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Trauma and Witchcraft

During a recent conversation I said that the Anderson Faery/Feri lineage of witchcraft is helpful for trauma survivors  because it is an embodied lineage with a focus on ecstatic experience – all things that steer us out of over intellectualizing and into body awareness – but only insofar as we work to heal our trauma, else it will retraumatize us.  I’ve been pondering that statement ever since, because while I feel it to be true I have never upacked it.  I’m going to try and do that a bit here.

What is trauma, and what does it mean to be retraumatized?  We often think of trauma as tied to emotional, physical or sexual abuse, war, or natural disasters, but there are a whole range of life experiences that can be traumatizing, like surgery, the loss of a loved one, etc.  Trauma happens when our nervous system is overwhelmed and our coping strategies don’t work.  If the trauma is not processed or if we aren’t able to fight, flee, or in some way manage what is “attacking” us, then we freeze in a way that the unprocessed fear gets locked into our body.

A way some of us deal with the trauma locked in our body is by dissociating –  we try to get away from our body, and thus the traumatic situation — but other expressions of trauma are anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, avoidant behaviors, and addiction.  These expressions of trauma are almost always enveloped by  a sense of shame.  Something happens, we get traumatized and we cope the best we can, then hate ourselves for it because it doesn’t look or feel good.  It’s the shame that binds the entire process together.

Effects of early trauma are a laundry list:  a disrupted sense of self in relation to others, emotional instability, social dysfunction, difficulty recovering from stress, disorganized thinking, a limited window of tolerance, a limited capacity for relationships, poor impulse control, low self-worth, core shame, inability to recognize one’s own needs, a sense of isolation…. Oh, so much!  And oh so many of the very reasons we seek out spirituality, even witchcraft; we are searching for healing.

If that search leads a person to the Anderson Faery/Feri lineage of witchcraft before therapeutic work with a qualified therapist has been done to address past trauma the very tools of the tradition could be dangerously retraumatizing.  In this lineage we are asked to be present in our bodies, to be fully present for Sex, Self, Passion, Pride and Power.  Meditators are now realizing that mindfulness meditation is retraumatizing for the same reason; in mindfulness practice we are asked to be present with the feelings and sensations of the body.  If we have unprocessed trauma fear locked in our body, our own breath and body awareness can be jarring, flooding us and popping us right out of the body.  We feel the trauma all over again and dissociate.  In fact, we will happily watch our body sit and breathe on the cushion – we are well used to dissociating –  thinking we are engaged with the practice, when in actuality we are not experiencing embodiment at all.

Retraumatization is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in re-experiencing of the initial trauma itself.   It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics (loss of power/control/safety) of the original trauma. – by Patricia Shelly, MSW, Shelley Hitzel, MSW, and Karen Zgoda, MSW, LCSW, Preventing Retraumatization: A Macro Social Work Approach to Trauma-Informed Practices & Policies

For those of us who dissociate, clearing the mind and entering stillness is a familiar state of numbness.  It can be a blissful state, and hard to distinguish from altered states of consciousness.  Yet, it is not the mindfulness taught in yoga, and it is not the embodiment required to engage Faery witchcraft safely.  Embodiment is the beginning and foundation for more advanced practices in Faery.

Dissociation vs presence?
Table
Meditation instructors and health care professionals who work with trauma survivors are taught to use trauma informed practices which focus on a sense of safety and stabilization (it is not in most of our scope of practice to offer trauma-specific work that focuses on processing trauma).  One thing Faery witchcraft is not is safe, and its tools are notoriously destabilizing.  Some do survive the crash course of a Faery induced healing crisis, others do not.  With so many qualified therapists who specialize in integrating trauma, and so many excellent protocols, like EMDR, there is no reason to risk a student, or risk ourselves.

If you are drawn to Faery, but come from a trauma background, seek out a skilled EMDR therapist first.  Give yourself a year of calming the central nervous system and finding safety within your body.  You will be grateful you did.

*I am not a professional therapist.  My insights come from my own experience and what I have found effective. 

incantation

Incantation; Francisco Goya

Can I be your student?

Can I be your student?This video resembles me, and my views regarding passing Faery.

