When I started blogging about paganism and witchcraft, I expected the hardest part to be deciding what to write about. I did not expect the hardest part to be having confidence in the public relevance of what I was writing. Since 2006 I have blogged, presented, and taught on other topics (mostly sewing, reenactment, cosplay, and art), and I never doubted the relevance of what I was offering in those areas. Yet after I started writing about magic and spirituality, I found myself at times nearly drowning in doubt. I am resolved to keep at this, but it has been frustratingly difficult to alleviate my anxiety and ease the stresses it creates. At last, I finally have a plan to tackle it, and the first step is sharing that plan with you.
What is NOT Bothering Me
You might be expecting that negative feedback has created this anxiety, but that is not the case at all. I have received some negative feedback on some of my articles, but that is not a significant contribution to my anxiety. The vast majority of the time I engage very little or not at all with trolls, and I have no problem ignoring or deleting their comments, or blocking them on social media. I enjoy thoughtful comments, and I am happy for constructive criticism.
Constructive criticism and thoughtful reactions to my post on menstrual magic are the entire reason I wrote an article about the value of claiming ownership of your body. Many of the comments on social media were based in transphobia and misogyny. I ignored those and deleted them where possible. Other comments were sincere concerns and complaints about some wording I used. I conversed with some of those people to better understand where they were coming from and try to better explain why I used the wording I did. After that, I felt it was worth addressing those issues in their own right.
I have always been very critical of myself, and I see that as an extremely positive thing in my life. I look for the flaws and the mistakes in my own work, so I can understand those mistakes and do better next time. I am happy when other people notice problems I do not, even if I ultimately do not agree with them, because their criticisms allow me to better understand my work and do better next time. The learning process never stops, and constructive criticism is a fantastic boost to learning efforts. The trick is to be nonjudgmentally critical, because everything is flawed, flaws make life interesting, and flaws are an inevitable byproduct of creativity and the learning process.
Flaws do not render a creation worthless – they give it life!
Knowing My Anxiety Triggers Is Little Comfort
Intellectually, I know exactly what is triggering my anxiety, but knowing the triggers does little to help with the anxiety and lack of confidence.
One of the major triggers for my anxiety stems from the fact that magic and spirituality are extremely subjective. That means that unlike with sewing a garment where anyone can do A B C and D to achieve the same quantifiable result, what I experience and understand about esotericism is not going to be what everyone else experiences and understands about esotericism. There are likely to be a large number of people who can relate, but it is going to be nowhere near everyone, and I have no idea how large or small that audience is.
Another trigger is that I trained myself to expect immediate large amounts of positive feedback on social media starting (art and sewing posts with pretty pictures can do that). However, the kinds of things I am inclined to post on paganism and witchcraft generate very little feedback (even when compared to creating pagan memes, staging photogenic altar photos, or taking sexy witch selfies). The majority of the feedback I have received on my articles has been very positive, but it is sparce enough to create doubt when compared to past activities I have shared online.
I am also weird, and I know that my perspective and thought processes are often anything but mainstream. That adds to my anxiety about whether or not how I see the world will be helpful to others as they try to orient themselves in their own paths. Intellectually, I know this is a strong point in favor of my writing, because diverse perspectives are extremely valuable, but the anxiety remains.
It also concerns me that I have no credentials I can point to. I am not a part of any established traditions or pagan communities, and no matter how much I have always wanted a more advanced college degree, for various reasons it has never been within my reach.
I Like Having Plans, Even Vague Ones
I like to have an understanding of where I am, and where I want to go, with at least a general idea of how I am going to get there. I have no problem with the plan and path changing along the way (I usually expect changes), as long as I have a general grasp of how to make things work out, and solid ideas for the near future.
That desire for a plan led me to do several tarot and oracle readings over the past year. Each time I was looking for suggestions that could provide a plan for tackling the anxiety and lack of confidence directly. I was not expecting a quick fix. I have done too much shadow work throughout my life to have that false expectation. I was, however, hoping for a general direction and semblance of a plan for solving the problem, but to no avail.
I used different decks. I looked up different spreads. I phrased the question in different ways, but none of it worked. The answers I got only told me what I already knew intellectually, that my fears were unfounded and I did not need to be so anxious. I was doing what I needed to do, my efforts were reaching the people they needed to reach, and I would only reach more people the longer I kept at it. I was good. The path was clear, if difficult. I just needed to keep moving forward, and I would succeed. Keep calm and carry on, as the saying goes.
So, I went through wave after wave of anxiety, frustration, and reassurance, in an ongoing cycle that had no exit I could find, because you usually cannot logic your way out of having emotions.
