Christopher Penczak’s Temple of High Witchcraft

Temple of High Witchcraft is the fourth book in Christopher Penckzac’s “Temple of Witchcraft” series.  It attempts to frame the the Western Ceremonial tradition in terms which are compatible with the particular strain of solitary Wicca he describes in the previous three books. 

On my first read, it looked good—albeit with the standard Penczak disclaimers: don’t trust his history; swallow your bile when every time he says “harm none”; and try not to cry when he reduces complex pantheons to weak incarnations of his disturbing “Goddess, God, and Great Spirit” triad.

Following the scheme established by his first three books, he offers thirteen lessons: one preliminary, one chapter for each of the ten Sephiroth, one more for Da’ath, and a final initiation.  In keeping with the most interesting and useful part of his previous lessons, each stage of the study is accompanied by a distinctive altar plan.  Unlike the previous books, he frames each Sephira as an initiatory stage, attempting to parallel the initiatory structure of the Golden Dawn.  The lessons build on one another, with the student’s daily rituals becoming increasingly elaborate.  Each lesson also introduces one or two of the various iconic elements of Golden Dawn ceremonialism—Abremelin Oil, planetary sigils, the Rosy Cross, and the like.  Each lesson ends with a set of pathworkings.  Throughout the book and in the appendices, he offers a number of exercises and alternatives to make the patriarchal and monotheist structures of the GD more compatible with an individual eclectic Wiccan system, culminating in a reality map to replace the Qabalistic Tree of Life in student’s practice.

Knee-deep in the program, however, certain problems begin to come clear.  Although the book is weighty, too many of the pages are taken up by Penczak’s bullshit history and theory.  While the lessons look weighty on initial examination, in attempting to actually make use of them they fall short.  He oversimplifies the subject to the point of uselessness.  Finally, and most importantly, these problems culminate in a course whose ostensible target audience could not possibly complete in the proposed amount of time.

I don’t even know where to begin with the bullshit of Penczak’s history and magical theory.  Although I sometimes get the impression that he actually knows something of history and is bullshitting for the benefit of the audience, we’re talking about someone who feels perfectly comfortable asserting that the actual use of the Pyramids is unknown because some people have past-life memories of their use as magical communication devises a-la Chariots of the Gods (IToW citation forthcoming).  And his magical theory still pretty much reads like a verbose version of DJ Conway. 

Each lesson comes with an addition to the practitioner’s daily regimen, an alchemical or ritual experiment to perform, and a pair of pathworkings with which to conclude the lesson.  But trying to work through those lessons, it turns out that there’s not actually anything to work through.  Most of each lesson’s page count is consumed by Cunningham-esque correspondence tables and lengthy explanations thereof.  Each ritual is presented as a series of physical and mental motions, with no explanation of what the rite is actually attempting to achieve.  Each lesson has a beginning, and an end, but no middle.  In order to be really effective, each chapter would need to be twice as long. 

Looking to my personal library and—more importantly, the Internet—for solutions to these problems, I discovered what I personally consider the second worst problem of the book.  It perpetuates the idea that the Golden Dawn and Thelemic lodge traditions are the whole and sum of the Western magical tradition.  I don’t know what else to say about this.  There is so much ceremonial magic out there, from the Greek Magical Papyri to Cornelius Agrippa and everything in between and things I’ve never even heard of yet.  This is a huge scholastic–even moral–failing on the part of Christopher Penczak.

As a serious student of magic with a large personal library and access to the Internet, I was able to overcome these first problems.  But I’ve also been practicing magic of one form or another for fifteen years.  Having worked a good job and been relatively financially privileged, I have a library which is the envy of many who see it.  And I have access to high-speed internet both at home and at school, and have had for most of my adult life (counting, for the sake of this statement, that period when 24kbps WAS “high speed” for the time).  There is no guarantee that everyone buying Penczak’s book—or borrowing it from the library—has these advantages.  Further, it’s meant to stand on no more foundation than his previous three books.

Let me say that again: this regimen is meant to be within the abilities of someone who has done no more than Penczak’s three previous year-and-a-day courses. 

There is no way that someone just beginning their third year of magical practice could make it through this book in a year and a day without hurting themselves.  Well, except possibly to get nothing out of it whatsoever.

Don not, under any circumstances, buy this book new.  Don’t bother with this book at all, really, unless you’re like me and just like to have a framework for for a much larger program of independent study.

Penczak, Christopher. The Temple Of High Witchcraft, Ceremonies, Spheres And The Witches’ Qabalah. Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd, 2007.