Healing and Protection (and a bonus)

Some cool rocks and plants. Not sure if they’re good for healing, but it was nice to sit and relax around them! My photo.

 

Ever picked up a reference book on herbs or crystals?  Did you notice how many herbs and crystals are for healing and protection?

Like, lots.  I mean, of all the challenges Pagans deal with, why the emphasis on healing and protection?

Weird, isn’t it?  I think there’s something going on here.

Do we need that much Healing and Protection?

When I got the idea for this post, I was thinking “pshaw, look at all those Pagans who think a rock or a plant is going to help their issues.”

But as I was thinking and planning this post, I had a couple of realizations.

First, when I started out I was one of those Pagans that needed a lot of healing and protection.  I don’t like feeling like a hypocrite, so it’s worth my time to re-evaluate my position.

Second, I have yet to meet a Pagan that doesn’t like their rocks.  What’s more, every Pagan shop I’ve been to does a brisk business in selling rocks.  And some plants.  Clearly there’s a need (or a want).

In my case, as a result of a lot of ACE’s (adverse childhood events), I developed a substantial amount of anxiety, fear, and depression.  Only, when I was a baby Pagan I didn’t know what was bothering me – just that I wasn’t feeling right.  I spent my fair share of money on woo~ solutions, trying to ease the discomfort I was feeling.  Had I known then what I know now about targeted healing, I could have saved myself a lot of time and money.

If my experience is anything like other Pagans’ experiences, there’s probably a lot of suffering happening that people aren’t completely conscious of.  In other words, all we know is that we’re hurting, and on some level we’re looking for relief.  When a stone (or a plant) offers relief from that suffering, we’re more likely to buy it.

Which leads me to a hidden aspect of healing and protection.  When we’re talking about non-physical effects – the magical properties of stones or plants to heal us – we’re getting into a place where it’s pretty hard to measure results.

In the case of healing, our bodies are engineered to heal damage.  If you get cut and you start carrying a rock to help you heal, how much was your body – and how much was the rock?  The very nature of woo~ evades science’s ability to evaluate results.

When we get into protection, I think the game changes a little.  My experience is that many Pagans feel a lot of fear.  Whether we’re pacifists that are uncomfortable with violence, or whether we experienced violent trauma, or whether we’re just anxious in general, a lot of Pagans feel like we need protection from things (both physical and non-physical).

On the vendor/author side, when you’re writing a book or running a shop that deals with the non-physical properties of plants and minerals, it’s a pretty safe bet to claim that a particular item is for healing or protection.  If you can’t find (or aren’t willing to work to find) a cultural or chemical explanation for the benefits of that item, you can always say “healing or protection” and most Pagans won’t question it.

The benefits of lumping things under “healing and protection” are, that you don’t really have to be right.  The power of suggestion and the placebo effect will guarantee some level of results for most folks.  In other words – Pagans believe that a rock will heal or protect them, and that belief will automatically make them feel better.  (True story: I knew a rock-shop owner who admitted that he made up a lot of the properties for the rocks he sold.)

In addition to simply wanting to be correct or helpful, there’s also the profit motive.  I suspect that the underlying suffering I mentioned above leads Pagans to be more likely to buy items that will ease that suffering.  I’m not saying all Pagan shop owners are claiming “healing and protection” in order to liberate money from their clients.  But when your bottom line depends on moving units, it seems like it would be easy to simply sell the things that your clients are ready to buy.

In this way, it’s rather like the ethical dilemma of divination.  Do we tell a client what we’re really seeing, even if it’s unpleasant?  Or do we tell them what they want to hear?  One way has definitely been exploited to generate more income, and it isn’t the authentic one.  So be mindful, and caveat emptor.

How do woo~ healing and protection function?

I mentioned that power of suggestion and the placebo effect.  I think those are valid and real processes, and I think that most of the woo~ healing and protection effects come from these.  (I’m open to being wrong though, so let me know in the comments if you’ve had a different experience.)

I’m pretty sure that rocks and plants have intrinsic properties as well, which can influence on your situation too.

But in my experience, magic works more as an influence, and less as a solution.

So.  If carrying a stone around with you helps ease your anxiety, then by all means carry that stone.  I’ve done it, and I’m not going to criticize you for doing the same thing.  What I would say is, be aware that there are other tools out there that can be much more effective.  Tools like doctors, health clinics, therapists, medications, attorneys, investment professionals, job coaches, etc.

