Avalonia Author Interviews
( May 2005: CP indicates answers by Christopher Penczak, Q indicates question posed by Sorita)
Q: Your book on Reiki is very lucid and practical, and you obviously value the system. What do you see the benefits of Reiki being for Witches?
CP: Well I think that Reiki is very helpful for anybody, but in particularly for anybody in any magickal practice, not just witchcraft. Reiki as a system is a way of safely and effortless tapping into a form of energy that is primarily used for healing. It doesn’t require a lot of focus or ritual. So if you are in pain, you can effortless tap into this healing power without having to do a formal ritual or having to exercise extreme focus. I use Reiki all the time in my everyday life. In a magickal practice, that energy can also be directed in spell craft and ritual. You can use it to add to your circle, candle magick, herbs and charms. It gives you a new source of energy, new methods of directing it by using a new symbolic alphabet to channel the energy and a new view point in using energy. Reiki comes from a Japanese Buddhist background, and stressed the ideas of non-attachment and “for the highest good” in it’s system, much like some forms of magick. Using Reiki in your magick can help you balance the perspective of directing your will towards your goal, yet simultaneously be detached on a personal level to how it manifests. Reiki in magick helps you let go of control, yet still have results. I know that’s been a struggle for me in my practice, and understanding some of the Eastern philosophies and applying them to my Western traditions has been extremely helpful.
Q: In a recent article, you compare Magick to Cooking (Watkins Review 10), but then say cooking isn’t your strong suite, what do you feel are your strong points?
CP: Definitely not the domestic arts. Lol. Thankfully I am handfasted to a wonderful man who is not only an excellent writer and game designer in his own right (www.stevekenson.com), he’s a much better cook. I think my strongest talent is teaching. I love to teach, be it one on one, groups or lecture halls. I think everything else flows out of the desire to teach, from my private sessions in healing work, to my books. On the more domestic front, I make good herbal preparations. Well, perhaps not good tasting, but effective medicines. I’m a pretty good gardener when I devote the time to it. And not a bad signing voice when I’m in shape. I actually have a degree in music performance. My instrument was voice, though that seems like a different life now.
Q: Your temple of Witchcraft series of books, seems aimed at redressing the balance for the ever growing number of solitary witches, by providing more focus and structure. What inspired you to write these books?
CP: The books are actually based on the series of classes that I teach my students. I didn’t plan on writing them, or even becoming a teacher. I was running a small meditation/moon ritual group, not a coven. I was asked by members of the group, and some other friends, to teach witchcraft. I came from a background that was not lineage focused, but classes and workshops that focused on providing a space for a transformational experience. My friends wanted something similar. I used the notes of my own training with Laurie Cabot to put together a class. I added other thoughts and ideas that were important to me and created my own Witchcraft One class. That became the foundation of The Inner Temple of Witchcraft. After the first class, that group wanted another level of training. Then another. Eventually I saw an elemental scheme working out. I started including a lot of information that I added to my own practice, but I didn’t learn as a part of my foundational training, such as spirit work and shamanic healing, or ceremonial magick. I drew from a lot of traditions and sources because my belief in the Craft is that even though it may be known by different names across the globe, when you have people honoring the Earth and Sky, Mother and Father, acting as guardians to the natural and spirit worlds, turning the wheel of the year and doing magick, you have some form of witchcraft.
As I began teaching more publicly, I found that my training was a little different than what was available to most people. I had a lot of people interested, but they couldn’t travel to me for workshops. I eventually figured a class in book format was the best way to reach people who wanted the teachings, but not necessarily to take classes in person. I’ve had a lot of luck myself with such books, and with correspondence courses, so I though it would be an effective method to teach others who want to learn my system. I’ve found there are far more willing students than covens available to train, so books become a strong source for those seeking witchcraft. I wanted to create something that would be grounded, solid and cover a wide range of topics and ideas. I’ve had a lot of people use the books in their own training covens because I don’t necessarily give one way to do anything, but teach the ideas and explain why people might do a specific technique that way. When you present the ideas, rather than dogma, it gives you a lot of flexibility. Yet the ideas and theory make sure people understand how things work and stay on stable ground.
Q: You spoke at several events in London last year, did you notice any big differences between those interested in Witchcraft in the UK and in the USA?
