by Christopher Penczak
Ask any contractor, and they’ll tell you that before you start building, you need a plan. You need a blueprint, a pattern for the structure you plan to build. You need a budget and suppliers for all your materials, and you need a great crew. If you’re lacking anything, the final results will not turn out the way you want. The same is true for any magickal endeavor. You need a clear intention about what you are crafting. You need the materials to make it happen. And when working in community, you need a good coven, circle or lodge to support the process and make it happen.
The Temple of Witchcraft is being created with the same care and attention as both a complex construction project and a magickal working to give birth to something new. Like ancient sacred sites and temples as well as modern churches, the geometry and structure of the Temple’s inner workings were planned with great attention to detail. Each has a purpose to uphold in the Temple, even though all structural pieces might not be obvious to the casual observer. I’d like to take this issue’s Founder’s Corner, our first message from the Founders of the Temple, to explain the history, structure and future plans of the Temple.
The Temple of Witchcraft’s seeds began in 1998 in a very casual way. Though I’d like to tell you I had a grand design from the very beginning, when I look at the pattern that has formed, it becomes quite obvious that the clear plan and purpose came from the inner planes. After receiving my initial training in the Cabot Tradition of Witchcraft while in college, I began a career in the Boston music industry. I had shared my experiences in the Craft with a few college friends who had become interested after seeing a positive change in my own life and outlook. We began an informal study group near the Full Moon – simple rituals, past life regression, energy work, and spirit guide meditations. I continued my own education beyond Witchcraft, specifically expanding my healing techniques through shamanism, herbalism and Reiki, as well as exploring more occult cosmology and theology through Qabalah and Theosophy. I began to receive meditations from the Goddess, who instructed me to “teach more.” I continually said no, and found myself at a spiritual impasse in my own personal development. That was the only message I could get. As soon as I agreed, I lost my music industry job three days later and was unemployed. I couldn’t find a job anywhere and contemplated moving to Los Angeles or New York City. But a simple flyer offering meditation classes pointed me in a new direction, and suddenly my informal Moon group asked me for a formal class in Witchcraft. My own mentors in the Craft weren’t teaching, so reluctantly I created my Inner Temple of Witchcraft course based upon my own training. As the classes progressed, the group wanted more and more information, and I found myself going beyond my own Witchcraft training, synthesizing my other occult training through the lens of Witchcraft into a five level system that became known as the Temple of Witchcraft.
Many of those in the initial few classes became the Coven of a New Dawn, and we offered public sabbats in our local community. After teaching the system for a few years, and getting requests from potential students further and further away, I wrote the Temple of Witchcraft series of books and CDs for those who couldn’t attend in person, and as an author I then had the opportunity to travel and teach the system through weekend intensives. Soon little pockets of people working with the system – alone, with me, or in small study groups – began to form. No matter the path, people seek community and identity, and as many lineage based traditions in British Traditional Wicca have specific names associated with their mainstream founders, such as the Gardnerians and Alexandrians, students in the Temple system began to seek a name for their tradition. After a few serious, and thankfully not-so-serious, attempts from students to name themselves Penczakians or Christopherians, those in the core community started to simply refer to it as the Temple Tradition of Witchcraft, and it’s practitioners as Temple Witches. I prefer such an inclusive identity. While named traditions have served their communities well, I think the time of naming new traditions after their founders is over, and we should be looking for identities that embrace the whole community, rather than elevate an individual.
One of the key teachings in the Temple is direct experience. Your authority as a Witch comes directly from your experiences with the gods, spirits and ancestors. While teachers can facilitate this process, and guide you on the journey, you must make contact. This doesn’t denigrate lineage-based traditions, as we do feel that these is a viable methods of initiation, but as we enter a new Aquarian Age, where individuality and lateral relationships are emphasized over hierarchical relationships, we are also seeking new formulas of initiation. In the Temple, the system, community and mentors hold a space where each individual must reach into the heart of the mystery and forge a direct connection to the divine powers of initiation. We use initiation ceremonies with power passed as a connection to community and a boost for such experiences, but if you don’t forge your own connection, any degrees conferred have little true meaning. This allows a system where people can experience the same formula alone, and receive the same inner world initiation even when they cannot attend community in person. Initiates are held by the community of spirits and gods, as well as the community of our Mighty Dead, those priestesses and priests of our past who guide us, much like Saints or Boddisattvas in other traditions. It is really through them that any current is passed.
