Interview with Christopher Penczak
Our Pagan future depends on the people we are developing now and in the future. Among those is Christopher Penczak who at 36 has already done a great deal in our community. He considers himself a minister first, but he also is a teacher, a popular speaker at various Pagan events, a Reiki master, certified flower essence consultant, author of some seventeen books, a writer of numerous articles and maker of CDs, and is active in the Gay community.
By any person’s standards, that is a lot to have packed in to 36 years of life especially when most of that comes after college. It is even more interesting when his training was in music and he had set off to Rock music career, and worked for awhile in the music industry, which he did for awhile as well.
Blackwell: You were introduced to the idea of Wicca in College and began to study eventually under Laurie Cabot. Yet you were a bit dubious about the idea of doing magic and much less effectively. What was Your first successful use of magic? Wasn’t it in healing?
Penczak: Well, my first truly mind blowing psychic experience was with a health case – a psychic diagnosis and healing. My first effective use of magick was with my first teacher, prior to Laurie. And that was a healing spell too in a way. This teacher actually was the one to eventually bring me to Laurie. She invited me to my first Full Moon ceremony, and gave us all the option to do a spell.
I had a friend who was pregnant, in denial about it due to her Catholic School upbringing and didn’t get the proper prenatal care she needed. She was in bad shape and so was the baby, so much so they feared for their lives and though labor would be very dangerous.
Six weeks before birth, we did this spell where I asked that both Mother and Baby be fine, and the labor be as easy as possible. In that six week time, the prenatal care handled much of the malnutrition. The baby shifted positions and got bigger, and this is the big part, the labor was only an hour or so long. She was fine afterwards. So that convinced me something was possible, but I was still a bit skeptical.
Blackwell: Christopher considering that you went to college to seriously study for that music career, life certain took some surprising turns didn’t it? Here you were starting on your musical career while the goddess was advising you to teach in Wicca more. You gave her a challenge didn’t you if she wanted you to become a teacher? Care to tell us what happened?
Penczak: I graduated with a Bachelors of Performance. I was a vocal major who did opera and art songs by day and hard rock by night.
Just after college my band fell apart due to personal reasons and I found myself first working for MCA/Universal Distribution in the Boston area, and then hopped over to a small new record label that had a production deal with MCA.
They were called Fort Apache, based on a famous recording studio in Cambridge, MA. I got to meet a lot of famous people and see what life was like as a rock star from the sidelines, and I wasn’t sure I really wanted it. But I did enjoy performing and song writing.
As I continued, about two years or so, Fort Apache’s financial situation got bad. I was the seventh person in the office when hired. We grew to somewhere around twenty, and then one by one got laid off. I worked in administration. Technically I was the head of A&R Administration, and then did a lot of computer and office style management.
I was meditating and got the image of the Goddess Macha, my matron, and she said that I need to teach more. I was shocked, kind of refused and she disappeared and I snapped back from my meditation.
This happened quite a few times. I wanted to get something going with music. I didn’t have time to teach. I was already running a study group and didn’t want to pursue more. The meditation repeated itself several times, until I said, “Ok, fine, but I need more time to do the things I really want to do.” And of course I lost my job three days later.
I couldn’t get a job anywhere, even in a relative good economy with great computer skills and office management skills. I had various temp jobs for no more than two days before they would fill the position and my last temp job burned down the night before I was suppose to go work there, so I took that as a sign.
I stopped applying for temp agencies. I collected unemployment, put up flyers for a meditation class, then a Witchcraft class, and wrote my first books.
Blackwell: What are the things that you find that draws you to wicca and some of the other things you have studied, over mainstream religion?
Penczak: The self empowerment. in Witchcraft, you are your own priestess or priest. There is no necessary intermediary. Its a religion of clergy. Though the pagan community has it’s laity, generally Witchcraft does not.
I am also attracted to the theology. I think we desperately need an Earth reverent teaching. I think the separation between matter and spirits and a general attitude that matter is somehow not spiritual is what is killing our culture and planet. We need teachings that show us how the world, nature, food, our bodies and sex are all holy.
Blackwell: You seem to have done it both in a tradition and then have gotten more eclectic as you have gone on. Why does this seem to work for you?
Penczak: I once had a very wise priestess tell me that by it’s very nature, ours is a scavenger religion. We are like crows, and we find and use what works. Because there is no true dogma, the Craft is free to evolve as it does in each individual and coven. I would argue that many of our most “Traditionalist” witches were what we might call eclectic today.
Gardner, the founder of Gardnerian Wicca, arguably the most formal tradition in the public eye today, synthesized Qabalistic Magick, Folk Traditions and Freemasonry with the fragments he received in New Forrest when initiated. The same could be said of Alex Sanders. They were both a lot less public about it though.
That’s why I like Doreen Valiente, Gardner’s High Priestess, so much. She changed things and was perfectly clear about what she changes and where it came from. But all the great took from a variety of sources and synthesized. I like that idea too.
We are crows that feed the world tree with what we find, and it gets devoured and absorbed, rather than remaining a collection or pile of disparate parts. I also teach my students to synthesize together what works in a cohesive whole. But it can take time to find that whole. We experiment and explore. If we don’t, then our traditions become dogmatic and die out.
Blackwell: How do you get involved in writing and when did you start writing books?
Penczak: When I got laid off. I was already working on something that turned into my first non-published book. It was horrible, but good practice. I think of it like a grad thesis. But while I was doing that first series of classes, I started working on City Magick, and I began a newsletter/magazine called The Second Road.
Blackwell: You cover quite a range of subjects in your books. What drives you to study so many different things and at what point do you think you have enough experience to write on a subject? Do you also have to practice as well as research something before you write a book on it?
