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Thirteen Magical Secrets About the Practice of Feri

by valerie walker
©2006

[All Magical Secrets quoted from Kathan Brown, Magical Secrets about Thinking Creatively: the Art of Etching and the Truth of Life, Crown Point Press/Prestel, 2006]

(On a recent visit to the new DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, Ron and I were viewing a room full of etchings in the Anderson Gallery of Graphic Art, including works by Robert Bechtle, Wayne Thiebaud, Chuck Close, Richard Diebenkorn, and John Cage (yes, that John Cage!), among others. The exhibit catalog, available in one corner of the gallery, used as its theme the Thirteen Magical Secrets of Thinking Creatively from the book of the same name by Kathan Brown, founding director of Crown Point Press, source of all the works shown. [Website here.]

It occurred to me that thinking creatively is closely akin to thinking magickally, and that all these principles could be useful to practitioners of Feri. Hence these meditations--vw.)


1. Cultivate Sensuality
Discover details of the physicality of materials.


To run one's fingers over silk or stone, feeling the rough and the smooth;

To gaze entranced into a crystal, falling deep into the rainbows and the inclusions which seem to form miles-deep shafts into its heart;

To feel the silky touch of water in one's mouth during the Kala rite;

To listen to the music of the chants and invocations in a ritual without thought of their literal meanings;

To smell and taste the cakes and wine which are the body and the blood of the gods, at this moment simply food and drink;

To feel the subtle physical changes within us during magickal workings, as innocent of significance as a dust mote floating in the air;

To detach what things and experiences mean from what they are, and simply bathe in that existence:


That is to cultivate the sensuality which is the path to the Black Heart.

Try to hark back to your own childhood:

The child lies on her back in a grassy field during a sunny English morning in 1942, chewing on a grass stem and regarding the big white clouds which, that afternoon, would transform the day into a rainscape.

She revels in the golden slant of sun through centuries-old oaks on a summer afternoon in Buckinghamshire a few years later, the war a million miles away.

Somewhere in time, she is still poring fascinated over shards of white quartz found in the ruins of a bombed-out house a short distance from her own, simply enjoying the play of light on the glittering stones in the place of death.


These sensual memories are among the most important I have. My connection with my Fetch has not diminished over the years, despite being overlaid by Talker's concerns. There is a treasure at everyone's roots.

2. Use a Lot of Time
Take enough time for what you are doing and be aware that you've embarked on a lifelong pursuit.


NOT one of my strengths, the patience necessary to go through each step of a long and sometimes tedious process (whether religious, magickal, culinary, artistic, political, therapeutic, or whatever) without skipping to the end of the book and reading the last pages to see how it all turns out. The thought that I'll be doing this until I die intimidates and tires... or brings the empowerment of knowing I'll always have sufficient time to perfect my Craft, even were I to die in the next five minutes. My life in the Craft see-saws between these two feelings.

Sticking at anything for the long haul, be it a relationship, a religion, an art, or any other endeavor, means that you are married to it in all ways possible, good and bad. Cora Anderson has told me repeatedly that initiation is being married to the Goddess. So how to handle that relationship, day-to-day, for all the years after the wedding? In the Ever After (to borrow a phrase from Jungian Alan Chinen), the post-heroic second acts of our lives take place. The heroic quest of the first part of life has been accomplished, and now... what? If we are still thinking in the youthful heroic mode of rescuing the princess and slaying the dragon, those years of filling in gaps, repairing, and doing whatever is needful, of dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions made far in the past, might appear deadly dull. But the post-initiatory experience is far from the repetition of the pre-initiatory quest. There are completely new tasks to be undertaken. Subtle, previously unconscious motives and inspirations will surface and lend great satisfaction to the next stages of the journey. We must change our minds whenever they need it. There's plenty of time. Initiation is only a beginning.

3. Get into the Flow
Encourage a mental state called "flow" that has a connection to creativity.


Turning off Talker (or, rather, letting Talker turn herself off and allowing Fetch and Godself to communicate) is one of those paradoxical activities which the harder you try, the less likely it is to happen. Effortless ease is the child of Detachment and Intent. These two things may seem to be at cross-purposes, but it is only when your intent has taken you over completely that you can become truly detached from it and let it work you rather than your trying to work it. What Chaos magickians call "lust for results" is an enemy of flow.

