A 2017 Harvard Medical School health article about the placebo effect explains how researchers have begun to view the placebo effect as a legitimate form of treatment due to results from fMRI imaging and pain studies that have shown a neurobiological response that gives credibility to the placebo effect as an effective tool for even physical symptom management. While the placebo effect cannot cure illnesses, there is a connection between the mind and body that is undeniable and ritual and conditioning, not positive thinking, play the most important role in the efficacy of placebo.
Even more startling, knowing something is a placebo does not reduce the efficacy of it. In fact, in a 2005 study published in the academic Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that knowledge of the placebo actually increased its results and similar results have been replicated many times since. These researchers determined that psychological expectations and conditioning influenced the success of placebo. It is not a leap, then, to expect that learning how to maximize the placebo effect and consciously apply it to our emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing might have a profound impact on our personal lives. This power, then, belongs to us, if we choose to develop it.
Witches and practitioners of magick are perhaps able to harness the power of the placebo effect more than most. If ritual, expectation, and conditioning are the fundamental requirements for the placebo effect to work, and knowing something is a placebo increases its power to yield results, then witchcraft is a perfect vehicle for wielding this power.
I’ve had some personal experience with this recently. I had an upcoming meeting that even the thought of drove fear into every fiber of my being. I was hyper-adrenalized with anxiety that was causing achey pains in the lower quadrant of my torso and upper legs. Nothing I did was improving the painful anticipation. So, my therapist suggested an EMDR session where we would transfer power onto an item I could wear or keep in my pocket that would instill within me the confidence and reassurance I was so desperately seeking. (Gotta love a therapist who is down with using witchcraft and magick in therapy!)
During a single EMDR session, I brought in a tarot card that embodied the traits I most desired for the meeting: The High Priestess. Her perspective, perception, and strength were placed into a bead bracelet I also brought with me to the session. I felt a “buzz” during the EMDR session during which we installed these traits onto the bracelet. Immediately after we finished, I felt peaceful and joyous. I felt in my power. The bracelet seemed to be emitting an IV-like stream of strength that I could physically sense moving up my arm and into my body.
A few days after that EMDR session, immediately after the meeting I’d been so frightened of, I realized I had had no fear – only confidence, perspective, and strength – during that meeting. I wasn’t even thinking of the bracelet as I walked into the meeting, or during it, though I was wearing it. But the installation of the traits onto the bracelet worked subconsciously, without me even realizing it until the meeting was over. It was not only powerful, it was magickal.
The power of placebo has been documented for years, including with nausea and pain management for cancer patients, symptom control for Parkinson’s patients, and much more. It is likely that we will learn much more about its neurobiological mechanisms in the near future and can work to maximize its power on our individual lives. The power of placebo lies within each of us, individually, so we can determine to what extent we would like to invoke that power.
Much of the trauma toolkit I will be discussing in this series, The Tao of Witchcraft, ties back to the placebo effect. That does not mean I do not have spiritual components and experiences in my practice that cause me to wonder what we don’t know and that science cannot explain. I do. But I also intentionally use and embrace the power of placebo in my ritual work; my faithful expectation of a spell working because of the way I have carefully thought through the details, crafting the spell to my own neurobiology and what I know will work best; and in the way I am conditioning my mind through spellwork, tarot reading for trauma and self-care, studying witchcraft, and working magick throughout my day.
These efforts combine to create a literal hedge of protection and resistance around me to unhealthy penetrators that seek to destroy my happiness and stability. From exes to friends who have deeply hurt or disappointed me, harnessing and embracing the placebo effect in my magick has made me more powerful than I know I would have been otherwise to resist the impact of certain unavoidable reminders, unwanted communication, and generally just bad spiritual malaise (read: TRIGGERS!) sent my direction.
In my next post, which will be up by next Sunday, we will examine triggers in complex trauma and how we can harness magick (and the placebo effect) to build protection from them. I will share my own CPTSD-based protective circle casting, spellwork, and artifact magick that helps me achieve a well-rounded and powerful sense of safety and calm before and during triggers.
I hope you embrace the power of placebo in your magick too. It’s real and it works.
Disclaimer: The content on this website blog and within The Tao of Witchcraft is not intended to and cannot replace appropriate professional medical or psychological treatment. This content is developed by a trauma survivor who uses witchcraft as one of many tools, including CBT and EMDR therapy, to heal from complex trauma. As with any tool, your success may vary.