Interview with Christopher Penczak
An Interview with Christopher Penczak
1. Christopher, you have a very magical way of demystifying so many aspects of the Craft , its history and its role in society today, and you often do this by successfully revealing the similarities between different cultures and spiritual teachings and their shared positive attributes (for example, you compare the Wiccan Rede with a verse from the Christian Bibleís Matthew 7:12). Itís your positiveness that is so intriguing, especially when non-Christians are presently surrounded by such an interesting political background.
I think in the end all mystical teachings lead to the same source. They have different ways of expressing philosophy, different symbols and different cultures, but all mystics seek the divine. The mainstream religions have had wonderful mystics and mystical teachings, even if they have been suppressed at points in time. I see what links us together and celebrate the diversity, rather than get into petty fights about theology. We are children of the world now, and world mythology is our mythology. The modern Craft has been influenced by so many sources, such as alchemy and Freemasonry, which sometimes have a Christian slant, and the Craft continues to influence many other traditions. Nothing in the modern era is really pure anymore. I think whenever I see something that cuts across cultures, there is a ďtruth.Ē We each express the truth differently, but there is something fundamental there. You might not understand it in a pagan context, but if itís compared to something you are familiar with, you can understand it better. I think itís important to keep in mind that we are all branches from the same human family, and while we are growing in different directions, we have a common base. Although some witches are against a multicultural approach or acceptance of other religions, I think our polytheistic nature lets us see divinity in many forms, and we recognize those seeking divinity in other forms. Iíve been involved in quite a few multi-faith projects and had wonderful experiences.
When I think of the political climate, I also realize how much we have gained in just a short time. Iíve been in the Craft for less than fifteen years, and when I started, it was really a secret. There werenít witchcraft sections in the local bookstore, or at least not at the level there are now. You didnít tell too many people you were a witch. You were worried about losing your job. People didnít know the word Wiccan. Though there are many areas where that is still true, the world in general, particularly the U.S., is much more aware and accepting. Even when things take a conservative bend, we know that eventually they will shift the other way. Although Iíve been involved in politics and activism to some extent, right now I feel the best way I can serve is by changing the hearts and minds of individuals as I meet them, talk with them and just live my life. Political climates are not going to change my beliefs, my ethics or the way I treat others. By affecting people one on one, you can make an amazing change in the world. When you find yourself helping others to realize that witches are people, that we have the same needs, wants and rights as others, that we are not crazy or malicious, then you can maintain a positive attitude.
2. The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft is your ninth book to be published over the span of about four years ó a hefty number by anyoneís standard. With your private practice, your regular workshops, your public appearances and time spent with your family, how ever do you manage to find time to write?
Itís my passion. I think the books take on a life of their own, and Iím just the one who types. Though I do research and base much of the books on my workshops and classes, an idea usually comes to me and I just have to write until Iím done. I had only planned on writing one Temple of Witchcraft book a year until the five-book series was completed, but other ideas pop up and wonít let me rest. Between The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft , out this summer, and the follow up, The Temple of High Witchcraft, I have a short book called Instant Magick coming out through Llewellyn that just demanded I write it. Sons of the Goddess was like that, too. I didnít have a plan to write it. But once the idea reared its head, the writing went fairly quickly.
I love the writing, but I honestly love the teaching even more. Writing is an extension of my teaching, but nothing is more satisfying than helping people in small groups or one on one. I like to help others develop the tools they need to contact divinity directly and make their own magick.
3. The conjoining of shamanism and witchcraft in study and ritual has been cropping up in literature, events and on websites for about a decade now (in the writings of Chas Clifton, etc.), but for readers new to this exciting subject, could you tell us what shamanism is in the context of a witch, the role it plays in your work and why you thought it important to include in your Temple of Witchcraft series?
