Interview with Magician and Author Christopher Penczak: "If I had my Druthers, I would be a Rock Star."

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By Melanie Harris
As a Pagan and as a gay man, Christopher Penczak isn't exactly conservative America's favorite son.  But that hasn't stopped him from being wildly popular in his own niche: he's an in demand teacher and workshop leader, and he's the author of many books, including City Magick (Weiser Books 2001) and the very successful Temple of Witchcraft series (Llewellyn Publications).  He's creative, ambitious, and daring, and he's not afraid to wear socks patterned with purple skulls and crossbones.  We heard rumors that he's now planning a Tarot deck, so we tracked him down to find out the full scoop. 

Tarot Reflections: Let's get right to it.  Tell me about this Tarot project you're planning.
Christopher Penczak: I'm actually planning on designing my own Tarot deck for the Temple of Witchcraft series.  The first four books are themed with the four elements - fire, earth, water, and air.  The fifth and sixth books are for spirit, specifically the mysteries of the Goddess and then the God.  I'm capping the whole series off with a Book of Shadows styled ritual book, and a Tarot deck and book.

I'm planning on codifying much of the teaching and symbolism of those seven books in the Tarot deck, using magical correspondences in the images of each card, for both the divinatory meaning, spiritual significance, and spellcraft correspondences.
TR: You mention spellcraft, and I wonder if you would elaborate a little on that.  Most of our readers are well versed in using the Tarot for divination, but some may be less familiar with the Tarot's role in magic.  Can you give me your own definition of what magic is, and then explain some ways to use the Tarot for ritual purposes? 
CP: The classic definition of magick is the "art and science of causing change in conformity with your will."  I slightly alter it to be the "art, science, and spirituality of causing change in conformity with your will."

Tarot is a great way to organize magical information, from the highest spiritual principles to the most basic magical correspondences.  Each card is associated with astrological planets or signs, with elements, with Hebrew letters, plants, stones, and animals.  Some cards depict them all.  Others keep these associations hidden.  I plan to do a little of both with my cards.

Tarot can be used as a focus for your magical rituals.  One of the easiest ways is to pick a card or series of cards that best represents what you want to occur.  Light a candle with the intention of manifesting that future, and leave the cards out on your altar as the candle burns.  A simple money spell would be to light a green candle on top of the Ten of Disks, or a love spell would be a pink candle over the Two of Cups.

I do this a lot with students and clients who have unfortunate resultant cards in their readings.  It shows us that we master our fate, and the Tarot is a great warning oracle as much as a predictor of events.  What's the point of knowing something if you can't change the difficult things, or at least learn from them more easily?
TR: Tell me more about your newest books.
CP: My most recent releases are The Temple of High Witchcraft and Ascension Magick, two very different books.  The Temple of High Witchcraft is the fourth in my continuing series of training manuals for the modern witch.  It delves into the mysteries of high magick, and how things like the Quabalah, or Tree of Life, ceremonial magick, hermetic philosophy, and alchemy, have influenced witchcraft.  Each lesson corresponds to one of the sephira on the Tree of Life, and I teach people how to deconstruct the ceremonial rituals of the Golden Dawn system to fit their own personal theology.  Lots of witches are influenced by these teachings, but dislike the Judeo-Christian theology associated with it.

Ascension Magick is a look at the influence of modern New Age thought, including Theosophy and Lightwork, with older forms of magick, including witchcraft, ceremonial magick, and shamanism.  I have a foot in each world - the New Age and the Occult, and this is my book to bridge the gap between the two worlds.
TR: What project are you working on right now?
CP: In terms of my latest project, I'm finishing up the fifth book in the Temple series, The Living Temple of Witchcraft.  It will be divided into volumes, with the first being released next fall.
TR: So, we'll have to wait awhile for the release of your Tarot deck, then.  We'll be looking out for it, so keep us posted.  How and when did you first get interested in the Tarot, anyway?
CP: I started working with the Tarot the same time I started in witchcraft, so that was in 1991 or 1992.  One of my first witchcraft teachers used the Tarot to teach basic spiritual principles, like the four elements and four tools of magick.  She used the Thoth deck.  I have strange memories of hanging out by her pool on a sunny summer afternoon and her quizzing me on the meanings of the cards and asking me what I see in each.  I still use the Thoth deck from that time.  They are getting a bit beat, but they have my mojo on them and I love them.  I think I'll use the Thoth deck professionally until I have my own cards completed.
TR: Is the Thoth deck your all-time favorite Tarot?
CP: The Thoth is my favorite one to read from, for myself or for others.  It just has such a geometric depth to it that I feel I can really get a lot of great intuitive information off most cards, as if I'm scrying into the cards like a crystal ball or black mirror.  I also like Robin Wood's deck and Ellen Cannon Reed's Witch's Tarot.  I love the Cosmic Tribe Tarot for its gay positive artwork, and for my personal meditations, I've been using the Merlin Tarot by R.J. Stewart.  I think his take on the whole Merlin mythos is brilliant.
TR: I know you do quite a lot of teaching, through your workshops and classes.  What would you say is the most important thing for students of the Tarot to learn?
CP: To balance textbook meanings with intuition.  I think it's important to know the classic definitions of all the cards, but I think it's equally important to know when to deviate from them.  My most "on" readings for clients involve the use of both of these skills.
TR: What are your hopes for the future?
CP: I'm working on creating a non-profit for my Temple of Witchcraft students, hopefully a religious group that can ordain graduating students, and offer mentoring and ministry programs for new students, and provide an avenue for graduates to serve the community.
TR: Man, you've got a lot going on!  How does it feel to have such great success, and what are some of the factors that contributed to that success?
CP: I give divinity the credit for my success.  If I had my druthers, I would be a rock star.  In some ways I feel like I am, in a much smaller field.  But here I am still booking gigs, making flyers, and traveling around the country.  My degree is in music, but early on, I got a very persistent message from my Goddess to start teaching metaphysical topics.  I agreed, and lost my job in the music industry that week.  I further negotiated with the Goddess that I would be able to make a living at it, and she has done more than keep up her end of the bargain.

I also think I'm a bit of an obsessive magick geek, and I love writing and talking about the esoteric.  It's my passion now, far more than music.  I work hard, but I love it.  And I try to work smart.  My music business background translated well into understanding the publishing world a bit better, though all the changes in media are making it harder for artistic types to make a living.  But it's also exciting because you can potentially reach more people than ever before.
TR: It seems like you stay pretty busy.  When you manage to get spare time, what do you like to do for fun?
CP: I must be the only guy in the occult world who did not watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, and now I'm working my way through the past seasons on DVD.  I'm not a huge TV junkie, but I'm into DVDs and will watch a whole season of something over the weekend.  I'm into comic books.  Though my chops have atrophied in a professional sense, I still play a little piano and guitar.  When it's warm, I like to garden.  And I like to sleep, though I don't get much time for that these days.

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Tarot Reflections is published by the American Tarot Association - Copyright (C) 2008 

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