Secrets: the Balance of Power and Risks
Secrecy has long been a point of disagreement and contention in the greater Craft community, and the Feri-related communities are no exception. Those who teach within many Craft Traditions have set oaths, with time-honored interpretations of what those oaths entail. In contrast, many Feri teachers do not require oaths, and those that do often only apply those oaths to a very limited set of specific names and related material. This lack of consistency isn't only an issue within the "pure" Feri lines - Feri-related paths that have inherited clearly oathbound material and lore from other sources often have difficulty determining what of their Feri-derived elements need to remain secret, and to what extent.
With no uniform standard for what is considered a "Feri secret", some make the argument that there is little or no "oathbound" material, and that all material and lore should be freely made available to earnest seekers, or even to anyone who simply asks. Others believe that whether or not material is actually "oathbound" is irrelevant; the majority of Feri elements and lore should not be shared outside of a specific one-on-one teaching relationship.
Rather than embracing either of these extremes, most Feri-related folk are struggling to find a balance. Many agree that some measure of privacy or secrecy must be preserved... but not to the extent to where they would be unable to work with others who may not be Feri kin.
The effort to find that balance point requires facing ambiguity and confusion, a gray and foggy path with few guiding landmarks. This is nothing new to Feri; those on the Feri path are by now accustomed to taking the road between extremes and finding their own way. But there are many things to be considered along this middle road...
One consideration is the long historical association of secrecy with Witchcraft and other Mystery paths. From the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Cult of Dionysus, to the Teutonic Spaecrafters and the many European societies of Witches (such as the games of Erodiade and the Benevento), the Craft and it's related Mystery paths have almost always had the cloak of secrecy about them - especially those that combined the Art of Craft with religion. Part of this is because in contrast to the religions "of the masses", Religious Craft is, at heart, tribal religion:
"A tribal religion may be best understood in terms of what it is not: it is not one which claims to have a religious message for all of humanity. ... Tribal religions are religions that have something to say to a particular group of people existing at a particular place and/or time. Tribal religions serve as repositories for the collected wisdom, history, and beliefs of that tribe." (1)
Secrecy has been one of the many ways that these 'tribes' of Witches protect their members, as well as the history, lore and beliefs of those that follow their paths. For these Witches Craft is the technology of the Sacred, a set of proven methods for making connections, for creating ecstasy, and for crossing to other worlds. And, like any technology, Craft needs to be handled with caution, respect, wisdom, and care. A basic sense of responsibility demands that these technologies be shared wisely.
Also to be considered are connections to the tribe of Craft, and obligations to those who have walked these paths before - those who have charted landmarks on this path and preserved hard-won wisdom. Maintaining this wisdom requires close examination of the effects that choices have on the future of Craft and tribe.
But while recognizing these historical responsibilities and obligations may help us determine that there does need to be a line drawn, it does little to help us determine exactly where that line needs to be. How much secrecy is really necessary? What is truly essential to preserving Feri-related Craft, and the tribe that it has evolved?
In many areas it is no longer a life-threatening danger to declare oneself a Witch. The extreme form of secrecy that once was warranted to preserve lives and jobs is often unnecessary. On the positive side, we are less often looked at as the evil minions of some diabolical force. This is good - for the most part. However, as more information has been made publicly available, all too often beliefs, traditions, and rituals have been whitewashed, mutilated, and turned into something entirely unlike they were ever meant to be. Some things have been all but removed from more open forms of Craft - the raw excitement and power of sex, the aspect of death and birth being different sides of the same coin, and the deep changes that come from crossing worlds and facing internal shadows. The long-honored tradition in Craft of only teaching the best and brightest has been eroded by the ever-growing culture of entitlement we are surrounded by and the influx of new seekers that has resulted from publicity and popularity.
