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The Author's Corner

 


Christopher Penczak

Visit Chris' website

 

Witch's Coin

 

 

 The Outer Temple of Witchcraft (April 2004)

 

 Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe

 

 

The Inner Temple of Witchcraft

 


 The Witch's Shield
(July 2004)

 

Magick of Reiki
(Sept. 2004)

 

 Spirit Allies

 

City Magick

Gay Witchcraft:
Empowering the Tribe

TWPT Talks to Christopher Penczak
©2002-2004TWPT


TWPT:  Your bio states that your first exposure to Witchcraft didnít happen until you were in college. Were there any other clues while you were growing up that perhaps you would eventually be heading down a different path than what was expected of you? 

CP:  I don't think anything hinted at the fact that I would be so deeply involved in the esoteric as a part of my day-to-day life. I started my path in Catholic school, and by the time I hit high school and we discussed religion and morality, I realized as I came to terms with being gay, I realized that Catholicism probably wasn't my path. I felt rejected by the Church just for being who I am, so that started my search into other parts of the world. I think subconsciously that also started my shift from a math/science paradigm, wanting to be a chemical engineer, to a more artistic and musical focus. I started growing my hair out, which almost got me kicked out of Catholic school, and started singing in a rock band and focusing on painting. I did have some psychic experiences growing upóan out of body experience that was very vivid and a contact from my great aunt right after she passed away. I always held onto those experiences as very real, even when I thought of myself as a rational, logical budding scientist and everybody told me that it was my imagination.

TWPT:   Did you find it difficult to move from a mindset of science and the methods that science employs to the study of the occult and the mystical aspects of life which has a more experiential component to it?

CP:  I think I approached the Craft in a very different way than the typical student. Most people are sensitive to energy, and trust their intuition, and usually want to believe. I went in as a skeptic, wanting to disprove the occult and psychic phenomenon. I had to work hard and practice techniques to understand what others took for granted. But once I had my first experience with it, my eyes were opened to a vast new world. I was lucky that one of my first teachers was trained by Laurie Cabot, and I later took classes with Laurie herself, who has the approach of Witchcraft as a Science. She focused a lot on quantum physics and hermetic principles, so it had a strong foundation in scientific and philosophical thought.

TWPT:  Upon your introduction to Witchcraft in college what were some of your first impressions of this new direction that was being presented to you?  Was there anything in particular that convinced you that there was more to this path than met the eye and that it was something that should be pursued further?

CP:  Oh definitely. At first I thought it was all crazy. I was baffled while intelligent people thought they could cast spells and read minds. At times I found it hysterically funny ó black robes, full Moon, staves and swords. It looked like something out of a bad movie. But I had two pivotal experiences that changed me.

One was the opportunity to do a spell at my first Moon circle. The spell was more successful than I could have imaged. A friend with a serious medical condition came through her difficulties spectacularly, to the point of baffling her doctors.

The second was an experience of psychic diagnosis and healing. I walked into the training exercise believing that there was no way I could diagnose someone with only their name, age and location, using a psychic connection. At that point I thought in theory it was possible, but there was no way I could do it personally. I wasn't special. But I did it and my world changed forever. In that moment I decided to learn all I could about witchcraft.

TWPT:  Tell me about your classes with Laurie Cabot and what they accomplished in this early phase of your training.

CP:   I took Laurie's Witchcraft As A Science I and II, and she gave me a foundation of real experiences to continue on my path confidently. I walked into it interested, but still unsure, and left with a strong foundation of meditation, psychic development, magick theory and spell craft. The first level focused on the inner development and psychic ability, learning to trust your intuition. The second level was more traditional ritual and spells. I learned to pattern my own teachings after her example, focusing on the inner experiences before moving on to spell craft. That formula was incredibly important to me because it prepared me for the spiritual aspects of witchcraft, and forced me into a realm of self healing before going on. If I focused only on the spells and rituals, I wouldnít have dug as deep as I did into myself, and the experience would not have been as profoundly changing.

