by Christopher Penczak
I am a Temple Keeper. Ever since the Temple of Witchcraft received its occupancy permit in December 2013, this fact has permeated my being, becoming a reoccurring silent mantra in my mind as I go about my daily work. I’m having dreams of possible past lives, or drifting into the akasha, connecting with other Temple practices, from those deep in Buddhist Temple caves to those of ancient Greece. I have found myself in the groves of the northern forest in these dreams, as well as the hot jungles. Still, I go about my daily rituals and meditations, looking beyond my own personal development and path, and think about the whole. Every day, I perform various rites in the indoor shrine and altars and in spaces outdoors upon the grounds, working with the energy of the Temple as if it were a living entity . . . for it is. The Temple is a group consciousness composed of the human and non-human entities that have joined together in this collaborative effort.
As a Temple Keeper, this is my primary job in life. All the rest – the writing, teaching and rituals – support the keeping of the Temple. Of course the writing, teaching, and rituals help create the structure of the Temple, attracting the right people and spiritual partners from the realm of the Gods, Faerie, Stars, Mighty Dead and Animal Creatures, to participate in this experimental venture. But it is the working of the Temple itself, along with my personal work, that is primary, for the two are related. I keep the fire tended in the main altar. My partners and I, Adam and Steve, tend to the Healing Shrine. We feed the magickal constructs and make offerings to the spirits and gods. We chant and commune with the Genus Loci and the House Elf. Ministers come in and work the energies of various spirits and powers in their own classes and ceremonies. And all of these powers seem to interact with our community, near and far, in powerful and healing ways.
My own understanding of the word “Witch” is deeply tied into an etymology associating the Witch with the term “Temple,” and ultimately the sacred Temple keepers:
“The etymology of the word can possibly be traced back to Sanskrit and the proto Indo-European languages, although this could be a popular folk entomology used by many modern witches. The Middle English word “wicche” is traced back to the Old English “wiccan,” to practice witchcraft. Male and female witches were distinguished through the words “wicca” and “wicce” respectively. In Middle High German “wicken” means to bewitch or divine the future. In Old German the world is traced to “wih” meaning holy. From the Old German to Old Norman, we have the world “ve” meaning temple. Notice an interesting shift from the “w” sound to the “v” sound, but notice how similar the shape of the letters. The letter “double U” actually looks more like “double V” in our alphabet. In French, the letter is called doublevay. The further back you go, the further away you get from the stereotypical witch and to a word of sacredness and spirituality. Now you are getting to the true meaning of witch.”
– from The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, Chapter One
Today I’m sure word scholars and wordsmiths will disprove this fanciful etymology that flatters the Witch, just as many of our sacred cows have been sacrificed on the altar of progress, but this should not deter us. I’ve been practicing long enough (which is not that long in the big scheme of things, just under twenty years) and have seen them come and go and continually be questioned. Challenge and question is good in a community of rebels working together in common cause. At one time, did we not talk about the millions burned in the Burning Times, until someone asked for proof. Fact was transformed into fallacy, yet there were still persecutions ending in burnings and hangings. “Witch” was once synonymous with “wise” amongst practitioners, but the “bend or shape” etymology turned out to be more correct. Even the hard line definition of warlock being an “oath breaker” is coming into question by people asking for the historic proof of it. And when I began, few questioned Gerald Gardner’s credentials and stories beyond some of his peers at the time, but then came along someone named Ronald Hutton who looked at all the evidence from an academic point of view.
When new light from science and history is shed, it does not change our mythic truth. All religions have motivating stories, cultures, and values. If you have had powerful experiences using one mythos, that doesn’t change your inner reality. New research can add to your understanding of the linear history and experiences. And who knows? In twenty years, there might be an entirely new theory disproving whatever theory is accepted today. This possibility doesn’t mean you should wait another twenty years to practice, or that what you did for twenty years was not valid.
As Witches, we work in the non-ordinary realms and know that not all truths are literal. We don’t confuse history with mythos, and can hold the paradoxes of both in our psyche. So my own view of the Witch became intimately tied to the concept of the Temple, and some twenty odd years later, I have become a Temple Keeper.
I’m not the only Temple Keeper, however. Nor are my fellow founders and partners in this life adventure, or the many priestesses and priests in the Temple community. We are all Temple Keepers, together building the Temple “built with no hands.” We are the first Temple, all our lives one long, continuous act of sacred prayer, offering, communion, and magick. As we reach out and build relationships, they too are Temples. As we form community, that creates a Temple as well. Some are consciously built magickal structures. Some are unconscious and intuitive. Yet all are sacred. All are important Temples in the consciousness of Mother Earth and the Starry Heavens.
I used to be sad that there were few Temples actively working, and fewer still you could visit, in the Pagan and Witchcraft traditions. I wholeheartedly buy into the vision of a Pagan future where the ancient Temples, shrines, and cults of the old gods will be restored, right along with the sacred sites of the Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslems, Sikhs and countless others. I believe we can do this without losing who we are, without losing what is truly sacred to us. I believe this because whenever I see anyone making connection, making relationship, making magick, I see a Temple, and I know that we are on our way to this bright future. We just have to keep building the Temple – physically and non-physically – in our selves, in our lives and in our world, and we will change consciousness and create a new future. My prayer is that the Temple of Witchcraft will help aid that process along for us all.
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. 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.