Gay Witchcraft: Empowering the Tribeby Christopher Penczak
When Christopher Penczak was introduced to Witchcraft, he found a spiritual path that hononred and embraced his homosexuality. Now he has written a book of clearheaded theory and practice that is bound to become a classic. With Gay Witchcraft, Penczak joins the ranks of his forebearers in spirit, gay writers who have taken a tradition and made it home. This is a
When Christopher Penczak was introduced to Witchcraft, he found a spiritual path that hononred and embraced his homosexuality. Now he has written a book of clearheaded theory and practice that is bound to become a classic. With Gay Witchcraft, Penczak joins the ranks of his forebearers in spirit, gay writers who have taken a tradition and made it home. This is a complete book of theory and spiritual practices of Witchcraft for the gay community. Penczak's writing will make it much easier for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people interested in practicing any form of Witchcraft. Exploring the history of Paganism and offering a compendium of spells, meditations, ceremonies, and affirmations that will enrich both the novice and the experienced practioner seeking out new views of myth, ritual, and healing.
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Empowering the Tribe
By Christopher Penczak
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2003 Christopher Penczak
All rights reserved.
The Good Witch of the West
There's no place like home.
The Wicked Witch of the West, with her green face and pointed hat, was my first experience of a witch. I was terrified of her in The Wizard of Oz, but soon recovered with a little help from my mother. Unfortunately, that image imprinted the concept of the witch as villain and evil upon my young brain. Glinda, the good witch of the East, was not as important in the movie, and came with none of the familiar trappings of witchcraft we've come to know and love, like the black cloak or flying broom. Such things were reserved for evil witches. Although I love the movie, it doesn't paint witches in a flattering light, nor does it flatter the culture that perpetuates the myth of the evil witch.
When I met my first, real-live witch, I was part of the mainstream culture, and I laughed, making bad Wizard of Oz jokes about this woman. She was a wonderful friend of the family, and had recently "come out of the broom closet" to me about her faith. I thought she was kidding. No one actually calls herself a witch. Witches aren't real. They're in movies and fairy tales. Witches are stories. They're make-believe. At least that's what I thought. But they aren't. Witches are very real indeed, reclaiming an ancient tradition of wisdom and ceremony.
Witches recover ancient traditions from the old, pagan world, the wise women, cunning men, priests, and priestesses of the Stone Age, to the ancient, civilizations, and even the post-Christian era. What is now called European shamanism, or more broadly, core shamanism, was the province of the witches of old. They were the healers, poets, storytellers, counselors, ceremonial leaders, spirit workers, and magicians of their time. The power of herbs and charms was theirs to share. They would work their craft for an individual in need or for the good of the community to ensure a harvest by bending the natural forces to their intention. One of the root words of witchcraft, wicca, is said to mean "to bend or shape" by modern witches, and refers to flowing with the natural forces, to bend them and shape them with magick and spells. The second definition of wic or wicca, is "wise one." Wicca was used to refer to male practitioners, and Wicce to female practitioners. Witches of today reclaim all these roles and traditions.
The modern revival of witchcraft is usually referred to as Wicca. Witchcraft still enjoys a popular resurgence that started in the middle of the 20th century, as the archaic witchcraft laws were repealed in England and those who kept the knowledge made it more accessible. Some use "Wicca" to refer exclusively to the first traditions reaching the public at that time—Gardnerian and Alexandrian—named after the founders of the traditions.
The word pagan is a broader category. Originally meaning "of the land" or "country dweller," pagan is now a larger classification of those reclaiming the polytheistic religions of old. As Christianity contains many smaller categories, paganism contains Wicca and other traditions. Now you can go to any bookshop and get a decent manual on paganism and Wicca, such as Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.