There are many who, in response to this influx, have subscribed to the "spaghetti theory" of winnowing seekers: "throw 'em against the wall and see who sticks" - that is, share material with whoever asks, and the current itself will sort them out for you. While it is true that this approach can make strong, vibrant Witches out of those who survive the sorting process, it has a very high ratio of damaged individuals for the result of relatively few healthy, functional Witches. It has also led to much material and lore that was once preserved within the tribe being rather easily appropriated by people who have no connection to the current that the material stems from. Without that connection, too many mistake learning about Craft with the actual learning and development that is essential to any form of Feri Craft.
In a recent discussion about Craft and secrecy, Dana Corby, Senior HPs in the Mohsian Tradition, put it this way:
"People today seem not to understand the difference between "knowing" and "knowing about". Worse, they don't seem to grasp the difference between "learning" and "becoming". I'm an old broad, and the gradual unfolding of knowledge in its proper time and way is a comfortable idea to me." (2)
The response from Jarred seems to touch the essence of both the cause and the resultant problem:
"Personally, I think several factors contribute to this matter. The first is that people feel they are entitled to know things. We live in the information age, where everything about anything is supposed to be a click of a mouse and a few keystrokes away. By suggesting that there are secrets, you are conflicting with this mentality of entitlement brought on by the information age.
"How much of your comfort with "gradual unfolding" is based on the fact that you want a healthy dose of understanding with your knowledge?
"Many folks have lost sight of the importance of understanding. Too often the information alone is thought to be where it is at. To underscore the point, look around at a lot of the witchcraft sites on the Internet. Lots of information; lists upon lists, and tons of pages about what color candles to burn and all sorts of other correspondences. But I have yet to find many (actually, I can't think of any) sites that do well at explaining how to put all that information to truly effective use." (3)
Much of Craft - and especially Feri-related forms of Craft - is not based on information so much as it is on experience. What makes a Witch and what brings someone into the tribe that is Feri-related Craft is not knowing a particular set of names for Gods and Guardians - it's the relationship that develops over a time of regularly working with Feri Gods and Guardians. It's not learning a blue fire exercise from a web page - it's experiencing the essence of the fire deep within your own three souls. It's not having head-knowledge of what Kala is or can do - it's doing the work to build Kala within yourself, to find your own Black Heart and express it in your day-to-day life. These are not things that can be learned... they can only be experienced. And without the basic experiences, there is little chance for real understanding of lore or material. It cannot even be discussed without the relevant experience to refer to. As was stated by Joseph Campbell:
"There is no way to communicate an experience in words to those who have not already had the experience - or at least something somewhat like it, to be referred to by analogy" (4)
Without connection to the tribe, and without hands-on experience with these core elements of Feri, the context of Feri lore and material is removed; the understanding, the synergistic Whole is lost. Without the overarching context, even the simplest bit of information can be - and will be - misunderstood.
Contributing to these difficulties are those who have pulled together bits and pieces of material that has made its way into the public realm, and who believe that by doing so that they have captured Feri. Some few of these people may have made the necessary connections through various means, but many others have not actually done the Work and nurtured the connections - they simply have bits and pieces of cold, impersonal information. They have learned about Feri, but they have never touched the heart of what Feri truly is. They believe that Feri can be reduced to written exercises and lists of correspondences and descriptions.
In this modern society that emphasizes cold "facts" and written words over oral culture, uninformed seekers often take those who reduce complex lore to simple printed "lessons" more seriously; when disputes arise, more weight is given to written texts than to that which is preserved by oral lore and the recounted personal experiences of those who walk the path ahead of us. All too often seekers looking for Feri find these written texts and think they have all they need. Using this sole resource, many in turn teach others, billing themselves as an authentic Feri Witch.
What will happen to things that are precious to us when they can be easily found by anyone, no matter what their agenda or motivation? Do we want Feri material and lore to be freely available to those who do not have the context of knowing Feri-folk personally, who do not have the foundation and guidance of one-on-one interaction and discussion - and who do not have connections to the current of Feri?
