Newsletter

Founder’s Corner: Hecate’s Choice

The Temple celebrates the Feast of Hecate on August 13th each year. I have had the pleasure of leading the feast multiple years, and Hecate has become an important goddess in my life.

I wrote the following story as a teaching story, but I am sure it was inspired by the Goddess herself. I read it to the people gathered at the Feast of Hecate while the priestesses and priests ready themselves to do oracular work. This story is about how I see Hecate. It weaves some of her traditional lore with my own experience of her. This story can also be found in the newest Copper Cauldron book, Foundations of the Temple, which premiered this past weekend at TempleFest. May her torch in the darkness guide us home!

Blessings,
Adam Sartwell
Founder and Virgo lead minister

Hecate’s Choice: A New Tale of Hecate

by Adam Sartwell

Long ago when the world was young and the battles for the universe between the Titans and the gods had ended, the gods met with each other at the foot of Mount Olympus. They gathered to decide how they were going to divide the spoils of war. They deliberated about lands, animals, and other  things under their domain until finally it was time to decide which humans they would champion. First spoke Zeus, king of the gods.

“I will take those the humans who rule over others and make the laws, men of prestige and significance. They will embrace justice in my name.”

Then spoke Hera, queen of the gods.

“I shall have the married women for my own and those women who are pregnant or mothers. They shall find succor and solace under my patronage.”

Then spoke Ares, lord of war.

“I will take the warriors and men of battle. I shall heap glory upon them all.”

Athena, goddess of wisdom, said on to the other gods: “I shall take the strategists, crafters, and lords of commerce. They shall thrive with the blessing of my wisdom.”

Then spoke Poseidon.

“I shall have the sailors and fishermen and bless them with the use of my ocean.”

Then announced Hades, “I shall take the dead that come to Tartarus and the Elysian Fields; they shall suffer or be pleased in measure of their past lives.”

Aphrodite said, “The lovers will be mine and those with shining beauty. I will grace them with fertility.”

So on and on the Olympians chose the best and brightest of their own perspective fields of influence and enhanced each one’s blessings.

In the end there were groups of people who did not fit these groups. These beings trembled and quaked unknowingly as each god passed them by. Then as it seemed all gods had made their choices, from the darkness came Hecate. The Titan who was still revered by all the gods even after their war. She looked at those still left to be taken. Her compassion moved her to speak.

“Greatest of gods, hear me. You have made your choices, and now I would make mine. I shall take all who have been left behind. The not chosen, the unwanted, the seemingly unredeemable, the outcasts, the lunatic, the poor, the malformed, the victim, the homeless, the lost, the murderer, I shall take them and guide them with my torch out of the darkness. I shall witness acts of violence both to bring compassion to the souls perpetrating and the victims to bring justice and succor in kind. I shall take the shades and specters, those who can’t find their way, to help them finish their business and lead them home. I shall take the unloved and scorned and hold them dear. I will remind them all of the power of choice, the wisdom of necessity, and the love of my compassion.”

All the gods were shocked at this choice. They saw how they had chosen only those who were bright reflections of themselves and their greatness. They had forgotten the lowly souls who needed them most. Hearing this compassionate choice, Zeus was moved.

“For this act of compassion and wisdom, I shall bless you alone Hecate with status above the other gods. I offer you three boons: You shall have the power that I have to grant any wish that is petitioned of you. I shall give you rulership  and free passage over a place in Tartarus below, the world of men and the sea and the sky, so you may be with any who need you. I give you the keys to all kingdoms. Lastly I give you the power to chose your last boon. As I will it is so!”

Hecate replied: “I thank you, Lord Zeus, for this boon. I shall tell the people of the world that if ever they should need a thing and wish to petition me, let them go to the crossroads that are my sacred space, with a meal as offering and their wish writ on a slip under the dish. They shall leave both at the crossroads and turn away and not look back until they are home. This meal shall feed the dogs and poor homeless and I shall look on them with favor of what they truly need.

“For my boon I ask for a race of my own that shall like me span all the races and be born to all. They shall be born with the potential to bring success in love, to curse or bless, to speak to beasts, to converse and congress with spirits, to command the weather, to cast out blight, to read the messages of the starry heaven, to see the future, to conjure treasure and fortune, to heal the sick, and kill despair.  Some shall be born and some shall be remade. They shall be all manner of people and trades. They shall be called Witches and may be loved or hated, and live between to shape them to necessity.  They shall aid me in my great work to aid the forgotten and the rest of man.”

And so it was decided. The gods and Titans stood on the Mount of Olympus holding hands and said: “As we will it, so shall it be!”

A Summer Evening Reflection

by Tracey Frink

As my husband and I walked home, the sun set in the west, fire meeting water. A house finch trilled for its mate, and she came flying across the road to join him whilst the pungent aroma of summer and green, ripening earth hung in the air. To feel our feet touch the earth and to be joined with the elements in this way was, itself, magickal. As dusk draped her soft cloak around us, the cicadas were softly singing. The air was rife with life.  A fire had been lit, and the fire faeries were dancing. The smoke rose, carrying with it our hopes and our dreams to the waiting ears of the Divine. The cares of the day were transmuted to peace and serenity, our conversation, consecrated.

Tracey R. Frink is a modern mystic, healer, equestrian and faery lover. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina. She has studied all the great world religions and is forever trying to throw her arms around the world. She is enrolled in her second year in TOW and is looking forward to her studies. She holds a Master of Divinity and is currently a Masters Student of Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Equine Assisted Mental Health. She is a Reiki Master and an avid barrel racer.

The Queer Mysteries: Midsummer – Pride

“Listen to me when I say, I’m beautiful in my way, ‘Cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby. I was born this way.” — Lady GaGa, “Born This Way” Born This Way

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month and the Temple of Witchcraft is observing the occasion by marching in the 2014 Boston Pride Parade, proudly carrying our banner that says “Temple of Witchcraft: Love, Will & Wisdom.” We have this  done for several years now, succeeding the Independent Pagans of New England, who carried the torch for many years before us. (Want to march with us? Check out the Facebook event, email me at gemini@templeofwitchcraft.org, or just show up at Copley Square before 10 am on Saturday, June 14th and look for our banner!)

