Interview by Sonja Sadovsky, author of The Priestess and the Pen
Greetings, and welcome to the third installment of a memorable interview with Jo Carson, author of Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path (available at http://feraferia.org/joomla//). Today's Jo will explain the concept of creating paradise on Earth, and how to construct a paradisal sanctuary in an urban environment. Jo discusses why play is a lost art in modern culture, and why it is so important to relearn this necessary skill. She speaks to the difference between tree culture and agriculture, and the differences between the philosophies that inspire these separate food-generating models. She continues to describe her vision for the future of Feraferia, and Paganism in general. I am pleased to present this final segment of a fantastic conversation, and hope you have enjoyed learning about the Feraferian experience as much as I have!
Sonja: The idea of creating a paradisal sanctuary is extremely appealing and a central theme of Feraferia; can you explain that?
Jo: Let's just start with the idea of "What is paradise?" Almost every past culture had some idea of paradise; the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Hesperides, Elysium, Tir na nOg, Arcadia and the Summerland are examples. Paradise is generally expected to be a garden of peace and plenty. So peace, plenty and gardens are core ideas.
A paradisal sanctuary would have gardens, shrines, playgrounds, self-sufficient sustainable living places, and safe places for creatures of the wild.
This sounds like a lot, but you can get started wherever you are. If you have a yard then you have room for a Henge, and you can surround it with a garden, or peaceful space. Your Henge can be quite small if it has to. Ideally it will be big enough to walk into so that you can stand at the center and look out in the various directions that are shown by the directional markers.
If you only have enough room for a two foot arrangement, even on a table, you can use it in most of the same ways as a bigger one. You can lay out the directions and see what sacred Fay places they point to (use a map to lead you to places to explore); and you can exchange small things like stones between your Henge and the places where you visit the Faeries. You can also make wildercharms from bits of the plants and stones you find there, and use them in your Henge or your indoor altar.
Make as much use of your space as you can. But if you cannot create something permanent then you can use a portable Henge like we talked about earlier, something which you just take out and use when you're outside and then fold up and take indoors; then when you do your trance work indoors, you can lie down on it there, it will carry the energy.
You can start to create your paradisal community now. Invite your friends! Have parties with a seasonal theme. Even if they don't know about Feraferia, most people will resonate with a Harvest party, or a Sunrise or Sunset party on the Solstice days. You'll always get a crowd if you invite people to taste your latest harvest product, like jam or fruit pie or the honey mead that you made. It is much more fun to do this kind of thing with friends. Take them with you when you are going off to look for Fay areas of land on the rays of your Henge. If your friends are sympathetic, they can bring little tokens from their own place and leave them, along with yours, as gifts for the Faeries. Play with it!
In terms of creating a place of peace and plenty, start with your Henge as your priority, and if you have room, put in producing fruit trees like citrus trees, apple trees, peaches, plums, papayas and berries, grape arbors, avocado trees, nut trees, whatever will grow in your terrain; you can also plant perennial vegetables, like asparagus, artichokes, runner beans, sweet collard, rhubarb and mushrooms. Use deep pots if space is at a premium.
When you have fruit trees and perennial vegetables then you have food growing easily, without having to constantly be tilling the soil or killing animals, and it creates more paradisal lifestyle. Do rain catchment if you can, for your garden, and graywater for your trees. Our current system steals rainwater from the land and turns it into drinking water, then flushes it into sewers so it never reaches the land; this is so wasteful, it doesn't help anything grow. When you plant, go organic, of course! Chemicals kill worms and microbes and get into the food chain over time; good to avoid.
If you can obtain a ruined acre or two at the edge of town, that is a wonderful opportunity for restoration, for planting it with native trees and shrubs. You can create a beautiful wilderness sanctuary, with a Henge and food gardens graduating to wilderness at the edges. A group of people can care for it; with this amount of land you would have enough space for a true paradisal sanctuary.
Add play-worthy components to your garden, like swings, splashing fountains, tiny tree houses, meditation platforms, hot tubs, statues of the Goddess and the Gods, and fantasy sculptures. These things will lure you and your friends out into it, making it more fun and useful. Play is so important, it is truly the lost art of our time. With the doom-sayers everywhere predicting ecological disaster, knowing how to live well with each other in wild nature is truly a survival skill.
Fred Adams developed these ideas back in the 50s when he was talking about a blended culture of paradise and psychological realities, so that ecology and psychology would be merged—his term for that was eco-psychic. It would be a culture of people and plants and the larger landscape together in harmony.