It takes a lot of serious thought and conversation to convey the important points of lore or practice to someone who is unfamiliar with the people or the Craft that has produced it. Even with a strong connection to the Feri current and with the guidance of others on the path, it often takes a great deal of time, exploration and hard work to even begin to grasp the nuances and hidden connections within Feri practices and lore. Without that strong connection and guidance, it is even easier for misunderstanding to occur, for the finger pointing at the moon to be mistaken for the moon itself. When those within the tribe speak out and try to correct misperceptions that arise from overly-simplified "lessons" and passed-around snippets, they often find their attempted explanations interpreted overly literally, or turned into a 30-second sound bite by those more concerned with sounding good (or making a name for themselves) than with developing understanding.
Do these very real risks that come with sharing any portion of our material and our lore mean that we should lean more strongly towards keeping tightly within our own tribes? This would preserve our Craft tribe by maintaining a veil of secrecy over our lore and practice - it would create a community where all have passed through recognizable gateways to enter, ensuring that those who have faced the personal trials of the path are able to communicate openly with others who have proven themselves on the same battlefield of the psyche and personal development.
But if we make this choice we need to take a hard look at our own motivations, and the effects that over-reaching secrecy can have on our Craft tribe: What impact would such a level of secrecy have on our ability to bring new blood into the tribe? In protecting our Craft from these dangers of the present, could we be hindering our ability to preserve it into the future? Or could we perhaps be rationalizing hanging on to some real or imagined monopoly? Would such a level of secrecy really protect our Craft, or would it just give more ammunition to those who pose a threat from within the tribe?
There are those individuals within the tribe of Feri-related Craft who have shown themselves willing to seek and wield the abusive power of the dominator. An explicit emphasis on keeping our techniques within the tribe can provide these individuals with many easy opportunities for exactly the kind of misbehavior that secrecy protects us from when perpetuated by those outside our tribe.
Another reason why such a level of secrecy may not always be in our best interests: There are very real benefits to be found in sharing. When we share with those who are walking Feri-related paths, others can help us avoid pitfalls they have already found the hard way. When we share with those outside the tribe of Feri, they might spot connections or opportunities we would have missed. When we share, we make connections with others that can draw new blood into the tribe, or that can expand our own available resources and connections.
Working collaboratively can maximize each individual's effectiveness, and can considerably expand the wisdom available to the tribe... but we must also weigh the risks and costs that come with these benefits. How much can we share before we invite an unacceptable level of risk? In what ways can we share where those risks may be minimized?
In order to walk this middle path wisely, we need to find a balance between the obligations of silence to protect our lore and our tribe, and the needs of communication to encourage the development of individuals and Craft. This tug-of-war can pull us apart; it can even fragment the tribe itself. But this fragmentation is not inevitable. There is a strong tradition in Feri of walking along narrow lines and of living comfortably on edges. We can hold silence and communication in dynamic tension, making careful choices - and taking responsibility for those choices - in each new situation... and always, always learning, so that we can make wiser and better-informed choices in the future.
There is no single perfect solution to the problems that the many possibilities that power (and perceived power) can bring. For make no mistake, secrets are a source of power. And those on Feri-related paths must come to terms with the ways in which people can exercise power, and the ways in which various uses of power are (and can be) interpreted.
Those of us who are committed to keeping the tribe of Feri alive and vibrant have a double task ahead of us: We must build on the foundation we have been given and develop the culture and the skills to preserve the knowledge and wisdom we have inherited, and tribe that is Feri-related Craft. And yet we must see that what we build and preserve continues by sharing it judiciously, wisely, and in keeping with the spirit of our tribe... and with the current of Feri itself.
In dancing along this balance point, every individual must make their own choices, and there will almost always be those that disagree with any particular choice made. While we owe it to our Feri kin to respect their choices, their boundaries and their limits, that respect must never be allowed to overshadow the duty and obligation we have to Feri itself.
1 - Austin Cline; "What are Tribal Religions? Distinguishing Characteristics, Beliefs and Practices"; from Religion 101 at About.com
2 - email list exchange, used with permission.
3 - Ibid.
4 - Joseph Campbell; The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology; Penguin Books; p21