What does it mean when we talk about “queer pride” and “Pride” as a queer mystery? Much modern spiritual lore suggests pride is a failing, after all. “Pride goeth before a fall” we’re told, and hubris, or overweening pride, is one the tragic flaws of many a Greek hero. For that matter, what are we proud of? As some ask, whether sexuality is nature or nurture, it seems largely fixed at a very early age, and certainly not something we choose, so it is an achievement of which we are proud?

Our pride is invested in different achievements. Through the mystery of coming out, we learned to say “This is who I am.” Through the mystery of ecstasy, we experienced the paradox of being a part of, and apart from, everything. We “find ourselves” anew and learn what it means to be who (and what) we are. As I mentioned in talking about the mystery of ecstasy, one of its key concepts is the return: We must come back from that state of ecstatic bliss, return to the Realized World of form, time, and change, and put what we have learned to work. That work, saying “I will create something better” is the mystery of Pride.

That “something better” is for our community, our people. Pride is not the aggrandizement of self, but just the opposite: It is humble service to a higher ideal, intended to elevate everyone, a dedication to smoothing the way for those who come after you. It is the creation of sacred space—queer space—that not only says “You are safe here” but goes beyond to say “You are special. You are loved and celebrated here.” Pride is having enough of a sense of self, a sense of worth, to not be satisfied with mere “acceptance.” It says, “I’m better than that. We deserve better than that, and I’m going to help make it happen.”

It is fitting that Pride is associated with the longest, and therefore brightest, day of the year, when the Sun reaches the peak of its power. Pride is about shining a brilliant light—not a spotlight on us, but a light that illuminates, a beacon others can see to guide them to the better spaces and ideas that we create. It is fitting that one of the pagan gatherings for Men Who Love Men in the United States is called “Prometheus Rising,” as Pride is a Promethean power: daring to steal fire from heaven in order to give it as a gift and liberate those kept in darkness, and accepting the consequences of that action, all because it is necessary.

Pride is the assertion of the Will, the power to demand change and to make it happen. Rather than accept what is, it is the ability to see what could be, and the determination to bring it into being. It is heat as well as light, the fires of passion, dedication, and, yes, anger: The patrons of the Stonewall Inn, did not act initially from a higher vision. They had simply had enough: enough of harassment, enough of persecution, enough of shame, enough of mistreatment and, for the first time, they fought back, and the community put the power of that Pride behind better visions of the future, a better world for themselves and those who would follow them. They marched for their recognition and their rights, and helped to earn them, passing the torch on to the generations after them, to us, to continue the work.

Pride embraces and seeks to create community in common cause. It’s a time for the diverse people of the queer rainbow to come together as one, not to quash our differences for everyone else’s comfort, but to celebrate our differences, from the mainstream community and even amongst ourselves. I have seen the powerful magick and sacred space this creates, when our community sets aside our cliques and artificial niches, and it is necessary for the pursuit of our common rights. As Benjamin Franklin observed at the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

In that common cause, with our Pride, we raise up new possibilities and create a new and better world than the one we left behind upon realizing our differences and claiming them as our own. We celebrate who and what we are and use it, not as a stigma or source of shame, but as a source of strength and inspiration. Blogger Joe Jervis, activist and author of Joe.My.God, sums it up brilliantly in his annual Pride Month post:

Possibly you’ve heard the Jewish in-joke that sums up the meaning of all Jewish holidays? “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” My Pride version?

They wish we were invisible.

We’re not.

Let’s dance.

A happy and blessed Pride to all!

 

pet ministryby Sharon Morrison

I would like to start off by telling you a story that happens to be quite true. To say that this tale has a happy ending would be false, so I will leave out names to protect those who were responsible for the events you are about to learn of.

Close to 8 years ago I was living in a nice, quiet, suburban neighborhood, where everybody knew everybody else. So if something happened everyone pretty much found out about it.

One evening I was sitting in the house not doing much of anything when I noticed at my sliding glass door three kittens just staring at me. After a while of returning their stares, admiring how cute they were I realized these kittens were born not too long ago to one of the many outdoor cats around the neighborhood. I opened my sliding glass door and two of the kittens stepped back a ways and one just sat there so sick–goopy eyes and just not well at all. He was coaxed in the house with some bologna so he could be looked at further. The other two were a bit more of a challenge. We finally managed to get one of the very feral kittens in the house where he proceeded to hiss and scream and literally climb my walls. The other cat which was later named Frog would not come close enough so we could not bring her in. The horrified kitten climbing my walls we named Rocky and put him in a spare room. We thought perhaps he would be calmer the next day. The plan was to take them to our local shelter where they would be adopted since everyone loves kittens. However, the next day Rocky was not one bit calmer and if we had brought him to the shelter he would have immediately been put down, that is what they did in the little town I lived in.

We opened up the door and let him back outside and decided we would care for him the best we could outdoors and get him neutered and a vet check at a later date. So now we have this sick kitty in the house who was almost a twin to Rocky, we decided to name him Pumpkin being that he was an orange tabby. We took him to the vet where he received medication and got well, my daughter who was then about 4 years old just fell in love with him, so back to the vet for shots and a checkup and there you have it, he is sitting on my bed now as I write this. FYI yes he is neutered and strictly indoors and absolutely no longer feral.

As for Rocky and Frog, we took care of them outside. We had a blanket on our deck with some food and water– then one day Rocky disappeared. Frog stayed around and our plan for her was the same as it was for Rocky, if we could ever get close enough. Then she too disappeared; we were all saddened by this but then a few months later Frog reappeared. She came back carrying a kitten in her mouth as she crossed my yard and went under the deck of the house next door. After she did this a few more times I walked over to take a look– low and behold Frog had kittens. Under a year herself, I was sad but smiling at the same time thinking “Well Ok” now we can get her fixed and find the kittens new homes. Not so much— I knocked on the neighbor’s door to show her what was under her deck and she immediately said “Oh how cute! I am going to keep them all! So I though “Oh cool,” not realizing what she meant was, she was going to keep them all outside and no trips to the vet– you get the picture. Eventually Frog brought her kittens on my deck where I still had the blanket, water and food out. Sadly Frog disappeared again but the kittens would come to my deck to eat and sleep while the neighbor would come and grab them, it was a never ending cycle. I went to the animal shelter but they were so full and had no room. I was told there were no guarantees so right then I knew the kittens would not have a chance.

