Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Chronically Ill Witch: Navigating Spoonie Witchcraft

Sometimes, when I'm scrolling through my phone for a good witchy social media post or blog photo, I'm nearly exasperated at the number of pictures I take of the familiars from my perspective of my sunken side of the bed.  I changed the color of the sheets from a depressing slate gray to a warm olive green in 2015 in hopes it would promote healing and growth.  Instead, I'm already finding an itch to change it again because now that green has become reminiscent of nausea and joint pain - so much so that even the ornamental cat or two can't give me the warm fuzzies about it anymore.

Maybe light blue, I tell myself.  Like the sky.  That'll breathe life back into my oft-prison: The bedroom.

The reality is that I'm one of 133 million Americans, 45% of the US population, with a chronic illness.  Nearly half of you reading this relate to my situation.  To make matters increasingly burdensome, I suffer from not just one, two or three but five chronic illnesses: Four autoimmune diseases and a dash of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, which I'm diligently working on.  They play off of each other.  My arthritis is a continuing development of my psoriasis, my persistent scleritis and other eye issues are also common with psoriasis, my thyroid causes the same brain fog and joint pain as any of my other physical ailments and my anxiety is a fantastic common side to the delicious autoimmunity main course.  It's a buffet of chronic illness, but it's not for me to eat; it's devouring me instead, and I'm desperately trying to crawl from its monstrous mouth just to live.

I have worked my entire life around the fact that I'm chronically ill, but only just.  I own my own business so I don't have to get out of bed every single day, but it works me more than full time and requires that I play all the departments of a normal business to fulfill the essentials.  I don't plan on having children so I can continue to focus on my career - because there's no way that I could do both in my physical condition.  Even if my body would recover from pregnancy, it's a sacrifice I have to make to live the kind of life I can handle.  I have four pets and familiars because I have difficulty getting out of the house to see friends.  They've become my friends, my companions - living, breathing, thinking and feeling creatures I can interact with so I don't feel as lonely throughout the day. Still, that loneliness creeps in.

I'm also a witch, a professional blogger and a coven coordinator (aka high priestess, if you will, though I'm not a fan of the term).  For the coven, I host most events at my house so that I don't have to leave, or even change out of PJs, if I can't.  For the blog, I write from the same desk I work and only when I have the energy to do so, which means I sometimes disappear for long stints.  Most of my readers understand and are forgiving.

When it comes to my practice, my Craft, I have a variety of ways that I manage being a witch with also being chronically ill.  Let's explore!

Know Thyself, Chronically Ill Witch.

The first step on your path is to become distinctly aware of exactly who you are, warts and all.  In terms of being a chronically ill witch, this means getting a firm diagnosis on your chronic illnesses if you can afford to do so and have access.  Names have power.  Having the name of your illness can give you power over it in terms of getting on the proper medication and learning how to cope with it.  Depending on your illness, your doctor may suggest a change of diet, medication, exercise, all three or none.

From there, you will likely need to do some research and experiments on your own.  This means more than just a Google search, and it certainly doesn't mean trying medication you haven't been prescribed.  It means acquiring a vocabulary you may not have thought would be needed, full of medical terms that can help you better describe what's going on with specialists.  It means accidentally going beyond your limitations enough times to learn right where that barrier is so you don't pass it again.  It means learning what seasons, weather, levels of light and other environmental factors affect your illness.  It may even require sacrifices, ranging from small ones like a food you enjoy to big, life altering ones.  It means adjusting your life so that you and your illness can cohabit your body more comfortably.  Because, whether you like it or not, your illness isn't going anywhere - and neither are you.  So you've got to find a way to make this work.

When you know yourself and your illness, you build a certain confidence in your abilities and your barriers.  You're able to create spells and rituals that work within the constraints you've been given and avoid triggers of your illness.  You're able to walk away with conviction from situations within rituals, within the community, with spirits and other entities, that will make your illness worse.  You're able to put your health first and have your own best interests in mind.

Build a Support Network

Once you know yourself and your illness, you can reach out to the greater community to find chronically ill witches dealing with similar problems.  A word of caution, however: Despite the prevalence of chronic illness within the Neopagan community, the holdover from the New Age movement - homeopathy, natural remedies, healing crystals, raising vibrations, etc - can make it difficult to just be chronically ill.