TWPT:  I know that there are many out there who receive the majority of their training from books with very little interaction with actual flesh and blood teachers, what are the benefits of having a one on one relationship with a teacher as opposed to teaching yourself out of books? What advice would you give to those who donít have the option of training with a teacher about getting the most out of the resources that are available to them?

CP:  Teachers can be a double-edged sword. A good open-hearted and well-educated teacher can be invaluable as a mentor. A less than good hearted or misinformed teacher can be disastrous, yet still teaching us some of the harder lessons of life and witchcraft. A good teacher not only provides information, but guides experiences and may become not only a mentor, but also potentially a friend. Mentors, elders and those who have walked the path before us are invaluable to understand how to live life as a witch. If you don't have a living teacher, I really suggest making contact with the community. Have other people, even if they are not teachers, with whom you can share your experiences, and listen to their experiences. Teaching is as much about exchange as it is about formal lessons, and I learn a lot from my studentsí experiences. You can learn a lot from people, even if they are on a different path. Email groups, pagan pride days and other gatherings, on and offline, are a great way to meet others in the community.

TWPT:  After Laurie Cabotís training you spent time with quite a number of witches, teachers, shamans, yogis and you even became a Reiki Master. What was the purpose of such a variety of training on so many different paths?

CP:  To me, all those things are extensions of witchcraft. I have a pretty broad definition of witchcraft and magick, but I see any path that honors the earth and sky, Goddess and God, acknowledges the elements, works with spirits and creates change as a part of the craft. I particularly put a focus on service and community.  So I wanted to learn more about healing, more about spirits and more about the body. Though traditional witchcraft talks about those things, I wanted more detailed information, and to see how other mystics accomplished the same thing. I realized that at the heart, we are all doing the same things, in slightly different ways.

I think of my witch ancestors as going back to the Stone Age, so I see a lot in common with the tribal people and shamanic healing. I think from that original fount of wisdom and magick came a variety of traditions. Since a lot of information was not preserved in witchcraft, at least as a cohesive whole, I think we can find ways of getting back in touch with those aspects of the craft by studying other traditions. I learned a lot about how a witch is a "walker between the worlds" but other than traditional pathworking, I didn't get any deeper understanding into what that meant. Since then, I learned some very powerful forms of shamanic healing using animal and plant medicine and soul retrieval. I found those through more shamanic teachings, from Celtic Shamanism, to South American, but teach them now under the overarching umbrella of witchcraft and magick.

TWPT:  When was it that you first started thinking of writing as a something that you would like to pursue in regards to this new path?  What ideas did you want to communicate about what you were learning?

CP:  Actually my first book was never published. I wrote a book completely for fun, when working in the music industry. It compiled my own research on astrology and magick. I think of it as my pseudo-grad thesis. It was huge and poorly written, but I did it just for my own amusement and on a lark sent it out. It was rejected by most publishers, and Iím rather glad looking back on it. I just wanted to compile a lot of the things I researched into one cohesive whole, and I did. That work served as a foundation for my own practice, and many of the classes I now teach.

After I got laid off from my job in the music industry, working in theBoston area, I took my notes that compiled all my experiences in the urban world of magick. I decided to create a manual. Though I moved back to NH, I thought someone else could use it, so I wrote City Magick. I was surprised that people were as interested in it as they were. I shared bits of it online with people and got a good response, and eventually sent it off to publishers and got some interest from a few. I eventually reached an agreement with Weiser and they published it.

I didn't have a great desire to write or teach, but as I found myself teaching classes for friends and acquaintances who asked me, I started to compile my notes, which then became manuals and eventually the text books that are theTemple ofWitchcraft series. I feel that writing and teaching is a calling for me, and not something I would have picked for myself personally. But now I totally enjoy it and Iím really glad the Goddess guided me on this path. I write for fun and try to compile the information I'd like to see in one place. Like with Gay Witchcraft, I got my notes and ritual and research together and made it into a book because I thought perhaps other people would benefit from it. I had a hard time finding the information and know other gay practitioners who were thirsty for it. I try to write books that are somewhat different from what's gone before, or at least approach things in a different way.

