewhere in there, Thorn published "Evolutionary Witchcraft." The Witch Eye zine that Max Airborne started as a small initiates-and-friends publication was handed off to Storm Faerywolf, who made it much more public, selling it to pagan shops all over the country.
I've got mixed opinions on a lot of that, but those aren't what I'm writing about. I'm considering how the public face of Feri has changed, how very many people claim an interest in what was formerly a small, obscure path with strict membership rules. It seems odd to think of Feri as "strict"--but it was. It required an extreme devotion to a creative and erotic style of spirituality, and a deep resonance with at least one initiate, or you couldn't even find out the basics.
Now, that's all changed. Anyone with a casual interest can join any of a handful of email lists where initiates, students and others will happily throw terminology around, explain some of the formerly-secretive aspects of the tradition, and encourage the stranger to play with Feri magick as much or as little as s/he likes. Which... umm. On its own, not too bad. But what it means for the trad... when the subject Feri comes up on an online forum or email list, we now have people who've never actually met a Feri initiate, speaking up about what the trad is, what the terminology means, and how the practices work. I've heard several things said about Feri that have no connection to my practices... but do accurately describe some of the public, pay-for-training, long-distance-student lines.
The teachers of these types of Feri don't try to claim theirs is the only way. They tell their students, "all lines of Feri are different. All practices are different. All are still Feri." But without something to compare it to, they don't know what that means. For example, Thorn uses dance moves to invoke each point of the Iron Pentacle. Students may assume that other lines use different dance moves, or use songs or tunes, or something like that. They may not be aware that some lines have an entirely different understanding of the IP--that they may think of it as an archetype/entity who is invoked like a deity. Or that some lines invoke the IP by acting out the five points. Or something else entirely. (I dunno, maybe someone connects it to chakra points. Or the five senses.) The ones who teach parts of Feri to strangers leave those strangers to draw their own conclusions about which aspects of Feri are shared by all or at least many, and which are unique to the line they've learned from.
I'm not (meaning to) bitch about my trad politics; I'm wondering what other trads have dealt with something similar. I'm wondering if Feri is facing the inevitability of the schisms that the BTWs have gone through, where some lines are considered legit, and others are not. Where large groups wind up renaming themselves to clarify their practices, but still insist they are part of the original group (which is often very reasonable). Where some lines claim to be practicing "the original Feri," and others claim "Feri has changed; it now allows _______." This is complicated by the fact that Feri doesn't have a specific BOS nor set of requirements for initiation nor package of lore that all initiates know... we identify each other mostly by, umm, spiritual flavor. By the style of energy we work with, and how that shapes our worldview. (There's a small packet of info given to initiates--secret names, signs, and so on. It'd fit on a postcard.)
I cringe when I see Feri mentioned on public pagan forums & email lists. I keep wanting to jump in and say, "nooo! That's not wrong, exactly, but it's not right, either." But I'm not sure--I almost want the protection offered by the poor information; the less people know about the trad, the safer we are from scam artists and weird persecutions. The less understood we are, the easier it is to spot the ones who really are drawn to the tradition. Almost makes me want to write a book, "Secrets Of The Feri Wytches," about drug-enhanced orgies and demon-summoning rituals and six years of training involving 14-day fasts and consumption of cobra venom.
I'm torn between wanting to correct misinformation, and wanting us to hide behind whatever protects us from scrutiny, including lies and exaggerations.