This Tiresome Place

[originally published A Sense of Place, 12/04/14]

The ‘news’ of late is grim–here in Amerikay.
Societal values expressed by those in power seem far from the ones I desire. I know that acts of beauty and kindness occur daily in this sprawling nation of states, but word of them won’t generate click-throughs or ad revenue. This constant drone of fake voices and fleeting fame, of hyped reality and oligarchy, of the dehumanized market Place of rot and superficiality, was such a relief to flee
to escape from
when I lived across the sea.
America…you tire me.

Yet – we have the power and privilege to change the story
which is why so many
work so hard
to distract us
with the shiny, the new, convincing us we are
despondent
helpless
addicted

Yes, they seek to distract, and for unnatural cause. Yet we also tell ourselves the story of the hidden day-to-day, hand-to-hand sweetness of life here in these … 50 united states. We tell ourselves that people are still people, and friendships are true, and that community is possible, while we also scroll facebook, clicking through to sensational articles written only to capture our attention and heighten our anxiety. We tell ourselves and each other these beautiful stories over text and skype and email, while our day-to-day, hand-to-hand lives are too busy to sit in the company of each other without entertainment or the promise of excitement. We tell ourselves that people are still people, and friendships are true, as we hide in our protected spaces after the pummeling we have the privilege to receive in exchange for a dollar, or two.

Yet there ARE places, just not these 50, where parents are supported, where news is just that….the news of a community, bright and dark, shared by a human that looks and sounds like me, not one trained to numb and sedate with intonations that drone on about hate and violence in a never ending loop. There are places where the first word uttered when meeting someone new is NOT “what do you do?” but “what’s the craic? what’s the news with you.” There are places where humans still stop to chat, without looking at a watch or worrying that they might be late to something … somewhere … because the person standing in front of them is the now. There are places where nectar and marrow are still sucked by everyone, not just a wealthy few.

There are places that don’t make me so tired, that don’t require me to fight, always fight, just to live my life.

America, I’m tired … of you.

Do The Gods Care About Money?

[originally published A Sense of Place, 02/27/14]

This week Niki, at A Witch’s Ashram, wrote about money and privilege.  It’s a great article, and one I hope she expounds on, but the first thing I wondered when reading it, and the thought I couldn’t get away from,  was whether gods even care about money.  I have had this conversation before with pagan friends, wondering whether the notion that a god (any god) who is interested in the minute details of so many people’s lives is just unexamined Christian magical thinking (in the anthropological sense–and not that any one religion has a corner on magical thinking, or that’s it’s necessarily bad).  The argument that comes back is one of relationship: practitioners of pagan religions are in relationship with their deity, just as human-persons can be with each other, and this relationality explains the care and concern deity show toward the human-person they are in relationship with.  Occasionally I hear the contractual explanation: deity, whatever that means, is limited in the material realm and needs human helpers, as much as humans need god helpers, thus they are willing to go out of their way to ‘help’.  Both of these make sense, depending on your worldview, but they don’t quite work for me, as an animist.

I don’t view the world as full of gods–in a potentially polytheist way (this label being a hot topic right now)–rather, I see every part of creation as divine, whatever that means to me, and possessing consciousness. In that sense, I might (and do) view a lot of persons (my current preferred term for almost all of the cosmos) as divine, i.e., gods, I just don’t worship or adore them. Instead, I form relationship with them, and, by “them”, I mean the persons occupying the very physical, material world I can see, hear, touch and taste.  I don’t perceive there to be disembodied entities existing in my cosmos.  I perceive that there are innumerable persons who reside in my cosmos, and most of them are other-than-human.  Each of these persons, whether that be Moon, Sun, Oak Tree, or Parakeet, have consciousness—even if very different from my own—and thus potentially capable of relationality.

I also perceive a type of Mind that is so much more than our current understanding of consciousness—which we don’t actually understand yet— and I view this Mind (or consciousness) as encompassing the material body it observes or works through.  Because of this, and the work of many fine social scientists who have attempted to document and discuss the changes to human sensation and perception that were brought on by literacy and modernity, I imagine Mind as capable of modes of communication many human-persons have forgotten or lost the ability to use. Thus it may seem that a disembodied voice is speaking to me, when it may actually be Barton Springs.

