Monday, February 14, 2011

Plagiarism in the Feri Tradition: Part One

by Sarsen

Plagiarism is nothing new in Pagandom at large; it's practically a shadow tradition in itself, often accompanied by claims of antiquity, “folklore” or quasi-divine authorship to cover the theft. Star Foster has written about it among other people.* However, there has been a push in recent years to grow up and acknowledge the real sources of our traditions, whether they lie in history or the authorship of known persons. This is all to the good. I hope this series will be taken variously as encouragement to read critically and write carefully, a cautionary tale about how much damage casual theft of others' work can cause in a community, and inspiration to Pagan writers (including those who only write for their own spiritual communities) to take the necessary steps to protect their work both before and after it is stolen.

First I think it's important to be clear about what plagiarism is. It is “the use of another's original words or ideas as though they were your own. Any time you borrow from an original source and do not give proper credit, you have committed plagiarism and violated U.S. copyright laws.” ( That includes paraphrasing, if you do not acknowledge the source. Furthermore, while some types of quotation or reference are protected by the “fair use” exceptions to copyright law, “there is no magic word count” (Cinque). If a work is short (such as a piece of poetry, liturgy, or a song), quoting any part of it may exceed the bounds of fair use. Also, fair use only allows you to use excerpts and quotes for a number of purposes which include education, parody, or criticism; it does not exempt you from the need to cite your source and attribute properly.

It should also be mentioned that the Copyright Act is a Federal law. While the award of damages to the original author is generally a civil matter, plagiarism is in fact a crime punishable by fines and jail time; depending on the circumstances, it may be considered a misdemeanor, or, in cases where the plagiarist profits from the theft, a felony. ( The originator of a work owns copyright, including all rights to reproduce or distribute the work, from the moment of creation, regardless of whether he or she puts a copyright symbol on it, registers it, mails it to him or herself, publishes it, or none of those things. Lack of registration only limits the kinds of damages the author can be awarded in court, not his or her rights with regard to the work. (U.S. Copyright Office) It should be noted also that publication (whether in print or on a website) does not constitute permission to distribute; nor does physically handing over a copy of an unpublished manuscript.

With all that in mind, let us turn to a specific example...

The system of colored wands in the Feri Tradition (also known as Faery, Anderson Feri, and by other names) is a source of longstanding debate; some lines hold that they are rankings based on experience, others view them as representing mastery of certain skills, while others don't use the system at all. During a resurgence of this perennial conversation in 2005, Elf of Elfwreck, then a student of the tradition, came up with an expanded system based on her conversations with her mentor Eldri Littlewolf and the premise that the wands represent different skill sets. Eldri encouraged her to write up her thoughts in handout form, which she did in June of 2005 (Elfwreck 2011); a few months later, Eldri mentioned the idea, along with some specifics, on a private e-mail list, the membership of which included Storm Faerywolf. That e-mail conversation occurred in November of 2005; during it Eldri mentioned that she had been discussing the subject with Elf for about a year. (Littlewolf 2005). In 2006 Elf passed the document around among some initiates. She also recalls a telephone conversation with Storm Faerywolf that year in which she discussed her ideas and the possibility of expanding the handout into an article for publication in WitchEye, which he owns (Elfwreck 2011).

In 2007, Storm published an article in WitchEye #15 titled “The Colors of Power: Exploring the Wands of the F(a)eri(e) Tradition,” presenting, in his words “my own development and interpretation of the wand system in thirteen parts.” It has the appearance of a well-researched piece, including no less than eighteen footnotes with citations. What he doesn't mention is that the idea wasn't his at all; the bulk of his wand correspondences were taken directly from Elf's handout. Neither she nor Eldri are mentioned anywhere in his otherwise copious notes. It is a puzzling omission, especially when one observes that his normal writing style is not to cite anything at all. Aside from numerous other problems with the essay, he conflates the role of “Black Wand” with Grandmaster twice:“the Black being the wand of a Grandmaster” and “The wand of an elder sorcerer, sometimes called a Grandmaster. “ Nobody has ever claimed that merely being given a Black Wand makes you a Grandmaster, even by implication...except for Storm Faerywolf.**

In addition to the common descriptions of the white, green, and black wands, and the concept of an expanded spectrum of colored wands in the first place, there are these specific similarities between Elf's original document and Storm's article as it appeared in WitchEye and on his website:
Elf of Elfwreck, 2005
Storm Faerywolf, 2007
Red wand for sex workers and sacred whores
Red wand for “sex magick”
Yellow wand for loremasters
Yellow wand for teachers
Blue wands for “counselors for other witches, who interface between communities and the Gods.”
Blue for “counselor or mediator...spiritual, psychological, or emotional counseling”
Purple wand for “spirit-workers: trance workers, those who favor possession, dreamers”
Violet wand for those “skilled in various forms of divination and/or psychic techniques”
Rainbow wand for sacred clowns, plus glitter wand for drag queens and children
Iridescent wands for “Queer Mysteries” and tricksters.

