I talked to Christopher Penczak about his appearance as featured Paganicon guest March 16-18th. He is an energetic, prolific, and well spoken author whose writing have sought to synthesize and integrate many magical concepts with the practice of the Witchcraft. He is offering three workshops and a ritual at Paganicon, so if you don’t come away understanding his perspective, you have missed out!
Have you visited the Twin Cities area before?
I have! Many years ago, right after I signed with Llewellyn, I spoke at Magus books, and visited. It was right after “Inner Temple of Witchcraft” had come out. I came out a few years later when Llewellyn moved, and believe I again visited Magus, and the Eye of Horus, I think they had just opened. I am excited about my Paganicon experience, and my first real teaching opportunity in the area.
Tell me about your presentations at Paganicon?
The Three Rays of Witchcraft is from the book I am most excited about, it is from a few books back, the first one released from my own publishing house, Copper Cauldron. It came to me from a vision, trying to reconcile my own experience differences between Wicca based Witchcraft and more folk-loric based Witchcraft, along with my more Qabalistic side, shamanistic side, and more “New Age” side. A lot of my influence for the book ‘Ascension Magic’ came from theosophy, New Age, and light worker material which really doesn’t fit into the Witchcraft paradigm. I was experience a schism in my own spiritual practice and this is how it all came together for me. In meditation I experienced an image, a vision of the Awen, the symbol from Druidic tradition, that was a little bit different. It brought together all these different ideas for me. I got bolted right out of the meditation. It was a really unique experience for me because nine days later, I had the draft of the book written. It was inspired, and is my favorite book to date. For me it gets into deeper thoughts about magic and Witchcraft. What are we seeking through magic? What is the Witches version of ‘enlightenment’ ? The The Three Rays really deals with the concept of power, and your true will; Love, unconditional love; and wisdom. How do we get to be creatures that can hold love, power and wisdom at the same time?
Ascension Magic was really my first step at trying to reconcile the different teachings of both my practices. I got into this through Witchcraft, and consider myself an occultist, all those traditional things we learn in Paganism and Ceremonial Magic. Things that some practitioners in the ‘New Age” movement might consider a little ‘dark’. I was also drawn to the healing traditions, Reiki and other forms of energy healing, crystal and herbal healing. That got me deeper into theosophy, based on the teachings of Helena Blavatsky and Alice Bailey, and the old theosophists. I wanted to explore that, and write and teach something that bridged the gap between the two. I wanted to share the ideas of light work and healing with the occult and Pagan community and also to share the the wisdom of Paganism and Magic with the New Age traditions. I wanted o build a solid foundation between the two, because a lot of people are trapped in between, seeking all kinds of different things. There are many misunderstanding between the two communities. I found so many effective things from both sides I wanted point out what has been effective for me, and what is similar and different between the two, so we can learn from each other. The word used in Ascension circles is ‘co-creation‘. The idea that we are working co-creating our lives and world with other entities; spirit guides, ancestors, power animals, angelic and fairy figures. They all play a role in these teachings. One side may take a ‘lighter’ view of these things, the other a ‘darker’ view, but the truth encompasses both those things.
What is a plant familiar?
The Witch’s Plant Familiar workshop takes the concept of totem animals and applies that to building a relationship with particular plants. We’ll explore how to work with the spiritual consciousness of different plants, and how they can be guides, teachers, and help our spiritual work. We’ll learn what we can do to help them out, it is a reciprocal relationship. It involves the medicinal, folk magic, and magical correspondences of plants and how that shapes their consciousness. What is the spiritual teaching of the individual plant that can help you?
You are also offering a Ritual?
The Garden of the Gods is a culmination of the working in Three Rays. It is a phrase I use for a level of consciousness where we feel we are in harmony with all of creation, physical and spiritual. The state where we are in balanced relationship with all our parts, and all of nature. The ritual will cast three circles, with twelve quarters. We will work with the spirits of animals, plants, and angels, to go deeper to find who wants to ally with us, and restore our relationship with the world.
Is this an ecstatic ritual?
It is always different, and different indoors. The last few times I have done this has been outdoors and that changes the energy. Aspects of it are ecstatic, with free form drum and dance. There are three rings, with the outer those who prefer to not move, and then two inner rings going in opposite directions. If the dance isn’t appropriate we may do more shamanic journeying. There is a guided portion where you can determine your own experience, and a blessing part of it. Plenty of movement, too.
Where do you get your ideas?
