1. As a Rebecca that prefers not to be called Becky, why do you prefer Christopher to Chris?
Well, it comes down to practicality, at least at first. I was in a rock band in college with another Chris, and we got tired of both turning around when someone yelled Chris, so I started going by Christopher. Now, despite the recent NewWitch cover that has me as Chris Penczak on the cover, I prefer Christopher. Only folks who know me before college still call me Chris. My mom won out. She preferred I was called Christopher and as a kid I didn’t like it. Looks like she’s got a powerful Magickal Will in the long run.
2. I have met with several different covens and solitary magic practioners, regardless of tradition or philosophy; all them have at least one of your books in their library. Why do you feel your books are so well suited to just about everyone?
Wow. Well, I’m pretty honored by that. I think in the end, I try to write books I wish I had when I was learning, compiling ideas and exploring new things all in one place. I have a pretty wide range of traditions I draw upon myself, and I try to be respectful to traditionalists and eclectics alike, and drawn on both, and many things in between. I find it funny that most traditionalists see me as very modern and new age, and not very traditional, and some die hard eclectics see me as too traditional, as I emphasize discipline and digging deep spiritual roots. I guess I have aspects of both.
I think in general I like to show many different ways of doing something, so that I rarely give the impression there is only one way to do something. It makes the teachings more open and accessible to a larger group of people. I like to explain the ideas behind a technique, and then give examples. Once you understand the why, you can be creative about the how.
3. You wrote the book, “Sons of the Goddess: A Young Man’s Guide to Wicca”. With so much emphasis seemingly placed on the Goddess in Wicca, how can Wicca be a fulfilling religion for men?
I think witchcraft can be a fulfilling religion for everybody who is called to it. While there has been an emphasis on the Goddess for many traditions, there is also the balance of the God. Sons of the Goddess was a book to explore the relationship, particularly the mother and son relationship between the Goddess and the God, and what that means to modern men practicing witchcraft. Our whole Wheel of the Year cycle is really about the relationship of the God, as a transitory force, with the Goddess, as the eternal force. The god waxes and wanes with the shift in the Sun. By learning to align with the solar forces ,and exploring the energies of the Dark and Light gods, along with the Goddess, men and women can find a more complete sense of the mysteries and magick in witchcraft.
4. What challenges do you see facing the Wiccan community? How can the community resolve those issues?
That’s a big question. And a good one. I think we have to figure out collectively and individually our role as a “mainstream” religion. We are often seeking legitimacy in mainstream eyes, a seat at the table of global religions, and while I think that’s good, I think we have a different focus and purpose than the mainstream religions. I’m not sure if we are best served by emulating them. But we don’t have many other models to go by. As a personal, mystical tradition, much of our work is to transform the soul. We must do the magick, not necessarily just talk about it, or simply profess faith. While we are doing our spiritual work, how do we fit into social services, prison ministry, economics, politics, minister training, environmentalism and other forms of activism? Some traditions are tied to these issues intimately, and others are not. Some, in their effort to be more involved in the mainstream, are loosing the mystery traditions, personal development and relationship with the spirit world. Much of our responsibility is moving energy between the worlds and aligning ourselves and our world with the hidden spiritual forces, to be a bridge between the worlds. We can’t forget that. But we also know that all magick needs real world follow up. We can’t just wish a better world and hope it will be so with no action. It’s tough territory, as both are important, and I believe neopagan traditions have a lot to offer the world as we approach the next age. While I think we have something valuable to offer, we first have to learn to define and embody our values a bit better, and then be able to share them with the world.
The modern revival of paganism is still going through growing pains and this is a critical time to decide what we are really going to be. If our recent history is anything to go by, perhaps we wont’ have one voice, one purpose, one way of going about things, and each group and practitioner will do as their will indicates. It will make it harder to present ourselves to the mainstream with any coherence, but perhaps that view point is a part of what we have to offer too. Perhaps we don’t need one cohesive voice and vision.
5. What does the term d20 mean?
It refers to a twenty-sided die, used in table top, paper and pencil role playing games. D20 systems are most popular in Dungeons & Dragons style games. My husband designs role-playing games, also known as RPGs and writes related game fiction, and his game Mutants & Masterminds, is considered a d20 RPG.
6. Who generates the longer line, you at spiritual events, or Steve (Christopher’s spouse) at gaming conventions?
Depends on what we’re offering and where we are. If Steve is releasing a new book or game product at a major convention, I think they have a pretty big line. If I’m selling books after a class at a convention such as Pantheacon, I have a pretty big line too. It’s pretty wild to think about it. It makes up for the events and book signings we both do where only a few people show up. The balance keeps us humble. You never know when you sign on for an event what it will be like. I’ve done gigs for over 500 people and I’ve had events where only two show up. I think Steve’s job is much the same. You just never know who will show up. Sometimes the best events are with the two people though.
