Magical Religion is Always Falling Apart

A recent post at Patheos by Thorn Coyle, “The Sundering of Feri,” has been getting some attention, at The Wild Hunt, for instance.

She begins,

It is said of late that the Feri Tradition has been broken in two, being named by folks on one side of the divide as a split between the “Mystery tradition” (taking on the old spelling of Faery) and “public religion” (Feri). While there have been splits and factions for almost as long as the tradition has been active, while the spelling of the name changed over time, and scapegoating, shouting, and long silences have abounded, I never before felt such an energetic sundering. As I write this, I can feel the mighty gates closing on what was. What will emerge, I do not know. Perhaps nothing will change, and perhaps everything will. Such are the times we live in, and various are the pronouncements of our egos trying to figure things out.

As far as “the times we live in,” I have been hearing reports of how Faerie/Faery/Feri ain’t what it used to be ever since the 1980s.

It’s the nature of magical religion to be always splitting and changing. The only equivalent group dynamics and politics that I have seen to match it occur in martial arts schools—something else that Thorn knows a little bit about.

She wonders,

At what point in an ecstatic, syncretic, Bardic tradition, does one’s own work cease to be of that tradition?

Given that Feri has been syncretic since whenever Victor Anderson first read the works of Max Freedom Long, themselves dating from the 1930s-1940s, I really don’t think that she has a problem, conceptually speaking. So why not add Gurdjieff (shudder) and call it Feri. But she decides that she must call herself something else.

In one way, her essay points to an ongoing problem in contemporary Paganism: It’s hard to make a mass movement out of small-group mystery traditions.

Yes, we need more public events: festivals, processions, theatrical events. The ancestors also went in for sacrifice-feasting events, but the theology of publicly offering life to the gods is still too scary for most Pagans. (There are exceptions.)

The trouble is, the model of “religion” available from the monotheists is just wrong. Every seven days, everyone lines up and listens to holy books or to a long sermon or bangs their heads on the floor. That just is not us.  We are supposed to be about embodiment, ecstasy, performance, and ritual. So much is “enough” and how often do we do it?

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from The Wild Hunt. Check out the rest of the blog.

12 thoughts on “Magical Religion is Always Falling Apart

  1. I’ve always found statements like ‘we need more public events’ to be more than a little objectionable… particularly because the people making such statements never seem to question the basis of their argument. Speaking specifically of Witches: WHY do we need more public events? WHY do we need to feed into the mass marketing machine of the modern day media? All publicity ever does is water down material to the point that it becomes the consistency of pablum. Do practitioners of the Craft really want to see their mysteries disseminated to the masses by the likes of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra or whoever is the latest and greatest spiritual darling of PBS? This constant seeking of publicity does a huge disservice to the Craft. It attracts people who are only interested in consuming the latest and greatest ‘fad’ tradition. And they do it like a horde of locusts, leaving only dry husks in their wake. The initiates of all of these Craft traditions are the ones who have been entrusted with the preservation of their respective traditions. It’s high time they pushed back against people who declare themselves ‘seekers’ and approach these traditions with the same sense of entitlement as they approach everything else in their lives. ‘No’ is a perfectly valid answer to any seeker knocking at the door. Better yet: Silence.

  2. Erkalla: Perhaps I should have prefaced my statement with, “IF we want modern Pagan religions to become larger and more visible.”

    Certainly those who want smaller, mystery-focused groups should have them.

  3. > In one way, her essay points to an ongoing problem in contemporary Paganism: It’s hard to make a mass movement out of small-group mystery traditions.

    Increasingly, in teaching at CHS, I describe Paganism as an umbrella movement that groups together many related small religious traditions. It seems to me, despite the aggressive heterogeneity of the Pagan movement, that we have more in common with each other than with everyone else.

    Although this particular event is clearly a painful one for Feri/Faery, I would think that the choosing of new labels allows small groups to retain a sense of internal integrity, while (hopefully) the ability to also retain a more general label like “Pagan” allows them to identify with a wider religious community with shared social and political interests… a bit like the American Protestant schisms of the 18th and 19th centuries, perhaps.

  4. I was a student of Thorn’s years ago (when she was teaching Feri) and at the close at that training I decided that Feri is not for me and I moved on to the other things. I still keep up with some of the folks I met through the tradition and have been following this process unfold, in a piecemeal fashion, on some of less private Feri venues that are open to non-initiates.

    I ca not say that I am surprised to see this split happening. It appears to have been brewing for a while. I know it started before I began to study, which was four years ago at this point. The Feri teachings that I have encountered do not value compromise nor do they stress equanimity (outside of Thorn’s teachings), but rather a rugged, passionate individualism.

    What does surprise me is the amount of public attention this is receiving. As you wrote, magical religions are often shifting. I don’t understand what is particularly of interested to the pagan community as a whole about this one. Many other Craft traditions have already gone through this. This split does not appear to be instructive enough to warrant the in-depth coverage it is getting in the pagan media.

    All one has to look at Wicca’s history and see many of the same kinds of changes. I hope future coverage does look at how other Craft traditions have dealt with this issue and include some kind of analysis on why this particular tradition’s current issues are of interest to or applicable by other pagan religions.

  5. The Feri Trad as passed on by Victor and Cora Anderson is one of the early sources of the post-WWII Neo-Pagan Movement in North America. It existed more or less independently of the arrival of English Craft sources. It influenced the lore and development of several other Craft Trads, including Reclaiming, that, in turn, played major parts in the overall growth of Craft and Paganism. Over several decades. And, no matter what disputes and conflicts took place, the Trad as a whole, endured for all those decades.

    Perhaps there are lessons to be learned about how and what Pagan Craft can do and become in a modern and high tech society.

  6. It will continue to endure.
    To Jay, yes it is a matter of history repeating itself.
    The reason for the amount of public attention, as I see it is basicly a result of technology, far more social networking and marketing of intensives, workshops etc.via the net than during the BTW solitary practitioner/wicca for everyone period.
    Couple that with the various ‘what is Feri’ articles, it’s allure as a mysterious, secretive, ecstatic order leads to ‘yah, I wanna get me some of that”

  7. RE: The exceptions

    Don’t forget about ADF ( which is specifically dedicated to creating a public form of neopaganism.

    Of course, that said, many of us in ADF also find value in also being members of small mystery traditions as well. I find value in both.

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  10. Thanks for fine post, Chas. Your comment that Christine quoted is what especially struck me. I have long worked towards creating a broader, more inclusive Pagan culture, and I do not feel that I’ve sacrificed anything of the mystery and ecstasy of either Faery/Feri or Reclaiming in doing so. Providing occasions when Pagans come together in public (when they often invite the general interested public as well) fosters a common culture. It brings our values out into the sunlight to be shared. Some things we do in intimacy and others in public. Doing so compromises neither.

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