You can only go so far by regurgitating the past. The real challenge right now is how to synthesize what is from the past and use it as a foundation to build upon. I don’t use the word, ‘channeled’ because that usually refers to an ‘entity’, but I do feel like a have guidance and access to the higher self, kind of a holy guardian angel coming through me for some of it. My writing is based on real world experience plus a foundation of occultism and metaphysics. A lot of this is practiced out with coven work and students. I want to see if what works for me will work for other people, and develop better ways to explain it to other people.
Each of my books is different. My early Temple of Witchcraft books are based on classes that I was teaching. I fell into this, I didn’t set out to be an author. I worked in the music industry and my teacher wasn’t teaching, and got requests from co-workers for a moon circle, and they turned into a study group, and that turned into a class. When you get to the end of comfortably teaching what you have been taught, I started putting what I was working on into a class format. They kept saying, “What is next?” , and by the end of five years I had more classes which turned into books.
How is your on line teaching program working?
It has been really fulfilling and exciting. I was dubious about doing on line classes but received many requests, so I tried it. After offering Temple of Witchcraft classes myself, they have now gotten absorbed into my next project. We incorporated the Temple of Witchcraft as a recognized church, and part of the mission is educational in Witchcraft. We have a mystery school and I gave up my on line classes, as a personal business, to the Temple.
We have staff and mentors who work with students, and have integrated that teaching work into the Temple. We have about 300 students enrolled in four levels, and it has been going very well. We have mostly US students but some from all over the world. My original coven has expanded into the core of the Temple and we have a couple satellite groups. This works well for people who may not want to take on the role of teaching a coven, but want to take their ministerial skills into different areas; environmental, social justice, queer mysteries, prison ministry, or women’s mysteries. We also have a ministerial level where people can be ordained as a Temple Priest or Priestess.
What do you want our community to come away with from your visit?
Living a magical life. Whatever you are doing , being able to see things from a magical perspective. Bridging the gap between your mundane and magical lives. If people attending Paganicon come away with experience that help them to do that better, I will be very satisfied.
What is in the future for you?
I have had some rough years with some family stuff, and I have been trying to take some down time and regather myself. I would like to grow the Temple. My ideal would be to have a permanent physical space for the Temple soon, we have been renting office space. I want o grow the Copper Cauldron publishing house. We have some anthologies coming out that are going to be fund raisers for the Temple. It is great to have something that you can set up projects within to help out other parts of the community.
How do you look at Pagan culture, how will it develop?
We are really fledglings. Our great challenge will be how to join the world as an adult religion. I believe in the new age, the new eon, a new era of consciousness. Paganism has so much to offer the world’s religions. To do that we need to speak a similar language and understand each other. We need some similar institutions, whatever they turn out to be. The challenge is how to do all that in a public venue and still maintain ourselves as having mystery teachings. When you focus on ministering to the outer world you can lose touch with the inner mysteries. A big issue discussed at Pantheacon was health insurance. So many Pagans are without it. In New Hampshire, many services are only offered through religious institutions. We have talked about how Pagan institutions might offer these services to serve Pagans, and to include many people who prefer to not work through mainstream religious institutions.
What is the biggest obstacle you see to working together as a community?
Language seems to be really a current issue, even the word Pagan causes conflict. We need common language that is acceptable to all Pagans faiths so we can communicate without getting bogged down in interpretation. We have a shared vocabulary, but we all give different meanings to the words, so we have to always explain ourselves. What a ‘ Witch’ meant twenty years ago is different than today, and can mean ten different things. The best chance we have to keep a cohesive community is to always be aware of our language and try not to speak in a hurtful way, and to speak in the most sensitive and appropriate way.
You are openly gay, and seem to cross many boundaries, in many communities and between magical systems. How do you do it?
The magic that I originally learned was not so gender specific. I think magic is magic, and magic is creating change. I think that there are many polarities, and gender mysteries, but they aren’t the only way of doing magic. I am basically the product of my training. Sexuality has a strong place in magic, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be exclusionary. We all have sexual energy, and we all express it in different ways. I don’t have an agenda to teach just the gay community. I wrote one book on gay spirituality based on my experience but I get more mail from traditional Gardnerian, and Alexandrian people thanking me for helping them understand how gay sexuality can fit into traditional Wicca. I want to educate and open people minds. My books just reflect where my learning has taken me.
Christopher Penczak is honored guest at Paganicon, March 16-18th