July 29, 2016 begins The Temple of Witchcraft’s annual three-day gathering of the magickal community at TempleFest. To preview the Lammas-encompassing festival, Temple Co-Founder Christopher Penczak shares with us how TempleFest began, what we can expect this year, some of his fondest memories of TempleFests past and what he’s most looking forward to this year.
When and how did TempleFest begin? Tell us its “origin story.”
TempleFest began in 2010 as a one-day special event for the members of the Temple of Witchcraft, primarily folks in our Mystery School. Our first one was members only because we didn’t really know how to put on a festival, so we wanted to keep it small until we understood the structure and mechanics. We had it on a lovely farm in Derry, N.H., before moving to private land of a member living in South Hampton, N.H. We wanted to create a place for community to gather, to share, beyond our sabbat festivals, which can be short, even with a class in the afternoon. I’ve been honored to attend so many festivals around the world, ranging from 2-7 days and hosted by great Pagan communities. In speaking about it, the leaders of the Temple also agreed it would be something to help share and hold space for our community.
We have a lot of distance members, doing correspondence courses, so TempleFest is an annual chance for them to gather. Mentors get to meet students, and classmates across the years get to hang out and share. Social media is helpful, but it’s no substitute for good conversation and hanging out around the ritual fire.
Who is this festival for and why should they attend?
The primary focus for the festival is for members of the Temple of Witchcraft, family, friends and those open and curious to Witchcraft and Paganism in general, and those specifically interested in the tradition of the Temple. While there are many events rooted in a pan-pagan ethos and focusing a multitude of religious practices, our focus for our community is on Witchcraft, and while we have all sorts of events ranging from beginners to advanced, our effort is to promote the culture of the Witch, of occultism and metaphysics, and not necessarily dilute it for a broader public.
Those looking to experience ritual, classes and community are welcome. While there is a huge social component, and building of relationships and having friendships grow in the flesh, our framework for the Temple has always hinged around education and experience of the esoteric. You’re certainly welcome to come and just hang out, but there is lots to do and experience, and we encourage immersion into the full experience.
What was the attendance last year and what do you expect this year?
Last year 230 people attended TempleFest over the course of three days, many for the whole weekend and others just for a day or part of a day. This year we are expecting more than 250 (our site is limited to 300 people at one time).
Besides yourself, who are some of the big names in Witchcraft that we can expect to see this year?
This year our guest speaker is the fabulous Judika Illes, author of many excellent books on magick and the Craft, and in particular the popular Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells and the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft.
I’ve known Judika since I began my writing career and enjoyed her many classes. From her formularies to her work with Spirits, I always learn something new. We don’t see each other as often with busy schedules, so TempleFest is often a way I can get teachers that I want to hear out to our community.
In years past, we have attracted fun guests and friends from the community to come as “part of the crowd” and not necessarily as speakers, including Raven and Stephanie Grimassi and Dorothy Morrison. They were former guests of honor at TempleFest and came back to attend for fun. We’ve also had Orion Foxwood and Ceisiwr Serith present at TempleFest.
This year, we will have some folks attending who will really add to the educational experience, including David Salisbury, Courtney Weber, Ivo Dominquez Jr., Devin Hunter and Storm Faerywolf.
What’s the lineup of events? (or, what events do you know of at this point?)
Since TempleFest is focused upon the community’s connection to the Faery Court, we have a special Friday evening ritual based on the myth of the Fallen Angels as the Faeries. Saturday will include a Harvest, or Lammas, ritual in the afternoon, followed by a keynote presentation by Judika, most likely on the intersection between the saints and the ancestors of the Witch. Saturday night, we’ll have a ritual entitled The Dance of the Alchemist.
What would you say is the must-attend event at the festival this year and why?
This year, we’re repeating the Teacher Panel. It was an emergency fill-in last year when something was cancelled unexpectedly, and people loved it so much, we are purposely repeating it. Not sure what the topic will be yet, but something juicy to get everyone excited and opinionated.
What are you most looking forward to this year? What’s your favorite thing about TempleFest in general?
I enjoy shopping and getting to visit with people quietly, one on one, as we shop. I enjoy the time between, at the fire, at the tents. I do like to take classes with the guest of honor, as well. This year, Judika will be doing two workshops. I also like teaching and running rituals for folks myself.
Can you describe the atmosphere of the festival overall?
A gathering of individuals coming together in community. It’s definitely got a Witchy feel to it! Many have commented to me they are surprised we use things in public that other pagan groups might shy away from. Yet, we also attract families with kids, folks in jeans, t-shirts and baseball hats, along with the robes, cloaks, loin cloths and brooms. We gather around the fire, and I think it evokes something primary and powerful from Witches in ages past and times in the future.
What’s your funniest TempleFest memory?
I think passing a glass of absinthe to someone who didn’t know what it was, when sitting around the fire. The look on their face. It was a bit too green and bitter, despite the sugar in it. They almost choked and yelled at me for not warning them. Who needs a warning about absinthe? It’s not like it was hemlock!
How about your favorite memory from TempleFests past?
One of my favorite moments was going on a weed walk with one of the local herbal teachers at the very first TempleFest. It was education, relaxed and exactly what I needed at the time. Small group of herbal adventurers.
Who else helps make TempleFest possible?
The amazing Team TempleFest. I really do very little to make TempleFest happen with everything else I’m responsible for in the Temple. We have amazing “Three Rays” team leaders, each with their area of expertise to organize. TempleFest is put on through our Aquarius Ministry, and has been the baby of Lead Minister Lisa over these many years. She is working so well with her coven sisters Nicole and Alix. Jocelyn, our treasurer, makes so much possible through the use of her farm. We have always had amazing support on site from longtime Team TempleFest members and TOW ministers.
Everybody really pitches in and helps in some way. I run the class programming and am indebted to the many wonderful presenters who offer their time to present and teach the community. The vendors and our vendor coordinator, Beth, has gotten us great crafters and artisans to offer their magickal goodies to us. And we have a new generation of volunteers form the online school working, as they can, to help out.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for attendees? (practical and magickal – not that those are necessarily mutually exclusive)
Pace yourself. Don’t try to do everything, but make sure you do something! Take time to hang out and visit. Drink lots of water. Dance. Be okay having an experience that releases something. It’s a safe place for doing magickal work in a community setting.
What, above all else, do you hope people take away from this year’s festival?
An experience with the magick, with the otherworldly, is the most important thing to me … I think that is a reason to come to TempleFest.
Attend TempleFest 2016
TempleFest, held at 96 Woodman Road in South Hampton, NH, begins Friday, July 29 at 5 p.m. and ends Sunday, July 31 at 4 p.m.