Healing myself the Pagan way: how witchcraft cast a spell on me

Witchcraft has always played a large role in my life. While many kids were learning badminton or taking trombone lessons, I was reading up on spellcraft and ways to plant my herb garden. I grew up in the late 1990s when my cultural life became saturated with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Channel-hopping without stumbling across a young woman with magical powers was virtually impossible. But the draw wasn’t just the empowerment that spells and telekinetic forces threw my way; I was intensely charmed by witchcraft’s connection with the world outside and the earth around me.

In the evenings I spent time in my garden wrapped up in scarves and blankets to watch the different phases of the moon pass each night; I learned the names of wildflowers growing at the side of the road where no one cast a second glance and wondered how I could use them in a spell. These small things gave me an overwhelming sense of calm, so enthralled was I by constellations, intricate root systems and the dashes of magic I found around me. Perhaps witchcraft was in my blood – my very first word was “moon”.

So, as an adult, it seemed incredibly natural to me that witchcraft would be the safe haven I returned to in order to recover my mental health after a workplace ordeal left me suffering from depression.

Back in 2018, the world started to look a little hazy to me. For as long as I could remember, I had been told the direction my life would take: I would do well in school, go to university and get a good job. But, in my new communications role at a fast-paced agency, I struggled to come to terms with my reality – I was waking up in cold sweats at 4am every morning and, whenever I washed my hair, long tendrils would pull free from my scalp and form a dark pool at my feet.

On top of the physical symptoms of anxiety, I noticed that as the job grew more stressful, my mood tumbled downwards until I was in a state of depression for months at a time.

And so, in the winter of 2018, after realising how disconnected I had become from myself and the nature-loving woman I had once been, I knew something had to change. I decided to break away – I quit.

In the aftermath and panic of walking away from a job that paid my bills and gave me some semblance of a normal person, I decided to use this newfound time to re-connect with my longtime love of bubbling cauldrons, flickering candles and the occult in an effort to restore balance in my life and heal my mental health.

Witchcraft falls under the umbrella term of Paganism – a form of spiritual practice that involves a deep reverence of the earth. While the term “witch” is now incredibly nuanced and there are many different names for people who practise forms of magic, I think it is hard to find a Pagan who isn’t involved in saving the planet in some way. I believe that a witch is someone who is deeply in touch with people, plants and animals, and knows how to work with their innate power to bring about change in the world, usually through magical forces. This could be through spells, ritual work or through concocting brews and elixirs made from potent ingredients, although there are many ways to work with the magical world.

Much as the Romantic poets showed their appreciation for nature by writing about its beauty, now Pagans throw their arms up to the sky to welcome in the rain when it is needed, grow native plants to feed the bees and only take as many leaves from nature as they need so as not to disrupt the balance of local flora. This care for and worship of the natural world in the face of climate change is perhaps why witchcraft and Paganism are the perfect practices to help us reconnect with the world and survive in the 21st century.

My year of witchcraft unfolded before me and I took the first steps to recover my mental health. I was shaky at first, unused to allowing myself the time to do anything other than “be productive”. I started by observing the Pagan festivals – or sabbats – commonly followed by witches, including Yule (the winter solstice), Imbolc (the first signs of spring in February) and Ostara (the spring equinox). Each of these festivals has a different tradition associated with it, and during the winter festivals, I focused on spending time outside, soaking up the pale fractions of vitamin D that the sun would allow, and sitting under the trees to feel their deep-seated power thrumming directly below me in the ground.

I gave myself time to just be in nature and connect with its sounds and feelings, allowing it to trigger the healing processes in my brain. I breathed deeply; I smiled when I saw a flash of a plump, pink bullfinch in the hedgerow. Witchcraft is so intensely wrapped up in nature that the link to mental health is clear. The benefits of spending time outdoors are well-documented, with one study reporting that spending at least two hours outside every week could boost physical and mental wellbeing significantly. As spring approached, instead of the dark fingers of anxiety that had tapped on the back of my neck for the past year, I began to feel hopeful for the first time in a long time.

As a teenager, I had spent so much time out in nature, spotting birds with my dad and going on long family rambles that ended with jam sandwiches and crisps in the car. I would come home shattered, but knowing the sounds of birds, replaying the call of a blackbird, wren or oystercatcher in my head while many of my friends spent their weekends in crowded shopping malls. The idea that I had become so disconnected from these flurries of feathers and muddy boots made me nervous and rattled my core. Slowing down and appreciating the magic of the cycles of life again opened up my sense of wonder for the natural world that had been lacking for so many years.

Of course, we are at a point in history where we are experiencing a massive shift in working patterns and environments and it is only natural that we would look to practices that ground us – practices and rituals that were lost during the industrial revolution, when huge swathes of the population were uprooted from their rural country homes and cut off from their connection with nature.

The pandemic gave some of us a few moments to sit back and reflect on our priorities. Research showed that 46% of people were looking to quit their job this year and do something different now that remote working is a possibility. People have been spending more time in nature and in their gardens, giving us the headspace to ask: w hat makes us happy? What makes us feel most like ourselves? What would we do if anything was possible?

Light a vanilla-scented candle; add Himalayan salt to your bath; wrap seaweed around your face. Self-care has become yet another compulsory measure to add to our busy days to stave off the pandemic burnout. Of course, people got exhausted before the 21st century, but the past two years have brought self-love practices to the fore. We’ve seen big companies giving their staff time off to help reverse the epidemic of anxiety, and employees are being told to get out in nature, download Headspace and learn to meditate.

But wouldn’t it be better if we took a pause before we got to the point of a panic attack?

As we come to re-examine office structures and working life, many people are looking to find a deeper connection with the natural world and their place within it. However, birdwatching and outdoor yoga aren’t for everyone – some of us need something more charged and immersive in order to help us rediscover our true selves. Returning to my love of witchcraft that started when I was a teenager helped me to refocus my energies and see the world through a new lens – one where nature, cycles and my own wellbeing are the focal points.

As we continue to reach dizzying heights in the technological age, witchcraft can help us see the magic of the everyday and bring us back down to earth where we can plant two outstretched hands in the moss.

Jennifer Lane is an author and nature writer. Her book The Wheel: A Witch’s Path Back to the Ancient Self (September Publishing, £14.99) is available from guardianbookshop.com for £13.04

Comments are closed.