Saturday, August 8, 2020

Queer Pagan Interview: Storm Faerywolf

Hello, pornies! I hope you're having a good weekend. I recently had the luck and pleasure of talking with one of the authors I admire the most! He's one of the most well-known teachers and authors about the American Faery tradition, I reviewed his most recent book and we talked about names, their power, meaning and his future projects. Ladies and gentlemen, Storm Faerywolf.

1. Which came first: Witchcraft or Queer Identity?
Witchcraft. I felt a kinship with the figure of the witch from an early age. Even if they were depicted as scary and inhuman, I was always drawn to the folklore and imagery of the witch and the occult, someone who was marginal to society. Respected, feared, or reviled, they had agency and followed the path of their own desires. Today I very much see witchcraft as part of my ‘queerness’. 

2. How would you describe your path as a Witch?
My path is that of a teacher who recognizes that we are all forever students. My witchcraft is both public and private.
It is public, because my personal calling is to be a resource for the Craft. I have written articles, essays, and books, given lectures, led rituals, taught classes, and engaged in acts of political activism, in order to provide worthy materials and magic to a growing community as well as to help dispel some of the misconceptions and prejudices that are still held toward those of our particular spiritual persuasions. I feel very strongly that acceptance and equality come first through visibility, and so my commitment to being a public warlock is also political in nature. I will be public because I can and to do so is to send a message to others that there are others like them out there. 
My witchcraft is also private because outside of all the writings and public works, I come home to my practice which is quite personal. A lot of my magic is spontaneous and only borderline rational. It takes a lot of work to translate into a form that others could use or follow. I’m more likely to dance and sing a spell into being as I am to cast a formal circle or perform a memorized invocation. To me, art, magic, and theater occupy the same space and so my rituals are often private performances for the spirits within whom I work. 
I believe that our Craft is an avenue toward realizing our own divinity, as well as the divinity in others. In this, it is a path of enlightenment, but it can also be described as a path of “endarkenment” as well; it is a path that demands introspection and embracing the shadow. It is not a comfortable path. I have learned a lot about myself over the years and not all of it is pretty, but it does give us the tools necessary to work on ourselves and to help improve our stance in life. It is a path of beauty and terror, splendor and darkness. 

3. Do you feel your sexuality has played a role in it?
Absolutely. One of the reasons that the Christianity of my childhood never sat well with me was their cultural rejection of the “other” as being evil, or at least not as worthy in the eyes of their religion. This was reinforced in many overt and subtle ways, the most insidious of which I think has to be their axiom of “love the sinner hate the sin”. Homosexuality was perceived as something unnatural, something that must be eradicated. In their saccharine sweetness of white light and feel-good nonsense there was a deep an unexamined fear and hatred for anyone unlike themselves, or at least what they are striving to be. My sexuality demanded that I examine my place in a religion that would condemn people like me simply for being born and following our natural desires. One of the appeals of witchcraft is that it goes against the societal grain. It is disturbing in the sense that it dredges up what most people would prefer to leave alone. Witchcraft gave me the courage and the tools to come out of the closet by giving me a sense of my own power and authority. 
Sexuality is also revered in the Craft. While the history of modern witchcraft, like its other 20th century counterparts, is peppered with homo- and transphobia, it also has been a vehicle for a powerful philosophical message, given to us in the famous Craft poem by the late Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess when it is affirmed: “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.” That phrase alone served as a metaphysical foundation upon which I grew my own version of the Craft. Not being particularly drawn to the heterosexism at the heart of much of modern Paganism, my own witchcraft grew intertwined with my sexuality, inseparable, in a sense. I intuitively knew that my sexual potency was linked to my witch power. I engaged in sex magic on my own and with various spirits and had some intense experiences which solidified my conviction that these things were certainly not out of reach for the queer practitioner, and that sex –even GAY sex—was holy and powerful. We are dealing with primal forces. Toward that, we need to get a little primal, sometimes. 

4. Which do you think is the main source of power behind words like names, labels and titles?
I think that like with all magical tools and elements the power is both inherent as well as in the relationship that the practitioner has with it. Names of Power are used with great effect in magical work and often their potency is purported to originate from some ancient culture or practice. But time and time again we in the Craft hear stories of mistranslations or of certain words being divorced from their original languages that have now fallen into disuse and so now no longer carry any known meaning. These “barbarous words” might have no rational meaning, but in the non-rational world of magic they may carry currents of power. In these cases, I think it’s clear that the power resides mainly in the practitioner and their relationship to the word in question, though an argument can also be made for the presence of certain sounds in these words which affect the psyche in certain ways and thus our magic. 