The words "Wicca" and "witchcraft," along with "Wiccan" and "witch," are oftentimes distinguished by the practitioners, referring to the actual religion with "Wicca" and using "witchcraft" to indicate the skills of the craft, such as casting spells and making magick. Oh yes, witches do cast spells. Spells are not resigned to the world of fairy tales or superstition either. A spell is simply an intention, a wish. You could call it a form of prayer. Traditional prayers are used for healing and fulfilling wishes by petitioning God. Witches do the same thing, except their prayers come in the form of spells, using natural substances such as herbs, potions, food, crystals, and symbols to send out the prayer. Unlike traditional religions, witches pray to both God and Goddess.
Recognizing and honoring both the Goddess and God are key to understanding the beliefs of witchcraft. The divine is in everything. The divine is everything. We are all expression of the divine. Witches see the material world as an expression of the divine through the powers of creation rather than as a place of sin and suffering from which we must escape. A witch seeks to harmonize with the creative cycles as expressed in the turning of the seasons and tides of the Moon.
Creation is not some sterile process, but an act of divine love. The creative spirit, which I call the Great Spirit—all that is—manifested in the form of a Goddess, the Great Mother, who in turn birthed her own son, lover, and husband. The Great Spirit was expressing itself as feminine and masculine. The two, in an act of love and union, birthed all of creation, including humans, animals, plants, minerals, space, stars, and planets.
This might sound ragingly heterosexual, focusing on creation as the union of Goddess and God, but the most important point to remember is that we all are divine expressions of the Goddess and God. Witches honor the masculine and feminine within all beings, regardless of physical gender, sexual orientation, or identity. Everyone embodies both the divine feminine and divine masculine within, but we each contain a unique balance of the energies. Evidence suggests several ancient traditions honored those who did not identify themselves as heterosexual, specifically because of their respect for the unique blend of energies we contain. All magick and witchcraft is an act of creation, and gay people in general recognize, honor, and use both masculine and feminine energy as a part of everyday life.
In witchcraft, sexuality is sacred, not something sinful or wicked. Witches reclaim pre- Judeo-Christian traditions, and free themselves from the concept of sin. Sure, everyone makes mistakes, but the divine simply asks that you learn from them. Mistakes are experiences, not a stigma. Purity is not about abstinence or freedom from physical pleasure. Purity is living in your truth and personal integrity. Although much of the Western world has adopted Judeo-Christian values, what are popularly called "family values" in America, the cultures from which Wicca draws were not as uptight about sexuality. Sex was simply a part of a healthy life, meant to be enjoyed when desired. Sex was often ritualized and a part of worship. The sacredness of pagan sexuality was no less moral or spiritual than traditional Judeo-Christian morals; it simply was not understood because the monotheistic religions were not divinely sexual. One God, usually depicted as masculine, a father, created the world. There was no union with the feminine, no play between the God and Goddess energies. Interestingly, in the oldest, more esoteric version of Judaism and Christianity, we find traces of the feminine presence, but they did not make it to the popular modern consciousness.
In the Charge of the Goddess, one of the few holy texts surviving in Wicca, the Goddess states: "All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals." Modern witches cite this line as an acceptance and welcoming of queer people to the craft. The love is the most important aspect of the worship. Witches create a temple space through the ritual of "casting a circle." The watchwords of the circle are "Perfect Love and Perfect Trust," meaning a divine, unconditional love for all those in the circle, and all life everywhere. A witch trusts in the divine, the Goddess and the God, and works in an active partnership, a personal relationship, to manifest the life he or she wants to lead.
A witch is a mystic, intimately exploring the divine through consciousness-raising techniques found in ritual and meditation. Since so much of the witchcraft traditions were stamped out during persecutions in Europe, modern witches have been reconstructing the faith, liberally borrowing from a mix of cultures and heritages. Since pagan faiths can recognize and honor more than one cultural pantheon, we're likely to find a witch working with gods and symbols from the Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, and Aztec religions. Modern popular psychology, particularly the work of C. G. Jung, and quantum physics have been incorporated into the principles of the craft, giving a more scientific definition to the age-old wisdom. All these cultures and disciplines have more in common than you would realize, and their diversity is the key to change and growth. Witchcraft is not a stagnant religion, but one that is living and breathing, adapting and changing with the times. Wicca is practiced differently than it was 50 years ago, encouraging more eclecticism, and it will be different again in another 50 years, but some truths remain timeless.
