I first discovered Feraferia through Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon (the 2006 edition). This Neo-Pagan group is the brain child of Frederick Adams, who died in 2008, with the participation of his partner, Svetlana Butryn, who died in 2010. According to Margot Adler, its heyday was in the late 60s and early 70s, but it still exists today. Poke Runyan, founder of Ordo Templi Astartes (O.T.A.) and long-time friend of Adams, Butyrin, and Carson, has stated that in spite of its small size, its influence has been important in the American Neo-Pagan world. It’s not possible for me to write about every aspect of this complex group, but its origins and basis of worship are fascinating.
Origins of Feraferia
Margot Adler writes of Feraferia in a chapter called “Religions from the Past–The Pagan Reconstructionists” on groups who try to reconstruct pre-Christian Pagan practices. Perhaps she included it here because Adams and Butyrin recreated the Eleusinian mystery rites and Feraferia festival rituals are devoted to Greek gods and goddesses. Its philosophy, however, is future-looking and essentially utopian.
The name Feraferia is a combination of two Latin words meaning “wilderness celebration.” Adams seems to have chosen this name to represent ecstasy in connecting with nature. Rather than look to the nonmaterial as the place of bliss, Feraferian philosophy believes paradise on earth is possible if we drastically change our lifestyle.
Adler writes that Adams was particularly influenced by a book called The Recovery of Culture by Henry Bailey Stevens, published in 1949. Stevens basically wrote that the paradise that myths and scripture describe actually existed in the remote past when humans relied solely on agriculture for their food (i.e., before hunting, herding, etc.). His belief is that if we returned to that mode of living, relying on nature rather than on killing animals for food, things like violence and war would also cease and we would know this paradisal state again. Adler writes
[Stevens] hinted that one mechanism to bring all this about could be a new world religion. Frederick Adams clearly designed Feraferia to be this religion.
In 1956, Adams, who was then a graduate student in Southern California, was hit with a revelation that became the basis for Feraferia. He felt that this paradisal state could only be reached through worship of the Goddess. This isn’t to say that he thought only the Goddess should be honored, but he believed our intimate connection to nature could only come through connecting with the Goddess. As Margot Adler explains it,
…[T]he Goddess was the only spiritual force and Jungian archetype capable of reuniting humanity’s instincts with the biosphere, nature, and the cosmos.
The Maiden/Arretos Koura
The “feminine” has been de-emphasized, if not downright attacked, for centuries for being emotional, intuitive, sensual, and irrational. In the Feraferia worldview, bringing these qualities into daily life through our connection to ourselves, each other, and the earth can lead us to paradise on earth. Adams’ paradisal vision includes things like:
- Organic gardening
- Minimal clothing (only when necessary)
- Tree reverence
- Small communities rather than cities
- Living outdoors
- Drastic reduction of rules and laws to just those that make sense
- Abolishment of hierarchy
- Population control
- Eroticism and sensuality without shame
All of these practices are meant to create a lifestyle that allows us to feel the ecstasy of Spirit constantly, i.e., to “celebrate wilderness.”
Feraferia emphasizes the Maiden aspect of the Goddess as the force that can bring us back to paradise. They refer to her as Arretos Koura, meaning the Nameless Maiden. She’s a creatrix but not the spiritual Source (where there is no separation or duality, so there is no “feminine” as such). She does, however, represent the force that both creates individual entities and unites them. Hence she serves both that which makes us unique individuals and that which unites all of humanity and humanity with nature. In an essay titled “Oracles of the Faerie Faith,” Adams wrote:
As Maiden Savioress, She enshrines the essence of childlike delicacy, lyrical sacredness, romantic and spritely spirituality.
Through the image of the Maiden, we can experience love, creativity, pleasure, play, and even a kind of innocence. Feraferia does also honor the God, called Kouros, as well as seven “lesser” gods and goddesses linked to the sun, moon, and planets. Precedence, however, is given to the Unnamed Maiden as the force that can guide us to unity with Spirit through unity with nature and thus bliss on earth.
The Feraferia group has always been small, which makes its impact on the American Neo-Pagan scene all the more fascinating. Currently, it’s active in Northern California, headed by Jo Carson, maker of Dancing with Gaia, which she stated was inspired by Adams. It would be impossible to describe the entire belief system or ritual cycle of Feraferia in this post as it’s quite complicated, but there are some great resources available online.
- The Feraferia website, which includes articles, beautiful artwork from Adams, and ritual materials.
- A brief interview with Fred Adams on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder from 1974. Adams’ segment runs from 35:47-42:10 and includes footage from the filming of a couple of Feraferia rituals by filmmaker Jo Carson. (The program, which aired on Samhain, also interviewed Wiccan Ed Fitch; a young and combative Isaac Bonewitz; and Poke Runyan with footage from an O.T.A. ritual. There was also a mini Samhain ritual from a coven in Southern California. It’s fascinating stuff to watch!)
- An interview with the present president of Feraferia, Jo Carson, on The Hermetic Hour on August 4, 2011, with Poke Runyan and on Voices of the Feminine on August 31, 2011, with Karen Tate.