Fresh herbs.

Getting Real Sick of “Wellness.”

A big part of witchcraft is learning to see through illusions, and let go of that which is no longer useful. So how much longer are we going to keep putting up with wellness?

Sorry, I should probably specify — “wellness.”

I’m not sure when it began, though I imagine it’s an insidious trend that you could probably follow all the way back, beyond the days of irradiated water jugs and Eben Byers’ jaw. There’s money to be made in solving problems, but there’s a fine line — make sure people know they’re unwell, but not too sick in any verifiable way, just unwell enough to require an easily-marketable brand of help. Blame stress, and you can turn attention away from the socioeconomic factors that are actually making us ill in the first place. We’re stressed, and that’s a problem that needs solving! Maca lattes! Yoni eggs! Self-care!

I could go into the ways that self-care has gradually morphed into self-indulgence, or the various racialized and gendered aspects of the wellness industry, but these are things for another day. Instead, I’d like to point out the ways that self-care has adopted a more sinister role: Not only are we supposed to spend money and energy to properly perform “self-care,” we’re supposed to do this in order to prolong our own exploitation. Take enough eleuthero so you don’t feel worn out at your second or third job. Stay hydrated so your eyes don’t get puffy and tired-looking after you’ve been up until five AM with a sick child, or you’ll hear about it from your boss. Your company won’t give you benefits, but there are beanbag chairs in the break room. You have to put in mandatory unpaid overtime, but they’ll let you nap in your office. Forget about adequate sick leave, vacation time, therapy, or health care, you need ping pong tables and this herb-, vitamin-, and crystal-infused water!

The thing is, I’m not stressed by electromagnetic frequencies, or because I don’t know how to sleep properly. People around me aren’t stressed because they don’t have a relaxation app or aren’t drinking the right tea. They’re stressed because economic insecurity requires both parents to work in the majority of families (61.1% in 2016, up from 31% in 1970) while affordable child care options remain sparse and birth control, abortion access, and adequate maternity/paternity leave is considered an entitlement. (Don’t even start me on our maternal death rate.) They’re stressed because they have to hope they can crowdfund insulin this month, or figure out how to make their child’s medical equipment out of scraps from Home DepotOils won’t fix that, Brenda. 

(Cue someone inevitably supplying an ironically smug, “Well, don’t have kids if you can’t afford them,” even though they’re eventually going to need the generation being born now to empty their bedpans, administer their medication, and keep them from wandering into traffic. Save your energy, my dudes. I see you.)

In an article by Jessica Knoll in the New York Times, Smash the Wellness Industry, she mentions that many aspects of it rely on the trope that women, especially, are silly bubbleheads that can’t care for themselves:

[W]ellness also contributes to the insulting cultural subtext that women cannot be trusted to make decisions when it comes to our own bodies, even when it comes to nourishing them. We must adhere to some sort of “program” or we will go off the rails.

The wellness industry exists as a sort of modern day panem et circenses that places the blame for our exhaustion and dissatisfaction squarely on ourselves, while absolving the structures that create these feelings with the vague, yet seemingly immutable, idea that “life is just stressful.” If we’re tired, it’s not because of the number of us required to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, it’s because we’re not sleeping right or drinking enough green juice. If we feel stressed, it’s not because the gig economy is quietly undermining worker’s rights and protections, it’s because we don’t take the right supplements. If we have brain fog, it’s not because of the anxiety and depression we can’t afford to treat, it’s because we sleep in the same room as our cellphones. Modern life, man. Whaddyagonnado?

It doesn’t help that wellness has effectively become a luxury, either. In I Helped Turn Wellness Into a Luxury Good. Now It’s Out of Control, Rachelle Robinett discusses just that:

I see healing sessions staged for the photo-op. I listen to supplement retailers position their wares with promises instead of information (“Calm”, “Youth Water”, “Meditation Tonic”). And, at the boardroom tables of so many companies, I hear how they want their products to represent “a movement,” be “a lifestyle,” and “empower” people. But I believe there’s nothing empowering about selling detox waters, vitamins we can’t absorb, or overpriced herbs without giving people the tools they need to create real, lasting change.