Complacency is another enemy of flow. Neil Gaiman says: "...the price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted." To rest in accomplishments or goals attained is in Qabalistic terms to be in Da'ath, and to turn those things into Qlippothic shells of themselves. To flow is to move, and to keep moving. Stagnant waters decay; to flow you must be in the current and let it carry you along, even away from those things you desired. The state of flow will evade you if you are still attached to the past, either with regret for things not done or with pride in what you have accomplished. Let it all go and drift with the now. Trust.

4. Have an Idea
Think about what you are doing.


Due diligence "is the effort made by an ordinarily prudent or reasonable party to avoid harm to another party or himself. Failure to make this effort is considered negligence." Anything worth doing requires a certain amount of due diligence, and that's Talker's job. Of course nobody can predict absolutely everything that might possibly go wrong, but it's a good idea to keep Murphy's Law in mind when doing magick. Mundanely practical things like not leaving the candles lit all night on your altar, or making sure you haven't run out of incense before the circle starts; magically practical things like knowing who you are planning to invoke, and to what end, before you begin. Those are Talker's territory.

A word or two for the oft-maligned Talker: Baby. Bathwater. We have minds for a reason. They are what define us as human beings. If we are continually trying to shut down ego, with what are we using to shut it down, but itself? And there are innumerable times when thinking things through beforehand is vital for survival. Reacting to circumstances as they come up is important in an emergency, but it's not much good when you are trying to think in the long term. Your flood-control planning should happen before the levee breaks.

Use your noddle! Make sure your emergency kit is well-supplied and accessible, that there's food in the fridge, that you have enough cushions to go around, that the rent is paid, that you know what the spell you're casting is for and that it won't backfire. Remember to release what you have invoked. If you're teaching, have some idea what the lesson of the day is about. Be here now.

5. Don't Know What You Want
Cultivate an inquiring, open mind.


Sloughing off the load of preconceived ideas and emotional/mental baggage with which we have burdened a concept, and simply looking at the thing in itself, is made more difficult by the constant barrage of information and argument with which we are faced as human beings in a society. I don't think the answer is to avoid talking to other people and go off on your own, however. Each of us, even in solitude, carries a lifetime's worth of other people's notions.

Perhaps the easiest way to approach openness is to step away from the subject for a while and let it percolate within Fetch while Talker attends to other matters. Time is a great provider of detachment, as is geographical distance. Go out for a walk and let the essay cook on the computer. Or string beads, or draw a picture, or mop the bathroom floor. I said recently (and it simply popped out of my mouth spontaneously), "I could be a murderer, but I prefer to vacuum floors." Everyone laughed, but they could see that it's true: the energy which could quite easily be used for violence is the same energy with which I do my physical work, as well as my spiritual work, my daily practice. It's simply the energy of living which is generated in me. Anyone could be a fiend or a dedicated workman. Putting moral judgments on the energy within you only leads to fear and self-loathing. If you can admit to the murderer within, he is much less likely to manifest in the physical world.

The energy within, which is really impersonal and undefined, can be defined however you choose. And if you can allow yourself to keep the delicate balance of not choosing, can rest on the still point of indecision, this energy will be stronger when you do decide what you want. But for now, rest.

6. Know What You Don't Want
Understand what others have done and how not to repeat it.


Back in the day, when I was a gullible college student, my path crossed that of the Campus Crusade for Christ. I enjoyed letting the earnest student preachers save my soul a few times, because it made them so happy. I guess I'm not good cultist material, though, because I could never stay saved for more than a half-hour. Partly it's poor memory, but I think it's partly self-protection on a very deep level. Similarly, when I began memorizing the Feri circle script which I was given by my second initiators a few years ago, there were certain parts I couldn't seem to keep in mind. They were slippery, elusive-- I tried again and again to learn them, but kept making the same mistakes over and over. It was not until I thought about it months down the line that I realized that I couldn't memorize those parts because I really, deep down inside, didn't want to. When I rewrote those parts of the script in a way that I did want to remember, then I was able to conduct a Feri circle without a script handy.

