This was written by Jason Mankey for his blog Raise the Horns on Patheos.com; it has great pictures.
The United States has birthed a large number of Modern Paganisms over the last 100 years. One of the most long lasting and interesting is Feraferia, whose origins date back to the mid 1950′s. Until this interview and the book Celebrate Wildness my only real exposure to Feraferia was through Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon and related books such as Chas Clifton’s Her Hidden Children. I often thought of it as a relic of another era; an interesting, and now forgotten form of American Paganism. How wrong I was!
The last few years have seen a revised interest in the tradition and with it a stronger national presence. Festivals such as PantheaCon in San Jose CA have hosted Feraferian ritual and with the recent publication of Celebrate Wildness the tradition now has a clear “how to” guide waiting and ready. I recently was able to sit down with Jo Carson, President of the Feraferia Board of Directors to talk about Celebrate Wildness, Fred Adams and Svetlana (the founders), her movie Dancing With Gaia, and the state of Feraferia in 2015.
This is a rather long interview, but trust me it’s never boring, and if you share one thing from Raise the Horns this year make it this post. I’ve never seen so much information about Feraferia publicly available before and I for one am excited to see it out there! This is a huge chapter in our history and one I hope everyone has a chance to read it! Thanks to Jo Carson for the interview and M. Macha Nightmare for setting it up.
Jason: Feraferia is one of the first long-lasting Modern American Paganisms. Can you share some insights into its founding for those unfamiliar with it?
Jo Carson: Feraferia germinated in Southern California in 1956, when Fred Adams had a profound vision of the Goddess. He wasn’t expecting it at all. He was walking across the campus of LA City College, and suddenly he had this sensation throughout his body that the Goddess is the most essential nature of the universe. He was really excited by this. He’d been reading books about ancient matriarchies and witches and Greek mystery religions, but he really wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen to him.
The experience was thrilling, so Fred told his friends about it. He wanted other people to be able to experience something like what he had experienced. That was a really conservative era, but Fred was a part of the “Beat” scene, and a lot of people liked Fred; they thought he was a genius. So he got some of his friends together and they formed the Hesperides Fellowship. Hesperides is a word for paradise. They did a lot of the same kinds of things that Feraferia still does. They formed a communal household, and tried to live in an ideal way, going out into the wilderness to tune in to nature and the Goddess.
Fred was working on what he called “landscape yoga” as a way to connect with the sacred living spirits of the land. One night while lecturing about this, he met Svetlana Butyrin, who was in the audience. When they met, it was love at first sight. Over time they got deeply involved. Svetlana totally resonated with Fred’s vision of the Magic Maiden, faerie spirits, tree culture, and turning earth into paradise.
Fred and Svet agreed that the Hesperides Fellowship needed to go deeper. In the mid-1960s, Fred thought of the word Feraferia (from the word-roots fera, for wild, like feral, and feria, meaning festival) as a new name for the group. They thought it would be a good idea to make it into a legal church, so they got help from a friend who was a lawyer. On August 2, 1967, Feraferia was incorporated.
Feraferia was the second pagan church in modern times to incorporate. Gleb Botkin’s church, the Church of Aphrodite, was the first; it incorporated in New York in 1938. One member of that church was W. Holman Keith. He left the Church of Aphrodite because Gleb was too much of a fundamentalist about having to believe that Aphrodite was the only goddess. Holman Keith came to California and joined Feraferia. He was on our board of directors, and he was our honored senior advisor.
How did you first get involved with the organization?
I met Fred and Svetlana in 1970. My friend Carroll “Poke” Runyon was a friend and admirer of Fred Adams. He considered Fred his mentor. Poke thought I would like Fred and Svetlana, so he offered to take me to their house. He was right. I had never really thought about the Goddess until then; no one was talking about that. But seeing Fred’s house, completely full of Goddess imagery, floors, walls and ceilings, that was a revelation for me. I loved it.
