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Beyond trauma: The key to our freedom is in our bu...

Beyond trauma: The key to our freedom is in our burden.

Witches are excellent at re-living and re-creating the trauma cycle over and over again. We have been one of the most vilified groups throughout history. The trauma of our past sits in our bones and genes. It’s in the blueprint of who we are. This can in some instances leave us ripe for abuse and trauma in this lifetime, not because we are weak or victims, but because it is what we understand as normal.

Because of our history a great many witches get caught in what is known as the trauma-loop. Sometimes we can even become the perpetrators of trauma, as seen in the many ‘witch-wars’ that break out in our community. This is because trauma breeds anger and isolation. It is not unusual to respond to trauma with anger because anger is a safe emotion. Anger protects us but it doesn’t always help us, especially when it is misdirected.

From my time working as a counselor and tarot reader, it’s clear witches are tired of being oppressed and traumatized. Trauma is not always easy to understand or heal from and that is why we can turn on each other. We don’t know what to do with all our anger.

There has been quite a few articles recently talking about trauma and how it changes the brain, particularly the personality, emotion, and instinctual aspects. While it is important to care for yourself after being exposed to trauma, it is also important to understand you are not stuck like this. You can rewire the brain. Healing is possible.

The plasticity and adaptability of the brain (also known as neuroplasticity) is common knowledge. While people understand this, the actual process of changing your brain is a mystery for many. That is why a majority of people get stuck in the chaos and maladaptive aspects of the trauma cycle, whether we are talking about this lifetime or all of our lifetimes combined.

I am writing this article as an addendum to the many articles explaining what trauma is and how to care for yourself. The process of healing at trauma doesn’t have to stop at self-care. You can take charge of your brain and change it. The brain is a marvelous machine, it can adapt over time and compensate for any losses and damage… but sometimes it needs your guidance.

To be clear, this article is not about blaming victims, rather it is about the raw facts that at the end of the day, if you have been traumatized the responsibility for healing that trauma lies with you. Whether that is fair or unjust really doesn’t matter. It is what it is. This is your brain, your body, your life. And while seeking professional care is of upmost importance, not everyone can afford it.

The practices of witchcraft are uniquely positioned to help brains heal from trauma, and in turn, help free us from the bigger, karmic cycle of trauma that stems from our magickal heritage, specifically the witch hunts, torture, and burnings.

There are a lot of arguments against the idea that you can change your brain and heal from trauma. It doesn’t matter if the trauma happens in childhood or adulthood, the horror of it bypasses the thinking brain and drives right into the oldest aspect of our brain, the sub-cortical, amygdala, primitive part of the brain. It is there that our fight or flight response is formed.

The reason dangers bypass the thinking brain is because when we are in danger we need to be faster than we can think. In that moment of acute danger the brain is working to save you. It is doing its job perfectly. Problems arise when we can’t turn the primitive brain off, or when it is easily triggered.

I come down on the side of research that tells us we can heal the primitive brain. Even if you don’t believe that, the process for healing from trauma is the same either way. It is all about getting to know the reactions of your primitive brain and being able to pause before responding so you can choose whether you need to fight or flight, or whether the primitive brain is misinterpreting the danger and the better choice is self-soothing.

In short, healing from trauma starts and ends with self-mastery. It is here we see the link with witchcraft and its highest mandate: know thyself.

The term mindfulness gets bantered around a lot. It is a fantastic means of helping heal the brain from trauma. However, unless you understand how mindfulness helps it can be easy to lose focus and give up. Trauma often leads to maladaptive coping mechanisms that evolve and become ingrained over time. These symptoms can present as anxiety, depression, rage, irritability, hyper-vigilance, and personality changes etc. Trauma has the capacity to impact a broad spectrum of human behavior. What might start out as small changes over time become deeply ingrained and rigid patterns. Often we aren’t even aware that we are changing, we believe we are just doing what is needed to get by.

Mindfulness gifts you the ability to step back from your instincts and feelings in the heat of the moment, even if only for a second, thus enabling you to decide if that is really how you want to respond or if there are healthier options for you. Even if you aren’t able to change your behavior, just by developing and strengthening the observing-self, by watching how you react, you can start a small but effective domino effect of change. By having a strong observing-self you are already beginning to heal.

This sounds ridiculously easy on paper. I live with cPTSD and I know it isn’t as easy as simply choosing to be different especially when some days all you can do is focus on breathing and staying alive, let alone healing. It can take years to see any changes, but in trying to change, through educating yourself, and doing what you can to counter unhelpful behaviors and thoughts, you are taking control. You are taking back agency and freedom for yourself. Even if you aren’t able to completely rewire your brain, just by developing the observing self and adjusting what behaviors you can, you will make a huge difference to your quality of life.

Spellcraft, meditation, cleansing, grounding, seances, ritual, tarot etc., are all mindfulness activities. Witches who work the left-hand path will also know that psychotropics can be extremely effective at freeing the brain from trauma cycles, much the same as anti-depressants. It is okay to need and use medication to help you heal from trauma. In fact it’s a fucking brilliant idea, especially if you feel like your trauma and emotions are stuck in an anxious and sad loop.

However, medications aren’t the whole solution. For medications to really work you have to see them as a companion that helps you get back to engaging in life and healthy activities that will also aid in healing.

Witchcraft is also an innately creative path. Creativity gives us a safe way to not only express our trauma, but envisage a recreation of our self and thus, aid the healing process. It is much easier to heal if you know what you are working towards. It is much like working a spell, it is important to have a visualization of the end result before you start the work.