We watched the kittens grow and of course some were female and thus another and another, litter of kittens were born. Before long there were twenty or so cats and kittens wandering around my yard and sleeping on my deck. The neighbor claimed them all! I asked her “Are you not going to find homes for them or get any of them spayed or neutered?” Her response was “Oh no, kittens are cute I love watching them play. They are so much fun.” Little by little we would bury a cat killed by another animal or hit by a car. It was heartbreaking. I had named them all and I told her when so and so was hit and we buried him. “Oh thank you,” was her response. I asked “why not place an ad in the paper and find them homes? Or I can place an ad?” I got this glare and she told me “these are my cats and you will not be giving them to anyone, I take care of them and perhaps they would not be having so much difficulty if you would stop feeding them as well.” Shaking my head I just walked home. I did find homes for two and took in one that I kept and “yes” she did get spayed.

There was a house near me that was vacant for a while and eventually a family moved in and that woman was not a cat person. She did not like it when I would walk over to say “hello” and have a line of cats behind me. I just told her they were not mine but they followed me because I gave them shelter from the cold, unlike our neighbor. Months passed and more litters of kittens came and went when the new neighbor came to me enraged that one of the cats was laying on her new patio furniture and using it as a personal scratching post and had ripped holes in the cushions. I told her again, the lady next door was staking claim to the cats. She immediately went to her and they exchanged words and that was that or so I thought.

The next day there was not a cat to be found. I knocked on the old neighbor’s door and asked where the cats were and she said she was not dealing with threats and she took them all to the shelter and shut the door in my face. I immediately went to the shelter and was told, “Yes, a ton of cats were brought in, most of them with upper repertory infections so they are in a different room.” I could not go in but I could see the others that were ok. There was one who I had named Princess who was very pregnant, I asked what was going to happen to her? I was told the kittens will be aborted and then she will be put up for adoption. My heart just sank. I went back the next day and I asked about the cats again and she said the vet had been in and they could not run the risk of spreading infection so all of the cats that were in the back room had been put down.

I had to leave. My heart was crushed and I was in tears. Thinking I should have just found them all homes regardless of the threats made against me if I did. I immediately went to the neighbor with the ripped patio cushion and told her she would not be having any more issues with cats because they were all taken to the shelter and put down. She felt horrible or at least that was the face she put on for me.

About a month later Frog showed back up quite sick. She found me and lay under my vehicle for a while—I knew what was going on. She came home to die. She managed to crawl her way to the bushes in the front of my house and she just lay there looking at me as she slowly drifted away.

I cannot stress enough to you all how important it is to spay and neuter your pets, nobody should have to witness what I did and no animal should have to suffer this way.

Below you will find references for low cost spay and neuter programs across the United States:

Sharon Morrison is presently in her third year with the Temple of Witchcraft’s Mystery School. She is an avid animal lover and believes that there are many people out there that would love to do the right thing but perhaps just do not know how or where. She feels we need to be their voices and that “a life is a life regardless of how many legs they stand on.” One of her favorite expressions is, “ animals are my favorite people.”

Sharing the Road

by Rachael Mueller

Driving into work this morning, I had a wonderful little thought come to me, nothing too deep: There are all different types of drivers on the road — some painfully slow and cautious, some reckless and rude — but I never really think, “Oh, I will never drive on this road again because of such and such driver.”

I will revisit that road again and drive my path, because it is the path that I (and that other driver) need to be on to get where we need to go. Whether that other driver is there again or not really does not concern me too much.

Rachael is a recent graduate of the Temple of Witchcraft Seminary, currently serving as the Teaching Assistant for the Mystery School’s Witchcraft Four class.  She also teaches an in-person Inner Temple Study Session in St. Louis as well as several other classes at a local metaphysics store. This upcoming weekend, she will be overseeing the Temple Booth for the St. Louis Pagan Picnic.

Tales of a Fire Priestess

The slam of a Prius brought my attention away from the glowing coals inside the sacred fire pit.
Sarah had arrived and was making her way over, arms laden with a heavy cardboard box filled with
items from her past. She called, asking if there was something the spirits could do to help her move on
with her life after a divorce.

“I want to forget about him and move on. There are other things I want to focus on now” she said.

“Sarah, what you need is a Phoenix ritual” I told her.

“A what?” Sarah asked.

“A Phoenix ritual”, I explained. “We burn what we want to let go of or what’s stagnating life, let
the fire transmute the energy, then rebirth it, drawing new life up from the ashes.”

“Destroy what no longer serves then create? It’ll feel good burning the crap he gave me,” she
mused.

“Yup. Wham, Bam, cycle complete. Let me know when you want to come over, I’ll give you a
hand,” I offered.

The day arrived and I was prepping the fire, gathering wood, and telling the spirits what was
going to be happening while waiting. The fire was just a pile of hot coals now. I leaned in and from the
embers I blew breathe of life, air creating the flame which began to consume the earth’s wood. Nearby
sat a bucket of water which would in turn destroy the fire should it rage out of control.

“That was quick. Have you been doing this a long time?” Sarah asked.

Three days, I thought, I’ve been here for the last 3 days. Three days basking in the flames of the
sacred fire I built under August’s noon sun, breaking 100 degrees outside the fire. Hours spent
drumming, dancing circles around the pit, basking in its smoke as it washed out impurities, the sweat
and ash dripping from my flesh. I’m sure there are easier ways to bond with fire but spirit knows this is
my way, a shamanic way, a way of ordeal, over the top, fit for a Viking, and for me anything less would
be cheating.

Sarah’s right though. Fire is lighting for me quicker the longer I stay at this pit. Fire and I talk,
we merge. Intent and relationships are built. Fire, by its light, guides the way, the tinder sparks to life,
the kindling soon follows. I could not expect her to understand, can anyone truly understand the path
of another? So I simply reply, “Yeah, it’s something I do.”