I think the main idea I try to convey in all of my work is to see the sacred in everything. City/Country, Straight/Gay, Witch/Non-Witch Ė everything has a purpose and place. You can not only find magick everywhere, but participate in the magick.

The second idea is to be open to many different paradigms. Perhaps that is why I have a broad view of witchcraft. I wasnít raised in any strict tradition, so I learned to use what worked, and saw the similarities behind the cultural differences. I realized that every tradition and culture has a paradigm, and if you understand that, and realize your system is not the absolute truth, but a way for you to understand ďyourĒ truth, then you wonít feel compelled to have other believe or practice as you do.

TWPT:  Do you feel that enough followers of this path spend the time to develop themselves spiritually and mentally to take full advantage of what Witchcraft has to offer?

CP:  Depends on what you mean by followers on the path. I've noticed that most people start on spells and once they have some success, witchcraft is all about spells and they don't realize its a spirituality. Many do it when they feel like it, but don't realize it is a daily commitment. It is a life path. There is joy and mirth and ecstasy, but also discipline and integrity. There must be a balance. If you want to have certain abilities at your fingertips, you have to train your magical self much like an athlete. Though many might think because of my open view on the craft that I am nebulous and free flowing, suggesting that you do whatever you feel like, but I merge my free thinking with sound magickal theory and strong discipline.  One of the reasons I am writing myTemple series is to give a different format, or pattern to witchcraft for the solitary eclectic, that will have its roots deeply embedded in the spiritual, encourage creativity, but also encourage structure and discipline. When I teach, I donít care if a student does things differently from me, but I want them to think about why they do it differently, or why they do it at all. I hope that the series will give new witches a different way to approach magical training and provide a format for those who donít have a flesh and blood teacher. Iíve actually been very excited to find that some teachers are actually usingInner Temple as the manual for their initiates into a coven, and other former solitaries are using the book and the CD set for study groups.

TWPT:  Tell me about your book Gay Witchcraft. Did this create a stir with those who view the polarity of Witchcraft as male/female? What is your philosophy of the masculine/feminine energies and how they apply to gay/lesbian Witchcraft?

CP:  Gay Witchcraft started because I personally wanted to have more information on ancient history and mythology as it pertained to homosexuals. I also started gathering ideas, some that I created, and some from other GLBT practitioners, about adapting rituals with queer themes. The more I talked to people, the more I realized there was no resource that gathered a lot of this information in one place. I had spoken to some gay community groups that were interested in pagan spirituality, so eventually I decided to write something that would be both for the gay community who didn't know anything about paganism, and a book for the pagan community, both gay and straight pagans, to teach about gay practitioners and history. The book just evolved out of something I wanted to have myself, and I decided that if no one else had done it, then perhaps I should.

For the most part, it didn't create too much of an adverse reaction. There were some strong views on polarity, but very respectful. There were a few who were bewildered to find that their favorite "straight" deity had a queer aspect in some point in history. Overall, the pagan community in general has been amazingly supportive. I had a hard time publishing the book initially. I wanted to go with a gay publisher, and they were afraid of the witchcraft, and felt there was no market for it. New Age publishers felt the gay theme was too limiting. Weiser went through some changes and gave it a shot, and I was very happy that they did. The pagan community has really rallied around it. Most reviews have been by straight reviewers who felt that all pagans should be aware of the material in it. That surprised me, but was a really great validation. I don't really think of the pagan community as separated as gay or straight.

I think we all have masculine and feminine energies - gay, straight or otherwise. When people think I am shaking things up by getting us out of the gender fertility aspect of the craft, I don't think I am saying anything earth shattering. If you practice a solitary ritual, and perform the great rite - plunging blade into chalice - alone, then you have identified yourself with both the high priestess and high priest. You have identified with both Goddess and God. You have had a multi-gendered, multi-sexual experience. I try to promote that understanding among both straight and gay practitioners. There are many kinds of fertility created in the interplay of male and female energies, not just physical fertility. We can be fertile in our art, music, compassion and service.

TWPT:  What were some of the first steps that you took after you decided that you wanted your material to be available in print?