Feraferia was not as highly organized as Poke Runyon’s ceremonial magic group, the O.T.A. (Order of the Temple of Astarte). With the O.T.A., there were regular meetings and they did magic every week, mostly evoking spirits. Feraferia was much more spontaneous, but also more irregular. I wasn’t sure how to get involved. But since I was a film student at UCLA at the time, I had the idea of making a film about Feraferia, so I suggested that to Fred. He thought that would be great. The film included four of Feraferia’s seasonal celebrations, the solstices and equinoxes, each in an appropriate outdoor location for the season. Plus there was a year-long time lapse shot of wilderness going through seasonal changes, to visually ground the seasonal festivals in the year.
This turned out to be quite an adventure, since no one had done that before. I paid an engineer to design a time-lapse mechanism for the camera, but the first one went up in flames. I got a different engineer, and his design worked. It was the first time anyone ever filmed a year-long time-lapse. This was way before digital photography made time-lapse shooting more manageable. The film was a piece of visual poetry. Pagans relate to it really well, but it’s not self-explanatory, so non-pagans have a harder time relating to it. But this gave me a chance to get to know Feraferia and a little later I was initiated into the group.
What prompted the writing of Celebrate Wildness and why now?
To answer your question; Fred Adams was a talented artist as well as a visionary. His art was made into posters, and it was featured on the covers of several Los Angeles Oracle newspapers and a number of other magazines. Seeing Fred’s art was the way a lot of people got the idea that there could be such a thing as goddess spirituality. This was around 1967, when his goddess art was first getting out a lot. But Fred never wrote a book. He meant to, and he had started to even back in the 1950s. But Fred had so many ideas, it was hard to limit them to inside the covers of a book. He died in 2008 without ever having done that. A little later I was elected president of the Board of Directors of Feraferia, and the Board agreed that it was important to have a book to introduce Feraferia to more people. Basically, I was willing to do it, I had the time, sort of, and I figured it had to be done. So there it is. It’s been a fun process.
I’m familiar with Feraferia mostly because it was included in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, but I really hadn’t encountered any Feraferian rituals before reading Wildness. I think some ideas and practices have been printed in various magazines over the decades, but is this their first appearance in book form?
Yes. Pagan! magazine, for one, and The Green Egg, The Seventh Ray, The Crystal Well, The Seven Whistlers, and several other pagan magazines had articles, but not rituals. Korythalia, of course, was Fred’s monthly Feraferia publication, which was produced for six years. It had instructions on how to do things, and poetry, art, musings, essays—but not full-on rituals. Around the year 2000, Feraferia member Peter Tromp, in Amsterdam, worked with Svetlana to get our nine seasonal rituals into print. The rituals do evolve over time, and what Peter published is a snapshot of how Svetlana envisioned them then; they are lovely and profound but also long, with a lot of fancy language. We change the rites some every time we do them, depending on the location and who is involved. We have some of the more recent versions posted on our website now.
Several of Fred’s essays appeared in nudist magazines, because Fred and Svetlana felt that nakedness was liberating. And that being naked in wilderness is joyful, and allows you to feel deeply the sensation that you are alive and connected to nature. Anyone who has skinny dipped in a mountain stream knows the feeling. There is also a tradition of nudist camps kind of hidden in American history. One of these was called Elysium Fields, and Fred was friends with the owner, Ed Lang. They had an open Feraferia meeting there once. It was very idealistic. Elysium is another name for paradise, which is a big area of thought and exploration for Feraferia.
You want one of these right? Art by Fred Adams.
Is this book an attempt to not necessarily spread Feraferia, but to make it more accessible to the general Pagan public?
Well, really it’s both. I think the ideas that Fred and Svetlana had will be important and useful and fun for a lot of people. It would be great if other people and groups adopted Feraferian approaches. It’s great if people want to join Feraferia directly, too. But I’m more interested in people forming their own groups in harmony with Feraferia than in trying to have an overly large group here. For instance, Peter Tromp in Amsterdam is a Feraferia member, and his group is influenced by Feraferia. And Selena Karina in New Mexico is a member, and she runs a belly dance Festival called Floralia, with Feraferian inspiration and themes. Several members in Southern California built henges with Fred’s help when he lived there. And there are people who have made their own stone or wood henges, and worship the Magic Maiden using Feraferian approaches, but don’t work in a group. People have different approaches, to suit their own natures. And that’s all fine.