Sarah takes out old photos, cards, writings, and an old t-shirt depicting a concert she went to
years ago. Her former life is tossed into the flames as I drum. She reads a short poem and reflects on
the pain being released, the heat and flames grow. Amidst the burning, consuming, destructive fire my
own thoughts go back to the last three days.

* * * * *

Heavy rocks, lugged across the field, under the sun, carefully placed to encircle this temple of
fire, as I called to the gods to dedicate it as a sacred site. Loki answers, coming in, taking control of my
arm and hand, to draw several runes bound together in the dirt while speaking one work.

“Muspellheim.” Similar to how one calls their astral temple, I was to use the runes and sacred fire pit
to anchor Muspellheim here for ritual that evening. One of the 9 worlds of the Norse, an inhospitable
plain of fire. Home to salamanders and fire giants, and ruled by Surt. If I believe the writings of Raven
Kaldera he’s supposed to be my godfather—a godfather to all of Loki’s children. He’s old, he’s fire, he’s
the spark of creation. He has seen gods and worlds made and destroyed. When he’s appeared to me I
see a large bald man, square face and jaw, black and red, pulsating with the magma that is his skin.
Just another family barbeque, nothing like an evening of steaks charred roasted in an elemental plain
with your dysfunctional relatives.

Opening the gates the rest of the world faded away and I became blinded by the smoke from its
smoldering landscape.

“Who comes to Muspellheim gets burned”

Words whispered in my ear as I lay burning on the sands of the fire circle, no longer a circle but
a beach next to a fiery boiling ocean. I listened to the ocean steaming and heard the drumming of the
fire giants nearby. Shards of hot glass, sand transformed by heat, pierced my skin as I lay writhing in
burning agony on the sand. I silently praised my guardians, without whom I was certain death would
have already come. Of course, outside my own hallucinations, to any innocent onlookers, I appeared as
a raving lunatic rolling around screaming on a lawn next to a bonfire.

As I screamed and cried shouts for help, I heard whispered into my ear “ This Fire is Chaos. What
have we taught you about Chaos?”

“It will burn me?!”

“What else?”

Really? Now they’re going to question me? I’m being burned alive here. Dig deep Kim, find the
ability to respond if you want to get out of this.

“It’s always moving, always consuming. Creation and Destruction. Life and Death. Constant
change. Its opposite is order, yet chaos is order, it is its own opposite. Stagnation. Death without
renewal. To master chaos one first has to master order. Only by mastering order could one hope to
guide the chaos into shape. Instead of being consumed by total destruction one must learn to sit in total
harmony with fire reigning down on all sides. If chaos was emotion, order was the mind. Master the
mind to master order. Only then could you reach out and grab the fire without it consuming you.”

“You expect fire and brimstone here, so that is what you are finding.”

I hate when they point out the obvious. My emotions, my fear, my pain, all responding to my
surroundings and expectations–inducing panic, inducing my current reality. I breathed into my mind
and calmed it. Come on Kimberly, this is all in your head, now man up. The fire continued to burn at
me, the glass continued to poke at my skin, but none of it had an effect. I was free of the limitation I
believed I had here.

* * * * *

By the time I finished my own reflections Sarah’s items were ash and the energy was
rising just above the flames. She gave the phoenix a name, one that signified the new life she was
creating. It took form and flew off to set new paths towards creating the desired manifestation. As
Sarah departed we gave final gratitude. “And with that we’d like to thank the fire and gods. Remember
to act on any opportunities surrounding your intent, no matter how small. They are not coincidence, but
the universe answering.”

After her own gratitude I let her know one last thing, “Repeat this on your own when you need
it. I’ve shown you, now it’s your own ritual, your own responsibility to do.”

* * * * *

As I waited for the coals to die out, I circled the fire pit with the sun rising to high noon. Beads
of sweat dripped and I recalled an old Klingon saying. “Today I am a warrior. I must show you my heart.
I travel the river of blood.” The reply from the spirits came quick. “You are a priestess. You walk the path
of compassion. Let us show you your soul.” Please. Please do, I thought as I drifted ahead in time to the
fall to my planned trip to an active volcano in the Pacific, an otherwise lovely tourist attraction but for
me, a planned shamanic week. Though I would see plenty of beauty, it was education and with my
spirit friends I knew it would not be your typical tourism. Many tell me I should simply vacation
sometime and leave spiritual behind, but that’s not possible. There is no separation in mundane and
divine aspects anymore. Spirit is everywhere, I am its student, and anywhere I go there would be
education and lessons.

My thoughts wander further, setting in motion events only my own thoughts could create, and a
wonder if I will ever learn. I am certain it will be a grueling week. I wonder what deities I will find at this
major hot spot of fire activity, what challenges and adventures? What lessons spirit will show me, what
insights I’ll gather, or if I’ll finally become a travel writer, depicting a harrowing adventure tale of how I
escaped a volcanic temple after stealing an idol and being chased by natives and lava….

Before I can go too far through my imagination I am reprimanded. “That is the future. This is
now. See the coals? Bring them back to life. Raise the fire up again with but your breath this time.”
I do as my teacher bids. On my hands and knees, face into the hot pit, I bow to the great fire
and with my breathe and some more wood it is soon blazing anew. Soon I am dancing again, soon I am
drumming, soon I am once again drenched in sweat as my education continues. I have been told not
many journey to Muspellheim, but I know those that go are transformed and learn to call the fire home.

Kimberly Vale is a Shaman, a Priest, a Priestess, Massage Therapist, Reiki Master-Teacher, a Writer, and budding Fire Tender. As a Shaman, Catholic, Buddhist, and Pagan she finds herself working with people of all religious denominations to show them ways to reach the divine beyond what their traditional priests and dogma allows while doing what she can to facilitate healing in all manners available to her. www.KimberlyVale.com

by Christopher Penczak

We recently had a graduation of the first Witchcraft Five students who have been students of the Mystery School since the founding of the Temple. For those who might not be aware, the Temple of Witchcraft started with a series of classes I began in the 1990s. These classes evolved into both a community and a tradition, with the needs of both being met through with the establishment of the religious nonprofit organization we have today. This organization allowed us the structure and resources we needed to pursue our larger goals and visions, and graduates of the previous classes were welcomed to be “grandfathered” into the legal group.