We’re worn down, and the solution we’re offered is something that costs time and money that more and more of us don’t have. The most overworked, underslept, undercompensated, stressed demographics — theoretically the most in need of the wellness industry — are also those least likely to be able to afford help. And, as Robinett points out, even those who can afford it are more likely to get placebos and platitudes rather than assistance achieving actual mental, physical, and spiritual health.

I am not against some of the things co-opted by the wellness industry, myself. Some of it helps. Gods know I use crystals, herbs, and oils. I meditate every day, keep a gratitude journal, and listen to binaural beats-enhanced music, because they work for my situation. I’m not against using them, I’m against pushing them as vague remedies for the symptoms of a much deeper problem. Unfortunately, the commercialization of wellness has turned many of these things into a performance, items to add and check off of a list in the pursuit of a nebulous vision of health and happiness. When we are told what we need to have and do to be well, rather than given the opportunity to get in touch with what we actually need, that’s a problem. When taking care of ourselves becomes a shopping list rather than a mindful practice that we are afforded the time and energy to do, that’s a problem. When we are given things to buy rather than ways to effect lasting societal change at the core of what makes us unwell, that’s a fucking problem.

 

 

 

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A Mother’s Day Cord-Cutting Spell

Hey, hey!

Does the beginning of May have you on the verge of a headache? Are you nauseated by the sound of commercials for jewelry, flowers, or assorted other Mother’s Day gifts? Does the sight of a greeting card display set your teeth on edge?

I feel you.

Mother’s Day is a rough holiday for a lot of us. Some people have tense maternal relationships, and some of us would probably have been better off raised by actual badgers. This time of year we’re all bombarded with messages about how “blood is thicker than water” and we “only get one mother,” and told we’re obligated to love and respect the people who birthed us no matter what. Unfortunately, if you were subjected to a toxic upbringing, this really super sucks. 

Dealing with toxic people

Digging toxic elements out of our lives isn’t easy no matter what the relationship is, but it’s extra complicated when it’s a parent. What do you do when the toxic element in your life is also the person responsible for your health and safety? What do you do when going “no contact” isn’t enough? What do you do when you know that other relatives and family friends are going to swoop in to defend this person, and make you sound like the bad guy for trying to protect yourself from an abuser? What do you do when you have never been able to feel safe around your own parent?

I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t think there is one. I don’t want to get deep into my own back story, but, for me, the best option was to save up a Fuck Off Fund starting from my first job (I was 14), formulate a secret plan with a friend of mine, and get gone as soon as I was legally able to. A month after my 18th birthday, I moved out and was ensconced three states away. Even then, it wasn’t until years later that I was finally able to go from once-a-year visits, to no contact at all. My story isn’t a very dramatic one, because it all went according to plan — a lot of people aren’t as lucky as I was. Nonetheless, there it is: I made a plan, put it into action, and, when I was ready, I freed myself.

Going no contact raises its own set of problems, but is also completely worth it. One thing that really seems to help with the process is cord cutting.

What are cords?

People are bound together by invisible energetic bridges, often called “cords” or “etheric cords.” When we form a relationship and become connected to another person, the cord serves as a conduit of energy between us. If both parties (and by extension, the relationship) are emotionally healthy, the energy is nourishing and the exchange is even. If they are not, one party will end up doing the lion’s share of giving, while the other person takes, and takes, and takes. With a narcissistic parent, this becomes pouring your energy into placating them to avoid narcissistic rage.

A red and white string tied into a heart.

Sometimes, our cords look more like nooses.

Ending a relationship and ceasing contact is not always enough to sever these cords. Some people make a clean break, moving on with the cord no longer in place. I have also experienced cords changing when people part amicably. Sometimes the cord doesn’t change or break. Instead, one or both parties are left suffering from it.

What is cord cutting?

Cord cutting is similar to banishing in that it’s a release, but banishing is external where cord cutting is internal. A banishing is forceful, commanding — it’s a way to tell something to get lost, and make sure it stays lost. A cord cutting is a way to release attachments that are no longer healthy for you.