Not that there was anything wrong with the script I was given. In fact, it was quite beautiful. It just wasn't mine. (Things that are "mine" are not necessarily those things I create. But they're mine because they resonate within me in the same way that my original creations do. They are alive and real and believable to me. They are the things I want to use.) Going through the script and realizing what I didn't want to use was of immense value to my process of becoming an independent practitioner of Feri. Respect your inner "no."

7. Stick Your Neck Out
Go against prevailing attitudes if you feel like it.


One characteristic thing about Feri is that no matter what you do it will offend someone. (And those offended get so vehement about any failure to toe the particular line which they as individuals have drawn in the sand, that there's a lot of bang for the buck, especially if you enjoy flamewars.) It's almost impossible to avoid going against prevailing attitudes when there are so many of them.

Contentiousness is a failing which is hardly peculiar to Feris, however, or even to the contemporary world. We can look back to Procopius of Caesarea's Secret History, a hatchet-job on Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, for an example of someone really getting off on bad-mouthing those with whom he disagreed. Hardly the only example throughout history, either. So, take it as a given that someone will give you grief no matter what you do; might as well please yourself and ignore the inevitable criticism.

If you are not getting any support at all for what you're doing, and you have examined your motives and done Kala on it, and still feel that this is your path, be brave and realize that sometimes you won't get any outer confirmation at all during your lifetime. That's not important. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. It's not about you, it's about the work.

8. Use Every Tool
Use new tools as needed without throwing out the old ones.


Abraham Maslow said "When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail." Feris theoretically shouldn't run into that problem too often, as there are so many tools to use: the Pentacles, the Ha Prayer, the Black Heart of Innocence, the warrior ethic, the Three Souls, the Feri deities, the whole erector set. (Not to mention all the borrowings from various traditional, fictional, legendary, and ethnic sources in which Victor reveled.)

Theoretically.

Feris, unfortunately, being human, have their blind spots, obsessions and weaknesses. My particular weakness is rage, which I share with many other Feri, especially the online variety. Every day I try to step back from that impulse to wield the Stark Fist of Sarcasm by praying that Anat, warrior goddess who rejoiced in wading in blood to the knees, might transmute that rage into creative force.

Because even weaknesses, obsessions and blind spots may turn out to be tools. It is necessary to have the discipline to step back from them and see them as such, to remind myself that feeling enraged does not make me a Bad Person, but that this drive, this fury, may be harnessed and used in service to the Gods. When every problem begins to look to me like a nail that I would gleefully hammer out of existence, I need to practice compassion for myself and others and just... put... the... hammer... down. Then I can pick up the socket wrench or the tweezers or the broom that the job actually requires. They're all somewhere in the toolbox.

9. Use Every Source
Use sources of images and ideas as if they were tools.


So we come at last with much trepidation to the Word That Dare Not Speak Its Name(TM): eclectism. Used to be, eclectic was an okay way to be. It meant you'd done some homework, read some books, educated yourself a bit, even combined some old themes into something which felt new and powerful. Victor Anderson was Mr. Eclectic, hopping from esoteric reference to esoteric reference with Graves-like abandon. And all was peaceful in the (pagan) world.

But now... I really don't see why all eclectics are being equated with fluff-bunnies. The great majority of them aren't particularly fluffy, just kinda... Gardnerian. Like that's a bad thing too? Good grief, we Feris are going to have to give over with this snobbery, because if you examine our shared liturgy and lore you will find it contains many Gardnerian gems. And almost exclusively, the inner tools of Feri as handed down from Victor have their origin in various ethnic groups' practices and beliefs, garnered by unashamed cultural ganking in a fashion that would be severely criticized today by the more politically-minded. Not to mention references to fiction by such writers as Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft (the wince-factor of which I can barely tolerate, but have to excuse because Victor was a man of his times).