CP: My London experience was quite broad, so it’s hard to dump everybody in the UK or in the US into one pile. I did find some differences in terminology. In the US, Wicca is quite a broad term. For some, particularly after Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham, it became a broad base term, often the default “less scary” word when talking about witchcraft to others. Most people didn’t know what Wicca was ten years ago. In many circles, Wicca and witchcraft are used interchangeably. For some the difference is a big deal. as many identify as Wiccan or witch, but not both, but usually Americans are pretty mellow about it. We usually refer to Gardnerian and Alexandrian lines as British Traditional. I was forewarned by American witches who visited the UK that the meanings were a bit different and folks in London did tell me several times that I was using the wrong terminology, even after I defined my terms and shared my point of view during my lecture. Most in the UK look at the British Traditional forms as Wicca and the practice of magick and non initiated witches as witchcraft. People were adamant about it. It was kind of funny looking back on it now.
At least in the London social circles I was in, there seemed to be more of a call towards more traditional practices and lineage based groups, yet when I got a few people to share with me their practices, it didn’t seem that traditional to me. I spoke to a few Gardnerians using Vodou lwa in their rituals. I love the idea and have a soft spot for the lwa, but it doesn’t strike me as being very British Traditional. I love hearing about people’s personal experiences, and sharing my own. Not to prove a point, but just to hear the diversity of experience. I’m more for experience than theory when you get down to it. I found few people in the UK willing to share their experiences. I was told what happens in the circle, stays in the circle. I can understand, but US witches are usually more inclined to share. Perhaps they are a little too inclined to share, I don’t know. It did strike me odd. When I lead a meditation in a book signing lecture, I usually go around the room and everybody shares. When I was in London, no one wanted to share anything.
I also found that those pushing the more traditional forms of the craft looked at a lot of American traditions with suspicion. When I brought up the Feri tradition, Georgians or Cabot Tradition, I was told they weren’t recognized in the UK. I’m not sure if that’s really true, or just for that particular person. Someone even told me they felt Raymond Buckland was radical. To Americans he is seen as our grandfather of the craft and somewhat traditional, even though he opened up a lot of freedom in his Seax Tradition and shared a lot of information in his books. Some of my London friends assure me that I just met up with some folks on the extreme side of either spectrum and that US and UK pagans are not all that different. And I did meet quite a few people who were quite lovely and reminded me of those in my communities in the US, so I probably did see some extremes. I’m sure someone from the UK visiting America might find quite a few radical people and assume that every pagan in the US was like that. I’ll be back in London next November for Witchfest, so I’m looking forward to meeting more people and having another good time.
Q: The high quality and quantity of your literary output, suggests a driven man! What brought you to where you are on your path now?
CP: I just write fast and now that I find myself doing witchy things full time, I need to keep busy. People write one book and think they can live the rest of their life off it, but it doesn’t work that way. Like anybody else, I put 40 hours into my job. Some weeks even more. Now I split it between writing, teaching and seeing clients for readings and healing sessions. I try to write books I would want to read. Though there is always going to be a certain amount of covering the same ground, particularly to recap for newbies, since you never know if your book is the first book on witchcraft they pick up, I try to write something different, from a different perspective. I try to only write about things that I have taught for a while. So usually they books start out as workshops and class hand outs, and eventually build in details to become books. I’ve been working on this stuff for many years before my first book every came out.
I actually had plans of being a musician. Specifically I wanted to be a rock star. I worked at a recording studio/record label in Cambridge, MA, and was making contacts, but I got a clear message from the Goddess to start teaching more. When I finally agreed to her demands, I lost my job and couldn’t find another even though the economy at the time was booming. I put up a flyer for witchcraft and meditation classes, and got the phone ringing off the hook. I’ve been teaching every since, slowly building a practice, and taking my days to write down my class lessons into longer handouts, which eventually became books. I think teaching and writing now is my “true will” so to speak, and the universe will continue to support this path for as long as I need to do it. When I need to do something else, hopefully that will be clear. I envision myself doing some sort of youth social services later in life, but I’m not sure what at this point.
Q: Purification and healing are themes that occur a lot in your work, and you obviously feel are important, what other practices would you stress as being important?
CP: I think meditation is the number one tool in any spiritual practice. If you don’t learn to clear your mind and listen to the universe, very little else will come from your practice. The wisdom you gain through regular meditation will tell you often not to do a spell, even though you can do it.
Regular ritual, even if its not full circle, is also critical. I teach my students the practice of an altar devotional, a method of connecting with the divine through something similar to a prayer, where you are thankful for your blessings but also using intention to create your day. Regular meditation and ritual are the two biggest factors in my own practice, and what I like to stress to others.