An example of a post I frequently see in my local pagan community - and one I vehemently disagree with.
Not everyone will think that pills are making you even more sick and that raising your vibrations will cure you, but there will be a select few.  This is why knowing yourself first is so important.   It takes the ability to look into the face of someone saying "Think positive!" and go "Thank you for your advice," without screaming at them that you're currently at a level 6 pain just to be here and you don't need their "positive vibrations" crapping on your illness.  With time, you'll learn how to navigate the community to avoid confrontation with those who don't quite get it.  Perhaps you'll even take on, if your energy or mental health allows, a few classes to teach better magical etiquette in the face of chronic illness.  But, whatever you choose to do within or without the community, you need to know yourself and be confident enough to ensure your health comes first.

Once you can do that, finding witches dealing with chronic illnesses can be surprisingly easy, especially online.  One of the common monikers of Chronic Illness Witchcraft includes "Spoonie Witchcraft," derived from the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino.

The Spoon Theory suggests that those with chronic illness have a limited number of "spoons," or energy, per day and must decide in what way they spend them.  This may mean skipping important things like showers, exercise or going out of the house in exchange for making phone calls, getting the house clean or being able to feed yourself.

By gaining confidence in yourself - your limitations and abilities - and your diagnosis, identifying as a chronically ill or spoonie witch can help you find more like-minded and like-abled individuals.  From Tumblr to Facebook groups and from Youtubers to full blogs on Spoonie Witchcraft, your new friends and resources can help guide you on ways you can practice your Craft while utilizing the minimal amount of spoons, yet still be effective.  Also, by having like-minded support, you'll have someone to talk to on the days where the pain is too immense, your brain won't stop talking and you feel like you've failed at being a witch.  Finding other witches like you can help you with your identity as both someone with a chronic illness and someone who's a witch.

Have a Firm Grasp on Energy Work

As someone who suffers from chronic pain and mental struggles, having a solid foundation in grounding and centering helps me to focus on my work, even when I'm flaring.  What is grounding and centering, you might ask?  It's the practice of being firmly rooted in the here-and-now.

Grounding allows us to find stability within the world around us by firmly rooting ourselves in our current world, then shaking off any excess or unwanted energy in the process.  Visualization and meditation involving nature and the earth is the most common practice - specifically the rooted tree meditation - but other methods are valid as well.  Some find that using other elements works as well.  Examples include using air to "blow away" the extra energy and firmly balance us upright or water to "wash away" that extra energy while we effortlessly float.  Research a variety of methods until you find one that makes you feel calm, stable and present.

Centering is a method of becoming present within ourselves by removing our energy from all the extraneous matters of the world.  Think of your personal energy like a shell of ribbons around you.  Everything that you're worried about, everything that you have to do in the world (ie work, paying bills, taking care of someone, etc) forces a ribbon to reach out to that matter.  You are giving that thing, whatever it is, your energy.  It's time to reel all of that back in.  Once you are firmly rooted and stable, and any excess and unwanted energy is removed, you can focus on places where your ribbons are reaching too far out or are too tattered to be of any use.  Pull those back in and mend them, or do away with them entirely.  Ignore what's going on in the outside world for the time being.  Those things will still be there when you return and you can give them your energy then if you deem it reasonable to do so.  For now, become just... you.  Let all of your energy belong to you and this moment, and nothing else.  Again, researching ways to center and finding something that works for you is key.

I should note that grounding and centering is not the be-all, end-all of energy work solutions for the chronically ill.  There are days where the pain is too great or the brain is too much for me to be able to properly ground and center.  That's okay.  Don't ever let someone tell you that grounding and centering is the solution to your physical or mental situation.  It's an aid, not a solution.  Being unable to ground and center doesn't make you defective.  You don't have to be "perfectly" grounded and centered to do magic.

Draw Energy from Outside Sources

For many chronic illness sufferers, pain management and low energy are a part of daily life.  Having enough "spoons" to complete day-to-day tasks is difficult enough, let alone spell or ritual work.  The problem is that we often feel we can only do spell or ritual work if we ourselves have enough energy.  There is another way.

Instead of using the internal energy you have to perform all of your work, try channeling energy from another source.

