For most, there has always been a solid line separating the psychological from the “woo”—practices such as witchcraft and elemental magick. Scoffs can come from both sides at the mere suggestion of the other. I am hoping, however, that you would consider the possibility that the two are intrinsically linked, and one can amplify and clarify the other. They have far more in common than you might think.
For my purposes here, let’s look at psychology through the lens of symbolism and collective archetypes. As one goes through their life, they experience the world around them and build symbols for their experiences. These can be incredibly personal, like a joyful or traumatic experience they had, or more the socially constructed ones, like their archetypes of childhood vs adulthood. In therapy, the practitioner may delve into their patient’s mind to discover the symbols and archetypes they hold for the purpose of using those symbols as tools and keys for their treatment.
Now let’s look at how witchcraft also taps into those same symbols and archetypes. If we were to simplify the practice of witchcraft, we could break it down into working with the elements through elemental magick: the forces of earth, water, fire, and air. Not only are the elements very literal things we can observe in the world and reflect on, but they also represent internal energies and experiences. Earth is our stability. It grounds us and stabilizes us, and when our foundation is shaken, our internal earth may quake. Water is the realm of fluid intuition and emotion. It guides and shapes us and our landscape, and can also drown us when it pours and flows out of control. Fire is our passion. It lights us up with the spark of romance, of anger, and can just as easily burn us up as sustainably keep us warm. Air is our inspiration. It fills us with ideas and information and carries us away on adventures, but can be our downfall if it doesn’t bring us back down to earth.
Every experience can be expressed in the way we observe the elements interacting with one another. An explosive fight in a romantic relationship can be seen as an actual explosion of dynamite and the destructive power of fire. A melancholy experience of tears streaming down your face can be seen as raindrops streaming down the windowpane on a gloomy day. This is why we endlessly see our emotions being compared to nature. Why our archetypes, our visions of gods and goddesses even, heavily involve imagery based on the elementals and what they can do with them. We all work with elemental magick even if we’re not consciously doing so. It’s the most natural thing in the world for us to do, because nature is the world.
For a habit so inherently ingrained in our psyches and the way we observe, imagine what could happen if someone were to take this a conscious step further into working with the elements. If someone were to consciously engage the elements of nature as representatives of their own emotions and experiences. Not only would it open more psychological doors to understanding and working with the self, but it would create opportunities for change.
In addition to better understanding, they could engage with the art of ritual to spark actions and create change. Elemental rituals are the simple act of taking internal experiences and feelings and making them real in the physical world. Magick is simply metaphor made real. Pouring water into the earth becomes the physical representation of their emotional experience of grieving and moving on. Lighting a candle becomes the physical representation of activating an internal goal or desire. These simple acts carry a world of emotion and meaning, and because elemental witchcraft and spell work ranges from incredibly simple to incredibly complex, there are infinite ways to adequately express the internal psychological experience. These rituals create psychological markers that assist us in both conceptualizing time and our growth (like self-created rites of passage) and helping us anchor our decisions as we make healthier and more empowered choices for our lives.
Another consideration for spell work as a sustainable mode of healing is that because you are working with objects and actions as symbols of your internal experience, there’s a layer of insulation and protection involved. Working with the elements creates a safe boundary when working with intense personal issues because the focus is on the symbol and not the raw nerve. Those symbols create a safe landing place for your emotions that’s not dangerously direct, like noticing how the sun illuminates the ground rather than staring straight into it. It gives the experience a purpose and a cushion that encompasses the emotion or experience you are dealing with, without throwing yourself directly at the problem.
There are many tools we can use for our healing and our growth, and witchcraft and elemental magick is just another one that hasn’t been fully considered yet. It may still seem strange or out of place to many, but the more you can embrace more modern approaches to our problems, the more you’ll realize that spell work is a creative and meaningful path to psychological discovery and transformation that can improve the mental health of so many.
Ora North is a spiritual teacher, witch, and mental health advocate. While very involved in the spiritual community, North does not subscribe to the “love and light” or “good vibes only” mentality that can often whitewash or bypass the very real struggles of the marginalized. Because of this, her focus is on shadow work, and promoting the acceptance and validation of all our feelings—not just the positive ones—as tools for growth. She is author of I Don’t Want to Be an Empath Anymore.