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.