In any case, Victor used every tool there was, and when there wasn't one available, he'd invent. And if that isn't eclectic, I don't know what you'd call it. We need to look with admiration at our eclectic roots, even if we choose not to follow some of them back to the source. And we need to give ourselves and each other the freedom to do what is not necessarily politically correct or even fashionable right now. How do we know that, twenty years down the line, others might not find our own pet theories hopelessly quaint and archaic? In fact, unless we are protected by the Cloak of Invincibility which comes with fame, most of what we are on about won't even be remembered. So we might as well do what pleases us with what tools we choose, and not avoid any because they are Not Cool. If you don't like the lore, go out and make some of your own.

10. Become Skillful
Know when you need to develop skill yourself and when you can use the skill of others.


In the tale of the Descent of Inanna, Inanna was stripped during the stages of her downward journey of all those powers she was used to wielding: her intellect, her royal position, her creativity, the outward face she showed the world, all her armor and protection, all her psychic defenses. She went to meet her shadow-sister, Ereshkigal, naked and vulnerable. None of her skills were left to her as she became a rotting corpse.

But Inanna had known before she started her journey that she couldn't return to life through her own efforts alone. She ordered her faithful servant Ninshubur to get help from whichever of the elder gods would offer it if Inanna was not back in three days. And Ninshubur came through. She journeyed from one god's palace to another, and was finally successful when Enki, god of wisdom and the waters, agreed to help.

Enki took the dirt from under his fingernails and made the kurgara and the galatur, two creatures who could travel unscathed and unnoticed to Ereshkigal's realm in the form of flies. When the kurgara and the galatur were in Ereshkigal's throne room, rather than confronting her, they listened to her moans of misery and joined in. Surprised at getting some sympathy, Ereshkigal stopped crying and said "Who are you, moaning - groaning - sighing with me? If you are gods, I will bless you. If you are mortals, I will give you a gift." The creatures asked for the corpse of Inanna, which hung in a corner, and Ereshkigal gave it to them. They sprinkled the "food of life" on the corpse, and Inanna reanimated.

Sometimes it's a matter of life and death to use someone else's skills, and sometimes only a matter of being more effective. But in one's spiritual evolution, it's definitely important to know who your friends are and to give them credit for what they have done for you. It's important to acknowledge those people you know and those people you don't, real or fictional, who have been your teachers and guides. And it's important to know that no matter how skilled you are, you can't always do everything by yourself. When you get down to the raw and naked core of yourself, completely bereft of all those talents that are your normal tools, the tool of friendship is the last one available to you. So this is a thank-you to all those people, living and dead, real and fictional, who have given me the wherewithal to live the life I do and be the person I am. Some of you know who you are; others have no idea. But I couldn't have done it without you.

Stand on the shoulders of giants.

11. Take Yourself Lightly
Have a sense of humor and don't see yourself at the center of the universe.


I am one of a group of volunteers who sing under the auspices of the Threshold Choir at the bedsides of hospice patients; our group was being interviewed by a reporter the other day who asked us how we keep from crying in the face of prolonged suffering and imminent death.

Various singers answered various things, but my instinctive response was that I try to find whatever strikes the patient as humorous or brings a smile, and share that smile with them. No matter how dire the situation, there is always at least the ironic realization of how small and how very far from the heroic we are when facing off against death and decay, simply because of our human nature. Which is, in its own strange way, heroic in itself. Perhaps I've been reading too much Terry Pratchett, but taking the patient and his or her situation very seriously does not by any means stifle my sense of my own clownishness.

It's not until I see myself as only human and far from noble that I am capable of empathizing with anyone else and being of any help or comfort to them whatsoever. Remembering my own foolishness keeps me from believing my own PR; and being able to laugh about it keeps me from getting depressed about not being perfect.

Likewise, when doing ritual or other acts classified as "spiritual," it's necessary for me to keep my goofiness firmly present (while trying not to let it sit in the driver's seat.) That way, when I make those inevitable mistakes I can just laugh at myself and go on. Taking myself lightly keeps Fetch involved; Talker is much too earnest and dedicated and Serious for me to allow it to run the show the entire time. Besides, as Lord Buckley said, Laughter is truly religious.... It swings its sounds from the subconscious. When a person is laughing he's illuminated the full beauty of a human being...you're thinking love, you're vibrating love. It's prayer. It's a beautiful thing.

