home of a crazy herbalist

unspelling work


First, a general framework to approach the very idea of a spell. The etymology of 'spell,' in various European languages relates to speaking, the use of breath and voice and intention. The meaning has varied over place and time period, currently meaning 'the use of letters to form words' with older roots in 'speaking/telling/signifying in general.' For hundreds of years over European history, there has been an ongoing theft of both meaning and power away from women/gender non-conforming/empire-resisting folks who enchant things with their words, who invoke and heal through trance with incantations. Who sit first with the land in their relationship to knowing. The attempted elimination of these practitioners and practices, most visibly during the burning times, started much, much earlier and continues to evolve. The transition of power to robed men of the cloth (clergy) who also represented sate sanctioned religion and 'the truth,' has been a long one.

It was a transition long before we come to the stubborn and empire obsessed European era, one that began, I believe, with the birth of structured institutions and city-states long, long ago when the descent into the underworld was one shared by all during the fallow period of winter....But no one has quite perfected it like my ancestors and the folks they shared time and space with. I cherish my blood of resistance and I suffer my blood of domination. I digress.......

The lasting spells of these transitions can be seen as the institutions which uphold white supremacy, colonization, cis-hetero-patriarchy, ableism and neurotypicality, environmental degradation and the legacies of continued personal and cultural traumas which mediate every aspect of our daily lives. May these forces be seen and known. 

Power and trust has been taken away from local community healers who chanted while weaving, cooking, planting, divining and healing. These healers, specifically the female and non-binary, trans and queer ones, childless and neurodivergent held positions of power importance to their communities. These women/healers spoke into charms, herbs, amulets, garments, cloth, food, the body, etc. as spiritual practice and service. They traveled and served the needs of their communities. They sat out on the land and listened. The first scientists were the people who took a plant, did something in partnership with it and made observations as to its efficacy and powers. Indigenous science has always been scientific. While modern academia has powerful things to offer, its lens and forms of inquiry have replicated and perpetuated cultural tyrannies. White herbalism included. 

The Christian (patriarchal, capitalist, eugenicist) colonization of Europe was able to successfully shift respect and trust away from local healers, herbalists, midwifes and folks who worked in the realms of spirit by changing the very understanding of the tools they used. Power was shifted away from spellwork (the practice of using voice, breath intention and meaning) done by local women trusted within their communities to the clergy: (mostly) men in churches and in positions of power who spoke of devils and claimed the only source of truth came from the gospels of Christianity.

Literally, the 'good spells.'

The shift of power from the living words and relationships offered by local healers moved to those words written and only accessible to literate, state-sanctioned religious leaders with ties to political power and interest. This was a very cruel spell: the speaking against local and community based, living spiritual traditions in favor of a static and externalized source of ultimate spiritual authority. The notion of casting spells became associated with evil in conflict with the gospels (the written good spells) and central authority of the church. 

Unresolved trauma does a similar thing in the mind-body: it recasts a multi-valent and sensual reality into something rigid, less flexible, less safe. It externalizes our truths and reduces our resources for liberation. 

If we are to unspell personal and collective traumas, we must know what gospels are not in our interests. We must begin to identify what has been cast upon us without our consent. We must know what gospels we benefit and perpetuate. And, we must know/affirm what our own good spells are. The process of unspelling is not linear, it is winding, dancing in the moment and unearthing the past can happen within the same breath. Sometimes over weeks and years. 

White supremacist-cis-hetero-neurotypical-capitalist-patriarchy is a kaleidoscope of bad spells that serve a select few and maintain structures of disempowerment. They have been evolving and shape-shifting for a long time but they have patterns, just like trauma does

Self-Healing, Artist: Claire Mack

Self-Healing, Artist: Claire Mack

herb-chanting work, Pseudognaphalium californica, So Cal 2015

herb-chanting work, Pseudognaphalium californica, So Cal 2015

Complex trauma/PTSD is a set of bad spells cast during important developmental years. 

Unresolved trauma is a bad spell on the body. It causes physiological resurrections of neuro-emotional spells leaving us in the rigidity of survival mode. It strips away what we can and are allowed to know is possible. It externalizes our truths and forces separation from our body and senses. It is the projection of a false reality we are told we must be constrained to. It leaves the residue of perptual 'not enough-ness.'...these are stubborn spells. 

This understanding of trauma applies on the personal and political levels. Identifying these spells take so much damn WORK WORK WORK to undo. I think there are no set stages of healing in trauma, we instead become master unspellers and shifters between the various worlds presented to us, ways we are allowed to be, what we can allow ourselves to be and know and feel. We unearth the bones of old monsters to verify their deaths, we re-story what was once our gospel, we begin to re-center reality as something happening within us and we become lovers to our own embodied experience. This doesn't happen in a linear fashion, instead we wander between the worlds of present and past and learn to trust our own discernment of what is which. This is the unspelling. 


I think survivors of complex trauma (personal and socio-political), and folks who have a keen sense that they were born into a world that doesn't look anything like what they recognize as true are poised to be master unspellers: we crave deeper relationships to each other and earth, living systems built on justice and restoration, equitable distributions of resources and communities centered on consent and joy. I think we are in a unique position to help be the change we know we were put here to be.

the unspelling of personal and collective trauma is my life's work

  • Whiteness & White Supremacy perpetuates trauma
  • Cis-Hetero-Capitalist-Abelist-Patriarchy perpetuates trauma
  • Colonization perpetuates trauma

No personal traumas can be separated from their cultural origins completely. The work of unspelling then is

  • the identification of our intersections
  • the griefwork
  • the unraveling of that which has bound us
  • the casting out of that which no longer serves
  • the embracing of that which does
  • the liberation of the life force flowing through us
  • the active calling in of intimacy, connection and restoration
  • the embodiment of our knowing
  • the nourishment of community in all its seasons and power

May it be so for each of us. 

I do not claim to know what this looks like universally. As a white person, I am aggressively cautious about thinking I do, about investing in the 'right' way to be or think or do as 'rightness' and being above the messiness of deep, vulnerable interactions is a tool that actively perpetuates whiteness. So, I care very little for being right. I care about impact and connection. I care about resistance and relationship. I care about turning and facing multiple truths with a heart which is offended by the normalization of trauma. 

I am currently working on a secret project which I am super excited about and will allow me to offer this work on a one-to-one basis. To find out more about this, hop on my email newsletter which lets me tell folks right away when I have new potions, classes, writings and offerings available :) Or if you are not tired from the reading you have done thus far, how about a visit to the library? Wherever you go from this moment, may it be blessed.