Trauma survivors know triggers. We know triggers for our triggers (like the coarse trolls who make fun of us for being triggered in the first place). If there is a single trademark characteristic that defines trauma, it is triggers. So much of therapy and self-help for triggers is focused on recovering from the trauma and reprogramming ourselves to respond differently to current triggers that really are rooted in the past events that traumatized us. When we are triggered, we are usually experiencing emotional flashbacks to the pain of the original traumatizing event, which may go all the way back to childhood in some cases. These in-the-moment, triggered emotions can lie to us, even when we are not in any danger whatsoever. Even when we have all the power we need to overcome, like Dorothy’s red slippers waiting to whisk us to safety. Feelings are not facts. But during an emotional flashback, feelings are everything: past, present, and future. They are real, intense, and seemingly obstruct our ability to ever move and escape them. We feel forever trapped and re-victimized again and again in these triggered emotional flashbacks.
Spending months and years learning to respond differently to triggers once you’re already in an emotional flashback is a reactive approach. There is a time for this, of course. If we experience a new, real, dangerous, threatening traumatic event today, we need some resources and tools to manage the immediate 4F response: fight/flight, freeze/fawn: See Pete Walker’s brilliant theories on the 4Fs. (If you are having an imminent or current emotional flashback and need to take back control of your emotions immediately see Walker’s 13 Steps to Managing an Emotional Flashback here right now).
But as my witchcraft practice has evolved, it has revealed to me a more natural yet helpful approach that has worked even better (and faster) in arming myself against most triggers I experience in everyday situations. This is a proactive approach grounded in magick. The magick of witchcraft has many protective tools, but beyond that, it has mental programming tools, cognitive retraining tools, and conditioning tools. It has ritual tools, symbolism tools, and archetypal tools (very important for reparenting your little inner witch child – and yes, that child can be a witch imbued with all the powers you currently have in order to change the narrative of the past). The effectiveness of conditioning and ritual in harnessing the powerful placebo effect is highly underrated. You can read more about that in my previous post here. When you recondition your brain through the power of working magick in witchcraft, you are creating new and writing over old neural pathways in your brain. There must be both input and output for this method to work. Reading books does not accomplish the same level of work required to rewire the brain because it focuses only on consuming information (input), not doing (output). Working magick does. It is simple, but it is work.
Witchcraft magick involves working with your hands and body, and actively, thoughtfully exercising and expressing your mind. There is no “passive” in witchcraft except when we intentionally choose to be passive, usually from an inner wisdom we have developed or during meditation (but not always). There is also no reactive in witchcraft. Witches in their power do not react. They choose whether or not and how to respond, always seated deeply within their tools and power. And they intentionally choose not to give up that power to anyone. Witches practice responsible, healthy self-awareness and self-protection. Bottom line: witchcraft is a physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, tactile, symbolic art of embracing the power within us, becoming more connected to our universal power expressed as a healthy part of nature, and harnessing that power for our absolute highest good.
So what does this kind of trauma toolkit magick look like in actual practice to manage our triggers?
One of the most powerful tools I’ve been using is to base my circle casting on Pete Walker’s CPTSD trigger management, reminding myself I am safe and empowered, and my inner critic is not welcome. I keep this fairly simple but have other tools based on his methods that go in further depth which I will discuss in future posts. For my cast circle, here is what I do:
Inspired loosely by the Fire Snakes technique in Six Ways: Approaches & Entries for Practical Magic by Aidan Wachter:
- Protective, Mobile Cast Circle for Working Magick First, put on some music like my witchy playlist on Amazon Music here or on Spotify here if you like. Begin in lotus position if possible, but any position, including standing, will work, especially after practicing a few times. Visualize your root chakra spreading glowing roots down and out into the earth beneath you – through the seat, the floor, foundation, into the dirt. Then visualize your crown chakra spreading beams of light into the space above, through the roof, and into the sky. Picture the swirling streams of energy fields and pull them back toward you, feeling grounded and safe. Feel their warmth and sense the glow they cast upon your face and body. Remind yourself that your inner critic is not welcome in this sacred space. As you feel more and more connected and in control of the energy moving above, below, and around you, guide it into a sphere that moves with you. Once confident in holding your sphere, you can slowly stand if you wish and move to your altar, tarot, or other work space protected and embraced in this lovely cast sphere, and work on any magick you wish, from spells to tarot spreads. To dissipate the circle when you are done, simply relax and imagine letting the energy go and gently return to your normal state of being.
