On my experience deprogramming from a four year witch school…
This letter is just an initial attempt to express some of my current thoughts and feelings about a mystery school I attended from 2012-2016. It is not my whole story, and it is not getting into specific details. I will share more later, when I have more emotional energy to speak to the more upsetting things I witnessed and experienced.
I applied to the mystery school for the first time in 2009, and was turned away due to the class filling up. I reapplied in 2011 and was accepted, and began my first year in 2012, shortly after I had turned 30. At that time in my life, I had been reclaiming my spirituality and pursuing various paths of healing for about four years. I knew I was a witch, I felt a strong calling and resonance to the archetype although it would take me years to be able to understand why and articulate it. There happened to be a witch school in Portland and I knew a few people who attended, so I decided to try it. Why not?
I committed four years of my life to this school just over seven years ago. I graduated just over three years ago, and since, have slowly and steadily been deprogramming/ sorting through the problematic teachings that caused me to further many of my pre-existing bad habits and unhealthy behaviors. The longer I am out of this school/community and it’s mindset, the more clarity I come into and the more I believe in myself and my personal truth rather than what this school says is the truth. I hope to offer some perspective to support of others in this community who are examining this school with critical thought, since critical thought is discouraged--I daresay even quietly forbidden.
My goal for my life is to be a sovereign, healthy person who is in healthy relationships and being of service doing good work in the world. I seek to release the unhealthy attachment patterns that I developed in my upbringing of childhood abuse and family dysfunction. I seek to share my process with others who are seeking similar progress. I seek to name and claim what I showed up with in the school that got me caught up and hooked in to the dysfunctional aspects/relationship dynamics that are prevalent there. And I seek to fully release myself from any lingering patterns of codependence with this school.
At 30, I showed up to my first day of first year as a deeply wounded, insecure, and immature adult. At that time I was seeking to grow and heal, I had no clue how, and lacked access to people or resources to show me the way. This school was there as a resource, and in many ways the people I met there were the first people I had ever met who I believed were empowered or healthy. I had certainly never met any elder women who I could look to as role models for wisdom, nor had I ever had any teachers/peers who were exploring healing, personal power or magic. After many years of involvement, I have come to think critically about whether or not this community is in fact empowered in a good way, or truly healthy. While the school’s image may project a community full of vibrant, inspired people doing amazing things in the world, at the heart of interpersonal dynamics is rampant, harmful dysfunction. This relationship dysfunction/dysfunctional relationship dynamics is my main critique of the school. I believe that without healthy relationships, we can’t have a healthy community that is safe to learn and grow in.
What I can see now that I couldn’t see then is how my life’s history of complex trauma is a set of invisible baggage that travels with me everywhere I go. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that I showed up to that school carrying a deep unconscious need to please my teachers and seek approval from them. That driving urge kept me going through all four years of the school, even when I thought I was following my intuition. My childhood trauma related to abuse and abandonment primed me to create unhealthy, dependent attachments to my teachers--my psyche looked to them as parents, and to the higher up TAs as older siblings. I desperately wanted to be accepted and find belonging with these people. My human nature sought to find a place within this community to fit in and finally be safe. Looking back and now having done a lot more work to unpack conditioning of family dysfunction, it is impossible for me to not see how this school operates in the same fashion. Parental/authority figures are at the top of a hierarchy of power. Their style of relating serves as the example, and sets the tone for how all relationships within the entire family/community function. Obedient people pleasers are uplifted and made examples out of. People who question or don’t go along with things usually wind up being quiet or dropping out--and when people do drop there is an attitude that looks down on them, that they didn’t have what it takes to be a part of this elite group of priest/esses in training.
While plenty of things the school did not make sense or resonate with me, I was not able to think for myself at that time. I showed up ready to put my teachers and their TAs on a pedestal. I was ready, willing and able to trust anything piece of advice they offered about any issue in my life. I did not understand my authentic magic. When I did express myself authentically, it didn’t quite fit or resonate, and so I learned to stay small and try to fit in to the group. I wanted to be magical like them. I wanted to find my place within this hierarchy of power. I wanted to belong, and I wanted to be special. I wanted friends and family, and I wanted a purpose. And on paper, this school said all the right things about what we were doing. Group energy is a powerful thing, and it takes a strong person who can listen to their own inner voice over majority rule. I was not that strong then, but I am now.
What I can see now but couldn’t see then is what manifests over time when spiritual ego goes wildly unchecked in an environment of spiritual bypassing. When teachers have lost touch with their own humanity, and humanity at large. When human mistakes aren’t admitted and corrected. When feedback is not invited, and actually discouraged. When a teacher decides they have an absolute truth on anything. When a teacher does not adequately do their own work to heal traumatic wounding/shadow work/ego work, teaches from this place of human error/wounding, and sets up an environment where they can never be questioned or challenged. When a teacher responds to questions and challenges with lies or manipulation to avoid accountability and making difficult changes.
My invisible drive to please the teachers I didn’t know I was idolizing cemented my dependence on them and this school. For four years, I wholeheartedly participated in this dysfunction, because I didn’t know any better at the time and because by the time I did start to question, my whole life was revolving around the school. I thought I was getting a magical education. My truth is now that all I was getting was more conditioning in being codependent, reliant on others for a sense of identity, worth and belonging. I am choosing to own my part in the dysfunction rather than blame the school. The school’s dysfunction wouldn’t exist without a lot of people who are actively participating in it.
I would like the school to be accountable for is how it conducts itself as an entity that attracts deeply wounded individuals who are earnestly seeking to heal and grow. I would like the school to take responsibility for doing white supremacy dismantling work as well as becoming trauma informed. I hope the school shifts the way it operates and stops enforcing a culture of dependence and dysfunction by normalizing egoic projections, judgements and assumptions. I would like the school and the people involved in its operation to actually receive the feedback and critiques being given, and I would like to hear actual evidence that any responsibility is being taken by school leadership that mistakes have been made. I would like to hear each person who has participated make a statement of amends that indicates actual reflection and demonstrates a willingness to change and to do better.
What I believe now as a 37 year old solitary witch who is hell bent on healing: our teachers, parents, elders “did the best they could” given their own trauma and conditioning within a truly nightmarish reality. I believe this time is about separating from the authority figures we used to seek approval and instruction from. We must learn to cultivate actual personal sovereignty, and allow others to do the same. We must learn to source our power from within rather than engage in harmful power struggles with each other. I believe the healing work of these times has to do with developing an intelligent understanding of how thousands of years of traumatic of systemic, institutional violence has left us all deeply programmed to recreate abusive/dysfunctional power dynamics everywhere we go. Sometimes we might be the victim, other times we will be the abuser, but as long as we go without examining the lineage of trauma and how we humans have adapted our behavior to survive, we will perpetuate these dynamics. This school is no exception. This can be a great learning opportunity for all of us to think about in our attempts to find safe haven from the oppressive, dehumanizing conditions of the dominant culture, we have inadvertently created yet another space of white supremacist hierarchy. The work to deprogram and release these patterns is painful and laborious. It is also essential if we want to experience real healing change in our lives, relationships, communities, and do good in the greater world.