When we’re looking at a stone or a plant for its properties, it’s helpful to spend some time with that thing.  Talk to it.  Ask it what it wants, and what it can do for you.  Treat it like a new friend.  If it’s safe, you can cook with it (and without it), and notice the difference.  (By safe, I mean non-toxic.)  You can also note the physical properties – sweet/spicy, long/short, fat/skinny, mushy/stringy, flower size, seed arrangement, etc.  Sometimes those properties will inform ways you can use them in magic.

One example of how a plant can be used creatively, in a way that doesn’t just rely on a blanket explanation of “healing and protection” is a local plant called Dogsbane.  We have some growing here locally, along the riverbanks.  It looks like a regular weed, and you want to harvest it when it’s tall and dry.  When you strip fibers from the outside, they make an excellent and strong cord.  The plant also happens to be toxic to dogs.  So I would not use this on a working for a canine familiar.  But I might use it if someone was “dogging me,” like following me around, maybe as a binding.

Another thing to be mindful of is the actual physical and chemical properties of the rock or plant.  Valerian root has chemicals in it that are very similar to benzodiazapenes (Xanax and Valium).  Some minerals contain toxic chemicals (like lead, arsenic, or uranium).  I think it goes without saying that you should educate yourself first, before you start using an alternate remedy.  Remember, folks used to use mercury as a treatment for syphilis, until we figured out that mercury is toxic.

Talking to stones and plants might sound silly if you’re not an animist.  That’s OK.  Interestingly, I find that I get really good results with my magic when I treat things as if they have their own spirit.  So does my wife.  Also interestingly, I’ve heard that intoxicants like Ayahuasca and Psilocybin have transmitted information to people under their influence as if they were spirits.

I find these things compelling and fascinating.  It’s probably worth your time to at least try it out.  You don’t need to literally believe there’s a spirit lurking inside in order to get results.

On Healing

So – how much healing do we actually need? Surely it can’t be that much.

If we take a second to consider the sheer number of stones and plants that are sold to help with healing or protection though, I think it really is that much.

In my own life, I mentioned above that I needed healing than I was aware of, or probably would have admitted.  For example, like I said, I have anxiety.  It took about 25 years to find a name for what I was feeling.  I did countless rituals and self-enlightenment techniques to try to get past those feelings that kept me feeling isolated.  I spent a lot of money on stones and magic to help with fear, and on martial arts training.  I spent a lot of time in meditation and self-reflection trying to use magic to help ease the suffering I was feeling.

I’ve also talked to a lot of Pagans, and many of them have some kind of traumatic story that precedes their arrival at Paganism.  One lady lost her husband.  Another broke faith with the LDS church over doctrine.  Lots of folks had bad experiences at church, or bad experiences in life that church couldn’t help with.

Add to that, that some Pagans seem like they aren’t adept at “adulting.”  Or at behaving appropriately in social situations.  And some Pagans are just a little weird, and don’t feel like they “fit in” with regular society.

All of these things can create a situation where we just feel out of whack.  Disjointed.  As if things aren’t all right.  And when you’re feeling like that, the promise of healing and protection feels good.  Add to that the promise of power to change, and it’s no wonder folks who are suffering find their way to Paganism.

It’s all OK.  I mean, taking the first step is half the struggle, and I’m never going to criticize someone for taking that step.  (If that first step is the only one they take – or if Paganism turns into a ploy for attention/sympathy – or if they turn it into a tactic to exploit other people – then I have some critique.)

It bears mentioning here, that sometimes the “healing” we want is just anesthetic.  We just don’t want to feel crappy anymore.  There’s a place for that, I think.  But we can get addicted to that, and it can get in the way of actual growth.  Sometimes growth is messy, uncomfortable, and even a little painful.  If you’ve got a dislocated shoulder, you can treat it with aspirin, but it’ll still be dislocated.  On the other hand, it’s going to hurt to have it put back in place.  But which path leads to a functioning arm?

So ultimately I think yes – a lot of us do need that much healing.  I’d even guess that lots of us need a lot more healing than we realize.  The trick is to figure out what needs to be healed, and what will be most effective at bringing us to our optimal level of functioning.

What to do about it – the ethics of receiving healing

First of all, SEE A PROFESSIONAL.  I totally believe in woo~, I’ve seen firsthand, and I’ve spoken with people who have performed healing that is literally miraculous.  Like, medical-anomaly-surprise-the-doctor-miraculous.  But in my experience, magic works more as an influence than as a cause-effect.  And even then, because it’s not 100% reliable, I would not rely on magic as my first resort.

