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05 December, 2007

Claiming Iron

I am watching (and only very slightly participating in) a discussion hosted by a Feri witch I respect greatly on the subject of the differences between the Anderson Feri tradition and the Reclaiming tradition. (For a little background: the Anderson Feri tradition is an until-recently-fairly-obscure form of American-origin religious witchcraft -- superficially similar to the far-better known Wicca. The Reclaiming tradition, which is far better known in significant part due to the writings of its luminary, Starhawk, is a partial descendant of Feri, blending some of its techniques and liturgy with Z Budapest's goddess worship and a related branch of politically-activist second-wave feminism, and probably some other threads as well. I have seen people raise the theory that people mistaking Starhawk for a Wiccan author is part of why current-day pop paganism is such a confounding mess.)

The discussion of the differences between Feri and Reclaiming is one of those standing-wave arguments that one gets in fairly closely-related subcultures. It's an interesting one to me, as I have minimal resonance with Reclaiming as a tradition (though I have, over the past several years, gotten less knee-jerky about it and more able to deal with Reclaiming-influenced ritual in groups due to spending a great deal of time with a number of Reclaiming witches), but am interested in pursuing further studies of Feri (when I get my head straightened out a little).

One of the tools that Feri and Reclaiming share is something called the Iron Pentacle, a tool for contemplation, energy work, personal development, what have you: a five-pointed star with each point associated with a concept, a virtue, a manifestation of the center. The points of the star are often traced onto the body -- Sex at the head, drawn down to Pride at the right foot, Self in the left hand, Power in the right hand, Passion in the left foot, and then back up to Sex.

One of the things that Feri and Reclaiming do not share is an attitude towards power. Reclaiming's second-wave background includes the particular threads of egalitarian feminism that are deeply concerned about the concept of power-over, and thus the tradition as a whole strives for a non-heirarchical and communitarian perspective. Feri, traditionally taught as an oral tradition, with its essence being handed down from specific teachers to specific students, has an inescapable thread of heirarchy to it, along with its vehemence about developing one's own personal power and strength and freedom.

As I work with Iron, I explore the ways in which creative energy, living energy, sexual energy -- conceptualised in Feri as Sex -- are tightly intertwined with Power and Self, the adjacent points on the Pentacle. I cannot sever the connections between Sex and Power in myself any more than I am willing to tolerate having the connections between Sex and Self severed (been there, done that, trying to heal the damage). And one of the things that I've come to realise is that my understanding of the flow of power depends on difference; power is thermodynamic. Two identical forms of power just sit up against each other; if one supports the other, or if they have different goals or aptitudes or natures or flavors or any of the other peacock-fanning spreads of possible difference, there's a flow, an engagement, energy moves. From hot to cold, from black to red, from light to dark, from and around and through.

Which leads me around to understanding at a deep level why certain forms of feminist egalitarianism leave me cold. Or possibly tepid, in that kind of thermodynamically evened way. The emphasis on avoidance of the thing called 'power-over' frequently leads to a smoothing-over of the sort of differences in the sort of power people are expressing that drive my sense of power, and with it my energy investment, my enthusiasm, my sexuality, my life-force, whatever you want to call it; I feel sterilised in that kind of space, soaked in antibacterials and mummified in plastic.

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