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.

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