One thing that we are hoping will grow with the new website we are developing, is that Feraferians will start communicating and cross-pollinating with each other. To develop a more multi-faceted liturgy, if you will.
In the past it seemed liked a difficult faith to become a part of and now there’s a self-initiation ceremony. Is this something you think Fred would have welcomed?
Yes, definitely. Before he died, Fred said to Peter Tromp that he wanted his work to be available to everyone who is interested. He knew it was time, that the approaches he had been developing for so long were needed in our world. Back in the 1970s, when he had been working on the ideas for 15 or 20 years, it was still too soon. So in Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler’s book, she wrote that Fred was spending a lot more time creating the religion than sharing it. And that was true back then, but it’s different now. Fred always said that there would be a time when all of our systems, our way of life, would change. He could see it coming; and he knew that people who had learned how to live in harmony with the earth would be more likely to survive. He called it being “eco-psychic.”
In Drawing Down the Moon Adler writes that Feraferia is “one of the most difficult (Paganisms) to describe,” I got the exact opposite impression while reading your book. Is that because times have changed (Adler was originally writing in the late 1970’s) or does it represent changes within Feraferia? Do you think it’s a hard faith to describe?
I think there are two things going on there. One is, that many of the ideas he pioneered have become more commonplace. Fred said that when he used to talk about the Goddess to women in the 1950s and 60s, that often they would become offended, and accuse him of trying to come on to them in some kind of weird way. It seems that the only context for the word goddess back then was as a “sex goddess”. He said that generally men understood what he was trying to get at more readily than women, back in that era.
But even in 1989 when I started to work on my film called Dancing With Gaia, most people didn’t know what I was talking about. It wasn’t until at least 2000 that these ideas became more commonplace, after Al Gore wrote his books, and of course, after James Lovelock’s book, Gaia; A New Look At Life on Earth, where he explained the Gaia Theory. And feminist spirituality has taken off, especially with Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Goddesses in Everywoman, and Starhawk’s books. There has been a huge change in culture.
But the other thing is that Feraferia really is complex and deep. Celebrate Wildness is an introduction to Feraferia, and I wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible. So I didn’t go too deeply in to any of the more complicated, esoteric ideas. That will have to wait at least for the next book.
The truth is, I’m still learning about Feraferia myself. I have the Feraferia Library with over 1,000 of Fred’s books, and I am surrounded with Fred’s essays. Every time I pick them up, I learn more. Fred loved books, and he wrote a lot of commentary on the page-edges of the books. The more notes he wrote, the more important the book was to him. Some of Svetlana’s comments are there too. They had somewhat different viewpoints, which can be fascinating.
Our member Chris Quinn, who lives in Nevada city, is probably the most knowledgeable Feraferia member alive. He practices the full complement of daily, weekly, and tree-monthly rituals. Not very many people feel they have time for this much practice, or for learning what it means or how to do it. In the next book, I want to describe the full practice, and the Feraferian tree and moon-monthly calendar Fred devised to live by. One of its metaphors is that the Magic Maiden removes her clothing and jewels as the days go by toward the full moon, then She replaces them as the moon is going back toward the darkness. So her full nakedness is the bright splendor of the full moon.
Each of the four weeks has an Eleusinian designation, and for each day of the week there are activities you can do that resonate with the qualities of that day. And there are the Tree Months, and the story of what the Faeries are doing as each Tree Month passes by, which form a template for an ideal life, totally integrated with Nature. I try to put these on our Feraferia site and Facebook page as we come into each new Tree month. They’re like installments in the drama of the year. And don’t get me started on earth energy and ley line activation!