Look at it this way: A banishment is probably the most efficient way to get magical help ending an unhealthy relationship. You can send out the energy to remove this person from your life, so you can begin the recovery process once they’re no longer around. The end of the relationship isn’t the end of the story, though. Part of what makes toxic people toxic is the way they get in your head… and they can stay there for a long time after the relationship is dead. Cord cutting is a way to root out emotional, spiritual, and mental attachments, release them, and begin to heal without a toxic person living rent-free in your head.

If banishing is cutting away the bramble that pricked you, cord cutting is pulling the thorns from the wound so you can stop bleeding.

Cutting the ties that bind

To start with, if you’re still in regular contact with a toxic parent, I’m sorry. Practice shielding yourself every time you know you’re going to see them, even if it’s as simple as taking a moment to visualize yourself surrounded by a bubble of white light. Ground yourself when you get home, so you can “recalibrate” your energy. Try a quick and easy energy cleansing technique to get rid of any residual grodiness.

If you’re ready to cut the cord, try this. You can do it as simply or as ceremonially as you like, and repeat it as often as you feel is necessary. I’m posting this for Mother’s Day, but it can be used for pretty much any relationship.

For this, you’ll need three white candles, one black candle, a long piece of string (preferably not synthetic), and something to represent both yourself, and the person you wish to sever energetic ties with. This representation can be a figurine, a photograph, a lock of hair, a piece of paper with the person’s name written on it, something owned by that person, or any combination of the above.

Three white candles in the middle of dried vines.

Always approach candle magic with respect and caution. (E.g., don’t actually put them in the middle of a bunch of dry twigs.)

Next:

  1. Tie one end of the string to the representation of yourself, and the other to the representation of the other person.
  2. Once you’ve done so, touch the string with your dominant hand.
    Say, “This is the energetic cord between me and [the other person]. The relationship is ended, but the ties remain in place.”
    Imagine this cord is the physical manifestation of the flow between the two of you. Feel it thrumming with energy.
  3. Take the black candle in your hands. Visualize it filling with the power to sever this tie, and remove any negativity associated with it. No longer a simple candle, it is a key to your emotional and spiritual freedom. If you wish, you can affirm this out loud.
  4. Light the candle. Hold it up, and say, “With this flame, I sever this cord. No longer will this person drain my energy. No longer will I feel the effects of this relationship. I will be free.”
  5. Hold the flame to the center of the string (carefully! Don’t burn your house down please). As the string burns through, repeat the words, “With the cutting of this cord, I am free.”
  6. Use the black candle to light the three white candles. This symbolizes the release of the negativity surrounding this relationship, and the shifting of your energy into healing. Place the three candles around the representation of yourself.
  7. Sit quietly. Feel all of the feelings that rise up, no matter what they are — there might be anger, sorrow, relief, or even joy. Acknowledge them, and take the time to experience and understand them. Spend as long as you wish doing this.
  8. Either allow the candles to burn out, or snuff them. Dispose of the stubs appropriately.
  9. Untie the string from the representation of yourself. Burn or bury both halves of the string separately, and dispose of the representation of the other person however you feel is appropriate.

Energetic cords are tenacious, none more so than the ones that bind us to family. Severing these ties can help us pick up the pieces of ourselves, and continue on to heal our hearts and end the toxic cycles we were born into.

 

 

The King of Cups

Even with all of the reassurance I had from last week’s cards, I still went into my appointment on edge.

(Okay, so I had a full blown panic attack and had to ask the receptionist if there was somewhere I could lay down and try to relax. Everyone was incredibly chill and understanding about it, though, which was nice.)

The parking garage felt claustrophobic. I had to ride in a hot, stuffy elevator. I had no idea what kind of tests would be required of me, and knew this might be my only chance to have them. What if the doctor asked for twelve tubes of blood again? What if I couldn’t convince them to take my blood pressure at the end of the appointment, instead of the beginning?

As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. Not only was everyone really kind and reassuring, my nurse practitioner is awesome. I was never made to feel that I was wasting her time. She thoroughly explained everything to me. She took my medical history with no fuss, no sighing, and no muttering. There were no awkward first-visit dives into my parent’s marital history. I left the office feeling empowered, like I knew what was going on. I have hope that, even if the h. pylori test is negative, there are other possibilities. I also have samples of FDgard, which I didn’t even know was a thing before this.
I’m probably fixable, you guys.

