1. Why did you write The Inner Temple of Witchcraft?
The Inner Temple of Witchcraft is based on my first-level Witchcraft course. Through that course, I wanted to give students a foundation in witchcraft that is different from most books and courses available. My own original training focused on the inner experience of Witchcraft. I found later that most other material focuses on spells, rituals, and recipes, but without an inner understanding and experience with magick, they can seem empty.
As an initial skeptic, learning a ritual or spell by rote would not have proved anything to me. I needed a deeper understanding and experience. I wanted to create something similar to my first experiences in the Craft, with a step-by-step guide to deeper exploration into personal development. As I taught, I found quite a few people who were not in my area, or couldn’t commit to a long training regime. A textbook divided into lessons, along with companion CDs, seemed to be the best way to get the course out to everyone who wants to experience.
Although I love the traditions of eclectic Witchcraft, and I count myself as one, unfortunately some equate “eclectic” with lack of training and discipline. Eclecticism grew because there are simply not enough teachers or covens to train everyone who wants to be a Witch, and the variety of material and traditions allow people to explore their own personal paths. There are a lot of introductory books and courses to help you start out, but not a lot take a new student through a serious training course. With Inner Temple, and with subsequent books in the series, I hope to take students from a strong metaphysical foundation to the role of a high priest/ess and community leader.
2. What does the word “Witch” mean to you?
I have a pretty broad definition of “Witch” and “Witchcraft.” You can have the traditional definitions of a “walker between the worlds” or a “wise one,” but that doesn’t really embody the true essence of it. Although most would disagree, I think whenever you have someone who honors the Earth and all of nature, including humanity as divine, sees the divine as male, female, and beyond, someone who honors the cycles of life, partners with the universe to create change, and actively serves the great good, then you have a Witch. This would probably apply to many traditions and paths, but in essence, to me, it’s all Witchcraft.
3. How did you first encounter Witchcraft? What were your original perceptions, and how did those change?
I first encountered Witchcraft in college. A family friend introduced me to it. Originally, I thought she was joking. The idea of a modern Witch wasn’t in mainstream consciousness at the time, or at the very least, it wasn’t on my radar. I couldn’t believe she was serious, but when we talked about it, her ideas made a lot of sense.
Even after some informal study with her, and deeper study with other teachers, I went in trying to disprove psychic ability, spirit guides, healing, past lives, and spells. I went in with a partially open mind, but skeptical, even pessimistic attitude. I walked out not only believing it was possible, but realized that I too, could experience it. That expanded my own sense of connection to the universe and a sense of spiritual well-being. I developed a greater sense of esteem and self-love through this connection, which completely changed my life path. I eventually changed careers from wanting to be a rock star and singing in a band to wanting to help others and make the world a better place. I guess you can do that with music, but my path called me to study healing and teaching, and offer my services to others.
4. What authors have influenced you the most, and why?
The first book I read was Power of the Witch by Laurie Cabot with Tom Cowan. I loved it. As a first read, it really gave me something to sink my teeth into regarding the science and philosophies of Witchcraft. I was a “doubting Thomas,” coming from a math and science background. I almost became a chemist before I went into music, and her thoughts on quantum physics blew my mind. I recently reread much of it while researching my latest projects and was still amazed at how captivating it is after all these years. Laurie was also one of my first teachers and is quite a public figure in the New England area. I had some amazing breakthroughs in her classes.
I am a huge Scott Cunningham fan as well. His openness and accessibility to the Craft was something I find wonderfully refreshing when starting out. I really try to capture some of that essence in my own writing and teaching. Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magick was a huge influence in deepening my understanding of other forms of magick while still being friendly to Wicca, as well as inspiring me to create a structured course. Phil Hine’s work in chaos magick really opened my mind to some new ideas. Although not the originator on the concepts, he was the first to really present it in an accessible manner to me. Michael Harner’s work in core shamanism , such as Way of the Shaman, and his excellent CDs, have been a big influence in looking for the shamanic component of Witchcraft. Wayne Dyer, self-help guru, has really helped me to see the daily, mundane practical applications of spiritual truths. I think he’s a Witch at heart, but just doesn’t know it.
Although I completely struggled with it, The Living Gita by Sri Swami Satchidananda was highly influential. I took a course on it with my greatly honored yoga teacher, Stephanie Rutt, who opened me to truly seeing the wisdom in many world religions, including Hinduism, and to see the many parallels with Wicca, too. The class was wonderful, since we were all sharing our religions, and in the middle of it, someone said, “Is it only me, or is anyone else taken aback by this Witchcraft stuff?” It was a great opportunity to be educated, and to educate. I almost forgot that Witchcraft wasn’t normal for everyone else until she reminded me.