Fred was very fond of what's called horticulture and arboriculture, which is tree culture. These are so different from agriculture. Agriculture is very sweat and labor-intensive, and it becomes something where people want to make money at, so they hire people and get big pieces of land. Then all the love is gone. There's not somebody growing the food and tending the plants with love, instead there is exploitation of labor to make money. The land gets ruined that way, and there is no peace. This is very opposite to what Feraferia is encouraging. We want people to practice tree culture and horticulture together in a playful way and have a lot of fun. We can sing and dance together and enjoy the process of tending; we are celebrating the Goddess and Earth's bounty on a very intimate scale.
You plant plenty so that there is plenty to share with other people, and with animals too. When food grows so easily there's not a feeling of having to hoard it.
Sonja: Can you talk a little more about the idea of how you can create a paradisal sanctuary in a specifically urban environment?
Jo: For a city-scape where people live in apartments and there is no outdoor space, then you have to look a little further. You might have a friend who has some space in their backyard, and they might be interested in the idea of growing a paradise. If not, you can find a local park. Maybe it's crowded and you think "Oh, I could never use this for Feraferia," but think about the different times of the day. The times of the day that are most amenable to tuning into the Faerie folk are at dawn and dusk, which are the between times, between full day and full night. And if you're there especially at dawn, it's quiet and there are very few people. You can wear mild colored clothing that has a feeling like it's a little bit foggy, visually, to blend in with the colors of the earth tones that are around you at that time of day.
Sit there quietly leaning against a tree or a rock, and don't move. Just spend time relaxing and breathing into your belly, and letting your eyes go really soft focus. You're not expecting anything but you are just waiting to see whether the Faerie show themselves. Maybe they won't be visible, maybe it will be just a sudden unexpected breeze that moves in an odd direction, and you think to yourself, "Oh I think the Faerie folk are here" because this is not a normal wind. Or maybe suddenly there's a sense of movement and you sense a presence; somebody or something is there; you can greet this energy body; you speak to it very quietly. You may say, "Welcome Faerie spirit. I am here to honor you and talk with you, if you will. Do you have anything to tell me?" Then you just wait. Maybe you will get some understandings, or it may come in words, or maybe it will just be an idea that suddenly pops into your head, and it's not an idea that you would normally have. Then you can say "Oh thank you!" When you're respectful that makes all the difference.
You should bring something with you, like flowers or fruit, and leave this for the Faerie folk as a gift, when you first get there. You may not necessarily sense their presence the first time, but when you come back repeatedly at the same time of day and behave in the same way, the spirits start feeling comfortable around you, and suddenly you'll notice that the birds are coming out, they're hopping around you, even hopping over your legs, and the squirrels are picking up nuts and they might even drop some at your feet. When the animals and the Faerie folk get used to you, they will interact with you much more strongly than if you're a stranger. And don't forget to bring something from your own Henge to leave there, like a little stone that you have blessed. Then you create a sense of connection with that Faerie spot.
There are directions in Celebrate Wildness on how to set up an invisible Henge in your park, using the landmarks that are there, like the trees or what stones might be there already. If there are some gaps you can plant small stones as markers, and halfway bury them so that nobody is going to trip, but you know that they're there. Once you know that you've got the eight points of the sacred circle marked, and you have a center mark, you have created a Henge that would be invisible to other people. Start by dedicating and blessing it!
As other people come and go it may be disturbed, but you can always fix it again. It will be there for you, and then you can build up the Faerie connections in the same ways as a person with a Henge at home. At the seasonal high points you can have a festive picnic with friends there; those of you who know will notice the special atmospheric body present, and others might just notice that it is a very pleasant outdoor location.
If you want to do the Feraferian Seasonal Rites or a big ceremony like the Rite of the Sun and Moon Wedding, that would be difficult in an urban park, since onlookers would distract from your magical space. You could travel to a more distant place where there wouldn't be distractions, like a quiet beach or the mountains or a woods to celebrate. If you can't do that or the weather is impossible, you can bring some of the outdoors inside and celebrate there; bring fragrant flowers, wreaths, ivy, and especially aromatic boughs, like rosemary, peppermint, bay laurel and pine. Then you can center your rite around a portable Henge.
It's ideal if you can convince some friends to help you with this kind of project because it's a lot more fun that way. Maybe a friend of yours has access to a place out in the countryside and that could be a place you go to on a regular basis. You could offer to put a Henge up there. After all, they are beautiful and kind of romantic. People like the idea of emulating Stonehenge, even in a small way.