CELEBRATE WILDNESS-A BOOK REVIEW
I get a lot of Pagan books to read and review. Some I look forward to reading, others I dread, and some I’m just indifferent to. Wildness was one I was initially indifferent to. I was happy to see it available, but everything I had previously read about Feraferia made it seem difficult to understand, and certainly not something I could (or would event want to do) in my backyard. So I began Wildness reluctantly, but within about fifteen minutes I was all in, and found myself absolutely entranced by its pages.
Some of that is no doubt due to the beautiful artwork of Fred Adams that just about leaps off the page. Why aren’t all of the images in this book (and that you can see here on the blog) available as fine quality prints to hang around my ritual space? But this book is more than the art, it’s wonderfully written, and really serves as a comprehensive “how to” on Feraferia. There’s a lot of great history in here as well, but it’s the doing and the philosophies that grabbed me.
I was worried I’d find Feraferia remote and hard to understand or rather dated as a philosophy, and I’ll happily admit to being completely wrong. I found so much of my own belief within the pages of Wildness that I’m actively planning to incorporate some of it into my coven work. Fred and Svetlana’s vision from fifty years ago is just as urgent and as beautiful today as it was back then. The Feraferian vision as it relates to the Wheel of the Year is one that I think most Pagans would benefit from.
The first edition was a bit pricey at seventy dollars (and should have been more, they were losing money on each one sold) but the latest edition is only forty-five dollars. I know for some that’s still a lot, but this isn’t just a book it’s a work of art. Wildness was a labor love and one I’ve fallen a little bit in love with.
One of the things that struck me while reading the book was just how familiar Feraferia felt to me. The cosmologies and philosophies expressed by Fred and Svetlana often lined up with my own. How does Feraferia relate to other Modern Pagan traditions?
In some ways, Feraferia is quite different, or at least Fred and Svetlana thought so. It is not like Wicca, or ceremonial magic per se, although Fred told me he thought of himself as a ceremonial magician. We don’t do spells or call up demons. We’re more oriented to the biomes and the land, planting and celebrating it. We use trance and song to call on the faerie folk, and we use the magic of blessings, enchantment, and dedications in things like healing work and empowering our wilderness charms. We mark sun, moon and star risings and settings on our henges, and travel to the stars in trance. We certainly use the magic of eros, and that can be profound. It almost goes without saying that we talk to trees, but also to landforms and land spirits too.
Now many groups celebrate the sacred year, but Feraferia has sought out the actual initiations which earth provides, that are unique to each seasonal change, and which come directly from the seasonal changes. The seasons can be experienced as being moods Gaia goes through each year, and as part of our sacred story of the Magic Maiden. She gives birth in the spring, renews herself to become a child again, grows, flirts with, and marries her young partner, Kouros (a Greek word for a youthful god or god-like youth); then she becomes pregnant, makes the announcement of the birth to come, celebrates the harvest, opens the doors to the underworld at Samhain, and retreats with her partner into the underworld during her time of pregnancy. Kouros merges in ecstasy with her while they’re in the underworld, and becomes the new babe within her womb. That is a big difference; with Feraferia, there is no violent death for the year King, as there is in many other traditions.
So while there’s a lot that’s familiar within Feraferia , there are also things unique to it. I found myself fascinated by the holiday of Repose and plan to add it to my ritual calendar. Can you share a little bit about that holiday with us?
Repose is the time of the year when the plants have dropped their leaves, and things are decomposing, returning to the soil. It is a time of rest. It allows us to prepare for regeneration. It is when the Goddess, and the God who has merged with her, rejoin the earth, so spirit and consciousness go back into Earth.
But there is more to Repose than that. It is also the celebration of intergalactic spaces, the intertwinings and pathways, the black and white holes from one universe to another. When the earth is in the death time of the year we have the opportunity to explore other realms, as we will eventually do when we die ourselves. And at Repose we have a chance to look into the mirror and see the infinite progression of our reincarnated selves, together at the present moment. When the physical body is dormant our consciousness is freed to expand, to include all possibilities. Total consciousness. This is most poignant at the time of Repose, but it lasts through to Yule.
There were lots of pentagrams and other familiar symbols in Celebrate Wildness, but some different things too. One of those was the Phytala symbol. What does it symbolize and what does it mean within Feraferia?
