Wednesday 29 August 2012

Book Review: The Heart of the Initiate: Feri Lessons, Second Edition,by Victor and Cora Anderson

"How the heart of the initiate thrills when the antique mysteries are written of. She or he recognizes the same great truth expressing itself in many forms, yet as one thing." ~Victor Anderson in a letter to a student, The Heart of the Initiate, Pg. 42

I have desired to read the Heart of the Initiate for a long time, ever since Karina made reference to a quote from it on a list I'm on in response to a question I asked. But it was very limited print, I think 300 copies, just for the Feri community of the time, and while I know several people with copies, they all live far from me and I've never had an opportunity to visit and read it. I was very please a few months ago to see an announcement from Harpy Press that they were publishing a second edition of the book. I immediately pre-ordered it and waited in expectation for it to arrive. I was not disappointed.

For those unfamiliar with Victor and Cora, they were amazing people, and co-founders along with Gwydion of what would become the Feri Tradition (by whatever spelling). The book is a gift from them to the Feri community. It is an amazing resource for seeker, student, and initiate alike, though it is very obviously aimed at students. It addresses many misconceptions and misunderstandings, and provides many insights I have not found elsewhere, whether from initiates in the tradition or books and writings produced by it. It is a blessing that a second edition has been published for a wider distribution.

The book is a collection of essays and letters mostly previously written, collected into one volume. It is not a large volume, only 78 pages, but it contains more lore and insight than most books four times its size. The forward by Jim Schuette states that tge book is a Valentine from Victor and Cora to you (the reader). It contains two sections.

These sections are prefaced by an essay by Victor entitled Some Pictish Views on the Old Religion. The essay discusses what is and what is not Craft, and specifically what is and isn't Feri.

The first section is made up of essays, commentaries on the tradition and elements of it, some written by Victor, some by Cora. There are no dates on any of them, so they may have been written specifically for the book. There are ten commentaries in this section.

The second section is a collection of letters to specific students, two from Cora and three from Victor. They touch on many different subjects.

The letters are followed by a prayer by Victor, first published in Witchcraft Digest Magazine in 1972 entitled Prayer for Beginning the New Path, prefaced by a short essay entitled A Prayer for the Craft Neophyte explaining the prayer and Victor's purpose in publishing it. This prayer serves as a fitting conclusion to the book.

~Muninn's Kiss

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Book Review: The Star Crossed Serpent II: The Clan of Tubal Cain: The Legecy Continues: Shani Oates (1998-Present)

I have been reading The Star Crossed Serpent II by Shani Oates over the last month or so and just finished it. I wasn't sure whet to expect as far as form or content, as I haven't yet gotten or read Volume I. If it's anything like this one, I need to order a copy soon.

I received my copy of TSCSII on July 20th (2012) and opened it immediately, reading through the table of contents and reading the introduction and first essay during lunch that day. The book is a collection of ten essays, with an introduction by W Wagner and an epilogue by Robin the Dart. All ten essays relate to different subjects pertinant to the Clan of Tubal Cain, and relate Shani's understanding and view on the subjects. The essays are well written, and, while not forming a direct narrative or argument as a collection, inter relate and provide a very interesting and thought provoking tapestry of subjects and ideas. I started the book July 20th and finished it August 28th. Well worth the read, and not a book to read in one sitting. I recommend trying to read each essay in one sitting and allowing time to mill them over before moving to the next. There were things in the essays I swould stand up and shout amen to, and things I thought, well, I completely disagree with that, but, agree or disagree, relate to or not relate to, I was glad I read each essay and they gave me much to think about.

The introduction is entitled The Ring Troth of Cain and is a dialogue by W Wagner between Odhin and Thor concerning Cain, Thor cursing him and Odhin blessing him in response.

The ten essays follow it.

1) The first essay about the Archer's Song, I had already read in the Cauldron previously, so nothing new there. It was a pleasure to reread, however.

2) A lot of interesting tidbits in Brimstone and Treacle. The abject and advesarial distinctions, roles, and themes throughout essay were very thought provoking. The Sussux graveyard and church discussion with the North was very interesting, of what we call Potter's field, the north end, being the Devil's own, and of the Devil entering the church through the north door. The discussion of the Devil through time was bringing to mind Russell (he's a good friend of my Medeival History professor) and so was delighted to find a quote from him in the text. He's a favourite author of mine. The distinction between "witches" swearing allegiance to the Devil and cunningmen calling on the Trinity to force the Devil to serve, to do similar things was very interesting. And her closing paragraph leaves you thinking, how do I view things?