Since the cosmos, as I perceive it, is full of conscious, other-than-human persons, with their own world views and autonomy, I don’t immediately assume or imagine they have any interest in me, other than perhaps an implicit desire that I, and Others, stay out of their way and don’t impact them.  I also don’t imagine they are even aware of me, unless they somehow indicate that they are.  I’ve had many eldrich persons indicate an awareness of me, and they routinely freak me out when they do, but rarely have they displayed any human-like emotion or behavior, other than in a handy  “candy-water-fruit” way.

A great example of this was my encounter with Barton Springs.  I was naked, like one would be in a public space, as part of my initiation ritual.  Because this was an ecstatic rite, my full range of sensual input was engaged.  I was centered, open–wide open–and immersed in the cool, limestone filtered waters of the Spring.  As I sent part of my awareness down into the cleansing depths, to where the waters would wash and heal me, I literally bumped into a shining Flash.  At first startled (perhaps perturbed), then curious (at least willing to engage), the shape began to change.  In the blink of an eye, the consciousness I accidentally stumbled upon in my altered state shifted the outward presentation of itself.  There was not much I would describe as “human-like” looking back at me, but I had a distinct sensation of consciousness searching for an understandable medium, or “skin”.  We were like two Wild Creatures, alien from one another’s experience, yet posturing to be seen in the shape of our choosing.  That was the beginning of my long, slow (time being a relative concept) relationship courting of an important Other-than-human person specific to Austin.

My experience, or perception of encounters like this, has led me to believe that other-than-human persons have no inherent interest in my life, i.e., whether I have money, health or fertility.  My witchcraft, on the other hand, offers me tools and skills for tapping into Powers so that I can acquire abilities or energies to use in shaping or solving issues I deem important to myself.  A

Creating a Place-Based Practice

[originally published A Sense of Place, 02/20/14]

my Little Bigs at Pedernales Falls

On the second dark moon of January, a group of 9 gathered in my front garden. We sought uncharted territory; in fact, were willing to risk vulnerability to find it.  The group of explorers met to carefully plan the expedition.  We knew the journey might stretch every resource and tool we possessed, yet we were  drawn to try–to dare.  For there, in my front garden that night, was the first meeting of an advanced working group committed to discovering the Place specific spirituality of Central Texas.

The background and expertise of the group was varied, but we shared a few things in common: a dissatisfaction with the ‘traditional’ seasonal wheel that clearly did not sync with our lived (place-based) experience, a deep desire to meet and work with the Powers of our specific Place, and a willingness (even desire) to listen for or create new tools and practices that matched our experiential discoveries. We were, in a real sense, willing to craft a Place-based cultus.

Our group identified a few areas of import, ones we felt were vital to our work. The first was developing, or honing, our observation skills, seeing again the landscape around us–which for most of us is urban–and looking with new eyes. Many committed to taking notes of significant occurrence, i.e., the cycle of plants, bird calls and flight patterns, celestial positions, etc.  The second was a willingness and ability to use our witchcraft tools–or the tools of mindfulness and meditation–to facilitate deep listening, and a form of possession with/of the living land around us and the Powers we may encounter.

The third, and perhaps most important, was naming the need to build a secure, trusting container so we each felt safe expressing and acting upon impulses that may deviate from our previous Craft experience. Since the practices most of us had been taught were built on a largely European model, we surmised that energies/beings/Powers/Persons we encounter in North America–a continent away from the Euro-centric myths we all know–and specially central Texas, could feel different, express themselves differently, or generally interact with our energies in ways unique and different. With this in mind, we wanted to build trust in the group in order to enable the free expression and exploration of these fresh encounters.

Our group will meet monthly, and I hope to have many good things to share once the expedition is under way.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it

A Pagan Goes To FreezerBurn

[originally published A Sense of Place, 01/23/14]

This weekend I attended FreezerBurn, one of the regional burns inspired by Burning Man, the annual art event and temporary community held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.  The local event I attended was about an hour outside Austin, on a piece of property full of Post Oak and Mesquite, with a little creek meandering along its perimeter, and acre upon acre of ingenious human creativity.