Fred designed the Phytala to be the symbol for Feraferia. It is the image of a tree, with its roots in the earth, and its branches reaching toward the sky, plus it has a wreath of fruit tree flowers right in the middle. The wreath is sort of round like the sun, but with a little bit of an oval quality, so that the wreath also suggests breasts. Below that is a crescent moon, with the points pointing up in a smile. Overall the symbol suggests the symbol for woman, and the symbol for Mercury, the planet of communication. It is also reminiscent of the Egyptian Ankh of eternal life. So you have the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, the fruit tree, eternal life and woman. Each aspect of these is important to Feraferia, and overall, they add up to a synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a beautiful symbol.
As I said at the start of this interview, until Wildness most of my exposure to Feraferia was in Drawing Down the Moon, so I was surprised by just how important Fairies are to the religion. Can you share some beliefs about the Fey and what they mean to Feraferia?
Fred knew from his research, and I have confirmed this with more readings, that people all over the world have believed that the spirits of our ancestors often go into landforms that are near where they live, landforms which have unique and noticeable characteristics. Many people are familiar with the Australian aborigines, which have that belief. They call the time when the ancestors walked and lived on earth the “dreamtime.” However many, many indigenous peoples all over the world, have similar beliefs. They don’t call it the dreamtime. But if you look at their place names you will find that the names themselves indicate that there is a living being inhabiting, for instance, a mountain, or a pair of hills, a grotto, a cave, or a valley. And these spirits of place inhabit and look after those places, so that when we go there, we can meet them. They are the fairy guardians of that place.
An important practice for Feraferia is that you set up your outdoor temple, called a faerie ring or henge, as your center, with markers showing where each of the directions are relative to that center. From there, you go out to sacred places in the wilderness that you can find in all of the eight major directions, and you do a trance, where you seek to meet the fairy spirits of the place you are in. You start a relationship with these spirits, and you can honor them with song, dance, and gifts such as milk, honey, incense, fruit, and flowers. These are things the fairies seem to really enjoy. It is powerful to give gifts to the fairies, because you sense their appreciation. If they are in the mood, they might give you advice and wisdom, or an oracle. And when you know you have a positive relationship with these fairies, then later when you go back to your home Circle, and you call on them, it is like you are calling up friends to come and help you, rather than calling up strangers to come to your Circle to help you with your magic. They become part of your extended relations, almost like family. It makes a big difference.
There’s a very heavy Ancient Greek influence within Feraferia. What is the faith’s relationship to Greek mythology and civilization?
Much of the imagery that we use in our rituals, especially in the inner initiation, comes from ancient Greek mystery religions, notably the Eleusinian mysteries. Our most profound beliefs about life and death and new life come from there, too.
Plus, there were the Maenads, the free, wild women who held orgiastic trance festivals for women only, and were maligned by later patriarchal Greek writers. Fabulous role models, and not just for women. There were the rites of Dionysus, and the ecstatic trance channellings of early Delphi, before it was taken over by Apollo, in what I must say is a savage story. But even later there was a portion of each year when Delphi was ruled by Dionysus.
Lands all over the Mediterranean claim to be the birthplace of Dionysus; everyone instinctively wanted that thread of powerful ecstasy that he brings. The Romans reduced Dionysus to being a jolly god of the vine, as Bacchus; he was much more, a true nature god. You can read of the Dionysian initiations where girls were brought into their awareness of being women; Linda Fierz-David’s book, Women’s Dionysian Initiation details this; the imagery is all there, preserved in the halls of The Villa of Initiations in Pompeii. We don’t re-create Greek rites; but we use parts of them, the most powerful parts, in a good way. No animal sacrifice! We go with Triptolemus, who taught that we should honor the gods with fruit, and spare the animals.
