Christopher Penczak is the co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft religious nonprofit organization and the creator of the Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School and Seminary education programs. He is an award winning author, ritualist and minister focused on expanding the teachings and culture of the Witchcraft community. He co-founded Copper Cauldron, an independent publishing company to support his own vision and that of the Temple of Witchcraft community. Today Christopher continues to teach internationally, write, see private clients, design jewelry and travel to sacred sites with small groups. His numerous books include the Temple of Witchcraft series, The Mighty Dead, The Phosphorous Grove, The Casting of Spells, and much more.
Why should we care about working with the dead?
The dead are vitally important to many of us walking the path of the Witch. I often like to say “The Dead are people too.” Even beyond that, spirits in general, are much like people, with their own paths, work, challenges and aid to offer. We live in an interconnected universe, and that interconnection also includes those who have departed. Just because they are invisible to our naked eye does not meant they are absent from the web of interconnectivity. We can divide working with the dead into different types. Some of the dead appear to us as lost souls, and if they are seeking help or suffering, our work can help them, and alleviate suffering. Some of the dead are integrated into our understanding of ancestral consciousness. They are often there to help us as much as we can help then, and embody the continuity of consciousness through the spirit world to us. Then there are the sanctified dead, the justified ancestors who are the inner plane adepts. They can often be teachers and healers, but we are often called to be their hands and tongues in the world of humanity and form, both of us in service to a greater power or cause.
Why is ancestral work important?
Ancestral work links us to those who have gone before us. There is a collective consciousness of energy, vitality, wisdom and emotion from our ancestry, but our more personal ancestors connects us to deeper levels of human consciousness, and to the consciousness before our understanding and evolution of humanity, to all cellular life upon this planet. In many ways, all that has lived, grown, and walked upon the Earth are our ancestors, and active work connecting with, honoring, and communing, unlocks a greater understanding of our place in the world and our true purpose.
What benefits can we gain from working with our ancestors?
On a practical level, we work with ancestors to learn from our and their, mistakes and carry their wisdom forward. Working with ancestors can be immensely healing of wounds we carry and don’t fully consciously understand. We can help them in their own evolution as an ancestors, and that in turn lightens our own load, the weight of the unresolved in our own legacy. They can be called upon in magick to help us with practical forms of magick – physical healing, prosperity, love, protection. Ancestors want us to prosper and do well, and they have an innate understanding of our human condition.
Are there different types of ancestors?
In my teachings, we divide the ancestors into seven different kinds. In the general category of Beloved Dead, we have 1) Ancestors of Flesh and Blood – genetic ancestors; 2) Ancestors of Milk and Honey – adopted ancestors; 3) Ancestors of Bone and Stone – ancestors of place; 4) Ancestors of Bread and Breath – ancestors of story and life work, often artists, musicians or people we admire and resonate with; and 5) Ancestors of Soul and Spirit – ancestors of the same spiritual legacy, either in a generalized form, say Witches, or a specific linage or tradition. Beyond these five Beloved Dead, we also speak of 6) the Forgotten Dead and 7) The Mighty Dead – the justified or sanctified ones.
What if we don’t know our ancestors, such as those who are adopted?
Many Witches who “work the blood” encounter ancestors far back beyond the name, places and even the lines on a map we’d recognize. You still have ancestors in your blood even if you have no conscious knowledge. Work with them in ritual and vision to see who and what is revealed. But the ancestors of your adopted family are now your Ancestors of Milk and Honey and you should also work with them.
The Mighty Dead are the “enlightened” or sanctified or justified dead, of the Witchcraft Traditions. I actually believe they are the same in all traditions, because at that level of consciousness, our differences fall away, but they present to those in a particular tradition through that cultural lens. They are those who died in a state of awareness, succeeding on the path of their tradition. We might say they died with Sorcerous Power. In other traditions they are considered to be the Saints, Bodhisattvas, Inner Plane Adepts, Heroes, Secret Chiefs or Ascended Masters.
Are all Ancestors of the Craft part of the Mighty Dead?
Since they extend beyond space and time as we know it, I’d like to think so, eventually. But that is one of the great mysteries, isn’t it?
Where did this idea originate from?
I was taught it from a Craft teacher who would invoke the Mighty Dead, but beyond the term, didn’t really talk much or teach much about them as a class of beings. My own research found the roots of the terms, as far as i could tell, to the published writing of Gerald Gardner, who writes of them in an offhand way in his books on Witchcraft.
Why are they important? Why should we work with them?
They embody what we are heading towards if we practice our Craft diligently. Just like mentors and teachers who have finished a level of training can train us, they train and guide us to the next level beyond this human school of understanding.
What is the Eternal Sabbat?
The Eternal Sabbat is one vision of the grand meeting place where such inner plane adepts gather, and can interface not only together, but with other complimentary allies and entities. Witches often perceive is as the Medieval European Witch’s vision of the Sabbat, laced with heretical images to the Judeo-Christian mind. They are all ciphers and keys to go deeper. Any revulsion we feel, or perverse fascination, is a test to go deeper, to see more truly.
What are some simple ways we can honor the dead, our ancestors, and the mighty dead?
Ancestor Altars are a key way, making offerings of water, drink, food, smoke and candle light. remembering them and calling upon them. Speaking to them. Remembering and telling stories. Honoring their work.
Are there any among the Mighty Dead who are particularly important to you?
Generally I feel the Eternal Sabbat and the Mighty Dead shows the interconnectivity and in general, the group consciousness, elevating it beyond the individual face, unlike the practice of the veneration of saints or bodhisattvas. I think it helps us connect to the group, when looking at the swirling, shapeshifting multitude of faces and forms. Sometimes people get fixated upon a “special face” though sometimes a special face can help us maintain the connection better. Keeping that in mind, my special faces are no one famous in history, but fairly anonymous cunning ones and priestesses who we might label Witch today, but they might not have in their own lives. They have appeared to me the doing this work, and show up in dream and vision to help, to teach, to listen and guide.
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