Proactive Use of Cast Circle as Protection From Triggers: I have learned by casting this protective sphere that I can quickly but inconspicuously cast this sacred circle of protection and safety anytime, anywhere. I’ve cast it in my car while driving, in a store when stressed by the negative energy of strangers near me, and in important meetings where much is at stake. I’ve also learned that this casting is almost a form of divination – of connecting with my higher self – making it possible for me to live more aware of and fully in my own power. It is a power I did not believe I had (whatsoever) until I wielded it consciously. This tool is proactive – a means of sensing or expecting possible triggers and preparing by arming yourself against them. It is a barrier to entry that offers you constant perspective and distance from most triggers. As I repeatedly enlist this strategy, the power of this tool continues to grow in strength to this day and can be called upon at any moment, anywhere.
One important caveat, and this may differ for you, is that similar to Bella’s defensive shield in Breaking Dawn (yes, I went there – it’s a good analogy for this visualization) nothing gets in, but nothing gets out either – without breaking the spell. This strategy is not conducive to sending out negative vibes or engaging in offensive tactics. In fact, it simply halts any negative inclinations and thoughts. Forget the road rage and focus instead on the sacred sphere. Replacing unhealthy coping with healthy coping is the goal.
Most importantly, this circle is powerful – but the power is in the visualization and its importance to you. You must feel it, it cannot be faked. If this visualization does not work well for you, create your own using symbolism and visualization that works for and holds meaning for you. Mine can simply be a starting point for ideas but the more involved you are in creating your own magick, the more power you will yield from your practice of it.
Similar to the protective mobile cast circle, here is a grounded escape visualization I recently developed for moments where I am especially anxious, over-adrenalized, or especially vulnerable to triggers. I only practice this one while seated or lying down so it is really meditative escapism. If you like, google a few images of places you’d like to visit before beginning and hold them in mind as you journey. A few of my favorites to google are: space nebulas (the birthplace of stars), galaxy art, planetary art (deviantart is a great resource), fairy art, fantasy art, geographic photography of places on earth, and underwater ocean photography. That said, your imagination can take you even higher. The more you practice, the better the visualizations will get. But as with everything, life moves in spiralic cycles so do not be discouraged by a less than stellar session. Sometimes we must move backwards a step or two before continuing forward.
- Grounded Escape Visualization (I am working on producing a guided meditation for this to be available soon so stay tuned!)
Put on your favorite meditative music (headphones with binaural music is next level – if you can). Sit in lotus position or lay down. Eyes closed. Gently grow an orb from your core. With every exhale it grows bigger and bigger until it is surrounding you in all directions, by at least three feet, and enveloping you in its warm cocoon. You are safe. Now, with each exhale send your root chakra deep into Mama earth and your crown chakra deep into Papa Sky. You are tethered and safe, yet still a part of the universe and Spirit’s plan. Allow your soft light of orb energy to gently wrap around you, gently dazzling with sparkling contrails as it swirls. You are now weightless, but tethered and can journey to the planets, galaxies, fly over the earth viewing nature, dive into the sea and swim with the dolphins and whales, and walk through the jungle amongst the trees and ferns, listening to the call of the wild. Take your time and enjoy the journey, wherever the music takes you. When you are ready, you can allow your tether to slowly bring you back to your safe spot here on earth and come back to this space you’ve created. It is always yours to return to whenever you need or desire.
Spellwork, Energy Orbs, and Artifact/Object Magick for Triggers:
We began the work with a cast circle sphere that was pretty large so these next steps should seem easier in comparison. Trauma is a tricky demon that likes to revisit us again and again, often when we least expect it. We need incredibly strong, well-defined, and easy to recall tools pre-installed into our minds to create an automatic response that is different from the ones we’ve used in the past. As a proactive step to protect against future visits, here are a few of the tools I use to prepare for that slippery devil:
- Tarot Card/Archetype Installation of Traits: What is your favorite archetype? This could be a tarot card, a hero, a misunderstood villain, or any character that models the highest traits you aspire to. If a genie gave you one wish to install the traits of one archetype into yourself, which would it be? Now that you’ve chosen, it is important to do some work. Research your archetype in detail. Let’s take The Empress tarot card as an example.