Greece was the great inheritor of the magic and beauty of the Minoan or Cretan civilization. Ancient Crete stands as a stellar example of a sophisticated, beautiful, joyful, matrifocal civilization in Western pre-history. There were other places like that, to be sure, such as the Etruscan civilization and ancient Catal Huyuk, but Crete was so beautiful and so central. It was a meeting place for sea-farers from all over the Mediterranean. They worshiped the goddess under the name Britomartís Dyktinna, which meant “sweet maid of the crescent moon,” and she was a fertility and moon deity. I believe she was a prototype for Demeter, whose story described her coming from Crete to Greece at about the time it was invaded by warlike people from the North in the mid-1400s BC.
Demeter’s myth is central to Feraferia, because it is the story of the mother and daughter goddess, who form the branch-like spiral of life. The myth describes Demeter searching for her daughter Persephone, who had been abducted into the underworld, the world of death. But Persephone, through her love, innocence and beauty, transformed death, and the god there who embodied the necessity of death, whose name was Pluto or Hades. She transformed him through love, that so that death was no longer permanent, so rebirth would be possible for all people. She married death into the service of life. And she brought life out of death, because when she returned to her mother, she was carrying her new baby with her. It was her demonstration of the new truth.
Here’s a quote from Fred: “Feraferia pays deepest homage to The Great Goddess as Nocturnal Cosmic Source; Her capital gift to Earth is KORE, The Sacred Maiden-Artemis-Aradia-Aphrodite—Whose influence is resident in The Moon, especially The New Moon.”
Kore, the Magic Maiden or young maiden Goddess is central to Feraferia. We see her as being a daughter Goddess, a Kore, from the Greek word for a maiden Goddess. Kore Persephone is one example, as are Artemis, Aphrodite, and many more. Kore carries youthful, caring, sprightly, imaginative, creative energy, with childlike delicacy and playfulness and at the same time, innocent sexuality. We see these as highly valuable qualities. And by raising the Magic Maiden up to being our central divinity, we’re making it clear that we think that these are the qualities that the earth needs in order to get past the intense problems that patriarchy and the rape of nature have brought on us.
The culture of war and rape has been around for many centuries, but not everywhere. It was certainly not the case in ancient Crete. After the invasion they had kings. Before conquest, it was a peaceful, goddess oriented culture: matrilineal, matrifocal, and very equal between males and females. This is shown in so much of their art, for example in the famous fresco with the women and men wearing similar scanty costumes as they leapt over the bull. This is why Crete and other matrifocal/matriarchal cultures such as China’s Mosuo people are so important. I think that by knowing that there have been successful cultures in the past, which did not venerate power over others, but honored joy and love and playfulness, we can have hope that this is possible for us again in the future.
A few scholars have claimed that Crete was warlike in the pre-conquest era. These claims got a disproportionate amount of press, since they reinforce our current culture of war and domination. But in 1999 a large conference was held in Belgium to discuss the question, and the scholars concluded that there is no real evidence for that point of view. Wikipedia also has a good discussion with the same conclusion. Crete was primarily peaceful for at least 1,000 years, with no indications of wars, or of them invading other places. And the Mosuo have been matrifocal and peaceful right up until now. I make a point of this since we can’t have paradise without peace.
I finished Celebrate Wildness wanting to know more about Feraferia, Fredrick Adams, and Svetlana Butyrin (Lady Svetlana of Feraferia). Do you foresee future books featuring more of Adams’s artwork and more biographical details?
Actually there are two or three books coming. The first one is tentatively called The Magic of Hesperides: Ritual and Lore from Feraferia. I’ve started collecting stories from people who knew Fred, and some of my own experiences too. These will be mixed in with what I am working on now, which is a huge amount of raw rituals, poetry, polemics, art and essays.
Speaking of the artwork, it basically steals the show in many places. Is there anywhere I can order prints of it for my ritual space?
That’s a great idea. I have printed up some as posters, but I haven’t been organized enough to make them available yet. Right now Celebrate Wildness is the only thing in print with a lot of Fred’s work in it. Those first 20 pages in the book were designed to go on the altar for meditation. But I’ll put that on my list.
You’ve worked in the movie industry for quite some time (and on some wildly popular and successful films), but I want to talk about your 2009 film Dancing with Gaia. What’s the history of that project and where can one view it?
