New Dogma and the Evolution
We all keep them, in carefully hand-scribed
notebooks, squirreled away in closets or bookshelves or file cabinet drawers.
Some go high-tech and burn them on a CD. No matter how they're stored, we care
for and treasure them. After all, what's a Witch without a grimoire, a spell collection--a
book of shadows?
The Feri/Vicia Tradition of Witchcraft
is an oral tradition. Because of this, it should come as no surprise
that many Feri Witches' books of shadows are filled with notes
taken at the feet of our teachers from talks, stories, and lessons.
For although the tradition is to transmit information orally,
we live in a larger society that encourages us to objectify information.
We hear it, then we write it down.
Often, note-taking is done furiously, frantic
hands scrawling hallowed lessons that seem to float off the teacher's
tongue as we struggle to commit their words to paper. But Feri/Vicia,
being an oral tradition, is slippery. All of us must admit that,
for the most part, what we manage to write down isn't always adequate.
At best, notes of our teachers' talks serve as guideposts--mnemonic
devices that help us open the rusty doors of our own memories
of that day we were taught a particular lesson. When we flip through
our collection of notes months or years later, we'll often recall
the essence of what our teacher was trying to say on that occasion.
But written notes in a book
are not a cornerstone of our religion. By its nature, true Feri/Vicia is about
the work. We've been given exercises to align our three selves, to connect to
the gods, to explore our psychic senses, and to journey from our bodies. Feri/Vicia
is a tradition of exploration and direct contact. That is how Feri/Vicia can best
However, one practice influencing
the evolution of Feri is the exchange of books of shadows. Perhaps you've been
approached. Perhaps you've acquiesced, handed over your personal notes in exchange
for another's, and paid your dues over a hot photocopier. Maybe you hesitated
at first, but the promise of more lore, more information than what you had personally
was just too good to pass up.
Even more removed
from the source is the practice of swapping books of others (often without permission),
from Feries who have no idea that their personal books of shadows are being traded
like pork bellies on the open market. It should surprise no one, then, that if
you share your personal book, you take the risk that it may someday get in the
hands of practically everyone in the community. This may include people you don't
know (or care for). It could even get posted on the web for anyone to see, or
go uncredited with just the bare notes left for others to make sense of. Or even
worse, someone else may put their name on your notes. Ethics aside, Pagans can
go to great and desperate lengths to boost their egos. Swappers beware.
books of shadows is not akin to practicing Feri/Vicia. It has, however, had a
profound influence on how Feri is taught and understood. How do you spell that
particular Goddess' name? What did So-and-So say about the fetch? Didn't What's-Her-Name
write that myth down? Just reach for their book. For those who have no teachers,
or access to the lore, how else are they supposed to learn? Shouldn't this lore
be preserved, especially books of those who have passed on? We're talking about
information, conveniently accessible and organized, from those insiders in the
There is also the whole
subject of secrets. Does the underground exchange of Feri books of shadows compromise
the mysteries within the tradition? If oathbound material that is supposed to
be memorized and never written appears in a swapped book, secrets are exposed
and oaths are broken again.
So much for oral
tradition. And when it comes to context, what's to say that what you get when
you pour over these coveted Feri books is intelligible? So-and-So may have been
high as a kite when they wrote down that ritual outline. And when you try What's-Her-Name's
half-scrawled out spell (that fails to mention key ingredients), should you be
surprised when it proves to be ineffectual? With context removed, and personal
contact cut off, what is learned?
reliance on notes from others has also affected how Feri is practiced. Many view
them as the last word on Feri. But looking to these swapped books as authorized
Feri enlightenment is a poor substitute for direct contact with the gods. The
notes have become the new dogma. For if practices, lore, and rituals aren't in
the books, then how can they be Feri? And if one innocently shares personal insights
that aren't in keeping with the books, is that somehow less valid? It has to be
codified to be Feri--preserved? Like a nature preserve? Or a zoo?
doesn't create preserves. Nature evolves. It grows beyond fences and walls of
outmoded ideas. And the child of nature would never accept a zoo as anything less
than a prison.
Exchanging books of shadows
should not be a fundamental practice in the Feri Tradition. It is more symptomatic
of a society that thinks linearly and objectifies information. At best, swapped
books can provide supplemental information and historical perspective. At worst,
they become dogma. If we rely on the swapped books to understand Feri, then we
limit the direction our religion takes in our lives and our community. Our tradition
is taught orally. Feri gives the individual the authority to talk to the gods
and ask for their help. "Perceive first, then decide what to believe,"
Victor Anderson often said. Feri is also about helping others, and speaking truths.
alternative approach to exchanging the many books of shadows is to instead personally
share what we know, what we suspect, and what the gods tell us within our covens.
When Feri/Vicia is taught with personal contact, even with a telephone conversation,
the current is exchanged, the electricity is there. The juice is alive in the
recipient, and they will dream powerfully come nightfall. Coven representatives
can gather and pow-wow and exchange what's appropriate, bringing our tradition
new life free of dogma and a reliance on swapped books. The art of memory is another
area that could be revitalized. If the Feri/Vicia current is alive, then we can
tap into its source, individually and together, through the practices Victor and
Cora Anderson have given us, their students, and their students' students. If
the Feri/Vicia Tradition is to grow, then it must give practical emphasis on personal
exploration and discovery.
in Witch Eye #8
Jim is an initiate of Victor and Cora Anderson and a founding member
of Mandorla coven. He and his partner operate Acorn Guild