I truly believe that witchcraft and shamanism grew out of a similar root. Even though the word shamanism is technically Siberian, many people think of it as something strictly to do with Native American traditions, discounting any shamanic practices in Europe. The witchís province works with spirits and the beings of the other worlds as well as herb craft and charms. One of the first things I learned as a witch was to ďwalk between the worlds.Ē Shamans and witches have this task in common. Both are ultimately oriented toward self-healing and sharing healing skills. This is what I teach my students and what I practice in my life. I found the shamanic aspect of witchcraft, particularly learning to work with the shadow self, a key concept to my own healing path. The system I teach of working with the shadow developed out of my own practice, and it is a technique that doesnít require initiation into the more traditional forms of the Craft, but allows a student the direct mystical experience of shadow initiation. Many witches talk about becoming aware of the shadow, but thereís not a lot of material that tells you how to do that.
4. In The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft you share extensively your experiences and knowledge of a vast array of shamanic topics, from working with animal and plant spirit medicine to working in reverence within the ancestor realm. When did you first encounter these teachings and what do you think drew you to them?
After my training in what we could consider more typical witchcraft ó circles , spells, and the holidays ó I branched out in search of other healing techniques and magickal ceremonies. Through studying Native American traditions, as well as diving into what we now call Celtic and Norse shamanism, I found so many parallels with what I had already learned, with new ways to apply the information. I was drawn to them because I truly focus on witchcraft as a healing art, and many were oriented towards soul healing. Plant and animal medicine align you with nature. My experiences receiving soul retrieval healing were amazing. The more whole I became, the more I wanted to understand these techniques and share them with others.
5. In this new book you reveal countless similarities between both the teachings and core beliefs of witchcraft and shamanism. The journey was obviously enlightening and most probably exhilarating, but did you find it challenging to bring these two worlds together in your Craft and in your writing?
Actually, it was quite easy. I think the teachings in The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft are closest to my own daily practice, including techniques that I use when I am most in need. Working with spiritual allies has been a cornerstone to my practice, even before I thought of it in the context of shamanism. Since the two come from a similar root, I didnít find many things conflicting. Each might express philosophies differently, but youíll find that each culture has a different philosophy and religion behind it. Once the core shamanic techniques are applied to a culture, I like to look for the similar strands of truth. If one idea, image or technique keeps popping up time and again, I know there is a truth there. Itís those truths I focus on, and you will find similarities in witchcraft, shamanism and many of the worldís mystic traditions.
When you study the lore of witches through a shamanic lens, even looking at the witchcraft trial transcripts, itís easy to see the elements of shamanism in the Craft. I wrote this book intending to focus upon shamanic aspects in contemporary witchcraft ó not in theory, but in practice. These are the tools I use in my personal life, with my students and with clients, and I wanted to share them with a wider audience.
6. Now that writing has become a solid part of your life, how do you think itís changed you, and in what ways has it affected your progress along the Wiccan spiritual path?
I think about things a lot more deeply as a writer and a teacher. Itís not enough to just ďgetĒ something for myself, but I think about other ways to express it, to process it, so I can help people who donít necessarily think like I do. Iíve had quite a few students without an academic background, so I try to find the balance between academics and personal experience. Since lots of people ask me questions about the philosophies and theologies behind Wicca, even though there is no standard set of answers, I am constantly evaluating what I think, believe and experience.
It causes me to push myself into other areas, and to practice the theories that I learn. I donít want to rest on my laurels or have my personal practice become stagnant. Iím constantly looking to both older and newer material, and trying to figure out if it works for me, how to integrate it into my practice, and yet maintain a core set of practices that guide me on my path.
Iíve also learned to not be the teacher or writer, and sit back and listen to others. There are so many wise people out there, old, young and in between, that have so much to share if you just listen. Being always on the go as an author has also given me the opportunity to meet other authors, teachers and elders, and to just sit and listen to what they have to say, or experience what they want to teach. Itís an opportunity I wouldnít have if I wasnít traveling the country, so I feel very blessed.
Trade Paperback | $21.95 US, $25.50 CAN | 9780738707679 | July 2005
Is shamanism all that different from modern witchcraft? According to Christopher Penczak, Wicca's roots go back 20,000 years to the Stone Age shamanic traditions of tribal cultures worldwide. A... Read more