Towards the later part of the 1980s Fred was feeling that he had poor health and wasn’t really sure how long he would last; he had a serious problem with ulcers. I felt that his ideas were important and I wanted to make sure that they were going to be available for other people and to the future, so I started interviewing Fred on videotape.
I thought it was going to be a piece focused on Fred. But Fred said it was important for me to include a lot of other people who were interested in similar subjects as him, especially women. He really pushed me to go out and interview more people, so I did that. And then when I was in the editing room, going through many iterations of editing, it became clear that Fred, although he’s wonderful and charismatic, is not a dynamic speaker on film. So I had to actually cut down on visuals of Fred, so that the ideas that Fred had inspired me to explore could be gotten out to the world in a more dynamic way. So you don’t actually get that much of Fred in the movie, as much as you get the 14 other visionaries that I interviewed, who were looking at the intersection between Earth energy, sacred sexuality, and the goddess as Gaia.
The film took 20 years to make, including all the traveling, shooting and editing. Part of the reason it took so long was that I was also living my life and getting married and having a child and working on many films in the film industry. When I was first shooting this, there weren’t any tools to do digital editing at home. So fortunately, just when I really needed that, Final Cut Pro (editing software) came out in 2000, and I learned how to use it right away. Dancing With Gaia premiered at the Fairfax Documentary Film Festival in 2009, and in 2010 I got the DVDs out. We put together a 45 page color booklet that’s packaged with the DVD and explains more about it the ideas. The DVD is only available on our website dancingwithgaia.com or through the Feraferia website.
What’s the state of Feraferia in 2015? I know there’s a website but what else can one do if they want to get involved in it? Where do you see it going in the future?
We put on the seasonal rituals on here in Northern California, and there are scattered small groups and individuals who do this in a Feraferian way, but there are not a lot of us. We’ve gone to PantheaCon a number of times and offered Feraferian rituals there as an outreach. I put enough information in Celebrate Wildness that if a person wants to start doing Feraferia on their own they certainly can. But I would encourage anyone who is interested to contact us through our website, feraferia.org, so we can answer questions and help them get started. We hope to be in touch with as many people as possible who resonate with the ideas. Ideally, we’d love to get a network of faery rings everywhere, as buds that will flower and seed more.
We are trying to improve our website to make it more useful to visitors, so they can post ideas and interact; that function hasn’t been working very well yet; it’s a process. But somehow these ideas need to happen in a bigger way. We have to move together, to dance and enchant toward experiencing earth as a paradise again, because if we don’t, the other way that we have been going doesn’t have life in it, for us as humans or for anything for that matter.
There are a lot of great quotes from Fred in the book, what are your favorite memories of him and Svetlana?
Visiting Fred and Svetlana was kind of like visiting a temple of the Goddess, with all the art and sculptures. When they lived in Pasadena they had a beautiful wooden henge in their back yard, surrounded by fruit trees. I’ll never forget the torch-lit initiation there, in their henge and in the indoor temple with its spheres of stars on the floor.
When we were filming the winter solstice ritual we were at the snow-covered Chileo Flats in the San Gabriel Mountains. Everyone was cold, so we were singing and dancing really fast to keep the heat up. I can still hear Fred and Svetlana’s voices from that rite in my head, calling in the Great Fay of the North, “Shining Ones of the North! Swing wide your star gates of silver, studded with sapphire!”
Svet was Russian, she grew up speaking it and she loved making Russian dishes for the feasts after rituals. She was an intellectual powerhouse, too, and created much of Feraferia’s liturgy.
Unfortunately, Svetlana had problems with panic that had started when she was a teen. Sometimes this expanded into general fear and paranoia. This was really hard on Fred. So there was a time when they had separated, before they lived together again in Nevada City.
I kept in touch with Fred more, so I used to go to see him. He would show me his latest artwork and talk about his ideas. He really loved using Tibetan bowls as singing bowls, because of the entrancing effects that they had. He used to demonstrate other things that he liked or that he had learned such as using part of Ba Qua, which is an Asian martial art form.