- Since our goal is to install traits we desire to exhibit in ourselves, we must create some deep neural pathways to be able to override our autonomic responses to triggers. Work with The Empress, research her in detail, physically write down her traits and how they can be used to assist you when in need. For instance, The Empress is sitting, reclining which we’ll take to mean she is accepting of what is. We want to be more accepting of things we cannot change, so we will be installing that trait. In addition her scepter is a symbol of power over life – she is in control of her acceptance, not being forced to accept. Her crown gives her dominance over the year so we will install dominance over any trigger that comes our way this year. Her acceptance allows her to have dominion over things that grow – in this case, the acceptance we install will carve out space for new hobbies, relationships, creative endeavors, and more of what we want to grow. Write down what you most desire to grow in your own life. As with anything, take what works, leave the rest. You’ll notice I did not include “starting a family” because we are building a trauma toolkit for triggers here, not divining or planning the future. The purpose is to create a few new “seeds” of hope and protection for the future, not to plan and orchestrate it. However, you could, if you like, take the mothering aspect of The Empress and plan to install the ability to mother your inner child by engaging in guilt-free self-care and acceptance of who and where you are. The more detailed, the better. Create an Empress related mantra to install, a motto, or whatever you think will make you feel amazing, strong, and proud of yourself by installing it. Now, once you’ve written things down and are ready to install your most well-crafted version of The Empress into your own mind’s software (neural pathways), create a ritual space to make this a special event in your life you can look back upon later. The more “special” it is, the better, but do not put it off so you can buy things for the ritual. You don’t need any specific material item. You can print The Empress card off on your printer, set up some candles in your fireplace (or just dim the lights), start some witchy music, and cast your circle sphere from earlier and that will be enough. If you have a tarot deck, by all means bring out The Empress card and prop her up as a centerpiece. We’re installing her now! Don’t forget to have your notes and writings nearby. The act of setting up the ritual with your own creative involvement is what will make this memorable to you and increase your results.
- (Modify as you like, this is an example of how I might install this): Now, after casting your circle and transitioning into ritual mode, you may call corners, say a prayer, call ancestors, or anything that feels right and powerful to you as you begin the ritual of installing The Empress. You might even call The Empress herself, asking permission and giving thanks. Once you feel highly energized and empowered by the Universe/Spirit, look at your writings. Circle the exact pieces you want to install. If you feel called to modify/edit, you can do that while in “the flow” of Spirit — this often has amazing results, better than planned or imagined. But once ready, circle the final traits, descriptions, and mottos you are about to install.
- Create an energy orb by holding your palms a few inches apart and channel the power you’re feeling into a small ball of light (visualizing this in your mind). You will probably feel its energy and some even “see it” or sense the color of the energy ball as well. Once the orb is secure and at least 2-3 inches across, move it to the circles you made on the paper. Imagine the orb pulling the traits into it one by one as you guide the orb to each circle, like a metaphysical flash drive. Now, slowly bring the loaded orb, keeping in mind the traits within it, toward your forehead. Hold the orb there for several minutes as you visualize, remember, and think upon each individual trait and motto entering your own frontal cortex. If you like, you can “push” the orb’s energy gently toward your forehead. Say each trait out loud, think of how each feels as you are empowered with those traits. Imagine how you’d respond to a daily trigger if it happened now, using these traits. Because our minds always receive information like this (invisibly by process of thinking and processing), this is normal and will work. But because you’ve created a very special, meaningful, and custom ritual to install these traits, you are far more likely to be able to remember and access them at a higher level when you need to.
- Once you feel the transfer of traits is complete, and the energy ball has dissipated into your frontal cortex, gently give thanks and reflect, dissipate the cast circle you created around you, and move back into your normal state of being.