You gotta laugh.

12. Go into the Ether
Let yourself slip into another world from time to time.


This world of physical sensations: of the play of light on leaves and in the air; of the sounds of birds and cars and music and the hissing of your own blood in your ears; of the feeling of energy rising upward in your body to flower above your head; of the taste of a really good plate of nachos; of pain and the relief of pain; of a loved one's face, smiling. There are many more worlds than one, and this is the essence of them, could we but know it. Eternity in an hour, as Blake said. Another world? I can be a child again, absorbed in a task with my tongue gripped firmly between my teeth as I wield mop or broom or keyboard, as I make a space clean or play with pixels or write or build an altar.

Letting go of the preoccupations which keep you from being fully in this world will give you the ability to slip into other nonordinary realities than this (extremely nonordinary) reality in which you are physically embedded. Little trips into the ether will allow you to appreciate how very wonderful this reality is, because in this world your hands will obey your brain's directions. We are inspired in other realms; but the execution of these inspirations takes place Right Here.

Slipping from world to world is seamless if you're feeling good. And the times when it's difficult, when you are a prisoner of your body's despair or rebellion? That's when practising slipping into other worlds can come in very handy: you may not be able to free yourself from your pain, but you can step back from it and know that it isn't forever, that it needs you working on it right now but that it won't always be the primary thing in your life. Remembering that is the hardest part when you feel like a fist holding a huge stone; but it is vital to healing.

And each time you are successful at slipping away, of letting that fist open and dropping the stone, you are rehearsing the final letting-go which will come inevitably. And who knows what inspirations you will bring back when you finally come to rest, and whose hands will execute them?

Space. The final frontier.

13. Own It
Know that you are doing the work you should be doing.


Years ago I hit upon a visual metaphor to guide myself through life: I see my life as a tapestry, and there's a thread of pure gold running through it which is my rightful path. Sometimes I lose sight of it, because it's at the back of the weaving; but eventually it appears again where I can see it, and I always experience a thrill of pleasure and relief to find it once more, knowing I was on the right track all along. The Golden Thread metaphor is important enough to me that I have given it voice in my daily practice:
May my feet find the path,
May the path find my feet,
And may we always follow the Golden Thread.


As long as I get that occasional reminder that, yes, the golden thread is still there, I can manage to walk on without it most of the time. It tells me that what I do with what I am and have and know is exactly what I was born to do, and that even if nobody in the world supported me in it in any way, I would still do it, just as a rose becomes a rose or a daisy, a daisy. If the daisy tried to be a rose, she'd never make it. But fortunately, such things are not subject to conscious, Talker-based decisions, but arise from the blood and bone. And what I do grows organically out of what I am.

Having the confidence to recognize that your individual work is of value is essential in both making Art and making Magick. There will always be plenty of people around to criticize your technique, question your motivation, and sneer at your failures to achieve what they think were your goals. But nobody but your own Godself will ever know how close or how far you came to doing what you were trying to do. Sometimes you just have to lay it in the lap of the Gods and not worry what anyone else thinks. Your own path is your own path and nobody else's.

How could I ever not walk my own path? Only by cutting off my self-knowledge and the alignment of my Three Souls and body. And that's a state of ill-health which takes so much effort to maintain that it ends up wearing me out, so that I am forced to face the reality that I need to be doing my Work, need it with a visceral, primal need, like food or sleep. I know -- I've tried other ways; but sooner or later I just have to get back on my own path. Even when it's completely unmarked, and I'm hacking my way with a machete through the underbrush, it's worth all the bruises and scratches and sweat to know that it's my way, not necessarily the highway. And when my way coincides with the highway it's nice to be able to know that there are others going in the same direction. A shout-out to my fellow-travelers: see you when we get there! Because we're all going to get there eventually; it's just more fun to get there in one piece.

Follow the golden thread.