A New Tarot Spread
On Wednesday the 24th of November, 2020, I finally had inspiration for a tarot spread that might answer my question in a productive way. I had been asking the right questions, but I had not found a pre-described spread which was capable of providing the subtle insight I was seeking.
I have shared the details of the Tarot Spread for Problem Solving and Shadow Work in another post, so you can try it if you would like. The logic behind the spread involves defining the core aspect which is at the center of the problems, and separately defining how that core aspect is affecting and affected by different areas of the querant’s life. For my reading, these life areas were mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
In examining those areas independently, I could better understand and address not only the core issue, but the manifestations of the anxiety and its root causes in different areas of my life. The reason I could not get an accurate reading previously is that not one, but two primary shadow issues have been contributing to the anxiety, one in the mental arena and the other in the physical arena, and those issues each need to be dealt with in different ways.
What That Tarot Reading Told Me
Instead of just thinking, “I already knew that,” this reading hit me up side the head with, “Oh, that makes sense,” and put things into a perspective that genuinely addresses the root causes of the anxiety and lack of confidence.
The Crux of the Problem
On a core level, I am placing too much concern on academic standards. Despite only having an Associate of Science degree, most of my close friends have advanced degrees, I have done extensive proofreading for friends in graduate school, and I am accustomed to intellectualism in even casual conversation. This has caused me to fret that I am not well-read enough to call myself an authority on witchcraft, paganism, or spirituality, especially since I cannot name names or quote books at the drop of a hat (and likely never will).
Being intellectual and well-researched is fantastic, but the core of what I have to offer is not anything that can be found in an academic library, because it all stems from my personal experience and observations of the world. It is still extremely important for me to read, research, and reference where possible, but those efforts should have a support role. What I have to convey is rooted in personal experience, compassion, and mutual understanding, supported by intersectionalism and broadening perspectives to foster the creation of more inclusive communities.
In other words, I need to stop comparing myself to academic writing standards unless it genuinely makes sense for the subject matter of the particular article. The greater emphasis needs to be on flexibility, compassion, understanding, and connection. This is a core issue, because it affects the tone and focus for how I approach this whole writing endeavor.
On a Mental Level
Even before this reading I was aware that some of my shadow baggage was exacerbating the anxiety. It cannot help but do so, because that baggage is pervasive and I have been doing a lot of intense work on it in the past year and a half while writing a book about my experiences with emotionally abusive family.
What surprised me was that those past traumas came up in the reading as an intellectual problem, not an emotional problem. Upon reflection, though, that makes perfect sense, because this particular trauma is not directly creating anxiety. Instead, it triggers a dysfunctional mental response of baseless self-doubt, which in turn triggers the anxiety.
Trauma from childhood emotional abuse is making it so very, very difficult for me to deal with the limited feedback written articles usually receive. Throughout my childhood and youth, the serotonin boost I received from feedback for accomplishments was the only positive thing in my life I could count on and look forward to. As far back as I can remember, I could mostly ignore the dumpster fire that was my life if I focused on how impressed people were with my latest drawing or the grade on that important school project. Even in kindergarten, positive feedback for my efforts was the only consistent bright spot in my otherwise miserable life.
That reward-need dynamic is so formative that I suspect it will never go entirely away, no matter how much I work on it, but being aware of it makes it much easier to deal with. Understanding that the lack of feedback was nothing to worry about did not help because that was not the root issue. Now that I know the lack of feedback bothers me because I have a trauma-based need for positive feedback, I can look that trauma need in the eye and tell it directly that it can calm down. I have done enough shadow work in my life to know that is not an instant fix, but over time and with consistency, it will help a great deal.
The other thing that will help is building community and a following over time. Even if the portion of people who give feedback stays the same, the total amount of feedback will increase as my audience does. The less that trauma-need has to fret about, the less anxiety it will create, which is why I did not realize it was a problem until now (ah, the nesting dolls of shadow work and long-term trauma).
On a Physical Level
This part of the reading is the entire reason this article exists. I am doing a lot more esoteric reading than at any other time in my life, including online. My above mentioned anxiety combined with the social emphasis of secrecy so common in witchy and pagan circles, has caused me to hold back and be careful about curating what I write and where, lest it be ill received. That kind of care works for a lot of people, but for me it has been a mistake.
This mistake also stems from childhood trauma, but unlike in the mental arena, I did not need the deck to slap me in the face with that information. This aspect of my shadow work is very familiar territory, because it was one of the first deep issues I endeavored to work on, and it has tendrils affecting every other trauma issue I have. At the core of it is the question of honesty.
