by Christopher Penczak
The Temple of Witchcraft is not a coven-based tradition, yet we identify as Witches, a concept that mystifies many people. We teach through an academic model, but encourage personal exploration of magickal partnerships, working groups, and covens, but not for teaching, where the social and spiritual roles can get messy and boundaries blurred.
A wonderful friend and mentor, Deborah Bourbon, taught me that magick is like music and you start in your bedroom alone jamming to the classics. You might join a band, a coven, and think it’s for life. You might do it several times and then you gain enough experience to be akin to a session musician, skilled enough for jamming with other peers on their projects and inviting others to help you with yours. Experience and peer-ship gives you freedom and latitude.
Today it’s both easier and harder to find and form circles, covens, and magickal working groups. Since a lot of folks form them with no previous experience it can be hard to pass on methods that work, but sometime those who do pass on methods calcify in thinking their methods are the only ones that work.
One of the methods of group dynamic education we offer is a class embodying a working group for the turn of a year. People commit to specific roles in the group for the year and the magic is of a visionary and interpersonal nature, for the good of the community or greater world, not spells for individual needs and desires. The work evolves the individual and the group and reverberates in the community.
Dawn speaks of these changes: “The most profound thing for me is that it changes your magick and your energy. When you are holding a role for the Pilgrimage it permeates your life in ways that you are not expecting…it helps you to love more deeply, it helps you to hone your magickal focus more clearly, it tests the truth of your will. When you are working the group magick it helps you to see beyond your own life and into a big picture and the big picture comes into your life in a myriad of ways. For example, I have a tendency to be very fast and sometimes loose with my words. When I was the Keeper of Air, I realized how much power is in words. I learned to control my spoken words and I had deeper thoughts than I did before. I have learned so much from the experience and I hope I will be able to work group magick like it again soon.”
Scott found, “The path of this magick was an opportunity to take what I do as a witch to another level. I found myself challenged to be vulnerable and open in new ways, in a new online format. I was transformed as I was guided by the Spirit of the office that was divined for me. The Pilgrim’s path was a work challenge, and I sometimes struggled, but always revealed at the result as each participant created with me, a ritual of the season. “
Named The Pilgrimage of the Sun and Stars, giving a nod to the visionary Pilgrim’s Progress and the idea of pilgrimage as traveling to some sacred place difficult to reach, we use the astrological models of the Wheel of the Year, the movements of the Sun and Stars in relationship with the Earth, to guide us.
The team of the working group is traditionally twelve members with one or two more taking the role of Magister as teacher, guide, and master of ceremonies. Roles include:
- Bearer of Earth
- Bearer of Fire
- Bearer of Air
- Bearer of Water
- Priest of the Lord of Animals
- Priest of the Lord of the Land
- Priestess of the Lady of White
- Priestess of the Lady of Red
- Priestess of the Lady of Black
Some roles are gendered and some are neutral and sometimes the priests and priestesses roles are reversed, with Priestesses of the Lords and Priests of the Ladies.
“I served as the Lord of Animals,” Scott says. “I watched the shift of dark to light. I embodied the Horned God on the Wheel. I stood in the shadow of changes. After I got over my initial hesitation and worked deeper with that Spirits, the creativity opened. Seeing how I can contribute to the Wheel, to the Soul of the work, was heart-opening, and humbling. With our collective vision, through my intention and the operating office, we each wove a thread into the tapestry of the year-long magickal vision.”
Steve shares his experience in the practice of the group: “There are certain practices in life where you, like me, may experience resistance. Take exercise, for example. I often approach the notion of exercising by having to coddle the child-like “Ugh…I don’t wanna!” of my lower-self but, almost invariably, I feel better after the experience, know I’ve done something positive for myself, and am glad I overcame my own resistance. I find this even easier to do when I have a workout buddy to help encourage me. That’s also often my experience with the practice of ritual: I sigh, I procrastinate, but when called upon to step up and be responsible to a circle of fellow Witches, I do what needs doing … and then magick happens, and I always find myself grateful for the path, the practice, and those sharing the journey with me. Being a Pilgrim of the Sun and Stars has allowed me to give the gift of this practice to myself, and to my fellow Witches, and to receive it from them in return.”
Embodying the shift from the personal to the interpersonal, Chris describes this process for himself. “I’ve had the pleasure of holding multiple roles in the Pilgrimage, and there’s plenty which could be said about how they have developed me as a witch and participant of the Wheel. The greater value of each, though, has been both simpler and harder to describe: what happens when magick stops being about your self and the focus instead turns to what you’re bringing out for others, and ultimately the world. And understanding that that is the true heart of what we do.”
Jason, who has also held multiple roles, shared with us: “This is a very profound experience to be a part of. When you take on the roles, you begin to see and feel them in your everyday life. Having been involved in this group for three years and seeing the world through the eyes of the roles, each year, my experience and daily life revolved differently around each of the roles.”
We have sought to expand the work of the Pilgrims from the first year experiment in-person to an online group that gathers via the astral and guided journey together, preparing the “script” recording together. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both the in-person and online groups have been gathering online to continue this work.
Speaking on the alchemy of a group of relative strangers getting together for such intense work, online no less, Marian shares her experience. “My first thoughts after the initial online meeting was ‘how the hell are we going to pull this off?’ It seemed an impossible task and I have to admit I was anxious about being a part of it. As the fire keeper, my job was to inspire this group of people I barely knew. I had so many questions, like how do I convey inspiration online? The idea was so foreign to me. But as the year progressed it became crystal clear what our mission was as a group, and how imperative our job was for the future of witches crossing this earthly plane. Soon my thoughts steered away from my own fears and focused on my community. I am forever grateful for being a part of this pilgrimage.”
These Witches gather first impressions in the meeting and then deepen the experiences on their own. Together they create an intricate web of relationship between each other and the entities and powers they are mediating for the group.
My hope is that as more of our teachers experience this dynamic, eventually, more in-person groups will be offered once it is safe to do so, to show new ways of groups working together in magick and community. Alfred sums it up well for us all, “The Pilgrimage made the mysteries of the Goddess and God come alive, again, for me. Turning the Wheel and being intimately connected with their dance through the seasons rekindled magick I thought dormant or disconnected. If one does the work, one knows and is blessed for it.”
Interested Temple initiates and graduates of Witchcraft II or higher should visit the Pilgrims of the Sun and Stars page for additional information and the application for the currently-forming new working group.