For clarity: I don't represent or speak for Temple of Witchcraft in any official capacity. The experiences and interpretations of study here (and any mistakes contained within) are wholly mine.
In mid-August, I was lucky enough to travel to my first TempleFest, the annual festival that Temple of Witchcraft (henceforth TOW) organizes. I am currently a first degree (W1) student with TOW, and this was to be my first in-person experience with the group.
To say that I was nervous is an understatement: ever the skeptic, I was worried that the group I had enjoyed studying with online for almost a year would not stand up to the impression I held of it in my mind.
On top of that, this was my first in-person group pagan experience of any kind, and my first time camping as an adult, an activity that has never appealed to me. My worst fear was that I'd be mosquito-bitten and stranded in unfamiliar territory without cell service, surrounded by strangers.
My anxiety reached a quiet fever pitch as my friend/classmate Darin and I drove deeper into the woods on some remote dirt lane. "What if the Templ isn't what it seems?" I wondered aloud. Neither of us answered, and the question vanished like a spark in the rain.
Entering camp, the air was effervescent with insects and ungrounded energy, charged and crisp in contrast to the dense southern humidity I'd left earlier that day. Witches in summer clothes convened at picnic tables and in walking groups. The center of camp was a large round meadow: a ritual circle of sorts bordered by wood cabins, dormitories, and yurts. Trails leading into the forest branched off of the meadow's edge.
One important thing I've learned in the past year of studying with the Temple is that the work of a witch is to traverse between worlds; to exist in both the mundane and in the spiritual realms so that we can be a steward for each. The knowledge gained provides us with the tools to influence or shape reality, and it also gives us a greater responsibility than the average person because we are consciously aware of all the ways we could empower or sabotage ourselves at every turn; we have no choice but to take ownership of our lives.
It became clear early on that this place was a different world, which we were all in the process of co-creating along with the land, its creatures, and the fabric of time itself. My task was to become as close to its native as possible, to absorb as much of its essence as I could stand. And so in that moment of realization, I became a Camping Witch wholeheartedly.
My yurt-mates and I made quick work of transforming our shelter into a sacred space, complete with cozy altar adorned with colorful battery-powered lights and Brigid's cross guarding the door. We were fast friends, and a spirit of helpfulness, understanding, and trust flowed freely between us. I can say with certainty that I wouldn't have had such a great experience without the presence of Darin, Julia, Rosie and Eric.
Time had a very different quality in this world apart, moving slowly and deliberately so that each moment could be fully realized. I found myself unable to remember what had happened on what day; things that took place in the morning seemed to be from the day before. Our first full day brought steady rain, and through it I took a shift tending the sacred flame that was to burn for the entire festival. I was alone with the fire for hours, my only company a pair of fawns who came practically within arms' reach before skittering away. The hours there felt like minutes.
The days filled easily, with activities scheduled from morning to midnight. My favorite workshop was taught by Chris Giroux, a longstanding force in the Temple. He gave a different perspective on the tarot, tying each suit back to elements, and each major arcana to specific signs of the zodiac, with many anecdotes about his life. I learned and laughed a lot here and felt inspired by the way he combines his spiritual practice with activism.
Another highlight for me was Storm Faerywolf's powerful ritual to work with Melek Taus, the peacock angel. He also does work as an advocate for the persecuted Yazidi people who worship Melek Taus.
Last, but not least, I couldn't not mention Ivo Dominguez' mind-bendingly great lectures. He has a gift for explaining complex metaphysics in a way that any witch can understand.
In the festival's opening keynote, I recall in my own sleep-deprived haze TOW founder Christopher Penczak (who is lovely and warm in person) saying something to the effect of "If we could do this work in the spiritual realm, we wouldn't have incarnated as humans."
It's tempting to use spirituality as a form of escapism, and I understand intellectually why that should be avoided. However, I was unprepared for what returning to mundane life would actually feel like. The transition from camp and its supportive environment back to isolated buzzing city life was jarring. I was literally unbalanced—I fell in a crowded subway car on the way to my hotel—and I felt mournful, almost resentful at having to come back to "real life". That feeling stayed for the better part of a week.
Now that I am more settled, the main feeling I have is gratitude. The experience, the learning, and the friends I've made are beyond compare.
I look forward to future TempleFests, and hopefully a more graceful transition between the worlds next time.
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