The aspect of Ba Gua Fred showed me involved circling around a central pole and observing the landforms changing directly behind the pole as he moved around it. This was a method of finely focusing one’s attention on the shapes of the land and incorporating and varying your movements in response to them. The use of the pole set up a kind of cinematic panning quality to the landforms you were viewing. Using movement to attune to the land was a big focus for Fred. He taught some of his landscape yoga and what he called landscape dancing at a Pagan festival in Georgia one time in the nineties; I went along and filmed him teaching. We had a great time on that gorgeous first day; but unfortunately a big thunderstorm came and flooded the event the next day, so everyone had to leave. A few clips from Fred’s classes are in the DVD Extras on the Dancing With Gaia DVD.
Before we go is there anything you want people to know about Feraferia in 2015?
Fred spent many years developing a practice which was in the area of sacred sexuality, using the vibrant energy of the body along with practiced use of the imagination to achieve ecstatic states of consciousness. This can be done with or without a partner. He reported really extended states of ecstatic consciousness using these techniques, for hours every day for a number of years. This has become a kind of inner teaching in Feraferia.
Feraferia has a really developed vision of the future. We are very oriented towards creating paradise on earth, as fantastic as that sounds. Many people want this; they realize that you can at least go to someplace like Burning Man or the Oregon Country Fair or the Rainbow Gatherings and experience a temporary sort of paradisal community environment. But with Feraferia, we hope to persuade people to start creating paradise where they are. Kind of like starting many nodes, or seed points, where the mycelium of paradisal energy can grow through humanity. Early books like One Straw Revolution, Stevens’ Recovery of Culture, and Smith’s Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture influenced Feraferia’s ideals of an all-providing paradise, and so incorporating the current ideas known as Permaculture fits very well with Feraferian philosophy.
A good way to start connecting with the land is by creating a faerie ring henge. A henge is many things; a compass, a place to do rituals, a pointer to various wild places around you, a time marker of the seasons and the day, and of the stars above. It can also eventually form the central part of a paradisal sanctuary, with fruit trees, lots of native and perennial food plants, and places to meditate, dance, sleep and celebrate.
To start, you select your center point, which is going to be an Omphalos or navel, the center of your world; then create your sacred circle around that, by marking the directions with either wooden staves or stangs or stones. Place them to the north, south, east, west and each of the cross quarter directions such as the southeast and southwest. You make that place sacred by doing ritual in it, and by observing things such as the stars and the rising and setting of the sun and the moon at important times the year. You can also mark things such as your birthdays and anniversaries around the edges of the circle.
Consider that the circle starts in the East with the Spring time, and Summer is in the South, Fall is in the West, and Winter is in the North, and each day of the year has its place on the edge of the circle. It is a circular calendar. And then you make it even more sacred by going out in all the eight directions to the places that have a wilderness feeling. You get to know the faerie spirits of those places and make friends with them. You honor them so that then when you come back to your circle you have a sense of strong connection or identity with all those further landscapes and with the faerie spirits of those lands. Now when you’re in your central henge, you’re at the center of your own world. This goes all the way out into the cosmos. It’s not limited to the land. When you’re looking at the stars you can do celestial magic; in Celebrate Wildness there are a few pages devoted to describing things that you can do in your henge to relate yourself and what you’re doing to the constellations and the planets.
Basically we want to create paradise on earth by starting small and having as many people as possible create miniature paradises right in their backyards. If people find this attractive and want to devote part of their lives to creating paradise on earth, they should do that, and invite their friends to join them. Fruit and nut trees provide so much life, for animals as well as humans. We honor fruit trees because they provide fruit without harming the tree, the same way that a woman’s breasts provides food to her child without harming the woman. This is an important analogy. We think of fruit trees as the nourishers of human beings on earth. That’s why the fruit tree wreath is the central part of our symbol, the Phytala. We hope everyone can get involved in having fun creating beautiful wilderness locations and planting fruit and nut trees and making Earth a paradise.
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