5. Although you identify more often as warlock than witch, do you feel any difference between those names?
I see warlock as a subset of witch, and so I do identify as both. But since the popular image of the witch, both historically as well as in modern times, is centered around the feminine, my own work has led me to claim the historical term ‘warlock’ as a means to help me better identify with the divine masculine. I think that just as it is important for women to explore their own mysteries, it is important for men to realign our concept of masculinity into a form that is supportive, nurturing, and respectful, qualities not often associated with masculinity in its current toxic form. 

6. When did you decide to start using warlock? Which was your first impression when you came across it?
I always identified with the word but didn’t publicly use it in the Pagan community because of the ignorance and aggression I would find there. The term is also used in Satanism, which probably was another reason that Pagans eschewed the term, as there is still such a fervor about differentiating our practices from Satanism, an ignorant and offensive stance, in my opinion. I started actively using the word to describe myself back in the early 1990s, around the time that I started studying the American Faery tradition. I did so to help shape my consciousness around the idea of the divine masculine, something that has not been well-represented in the modern Craft, as well as to spark conversation about words of power and self-identification.
I most certainly first heard the term as a child through episodes of Bewitched. In that fictional universe the term was used in the same way that the English language uses it today: to mean a male witch.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was simply what a witch who happened to be a man was called. It wasn’t until I came to formal Paganism that I started to learn of the words’ history, and the modern-day ignorance around it and the English language in general. 
Within the Pagan and Wiccan communities the current fashion is to insist that the definition of ‘warlock’ must still be “oath-breaker” or “deceiver” even though the word has not held those meanings for over 500 years. Simply put, that’s just not how language works. Words very often change their definitions over time. “Brave” no longer means “cowardice” and “girl” is a female child, and no longer a child of either sex. But somehow modern Pagans didn’t get the etymological memo. I get messages all the time “informing” me as to my error. I now usually just respond with a link to an article I wrote about using the word in a positive way:

7. I've always loved your name, it has a dreamy yet powerful vibe! Is there a special meaning behind it?
Thank you! My name is actually a spell the origins of which were a series of dreams that I have had since childhood and that eventually culminated when I was 20. One of my deep Craft influences at the time was the work of Starhawk, especially “The Spiral Dance” which set me off on a journey to find the Faery tradition. When I was searching for my Craft name, I had a dream that was the continuation of several dreams from my early childhood which centered on the use of a magic ring. In these dreams I was never able to figure out how to harness the power of the ring but always felt that it was just outside of my reach. In this final dream I found myself in a remote, flat place quite unlike my natural hilly environment of Northern California and increasingly stressed about the steady approach of a tornado. With no time to try and take shelter, I attempted to use the ring to control the weather but found the efforts to be futile. Eventually the tornado came and swept me up and I was tossed in the air like a ragdoll. Assuming that this was the end, I surrendered to my fate, only to have the entire scene change as the wind and the rain and the lightning all began to flow inside me and I was gently let down on the ground, the winds now a gentle breeze and the sky clear and calm. 
Shortly afterward I had another dream. I was running up the side of a mountain toward the full moon. Feeling strange in my body I looked down to see that I had paws… I was a wolf running on all fours up to the peak where I howled and then awoke. This felt particularly potent as a year prior I had a visionary experience with a spirit that came to me in the form of a wolf and who acted as a sort of protector. With this dream I felt that this was also a reminder of that experience and the significance it played in my life. 
With two elements of my name discovered it was a simple thing to include ‘Faery’ as both the name of the tradition that I was studying and would eventually initiate into, as well as a double-entendre that references both my Irish-American heritage as well as the reclamation of the anti-gay slur that had been hurled at me so often in my childhood. When it all came together it just felt right to me. It’s a reminder that my work on this earth is to work the Craft and to stand outside “normal” society… to be “queer”. I am a full-time warlock and one that stands firmly in the public eye. “Storm Faerywolf” is my commitment to not hide away that magical part of myself inside but instead to feed and nurture it and make it my outside, too. I had my name legally changed to include my Craft name to make this change feel more “real” to me. I use the name in my day to day life, though I took my mother’s maiden name as my legal last name to better honor her and the Irish side of my family.