Anne Rice has been a huge influence on me, though I shudder to think how the Pagan community will take that one. I think her work really taught me to look deeply into the patterns of history, society, and politics, but also to see symbolism and meaning in the spiritual quest. I’m not what you would consider Gothic, but I do love her books because they are about the honest quest for the self, and I discovered them when I discovered my path as a Witch, so the two go hand in hand.
Honestly, I think some of the most influential magickal writers now available are working the medium of comic books. Some mature comics work in modern mythic settings and really encapsulate the Witch and mage’s world view, mixing world mythologies without clashing. Books like The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, The Invisibles by Grant Morrison or Promethea or just about anything else by Alan Moore really get my magickal mind into gear. Many things on the Vertigo imprint (a subdivision of DC comics) are inspiring. They are pushing the envelope and really helping to develop a view on magickal world mythology were the gods of all cultures exist together and the paradoxes seem irrelevant.
5. Where do you see Witchcraft in ten years?
Honestly, I’m not quite sure. Everybody keeps saying it is the fastest-growing religion in the US, but I’m not sure it will ever be a dominant segment in the way that various sects of Christianity are. I’m not sure I would want it to be. Witchcraft is a mystery religion, not a prophetic religion. Every Witch experiences their own mysteries and has their own revelations. That’s not for everybody. I have a pretty wide definition of Witchcraft, and would love to see the world embrace it, but I don’t think everyone should identify with being a Witch. I simply hope our values of self-responsibility, freedom, and living consciously in the world and with the world will catch on and help turn us back from the current self-destructive path most of society is on. That is one of the reasons I teach. The more people get conscious, the more it will create a chain reaction to inspire others. I don’t care if you identify as a Witch or not. To me, it is important to reclaim that word, but its not important to me if you reclaim it. I would just like to see more people claim a personal spirituality and live by it. A psychic once told me, not knowing that I was a Witch, that modern Paganism is “old thought. It’s not going anywhere. It’s stale.” She, of course, was in favor of her New Age paradigms, but the entire New Age movement is bringing old thoughts into the new world and using them as tools to help build a new world. I think the Witchcraft community, the Pagan community and magickal communities at large, have a great task to ahead of us to not only show these ancient wisdoms, but to learn to use them in the modern world and teach others.
6. What projects are you currently working on? What’s next for Christopher Penczak?
I’ve got quite a bit going on for future projects. My next book is called Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe and will be released next spring (from Weiser Books.) A lot of my own practice and calling has been about educating those in the queer community to the empowerment found in earth religions and alternative spiritualities. Besides my classes, I run a gay men’s meditation group in New Hampshire. I have just completed the first draft of The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, the sequel to The Inner Temple of Witchcraft. In fact, since I have five courses, I plan five books in the temple series. Future ones will be on shamanic Witchcraft practices, high magick and Witchcraft, and a training course for high priestesses and high priests. I have also completed a book comparing ritual magick to the healing art of Reiki, called The Magick of Reiki, as well as a book on psychic defense called The Witch’s Shield: Protection Magick and Psychic Self-Defense. I hope to be traveling more of the country to support the books that are currently on the market and look forward to meeting people on the road.
7. In conclusion, what advice do you have to those who are new to Witchcraft?
Live a magickal life. Practice your Craft and make it a regular part of your day, but don’t reserve it for rituals or celebrations only. Make it a part of your daily routine, but more importantly, your daily outlook in life. See the magick and beauty in everything, and everyone. Really reflect on the words “perfect love and perfect trust” and strive to embody them even in tough situations. Never get stuck or hopeless. See the magickal solution for problems in life, but also follow up your magick with practical, real-world action. I know so many Witches and Pagans who hate their situation but refuse to look at the issue through magickal eyes and evoke transformation and healing. They are not living the magickal life and need to inject this world-view into their “mundane” world. Even if the situation cannot be literally changed, your outlook on it can be transformed.
Of all the skills of the Witch, meditation has served me the best. Make it a regular habit. Simply take some time in the beginning or end of each day to get quiet and go within. The wisdom you find in this quiet place is more important than most things you learn in a book or from another teacher. You have all that you need inside you, and in the things all around you. Good teachers and authors just help bring those things out and teach you to trust yourself.
Study myth and ritual, and enact sacred drama. Ancient myths are the best psychological training. Myth helps you understand how we relate to the divine and each other. Soon you will see the divine themes in your TV, movies, and books, and understand the real motives behind things. Let yourself become a part of the ritual. Those who do not go wild in their rituals and do not honor the divine dramas are destined to go wild and live drama in their life. I prefer my drama in ritual, not in my personal life. Since learning ritual in the Craft my life has become more and more drama-free, and I find myself in a greater place of peace and happiness.