Witches recognize the masculine and feminine energies, the God and Goddess, and the majority of Wiccan traditions recognize the God and Goddess come in many forms and with many faces. Particular aspects of the natural world, such as Earth, sky, seas, Sun, Moon, and rainbows, and more abstract aspects, such as dreams, war, love, poetry, and healing, are embodied by various deities. Each culture named these deities individually, but they embody the same concepts. Because these religions were polytheistic (worshiping more than one deity), such cultures, including modern Wicca, are more tolerant of other religions, because they see other gods as expressions of their own.
If the gods are embodied by the natural forces, then paying attention to the cycles of nature is an important part of aligning yourself with these deities. Witches do rituals observing the solstices and equinoxes as well as the phases of the Moon, particularly the full Moon. Witches believe in creating a sacred space, a temple that can be erected anywhere, particularly in nature, but your bedroom is sacred, too. Permanent temples, shrines, and altars are nice, but you have all that you require within you. Tools simply make the job easier. Because of this, most witches keep a home altar with important tools, all as a reminder of the spiritual path. An honest and heartfelt relationship with nature, whatever aspect of nature is around you—from lush forests to house plants—is as important as fancy tools. The wisdom of plants, animals, and minerals is usually a part of the teachings, particularly for those seeking to learn the healing arts.
Witches believe in more than one world. They live in the physical, like most people, but are "walkers between the worlds," meaning they can interact with the spiritual world, like a medium or shaman. They "pierce the veil" between worlds. The temple or ritual circle occurs between worlds, creating a sacred, spiritual space. Personal interaction with ancestors and guides, as well as deities and animal spirits, is an integral component of the path. In fact, such visionary meditations are often called "path workings," because they lead you from one place to the next, both in meditation and your personal life.
From this fact, witches believe in an afterlife, though opinions vary on its exact nature. The vast majority of witches believe in past lives and karma, but that is not universal among us. Through psychic contact with the nonphysical worlds, one can divine information about the past, present, and future. As walkers between worlds, witches are not limited to the present tense, but see time as a whole.
The universe is created from energy, the energy and love of the Goddess and God. Light, matter, spirits, and everything else are simply forms of energy. Like nature, this energy is neither good nor bad; its use depends on the intent of the user. Witches understand energy exists in spectrums that science has not yet codified, and with sufficient will, one can harness that energy to create change. You can call these abilities "psychic" or "magical," for magick is simply creating change in harmony with your will. Witches use the energy for casting spells. Spells, specific acts of magick, are done for a variety of effects, including love, prosperity, protection, and healing. I know quite a few people who didn't believe in spells until they tried one and it worked.
Humanity fears the "curse" of the witch. The vengeful and cursing witch is a stereotype from folklore, and like many stereotypes, there is some fact and some fiction. Most witch stereotypes were historically a part of the witch trials and had no actual basis in the ancient practice.
The typical person would not admit to believing in the powers of a witch, but the underlying fear of witchcraft stems from the belief that one can be cursed and that misfortune will follow. Although curses are part of the history, and some people practice them still, for the most part, modern witches shy away from curses because of their understanding of the Law of Three. Everything you do returns to you threefold. All intentions come back to you. That is how a spell works. Witches are responsible for their thoughts and intentions, because they truly know the power behind them. Witches do not harm others because greater harm would return to them. If someone is bothering you, there are easier, safer, and more sensible ways of dealing with the problem. Conversely, if you do blessings and help people, blessings and help will return to you threefold. We are all connected, and everything affects everything else. Because of this metaphysical law, many pagans are involved in healing and charity work. As you help others, you help yourself and the planet. Some call this the Law of Reciprocity.