Penczak: I always want to find the connections between things, and know how they are similar and how they are different. I like to understand multiple perspectives.
Usually I teach on something for quite a while before I write the book. There have been some exceptions, like Sons of the Goddess, but generally I like to research not only my own practice but other people’s experiences.
Blackwell: A full time Witch seems to have to have a lot of irons in the fire to make a living, so you provide a lot of other things besides your books to make a living. What are some of the other services and products that you provide?
Penczak: Well I primarily make my living from classes and workshops. I teach a variety of workshops locally, and extended Witchcraft training at my office.
I travel and do weekend intensives at a lot of book shop around around the country. I’ve had at least one plane trip a month for nine or ten months every years for a few years. I”m trying to cut back.
My second income comes from writing the books. People think it should be the other way around, but occult books are not the top sellers that people think, even when you have popular books. These days with the publishing industry, books have a shorter shelf life anyway. It’s almost becoming like magazines.
I also see private individuals for healing, counseling, divination and private lessons. Occasionally I make products or tools that are available to the public. I mostly prefer to teach or write.
Blackwell: And still there is a matter of having a private life and a relationship. Sounds like quite a bit of work to kept all of that in balance. Does it help that your partner is also an author?
Penczak: Well, I’m unusually blessed in that I have two partners.
One is an author and professional role playing game designer. Steve Kenson designed Mutants & Masterminds and worked on a variety of other RPGs like Shadowrun and Vampire over the years. He’s written quite a few novels based in the Shadowrun universe, among others. Adam Sartwell works with disable children by day in a state program and a professional psychic reader and healer by night. So I think the fact they both understand areas of my business and vocation are helpful.
Even more so, both are Witches and have their own magickal practices. We have a lot to talk about and can share everything equally. I’m a very lucky man, even though the unusual form my life has taken can make things socially odd at times. But I’ve never been one to do things easily.
Blackwell: As you had planned on being a singer, was it easy for you to become a speaker?
Penczak: Yes and no. I think it was easier than if I didn’t have it, but I didn’t enjoy speaking in public for the longest time. In all reality, I’m shy. But I learned that if you can be at a biker bar where beer bottles are flying, nothing that happens at a new age shop will be that scary. Will they throw incense sticks at worst? I think I can handle that. So it was good preparation.
In music school, our finals are judged by a panel of voice instructors, who could stop and question you at any time in your performance. So questions from the audience are not as terrifying. So yes, in the end, but it was still hard for me. I used to get almost sick before I spoke. Now I like it.
Blackwell: A professional has to be a self promoter, so that means hitting the Broomstick circuit. In your case that means more than the United States. How much time do you spend on the road to various Festivals and speaking engagements? Do you deal with the Media as well?
Penczak: As much as I love it, much more than I would like. I’ve been doing this professionally since 1998 and my first book came out in 2000 and that’s when I started touring. For the first few years I was teaching locally, within 2.5 hours of my home, almost five or six nights a week. When I started touring, that cut back a bit, but I have usually two weekends a month when I teach, one plane ride, one in driving distance.
I usually do at least two if not up to five or six conventions /festivals /gatherings of various sizes. Though I love them for community aspect, I prefer to teach a weekend intensive when we can do some deep work and training, and have healing experiences and insight.
I don’t do a lot of international travel. Canada almost every year or every other year. I’m close to Montreal and love the Montreal community. They have been super supportive of me since the beginning, particularly a shop called Melange Magique, though I just made friends with folks from Ontario through The Spirits of the Earth festival and they were also amazing.
I’ve been to London twice and hope to do some work in Glastonbury teaching soon. I’ll be in Australia for the better part of January 2010. Brazil has asked a few times to work something out, but we can’t get the details set yet. I’d love to go to Italy or Greece if anybody from a group in Italy or Greece is reading…
Blackwell: Yet you are involved and quite a number of other things as well. Care to let our readers know some of the other facets of your public involvement?
Penczak: I’ve been involved in the holistic health communities for a while, particularly the Reiki and herbalism communities. I’ve taught at the Northeastern Institute of Whole Health in New Hampshire, doing their more esoteric workshops.
I was involved in an interfaith organization called Gifts of Grace, but my other duties made it difficult for me to continue on as their Secretary. But I whole heartedly support their ideals.
I’m also helping out my root tradition, the Cabot Tradition, with their organization, Project Witches Projection. It’s a civil rights organization. I’m doing a fundraiser for them in September.
I’ve backed out of a lot of other areas to really focus on starting the Temple of Witchcraft as a nonprofit Church, Mystery School and Seminary. It’s been a long time in the works using the Temple training series of books and CDs to build a common base of education, and now we are building a community around that education, with plans for public ministry and education. We are currently incorporated in the state of NH and looking for federal recognition soon.
Blackwell: What haven’t you done or studied that you would like to get into?
Penczak: Wow. I don’t know. At the moment I’m a bit full on things. I really want to learn Enochian Magick, but seems to lack the natural skill at it. It’s ok, eventually. I’d like to get back into alchemy a bit more, operative alchemy. I do herbal alchemy, but I would like to have a more elaborate set up in my home if I could.
I’ve recently gotten back into composing and would like to dig out my guitar and try writing on that again, rather than just the computer and keyboard.
Blackwell: Do you have any new projects in the works, Books, CDs, Classes, or events that you will be appearing at?
Penczak: My newest book, The Witch’s Coin is out in October. It deals with prosperity and money magick, and how to live in balance.
Blackwell: Where can people find out more about about you and your various activities, services and books?
Penczak: My website is www.christopherpenczak.com
Blackwell: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Penczak: I’m a big comic book geek.