There are directions in Celebrate Wildness for how to use a map and compass and straight edge to identify places you can go to in all the eight directions which might still be harboring some Faerie energy. Then you start building up a conscious network of distant sacred places you are connected to, including other Henges and ancient holy places, which is centered on your Henge. Then you can energize this network with breath exchange between yourself and the near and distant sacred places.
Sonja: Could you explain the Feraferian concept of Chrysokyma?
Jo: Chrysokyma is a practice that Fred Adams developed. The word Chrysokyma means 'the Golden wave.' It is a practice to enhance one's experience of love and ecstasy. Fred spent many years developing it. He wrote an article about Chrysokyma that's probably 30 pages long, describing the practice in great detail, so this will be an abbreviated description.
You lie on your back in the morning when you are still barely awake. You have your hands on your thighs and your knees are raised up forming an arch, and your feet are flat to the surface of the bed. It is important to keep a little warmth, so usually you keep at least a sheet over your body. The practice can be done with one person alone or with two people together. Using your imagination and tiny muscular movements, you visualize energy going up and down from your genital region up through your body to the top of your head and back down. This is not the so-called "Fire Breath" technique, it is gentle and slow, but controlled breathing is part of it. Now at the same time you become very sensitively aware of the presence of a person that you love next to you, or perhaps hovering over you in a caring fashion, whether or not they are not physically present or even physically real. The presence of this other person who you feel so attracted to enables you to get in touch with very fine and refined feelings of pleasure that are in your body. The practice involves paying careful and patient attention to these feelings of pleasure and noticed thing how they increase. It is in some ways similar to Chi Gung (an Asian practice for increasing energy). Chi Gung also has practices that are aimed at increasing sexual pleasure, and yet it's different from that. The idea is that you increase your sensitivity to such a point that you become flooded with feelings of ecstasy that can last for literally hours. The loving feelings and the ecstatic physical feelings are happening at the same time, and neither would be as strong without the other.
Sonja: Does this relate to the Western tradition of courtly love?
Jo: The ideas and practice of courtly love took place mostly in the eleventh and twelfth century in the courts of southern France and Spain, where there was a very diverse culture of North Africans, Arabs, Jews and Catholics. They formed a brilliant melting pot of ideas, which included the reintroduction of alchemical knowledge from Arabia. At this time, there were a fair number of young men who didn't really know what to do with themselves; they might be minor knights, and trained in martial arts like sword play and combat, but this was a time of peace. Lower on the social scale, there were the usually male troubadours, who were specialists in song and poetry, and in entertaining at the courts. The noble marriages of the time were all arranged, so very often there was no real love between the nobility.
Courtly love was something that sprung up when these young men had feelings of attraction and great respect for a woman who was in a higher position than themselves, for instance a knight might have an intense feeling of romantic love toward a Lady who was married to a Lord, a Duke or the King. If she accepted his request to be her servant, he then would have to accomplish a series of ordeals which she would set, to prove himself worthy of her love. Meanwhile, she would set herself the task of becoming more and more the ideal lady, in terms of her conduct, beauty, kindness, wit, generosity, and conversational abilities.
So there was this was a mutual feeling of love, yet the two couldn't have a public affair without risking or losing their lives or at least being excommunicated from the church; and you couldn't have these court ladies becoming pregnant with babies who didn't look at all like the husband. The troubadours would sing songs of love towards a lady, and the Knights would dedicate sometimes their whole lives to the glory of a particular lady.
They would communicate secretly. The two might exchange flowers, which had a language of their own; such as, certain flowers together might mean "meet me in the courtyard at midnight." It was very specific depending on the particular flowers chosen, so messages could go back and forth. The level of erotic interest was very high, and the longing of the two lovers for each other was continually increasing. They would often wait to see each other just to increase the torture. The goal in many cases was called asag, which referred to a practice wherein they would sleep together, both naked, but with a sword remaining between them all night. The level of charge between them on a night like this would have been incredibly high.
Socially, it was generally accepted for these two to have a courtly love relationship, as long as they kept it discreet. For some, the spiritual high of the unconsummated love was enough. But for others, both members of the couple were interested in developing ways to get together which could be physically satisfying for both but not result in a baby. Sometimes they engaged in practices superficially similar to some Eastern traditions, where the couple does have sex but the man has learned to have an orgasm without actually having ejaculation. The difference was that many of the male practitioners of sexual Tantra basically used the female as an object to enable this own enlightenment, whereas with asag and courtly love, the female was an equal participant with her own role to play. These techniques were generally kept secret, passed from person-to-person as oral traditions.