One thing in particular stood out:

"Valiente shares with us her local knowledge of eccentric customs, particularly of the speculatory aboriginal race of small dark forest dwellers frequently associated with Ashdown Forest and Romany activity until well into the 19th century and whose 'clanish' behaviour (in the sense of closed families) was treated with fear and suspicion." ~The Star Crossed Serpent II, pg. 30

Reading that and the following sentences and paragraphs, I could not help but think of Victor Anderson, (Grand Master of Feri for anyone unfamiliar with the name), and his "small dark people", who he described as the original practicers of the Feri (or Faery or Fairy) faith and Pictish Witchcraft (which Victor used to describe what he practiced and taught, which became Feri), and said he was directly descended from. He, himself, was quite small and dark complected. These "small dark people" are a foundational "myth" of Feri that has been criticised along with Murray's work. Yet we find it here in local folklore.

By far, I think this was my favourite essay, and I think the best in the book, though The Poisoned Chalice is the best written.

3) A lot of interesting material in Faith of the Wise, some new to me, some familiar. It shows an evolution of belief and practice in Cochrane that isn't evident in just the letters and articles, while pulling all of those in, giving them context. Very good and thought provoking essay.

4) The Stang was a very interesting essay investigating the Stanton and the World Tree, and trees and poles related to the feminine rather than phalic. I found how Shani related the God on the Tree with Shiva and his Shakti. Very interesting chapter, and the best after Treacle and Brimstone. The one part I did disagree with was Shani's assertion that Chokmah in the Tree of Life is feminine and Binah is masculine in relation to each other.

5) The Fourth Nail was an interesting essay. I expected it to relate to the ever heated nail in Romani legend, but it was a different idea entirely, though I can relate it to that legend. The chapter discusses the three faces of Hecate, and of Fate, and the fourth hidden face, the three nails of space and the fourth nail, time. Much more focused on science than the previous essays, the essay makes parallels between science, myth, and Clan of Tubal Cain lore. Cert interesting chapter indeed.

6) Dark Aegipan and Pale Leukothea investigates Pan as All, and as light and dark Twins, and the transition of Pan from All to a fool-like character in late folk lore. With my interest in Pan over the last year and my Feri background, it was a very enjoyable chapter to read, hitting on some points I've been looking at, and bringing my attention to others I hadn't previously seen. Very well written and very thought provoking. Definitely one of my favourites in the book.

7) Cain and Craft Diversity discusses the constellations known as Bootes (the Ploughman) and the Plough (Ursa Minor) which Shani relates as Cain, connecting the Cain legends to the progress of the constellation through the sky, and how it relates to Clan of Tubal Cain lore. another interesting essay.

8) Cain, Clanship and the Egregore digs much more deeply into the Clan of Tubal Cain, looking primarily at what clanship and suzerainty mean, both in history and in the Clan itself, and why the craft has been and is a threat to the established order based on sovereignty instead of suzerainty.

9) Patterns of Transformation: the Alchemy of Being is a discussion of alchemy in relation to spiritual progression. I honestly don't know what to say about this essay. It feels more like notes and brainstorming to me than an essay, though that could just be how it feels to me. I couldn't follow it the way I did the others. Interesting information and connections in it, though. The one place I questioned it was Shani's placement of earth, air, water, fire connected to the four worlds in Kabbalah, whereas my teaching and exerience has all four in the first world, and water (mem), then air (aleph), then fire (shin).

10) The Poison Chalice was a good ending essay for the book, I think. Not a summary or conclusion per se, but a good way to conclude a well crafted collection of essays. I'm not quite sure whet to say about the essay. While I like some of the other essays better because of content and where they took me, this was by far the best written and best crafted. It's a work of art honestly. It deals with the Graal, in progression to a chalise containing the sacrement, and on to a poisoned chalice, the cup that Fate presents. It discusses the mysteries both from the ascetic denial and the escatic indulgence side, showing the goal of both for the mystic, coming back around to the philosopher's stone of the alchemy chapter, and showing the poisoned chalice as the goal of all the proceeding essays. I think the beauty and power, the things that spoke the most to me, were in whet wasn't said, in where I was led beyond the words and beyond the pages.

The book ended with an epilogue by Robin the Dart discussing the witch 'Law' Cochrane outlined. This epilogue forms a context for the essays in the book, an afterthought that creates a framework to look back at the essays.

~Muninn's Kiss