This is something I think all witches should train themselves to do, but it's particularly handy for those low spoon ritual days.  When you're just starting out, stick with easier sources, such as the moon, sun, crystals and elements.  As you advance, you may form a bond with certain people, deities, spirits or other entities who are willing to lend you energy.  With their permission, you can channel their energy through you to complete certain witchy tasks on days where doing so might be more difficult or impossible.

In order to channel the energy, you should have a firm working concept of grounding, primarily because the method of channeling energy is very similar.  In grounding, we often tie our energy to the world around us to wash off excess energy and stabilize.  In channeling, you tie your energy in much the same way to your source and allow that energy to pass through you for a specific purpose.  It may take some practice to create the right flow of energy.  Too much energy and you may feel faint or nauseated, which doesn't work well with chronic illnesses.  Too little and you won't feel energized enough to accomplish your goal.

You may find that you want to take this energy within yourself and utilize it but I mostly find that it's easy to become sort of a medium in which the energy can pass from the source directly to the work at hand.  Bringing outside energy internally has personally caused me numerous conflicts in the past and generally burns me out faster than just resting.  Becoming a gateway to pass that energy directly through takes little effort on my part and I feel little recourse afterward.  But, as always, do what works best for you.

Once you have completed the task at hand, you'll want to show appreciation for your source energy.  This may require offerings of various kinds or care for the item you pulled your energy from when you have the energy to give.  If you've pulled your energy from a crystal, give it a good cleansing pass with smoke or salt (with caution to the stone's properties) and then let it soak up some full moon light to recharge.  If you've pulled your energy from an entity, you'll definitely want to offer up food and drink as thanks, and perhaps something that entity particularly likes.  Gratitude goes a long way in being able to repeat the energy channeling in the future!

Focus on Low Effort Witchcraft

Whether grounding and centering or channeling works for you, another way to conserve your energy is to focus on witchcraft that takes minimal effort.  While I enjoy an elaborate ritual or spell as much as the next witch (and I'm sure my readers have noticed), I don't always have the energy to ritual prep fake birch trees at 3 am the day before.  Sometimes, I'm lucky I can get decent clothes on for a sabbat.  On days like this, I look forward to some low effort witchcraft to make ends meet.

Here's some examples of easy, accessible, low-energy witchcraft:
  • Sigils!  Sigils can be created in a variety of ways and activated by breathing on them, burning them or getting them wet (and more).  If you don't have the knowledge or ability to create a sigil, there are sigil creators that do it for you!  Sigils can be used in just about any kind of magic, from cleansing and warding to sabbats and money spells.  I can't speak highly enough about them as a spoonie witch.  Researching sigil magic is a great way to get started in accessible magic that you can do most any time and anywhere at any energy level.
  • Visualization!  Getting well acquainted with visualization as a sole means of spell work can help you on days where getting out of bed will spend the only spoon you've got.  Think about what it is you need, what goal you're trying to achieve with the spell, and see it coming to fruition.  Visualize it as if it's already come true.  Bam, spell complete!
  • Jar Spells!  I love jar spells because you can throw a couple herbs and stones into a jar and poof, you have a spell.  Pill bottles make great jars for any kind of spoonie-related jar spell.  If you have some surplus energy on a certain day, you can put together jar spells for the future.  Think of common needs you have: Say, money, wellness, career, love, etc.  Create generic jars for each topic. Then, on a day where you have less energy but need to do a spell, you could shake that jar with intent or light a candle over that jar.  Think of it like prepackaged, reusable spells that are easy to access.
  • Food and Drink Spells!  If you're able to eat, you can utilize your food and drink to do simple spell work.  Chose a tea based on its herbal properties and brew it for a spell. Stir your soup clockwise to bring something to you or counterclockwise to banish something.  Blowing steam away from a hot item can symbolize blowing away negativity in your life.  Charge the water you're drinking with non-water-soluble and non-poisonous gemstones.  As you're adding salt, throw a little over your shoulder or sprinkle it on you to do a little cleansing.  Do some research online to find even more ways you can incorporate simple witchcraft with eating!
  • Read!  If you're particularly bedridden one day, grab a witchy book or two and read.  Some books are available free online through the Sacred Text Archive.  Others may need to be downloaded via Amazon or a Kindle and still others may need to be purchased and physically shipped - all of which you can do from bed.  If you're feeling up to reading, it gives you a chance to study various kinds of witchcraft and get ideas for when you have more energy to work.
  • Combine Technology and Witchcraft!  Download witchcraft apps!  There are ones out there that not only draw tarot cards but interpret them for you, light a magical candle, create sigils and more.  Give emoji and text spells a shot.  Try enchanting a playlist of music and use that music to visualize your intent.  Keep an online grimoire by utilizing Pinterest or Tumblr and reblogging or pinning your favorite witchy posts.  
  • Spend Time with your Tools!  Get to know a crystal, tarot deck or other important witchcraft tool at your disposal.  You don't have to actually use it.  Place it on your nightstand or sit with it in your hands for a while.  Just be near it.  You'd be surprised how much you'll get to know that tool in the process.
  • Use Cleaning to Cleanse!  If you have the energy to take a shower or bath, make it a cleansing shower by using your favorite scents, a cleansing epsom salt soak or special herbs tied to your shower head.  If you can't take a shower or a bath, visualize your wash cloth wiping away the negative energy.  Even a cleansing teeth brushing can work if needed.
As you research, study and develop your own craft, you may find ways you can incorporate your practice into your daily life without spending extra spoons in the process!

