Author, teacher and podcaster T. Thorn Coyle has an essay on Patheos where she gives her take on a split in the Feri tradition of witchcraft. I have no connection to Feri and little knowledge of it beyond this and a few other articles on the web – I have no stake in this dispute, and no desire to weigh in on the merits and demerits of closed vs. open traditions.
But Thorn’s essay is very timely with the series I’m doing here on initiation and I’d like to point out some of her comments that are relevant to that topic.
The first is that she references Isaac Bonewits’ three types of initiation. If you didn’t read Isaac’s work based on my recommendation, hopefully you’ll go read it based on Thorn’s. She says that Feri initiation combines all three types into one ritual, and adds a fourth type mentioned by John Michael Greer: “acceptance into the fold of the community or clan.” This clearly shows the strong emphasis some groups place on initiation – you cannot be a full member if you haven’t been properly initiated. This emphasis (which is not unique to Feri) is one of the reasons why many Pagans feel like they should be initiated even if they aren’t affiliated with such a group.
When a group attaches so much importance and so many meanings to initiation it is natural for the members to feel that initiation must be clearly and definitively earned. I do not know the requirements for initiation into the Feri tradition but Thorn mentions that even though her students worked very hard “the initial two-year class did not lead to initiation.” There is value in and a place for an exclusive group that has high standards and hard requirements, but that does not mean that initiation in general must be restricted to those who are called to such a laborious path. The initiation process can work on many levels – clearly the types of initiations I’m discussing here work at a less intensive level than that of Feri.
For background on the roots and traditions of Feri, Thorn refers readers to this article by Niklas Gander. In it, Gander says “It is often said that sometimes there are Feri casualties, where initiations have gone horribly wrong, and the candidate does not re-emerge unscathed.” This doesn’t refer to physical dangers like James Ray sweat lodges. It refers to the emotional and spiritual dangers of the deep introspection required by mystical practice. What pain, what injuries, what dreams, what disappointments have you buried deep within your soul? If you wish to truly “know thyself” you must uncover them and deal with them. Not everyone can handle the truth.
It also refers to encounters with spiritual beings, not all of whom are warm and fuzzy. We can argue whether those spiritual beings are individual entities or elements of our own psyche, but if you do this work, you will encounter them. Be prepared. This concept is not new and certainly not unique to Paganism, either ancient or modern. Remember the Hebrew story of Jacob wrestling with Yahweh – Jacob received a blessing but was wounded in the process.
I think Thorn accurately describes the spectrum of initiatory experiences when she says “there are as many varieties of initiation as there are human beings. The Mystery cannot be taught, and can never be bought or sold or spoken. The Mystery can only reveal itself in time.”
To repeat the words of Robin Wood, the gods initiate – we only officiate. We cannot create a mystical experience for a candidate. But we can facilitate such an experience, by creating an atmosphere and a ritual structure where true mystical initiation can occur – to the degree that the candidate is prepared and receptive.
I’m still working on that initiation ritual outline, but with all the delays I’m starting to wonder if it’s meant for me to post it. Stay tuned…