I think it’s a fair statement to say that anyone who has experienced the crippling effects of mental illness has at some point questioned their own identity, purpose and/or placement in this cosmic realm of ours. Not only do we begin to question our sanity, but we begin to question the sanity of our nearest and dearest as well.
This sort of self-reflection and internalization quickly becomes toxic, as it only serves to make us feel even more isolated from the rest of the world that we perceive as “sane.” This alienation adds to the already overwhelming and extreme sense of weight on our shoulders that often accompanies disorders like anxiety and depression.
One of the real cruxes of dealing with a mental illness is that the disorder seems to take away any sort of power and autonomy that we may have had before. Suddenly, we are no longer the masters of our own fate. Instead we feel shackled and weighed down by invasive, depressing and anxiety-ridden thought patterns that are not our own. The small part of our former-selves lays hidden away in the depths of our psyche, weighed down by the crushing, wet blanket of our cognitive difficulties.
It’s during these times that most people afflicted with a mental illness either sink or swim. As you’ve probably heard countless times before, “you can’t help someone unless they want to help themselves,” and that statement couldn’t be more true. When I was at my lowest point mentally, I found myself seeking out whatever form of stability and consistency I could find. Luckily, when I was dealing with the more extreme forms of my anxiety and depression, I was still a teenager living at home with my parents. My mom and dad are naturally very intuitive people, so they knew that something “wasn’t right” with me probably before I realized it myself. Because of this, they saved me from going down a path that many people don’t have the option not to take.
Once I began treatment for my depression and my personality and mental stability started to return bit by bit, I began searching for ways to reclaim my sense of self and autonomy beyond the medication and therapy sessions I was prescribed. This lead me to a realm I never thought I’d enter – or rather, admit to being genuinely curious about —
When I use the term “Occult” I do not use it as a representative of all that is dark, demonic and evil in the world, as many more extreme Christian organizations like to warn against. The “Occult” to me is simply the practice, research and belief in thoughts and ideas that we cannot explain using traditional scientific methods. Perhaps more accurately though, it’s the practice of magic.
Now, I can imagine that by this point, I’m about to lose half of my readers. That’s fair – but before you go, know this. I am not a devout follower of any magical organization or practitioner of any sort “magical” discipline, but what I will say is this – I’m not discounting or ridiculing anyone who does practice magic because the fact of the matter is I don’t know if magic exists or not. I simply don’t know, and that simple declaration has given me the freedom to explore the subject at my leisure and decide for myself.
I first began researching magic, Wicca and other “Occult” doctrines about three years ago. Like most children, I grew up with a fascination and love for fairy tales and folklore, so researching it as an adult was sort of natural to me. I’ve always been enamored with the more “natural” and practical elements of magic, particularly those rooted in Irish and Celtic traditions as my family is ancestrally Irish, Scottish and English.
My interest soon developed into a love of a magical discipline commonly referred to as “Hedge Magic,” and whose practitioners are called “Hedge Witches.” Hedge Magic is essentially what we “normies” would think of as “medieval medicine” as it was used by midwives and healers long ago. What drew me to it was its very practical nature – Hedge Magic is primarily the study and use of natural herbs to create medicines and tonics. Actual Hedge Witches are a far cry from the image that Hollywood tries to sell us. No warts, cauldrons and cursed apples here – Hedge Magic is based in the home and promotes a symbiotic relationship with Mother Earth.
Yes, Hedge Witches do “cast spells” and concoct “potions” and perform astral projections that supposedly affect the intended receivers in both the physical and spiritual realms, but to be quite honest, I’ve never been able to drop my innate skepticism enough to try that aspect of Hedge Magic.
Instead, I turned to the more practical applications of being a Hedge Witch. As you may have already seen, I am an avid gardener, and much of what I’ve sown and cultivated in my garden has been inspired by Hedge magic.
I’ve planted rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme and oregano in my the portion of my garden that I’ve reserved for herbs. All of these plants purportedly have protection properties, and besides the fact that I already loved these herbs, I like the idea that I’m doing something to protect myself and my home. It all ties back in with reclaiming my sense of self after it had been neglected for so long when I was in the depths of my depression. Whether or not my rosemary and lavender plants will actually protect me by warding off negative spirits and energies isn’t the point. The point is that I was able to make a small change in my life that made me feel better, even if it is just a placebo effect (which I’m not saying it is – I don’t know!)
A second aspect of Hedge-craft that got my attention was something called “candle magic.” Candle magic can be found in nearly all sorts of magical practices, but the use of candles as a hedge witch seemed less spell cast-y and more meditative in nature. As someone who is constantly struggling with being mindful and aware of the present moment, candle magic seemed like a unique and creative way for me to practice mindfulness.
One of the main ideas behind candle magic (and the way that I choose to practice it, although there are various ways to go about it) is reflecting on whatever is at the forefront of your mind (this could be something that’s worrying you, distracting you, or even your hopes, wishes, dreams, etc) harnessing the energy behind that thought, which is represented by the flame of the candle, then blowing out the flame and releasing your intentions to be carried off by some sort of universal karmic stream.
Isn’t that the most relaxing, calming image? You can theoretically watch your problems float away up into the air in swirling tendrils of smoke.