Learn to Let Go

No matter how firm of a handle you have on energy work, how much to channel energy from an outside source or how low-effort your Craft is, there are simply going to be days where witchcraft cannot and will not happen.  Your spoon level is at critical, you can't move a muscle and your brain simply won't go.  And guess what?  That's okay.  Whether you practice witchcraft every day, once a month, once a year or have long gaps in your practice, you are still a witch and your practice is still valid.

Sometimes, we get in a rut where we compare our craft to other witches.  In fact, we often do this with all aspects of our lives.  Especially as someone who is chronically ill, it's easy to feel like you're not living up to your full potential.  "I could do so much more with my life if only I weren't so sick."

I'm extremely guilty of that thought process.

In previous posts, I've insisted that safety be your priority as a witch.  This includes making your health and well-being a priority.  If your practice is hurting you, if it is causing you undue stress or drains your energy, then you need to rethink your approach to your practice.  Witchcraft isn't a means by which we harm ourselves.  It's how we find stability and security in this world.  Your Craft should give you that same stability and security by molding to the means by which you can practice.  If that means that your altar is your bed or nightstand, then that's what that means.  If it means that you can't work with certain common tools because they're detrimental to your health, then that's what that means.  If it means that you can't honor the sabbats or have to primarily use meditation and visualization or that your Craft consists of simple, everyday enchantments to food, water and showers, then that's what that means.

Your Craft should be uniquely you and support you in ways that only your Craft can.  So allow it to mold to who you are, every part of you, including your illness. Allow your Craft to support you rather than the other way around.  You don't stop being a witch just because you can't get out of bed no more than you stop having your name just because you haven't written it down in the past week.  The important thing to remember about witchcraft is that it will always be here when you have the energy to practice, no matter how long you step away from it.

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  1. Thank you for this, I have been struggling this winter with illness and have set my craft aside the past few months and have had quite a lot of guilt over it. This validates I don't need to be so hard on myself.


    1. Certainly not. Sometimes we just can't control what our bodies do. I hope you start to feel better as we get closer to spring!

  2. I have to say that I have been in the pagan community for 35 years and this is the best discussion I have heard so far about the realities of chronic illness and energy work and just being a person let alone all the things that we have to do, want to do, think we should do as a “good” witch or pagan. I developed chronic illness about 15 years ago so for me it’s been a long, long drawn out process to try to come to terms with what I used to be able to do, what I can do now and the very real fact that I will never be able to do what I did in my 20s, 30s, or even 40s. I’m over 50 now and I’m glad to see that the younger generation has a good head on their shoulders. And by the way I absolutely agree with you on the Memes I see touting only crystals or nature or spells or what have you as the only “real“ way to be healthy. Excellent essay and many spoons to you.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Ruth. Being a spoonie is a tough gig at any age. It's certainly not what I pictured of my life but I had to let that image of how my life should be go to accept the reality of the now. This isn't to say that I've resigned to my illness - more that I'm managing it the best I can one day at a time. I hope you're able to do the same and many spoons your way as well. Thank you again!

  3. Thank you for sharing this wisdom. Appeared right when needed. Blessed Be!

    1. You are most welcome, Amethyst! I'm glad I could help!