Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: The Outer Temple of Witchcraft – circles, spells and rituals by Christopher Penczak



 Back in the summer of 2012, some people from my Circle and a partnering coven decided to get together do meet once a month for a special study group. So often we read books but never actually worked through them, so we decided it would do us good to actually do some close studying of something rather than a quick breeze-through.

Christopher Penczak’s Temple series was suggested to the group, and we started with the Inner Temple of Witchcraft and liked it well enough to move onto the second book in the series. We liked the first book okay, but it wasn’t without some complaints. Many of us felt very similarly about The Outer Temple of Witchcraft (the second in the Temple series). Penczak has a lot of good advice, plenty of suggestions, and some interesting ideas. But it seems like we ended up spending our meetings nit-picking his stuff because gosh, there’s so much to be annoyed at.

This book is a bit longer than the first book, but it allegedly goes deeper, building off of the first lessons. I actually feel like the first book was more challenging to me, with a lot of focus on personal stuff (it is the Inner Temple, after all.) This book focused more on external world stuff, and while it was interesting and useful, it wasn’t quite as challenging (with the exception of a few chapters.)

Penczak presents chapters on sacred space, magic 101, ethics, correspondences, roles within magical groups, discussions on Deities, elements, tools, divination, spellcraft, the Wheel of the Year, networking, and a few other witchy things. That’s quite a lot of stuff to include in one book, but these contents work well together in this presentation and format.

I really liked Chris’s spells, charms, and recipes, though the book is not a spell book at all (he just includes a few things.) The Wheel of the Year chapter was super boring, especially for any seasoned witch, though it might be useful for Baby Pagans. We got into huge, long discussions nit-picking his stuff on Deity, elements, and tools. One of my favorite chapters was the one on divination, which was brief but thorough. Our group did a divination and magical tool show-and-tell for a few chapters, which was great fun.

One of my favorite parts about the study group is the side conversations we often have. Working through a book with a group is invaluable, not just because of the focus on the book, but because of the side conversations. You can learn so much from other witches, and sometimes I felt like I left the meeting haven learned more from them than the book we were studying.

And sometimes Penczak made me so angry! I hate how he lackadaisically just uses witch/Wiccan/Pagan interchangeably, when the common consensus in most Pagan communities seems to frown on this. I hate when he talks about the concept of Gnosis, which I understand he’s coming at from a Chaos Magic point of view, but as someone who identifies as a Gnostic and has studied Gnosticism, that whole point of view regarding Gnosis really rubs me the wrong way. I also hate how culturally appropriative and flippant he is sometimes. I think this book can be incredibly culturally insensitive, and I feel like as a leader in the Pagan community, Chris Penczak should know better.

That said, I enjoyed working through the book (especially with the companion CDs and meditations) and I look forward to the next three books in the series. (There are five total in the Temple of Witchcraft series.) I’d say that in the past two years I’ve grown more as a Witch and as a Priestess than I have since I was first a Baby Pagan, and this is quite an achievement, I believe. I owe a lot of my growth to Penczak and his books, for giving me structure, for challenging me, for informing me and teaching me. And in addition, I owe a lot of my growth to the lovely group of witches who have been studying with me. They’ve all been invaluable teachers, every one of them!

So I'd recommend this series, but not without some heavy-duty critical thinking. Christopher Penczak has a lot to offer, but it's up to the reader to decide what is useful and what is pure nonsense.

3 comments:

  1. As one of those "some people" I will add a few defensive comments on Chris' behalf. (who would have thought?) These books were written well over 10 years ago, when the terms witch/Wiccan/Pagan were used interchangeably (and carelessly) and many more folks were ok with that. Most folks had a Wiccan foundation and would just shrug when called "Wiccan" even if that term really didn't fit. It seems that only recently has this become a huge issue in the community - and unfortunately, seems to be tearing us apart rather than pull us together.

    We were also a study group with years of experience...actually decades of experience...and a few folks who didn't identify with being Wiccan AT ALL. The path that we walked, and the experiences we had were in many cases a far cry from what Chris has experienced. We were looking at the work with different eyes than someone venturing into the "New Age" section of the bookstore for the first time thinking these books might be a good place to start. Heck, I would have loved to have had them back in the 70's!

    I am however on the fence about which book should come first. I go back and forth on that. On the one hand, Outer Temple is about the trappings and the theatre and all that stuff that surrounds our practice, yet, I really don't want someone picking up a wand without doing the inner work first.

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    1. great comments, Autumn! I had originally wanted to wait to write this review until after the group met, but then I was afraid I'd forget or not have time. You point out many good things that should have been included in my review!

      You make a good point about the use of the words witch/Wiccan/Pagan, as well as when Chris was writing this stuff. Sometimes I feel like people focus too much on the terminology used in books, rather than the content. But maybe that's just me because I'm one of the "majority" Wiccans! (maybe this is the "wiccanate privilege" everyone is talking about these days?)

      And I hadn't though about our group in terms of experience. (We are a diverse and talented bunch, aren't we?) I've been thinking a lot on whether or not I would have liked this book (or the first one) as a Baby Pagan, and I think I would have adored them. I think he has a lot of content that would have refined a lot of my skills and knowledge earlier than it did. But it's hard to tell. I think Chris has done a lot of great things for the Pagan community, much more good than harm.

      And at least he's contributed to so many great discussions and topics!

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