For many older Pagans, the personal roots of our practice lie within the ‘counterculture’ of the 60s and 70s. New spiritual winds were then blowing across the desiccated body of American religion, which for many of us had withered into beliefs rooted in fear and habit. On a mass level questions of right livelihood first began challenging the American Dream of more things and more money - and many of us accepted alternative visions to a greater or lesser degree. Across the country efforts to make real greater equality and respect between the sexes, affirmation of different cultures and ways of life, and enhanced love for the natural world, transforming many lives. Many were drawn to seeking and sometimes encountering the Divine Feminine.

They became the foundations of American NeoPaganism.

Feraferia was one of the first Neopagan traditions created in this country and reflects these influences. Fred Adams, its founder, had his own roots in the earlier Beat community and had been profoundly influenced by Robert Graves' The White Goddess. His long interest in alternative lifestyles, earth oriented communities, and the sacred Feminine, led him in 1959 to form the Hesperides Fellowship, which evolved into Feraferia, a name taken from feral (wild) and feria (festival).  Feraferia was incorporated as a church in 1967. 

Over the years Adams, his partner Lady Svetlana, and several other talented Pagans gradually developed the church and its practices. This pioneer tradition played an important role in our early years though remaining relatively invisible among many Pagans.  (Including this one.) Over at Raise the Horns Jason Mankey provides an insightful interview concerning Feraferia’s important history and present vitality with Jo Carson, it’s present leader after Adam’s and Lady Svetlana’s passing.. 

Carson herself just published a new edition of Celebrate Wildness: Magic, Myth and Love on the Feraferia Path. Beautifully produced, it encapsulates the promise and collective vision arising from the many new and very old religious currents coming together within modern Pagan religion. The book is also richly adorned with high quality reproductions of Adams’ extraordinary visionary and ecstatic art.  I for one hope much of this art will soon be available as posters and prints. 

Ahead of its time

It is easy today to poke fun of the Pagan hippie ethos of which Feraferia is an exemplar.  Certainly their optimistic visions of a near future in which new, more peaceful, gentle ways of life would triumph over the old has not arrived, nor can they be heard knocking on the door.  On balance this period did not appreciate the power and ubiquity of life’s darker edges.  And yet this dismissive attitude is a mistake.

First, as I argued in my own book,  our country is caught in a deepening bifurcation of cultures, one rooted in religions and ethos of domination, boundary definition, and control, the other in embracing diversity, open boundaries, and creativity.  The increasingly pathological masculine is being challenged by a renewed and transformative feminine.  The hippies picked up early on this growing division.  They were obviously too optimistic as to the certainty of a happy outcome or the ease with which it could be accomplished, but were spot on in intuiting how vital it was for this transition to be made if the best of the past were to be merged into the promise of the future.

Second, the practices inspired by this vision and developed by Feraferia remain valuable today for deepening our own personal practices. If I had to encapsulate these practices, Feraferia melds love of wilderness and the Dionysian ecstatic dimensions of Greek Paganism with the optimistic vision of the 60s.  Celebrating Wildness offers means by which readers can enlarge and deepen their own practice, opening them up more deeply into the sacred energies of the earth and of the natural world whether or not they also choose the Feraferian path. Any NeoPagan who deeply feels the sacredness of nature, as I do, will find insight and inspiration here.

Feraferia focuses on celebration, the wildness within nature and its most basic rhythms such as sexuality and life and death.  Although rooted in ceremonial magical traditions, compared to Wicca magick plays a small role.  In Wiccan terms, Feraferians focus on the celebrations of the Sabbats rather than the work of the Esbats. It offers one very attractive way people can come into greater harmonious communion with Nature’s spiritual dimensions, primarily through their Goddess and the Fey, or faerie Folk. These are essentially the spirits of place and of the ancestors, two dimensions usually given less focus among NeoPagans today. Celebrate Wildness teaches how we can make better connection with the natural energies of the earth through ritual, celebration, and poetry. 

One of this volume’s most useful contributions to contemporary Pagans are its guides as to how to establish this kind of connection, such as through creating a small henge and linking it with wild regions beyond through the creation of “Wildercharms.” (43-6) While I have never practiced Feraferia I will soon begin constructing an outdoors circle for ritual on recently leveled land, and now plan to incorporate many of these ideas.

Poetry and ecstatic dance and trance are central to this tradition.  Unlike theology, poetry can take us beyond where words and reasoning alone can penetrate.   Celebrate Wildness quotes Harry Beston  that “It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live.” (104) To work for the reader poetry must be experienced, not analyzed.  Ecstatic trance and dance can take us there.  Analysis can come later, if at all.

Celebrate Wildness artfully captures the idealistic spirit behind one of the earliest indigenous American NeoPagan traditions, and offers many insights on how the best of their practices can be incorporated by us all.  Today people seeking experienced teachers outnumber the teachers available, and books able to help people get started on their own are valuable. This is one of them.

And as I mentioned before, the volume is also stunningly beautiful. I believe it can only be purchased from Feraferia themselves.