Ren Zatopek
of Ced Tradition

Ren Zatopek of Ced Tradition


Becoming a Witch

Ren's old-fashioned journey from weird to witchery

  Ren's old-fashioned journey  
  from weird to witchery  

I first learned about witchcraft as a child the old-fashioned way—by being accused of it by schoolmates and neighbors on account of being raised by loving, freethinking atheists deep in the Bible-thumping heart of Texas.

They were wrong to mistake a lack of church for a lack of compassion, ethic, or interest in the mysteries.

But they were right about my magic—the curiously-timed lightning strikes, the moon-fed and frenzied poetry, the voices whispering about a kind of love that could crack your heart open.

They were a bit right.

I’m 40-something now, so, as you can imagine, the bookshops in my neck of the woods as a kid weren’t overfull with occult options. Phones had cords. The internet didn’t have pictures.

So, I developed my witchcraft the old-fashioned way, too—by talking back to those strange yet familiar voices. “Tell me about the love,” I’d ask them. “Tell me about the lightning. Tell me about the bio-luminescent veins of blue light that sometimes appear in the shadows between trees at night…the light I see in my eyes when the bathroom is dark and the mirror starts to move.”

I followed those voices and those veins of light through forests and through years. I followed them to Los Angeles and to North Carolina. I followed them through trainings in Druidry and Death midwifery, Energywork and Exorcism, Faery and Folk magic, in Somatics and Spellwork.

In 2012 I followed them through the initiatory doors of the folk and family of the Ced Tradition—witches, heretical and holy, ethical and irreverent, carriers and creators of what my witchfather Griffin once penned as a “vast, living legacy.” Keyword: Living. Ever-evolving.

(Ced is pronounced with a hard C like Craft, Chaos, or Coven.)

And it was there that I found my home, a place where I could live in paradoxical wonder: putting down loving roots without being tied to one place or perspective. A place where the common ground isn’t shared rules, beliefs, or curriculum—it’s shared evolution and shared experience. A shared desire to see, to awaken, to grow, to participate and contribute to the vast, living art of witchery.

And, importantly for folks that choose to study spiritwork and witchery with me, I grew within Ced Tradition the old-fashioned way, as well—through years of experience doing the work. Yes, Griffin and all of our people give great classes and share amazing information and insight. But, and I know they’d agree, you don’t learn witchcraft by listening to someone else talk about doing it. Learning witchcraft is more like learning how to paint or how to sing or act.

You learn, primarily, by doing a lot of it.

And if someone primarily wants to build their art without outside influence—there’s power in that! But, for myself, I benefitted enormously from the opportunity to participate in and witness the work first-hand. So, I choose to share that same gift with folks exploring witchcraft with me.

And I realize now what an incredibly vulnerable thing it is to be willing to give the demonstration or invite folk into the experience, because, unlike painting or singing or theatre, most of what’s happening in witchcraft can’t be seen—even from the first row. 

To get it, you have to be in it. 

So when you share it with folks who may not be willing or able to dive in, you know they may walk away saying: “I don’t get it!” 

But then, being misunderstood is how this all started, isn’t it? Witchcraft is inherently transgressive.

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Trance Journey

  Ren, gifted at going there. Garbage at getting back.  

  Ren, gifted at going there.  
  Garbage at getting back.  

  Ren, gifted at going there.  
  Garbage at getting back.  

Most kids play with trance. Singing spontaneous songs. Repeating words until they dissolve. Spinning in circles.

Some kids, like me, take it a little further. I can’t tell you how many times my poor mother found me perfectly still, face down in the tub, because I had realized that holding my breath opened the flaming door of spirit. SORRY MOM.

So, in one sense, I was a natural when it came to trance. By the time I found myself in community with witches, I was known for the potency of my second sight and ability to shift and bring forth spirit in ritual.

I arrived among the folk of Ced and immediately felt like I’d found my kindred. They like to sway on their feet when working, too! They like to stare into the dark until it stares back! They like sharing their tongues with spirit friends and tone to attune to the hidden realms!

But they had something I seemed to be missing: control. They were intentional with their direction and depth. When the work was done they could often drop it on a dime.

If we consider the return journey to be part of journeying…turns out I was not a natural. And forget about grounding. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. (Turns out—I didn’t want to. Not really.)

And now that I was spiritually and magically in deeper waters, my inability to return to the shore between experiences was less like trying to stand all day in the surf and more like trying to tread water all day in a storm. Can anyone else hear the walls chattering? Is anyone else crying hysterically in a voice that doesn’t sound like their own?

