Sonja Sandovsky, author of The Priestess and the Pen, questioned Jo Carson about some lesser-known aspects of Feraferia. The first post from her three-part interview appeared on September 24, 2015:
One of the best aspects of being an author is the opportunity to share my exposure to esoteric and unique philosophies with others. It also gives me great pleasure to offer other writers a forum to discuss their work. Recently, I was introduced to the delicious concept of Feraferia, a tradition of American Paganism that proposes a utopian vision of harmony with Nature. Offering a unified approach of holistic living through honoring ourselves and the universe at large, Feraferia offers an integrated theory of artistic expression, sacred sexuality, and peaceful co-existence that has inspired people around the world since the mid-20th century. The most comprehensive study of this fascinating and beautiful tradition is compiled by Jo Carson, in her book Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path. Combining the artwork and philosophies of Fred Adams, co-creator of the Feraferian tradition, with a simple and readable account of of this amazing system, Jo provides a wonderful introduction for anyone looking to explore this fascinating approach to Nature-centered religion, or to deepen their own spirituality.
After reading the text, and meditating on the vibrant artwork, I knew I needed to find out more about some of the core concepts and practices unique to Feraferia. I had the extreme good fortune to be able to converse with Jo Carson about some of the customs and philosophies that enrich the Feraferian tradition. Our conversation was so inspiring that I decided to experiment with creating a Faerie Ring Henge in my own yard, which I will document and discuss in another article. Additionally, the conversation was so extensive that it will span several blog posts instead of just one. This first installment will discuss some of the basic concepts and mythology of Feraferia, particularly concepts of Deity, Constructing the Henge, and some blessings and rituals that are conducted within that sacred space...
You can read Part I of the interview here; Parts II and II will follow.
Sonja: Are there any Feraferia rituals designed specifically to introduce children to the core concepts of the Magic Maiden, the Faerie or constructing the Henge?
Jo: We have an introduction paper called "Feraferia for Young People and Beginners," but that assumes they are old enough to read and understand at least on an entry level. With Feraferia we are careful to have people who join be above eighteen years old. Everything has its place of course; Feraferia has some participatory eco-erotic passion plays, so discretion is sometimes appropriate. But our vision of the future is to create paradisal sanctuaries that function like villages, with everybody included. Like in traditional indigenous cultures, kids will learn things at the right time, when they are ready for it.
Sonja: Are there Feraferian rites designed for welcoming new children into the tribe? Are there Feraferia funeral rites?
Jo: A baby or child blessing rite takes place in the East part of our Faerie Circle or Henge, the area of beginnings, with each person calling out a specific blessing for the child, and people bring gifts of a food plant or tree in a pot which will benefit the child as it grows. We have a general ritual format for calling in the Fay (the Faerie folk) and creating magical space that will cover most occasions, such as a baby naming rite. Our marriage rite is specific and rather erotic, with each member of the couple or love cluster blessing and touching and dedicating parts of the other person's body to the Goddess. And we have a beautiful funeral rite called "The Whole Earth Initiation". It is focused on magically dedicating the various parts of the body of the beloved dead to parts of the greater earth body, such as the circulatory system is dedicated to and becomes one with the great rivers and streams of the earth, and the backbone becomes one with the great mountain ridges of the earth, and the kidneys become part of the great marshlands.
Sonja: I was very intrigued by the idea of ancestors becoming larval gods. Could you unpack this concept a bit more?
Jo: Many people, not just the Australian Aborigines, believe similar things about the ancestors. Look at the place names of areas such as Grandmother Mountain and Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, Rushan Mountain, which means "Mountain Mamma" in China, or the Landscape Ancestress of Lenzburg, Switzerland. The idea is that the earth is very much alive and populated with spirits; we call them Faerie folk, or the Fay. Their role is to encourage both the natural region and also the living beings within it, including people, to form a more harmonious and beautiful whole; that would include healing the area if it has been despoiled.
If a person wishes to, and I believe there's a lot of choice in this, they can join the ancestral pool once they pass over, and then come back for a new lifetime; or if they're ready to they can join biomes or parts of the earth, especially areas they were intimately familiar with, and become caretakers of those areas; they become the indwelling Faeries or earth spirits of that place. Our term 'larval gods' includes the idea that there can be transformation, so they don't start out as gods. Over time there is this transformation that goes on, until they become more part of the godlike Faerie folk, having all the wonderful grandeur and magical powers of Faerie, but not having a sense of arrogance or a need to dominate others; so it's a different kind of God than we have been taught about in patriarchal religions.