Since then, we’ve offered continuous public sabbats and esbats, created some “advanced teachings” for ministerial skills, started twelve ministries, opened an office space, and bought property to establish a permanent temple with indoor and outdoor ritual space. To say it’s been busy, exciting, magickal, and somewhat exhausting would be quite true, and this current graduating class has been with us every step of the way over the last five years, ever since we started the process for legal recognition. I’ve been very proud of them. It’s not an easy process, and a lot is asked of them on many levels.

Rather than the traditional quasi-Masonic three degrees of initiation, the Temple tradition and Mystery School have five, based upon the five elements. The fifth level graduates are recognized as High Priestesses and High Priests of the tradition and as “Ministerial Members” of the Temple organization. Many take this level for their own spiritual development, as there is a difference between a Priest/ess and a Minister. Priest/esses serve the gods and spirits. Ministers serve the community. Graduates are encourage to explore both of these roles, though some favor one over the other.

Those who seek to deepen their service to the community, to be official teachers or hold greater responsibility within the Temple, can petition to be ordained ministers. Those that do receive a key from us. The key is a symbol of the goddess of Witches, Hecate, but also means we trust you fully with the keys of the Temple, to come and go as you please in the Great Work. Many graduate, and take years to fully “bloom” into a role of community service. Some leave us to explore other things and, of those that leave, some return and some do not. This is the way of things. All flowers bloom when their times comes. Nothing can be rushed. Wild seeds are spread, and hopefully many new things beyond our gates grow.

The tough thing about getting legal recognition to further some goals is that you often have to build more structures than you’d like, or give names to things for people to recognize them. In essence, you have to create a shared cultural vocabulary, and then teach it. With any form of communication and vocabulary, there is always a chance for misunderstanding and miscommunication. These are the growing pains of community. It’s all part of the growing and learning process.

One troubling trend I’ve noticed is the equation of degree or title with status. Some see it purely as community status, which is iffy at best, while others make the incorrect assumption of spiritual status and authority. You see it everywhere, not just in Witchcraft and ceremonial magick, but in Reiki, in yoga, and even in academic higher education. A Reiki master is not an enlightened master, but a Reiki teacher, in the sense of the Japanese sensei. You might be surprised at how often I have to explain that.

At heart, the Temple of Witchcraft walks the balance of an Aquarian organization; we are willful individuals working together in common cause of community. We sometimes call ourselves a meritocracy, meaning the more you demonstrate responsibility and capability, the more responsibility and trust will be given to you. Decisions are made by those who show up and participate and help make things happen.

A degree structure in a magickal, spiritual, tradition helps provide perspective. When working with deeper spiritual techniques, one builds upon another. It points out a natural progression of knowledge and experience expected for the next stage. Knowing what degree someone has completed gives members of the community a reasonable understanding of what they have been exposed to and theoretically experienced and learned, keeping in mind that each teacher and each student handles the material in their own way.

In our tradition, each degree also focuses on a particular mystery, a particular type of Witchcraft practice. When offering advice to someone currently in, or who had  just completed, the first degree, my suggestions will be appropriate to that material, and might be different than if a fourth degree student is bringing the same kind of issue to me. When someone has completed all five degrees, they have been exposed to both a deep and wide survey of Witchcraft and Western Occultism that safely prepares graduates to pioneer new ways and explore more “advanced” education and concepts, all with a strong foundation.

While one can take pride in personal accomplishments, a degree does not confer status over anyone else or imply spiritual mastery. In the Temple, a second degree student does not outrank a first degree student, and is not “in charge” of lower level students, though in the ethos of common cause might be expected to offer encouragement and support to first degree students. More experienced students are asked to mentor less experienced students in the system. This is a way of shared community responsibility, and the ethos of sisterhood/brotherhood with those who walk the path with us, tradition-mates and fellow members of the same spiritual order. Yet all you can assume about a second degree graduate is that they have demonstrated the necessary ritual skills with the magick circle, elements, spellcraft and ritual. That’s all it really means.

Likewise, a fifth degree graduate, a High Priest/ess or Minister, does not have a spiritual authority over anyone else. In fact, quite the contrary, there is an expectation to offer service to the community, and take on greater responsibility, while also modeling your spiritual values and maintaining a magickal practice. Not an easy thing to do, and not simply conferred with a title or number. Sovereignty often translates to service. Initiation does not confer mastery or enlightenment, but is a tool and blessing to help along the path to those goals.

Just as degrees in the academic world can let us know some things about people’s experiences and qualifications, we should not confuse those accomplishments with anything else. I have a Bachelors Degree in Music Performance. It does not mean I’m any better or worse a person than those who have not gone beyond a High School Diploma, nor does it mean I was not smart enough to get a degree in a hard science (I started school by testing out of the freshmen credits of the Chemical Engineering major) or go onto a Masters or Doctorate. I’ve known people with such accomplishment who are amazing on a multitude of levels, and others who are not only devoid of general emotional intelligence, but also common sense. But if I needed to hire an architect, I’d probably look for someone who graduated with a degree in architecture, and I would hope that my doctor has a degree in medicine. But the doctor, architect, or PhD is not better or worse than the self-taught painter or the social worker. They have simply focused on something different. The only value is what I, or anyone else, places upon their work based upon current needs, wants and preferences.

Having a degree, rank or title is a constant reminder of what you have learned, or what tools you have at your disposal, and what your responsibility is in the community. It’s like the Witch’s Contract with the Man in Black! What have you been given, and what must you do? What have you agreed to? And are you holding up your end of the bargain of what you’ve been entrusted with?

We offer Witchcraft Five graduates Amber and Jet necklaces, usually chokers, to signify the service portion of the degree. They are the twin currents of life and death, bead by bead. Some earlier students seem to find getting the necklace a bigger motivation than learning the lessons, but thankfully that changes if they continue the work. I’m always surprised when someone thinks of themselves as “not professional” and considers themselves unable to contribute in a meaningful way. Anyone can help! One rather timid graduate of the Witchcraft Five program from many years ago asked if anyone could do a house cleansing of an unwanted spirit for a friend. I think she understood the lesson when we all told her she should do it. She had the skills; she just needed to apply them. One need not have a shingle on the door saying “Witch for Hire” to contribute.