CP:  Hmn, that's a tough one. I actually began publicly teaching in local bookstores on the request of a few store owners before any of my books were available. Most of my books now are based upon classes and lectures I teach. I like to share my experiences and the experiences of others. For the most part I was pretty naive about publishing when I started. My first book was never published, and I'm happy about that now. It was pretty horrible, but I think of it as my college thesis. It was a manual on magick and astrology, which was far too long and wordy and was nothing like my current books. I based it much more on theory than experience from teaching. But I got to learn a great deal of information and organize it so it would stick in my memory. Then I learned to apply it in different directions and experiment. I could paper a wall with my rejection slips from that one. I wrote City Magick on a lark, with no attachment to the outcome. At the time I really thought the first book was superior and City Magick was kind of a throw away. I sent out a bunch of City Magick manuscripts to various metaphysical publishers, and I was surprised to get three tentative offers. After a little drama, I decided to go with Weiser. From initial idea to final book, there is a lot of writing and rewriting and experimentation. Just because something works for me, I like to try it out with others - friends, coven and students, to see if it works for others or I'm just quirky. 

TWPT:  Is writing something that comes natural to you or do you have to discipline yourself to sit down and write?  

CP:  I think writing has become something I've grown into. I used to write and compose music, and that was fun, but more torturous for me. I think the English language alone, in a conversational tone, is more my speed, rather than lyrics and notes. Now I find myself with too many book ideas and it's hard to buckle down and work on just one, but I do. I tend to have a "work book" I need to finish that has a deadline, and a "fun book," not that they aren't both fun, but one that has no deadline to it. So far I've made all my deadlines. I think teaching comes more naturally to me. I try to make my books workbooks for my classes. I tend to write like I speak, so the material is accessible for those who can't personally attend the class. 

TWPT:  After you were laid off from your job in the music industry you were unable to find another job in the same industry, what did you do next and were you surprised at how many responded?

CP:  I was surprised. I put up flyers for meditation classes and witchcraft, and the phone rang off the hook. I found myself teaching workshops. A few metaphysical store owners asked me to come in and teach a workshop and that snow balled into a full time teaching practice. I started to do more readings, and the tarot readings morphed from pure psychic readings into more healing and counseling sessions, and I found myself getting further training in healing work. My friends and family were incredibly supportive in my practice and my new learning. A few years earlier my partner Steve decided to take the plunge into full time freelance writing, so he totally understood. It put some of our financial plans on hold for a while, but it was obvious I was not set out for a job in the music business. My parents let me teach classes and have sessions in their home until I was able to set up my own office. The whole process is quite amazing when I look back on it. The road would have been much harder without their love and support. 

TWPT:  Tell me about theSecond Road newsletter and why it was that you published it. 

CP:  I had a bunch of friends who were interested in doing a pagan zine of some sort, but when it came down to it, I ended up taking on the bulk of the job. The idea turned into The Second Road newsletter, both a print and online quarterly journal of articles on paganism, meditation and healing, with a calendar of events. It covered a wide range of interest in the metaphysical. I felt that if I was advertising my classes, I wanted to have something educational in it as well, not just an advertisement. The newsletter was a great way to meet other practitioners and writers and keep in touch with the community. Eventually, once the books came out, it was overwhelming to keep up with the newsletter. The printing costs just grew and grew, and I wasn't that savvy about getting paying advertisers, so paid almost all of the printing cost out of my pocket. The newsletter got bigger and bigger and more expensive. Eventually I had to focus on my books. I tried to have someone take it over, but it never happened. Print media is hard to keep up with in this day with online sites. It was a fun journey while it lasted. I still have some of the older articles on my website. My partner Steve did an excellent series on Chaos Magick, which I still get emails about. I was surprised to be at a book signing in NYC years later, and ran into somebody who was aSecond Road fan. 

TWPT:  On your website you mention that you encourage "a solid foundation in the art, science and spirituality of witchcraft", what does that mean to you and why is it important to have such a foundation to successfully walk along the path of Witchcraft? 