Witches have no commandments or book of laws. Our scriptures are the changing seasons. No one can completely capture the essence of the cycles of nature in a single book. Our scriptures must be observed and experienced. We have but one law known as the Wiccan Rede. Rede simply means "advice," or "credo." It's not even a law, just a good practice. The Wiccan Rede states, "Do what thou will, and let it harm none." You are free to do as you feel guided to do in your craft, provided you do not hurt others, including yourself. This is not only a guide for magick, but for life, akin to the Golden Rule of Christianity, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."
Witchcraft stresses personal responsibility. No one in the craft will tell you what you can or can't do. You are the ultimate authority on your life. Although you should respect traditions and elders, ultimately, you walk alone, which is somewhat difficult, but empowering. As "witch" refers to both male and female practitioners, each witch is his or her own priest or priestess, capable of leading ritual and celebrating all the rites. No one but you can judge if the path is right for you spiritually, morally, or sexually. A warlock is not a male witch. The word's generally accepted meaning is "traitor" or "oath breaker," and was an epithet used by those of the early Church. Anyone who uses the world "warlock" today is probably ignorant about Wicca as a religion.
Names such as "the Old Religion," "the Craft" or "the Craft of the Wise" are used to denote this modern religion legally protected in America by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Joining the practice as a solitary is an easy way to start if you have the self- discipline and desire, but sometimes it can be difficult if you are looking for formal training or to work with a group, usually called a "coven" or "circle." If you choose to work with a group and a formal tradition, you can find various community groups—some open and others more private—all across the country, which is another similarity gay communities have with witches. Check local New Age and occult bookstores to get some leads.
Formal initiation is not necessary. Self-study and initiation is becoming increasingly popular in a world lacking enough teachers for all the desiring students. Several traditions and books recommend self-initiation to the craft. You must be dedicated and motivated to read, learn, and practice. You can start with the exercises and lessons in this book, geared toward gay practitioners. If you are already practicing, you may find a different slant to some of the traditional material.
Anyone with the desire and effort can be a witch, but many of us simply are called to the practice, beyond our personal desires and understanding. Follow the light of your soul and you will find what sustains it.
The Secret History
As it was. As it is. As it ever shall be.
You won't find the history of witchcraft, and in particular the history of gay mystics of the craft, in a traditional history book, though our story is the shadow of the modern world's development. Witches have always been present, since clans and tribes have gathered together, and we will always be present in some form.
Although much of the secret history of witchcraft has been reclaimed or corroborated in traditional history and the latest scientific information—from archaeology to advanced physics—it is primarily a story learned orally, to give witches a sense of identity, of roots in the greater mysteries of humanity. Like any oral tradition, the teller of the tale has his or her own personal points of interest, additions, and lapses in memory, so the story changes over time.
Excerpted from Gay Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak. Copyright © 2003 Christopher Penczak. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Christopher Penczak (New Hampshire) is an award-winning author, teacher, healing practitioner, and eclectic Witch. His practice draws upon the foundation of modern Witchcraft blended with the wisdom of mystical traditions from across the globe. He has studied extensively with renowned Witch Laurie Cabot and other Witches, shamans, yogis, and healers in the New England area which have influenced his eclectic path of personal Witchcraft. Penczak is an ordained minister of the Universal Brotherhood Movement, is a certified flower essence consultant, and is a certified Reiki Master (Teacher) in the Usui-Tibetan and Shamballa traditions. A popular public speaker, he tours extensively throughout the year at bookstores and major gatherings. Penczak is the author of City Magick (Red Wheel/Weiser), Spirit Allies (Red Wheel/Weiser), and Gay Witchcraft (Red Wheel/Weiser'nominated for a Lambda Award). A columnist for newWitch magazine, his work has also been featured in publications such as Genre, InnerSelf Magazine and Kaleidoscope, and his writing appears in the recent book I Do, I Don't: Queers on Marriage. Penczak is a faculty member at the North Eastern Institute of Whole Health and a founding member of the Gifts of Grace Foundation, a non-profit organization in New Hampshire made up of individuals from diverse spiritual backgrounds dedicated to service to the local communities.
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