Professional Witchcraft

by Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle

So you want to be a professional Witch? Why? Are you sure? I wasn’t. In fact, I ran kicking and screaming from it. I sometimes felt as if my life were being hijacked by the gods and spirits. In retrospect, I see how it was aligning with a sense of purpose and will, but it was quite difficult to see at the time. All my interests and experiences were giving me a unique set of skills to navigate the world I was entering, even if I had no idea at the time.

There is no educational model to prepare one to be a professional Witch. Even the idea can sound absurd at times. What does it mean? I wonder still, even though doing magickal work on some level has been my full-time vocation and source of income since 1998. I don’t have one job—professional Witch. I have several jobs that add up to my vocation. Minister, ritualist, psychic reader, healing facilitator, magickal consultant, crafter, teacher, project manager, and author are some of the hats I wear. Education is piecemeal and haphazard in all these things. They are unique arts, and no one set of guidelines covers us all.

For some, professional Witch means minister. One of the reasons why I rebelled against ministry is that I love the idea that in Witchcraft, everyone is their own priest or priestess. You learned the foundations of your Craft, and you did it yourself. You didn’t need a priest to be the intermediate for you. Or did you? I understood the benefit of legal ordination if I wanted to officiate weddings or be protected legally in a less-than-Witchcraft-friendly society, but that was simply playing the game of the government and getting fair and equal treatment. When I looked back, however, I realized that some of my most profound experiences were also facilitated by another priestess or priest or group. While the technique allowed me to have my own experience, their expertise in creating and holding the space for it, guiding the process, was invaluable. I wasn’t one of those Pagans who picked up a book and was good to go. I questioned. I rebelled. I thought things were silly. I needed to see it in in action. I needed to talk to people. I needed understanding. Some was provided by mentors and friends. A lot of it was done in a “professional” education setting with a very experienced teacher. I paid for it, and certainly got my money’s worth as they more than fulfilled what I was expecting. So while I was my own priest, I did gain benefit from other priestesses and priests acting as teachers and ritualists. Did many other profound experiences happen when I was alone or in a small group? Absolutely, but the pattern demonstrated by others helped me facilitate those experiences for myself.

My main vocation, as I see myself as a professional Witch, is educator, and for me that means the education of experience, not just the textbook. The start of my path was with my matron goddess asking me to teach more, as people in our once-a-month book group clamored for formal “lessons,” and I refused. When I gave in to her request, three days later I lost my day job, and the only inner world guidance I got was “now you have more time to teach.” Thankfully they did not clear away my relationships to create time and space, just my job, which I had been unwilling to admit had run its course. My first teachers provided information and structure to support direct experience, and a progression of ideas through a pattern. I endeavored to do the same, and what started as simple classes in technique evolved into a system, community, and then magickal tradition.

While it is controversial for many to charge for teaching, as some take vows to never charge, my own teachers charged for classes, and I appreciated the academic setting of a syllabus and an agreement that the following topics and experiences would be covered in a specific time frame. As several friends of mine in other forms of Witchcraft will often joke with me, “one way or another you pay,” so it is best to know the literal cost up front, rather than pay in emotional servitude or blind loyalty. The coven can often become an unhealthy substitution for the family, and the magickal sense of spiritual frater and soror—the sister-brother-other-hood we share as practitioners—gets warped into unresolved family dynamics with projections of parent and sibling issues. For good or for ill (and I am not particularly a Harry Potter fan), the idea of a school of magick and Witchcraft has caught the imagination of practitioners, and there is something to be said about the clear boundaries of an academic model to help minimize favoritism and absolute hierarchical authority from a potentially abusive High Priest/ess.

As I’ve seen Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft grow by leaps and bounds over a few short decades, the community has changed. I love that things are more accessible to seekers and deeper education and resources available for the more experienced, but the basic network of teaching covens has become the minority, with all other forms of magick and Paganism that do not work in that structure bursting forth. Previously a “minister” ministered to their own coven or local tradition-mates. Now we were getting more requests for aid outside of that immediate circle of practitioners, along the lines of traditional ministers—weddings, funerals, hospital visits, pastoral care, social service advocacy, legal support, and prison visits. Those who are Pagan but outside of a coven or group were seeking visible teachers for help, and we gave it and continue to give it, while lacking the resources and support that traditional mainstream religion ministers often have.

Churches with weekly donations from congregants provide salaries, insurance, and often housing for clergy, providing support for the clergy to spend long hours doing vigils in hospitals and providing visits and pastoral support. The modern Witch has to work these commitments into their schedule, if they so choose to serve in this way, between full-time day jobs, paying gigs, and side hustles to make ends meet. One might say it is not the job of occult priest/esses to perform such work, that people should have their own networks of family and friends for support, but the general community of Witchcraft calls to outsiders who lack such support networks. Our occult theology of interconnectiveness and interdependence, along with a sense of compassion and social justice, often moves us to take this work regardless.

Beyond what many consider traditional ministry are the classic services of the professional Witch, such as one-on-one psychic readings via Tarot, runes, astrology, or any other divination method. While pure psychics simply tell you what they perceive, those who come to a Witch are often looking for further solutions to difficult times, and then the session will morph into spell consultations or magickal work. Some Witches will do spells for clients, and others will not. Between the two, I will teach a client how to do a spell, set up all the parts, and guide them through the process, but they must be involved. I won’t just do it for them. That is my rule of engagement and empowerment. But many are trained in traditions and cultures that you are doing the work as a part of the service. I paid a lot of my way through college doing psychic parties and spell consultations. While not a lavish lifestyle, it kept me going while pursuing both my magick and music.

