Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Clouding the Guardians

by Sarsen

“I myself took an oath in which, among other things, I promised...to protect my 'brothers and sisters in the Craft.'” – “The Secret War of the F(a)eri(e) Tradition” by Storm Faerywolf, WitchEye #11, June 2005

If you look at the site feritradition.org, aside from the headache due to trying to read green-on-black text, you might come away with the impression that the "Feri Tradition" is a conveniently amorphous yet unified entity, and that Storm Faerywolf knows a lot about its practices and history. He does say here and there that the tradition is “diverse,” which is true enough, and sometimes acknowledges that people disagree with him, usually in terms that straw-man their actual objections.However, he buries those statements in his other assertions and in his methods, by speaking grandly and vaguely about “our legends” and other such verbiage as if the tradition came down fully formed from the mists of time, by not giving his sources (or in some cases giving inaccurate or incomplete sources), by....well, pretty much everything else, including the domain name. He does it even with the way the website pages are titled: at the top of the browser window it says, “The Feri Tradition presents 'The Lords of the Outer Dark' featuring the directional guardians engaged by various Feri sects. Come explore!”

The Feri Tradition? I assure you nobody gave him permission to speak for the rest of us; he doesn't even speak to most of us (and that was true long before the split). Not that any initiate would be fooled...but we are not his target audience.

Here I am trying to place plagiarism in a context, to present why I think it's not just ignorance or carelessness, but part of a general policy of de-emphasizing the real sources of ideas or making them invisible so that the presenter can look like an authority. This practice is all too common in the history of Pagan religion, and it is pernicious.

For example...

Here is an excerpt of a Guardian description written by Steven Hewell circa 1982-83 and passed to the Bloodrose line by Gabriel Carillo:

“The Guardian of the East is called the Star Finder, and represents the power of Knowledge. He appears standing before the rising sun. His body is transparent golden yellow, his eyes are two very bright light blue stars, and he had great wings colored pale violet. In his right hand, he holds a rod of sapphire, bound with gold at the top and silver at the bottom.”

There is also a description of the Eastern Guardian as “vaguely humanoid” in an article by Jenny Sill-Holman titled “Who are the Guardians?” which was published in WitchEye #3, August 2000.

Now here is the description from Feritradition.org:

“The StarFinder wields the power of Knowledge. He may appear as vaguely humanoid, his body transparent golden yellow, the color of morning sunlight. His eyes are very bright, light blue stars, and he has enormous wings of pale violet. He stands or flies before the rising sun, his right hand holding a sapphire rod, bound at the top with gold, and bound at the bottom with silver. He may also appear as a slash of soft sunlight, carrying a gentle wind. ” (Faerywolf)

The entirety of it, excepting the last sentence, is drawn from Sill-Holman and Hewell's work, primarily the latter, but without any attribution. This pattern is repeated throughout all of the Guardian descriptions on the page.

From the Korythalia/Bloodrose class notes:

“The Guardian of the South is called the Shining Flame, and represents the power of Truth. He appears in the desert at High noon. His body is transparent ruby red, and he is surrounded by a cloud of fire like the teardrop shape of a candle flame. In his right hand he holds a sword of bright blue metal” (Hewell).


“The ShiningFlame wields the power of Truth. He also may appear in humanoid form, his body transparent ruby red, surrounded by an aura of fire like a teardrop or candle flame. He stands or dances in a desert at noon, holding in his right hand a sword of polished blue metal“ (Faerywolf).

The exact same problems appear throughout the Guardian page; that is, they aren't Faerywolf's at all. They are ninety percent someone else's, usually Hewell or Sill-Holman's, with a few rearranged words and the occasional insertion of a sentence or two of which I do not know the source. Those might actually be original, but (as with Valerie Walker's work) there's no way to tell.

One has to ask...what is the point of this? Why anger one's co-religionists by publishing other people's work without acknowledgment and then putting your own copyright on it? Why engage in that kind of deception, period? Even though the elements from Jenny Sill-Holman's article are minor, that's still a preceding instance of those descriptions in print and it is not mentioned. If the purpose is really to inform people about the tradition, explaining the sources of images and ideas is essential to that purpose. They give context and history, and give people a sense of how the tradition has developed. These are essential to understanding, and also convey the important fact that most of what we now use was written by individuals whom we know within living memory, not by conveniently anonymous ancestors. This is crucial, both for giving credit to the authors and for understanding what material did come from folk tradition and what was passed to Victor Anderson by the Harpy coven. Obscuring any part of the truth there creates an impossible tangle.

I don't care to speculate on other people's motives if I can help it; I don't claim great powers of telepathy.But I can certainly describe the effect of not acknowledging those particular sources. It obfuscates the debt Faerywolf owes to the Bloodrose line, and in particular his predecessors in it. It makes it appear that “the Feri Tradition” has some kind of unified view of the Guardians, instead of a spectrum of personal gnosis regarding them. It occludes the real history, as I mentioned. It also makes it seem like Faerywolf is an authoritative source of information on the topic, instead of merely reproducing what he was given without adding anything much new in the way of commentary, insight, or vision. By putting his copyright on it also, he is claiming the work of others for himself.

In his article “The Lords of the Outer Dark: Exploring the Guardians of the F(a)eri(e) Tradition,” Faerywolf produces similar sleights of hand. He says things like, “Our legends tell us that we do not know if the names we have for them are their own or of those beings to which they hold their allegiance.” I'm not actually sure where that idea comes from; for all I know he made it up in a rare fit of originality. It would probably be more accurate to say, “Some initiates have said at one time or another....” But “legends” sounds so much more ancient, mysterious, portentious, and vague. Likewise when he says, “At one time in our history the names given below (usually referred to as the English names) as well as their post-initiatory counterparts were considered secret...” should be translated as “Up until T. Thorn Coyle published Evolutionary Witchcraft”...that is to say, in the distant epoch of 2005...”the English names of the Guardians were kept by informal custom mainly for student non-initiates to use.” Before that people generally avoided putting them into print; Sill-Holman's article from 2000, for example, never gives any of the names, even though at that time WitchEye was only intended for a small audience of initiates and students. This fact in itself demonstrates how rapidly and radically things have changed.

It's a little dizzying to see Storm citing Ronald Hutton while in the next breath implying that choices made in the last ten years by people he knows personally are ancient history.And seriously, why? According to Steven Hewell, who was there, those original descriptions came out of the creative ferment of Silver Wheel and their work as a coven with the energies of the Guardians...creative ferment being one of our distinguishing characteristics. Any initiate worth his or her salt should be able to come up with something just as powerful and valid. Thorn's work on the same subject is allusive and evocative, but all her own. The members of Silver Wheel...which also included Brian Dragon and Eldri Littlewolf...between them came up with a body of work that is treasured by much of the rest of the tradition. That has been discussed enough to be common knowledge; certainly it is not something that Faerywolf could possibly be unaware of. I do not understand why anyone at this point would wish to replace our real history, full as it is of fascinating, maddening, brilliant people, with a false vagueness. I cannot account for it.

Carillo, Gabriel and Steven Hewell.“Korythalia class notes.” Unpublished mss. 1983.

Faerywolf, Storm. “The Guardians of the Feri Tradition.” www.feritradition.org Accessed February 20, 2011.

Faerywolf, Storm. “The Lords of the Outer Dark: Exploring the Guardians of the F(a)eri(e) Tradition” www.feritradition.org Accessed February 20, 2011.

Hewell, Steven. “The Wheel of the Cloud People.” Unpublished mss. 2000.

Sill-Holman, Jenny. “Who are the Guardians?”WitchEye #3, August 2000.