For someone who is constantly seeking ways to quiet my mind down, even if just for a few moments, Hedge-craft has been a wonderful outlet. Like I said, I approach this realm of magic not as an avid practitioner, but as more of a positive, calming point of focus. I’ll readily admit that there is still a large part of me that wonders if maybe there really is something to all this witch-craft. Maybe there really is a change in my karmic-being when I crush a few lavender springs in my palm and inhale their scent. But more than anything, Hedge-craft gives me the opportunity to slow down and take time for myself. I just hope all those spells I’ve been casting aren’t creating some cataclysm in some other parallel universe.
A third element of “the Occult” that I’ve always been curious about is the art of Tarot. You’re probably familiar with the “Psychics” at state fairs or amusement parks who claim they can see your whole future in a deck of ornately decorated cards. That’s not the kind of Tarot I’m interested in.
As any legitimate practicing Tarot-reader will tell you, Tarot card readings are not intended to reveal definite aspects of your future. Tarot is intended to be a form of guidance and is not to be used to answer basic “yes or no” questions like “will I win the lottery?”. However, yes, there is a magical aspect to Tarot, as Tarot card readings are supposed to be a medium in which our physical being can connect with our spiritual, higher self. A simple way to put this would be that Tarot cards are intended for those who wish to connect with their intuition.
When I first began learning about Tarot, I was immediately attracted to the guidance principal espoused by the nearly all of the introductory Art-of-Tarot books I read. When dealing with mental illness, it is not uncommon to feel lost and confused due to the invasion of all those toxic thoughts in our heads. We don’t know which way is up or down and it’s hard to distinguish between right and wrong, so when I encountered Tarot and its use as a tool of guidance, I was immediately hooked.
I’ve since collected two Tarot card decks. My primary deck is called the Rider-Smith-Waite deck, which is one of the most commonly used Tarot decks around. My second deck is a Game of Thrones deck that I have purely for the novelty of it, but also #motherofdragons and #housestark forever.
My fascination with Tarot quickly morphed into a hobby that I practice almost daily. A Tarot reading is not only something you can do for someone else, but something you can do for yourself. The way that I use Tarot for myself is called a “Four-card spread.” The four cards are comprised of one major arcana card and three minor arcana cards. The reading that I like to do goes as follows:
-I draw a random card from my deck of Major Arcana cards and flip it over, face up, in front of me. This is my primary, defining card.
-I then deal three random cards from my Minor Arcana card deck and flip them face up directly below my Major Arcana card.
-These three minor cards are used to expand on and further define the meaning of the Major Arcana card.
-Here’s an example of a four-card spread below –
With a general question in the realm of “asking for guidance” in mind, the way I would interpret this reading would go something like this:
Major Arcana Card (top) ~ the Emperor ~ represents independence, sovereignty and control. He signifies a mastery of emotion and inner stability. The father figure of Tarot, he is the protector and guardian.
First Minor Arcana Card (left) ~ the six of cups ~ this card represents a childlike innocence and joy. The cups are a symbol of a wealth and bounty that should be shared with loved ones (this may be actual wealth or special skills/talents you may have) this card is also a mark of protection and a reminder to enjoy the present moment (stop and smell the roses!)
Second Minor Arcana Card (middle) ~ reversed five of wands ~ this card tells us that there is an inner conflict that has not yet become a full-on battle. There is a potential for dis-harmony in the future if you choose to deal with your conflict independently — it is always best to ask for help/support when dealing with emotional turmoil.
Third Minor Arcana Card (right) ~ reversed three of swords ~ this card is symbolic of a past heartbreak or trauma that you are now ready to release and reconcile with. This card, when reversed, is a symbol of hope, optimism and forgiveness. This tells us to acknowledge the trauma, pain and hurt we feel, but then allows us to release it and heal from past wounds that no longer serve us.
In summary ~ your four card reading essentially tells me that you are an independent spirit who seeks to help others using your innate talents and gifts. You are a protector and you bring hope and light to those around you. You have a tendency to hold on to painful memories and feelings because you fear that if you become too hopeful/optimistic, you will be hurt again. This is a false belief, so shed your armor of trauma and let love in because love/hope is the most powerful protector of all (and you represent love and hope to others!) essentially – you must now reflect some of the love and light you give to others back on to yourself. Celebrate all that you are and remember that you are the Emperor! You are the master of your higher self.
Another aspect of Tarot that I love is that while each card has a defined meaning, the way you apply those meanings to your question can be fluid. I think of Tarot cards as stepping stones. They provide the basis of an idea which you can then expand on and apply to your own life. In that way, reading Tarot helped me regain my sense of autonomy. Whenever I was feeling lost of out of control, I could “consult” my Tarot deck which would provide me with an idea that I could then focus on, organize and attempt to soothe my frenzied mind.
I also enjoy reading Tarot for others because I can see that Tarot affects them in similar ways. Whether you want to “believe” in it or not, Tarot has become a form of certainty for me, or at the very least, a tool I can use that facilitates my own problem-solving skills. Plus, Tarot reading kills at parties.
As always, thank you for reading my babbling. My neurotransmitters are simply thriving.
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