Community and reconnecting with loved ones is another big factor in healing from trauma and rewiring the brain. This is where covens and familiars come in. Being part of a loving and supportive group and having a trusted animal at your side can promote rapid healing. Where familiars can provide instant relief and grounding from panic attacks, connecting with elders and witch-peers can slowly help our brains to re-open the empathy and feeling centers of the brain that trauma can dull. Socializing can also quiet the social anxiety that often comes from trauma.

Time in nature can help us heal our brain after trauma. Grounding and connecting in nature shows us that the world isn’t as dangerous as our brain might be telling us it is. In short, it reminds us that the Earth is there to support us and isn’t an enemy. By reconnecting with nature and our sense of being physically grounded, we can develop the strength and ability to meet our fears head on. When anxiety rises you can start to lean into it rather than run from it while knowing full well you are supported by Gaia. This may not stop the anxiety, but it can stop the cycle of fearing fear.

Witches are also uniquely positioned to deal with trauma because of their links and understanding of nature. Nature is our best teacher and science is our number one means for understanding nature. But it is the witch’s empathy for nature that really gifts us the strength needed to heal from trauma. The unique relationship between witches and the earth means that we are privy to Gaia’s secrets and wisdom. This often results in witches being more responsive to the healing aspects of nature, particularly the feeling of awe. Awe has been shown to directly combat the feeling of fear in the human brain. Trauma is sadly not a rare occurrence for humans or the eco-system that cradles us. But by studying how various species of vegetation and animals respond to trauma we can learn to understand our own trauma and healing… and also understand we are not alone.

While it can be argued that humans are more complicated than animals and trees, complexities can blind us to the simple truths; the simplest one is that like any aspect of nature, humans are incredibly adaptable. One of the main reasons we are at the top of the food chain is because we can think quickly and adapt even faster… even if we don’t always enjoy it. Nature shows us that we can bounce back after trauma. Australian forests bounce back from forest fires at a surreal rate. Less than two days after Black Saturday there were sprouts of green leaves on scorched tree trunks. While we can be thankful for our innate adaptability, we also need to understand it is okay to take control of the brain and steer it away from unhelpful coping mechanisms by giving it better ways to handle fear and stress. The brain, like all aspects of nature, is always hungry to learn an adapt, use that to your advantage. Teach your brain how you want to be in the world.

By understanding that trauma is not rare or even unique to humans, you can hopefully feel less alone in your pain and even help you reach out for help when needed.

Witches also know change is inevitable. Even if you don’t decide to take control of your healing, or if you are just not in the place to start that healing journey, the brain will do its best to heal you and keep you safe. While it may feel like your brain is the enemy, it’s not. Just like you, it is doing its best to survive. Trauma is change, so is healing. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself as you move through life, especially after a traumatic incident. Blame and shame are natural, but they are the lies that bind you. Practice self-forgiveness when you can. Each tiny act of mercy towards yourself is a step closer to healing. Also, know that if and when you are ready to start healing there are plenty of small and effective changes you can implement.

Trauma happens. Often. It changes us. It challenges us to ask the real and hard questions of who we want to be and how will we get there. It reinforces a responsibility that was always there; know thyself. Trauma can even be in your genes, especially for witches. It’s time to stop perpetuating our cycle of trauma. It’s time to take control in whatever small way you can. I promise you even the smallest of actions will snowball over the years and you will start to see big healing changes. You are bigger, brighter, and badder than anything that has happened to you. As we heal our acute traumas, we in turn heal our history, thus freeing up our futures from the historic binds of hurt that dull our magick.

You can undo what they did to you. You can undo what they did to us. You can undo what is happening right now. You are not alone. You have the power to do this even if it doesn’t feel this way. Your brain is a beautiful mess of possibilities ready to work with you. Take charge. Have mercy. Be brave. Heal.

 

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Dr. Catherine ‘West’ Winther is a retired psychologist and passionate LGBTQIA feminist who comes from a long family line of of creatrixes, witches, and wolves. Through her online coven at WeaverTarot.com she offers readings, spell-craft, curios, and counseling. Her passion is holding sacred shadow spaces and fostering alchemy through conversation. She aids healing and growth through encouraging big play, big magick, big nature, cackling, sensuality, and creativity. Freedom is our right and our responsibility. Let us slip these human skins and find our feral selves. Come roll and run through the dirt and the bones and the blood and howl at the ghosts under the Goddess Bone Moon as we listen for the star-songs. Let us remember what and why we are here, and most importantly let us remember how and why and what we love so we can bring that passion back to the everyday and reclaim our magickal birthright as witches. Get dirty. Get wild. Get horny. Get magick. Get witch.
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Dr. Catherine ‘West’ Winther is a retired psychologist and passionate LGBTQIA feminist who comes from a long family line of of creatrixes, witches, and wolves. Through her online coven at WeaverTarot.com she offers readings, spell-craft, curios, and counseling. Her passion is holding sacred shadow spaces and fostering alchemy through conversation. She aids healing and growth through encouraging big play, big magick, big nature, cackling, sensuality, and creativity. Freedom is our right and our responsibility. Let us slip these human skins and find our feral selves. Come roll and run through the dirt and the bones and the blood and howl at the ghosts under the Goddess Bone Moon as we listen for the star-songs. Let us remember what and why we are here, and most importantly let us remember how and why and what we love so we can bring that passion back to the everyday and reclaim our magickal birthright as witches. Get dirty. Get wild. Get horny. Get magick. Get witch.

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