CP:  I think witchcraft encompasses those three strands, and each one is important. You need the science to understand the "whys" of ritual and magick. Without it, it might seem silly to do spells or meditation. As modern people, we need an understanding. The art allows our creativity to come through and let the ecstatic experience speak through us. The understanding of magick must be put into action. Both the art and science lead to a spiritual awareness and connection. The spiritual development is the real purpose of the craft, but to find expression of spirituality in both art and knowledge. I started wanting to learn the science of witchcraft, and felt that I wasn't interested in the art or spirituality. I found I couldn't practice one without the other creeping into it. I don't try to divide the three in my teachings, but weave them together. People will take from it what they want and need, but I think a balance of all three is most important. 

TWPT:  Your meditation books were sort of unique in that they came with CD's that helped the reader of your books to put into practice the ideas that you presented in your book. Tell me about this project and why it was that you took this approach to the material that you presented.

CP:  The CDs were a total gamble, and I'm thrilled that Llewellyn went with the idea, as well as the CDs for the next book, The Outer Temple of Witchcraft. The biggest complaint I get as a teacher who recommends lots of books to students is that they cannot do the meditations. Authors will say tape your own voice reading them, but few do that. Your own voice can be weird, and if you haven't experienced a meditation, then you don't know the tone or pacing. They can't memorize all the steps of the meditation without referring back to it, which breaks the trance state. Not everybody can get a partner to read to them. I want to create workbooks - lessons, homework and tips - that have CDs, so you can experience the full course, even though you are not present with me. Inner andOuter Temple are two of a five book series, like my five main classes, and I hope to have CD companions for all five. 

TWPT:  What kind of responsibility do you feel to those who buy your book and use the material to help them move along their own path? Is it akin to a teacher/student relationship or something else?

CP:  Although it is something like a teacher/student relationship, it's not. I can make information and experiences available to others, but I can't maintain a personal relationship with everybody who reads the book. In the end I think witchcraft and my teachings of it are about self responsibility. I can only provide a map, but your decisions, even the decision to put the book into practice, must be yours and your responsibility. My responsibility is to give the best information I can, based on my experiences and research. 

TWPT:  I've read in another recent book written by some very popular writers of Witchcraft books that authors are becoming the leaders of Wiccan/Pagan community, do you think that is a true statement from your perspective? Why or why not?

CP:  Well, I think authors are often the most visible leaders, but we are not the only ones. Some of the most important pagan leaders are not famous. You won't find them in a magazine or on tour. They go about their business very quietly and simply do the work. They lead covens. They organize events. They counsel and they heal. They set trends in subtle yet profound ways. I was visiting a store that had an amazing community, and the owners and high priestess and high priest were very knowledgeable and eloquent, but they have no desire to write books about it. They just teach one on one and have been doing it for years. I think authors are more visible, and so we have to take that into account. Our words and ideas are disseminated more easily, so we need to make sure we are saying and doing what we think is best. 

TWPT:  You were also ordained as a minister, why is it that you decided to get this ordination and how do you use it along your own path?

CP:  Originally I was ordained as a minister as a part of my Reiki practice. There are some semi-nebulous issues about touching others in a healing practice if you are not a medical professional. If you are an ordained minister, and you offer healing touch through your ministry, it is not under the domain of modern medicine. I now find myself using it more in serving the pagan community. I've done quite a number of legal and non-legal handfastings. I've also been called to do child blessings and hospital visits. Strangely enough, you get a lot more leeway from hospital staff if you are visiting as the patient's minister, rather than their witchy friend. 

TWPT:  Does it get easier for you to write each new book or are they so unique that very little carries over from one project to the next?

CP:  Each one is unique, but for the most part, I don't struggle with the books. The editing process is a struggle, and I hate to think about the marketing. That can always be a nightmare. But the writing is the most pure aspect of the book process. Most are based on my classes, so I have all my research done and all my stories to tell. I usually work from an outline, organizing my handouts into a book outline. Right now I'm struggling with my third temple book, The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft: Shadows, Spirits and the Healing Journey. The first draft is done, but after re-reading the first two, I feel I got too serious. It's a serious topic, but I feel I lost a bit of my tone and over-researched. So I'm in the process of taking out things that are unnecessary and massaging it to make it more me. Some just flow out of me pretty easily. The Witch's Shield was done in a short time. I taught a class on protection magick. I had a great time and came home and started writing that night. 