The last example might require some explanation, as it may not be obvious to anyone outside of the tradition that the connection between androgyny, tricksters, queerfolk, and children is all via the Fetch (which is specifically mentioned in both explanations). In all cases, the latter version is clearly based on the former, conceptually and in some cases with regard to the specific words used. It should also be noted that these ideas were developed by a student of the tradition (now an initiate) when she formulated them; they therefore, whatever merit they may have on their own, have no basis in the tradition as it was passed down to anyone. The issue there is that, as he himself says, Storm Faerywolf is now passing that material on to “his line,” that is to say his students...without ever having tried the system out to see if it works or it doesn't work. No one actually put the expanded colored wands system to use before he decided to start teaching it to people. Any prospective student of his should stop and wonder how much else he is passing on to them that has never actually been tried out or worked with to see how it functions, if it does, or what hidden pitfalls there may well as how much of it actually came unattributed from someone else.

My father used to say, “a bit dog hollers.” Faerywolf tends to respond quite vehemently to any suggestion that he might be plagiarizing; in a recent LiveJournal post he vociferously denies having done so (while simultaneously, and hilariously, admitting that he did in fact violate copyright and the LiveJournal Terms of Service): “As I originally heard the tale it was supposedly [Elf] whom I had this mythical wand conversation with... and then later I heard it was Eldri and now, years later, I hear it was you...Is there something else that I am forgetting?“

Apparently so. The conversations were with both Eldri and Elf, separately, and as I was on the same e-mail list with Storm and Eldri, I was in fact there for that particular conversation and contributed to it, as did his partner. Furthermore, any assertion that Storm has not been approached privately about this and his other plagiarisms is false; he has been approached multiple times by multiple people over a period of years. The bit wolf hollers.

Author's note: As mentioned, this will be an ongoing series. I intend to cover the examples of plagiarism by Feri initiates of which I am aware; it's absolutely possible that I don't know all of them. If you have documentation of an instance, please let me know.

Works Cited

Cinque, Robert (primary author). “Guide to Fair Use.” National Writers Union. Accessed February 4, 2011.

Elfwreck, Elf of. “A Spectrum of Wands.” Unpublished mss. June 2005.

Elfwreck, Elf of. E-mail. January 30, 2011.

Littlewolf, Eldri. E-mail. November 10, 2005.

Faerywolf, Storm. “The Colors of Power: Exploring the Wands of the F(a)eri(e) Tradition.” WitchEye #15, 2007. Accessed February 4, 2011.

Faerywolf, Storm. “Take four!” Eye of the Storm, January 13, 2011. Accessed February 4, 2011.

“Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright.” United States Copyright Office. Accessed February 4, 2011.

“Plagiarism FAQs.” Accessed February 4, 2011.

*elorie is me, in case you missed the announcement to that effect.

**Apparently I was mistaken; Steven Hewell's essay on the Feri Tradition which appeared on WitchVox had this to say about wands:

"The White wand is held by all initiates of Feri, each of whom is fully empowered to function in any ritual role and to initiate others into the tradition. The Green Wand signifies our Elders, particularly those who have given much of their time and energy to teaching. The holders of the Black Wand are the Grandmasters of the Feri Tradition (the term is used for either gender); this is a sort of 'lifetime achievement award.'"

Per a recent conversation with Mr. Hewell, that reads as more definitive than he really meant; he was thinking of the difference between "a" Grandmaster and "the" Grandmaster. He also wrote the essay over ten years ago, before he re-established contact with the rest of the tradition and realized that black wands were being handed out so indiscriminately. Hence my confusion. It would be more accurate to say that you have to approach qualification as a Grandmaster before you should be given a black wand.

Cora Anderson's description of a Grandmaster and the qualifications for the title are given here. It's worth noting that no living person meets those requirements.