Many professional Witches have training in healing modalities, new and old, including energy work, crystal healing, body work, hands-on energy healing, and medicinal herbalism. These services have collectively become for me the work of the modern cunning Witch, providing services in the cottage at the end of the village. I’ve had many people, both in and out of the Pagan community, seek my services, often as a last resort. Sometimes you are the miracle solution and sometimes you are the one to hold their hand at the hospital deathbed until they pass. Personally, I’ve been aided by nontraditional healers when modern medicine was stumped. While I don’t discount modern medicine, in some situations sorcerous answers are required for sorcerous people.

Others, not liking such one-on-one service, will resonate more with commerce. They will handcraft magickal items—things like potions, talismans, jewelry, and art—and use today’s technology to sell online or vend at fairs and smaller specialized events, often focusing upon the Pagan and metaphysical communities. In times past, the variation of the occult or Witch shop in every town was the access point for supplies, networking, and community, and would carry not only the nationally known magickal staples, but also local handcrafted specialty items. Readers, healers, and teachers would gather at such sites and provide their services. Sadly, as more offerings become available online and find support in the mainstream, such places are valued less and are disappearing due to lack of interest and often poor management, unable to compete in this day without updates to the business model.

All of this sounds wonderful, fun, and easy, right? No, not usually. While the successful might make it look easy—and due to online wonders many people who are not successful give the illusion of success—every successful full-time metaphysical practitioner I know has had moments where we are envious of those who get a steady paycheck, paid health insurance, sick days, and vacation time. Like many of the self-employed, we joke about working half days only—pick any twelve hours from a given day, and that is your “half” day to work. Along with providing these services, we usually have to be our own promoters, publicists, accountants, business managers, travel agents, sales department, order fulfillment, and negotiators.

So I’m always a little leery when someone declares they wish to be a professional Witch, despite being one myself. Most I know didn’t want to be and would have probably done anything else if they could, but their own temperament, soul, and will guided them here. In her book Fire Child, elder and high priestess Maxine Sanders says, “We sacrifice the ordinary in exchange for the extraordinary.” And it is true. People focus upon the extraordinary aspect, which can be wonderful, but don’t realize the sacrifices. It can put you out of synch with the rest of the world, your family, and friends, and requires a tremendous amount of effort, energy, and life force. While many of us can truly choose no other way, we can be wistful watching those who do not bear the burdens of the work. Speaking with elder Ivo Dominguez, during one of my infrequent bouts of melancholy, he quoted the traditional initiation rites “neither bound nor free.” I have an extraordinary amount of seeming freedom and flexibility compared to many people in traditional jobs, but I’m not free of the many structures unseen and unknown to most people who only see the “easy” part of the job of the full-time Witch.

I fear many seek it out because it looks glamorous from the outside. They have an illusion of living in a wonderful world of movie magick, not understanding the real-world business skills behind it. Those who do this work rarely talk about the challenges and pitfalls beyond their peers, and we can make it look easy and glamorous. Many are seeking some mythical illusion of what they think it means to be a Witch full-time. Most full-time Witches I know are spiritually aware full time, but still work in the so-called ordinary world.

I fear some seek it out because they’re lazy, and simply just don’t like working a day gig. They see a fraction of the work and think, “I can do that, easy.” I fear that some are motivated by fame, a desire to have people take themselves seriously as an authority, or the perception of easy money. In my experience, none of these things are what they appear to be from the outside. The more famous I’ve become, the less famous I’ve wanted to be, putting the emphasis on the teaching and community, rather than my name, image, or personality. While my agreement with my matron many years ago was to not suffer for lack of money, it’s not been easy money and often requires great financial juggling.

And I fear that in encouraging people to both be their own priest/esses, as I was, and to serve, as my teachers encouraged me, I’ve encouraged too many to think they must emulate the path I’ve been called to, to be a full-time Witch as teacher, ritualist, healer, reader, and minister. I’ve had many a conversation with amazing members of the community apologizing for not choosing to be a professional Witch like me, that they like their job, or need to have a stable source of income for their family and can’t drop everything to do Witchcraft full-time. I’d like to see more “professionals” in the Craft, not necessarily Professional Witches, but rather those accomplished in their own chosen vocations. I am warmed to see those magickal beings successfully fulfill their vocations, and bring magick into other areas of the world, even if only by their very presence as a practitioner. We have doctors who have moved into holistic medicine, lawyers who do social work, farmers, artists, business managers, home makers, cashiers, all bringing magick to their vocation in our Temple

I’ve had others desperately push their “brand” and use a lot of words and pictures to say not much at all, but say it with style. My only desire is to have each Witch fulfill their own Will, in their own way, in their own style, with their own magick, to create the life that is correct for them. Do I encourage service? Yes. We created the Temple to offer many means of support for service that didn’t require you to be a professional Witch. It’s certainly not for everyone. Some are great community organizers and administrators behind the scenes. They are needed just as much, if not more, than another Witchcraft personality.

Usually there will be some form of call to service, and most go through a process of reluctant acceptance, as in the Hero’s Journey, which is both wrestling with fear and with ego. The fear is about not being good enough and the ego is often about not being seduced by the call for harmful reasons. Usually there will be some acceptance of your peers working at this new level that will help bolster self-esteem and check your ego. It can be too easy to believe your own press and lose perspective. The potential peer group often looks askance at the individual who wants so badly to simply have it, rather than to serve. Some who seek to set themselves up as leaders and teachers are immediately rejected by their community or discouraged by their past teachers and mentors. Those who can explore this can often find a place of service, but sadly, a few will ignore it and go on to create inherently toxic forms of community and service.

So you want to be a professional Witch? Why? Are you sure? What are you seeking? What are you offering? Be clear in your motivations and be true to your deepest self. You can be anything you want, but whatever that is, be in alignment with your soul’s will and true heart’s desire.

Temple of Witchcraft