TWPT:  Looking back over the books that you have written so far what were your expectations for them and have they met these expectations? Any disappointments?

CP:  I don't think I've had a lot of expectations. I didn't really expect to be publishing books, so everything has been quite exciting. I was initially surprised that authors don't get ultimate control over covers and titles, but I should have expected that because it's the same way in the music business. I think Gay Witchcraft has surpassed my expectations. I've been really happy with the enthusiasm it's gotten. I sometimes feel Spirit Allies gets a little lost. It ends up in the Sylvia Brown and John Edward section and not everybody knows about it. Although it's not a witchcraft book, it is more magical than most books in the spiritualist section. I had hoped it would cross over, but at times it just seems to get lost in the shuffle. I was surprised when I was on my west coast tour and had books with me, that Spirit Allies was the best seller. 

TWPT:  Do you find that Wiccans/Pagans are more open-minded about gay/lesbian practitioners than what you will find in society as a whole? Do you still face pockets of prejudice within this relatively open-minded group of people or are we pretty much beyond this kind of attitude as a community?

CP:  For my experience the Wiccan/Pagan community has been very open minded and supportive. Although I'm sure there are pockets of prejudice in our community, I've been lucky to not encounter it directly. People have disagreed.

TWPT:  Tell me about some of your upcoming writing projects. How is it that you decide what you want to do next?

CP:  It's hard. Part of it is drawn from what is on a schedule and when I have a deadline. But for the most part, I start working on whatever I am interested in at the time. I have to get into the habit of finishing up projects before I start another. This year I have the sequel toInner Temple, The Outer Temple of Witchcraft book and CD companion. This summer is The Witch's Shield book and included CD. It's a book on protection magick and psychic defense. This fall will be The Magick of Reiki, a book comparing witchcraft, magick and the energy healing practice of Reiki. The last book officially in the works is Sons of the Goddess: A Young Man's Guide to Wicca. That will be out in 2005. I hope to finish the third book in the temple series sometime soon. I think that's it for a while. I'm going to take a little break.

TWPT:  Judging strictly from this interview you are on the road quite a bit, if someone wanted to catch you at one of your personal appearances where would they look during this upcoming spring/summer/fall season?

CP:  You can always find my schedule on my website, www.christopherpenczak.com . I'll be inNew Orleans andConnecticut in May. This summer I'll be inDenver,Chicago andMontreal, though they are not officially booked yet. This fall I plan on a shortOhio tour. I'll be speaking at Between the Worlds queer men's festival inOhio. I have trips planned toFlorida,New Jersey andLondon as well. As things get booked, I'll list them on my site. I also keep a pretty full teaching schedule inNew Hampshire andMassachusetts.

TWPT:  As a final question, what are your hopes and dreams for the Wiccan/Pagan community in the coming years? Are you optimistic that they will become a reality?

CP:  I'm really living my hopes and dreams for the community. Every day I see people come to paganism with healing and transformative experiences. I think that process will continue to grow. I think people are now taking the practice to the next level. Over the last 100 years or so, in the mystic revival that included the Golden Dawn and Theosophy as well as Wicca/Paganism, we have reclaimed a lot of the our traditions and knoweldge. We have built cohesive systems for the modern practitioner. Now we have to figure out where are we going next. We have drawn off the past, but now we have to find our new mythologies, and recognize the way the divine is speaking to us now and how we can respond. I'd like to see more "advanced" teachings and paths become more common knowledge, to give people something deeper to aspire to. My temple series is hopefully a small contribution in that direction. I'm really confident that our community and leaders will step up to the plate and create things I can't even imagine right now.

TWPT:  I thank you for taking the time out to talk to us here at TWPT and I wish you much success over the next few months with your many releases and then some rest to recharge your batteries. Good luck.