Q: In Gay Witchcraft, you put over a very encompassing and inclusive perspective of gender, emphasizing balance. How much of a role do you feel personal sexuality should play in spirituality?
CP: I guess it depends on the spiritual tradition you have chosen. For witchcraft, I think sexuality is inherent in our tradition and can’t be ignored, yet to focus solely on it, or solely on one aspect of it, such as literal fertility, misses the point. Many mystical traditions either seek to sublimate the sexual urge into spiritual energy, or embrace sexual energy to open the awareness to higher spiritual consciousness. Both can work, but I’m not for repressing anything, so I think sexual energy should be embraced. Like any relationship, first you have to have a healthy relationship with yourself. Only then you can direct it towards others. Understanding your own sexual energy – physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually, is essential to a healthy relationship where sex can be a part of your spirituality. Like love, if you are not in tune with love energy for yourself, you can never truly love another. Geesh, I sound like an advertisement for masturbation, but that’s only part of it. Witchcraft helps us face our sexual feelings, straight or GLBT, break any negative social conditioning and truly embrace the sacredness of it. Sex has played a bit part of my own spiritual development and I’m sure it will continue to do so.
Q: Of all the many subjects that you give talks and workshops on, which one is closest to your heart?
CP: Healing. Of all the things I teach and write about, healing wins hands down. I want to write a comprehensive healing book, but the topic is so vast, I’m not sure where to start. To me, the bumper sticker “Witches Heal” says it all. We do. That’s what this practice is about for me. Self healing first, so then you can help others.
Q: Between writing, speaking and giving workshop, you live a very magickally active life. How do you keep your feet on the ground?
CP: I think maintaining a regular spiritual practice of meditation and ritual keeps you grounded. Doing life stuff, all the mundane things like housework, paying the bills, sleeping in late on your day off and gardening helps. I also think having a loving supportive real network of family and friends keeps you grounded. We all need people who love us enough to tell us when we’re being a jerk, or to help us calm down when things are too intense.
Q: You are one of the founders of the Gifts of Grace Foundation in New Hampshire, can you tell us a bit about their work?
CP: Well at the moment I’m not longer a member, yet still supportive of the work. It’s really the mastermind of my yoga teacher Stephanie Rutt, and her Tree of Life Interfaith ministries. Gifts of Grace – http://www.giftsofgracefoundation.org – official mission statement is “The Gifts of Grace is a non-profit foundation promoting interfaith awareness. We support people of all religions and spiritual paths in coming together to serve the common good of our world family through service.” Basically we’re about service, from supporting and sponsoring events on the local and national level. One of our most successful projects was a quilting program where community members come together to make nice, warm quilts. Have are sent to the local homeless and women’s shelters while the other half is sent to Eastern Europe. We’ve also done food drives and money raising events for local charities. One of my favorite programs that I was personally involved in was providing Reiki, Massage and other healing services to the caregivers of those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s. Imagine this witch doing Reiki in the community center of a Catholic Church! I couldn’t believe it until we were there. Gifts of Grace and Tree of Life also supports a lot of community workshops to demonstrate the principles of different religions to the community.
Q: Any new exciting projects you can tell us about?
CP: Oh, lots of things are on the horizon. I’ll be in a documentary on Paganism in the US called Moonrise. It should be out next fall and distributed by Red Wheel/Weiser. My next book, The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft and its accompanying CD set will be out by July 2005. After that I have a spell book called Instant Magick, that described spells that require no tools. I’m currently researching for a book on demons and a book on gay sex magick. Both are lots of fun.
Thanks so much. I enjoyed talking with you.
Thank you to Christopher Penczak for taking the time to answer all our questions, its been a pleasure and a privilege to delve into your world! For permission to reproduce this article please contact us first – (c) 2005 Christopher Penczak & Avalonia
Remember if you want to find out more about Christopher’s workshops and books visit his website – there are also all kinds of great articles on there, including a biography – click here
Christopher Penczak is the author of the books City Magick (Samuel Weiser, 2001), Spirit Allies (Samuel Weiser, 2002), The Inner Temple of Witchcraft (Llewellyn 2002), Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribe (Weiser Books, 2003) and The Outer Temple of Witchcraft (Llewellyn, 2004). He is an eclectic witch, healer and teacher in the New England area.