Ultimately you know people by their actions, by their words, and by how they hold their consciousness and energy. You can have certificates, titles, credits, books, recommendations, fine jewelry, ritual swords, cloaks, and crowns, and never embody the spiritual energy symbolized by all those physical accoutrements. Many gain all sorts of accolades, but when a problem arises, they can’t apply any of their magickal or spiritual lessons to it. I’m stunned at the High Priestess or High Priest, who very much likes the title, but who is constantly cursing themselves and others, not intentionally, but with their harmful thoughts and words. Likewise, I know many who hold the energy of a healer, priestess, or minister, but who have not one outer world qualification, certificate, or degree to show for it. Their true credentials are obvious to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Look. Listen. Think. Not only towards others, but more importantly to yourself. Strive to embody what you have claimed and earned.

Christopher Penczak is one of the three co-founders of the Temple of Witchcraft and the author of the Temple of Witchcraft series of books that form the nucleus of the teachings. Today he continues to teach, write, see private clients and travel to sacred sites with small groups. For more information on his personal work, please visit www.christopherpenczak.com.

Resistance Is Holy: Experiences in Prison Ministry

by Christopher Penczak

As I write this I reflect upon my day working at the Berlin State Prison in New Hampshire. I’ve been doing prison ministry there sporadically for a few years. I didn’t want to go. I’d been expanding my outreach to other prisons as requested, and the commitment got so involved that I had to turn down the newest prison’s request. It’s been a bit much, with Berlin being a little over three hours away–one way– from my home. Spending the day there can be rewarding, but draining–other days, just draining.

Those are the days that I’m reminded that it’s a prison and the people are there for a reason. Believe it or not, it can be easy to forget that. Most times I have fun. But the conversation can turn in a way that reminds you of the stark reality. Most of the time all I see are a really eager group of diverse seekers and practitioners, having the ups and downs of a magickal practice, just like the rest of us. We share problems and triumphs, and do ritual, healing, and visionary work together. Just like any other group I facilitate. On those more plentiful days, things are good. Many people are surprised to hear that I and many other ministers from all denominations enjoy prison ministry. Sure it’s tough and scary at times, as the situation can seem overwhelming, but I’ve also met some amazingly sincere, intelligent, and beautiful souls; forcing me to look at my own preconceptions about prisoners and criminals.

But lately between the work load, some difficult conversations, the fatigue of being the only constant in-person Pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft prison minister in the state of New Hampshire that I know of, and the general stress and strains of all my other hats, I didn’t want to go. I was hitting resistance.

Thankfully I had seen a very wise Tweet by fellow author and magician Andrieh Vitimus:

“Lack of resistance does not mean you are on the right path, it only specifies that the path you are on is uncontested or is easy. Obstacles sometimes mean you are on the exact right path because by overcoming them you grow and meaning is grasped. Challenge sometimes causes the growth…. Ease is no certainty of True Will.”

So true! Sometimes we’d like to think we are only in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing, fulfilling our divine will when things are easy! How untrue has that been for me. Often what I really end up being called to do is very hard. With practice it becomes easier, but working your will can be a challenge, and challenges can bring great strength and rewards, even if in the moment, they don’t feel great. Sometimes in a desire for the easy, peaceful way, assuming that it is more spiritual, we can forget that simple fact.

To get healthier through exercise – there is resistance, both psychological, but also the literal physical resistance to gain strength and stamina. Food, to release it’s blessed nutrients, must break down in the body, but it initially resists breaking down. Our whole digestive process is designed to break down the resisting structure, so we can digest it. Nature herself is full of stresses and strains, competition for resources providing mechanisms for evolution. While Nature does work in harmony on the whole, when humanity doesn’t mess with the balance, it’s not harmonious for all individuals involved. Sometimes the wolf eats the deer. Sometimes the deer gets away. And that is how it should be.

And sometimes you’ve committed to do something and you don’t want to do it. And that’s exactly where you need to be. The process of moving through the resistance, triggered simply by showing up despite obstacles, is the key to unlocking what an old teacher of mine called the “blesson.” The morning of my visit, I woke early from an awful night sleep. I locked my keys in the car trying to get everything together. Once in, I lost my phone under the seat. My previous visit, I drove 45 minutes before I realized I didn’t have my wallet, and no prison is going to let you in without government ID, so I had to turn around, get it, and turn back. Thankfully Steve offered to meet me half way with my wallet—so lots of resistance, conscious and unconscious. But this time, it really paid off.

I had a beautiful drive through the mountains. Every so often, when driving, I have what I call a “mountain talk” experience. I perceive the mountains talking to each other, and sometimes they will talk to me. But I had never had it in on this drive. On that day, I felt the support from the spirits of the mountains. I felt the support of the spirit of the river that runs through Berlin, New Hampshire. I had no idea what I was going to teach, or what ritual I was going to present, and in the last half hour of the drive, had a great feeling of presence from my faery allies, suggesting we work with them in a Walpurgisnacht style ritual, rather than a more cheery fire fertility Beltane, which has been a theme of late.

After arriving, we had really good conversation. We shared a fun meal together. Four new men joined us, and it was wonderful to connect and hear their stories, even the difficult parts. I got some great advice about something else from the full time Christian chaplain there who has been a tremendous ally. It was a long day, spending six plus hours on the road, with four hours in the prison doing the work, but a day where I felt the work was holy and purposeful. But the resistance to me getting there was even more holy. It was the process, like digesting something, that allowed me to both absorb and share these blessings and lessons. So even when it is tough, and I might prefer the grace filled free flow down easy street, I’m still thankful for my resistance. I hope you are too.

If you are interested in learning more or getting more involved in the Temple of Witchcraft Pagan Prison Ministry, through correspondences or if qualified, making in person visits, please write to Alura Rose, our director of Prison Ministry, at arose@templeofwitchcraft.org.

