In this contemporary largely Western (European-diasporic/influenced) Pagan culture/s that I exist in, co-create and partake of, many of us speak of ‘traditions’. It is my intent below to contextualise, flesh out and clarify what I personally mean and refer to when I speak of ‘a’ or ‘my’ tradition.
In many religious and spiritual traditions there exists a common, underlying principle or factor which unites or at least qualifies the specificity of a certain grouping of co-religionists. Let me highlight this point:
All of Christianity rests upon the principle that the Christ (deriving from the Greek ‘Kristos’ meaning ‘Anointed One’ – similar to the Judaic ‘Messiah) represents the embodiment or vehicle through which the grace, presence and divinity of God (the Loving Creator of All Creation) exists/extends into the world/s.
All of Buddhism rests upon the principle that aside from the influence or presence of deities or Deity (or whether that is a question to be answered) exists the individual’s own liberation from perpetual reincarnation or attachment to the processes of birth, life, death and rebirth (and thus suffering rooted in attachment to the ‘outcome/s’ of Desire) by recognising and sitting within the Buddha nature of Enlightenment.
All of (Western-European) Paganism, and for now I am speaking of what is sometimes called Neo-Paganism (though I find this a subtly problematic term), is based on, in my personal opinion/experience, a reverence, celebration and service of the immediacy of Place and the Spirits which comprise it. Thus, every Place we arrive at or within is understood to be another expression of embodiment of the Divine whose nature it is to express itself directly in the Flesh which implies its Spirit. Pagan Philosophy does not rest on essentialist or moralistic dichotomies and indeed in our Place-centred focus our rituals become aligned to a Cosmology which understands every Place to be a Centre to the Circumference which is Boundless and thus we touch the Infinite – Here and Now.
In my mind, if a Tradition holds this focus of Place and alignment to Place at the forefront of its religious ritual and philosophy, it is indeed Pagan. For the earliest etymology we have of the Latin term ‘paganus/pagani’ is actually an early Greek term ‘pagus’ referring to ‘the area’, to ‘the place’. When contemporary Pagans refer to Paganism having come from local ‘country-dweller’ cults, what we must remember is that before the development of urban centres, this was simply fact. Every Place had its Cult and Spirits related to the functions and particularities of the Cult. Thus ‘traditions’.
When I speak of WildWood Witchcraft being one of my traditions; and it is in fact my religious home, just as T. Thorn Coyle might refer to Feri being her religious home; I am speaking to a post-modern, information-age, globalised reality of the planet I inhabit. We are much more prone, at least in the West, to travel much further and much faster than ever before, not just in the body, but also in our thoughts by the click of a button on a keyboard or an iPhone. We are in instant access to knowledge that for thousands upon thousands of years was kept within specific locales and revered by particular communities alone. I often use the example of a young Celtic warrior in old Ireland dreaming of a black-skinned woman rising voluptuously from the folding waves of the Ocean – perhaps She might say to him, “My name is Yemaya.” But what if She did not? Would his religious elders or priest/esshood be able to respond to this dream? These days if I had that vision, I would either look up key-words associated with the dream/vision/visitation on Google and find out that way (at least a thread), or ask someone from a tradition that works with African spirits and deities. This world has been opened up and information flies free; we know so much more. How then are we in Place, and what is the substance of Tradition today?
We are in Place when we can drop into our breath, into our animal consciousness (which in Feri might be called Fetch, Child Self; what I call Shadow Self/Soul) and understand the rhythms and subtleties comprising the over-arching Spirit of Place. We are in Place when we can look up at the Sun, follow its arc, and orient ourselves directionally to where we desire to be, where we need to go. We are in Place when we turn the corner, around the block, sigh with a breath of connection and communion and consider making an offering out of pure love and adoration, and turn to find a homeless person requiring money; to understand that Spirits of Place is not an abstract notion. So we make an offering to a human spirit of place in need. We are in Place when we would rise up to speak out against ecologically-destructive behaviour in the human community we are a part of or political policy which would degrade the integrity of our already-frayed connection with Place. We are in Place when we greet the other-than-human relations with a sense of familiarity, or if not that, a sense of kinship that is universal and innate. When a Pagan Tradition can speak to Place in such ways it is fulfilling the substance of our Earth-aligned and Cosmos-aware spirituality. We are committing to a soulful integrity and choosing to act from that place – we are in Grace.
How then can my largely European-inspired tradition, from places far away, from folk-lore, myth and magic associated with those places, deepen and expand my relationship with Place? When I cultivate priesthood to deities who rose out of mythos and magic associated with specific cultures in specific regions, how does that serve the Spirits of the Place that I reside in or travel in? How is that possible when I live in South-East Queensland, in Australia – a spiritual landscape dominated by the Abrahamic traditions, resonating a devastatingly-damaged Aboriginal spirituality which sings in the Land? How is it possible in that I travel often back and forth between the northern and southern hemispheres and to Bali, Island of the Gods? It is within the ethical directives which are offered by the counsel of the religious community gathered around the service and celebration of the Tradition. It is within what is communicated by the religious rituals held sacred by these communities and within the cosmologies which underpin and directly inform these rituals. If a Pagan ritual does not answer to the Spirit/s of the Place, then it is nothing but mere anachronism and weightless and ineffective symbolism. Notice here, that I am speaking of Pagan tradition, and not questioning the efficacy of magical systems which do not identify as Pagan (and therefore may not be Place-aligned). That is for someone else to comment on, or argue.