Sonja: Although Celebrate Wildness discusses directions for constructing a Henge, would you explain some of the concepts behind the meaning of the Henge?
Jo: That's a subject worthy of a book unto itself. On its most simple level, a Faerie Ring Henge is an outdoor circle with markers showing the directions. The Henge embodies so much that is central Feraferia. In its construction it incorporates the day, the seasons, the directions—North, South, East, West, Southeast, et cetera, and also the times of life, such as birth in the East, and marriage in the South; and each of the eight markers has a planetary body assigned to it. But there's also the idea that each of those Henge markers points to sacred lands in the distance, such as our Eastern marker points to the Sierra Mountains in the distance, and in the near distance, we have a stream nearby, then Mount Diablo a little further off. As one goes around the circle, walking in a clockwise or sun-wise direction, one can easily visualize and call out the names of the places that are in the distance. When you call them out, your consciousness is at the center of all these sacred places. We call the center spot of the Henge the Omphalos, which means the navel of our sacred place in the world. This process tends to root you to your specific place on earth in a powerful way.
Beyond that the Henge gives you a place to do your rituals and seasonal celebrations, like the Summer Solstice and Yule Festivals. It can be a used for marriages or funerals, it can be for blessings, dedications and healings, rain dances, and trance journeys which we call 'Faerie flight'. All these can take place within the Henge.
You can make your Henge markers out of stone, and those would be called menhirs, or of wood, or what ever material you think would be appropriate; something natural, of course. You can decorate and mark them with paint and carvings.
Special sunrises or moonrises can be marked around your henge; and you can spend the night in the Henge and observe where particular stars are rising at different times of the year. Say if you are there on a spring equinox sunrise, you will look directly beyond the Eastern marker and see the sun rising; but if will be a different point on the horizon if you're watching at midwinter sunrise; the sun will be rising in the South East of your Henge. When it sets, it will set to the Southwest of your Henge, and you can place a marker for that spot a little further out from your main circle of markers. Then when you are in the Henge around the same time the next year, you see and sense physically as you look toward that sunrise marker that the Equinox is coming.
You can do this same exact process with particular star forms that you feel related to. For instance, I feel very connected to the Pleiades constellation, which are also called the Seven Sisters, so I always make a point of watching for it when it shows up in the sky; it is really beautiful. You can place a marker to show when it first is visible each year, or maybe when it last sets for the year. You get to spend a lot of time in the Henge at night to set up those markers, and that gives you a very strong sense of connection to the sun, moon and stars.
Sonja: Could you also describe how to construct the portable Henge?
Jo: There are a few types of portable Henge: you can make one out of a large circle of fabric which you can place your directions on, and roll up and take wherever you like and just lay it out. As long as you have a compass as a guide, you can orient it towards the true North of the planet, and basically have an instant Henge, where you can do the kinds of work and play that we were just talking about. It's literally a matter of just making sure that you have a compass rose marked on it, which is to say all of the directions. Put those on with markers or paint, or it can be embroidery or any kind of decorative fabric. You can add the symbols of the planets that go with each of the eight sacred directions. For Feraferia, the planets are in pairs and form matching positive and negative energies, like yin and yang, across from each other. It's relatively easy to make, so you if don't have room to have a permanent outdoor Henge, then a portable fabric Henge is a really useful tool. They can be beautiful, with patterns, tie-dye, layers of objects sewn on, and especially found items from nature; as wildly creative as you like.
We also have another kind of portable henge, made of nine six-foot painted wooden poles with detachable round bases and knobs on top. It is good for placing a temporary Henge outdoors or indoors, especially for a larger crowd. We decorate the bases with ivy, candles, and so on. The ninth pole is for Center or Repose.
Another approach to a henge that could work for a person indoors in a city is a henge more in the form of a table altar, with markers for all the directions of course.
Sonja: Could you discuss the concept of Repose and how it relates to the Feraferia sacred year?
