People who believe in witchcraft know there are things in this world that science cannot explain. Many witches also believe in the healing power of nature. Because of this, there tends to be a lot of overlap between witchcraft and alternative healing.
Some alternative healing modalities, like herbal supplements, crystals, and essential oils, are incredibly popular with witches because they align so well with a magical worldview. And that can be a beautiful thing. If you find that taking CBD oil or diffusing lavender makes you feel good and gives you a sense of empowerment, then it absolutely has a place in your life.
The problem is that alternative healing (and, by extension, magic as a whole) is often framed as being in competition with conventional medicine. It’s presented as an “either/or” — either you believe in doctors and medicine, or you believe in energy healing and herbal supplements. This is not realistic, and it may even put people in danger.
The irony of this is that the first witches were also the first doctors. In Ancient Egypt, doctors would invoke the gods to imbue medicine with healing power, or curse a disease to make it leave a patient — these approaches were paired with actual medicine. In medieval Europe, witches and cunningfolk were the keepers of medical knowledge and would often serve as healers.
Even today, most pharmaceutical medications are made from naturally occurring ingredients. For example, antibiotics are synthesized from bacteria and fungi. These medications are not less natural than the medicine people used hundreds or thousands of years ago, but they are more refined thanks to modern technology. Rather than trading a natural remedy for an artificial one, you’re often just taking a more effective form of the same substance.
Personally, I like to use magic and alternative remedies to treat symptoms, but use medication to treat the underlying cause of the problem. If I have bronchitis, I might drink echinacea tea and diffuse eucalyptus essential oil, but I’m also going to take a full course of antibiotics to kill the infection.
Likewise, if I’m having a bad mental health day, I might take a bath with lavender or do some energy healing on myself, but I’m also probably going to call my therapist and continue taking my prescribed antidepressants.
Some witches have a lot of resistance to therapy, psychiatric care, and psychoactive medications. I’ve heard every possible argument, from “psychoactive meds lower your vibration/block your psychic abilities/dull your ability to feel energy!” to “if you tell a therapist you believe in magic, they’re going to think you’re crazy!” These arguments are completely false, plain and simple.
I’m a better witch when I’m in therapy and on my meds, because I’m a better person when I’m in therapy and on my meds. I’m better able to focus, set goals, and be aware of my body, which are all important skills in magic. I have no doubt that if I wasn’t doing what I need to do to keep myself stable, my mental health would suffer for it.
Good therapists know the importance of religion and spirituality, and they will respect your beliefs. No matter what your beliefs, a good faith-affirming therapist or counselor is always a good idea.
Your therapist is not going to think you’re crazy if you tell them you can astral travel, or talk about an experience with a pagan deity. What they will do is let you know if your experiences are outside the realm of healthy spirituality, and give you guidance on how to keep yourself safe if this is the case.
The truth is, whether we want to talk about it or not, not everyone who sees angels or talks to fairies is having a genuine spiritual experiences. As many as 63.3% of delusions in schizophrenia patients are religious in nature. If we are going to encourage people to seek out direct experiences of the spiritual, we also need to inform them on how to recognize when those experiences aren’t healthy or are not grounded in reality.
Psychosis refers to any experience that is not grounded in reality, including hallucinations (false sensory experiences) and delusions (false beliefs). Psychosis is not a mental disorder, but can be a symptom of many different disorders. It can also be an isolated incident in someone who may not usually experience breaks from reality.
Som if someone claims to have been visited by Isis, or Cernunnos, or the Virgin Mary, how do we know if they’re describing a genuine spiritual experience or a psychotic episode?
First of all, look at context. If someone claims to see angels or to be the reincarnation of a god immediately after taking drugs, after pulling an all-nighter, or while running a high fever (all potential causes of psychosis), they may be disconnected from reality and may need medical attention. On the other hand, if you know this person to be stable, sober, and well adjusted, they may very well be describing a genuine spiritual encounter.
Second, look at the actual experience. Is it consistent with the person’s existing beliefs? Is it consistent with experiences other people have had within the same belief system? Is this person clearly able to differentiate between this experience and the “real world,” or is the experience taking over their daily life? Answering these questions can help determine whether mental health intervention might be needed.
Finally, as a general rule, if you have an experience that scares you, makes you feel like you are in danger, or makes you feel compelled to hurt yourself or someone else, you should probably get a second opinion from a trained mental health professional.
As members of the witchcraft community, we have a responsibility to look out for other members of the community — and that includes being willing to say something if we believe someone genuinely needs medical help. Science and spirituality are not opposed, and they can coexist. Being a witch doesn’t mean rejecting science, and believing in science doesn’t mean rejecting magic. A healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way in keeping your magical practice safe, productive, and empowering.
- The Dream podcast, season two
- New World Witchery podcast, “Episode 65 — The Slender Man Discussion”
- Inside Schizophrenia podcast, “Psychosis in Schizophrenia”
- The Savvy Psychologist podcast, “302 — Chemtrails, Aliens, and Illuminati — The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories”
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