[This essay was written back in 2011, but it touches on some conversations I’ve had recently, as well as the work I am currently doing with my teachers. I have re-written portions of this and edited it. Please enjoy!]
Pagans get a bad rap in the media. Nonconformists, anti-establishment, the lot of them – and dangerous to boot. (Not such bad things, I think!) Witches are next down the list of potentially scary people, what with their magic and generally pro-feminist attitudes. Within the Pagan subculture Feri/Faery folk get more bad rap.* I’ve heard us described as amoral, anarchist, elitist, exclusionary, black magicians who practice a sex cult. Honestly? Those descriptions are mostly true and mostly cultivated by Feri/Faery folk themselves! I’m not going to elaborate on any of those in the list, except for the first: amoral.
Ethical and moral mean pretty much the same thing. I hold a difference of nuance between the words: I think of morals as rules or guidelines established externally, that large groups of people, like a society or organized religions, adhere to; whereas ethics are more on the personal, small group plane, rules enforced from within. In this case, I would agree that Feri is highly amoral and yet is highly ethical. To carry the distinction further, I think Feri has a core set of values, though these are expressed in as many ways as there are practitioners of the tradition.
Online you can find many explications of the Iron Pentacle. This will be my contribution to the list. I’m not going to get into the energetic or mystical applications of this pentacle. Suffice it to say that running the Iron Pentacle is a powerful meditation, helpful daily practice, and from what I understand, a bright beacon into the Otherworld announcing one’s presence.
Iron Pentacle, in black and white
Here are what these points mean to me.
Sex: Sex sits at the top. The pentacle begins from this place. Sex is, well, pretty straight forward on one level. It’s sex. Sweaty, delicious, primal – it’s the stuff from which life is made, literally. Stepping back one step from the x-rated, sex is also Life Force, equally primal, but more ‘every day’ way. One of the marks of witchcraft is that its tools seek to help the witch tap into Life Force, connect with the Current. Tantra uses different language, but in my mind is describing much the same thing.
Life force swirls all around us, all the time. Can we tap into that? Can we feel it? Harness it? Can we ride it? As a breastfeeding mother, my hormones are entirely out of whack, in comparison to what they were pre-baby; I just don’t have much of a sex drive (thank you body/evolution for naturally spacing my kids!). As a woman pregnant in the third trimester, I am usually too tired or sore or just plain hugely awkward to get in the mood. So for me, focusing on the sex point has been an exercise in feeling past just the rise of lust. Sometimes feeling deeper into the primal, life force aspect of sex can help me get into the mood.
Extrapolating sex into the value sphere, sex is a good thing. It’s not something to be afraid of or ashamed of. But it is something around which we have boundaries and which we honor (the other pentacle points help do this). Sexuality in all its forms, between consenting parties, can be a truly holy and liberating experience. We can see and feel Life Force in sex, and we can feel and see sex in a kiss, in the energy of children playing in the park**, in a blade of grass inching through the crack in the cement. Expanding our understanding of sex can bring a heightened erotic and sensual appreciation to every day points of connection, as well as improve our actual sex lives.
Pride: This is word that I think is confused with another, regardless of strict definitions. Pride is not arrogance. Pride is more than self-esteem. Pride to me is lack of shame. It is respecting myself, my efforts, my accomplishments, and creating boundaries to protect these things. Too often I see people mistake self-possession and pride for arrogance, and mistake arrogance for swagger. Learning to say no falls into this point for me. Standing strong in my choices and taking responsibility for them are part of pride. I’d like to see more people embrace pride.
Something that has come up for me in my continued meditations on this point is that I desire to find the ego-less aspect of pride. How can I find the place of pride that is beyond ego? I’m not sure yet. Part of it, I think, is in letting go of the ‘lust of results,’ to be slightly Buddhist about things. I think that as I let go of the dregs of arrogance in my life, I won’t need to preen about my boundaries; I can stand in my choices and let them speak for themselves. Prideless pride – a real Zen koan there, but that is what I’m aiming for, very much inspired by my work with Shiva.
Self: Again, this raises another set of words that though they mean the same thing, have different nuances. Self-centeredness and selfish – they mean the same thing, but ideally people ought to be centered in themselves. Rooted. Taking pride in themselves. Centering their lives around themselves. This does not mean a person need be selfish – miserly, unwilling to share, defensive, quick to overlook others for their own gain, etc. If we are rooted in our selves, if we have healthy boundaries, we don’t need to be defensive, we can share freely, or we can say no and not feel bad about it. As a mother I am constantly giving of my self. Constantly. But I am rooted in my choices and I foster ways to come back to my self and meet my own needs. Only by being strong in my Self can I give of myself to others.
One way my Hindu practice has influenced my understanding of this point is that I am more intentionally seeking my True Self. I believe that seeking the Deep or True Self is the actual goal of this point, but my work with Shiva and Kali have assisted me in moving past standing up for myself and working toward really connecting to my God Soul, my Self beyond self.
Power: This word is problematic, too! I maintain that there is nothing wrong with power. Everyone craves power. We want to feel that we have the ability and efficacy to do things we want. On a physical level, I want the power to lift my fat baby. Energetically, I want the power to connect with the Gods, as well interact with strong boundaries and respect with the people I meet in my day.
Yet too many people have absorbed negative aspects and ideas of power. Do we choose power-over, or power-with? Understanding the difference here is crucial for wielding power responsibly. I think too often power is discussed as a pawn in a zero-sum game: some people have power and the more power one person has, the less power there is to go around. But it’s not like that! There is all the power in the world. Sure, my power doesn’t allow me to run the United States (not yet anyway), but that’s a role, a function, and says nothing about my power or your power in our day to day lives. We are not victims.
Running the Iron Pentacle allows me to fuel my power. When I am tapped into my own power I am less likely to let others wield their power over me or to fear and shy away from the power of others. I feel more able to work with the power of others.
Passion: Passion is not the kind of lustful passion that is confused with sex in pop songs and tv shows. But it’s not not that either. Passion, for me, relates to the feeling I get when I am at the opera, lost and rapt in the sound and beauty of the music. Passion is the ease and joy of hard work, when you look up at the clock and marvel at how the time flew by. Passion is a hunger. Not the hunger of starvation, where any slightly less rancid piece of food will do in order to fend off death. No, it’s the hunger of more nourishment, the desire for more of what makes your soul yell ‘YES!’
And then we return to sex. It all comes back to Life Force.
How are these values? Some may say they’re not. I say they are. These are things I’m teaching my children: to care for themselves, to foster and find Life Force all around them, not to be afraid of sex (well, I’ll teach them that when it’s appropriate), to have strong boundaries, to say No, to say Yes, to take pride in their achievements, to take responsibility for their choices and actions, to have passion in what they do, to be Self-centered, to know their own strength, to share themselves, their power, and their passion with others. These are the things I work on myself. These are the things I value.
*I think Wiccans get the worst rap by constantly being assumed to be “fluffy-bunnies.”
**Let me be abundantly clear that I DO NOT mean I see ‘sex in children’ as in ‘it is ok to sexualize children.’ NO. I see the free, uninhibited strength of Life Force in children. It is never, ever, NEVER ok to have sex or initiate anything sexual with a being that cannot comprehend the consequences and give complete consent. Just so we’re clear.