Katie Gerard recently posted a fabulous blog article on Patheos about the difficulties of navigating between clairsentience (when your intuition is telling you something is unfolding), and when it’s a trauma response, or hyper-vigilance. When you’ve grown up around emotional unpredictability or early life dramas, one of the responses to trauma is to respond by feeling your way through situations with an almost uncanny, supernatural ability to sense feelings, under currents and subtext. As someone who has spent the last 18 months in active therapy as a response to some pretty traumatic life events (no sympathy required), I’m learning a new language. I’m having to put on pause my natural tendency to feel my way through situations, and I’m questioning everything. What I once knew as signs and portents, I am now questioning – am I just seeing what I want to see, is it real? When is the sub-text just a figment of your imagination?
It’s common for witches to have a really disturbed night when there is a full moon. Senses are heightened, dreams are more vivid, and your unconscious mind is on hyper alert, add a full moon in cancer to that one, and it’s a really uncomfortable experience. Student of mine who work in mental health or the NHS have talked in class about the strange activities that increase when there is a full moon – A&E admissions go up, psychological disturbance increases - and in the outside world, animal companions are often more restless. It’s not surprising that we take the root of the word lunacy from our moon. When we work planetary magic with the Moon, the qualities that we invoke are cyclical - dreaming, of plumbing the unconscious depths, psychic ability, clairvoyance, hidden fears. But also fertility - and not just in women - all cycles rely on the moon, farmers often still plant and harvest by the moon phase.
As witches we rely on our sense of some level of psychic awareness. I’ve spent 20 years training on this path, first as a solitary, and then through active, guided study with mentors and teachers. At the College of psychic studies where I studied psychic development and mediumship, also in my NLP training (where I learned that really what’s happening is that your unconscious mind is reading the signs at an exponentially faster rate than your conscious mind can process them through body language). And then there’s my coven training, where it becomes second nature to cast the runes, lay down a tarot spread, or scry with a candle or ink and water. But sometimes, existing in the subtext is also just indicative of trauma response. So when is it psychic awareness, and when is it trauma?
I think this is a question I don’t have the answer to yet. I am currently learning a new language. I’ve uprooted myself from my place in London, where I knew where I existed, what my purpose was, what my role was. (And that role still exists, albeit at a distance). But returning home isn’t all that straightforward. It’s not as easy as uprooting yourself and just existing somewhere else, and it’s taking time to put down roots here. Meanwhile all this unconscious stuff comes up from the depths and needs picking through and resolving. Added to this I am now between creative projects (waiting for the outcome of the PhD amendments on the novel and thesis) and covens are not meeting due to lockdown restrictions. The two stabilising forces in my life are currently on pause awaiting outcomes which are out of my control.
While I’m facing these full moon in cancer creatures that climb out of the unconscious depths, what I’m not doing is using my magic. It’s a bit of a dark night of the soul to be honest but there’s also a therapeutic edge to it. I know if I stand and face the demons, (see my last post about witches battling demons!) They will lose their power and disappear. But it’s uncomfortable while you’re facing them, and you have to hold your nerve and look them in the eye.
Lots of spiritual teachers are using the metaphor of the butterfly in the cocoon at the moment. We’ve all gone into this strange process during Covid lockdowns as we are really having to face up to our unconscious fears, and some of us have spent the last year asking ourselves some really existential questions - where do I live, what do I do, what is my purpose here?
On the path of the priestess, these are fairly run-of-the-mill questions to be asking. As we follow the wheel of the year these questions come up naturally each time a Sabbat comes round. On an initiatory path, we often have to point out to seekers that it’s not an easy path before they commit to something they might not have the inner reserves for. Each degree of initiation requires the candidate to really examine everything in their lives, to think about why they’re doing things, who they are sharing their life with, and it’s not always something people are prepared to do. And when you reach the end of the initiations, what comes then? There is no 4th°.
But the learning doesn’t stop at third. As my longest standing teacher has always said, in this life we all die beginners. What people often miss when they looking at Wicca as a path, is the depth and complexity of it. It forms spirals upon spirals, layer upon layer, that needs to be uncovered, unearthed, examined, turned over, and either placed back beneath the rock in the darkness, or brought out into the sunlight. What the aesthetic versions of eclectic witchcraft often miss, is the deep work required (and the support you need to do it). And just like a butterfly in the cocoon, we must go through a process of being broken down from caterpillar to mush. When we exist in the mush state, we can’t yet see the butterfly we will become, and we have to have faith that the end result will be worth the discomfort and the uncertainty.
After all, this is a path of faith, and we all walk in perfect love and perfect trust. Initiations are not something that just last a single day, or a single evening - they can sometimes take months or years of working through before you can really integrate the process. You have to be certain you are willing to do that work.
And as they say, wherever we are on this path, we are really only just beginning