8. You explained that "Faery" was accidentally added to the tradition's name. Which do you think it would have been if this never happened?
I think it existed simply as “witchcraft”, “the Craft”, and “Vicia” before the designation of “Faery” came about. When I would speak with Cora Anderson (one of the traditions founders) she would often just refer to our work as “the Craft” and only when pressed would pin it down to “Faery/Feri”. We are –at our core—an oral tradition. And prior to the modern era in which there are so many different traditions and styles of the Craft to be found, there was little need to define it further than simply “witchcraft”. 

9. You have your own lineage in the tradition, Blue Rose. How did it come to be as a tradition and why did you decide to name it that way?
The initial training that I received in this tradition was within the linage known as BloodRose. This took its name from Victor Anderson’s book of Craft poetry, “Thorns of the Blood Rose”. A few years into this training I had a trance experience in which a particular symbolic key that we used to align ourselves to the inner planes –a tree with variously colored roses—suddenly saw all the roses turn blue and then my own holy daemon (higher self or “god soul”) appeared as an ever-blooming rose of blue flame over my head, and out of the center emerged Dian y Glas, the Blue God to whom I am aligned in my work. Later after I had been teaching and had eventually received the Black Wand of a Faery Master from Cora Anderson and Anaar, the tradition’s current Grandmaster, I decided that this personal experience combined with the mythological meaning of the blue rose as something that is otherworldly or just out of reach, was a perfect symbolic vehicle for the work that I do. It is beautiful, sensual, and out of this world. 

10. Looking back in time, let's say, five years ago, which is your most significant change?
The most significant change has been in the last couple months. With the lockdowns due to COVID-19 we made the decision to close our physical store, The Mystic Dream, in favor of going online-only. This is a huge shift. We had a full staff and so we often worked from home anyway, but now we are working to offer more classes, services, and products online. It was always our intention to offer some of the things that we will be unveiling in the weeks and months to come, but the unexpected store-closure sort of forced our hand with it. But in the end, it’s a good thing because sometimes I need that extra kick in the butt to get moving, and we truly have some exciting things planned. 

11. What are your plans for the future?
Normally we would be in the middle of a hectic travel schedule, presenting at festivals and giving workshops across the US and occasionally Europe, but that is out of the question right now. The pandemic has affected a lot of people’s plans for the future. However, in the Craft we are taught that –like in nature—we must adapt.
This means that we have had to cancel our plans for travel and are switching to workshops and events online. We are in the process of putting together a large online event right now, but I can’t say too much about it just yet. Just know that it is our hope that we can eventually offer it as a physical event in the future, once we collectively get a handle on the virus. 
In the meantime, I am continuing to write for The Wild Hunt as well as for Modern Witch. I am also currently writing another book for Llewellyn, tentatively titled, “The Witch’s Name” where I explore the practice of constructing a magical identity, after which I am slated to write a book on the subject of witchcraft and sex magic for gay and bi men. And I have a few other ideas bouncing around in my head demanding attention that hopefully I will get to, including a new product line and a series of guided trance journeys. 

12. Which would be your advice for young, future Witches and Pagans?
Read everything you can get your hands on, even the boring stuff. There’s a lot of books that came out of the 60s and 70s that will provide a foundational and historical context for the Craft that you might not otherwise get if you stick to just the newer, “flashier” titles.
Process everything you read or hear on social media with focused discernment. Since they let just anybody onto the internet, that’s who shows up. And some of them will proclaim themselves as wise, or knowledgeable, or as the inheritor of an ancient bloodline that makes them more powerful than anyone else. And most of these people have no real clue what they are talking about. Some of them can even be dangerous. Know that you do not need to engage in any behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened in order to learn the Craft. Know also that there are no secrets of the Craft that you cannot learn for yourself if you are genuinely passionate about working with spirits and with magic. Nothing will be able to keep you from it. So, if anyone tries to tell you that only they can initiate you into the deeper mysteries, just know that they are full of it (and full of themselves) and you should drop them like a bad habit. When you are ready then a real teacher will appear. And they will not make you do anything that compromises yourself. 
And finally, be patient. Take it slow. But also feel free to experiment! Some of the most powerful magical experiences I ever had were in my early days when I didn’t know what I was doing in a formal sense, but instead just followed my intuition. I am fortunate to know have the skill afforded by a formal training, but that training alone would not make me a competent warlock had I not already possessed the curiosity and the drive to experiment and seek out my own answers. Striking a balance between formal training and informal practice is a powerful alchemical blend that can yield some astonishing results.

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Kinky regards, K!

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