(The real kicker, though, was finding out that I shouldn’t’ve had the h. pylori test in the first doctor’s office to begin with. I had no idea that using antacids in the previous two weeks might alter the result — I could’ve ended up with a false negative, wasting more of both his time and mine for nothing.)

So, now I’m pretty much just dealing with the symptoms for another week and a half until I can get a few more tests. I just have to wait.

I’m not good at waiting. I can be patient, but I hate the powerless feeling of sitting on my hands as minutes to become hours and hours to become days. I didn’t even have any good questions for my tarot deck this time — I just wanted to know what kind of energy this week is bringing. What can I focus on to help the time pass?

I drew King of Cups.

Cups is the suit of the emotions, and the King is the master of them. He is relaxed, balanced between the heart and the mind, neither devoid of reason nor incapable of empathy. When he turns up, it’s an invitation to explore the feelings around a situation — are there emotional factors that are making things more difficult than they need to be?

… Yeeeah, kinda.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy managing my physical symptoms. While I know that they aren’t caused by stress or fear, the anxiety they trigger still needs managing. When I do self-work, I usually focus on panic disorder and finding ways to manage unpreventable panic attack symptoms as they arise. Now, I should probably look more deeply into strategies for managing my medical anxiety, specifically — it’s going to be hard to go through rounds of testing and follow-up visits if I can barely make myself walk through the door.

Besides, I’ve got time to kill.

 

The World

Does this stranger really expect me to tell him every traumatic event I’ve ever been through? I thought. As I looked at the tiny laptop balanced on the edge of the examination table, I began to doubt it had enough hard drive space to hold this particular interview.

Let me back up.

My S.O. didn’t just manage to get me a doctor’s appointment — he managed to get me one with the doctor I’d originally wanted to see. Someone dedicated to restorative medicine, with rave reviews praising his patience and understanding. So why, now that I was actually in front of him, did I get the distinct impression that I was a waste of his time?

I’d filled out the medical history forms as best as I was able. There was a lot to fit, and not nearly enough space to do it in. I prioritized, skipping over a bout of flu here, or an ear infection there. I fit in everything I could remember. Still, it wasn’t enough. He said he wouldn’t get to examine me, because he had to spend so much time going over my medical history now. He wanted to know everything — why did I move to California? Was the pomegranate orchard there regular, or organic?

“What am I even here for?” He finally asked. I was stunned by it, but, by then, I also wasn’t even sure how to answer him. I was doubled over in pain, to the point where it was hard to walk. I said that I was hoping for help with what I thought was an ulcer. A referral to a specialist, maybe? A recommendation?

He wanted to delve into emotional trauma. His voice was accusatory, his sighs impatient — as if I’d left my parents’ divorce out of my medical history on purpose. (I didn’t know it mattered. I also didn’t find it particularly traumatic. If anything, it was a relief.) I’d also neglected to mention a lot of other things. How traumatic did something have to be to count? How far back did he want me to go? Was evading a kidnapper at age 13 good enough, or did I have to go back to being sexually assaulted at 5? Maybe the time a man I’d briefly dated decided to stalk me at my job? Or should I cut right to finding out that one of my room mates was murdered?

I didn’t think his laptop had the space for me. Judging by his words, he didn’t have it, either. I only told him about the divorce.

I mentioned intracranial hypertension. He said he didn’t “know if that’s even a thing.”  (Trust me — it is.) I felt my stomach drop into my knees. What was I going to do if I needed to go on Diamox again? Or worse, needed a shunt? I don’t have vision loss and brain damage for no reason, dude. 

While I waited to have blood drawn, he patted my shoulder in passing in a manner I think he thought was reassuring. It wasn’t.

I’m not good with blood draws. I always faint, I usually need a butterfly needle, and giving any amount beyond what’s needed for a basic metabolic panel has always made me sick. When I found out he needed twelve tubes of blood, I asked if there was a way to split the requisition — I’ve had to do it before. Most of the blood tests were for thyroid hormones, a CBC, blood lipids, the usual checkup stuff. Maybe I could give some blood that day, then go to the lab on another day to get tested for Lyme disease and the other myriad tests he’d ordered? The phlebotomist (a very kind, patient woman who really seemed to be doing her best) asked if it was possible. A few minutes later, I was given the requisition form for all twelve tubes of blood and orders to go to the lab and make them deal with it instead. At that point, I could almost feel the words “pain in the ass” branded into my skin.