Jo: Repose takes place between the latter part of November, Thanksgiving time, and Yule, although we start moving toward it with Samhain. It is the time in our calendrical cycle when the Goddess and the God go under the Earth. Our story of the year takes them through their changing relationship with each other and the initiatic celebrations of the year. The young maiden Goddess, Kore (pronounced KOR-ee), and the young male God, Kouros (KOO-ros), have been married at mid-summer; she has become pregnant, and she has announced her pregnancy. After the harvest, at Samhain, the great doors to the underworld are opened. They go through those magnificent doors and settle down in the underworld with each other for the long night of dreaming through the cold and quiet time of the year, while she is nurturing her pregnancy. During this time on the surface of earth leaves are falling down from many of the trees and annual plants. Plants start decomposing, so there's a composting going on; and in parallel, the God is merging with the Goddess in ecstasy. They have joined one another, you could think of it sexually, and he merges with her. Then their Essences join the larger cosmos while the surface of the earth sleeps. At Yule, the male God of the year whose consciousness is now part of the Cosmos kisses the sleeping Goddess and gives the spark of consciousness to the God who is within her womb. He starts getting ready for his new birth at the springtime, along with the rest of nature.
Repose is the perfect time for people to do activities that are part of composting and settling their garden beds down for the winter, and creating a comfortable deep environment to rest and celebrate in during the quiet time of the year, with lots of pillows and soft velvets and sensual surroundings which would encourage frolic and play, more indoors than outdoors; and then have fun with things like pillow fights and philosophy, and spend time creating beautiful hand-made tools, musical instruments, sculpture, writing songs and poetry, making grogs and ales, and dreaming new dreams.
Sonja: Could you explain the concept of cosmothonia?
Jo: Fred Adams invented this term to describe "the meaningful inter-relation of landmarks and skymarks to generate majestic patterns for the flow of creative energies between fields of earth, solar system and galaxy." Fred's article quoted Professor Hawkins in his book Beyond Stonehenge as saying of the Mayan Astronomer-Priests, "They used astro-alignment—earth and sky were joined in the projection of the foundation lines of the pyramids, temples and plazas." It is well known that the Great Pyramid of Giza has a number of star and directional alignments built into it. The cosmothon then, is the celestial world and our world and the underworld together, with all of their relationships and vastness and depth; and you might say that our role relative to the cosmothon is to find our place in it and to understand our connections to the larger whole.
Cosmothonia is study, and also an activity. It takes into consideration fault lines, veins of ore, volcanic cones, underground water bodies and waterways, plus all the geo-magnetic realities of the earths land masses, and our relations to the planets and stars. The goal is to establish and re-establish eco-psychic networks of shrines whose position and construction is related to these lines and bodies, for the magical transformation of earth into paradise. We believe that the cosmothon has an overall goal of moving toward greater beauty and harmony, so our role is also to assist in that project. When we line our Henge up to the directions and mark important star and planet positions around it, we bring these into our conscious awareness, and we are joining in that effort toward harmony. When you have more harmony, you get more positive synchronicities in your life. Life takes on a more meaningful and magical tone.
Sonja: What is a Star Altar?
Jo: Our star altar is a three foot painted wooden dodecahedron, with the major visible stars painted on it. It was created by Fred Adams and Feraferia member Jim Ordonez, who did most of the construction. It's large enough that the flat top can function as an altar. The star positions were taken from a celestial globe, and they were mapped out, quadrant by quadrant, onto this dodecahedron. Now the question comes up, why is it dodecahedron rather than a sphere? That is because Fred was taking Plato seriously; Plato said that the universe is actually a dodecahedron in shape. What I found intriguing was that by looking up Plato and dodecahedron I came up with not only the quote where he said that, but also another interesting quote from the Economist magazine, which is hardly a new age publication, from October 2003. It said that scientific research showed that the shape of the universe appeared to in fact be that of a dodecahedron!
Now, why would we want a star altar? Several things; since it is flat on all sides you can place any particular star up at the top. We usually place the North star on top. If you are outdoors you can align it visually with whatever star or constellation you want to work with. The way they made it, the Star Altar has hinges holding it together in the middle, and you can actually open it up and place things on the inside for being blessed during a celestial working or cosmothonic working. A person can worship of course, make offerings, or dance around it. Having it in the middle of the Henge increases your awareness of where the stars are and their relationships to each other. You can put your hand on the image of the star and stretch your arm out up to the sky and point up toward the actual star or constellation that you feel attracted to, and say its name; for instance, Aldebaran or Sirius, or the Pleiades, and then you can chant blessings you wish to send or to receive. This is a very different proposition than just thinking in the abstract while you are in your indoor temple "The Pleiades are up there somewhere." It gives you a felt physical relationship to that constellation or star. You become a channel to it. It works much in the same way that markers in the henge point to specific parts of the landscape.
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