Chronically-Well Witch: Witching the Storm
Ableism in the Witch World
Ableism abounds in the worlds of paganism and witchcraft. This is not new. The trend against sickness dates back to Wiccan teachings. Last night, I flipped through Scott Cunningham’s “Color Magick,” not thinking I’d be rebuked for my illness. Yet, Cunningham makes a point of scolding practitioners not to practice magick while sick. However, what if “sick” happens to be your baseline? What does that mean? Is it “sorry kid, you don’t get to be a witch?” Perhaps it’s “all of the magick you do should be healing spells directed at minimizing or eradicating your illness?” Yet many of the solitary practitioners I personally know battle some form of chronic illness. In my case, I have felt “factored out” of in-person covens. I’ve even had to drop online classes that make no room for chronically-well witches and our irksome problems.
This stems from a particularly unpleasant trend in the New-Age community of victim-blaming, aimed toward those who suffer long-term mental and physical health conditions. Clearly these illnesses arise out of some sort of psychosomatic imbalance, right? Getting to the source of this will retune our “vibrations” and all will be well. For one, this is the underlying premise of books like the somewhat seminal “The Mental and Emotional Causes of Illness” by Louise Hay. From there, it ripples through many books and articles on the subject. A quick glance through the website “Power of Positivity” will offer a myriad of ways we are the arbiters of our own illnesses. From colds to cancer, our illnesses are all in our minds and psyches.
Obviously I don’t buy into these unscientific assertions. Rather, I prefer to focus on being chronically-well rather than “sick.” It’s a full time job and the pay is shit but it’s totally worth it. I see this as “Witching the Storm.” I most assuredly believe that the mind and psyche are powerful and that they connect to the body and its functions. That said, sometimes we are born with chronic-illness time bombs. In other cases, the illnesses we face are deeply grooved through childhood trauma. Reversing them is not as easy as simply recognizing the root cause and poofing them away. These neural pathways communicate throughout our bodies, trauma-conditioned to take a megaphone to our pain signals. Unfortunately, we can no more shut this down with our conscious minds than we can stop our hearts from beating. That’s where deeper witchcraft practices do their best work.
Witchcraft as Refuge
Witchcraft is my refuge. While sitting in my sacred space, imbued with layers of energy from my variety of practices, I feel automatically “attuned.” What this means is that my autonomic nervous system lets go of its fight or flight patterns and relaxes. As a result, I am open to spirit, healing, possibility and inspiration. That happens before I even light the candles on my altar or crack a deck of cards. From there, it gets even better. I have learned and developed many practices aimed at bolstering my energy, taming my pain signals, balancing my brain chemistry and grounding, centering, lifting and shielding. As a whole, these practices help me cope with my baseline issues so that I can pursue my life’s true work.
Witching the Storm
For me, centering my practice around Deity helps. Since I don’t have to pull exclusively from my own inner witch fire to raise energy for the magickal work I do, I leave my altar energized rather than depleted. My main deity is Hekate, whom I feel strongly has been reaching out to me since my teens.
Once, when I was a junior in high school, I got into a highly prestigious writing program. A few days before I was to head to the state capitol, I developed a severe case of pharyngitis accompanied by a high fever. I was PISSED. Nothing was going to deter me from attending this program. I had fought a hard battle at every stage and despite my chronic depression and PTSD I made it in.
The night before I intended to go, I felt completely out of sorts because I was sure I couldn’t go. Not on time, at least. I slept at my grandparents house, a bit delirious from fever. I dozed beneath a painting she bought while she was in Egypt entitled “The Healer”. Painted like a Tarot card, it depicted a three-faced figure. As I lay beneath it, the painting came alive (which it often did for me as it is very magickal). It whispered to me in a way I have since become used to. A voice threaded through my head like the rattling of multiple snakes. I entered into an altered state, partially induced by the fever, I am sure; but in part the opening of my magickal mind.
I allowed the painting to do its work. There was nothing else I could do anyway. I had already seen the doctor and the prognosis didn’t look great for my timely arrival at my writing program. Surprisingly, I found myself reaching the peak of my fever and then breaking into a sweaty pool of relief. I watched the digital thermometer count way down from 103.1 all the way to 98.8 in a matter of 10 minutes. This was magick, right? I wasn’t making it up? I thanked the painting profusely. As a result of this spontaneous healing, my mother and I were able to make it to my program right in time for one of the most profound experiences of my young life. This was my first experience Witching the Storm.
Now, I look back at that healing moment and can quite easily see Hekate at work through that painting! It wasn’t until fairly recently that this connection became evident and brought with it numerous other revelations. Magick and illness are intertwined for me. As a witch who heals myself as well as others, this makes perfect sense. As a Hekatean, I feel that the illnesses I face, while sometimes disabling, are part of my path. The Storm itself is my path. So instead of recoiling from my illnesses in the face of so much ableism, I embrace them for their lessons. I thank them for providing me with obstacles to battle. In fact, these very obstacles light the way of the path to becoming chronically-well.
I know there are many in the witchcraft and magick community who ride on the same never-ending roller coaster of mental and physical pain. In particular, I know our community is rife with traumas that fuel our quests for healing and spellwork. Some of these things are related but I believe it’s time to end the victim-blaming. This often sounds like “shame from your sexual abuse caused your breast cancer” or “you are addicted to pain.” Most especially, it says “your medication stands in the way of witchcraft.
For me, getting properly medicated for my bipolar disorder allows me to safely practice witchcraft. I would gladly give up my pain if I could. In fact, I make an offering of it every day, in exchange for empowerment. Most importantly, I believe that the notions of illness that reduce all of it to trauma are missing the point of synchronicity. The trauma does not literally cause the illness (for the most part). The illness exists as a magnifying glass into the trauma. We can see illness as a punishment for not “doing the work” or as a key. As a witch, I choose the key every time. It is not an easy or well-worn path but it is worth forging. This is the path of the chronically-well witch.
How Do You Do It?
Since I have started to really lean into my practice; family, friends and healthcare practitioners have asked “how do you do it?” Not only do I cope with a high level of pain with practically nothing in the way of pain medication (for now at least), I always get the good appointments at my clinic! The receptionist has dropped her jaw on more than one occasion as a highly coveted appointment opens up while I’m standing there. Even more, I actually function better in the Storm with witchcraft on my side. With the help of my amazing team, I am getting up every day and running The Way of Witch Magazine and Darling Media Empire, ambitious projects for anyone, let alone a chronically-well witch.l
So how do I do it? Firstly, I started engaging in radical acceptance therapy with my amazing therapist several years ago. Accepting my illnesses as a given has actually freed me from a lot of guilt and self-loathing. It has allowed me to transform from chronically ill to chronically-well. Additionally, the practices I weave together allow me to cleanse, connect, ground and center every day. I have a number of meditations and other exercises that I do to help me swing my pendulum back to the center. Finally, I wrap all of this up into a daily devotional practice, which helps me connect to Hekate every day. When I do this, I feel like it opens up so much more space inside of me in which I can breathe more easily. My witchcraft practice and my goddess have my back.