Since 2001 I've been privileged to present talks and workshops on spirituality, wellness, martial arts, and creativity at various festivals, conferences, and healing arts centers -- events and places such as Starwood, Free Spirit Gathering, Pantheacon, Primal Arts Festival, Ecumenicon, and The Well. If you're looking for a speaker on these topics, please check out the list of sample presentations below and contact me if any of these seem of potential interest.


Tom Swiss describes his spiritual path as "Zen Pagan Taoist Atheist Discordian", which usually baffles questioners enough to leave him alone. He is the author of Why Buddha Touched the Earth (Megalithica Books, 2013) and blogs as "The Zen Pagan" for the Patheos Pagan Channel. He has previously served as President of the Free Spirit Alliance and as Master of Ceremonies for the Free Spirit Gathering (a position for which he conveniently wrote the job description).

Since the turn of the century Tom has built a reputation as a lecturer on subjects spanning the gamut from acupressure to Zen and from self-defense to sexuality, drawing on his training and experience as an NCCAOM Diplomate in Asian Bodywork Therapy, a godan (fifth-degree black belt) in karate, a poet, a singer/songwriter, an amateur philosopher and spiritual explorer, and a professional computer geek.

Find out more about his wacky adventures at

Sample presentations

  • Zen Paganism: or, Why Buddha Touched the Earth

    Since its beginnings 2,500 years ago, Buddhism has existed with, borrowed from, and lent to poly- and pan-theistic paths including Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, and Bon. It even played a part in the Pagan revival, via the Theosophical Society and the works of Aleister Crowley. The same dissatisfaction with mainstream Western spirituality that has led to the rebirth of Paganism has also resulted in a greater interest in Buddhism in the West, and many modern Pagans are finding that Buddhist ideas can lend depth to their practice. We will discuss some of the history that links the Buddhist and Pagan revivals, and how the basic tenets of Buddhism (mostly from a Zen perspective) might be integrated with Neopagan practice.

  • Building a New Myth of the Masculine

    Over the past 50 years, women have been able to build a new myth of the feminine and find their power and pride; yet the "men's movement" was mostly turned into a joke. A re-assessment of our idea of masculinity is desperately needed, and not just for abstract philosophical reasons -- we are in the midst of an economic re-alignment that is decimating traditionally "male" fields of work. We invite all men *and* women to come discuss alternatives to the buffoons and bullies put forth as male role models by popular culture, and how together we can build a new myth for the mature masculine.

  • The History and Nature of Magic

    What is magic? In a discussion sure to piss off both True Believers and Skeptics, we'll look at the development of magical practice: from the sympathetic magic of the shaman, to civilized literate magic, to the post-Enlightenment development of magic as a spiritual path. We'll investigate the components that make up a magical ritual, as well as several important Keys to Magic that are often overlooked.

  • Cultivating and Controlling Sexual Energy

    The ancient tradition of Chinese Medicine recognizes sexual activity as a valuable way to cultivate qi, the energy of life. In this workshop we will discuss breathing, visualization, and acupressure techniques that can enhance both health and lovemaking. While some of the techniques discussed will be specific for men, many can be practiced by both men and women. Class handout.

  • How *Not* to Flirt With a Goddess

    (Or: How Not to be "*That* Guy".) Mainstream society teaches us men to behave in some amazingly stupid ways in order to meet women, and you can often see these in full display at Pagan festivals. We'll discuss some more sane and respectful ways to flirt with self-actualized and aware women. While this workshop is aimed at straight men, much of the advice is universal, and women and gay men are invited to come share their observations and advice.

  • Zen and the Art of Love

    The Buddha required chastity from his monks, holding that sexual desire was a sure path to suffering. Two millennia later, respected Zen Master Ikkyu -- noted for wearing his monk's robes to brothels -- wrote poems like "a woman is enlightenment when you're with her and the red thread / of both your passions flare inside you and you see." How do we resolve these teachings? Focusing on the "Red Thread" tradition of Zen, we'll discuss if and how we can apply the Buddhist principles of mindfulness, compassion, and non-attachment to sex and love.

  • Poets and Pagans

    In the nineteenth century, the British Romantic poets helped bring the Great God Pan to a new prominence, and were instrumental in developing the Goddess concept. In the U.S., the Transcendentalist literary movement turned to Nature and to the religions of the East for spiritual inspiration. We will discuss how these literary movements helped inspire the Pagan revival.

  • Discordianism Through Its Literature

    The Discordian movement has played a key role in the Pagan revival. You've heard people yelling "Hail Eris!" and "Kallisti!" around the fire. What's the deal? We'll discuss the history of the Discordian movement and discuss excepts from the Principia Discordia and related works.

  • Sparking a Creative Inferno

    Zelda's Inferno is a weekly Baltimore poetry workshop that has been meeting and writing since 2000. We have only one rule: if you have words on the page at the end of the exercise, you win! Longtime Zelda's coordinator Tom Swiss will lead participants through writing exercises that might show you new ways to spark the fires of creativity. For poets, bards, and writers of all types and abilities. (Bring paper and writing implements, or your laptop or tablet or phone, whatever you like to write with.)

  • Feeling Good with Acupressure and Shiatsu

    Shiatsu (Japanese for "finger pressure") and acupressure are forms of Asian Bodywork Therapy, which use pressure and stretching to relieve pain and stress. According to the theories of Chinese medicine, these techniques help balance the flow of qi, or vital energy, in the body. We will discuss and practice the use of acupressure points for physical, emotional, and spiritual balancing, and also learn a simple self-shiatsu routine. If time permits we will also do some partner work. Please bring a mat or towel to lie on for stretching.

  • Helping Friends Feel Good with Acupressure and Shiatsu

    Shiatsu ("acupressure massage") is commonly practiced within families in Japan. Unlike "Swedish" massage, shiatsu recipients remain fully clothed; thus shiatsu can be appropriate in situations where massage would be awkward. Come with a friend or family member - or get partnered up and make a new friend - and learn how to give simple relaxing bodywork based on the principles of Chinese medicine.

  • Self-defense as a Spiritual Practice

    You are a manifestation of the divine, a child of the God and Goddess. That makes you a being worth defending; yet our culture's confused attitudes about violence, plus the self-esteem issues faced by many people in the Pagan community, often obscure the fact that self-defense is also defense of the divine principle within all of us. In this workshop we will try to cut through the fog and discuss attitudes and skills to preserve not just your body but your divine nature. Targeted for those without previous martial arts or self-defense training; but experienced students are also welcome. We will practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills for dealing with conflict, and a few simple self-defense techniques. Class handout.

  • The Sword that Gives Life

    A group discussion of the concepts of the "peaceful warrior" and "the sword that gives life", and of the martial arts as a path of spiritual development. Facilitated by Kyoshi Tom Swiss, a karate student and teacher of over 25 years experience. Intended for the novice to the master practitioner of both Eastern and Western arts - or even the curious without experience. Please come and share your thoughts.

  • The Fire Circle: All Kinds Magic Worked Here

    Fire. Drumming. Dancing. All are older than history, older than modern Homo sapiens. Putting them together is probably one of our oldest magical activities. The Fire Circle is (IMHO) the heart of any Pagan gathering. How does it work? How can we make a space where drummers, chanters, didge players, dancers, spinners, revelers, lovers, and lunatics all work their magic? Let's talk about it! Tell me your wisdom! This is discussion, not a lecture. In the words of Doktor Billy Bardo, "We're also here to celebrate the best of us in you!"