Christopher Penczak is one of the three co-founders of the Temple of Witchcraft and the author of the Temple of Witchcraft series of book that forms the nucleus of the teachings. He began his journey as a skeptic, and through his skepticism, found the philosophy of Witchcraft as a Science through students of Laurie Cabot. He eventually went on to study with Laurie in the Cabot Tradition, and continued onward upon a Crooked Path that included a synthesis of world occultism, magick, and healing practices. After a short stint working in A&R at a record label putting his degree in Music Business to good use, he soon found himself teaching classes, leading workshops, and publicly celebrating the sabbats at stores and centers in the New England area. Along with professionally teaching and spiritual consultation practice, he began writing and has since penned over twenty books and recordings on the topics of magick and metaphysics. Gay Witchcraft was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, and he’s won several awards from the Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR). His work is particularly focused upon expanding the culture and techniques of Witchcraft, looking to both older traditions of shamanic practice and ceremonial magick, as well as new philosophies and ideas found in Theosophy and modern science. His heart is found in the green world, working with herbs, flower essences and plant spirits. To provide a forum for community, support and opportunities for service, he helped form the Temple of Witchcraft, taking what was originally a system of study turned tradition into a legally recognized nonprofit, as well as co-founded a publishing company, Copper Cauldron Publishing, to support his own work and the Temple. The first release, The Three Rays of Witchcraft, has become a foundational text for the Temple. Today he continues to teach, write, see private clients and travel to sacred sites with small groups. For more information on his personal work, please visit www.christopherpenczak.com.

The Queer Mysteries: Beltane – Ecstasy

“God is a DJ, life is a dance floor, love is the rhythm, and you are the music.” — Pink, “God is a DJ” Try This (2003)

My first experience with ecstasy was on the dance floor, under the pulsating lights. No, I’m not talking about the infamous club drug of the same name, I’m talking about ecstasy in terms of spiritual experience, its original meaning: ex stasis, to be outside of one’s self, in that eternal moment where time seems to stand still, the mind is quiet, and separation seems to dissolve.

I’m likely not alone in the experience, either, as one of the first ways I heard the ecstatic experience explained to a group of gay men was: “It’s like when you’re dancing and you really get into it…” with various nods of understanding from the audience.

Of course, this experience is not even limited to the queer community: in the book Trance Formation, author and researcher Robin Sylvan looks at the global rave culture and finds numerous examples of experiences we might call “ecstatic” or “shamanistic,” such as feelings of ego dissolution, oneness with everything, distortions in time, spiritual presences, or unexplainable joy and feelings of wholeness or intense meaningfulness. No surprise, really, since dancing to exhaustion following a driving beat in flickering half-light is one of the oldest ecstatic techniques known to humanity. Why, particularly, is it a queer mystery?

Perhaps because of the long association of nightclubs and dance with queer culture. One of the nicknames of the gay dance club is “gay church.” Ecstasy on the dance floor has for some time been the most accessible and affirming form of the practice available to the queer community. Additionally, there is a freeing quality to ecstatic practices that appeals strongly to oppressed or marginalized peoples. The hit song “Let It Go” from the Disney film Frozen is seen by many as an anthem of the kind of oppression queer people (as well as women and other marginalized groups) feel, and the exaltation of being free to express one’s true self. Other dance anthems, from “Born This Way” to “I Will Survive,” express a similar sentiment: there is joy to be found in letting it all go, dancing like nobody is watching (or like everybody is) and being fully, freely, who you really are.

This freedom is the first step to the even greater ecstasy of letting go of even who you “really” are, releasing all preconceptions of self to simply be in the eternal moment where the dichotomy between self and other seems to fall away and the question “who am I?” gives way to the experience of “I AM,” perhaps in the divine sense of “I am that I am,” as the burning bush spoke to Moses.

Seeking Ecstasy

It’s one thing to unintentionally dance yourself into ecstasy and another to seek that experience within a sacred context. Indeed, sometimes the initial unexpected experience leads to seeking, trying to understand the process and deliberately recreate it, as it did for me. Dancing to driving drumbeats around a sacred bonfire under the stars has proven just as effective as “the most magical gay nightclub in the world” (as the mid-festival celebration of the Between the Worlds queer pagan men’s festival has been called). Indeed, I’ve experienced both modes in the course of the same night.

The process of seeking ecstasy follows on the Mystery of Emergence from Ostara: Having had the strength to step out into the light and claim identity, the seeker now moves closer towards union with that light, shedding and leaving even that hard-won identity behind as part of the journey. It takes the same strength, the same daring, and also a paradoxical willingness to surrender, to stop fighting, and allow things to unfold of their own accord. One of our greatest barriers to ecstatic union is literally our-selves, the conscious parts of our identity that question, nag, or even fear the experience.

Creative Destruction

Of course, just as letting go of our-selves is vital to achieve ecstasy, so is letting go of the experience itself. Although the moment can seem timeless, we exist in time and so, therefore, it cannot last. We return from the ecstatic experience, a re-enactment of the divine Fall into space, time, and material existence, which may be gentle or harsh, not unlike our first transition from the ecstatic union of the womb to birth and independent existence. In the journey of the Tarot, we have ecstatically cast off the chains of the Devil, recognizing the illusions that imprison us, and experienced the fall of the Tower, plummeting from the heights of our experience. Ideally, we emerge from that into the Star: new hope, new potential, a new balance between elements of the self, a new openness to grow, change, and progress.

As Christopher Penczak outlines in his book The Gates of Witchcraft, ecstasy has a “dark side,” that of addiction. Sometimes the way people look to “let go” is through chemical means, whether it is an excess of alcohol, marijuana, or ecstasy (the drug) or even harder drugs like cocaine or crystal meth. Sacred use of intoxicants has a long history in the quest for ecstasy, but their use, and abuse, in a party culture is generally anything but sacred (although there are exceptions, as Sylvan’s Trance Formation points out). These substances are how some of the queer community try to achieve or enhance the ecstatic experience, or prolong it, so they never have to let go of that incredible, transformative feeling of oneness.

The power of ecstasy is not in remaining in that timeless, transcendent moment. If you could do so, and never return, how would that be any different from death? For all we know, death is another ecstatic transformation that moves us on, either to change and progress beyond this world or to exist in that timelessness and oneness forever (or both, but that paradox is another topic of discussion). Those who seek merely the ecstasy, and not the ways in which it can transform them upon their return, are chasing the end of their existence, whether they know it or not; an endless string of “ecstatic experiences” with no real growth or development afterwards is a sure sign of a spiritual thrill-seeker who has confused the experience with its purpose.