It was my first Burn, but because I know other Burners (what people in the community call themselves, or what others call them) I knew to keep my expectations low and my receptivity  high. I entered the gates and allowed the warmth of the Greeters to wash over me.  Their excitement was infectious, and as I moved through the community, taking in the Theme Camps, offerings, music, art and big smiles, I began to understanding the words of the famous Burner greeting, “Welcome Home!”

Image by Anthony Paul on his FB {link to https://www.facebook.com/tigerbuns}

There are ten principles that inform the Burn community, and two leapt out at me immediately: radical self-reliance and radical self-expression.  These spoke to me because of their resonance with my witchcraft lineage, which is Anderson Feri.  Within my lineage we work toward what we call a Warrior Ethic, which is itself a form of radical self-reliance that cultivates personal Will.  We also foster the expression of that Will in the world by seeking to know our Selves completely, which, when engaged, results in radical self-expression.

As a spiritual practice, self-reliance and self-expression first require knowledge of the Self.  Who is this Self, and what are its capabilities and preferences? To answer these questions requires examination of cultural bias, dogma, and world view; it requires delving into the depths of what and who we are; and importantly, it requires a willingness to let go of anything that no longer serves us.

Many of the things that do not serve me are stories of shame, bias, and separation, that my culture, family of origin, or other influential messengers imprinted onto my Self at some point in my life experience.  The stories may have been of incapability, or an unhealthy codependence on others to meet my needs for safety, acceptance and love.  The stories may have been of preference, subtle shaping of how I perceive others and the world around me.  Examining and letting go of these can feel scary for many reasons.  If all I have ever known or thought about my Self is set aside, what remains?  If long held beliefs and assumptions are removed, what is my foundation?

That’s where the radical inclusion, gifting and immediacy of a Burn event help ease the shock of self-examination.  When you are spontaneously hugged, smiled at, given a gift and told how amazing you are, it’s hard not to feel OK being yourself, even if that Self is newly discovered, still in transition and feeling vulnerable.  Also, being exposed to all those Other newly discovered and expressed Selves is liberating.  Authenticity is wonderfully contagious.

It took me a while to find these parallels while I was at the Burn. The atmosphere is in your face, and confronts you the moment you arrive.  The event is secular, in that, while there is no overtly spiritual focus there is a solid ethic found within the ten principles.  It’s also chaotic, with music, madness and mayhem.  Not everyone is like me; in fact, maybe nobody else is like me.  And that’s the point.  Part of radical inclusion is accepting Other, in all the glorious, messy difference of behavior, belief, expression and appearance.

Image by Anthony Paul on his FB {link to https://www.facebook.com/tigerbuns}

Human-persons have a natural tendency toward social inclusion, we need it and want it.  One way we attempt to build it, is through mimicry—being ‘like’ other—in this case, our group.  We do this at the micro level with our family, and at the macro level with our spiritual community, work colleagues, and social networks.  At a Burn event, this can be seen in the Sparkle Pony; a term apparently coined by Burners to describe a person who attends events unprepared for radical self-reliance, but who has dressed themselves in what they perceive as the Burner costume.  They are trying to fit-in through mimicry, and commodification, which contradicts the principles I discussed above.

So naturally, the first thing I did when I made the decision to attend FreezerBurn was google “burner clothing”!  I didn’t want to stand out.  As I sat with that, and thought about why I was doing it, I noticed that natural desire we all have to be ‘part of’.  What I was missing, though, was the principle of self-expression.  The major component that enables ‘fitting-in’ at a Burn is found within the ten principles; it’s called ‘participation’.  Burners hold that “transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.”  The event strives to achieve Being through Doing, and the result is amazing human creativity: pieces of art that will blow your mind, sumptuous theme camps, delightful gifts offered with love by total strangers, and daring to reveal one’s authentic Self.

It comes back to knowing the Self, and finally learning to rely on that Self while expressing it in a wider world of suffocating globalization, sameness, and homogenization: and that is a liberating, radical idea, no matter your theology!  So, what did I do to fit in and find my place?  I tore through my costume box, putting together combinations I’ve only ever worn for myself, in the privacy of my bedroom, and baked the yummiest sugar cookies ever, to give away to the Strangers I met on the Playa.

TED Talk: A Sense of Place

[originally published A Sense of Place, 01/09/14]

with poet Dana Gioia