When my S.O. and I got back to the car, I was fighting tears. Not only was I put in a vulnerable position by a stranger who apparently couldn’t care less, I knew it was going to be awhile before I got the help I needed. I’d laid there, curled up like a prawn, in pain, and wasted the doctor’s time because I’d neglected to mention my parents splitting up when I was 4.

I was afraid to tell my S.O. that I had no intention of going back for the actual physical exam. Not because I was afraid of his reaction, but he’d worked so hard to get me in to see this doctor — making phone calls when I couldn’t, rearranging his schedule so he could be there for me. I had a recommendation for a gastroenterologist and a neurologist, did I even need this doctor right now? I could see a specialist, get this problem under control, and worry about preventative care once I was able to… you know, eat and walk properly again.

Undecided, I figured I’d do a reading. I don’t generally let cards make major life decisions for me, but I really didn’t know what to do. My gut was telling me that continuing to see this doctor was not going to do me much good right now… If I wanted to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t know anything about IIH, I could get that at a walk-in clinic for a fraction of the cost.
Then again, my gut has also made me view plain rice and dry toast with intense dread and suspicion, so maybe it’s not always to be trusted.

Should I find a new primary doctor, continue seeing this one, or follow my instincts and just call the gastro?
I drew the Five of Pentacles, the Ten of Pentacles, and the World.

Finding a new doctor would be the economical choice — it’d definitely cost less to see a conventional doctor over an integrative one, even though this guy takes my insurance. Continuing to see this doctor would yield rewards far down the line. Going right to the specialist would be the best option of all.

The World is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It is harmony, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It’s the card of ultimate achievement, of everything finally meshing together. It brings a sense of joyful closure. It’s exactly what I need. As soon as I saw it, I felt a surge of relief — moving on isn’t a mistake, and I should pay attention to my instincts.

I made an appointment with the gastroenterologist. If nothing else, at least this doctor pointed me towards someone who might be able to help me better.

 

 

 

 

The Two of Cups

Can I complain about stomachs for a bit?

My life has been pretty limited by health issues for awhile — I don’t just mean intracranial hypertension, either. I try not to dwell on it, because that’s not really helpful for me. If anything, it just keeps me from being useful when and where I can.

Sometimes, though? I just want to be a gigantic baby about it, dammit.

Part of my problem is a digestive issue that, to date, three different ERs, five doctors, a barium swallow, three ultrasounds, four x-rays, and countless dietary adjustments have not solved. There’s still a lot of diagnoses to rule out (I’ve never been scoped, or tested for H. pylori, Celiac disease, or SIBO, for example), but it’s been a long slog finding a doctor willing to pursue things and not just shrug and hand me a PPI . I’ve been told to “come back if it still isn’t better in a week” when it hasn’t been better in years, and, when I do, it’s another shrug and a recommendation to try fasting for a day.

If I fasted every time I felt sick, I’d be dead.

Getting insurance was a pain. Finding a doctor who I felt confident would actually help me continues to be a pain. Some won’t do anything for me because they have no experience with idiopathic IH (statistically speaking, I’m one of 7 people in this entire city who has it. I guess I can’t be too surprised). It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. It’s very… physically unpleasant.

Through it, my S.O. has been a huge help. He calls doctors for me, sends in paperwork, deals with the ongoing, complicated mess of adding me to his insurance. Sometimes, I feel powerless not only because I’m physically unwell, but because that illness makes me less able to advocate for myself. I don’t like having him do this, so part of my contribution was hunting down a doctor I thought would be willing to do more than order another ultrasound and ask me, for the nth time, if I’m really, absolutely sure this isn’t all just anxiety. I even found one!

Unfortunately, they don’t answer the phone.