The power of ecstasy is that of creative destruction: It is the psychic blast that reveals the ego as nothing more than a sometimes useful illusion. It is the shamanic initiation of being torn apart, so the spirits can rebuild you more able to work with them. It is the paradox of letting go of everything you have, everything you think of as yourself, in order to make the leap across the Abyss and find your Higher Self waiting for you on the other side, because you are the one you have been waiting for.

Ecstasy is our birthright as spirits-made-flesh, living in space and time, to touch the timeless, eternal source. It is particularly the undeniable birthright of all people who have been maligned, marginalized, persecuted, or mistreated, because it is an experience that shows all those things for the wrongs that they are and reminds us of the sacred maxim we recite in the Temple: “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

Steve Kenson is a Temple founder and Gemini lead minister, making the Queer Mysteries a part of his ministry work. See his Ministerial Profile for more information. He is teaching and facilitating ritual at the Coph Nia festival for Men Who Love Men at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in Artemas, PA, August 6–10.

The Way of the Witch

While reflecting on the question posed to second year students in the Temple of Witchcraft as to why we started to practice Witchcraft, I have come to realize that I do not have a typical answer. I think the main reason that I became a Witch was to finally be true to myself instead of pleasing others—wanting their approval and even the approval of “God.”

As usual for me now, a few days before I even read the above question I was reminded in a meditation that I was drawn to Witchcraft long before I even knew what that was, being attracted to anything I thought of as “supernatural.” In my meditation I remembered my favorite books when I was very young. One was called, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet, and the other was the Berenstain Bears: Bears in the Night. As a 3 or 4-year-old child, they were magickal to me. One of my earliest memories is of watching Sesame Street and waiting for the Count to come on because I thought I would see something scary. I remember thinking in a child’s way that I knew I had seen something before that was supernatural and I wanted to see it again. I remember being disappointed that nothing really happened.

I would sneak over to the adult section of the library and look at pictures and later read about Big Foot and UFOs. I also remember watching scary movies in the afternoon on weekends and rooting for the Witches when they were persecuted or even when they were portrayed to kidnap children to convert them. I wanted to be one of those kids so badly and thought it was horrible that in the end the Witches were always defeated. Somehow even though I thought I wanted to be scared by reading or watching those things, it wasn’t scary to me. I really identified with those who were portrayed as mystical and didn’t buy the Hollywood message that they were evil or would hurt children. I wanted to be a Witch from as young as I can remember.

Besides my family indulging in my love of real haunted houses, UFOs, and scary movies, the overwhelming message was that there was a real possibility of going to Hell and only through pleasing those in religious authority could I go to Heaven. So, I hid my desire to become a Witch in Halloween costumes and things that were marginal, but still accepted by society. From the time I was 18 I had taken an astrology class, had Tarot cards, and a crystal ball that I never could get to work. I thought I’d get into parapsychology but wound up with a degree in Counseling Psychology instead—as parapsychology was being phased out and the aspect of what we call Holistic Psychology today was just being created.

Around the time I was 20 I went from being a Catholic to following family members to a Baptist church and then a few years later to a non-denominational church that was more on the evangelical side (for New Jersey at least). I thought this was the be-all and end-all of assurance of entering heaven. I said the Sinner’s Prayer more times than I can remember now, but always in the back of my head I knew something wasn’t right and that I truly did not believe. All the things that were promised about being fulfilled and confident of our salvation eluded me. I left church more times than not angry at the black and white answers and attitudes that went against the core of my being. I tried very hard to commit and could be successful for short periods of time. With eternal salvation hanging over my head it was something I just thought I’d have to live with.

Even though I attended these strict Christian churches, I pursued one form of studying the occult or another until I was in my thirties. I learned about people like Aleister Crowley as an evil figure who lent to the destruction of civilization as we knew it and ghost hunters trying to exorcise the demons that Witches had called into this world to do their bidding. It was safe to learn about things from the perspective that they were bad and had to be combated, although secretly I really wanted to know how Witches worked to do such things.

Finally disgruntled enough with God’s people more than God, I left organized religion in my early thirties. It wasn’t until I was 40-years-old, married, and had my own house when I encountered a crisis that caused me to walk into a local metaphysical store and purchase a black skull candle and hex-breaking oil. One night, as the candle burned, my husband and I heard a scratching in our recessed lights. My husband pulled out the light to discover a large beetle had gotten in there. I looked at my candle that was burning on the counter, the beetle flew away, and then the candle put itself out. I didn’t feel powerful when I did the spell and although the beetle was cool, I still didn’t know if it could have been a coincidence, but the act of creating something to say and lighting the candle felt like the thing I was searching for my whole life. In the midst of a crisis that’s all I could think about.

I still wasn’t ready to pursue actual Witchcraft but I started to read books about lightworkers and New Age techniques, although I was already familiar with a lot from my years of researching. Every time I would find something that I could do magickally but yet not technically be a Witch made me yearn to find something even closer. I read a lot of books and searched the Internet only to find differing strong opinions about who could be a Witch and what Witches had to believe or practice. I came across Christopher Penczak’s books and found that the no-pressure to believe or practice things exactly the way he did helped me to decide what I really wanted to do and that was to be a Witch. I didn’t have all the details worked out as to what I actually believed in terms of deities and how magick worked but once I made the decision and did a dedication ritual things just took off from there.

I wanted formal training and to meet other Witches who at least had some similarity to their teachings so I finally entered the Temple of Witchcraft’s Mystery School in October of 2012. My life has changed tremendously for the better. I’ve met such wonderful friends and teachers along the way. I finally know that this is where I belong and this is who I always wanted to be and will be forever grateful to Christopher Penczak and the Temple of Witchcraft. For me, becoming a Witch has been about breaking away from what society and mainstream religions say is “good” and the “right way” and trusting in myself that I know who I am and what way is right for me: the way of the Witch.

Deborah Stellhorn lives in New Jersey with her husband. She is starting her second year in the Temple Mystery School. She has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology and works as a grant writer in non-profit organization.

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