The relationship between Chrysokyma and courtly love is that Chrysokyma also involves romance, and eros being taken to its highest level; it is not to say that sex with orgasm is banned in Feraferia, not at all, but merely that the use of Chrysokyma is a way to achieve very high level of long-term ecstatic experience which is both physical and spiritual. It can eventually culminate of course in traditional sexual release, but in the meantime the techniques aim get the practitioners to this level of an unusual, long-lasting ecstasy.
Sonja: What are your personal thoughts on embodied experience?
Jo: The experience that you have here on earth in your physical body is extremely important. It is crucial that we do not spend our time and spiritual energy with a focus on some transcendental attainment of nirvana or a white void and emptiness, but rather that we focus on what we can do here, now that we have this tremendous gift of being in a physical body. The opportunity for kindness, of course, and sex and joy and play and wisdom are important. We should by all means take advantage of the physicality of our presence to do things in the real world that make a difference. The things I'm talking about may involve creating a physical paradise on earth, but also helping people, buoying people up with enthusiasm and encouragement, being loving in your daily interactions with everybody that you run into, having patience with people, allowing things to flow in a natural way, taking care of the land and the animals that are around us already, and extending ourselves so that we take on challenges to make the world more beautiful place by our presence. To Feraferia this is the huge value of having a physical body, of being a human on earth. I think this glowing, gleaming opportunity is what draws us into wanting to be here on earth in the first place.
Sonja: What is your vision for the future of paganism in general, and Feraferia in particular?
Jo: It's great that earth-based spiritual practices and paganism are gaining more acceptance in the wider world. For instance, at The Parliament of World Religions which I will be attending in October, there will be a large contingent of pagans coming from California and other areas of the world. We are finally being accepted as what we are, people with earth-based spirituality and with different gods that are not the traditional Hebraic or monotheistic patriarchal gods. Also in the armed forces here in the U.S., various forms of paganism are being accepted. If a person who was in the military dies, who has identified themselves as being Wicca or Witch, then they can have a pentagram on their gravestone, and it's no longer considered evil or in some way connected with Satanism, which is a completely Christian construct. So paganism is moving forward.
Feraferia is a small religious and spiritual movement now, but I hope that as more people become aware of us and of the useful techniques and ideas we offer, it will spread. For instance, the idea of the Magic Maiden is new for a lot of people, but once they realize that there has been a holy Mother, a holy Father and a holy Son, they might realize that the neglected function of the holy Family is the sacred Daughter. They might finally wonder, what does that mean? What does she embody? What is her function, which has been so ignored and despised? We believe that Kore, the Magic Maiden, holds space for everyone to be what they are without anybody being at the bottom of a top-down power structure. Kore, with her creativity and joy and the playfulness in her approach to life is what we need now; our world has suffered too much at the hands of the authoritarian Father. We need to completely quit the culture of rape, war and exploitation.
Fred was so busy working out details about what Feraferia is that he did not make a huge effort to popularize it. He meant to, but he never did write a book to get his ideas out to the world. Finally we have an introduction to Feraferia in the form of my book Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Mirth and Love on the Feraferia Path, which is loaded with his fabulous art. I plan to write two more books that will go more deeply into the myths, lore, rituals and processes of Feraferia, and to include stories about Fred and Svetlana so people will have a better sense of who they were. The next book will be called The Magic of Hesperides; I have started working on it already. The third book will go into some of the more esoteric practices. There's a lot of depth to Feraferia, so it's difficult to encapsulate it in just two or three books.
Our vision of Feraferia in the future is to literally create paradise on earth by creating more and more paradisal sanctuaries, linking them to each other, and helping people to tune in to what Fred called the land-sky-love body of earth. Our vision is not highly technological, although we want to keep the important advances we have made, such as in healthcare. Our paradisal sanctuaries need to be made with earth-based elements, because those are both beautiful and sustainable. We want so much to eliminate exploitation and pollution. Women need to be empowered, to be key decision makers, because places that have been matrifocal and matrilineal, like the Mosuo people of China, have always been peaceful and have had high levels of equality. As time goes by and we create more paradisal sanctuaries, then I think the earth will become more paradisal overall, which is I think the goal that the earth has for us and for itself.