Since our tradition is not based on the coven method of a High Priestess or High Priest hiving off and teaching a small knit group over a long period of time through elevation in traditional degrees, but rather a system of five mysteries moving through a more circular initiatory experience of the elements, many people who study it, and even attain the final fifth degree, don’t always go on to teach others. Not everyone is called to coven leadership, but there are many that would continue their education and/or serve in ministry; what they lack are models for ministries outside traditional coven leadership. We decided to provide a structure of community leadership that went beyond the coven structure. There are are therefore three main divisions to the Temple – the Mystery School, the Seminary and the Ministerial Church. The Mystery School involves the first four degrees, based on the elements of Fire, Earth, Water and Air, called the oracular, fertility, ecstatic and gnostic mysteries. Basic educational classes also fall under the Mystery School. The Seminary includes the fifth degree, based on Spirit and the mysteries of resurrection and service, and also includes any support classes in ministerial training and counseling. The Ministerial Church is where the ministers and volunteers from all levels serve the community and have the opportunity to put their education into practice.
Based upon the teachings already found in the five levels of the Temple system, we modeled our Ministerial Church after the twelve zodiac archetypes, explored via the journey of the God through the twelve stations of the Sun in fifth degree training. Each of the twelve ministries focuses on outer public work aimed at society as a whole, intermediary work for Pagan communities specifically, and inner magickal work performed by Temple members only. Our areas of ministry cover a wide range, and include Pagan military outreach, self-defense training, environmental education and activism, queer mysteries, women’s mysteries, healing, public ritual, death and dying support, education, artisan support, Pagan prison outreach and rites of passage. This range of ministry provides numerous ways to be involved in the community and gain leadership experience, and offers opportunities for amazing witches to engage in ministries that have nothing to do with traditional coven oriented or teacher/student oriented training.
Our leadership structure has, at its core, three founders who’s job it is to hold the integrity of the Temple’s vision, embodying the forces of Power, Love and Wisdom. The Temple is then led by the Board of Directors based upon the five elements. The Board is supported by an Advisory Council of Lead Ministers, each one heading one of the twelve zodiac ministries. Each Lead Minister is aided by one to three deputy ministers and volunteers for that pillar in the Temple.
As the spiritual body of the Temple has now been formed, our goals turn to the physical body of the Temple: to building our community through events, outreach and education, and to fulfilling our goal of a physical educational center and retreat space where we can gather to deepen our connection to the land. We envision this first of several Temple sites in Southern New Hampshire, where we celebrate, educate and commune. To help fulfill these goals, we are pursuing a wide variety of events and opportunities. Our Mystery School and Seminary are both ongoing and offer both in person and online instruction. We continue to hold Sabbats, Esbats and Women’s Circles in the New Hampshire area regularly. We also plan on having two larger events per year in the coming years – a public convention-style gathering and a smaller nature-based festival – for those actively involved in the Temple. And we plan on working with other Pagan educators and leaders to provide workshops and events beyond the Temple Tradition, to encourage our exposure to a wide variety of voices and views. The first of which will be Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor Grimassi, who will be providing workshops in December. And we have specific events beyond the traditional Sabbats, including a Feast of Hecate every August 13.
While our goals are ambitious, we realize that even though this expression of Witchcraft has been around for more than ten years, we are really still laying the foundation stones of a larger body to outlast us all. We aim to go slowly and steadily, building momentum as we go. I hope this has given seekers, members and the curious a better idea of our Temple, and those who feel called can join us in the Temple of Witchcraft community!