- Fire, Water, & Salt Magick to Disempower a Triggering Person:
- The final magickal tool I’d like to share today is used to strip power from a triggering person so that they can no longer trigger you. In no way is this a curse or a negative spell. It isn’t a true banishing spell either. This spell is about taking control of your own emotions using visualization and tactile ritual that creates a strong new neural pathway. The spell does not alter the triggering person’s actions or thoughts (no spell can or should do that if we practice good ethics in our craft in my opinion, though your own new response may elicit surprisingly new responses from the triggering person or those around you). For this spell you’ll need fire, water, and salt.
- You can customize however you like that has meaning for you. For the fire: I like to set up as many candles as possible in my fireplace (pro tip: candles with longer wicks will burn hotter and taller and put on a better show for this spell – but normally candle wicks should be trimmed to 1/4″ or so for safety), sometimes I even get a fire going in my cast iron cauldron by shredding and burning what I’ve written down. Fun! The point is, whatever the biggest presence of fire you feel comfortable building, build it! Burn, baby, burn! The fire represents this triggering person and their power over you and your emotions. You already know they only have this power if you give it to them, but some things are easier said than done. So we’re going to forge into you the power you must retain in order to not be triggered by them. For the water: Charged moon water is perfect for this as you have ritualized that already, but any water will do. If you’d like to ritualize it quickly, create an orb (the same way we installed the powers of The Empress earlier) and infuse the water with drenching, quenching, and smothering powers. You’ll see why momentarily. For the salt: Have fun with this – it’s supposed to be empowering! I like to use Himalayan pink sea salt because it’s cool and it also has radioactive minerals in it (perhaps better not to eat it, though I have and do). You could also use black lava sea salt from Hawaii, or just plain old Morton’s table salt.
- Cast your circle (per above if you like) calling in corners, goddesses, archetypes, or whatever you like. Once deeply connected to this ritual and ready, proceed.
- Now, first pour the salt in the shape of a pentagram (star). Using this shape as a base or foundation (earth, air, fire, water, spirit), place your candles, cauldron, and/or burning plate on and around the pentagram.
- Before lighting each candle, think of the most triggering actions of the person you are disempowering with this spell. Name them and hold them in mind as you light each candle. If you have no candles, or run out while lighting them, just write down the traits on paper, shred it, and light it on fire (safety first!) to burn. Spend plenty of time on this, remembering how the triggering actions or words make you feel, imagine the fire as the power of those words/actions – burning hot and bright – scorch you. Do not let the candles/fire start to die off before moving to the next step, though you can repeat or move back and forth between fire and water if you like. When your anger, discomfort, pain, and memory are as intense as you think they can be, immediately move to the next step:
- Now, either dip your fingers into the water or, if your fire is really raging, pour the water from a proper container over the candles/burning objects. The aim here is to elicit as much sizzle, smoke, and hissing from the fire as you can muster. The water is your power. You always have it, metaphorically speaking, but how satisfying is it to physically use and release this power for the first time? That quickly, it’s all over. Remember this: You always have the power to ignore, say no, or walk away – tossing metaphorical water right on the trigger fires when they flame up. Their response to your healthy boundaries is not your business. Your business is taking care of you.
- Now, gently reflect and enjoy your newfound power. When ready, dissipate the energy from your cast circle and return to your normal state of being. Next time you face the triggering person, remember this spell and your power.
You’ve probably noticed a theme with all the tools for triggers I’ve shared here. The power always lies within each of us already, and we can awaken that power with magick. None of the magick here requires any change in behavior from anyone except ourselves. If you try any of these tools, please leave a comment below and let me know what you think, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
EDIT from a previous version: I feel called to change my next post to an important topic I’ve labeled “Appropriating Witchcraft?” because I believe it needs to be addressed upfront so it is available to anyone reading through The Tao of Witchcraft and implementing the tools within. This is a topic I take very seriously and I will respectfully address something I feel passionately about: exclusion in the witchcraft and pagan community. I will go much further in my next post, but I will say up front that I believe exclusion is a gateway into dogma and othering, practices I do not believe are healthy or productive toward self-awareness, respecting our oneness with everything and everyone while appreciating our unique differences and perspectives, and expressing our highest self to humanity. I hope you’ll join me for this important topic.
Brightest blessings Wild Ones!
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.