7. In your opinion, is there a difference between Witchcraft and Wicca?
That depends on what day you ask…. For some reason it’s become a big issue lately. When I began my journey, there wasn’t much difference between the two. Wicca was defined as the modern revival of the religion of witchcraft, or the legally recognized and protected form of witchcraft. Some think of the religion as Wicca and the spellcraft as witchcraft. I was taught witchcraft, and called it witchcraft, and it included science, spells and religion. I now look at it as a modern form of witchcraft in the sense that it has been influenced by Theosophy, ceremonial magick, shamanism and eastern thought, yet I think there were parallels between those traditions and more indigenous pre-Christian European forms of spirituality we would consider witchcraft. I consider myself a practitioner of modern Craft, taking the best of the old and the new to move towards the future.
We used Wicca as a “safe” word. When someone asked me about my religion, I would start out and say “earth religions” and see what they said. Then I’d move on to pagan or neopagan. Then I would use the term Wicca, because at the time not many people knew what that was, and then work my way up to witchcraft. And that was a gentle approach. Since I’m now associated strongly with witchcraft, I just start there and if someone can’t handle it, they can’t handle it, and that’s fine.
Due to the popularity of eclectic approaches and self initiation, championed by Scott Cunningham, there became a schism between Eclectic Wicca and Initiatory Wicca, such as the Gardnerian and Alexandrian lines. I was surprised at the adamant insistence of Gardnerian/Alexandrian initiates in the UK claiming what they practices was truly Wicca, and everything eclectic and solitary was just another form of witchcraft. Usually Americans call it British Traditional, though it’s gotten confused with people professing pre-Gardnerian traditions, popularly called Traditional Witchcraft. Such groups would include those in line with Robert Cochrane, a contemporary and vocal critic of Gardner, and the Cultus Sabati. Though it’s a fairly recent development, most people will now say British Traditional Wicca to differentiate it from pre-Gardnerian Traditional Craft. Each of these lines – Trad Craft, Gardnerians/Alexandrians and solitaries/eclectics want to differentiate themselves from each other. They each have their own mysteries and attitudes toward magick, and can be very different from each other. Yet, I think they have more similarities, at least the serious practitioners of each, than most would like to admit.
For me, I’m a witch. And much like Doreen Valiente once said, “a witch is a witch is a witch.” I embrace the teachings and ideas from all these different currents and though I’m eclectic, I believe in respecting and honoring the past as your build the future. You must be respectful to where something comes from, but at the same time, we are children of the global era, and have access to all this information and experience. We’d be unwise not to explore it all and find what works. We are a scavenger religion in many ways, and always have been, from modern witches to our ancient forbearers. For me, I prefer the terms witch and witchcraft, but I can embrace and certainly don’t shun Wiccan and Wicca.
8. If someone wanted to start reading your work, with what book would you suggest they start?
It depends on what they are interested in first…. If it’s witchcraft, then perhaps The Inner Temple of Witchcraft might be the best place to start. If you don’t know anything specific about metaphysics, I’d suggest the Mystic Foundation. It’s the book for people interested in alternative spirituality and personal mysticism, but for those who are either not sure what path they are on, or are interested in looking at a wide range of paths and traditions.
9. What book has most inspired you?
What witchcraft book? Well, probably my teacher’s book, Power of the Witch by Laurie Cabot. It was the first book on the Craft I read, and it was important for me because it connected the science aspects of the craft with the religion and spell work. I think without that piece I wouldn’t have gone further. With it, I was able to appreciate the work of Scott Cunningham and Doreen Valiente. But I started as a skeptic, so I needed to understand the ideas behind magick before I could do it. I took that approach when I started teaching, and in my level one book, The Inner Temple of Witchcraft.
10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question?
What was your first initiatory spiritual experience? I always like to hear about people’s awaking and deepening experiences, and how they sometimes occur in formal rituals and traditional initiations, and they often occur in the process of life and personal practice. My first one was experiencing a psychic healing and diagnosis, when I thought there was no way I could perform such a thing. It changed my life.
You and I have a lot in common Christopher. I find faith and belief to be absolutely fascinating and one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What made you decide to follow the spiritual path you’re on?” Unfortunately for you, asking me that kind of questions is horribly disappointing. I have yet to have an initiatory spiritual experience. It’s not for a lack of putting myself out there, it just hasn’t happened yet. Of course, if I had found that experience with something, The Magical Buffet may never had occurred. The Magical Buffet is definitely the work of a seeker, who loves the Bill of Rights.
PHOTO BY BERTA A. DANIELS
About Christopher Penczak
Christopher Penczak is an award-winning author, teacher and healing practitioner. Beginning his spiritual journey in the tradition of modern Witchcraft and earth based religions, he has studied extensively with Witches, mystics, shamans and healers in a variety of traditions from across the globe to synthesize his own practice of magick and healing. He is an ordained minister, herbalist, flower essence consultant and certified Reiki Master (Teacher) in the Usui-Tibetan and Shamballa traditions. Christopher has been involved with the Gifts of Grace Foundation and is a faculty member of the North Eastern Institute of Whole Health, both in New Hampshire. He is the author of many books, including Magick of Reiki, Spirit Allies, The Mystic Foundation, Instant Magick and The Inner Temple of Witchcraft. For more information, visit www.christopherpenczak.com