“I can get you an appointment with my doctor,” my S.O. texted me, but I didn’t want to get another five minute visit with someone who’d just order the same tests that were no help the first seventeen times. I didn’t want to go through trying the same handful of acid reducers, only to end up anemic, covered in bruises, and feeling no better. I’d gone through a lot of trouble to find a doctor whose approach seemed like one that would actually help me, who my insurance would cover. We’d already filled out the new patient paperwork and sent it in, why wasn’t this office answering their damn phone? 

I was having a low point when I decided to pull out one of my tarot decks. What could I do to help myself heal? It feels like I’ve tried everything I can, physically speaking. Taking more Mylanta probably isn’t going to help at this point. I had my doubts about eating nothing but banana smoothies for a(nother) month. FODMAPs was already a flop. What else was there for me to do?

2ofcupsThe Two of Cups.

The Cups are the cards of emotions, and the Two of Cups is full of partnership imagery — a pair of figures, the twining snakes of the staff of Hermes. While it doesn’t always mean a romantic partnership, it does point to one where both people are very emotionally invested in the same endeavor.

Right now, my goal is getting well (or, if not well, then at least less awful). I know my S.O. is invested in it, too, or he wouldn’t be filing paperwork and making calls. My approach obviously isn’t working, or I’d have an appointment by now. It seems like I need to defer to the other person in this partnership — he cares about my well-being just as much as I do, just as I care about his. If I’m going to listen to anybody right now, it should probably be the other person with a vested interest on keeping me on the right side of the dirt, you know?

I asked him to call his doctor.

Fingers crossed.

 

The King of Wands

Ever have a card that ends up showing up a bunch? Seemingly out of the blue, it starts showing up in every reading you receive or do for yourself.

Right now, I’ve got the Kind of Wands.

Across multiple decks (he’s been a crow, a man, and even a taxidermy fish in a squirrel suit), he keeps showing up. The first time was when I tried a very interesting three-card reading — how you see yourself and how others see you, versus how you really are. Ever since then, any time I have a question about feeling sure about my place in the world, or keeping up my confidence, he’s there. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever received the King of Wands in a reading before then. Not when I pulled cards for myself, not when I paid for a reading by someone else, not even when my ex’s stepmother was teaching me to read.

kingwandsIn truth, I could do a lot worse than the King of Wands. He’s a leader. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s holding a blossoming branch that symbolizes verdant life and the energy of creativity. He’s surrounded by symbols of strength, nobility, and the element of fire. In the Crow Tarot, he is a sign that focus and energy will ensure a successful outcome. In the Deviant Moon Tarot, he’s a charismatic (if easily annoyed) leader or innovator. In the Regretsy Tarot, he is a fish in a squirrel suit.

The King of Wands is a determinator. If he wants to throw his weight behind something, it will blossom. If he doesn’t, it will wither. As a King, he is less impetuous than a Knight. Unfortunately, that also means that the success or failure of an opportunity rests entirely on the King’s willingness to act on it. No pressure, or anything.

I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Even during the times when I know exactly what I need to do to feel happy and successful, health challenges mean that I don’t always have the ability to do them. Here, at least, it seems like the King of Wands is a reassurance that all isn’t lost — I can still achieve what I want with energy and focus.

 

6 Signs Your Spiritual Advisor Might Be Full of It

Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”

I say baffling, because:

  1. What do either of those things have to do with each other?
  2. Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
  3. Cults work because people don’t realize they’re about to join one. Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”

In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)

A fangy-toothed cat sleeping upside down.

I have no idea what image would be appropriate for this sort of post, but all of the blogging guides say I need to have one. So, here’s Pye’s enormous, doofy face, because the rest of this post is heavy.

That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara (and none of it is good).

So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?

1. “You’re cursed, but I can save you.”

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from people who went to a psychic or other advisor only to be told that they were suffering from a terrible curse, and only the advisor could help them.

By the way, that help will run you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.

I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.

2. Nudity is not optional.

“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.

That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.

There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.

3. Something something root chakra.

There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.

The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.

The weird part is the number of people who want to personally unblock your chakras. Preferably with their junk.

As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.

4. “You’re special!”

Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.

Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.

For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.

Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.

5. “The world doesn’t understand.”

Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.

It does become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.

Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”

If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.

6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”

It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply couldn’t practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.

As in, you shouldn’t be on anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.

I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.

 

I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.