There are three traditions of contemporary Paganism, and even more specifically, contemporary Witchcraft (Ecstasy-driven, Earth-based, Mystery Traditions), of which I can consciously claim to be thoroughly involved in. I am an initiate and priest of the WildWood Tradition, I am an active Reclaiming Witch and Priestess and I am a student of the Anderson Feri Tradition. Each of these traditions have similar histories of emergence; intertwined realities underlying their existence in our world today. Not one of these traditions or those individuals associated with their emergence into the world claim or claimed any direct, unbroken human-to-human lineage from clandestine Witchcraft covens of the misty past; however, each of these traditions is as ancient as the stars and as vital as the new-born babe.
The original coven of what is now the WildWood Tradition was co-founded by four young queer males (mostly late-aged teens) who sought to create safe, open and deep space for other young Pagan Witches to share in magic and mystery together. Through the family history of spirit possession and mediumship of my own Balinese inheritance, the four divinities we know call the Sacred Four, much of the lore, mythos, magic and even liturgy of our Tradition has come to us, and still comes. As I often say, in reverent awe and mirthful humour – “Oh the WildWood – such a deep and ever-giving wellspring of Mystery!” We are a tradition of Witchcraft which shares much more in common with forms of old and revived European Traditional Witchcraft, more so than Gardnerian-diasporic forms of Wiccan Witchcraft. We are focussed on Wild Nature (this includes human nature) and our covenant is to Love, Truth and Wisdom, crowned by Beauty, praying ever for the Peace which is the Paradise of the Gods (including our own Godhood). “We know that the Wild is Implicit, Innate and Intrinsic – the Wild is not out-of-control, it will always possess the deepest and most profound integrity of all.” (Principles of WildWood)
Reclaiming Witchcraft is a tapestry woven of four distinct threads and grows ever from that foundation. A great deal of Reclaiming magical practice and lore derives from the Anderson Feri Tradition. One example of this truth is that two of the four main core classes of the tradition are based on the Feri Pentacles – Iron and Pearl – and that Reclaiming Circle-casting rites acknowledge not just East, South, West and North, but also Above, Below and Centre. A second thread is the political, social and environmental activism which is integral to a tradition which is deeply Pagan and thus responds to Place and all the responsibilities connected within inhabiting a Place upon the Earth. Thirdly, our Ecofeminism – “Our feminism includes a radical analysis of power, seeing all systems of oppression as interrelated, rooted in structures of domination and control.” (Reclaiming Principles of Unity). A fourth thread is Reclaiming’s focus on personal development to allow for a grounding in and celebration of power-from-within. Reclaiming Witchcraft seeks to encourage ways of life which rest upon conscious and care-full attitudes and interrelationships in this Great Web of Being we name ‘the Goddess’.
The Anderson Feri Tradition is a form of modern traditional Witchcraft which grows forth from the teachings of Victor and Cora Anderson, and also one of their earliest initiates – Gwydion Pendderwen. All of these progenitors of Feri Witchcraft are counted now amongst the Beloved and Mighty Dead. “Although a highly personal path, it [Feri/Faery] has old and strange roots reaching into other lands and influences such as Huna, Afro-centred spirituality, Celtic symbolism, Tantric mysticism, Middle-Eastern gnosis, ecstatic practice, and draws from realms of art and folklore.” (www.feritradition.org)
Some in the Pagan communities of today, globally, will wield their traditions as weapons of defence against a perceived ‘tyranny’ of pluralism and ‘rampant’ eclecticism – which in and of itself is the social manifestation of religious/theological polytheism Pagans are so renowned for. However, the majority of Pagans who speak of “my tradition/s”, are speaking from Place as contextualised by geography (past and present), philosophy and cosmology. When I speak of the WildWood I am speaking from the Place/s of the Wild, the Wyrd and the Web and with Love, Truth and Wisdom. When I speak of Reclaiming I am speaking from the Place of Empowerment, Justice-making (thank-you Khi Armand) and Ecstatic Communion with the Living Goddess. When I speak of Feri I am speaking from the Place of Mysterious Sorcery, Magical Mastery and the Witch as Warrior of the Desire of the Divine. However, what I love, is that for me, each of those Places spoken from by each of these Traditions exists fully in the realities of the others. For me, WildWood, Reclaiming and Feri can not be without each other.
This was meant to be a blog, it has become an essay I did not necessarily intend. It is also the beginning of a series of film clips that I will be co-creating with my good friend and fellow WildWood and Reclaiming Witch Brendan Hancock which explores my triad Traditions and the Places I explore by the meeting of three paths – WildWood, Reclaiming and Feri.
I am naming this series – The WildWood Reclaims the Faerie.
I hope you join me in my journey.