If I didn’t transform my relationship with trance one of two things was going to happen:

I was going to damage my sanity, my body, and my ability to function as a human by continuing to ride and practice traditional witchcraft without any sort of control over when I was altered, how deeply I was altered, what realms I was ending up in, what spirits I was contacting.

Or I was going to have to give up on practicing witchery in order to protect my sanity, which is like a musician quitting music, or a fish quitting water. I could’ve done it. And it might’ve saved me, but it would’ve been another kind of dying.

So, I dedicated myself to the study of trance partly out of a life-long passion and partly out of necessity.

And with time and training, with reading, and writing, and riding, with practice and more practice…I found my way.

I got good at returning and grounding. I learned to go deep and drop it on a dime. I stopped straddling the hedge and trying to live 24/7 with a foot in both worlds. I learned a lot about myself—about why I’d been so resistant to conscious control, why I’d gone from trance-adventurer to trance-addict.

I found the keys that had been eluding me. (Had my teachers given me those details previously? Very likely. But being given something is not the same as receiving it. Being told something is not the same as hearing it!)

When I felt ready, I began sharing what I knew and got to help other folks who were struggling with trance—sometimes in ways that were very different from me! Question by question I became a repository of knowing about our collective trance-struggles and trance-successes. Story by story I was able to adapt my teachings to be more inclusive of difference in body, brain, and lived experience.

And I’m not done! I don’t expect to finish before my final breath as I’ve come to realize that what seemed initially to be a personal probem…

…Ren isn’t good at trance…

…and then seemed to be an issue with people like me…other intense and sensitive folk are struggling, too…

…now appears to me very clearly as a social and cultural rupture many generations in the making which has been catastrophic for all beings, those within the rupture and especially those without.

There are so many humans now living in denial and fear of trance or in unmet desire and hunger for trance. Those of us within the rupture are getting dragged by our horses while still dreaming of what it would feel like to ride, dreaming of flight—of those experiences of liberating transformation within cultural context and collective purpose.

For some, their healing will come from reaching back in time to specific ancestors and cultures that had more consciousness connection with trance—who had festivals and rituals and teachings that can be brought back to life.

For some, the past is messier. We may not know our ancestry. We might not have access to their traditions or teachings. We may not have the unwritten cultural context to understand what we find. Even if we had the recipe book, we may not know how to cook!

And so, for my part, I seek to offer something that can be adapted to each person’s unique process.

Maybe it’s filling in a few gaps within a body of knowledge that you’re building from. Maybe you’re starting from scratch, working to find trance in your body the same way the first humans did.

Either way, building a healthy relationships with trance isn’t just about gathering skills. It’s also about shedding. The rupture wasn’t caused solely by avoiding trance—it’s about shaming and demonizing trance. Or, more recently, about folks within the rupture idolizing and “othering” trance—insisting upon extreme, inaccessible, or unattainable methods for getting on the horse.

So, another big component of our work is in shifting some of the ideas we may have been given about trance.

Thankfully, every step we take towards conscious, intentional trance quickens our capacity for conscious, intentional transformation!

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First Date Facts

Hometown? Hobbies? Why is small talk so hard.

  Hometown? Hobbies?  
  Why is small-talk so hard?  

Home is where the hearth is.

I currently live in North Carolina, but my accent is from nearly 20 years each in Texas and California. “Y’alls feelings are, like, so valid.”

The last name (Zatopek) is Czech—there’s a few Czech towns in Texas. I don’t have a Czech accent, but my inner Slavic grandmother wants to know if you’ve eaten. Have you eaten? Are you hungry? Do you need a bite of something?

To quote a Czech baker from back home: “I don’t think it’s good to eat on an empty stomach.”

Find me by the fire.

I like singing by campfires, petting mossy rocks, and want to stop at all the caves and caverns on any road trip.

I enjoy attending ancestral and primitive skills gatherings and learning new campfire songs, trying to make fire without matches, and did I mention I like fire?

Spoons and Sparring.

I have a genetic disorder that kicks my ass with all sorts of symptoms. Pain. Fatigue. Fainting. I am forever running on a spoon deficit.

If you tell me to try essential oils or positive thinking, I will tell you to try sucking my 🍆

Despite my physical limitations, I have practiced a number of martial arts. I currently train in To-Shin Do. (If you’re gonna pass out, dojos have squishy mats. It’s ideal, really.)

Dogs or cats?

I’m highly allergic to and completely obsessed with cats.

I’m bisexual and not allergic to 😽.

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