I have a lot of thoughts about honesty, so I will give it its own article at some point (likely more than one given enough time). Right now, though, I will keep it brief. Most of my emotional abuse happened through lies and gaslighting, covered with a thick veneer of pretenses at honesty and openness. At the same time, honesty is, and always has been, critically important to me, to the point that I am even uncomfortable with the kinds of white lies that are polite social niceties.
Between my personal need for honesty, and my lifelong experiences with abusive habitual liars, as soon as I was on my own as an adult I realized that I had zero tolerance for lies and deceptions. It stresses me out to have those things in my life, because it brings up all the trauma of being a trusting child who was constantly lied to and deceived. That is why I do not keep secrets, and why I doubt very greatly I will ever take a vow of secrecy (the one time I almost did, the coven broke down before any teaching could happen).
Secrets, even when well-intentioned or kept for very good reasons, have the potential to turn into lies. At some point you may have to lie to protect your secret, because “none of your business” does not work with all people and all situations. Just ask anyone who has ever been in a proverbial closet of any kind. Even though I have not always been public about my gender, sexuality, or religious leanings, I do not consider myself to have ever been in a closet, because those things were never secrets. If they came up in conversation, I would talk about them. I just did not announce them to the world, and I have always been privileged enough to have the option to be honest.
It stresses me out to try and keep secrets because of the risk of needing to lie, no matter how miniscule. I hate lying because it hurt me so much to have family lie to me and keep secrets from me as long as I was in contact with them. It hurt that they betrayed my trust continually. If I have no secrets, I never have to worry about lies, but I also understand that approach does not work for everyone. Being private and keeping secrets can be a good thing and critically important to how people manage their lives and maintain their mental and emotional health, or even their personal safety.
I may not have been keeping secrets on this blog, but I have often held back on expressing myself and telling my personal stories as they relate to the messages I want to convey (yes, this blog so far is me holding back). I have been curating and omitting details that I fear may be criticized or misunderstood, even when those details are an authentic part of who I am and why I am giving the advice I give. In curating details, I am failing to be fully and authentically myself, and thus you are not getting the best I can give.
Previously when I have shared things online, I have shared completely, without reservation. I tried to include as much information, as many details as possible. Would everyone want to know how many hours I spent working on the thing, or exactly what materials I used to make it? Would everyone want a few dozen WIP images, some meandering descriptions about obstacles, and step by step information about how to do it themselves? No, but because that information was there, I found audiences who did want those things, who appreciated not just the end product, but the process and the person who made it.
Oversharing may not work for everyone, but it works for me. It always has. It is an expression of the openness and honesty which I treasure in my life. It is not for everyone, and that is fine. I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but when I am most authentically and unashamedly myself, other people can usually figure that out rather quickly. There is no point in pretending I am everyone’s cup of tea, because that just makes the elimination process take longer. They eventually move on regardless.
So, yeah. The cards gave me a rather clear message that I need to stop holding back, because holding back causes me stress. I need to get back to sharing openly, because that is when I am happiest and most relaxed. Backlash from people who dislike oversharing causes me very little stress at all, because I have zero expectation that everyone needs to like me. Being authentically me also means that those people who do like me will have an easier time figuring it out, and are more likely to stick around.
On an Emotional Level
The emotional level advice was pretty straightforward, and fell in line with my existing efforts to alleviate my anxiety. Continuing to make time to rest is important, as is giving myself time to reflect, especially when I have a bout of anxiety and overly focus on false problems. Exactly what steps I should take to relax, and how best to stay emotionally fulfilled by my work, is mutable, but that is normal for me. I am not a creature of habit, and am bored easily by routine events. Doing different things based on current situation and mood is important to how I both keep myself engaged, and help myself to relax and reflect.
On a Spiritual Level
This part of the reading most closely matched the numerous other readings I had attempted. It told me in no uncertain terms that I am doing what I need to do. I just need to keep going, and I will be able to reach my goals (amorphous though they are). My doubts and anxiety are nothing more than a hiccup or a pothole in the road. I am capable of taking control of my life, and being the master of my own destiny, even though my chronic illness makes me doubt that a great deal of the time.
Thank Goodness for a Plan
I am grateful I created that spread, because it helped me to better understand the root issues that had eluded me. It helped me to better understand how my shadow was creating the anxiety, and to understand exactly what I can do to address those issues. I can stop wasting my energy in the wrong areas and refocus on the stuff that really matters, so that my writing flows naturally and fully authentically. It changes nothing about my understanding of my path, but a great deal about how I share that path with you.
If you want to try the spread I used for this reading, you can find the layout and detailed description in Tarot Spread for Problem Solving and Shadow Work.
As always, I hope you found value here and enjoyed joining me on this small part of my journey.