Second, figure out what exactly it is that you need healed.  Put it into words.  A statement of intent – such as, “I want to ease the ongoing pain of fibromialgia” – is a powerful piece of magic in itself.  Plus, it gives you a target to work on.

If you’re trying to heal an ongoing or repeating injury, I strongly suggest taking the focus off healing and instead putting your efforts into preventing the injury.  (By this, I mean like you keep getting hurt at work, or you are getting beaten up at home.)  That could be leaving a job in which you get injured, or it could mean leaving a relationship that damages you.  It could be setting boundaries with a toxic friend.  It could be looking for a better job, so that you can afford things like healthcare and nutritious food.

Are you dealing with trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?  Grief?  Abuse?  A professional can probably help you much better and quicker than a rock.  My experience is, my work with a professional was about 20 times as effective in a fraction of the time compared to magic.  (It could be argued that magic helped.  I agree, it probably did.  I still don’t think magic is an effective substitute.)

When you’re looking at a healing stone, it’s helpful to ask “Healing for what?”  I think it’s easy to buy a cool new rock because it’s “good for healing.”  But if you really want your healing efforts to be successful, a smarter approach is to narrow and target your focus.  What are you trying to heal?  What are the properties of the stone that will help you do that?  How will the stone complement your other efforts to heal?  If the stone is relying on non-physical effects (energy, harmonics, or other woo~), do you need to cleanse or otherwise maintain your stone?  Does the stone work well with other things in your field, like medicine bags, jewelry, or deities?

Generally, my opinion is that stone-based healing is marginally effective at best.  Your results may vary.  But at least pay attention to how much time and money you’re spending on healing stones, and how effective they are.  If you’re not feeling better, and you keep buying more stones for healing, it’s OK to adjust your tactics.  (Just because you’ve already invested a lot – money, belief, faith, time, whatever – into magical healing, does not mean you need to stay on that track.)

For herbal healing, TRIPLE CHECK YOUR SOURCES.  In the area I live, we have several poisonous plants just hanging out among other plants, at parks and on hiking trails.  Some poisonous plants look like non-poisonous ones.  In fact, my wife harvested a bunch of yew branches and berries, thinking she’d use them in a 9 sacred woods working.  Then she read up on yew trees, and found out how poisonous they are.  Those yew pieces never made it inside.

A special note on intoxicants.  I know folks who have used plant-based intoxicants to numb the emotional and psychological pain they experience.  Marijuana, alcohol, even tobacco.  These things do numb the pain, but I think that pain keeps building up.  When you sober up, all that built-up pain is there waiting for you.  It’s tempting to want to numb it all down again.  This can lead to a vicious cycle.  I’d suggest being mindful of this, and dealing with the pain rather than putting it off.  (Not that I’m against intoxicants.  You do you.  Just trying to help you make an informed choice.)

Things to consider when using plants for healing include:

  • Are you taking it internally, or using it as a component in a spell?
  • What are the active chemicals in it?
  • What are the stories and folklore about the plant in your local culture (and any tradition you are in)?
  • What is an appropriate dosage?
  • How does this plant interact with other plants/drugs?
  • How is the plant traditionally prepared to get the healing effect?

Hopefully, this gives you some questions to ask and things to think about.  I’m not trying to rain on your crystal party; by all means, use stones and plants to augment your healing.  But I think you’ll get better results with a multi-angle approach that includes a professional.  And if you have a life-threatening physical ailment, please make seeing a healthcare professional your top priority, and worry about the woo~ solutions later.

On Protection

I think on the protection front, we’re looking at something a bit more subtle than on healing.  Some of the reasons I’ve heard or thought of that people need protection include:

  • An abusive partner or ex-partner
  • Psychic attack
  • Harmful ghosts
  • Negative vibes
  • Malicious co-workers
  • A nebulous, undefined “something” that “intends negativity”
  • Crossed conditions, or an unsourced curse
  • Discrimination or “Nevur Agin the Burnering Timesz”
  • Sex demons (No joke, I heard this recently)

Before you go spending a bunch of money on some fancy woo-woo~ solution, it’s a good idea to figure out whether you actually need protection from that thing.  Your immeditae next step should be to take a moment to think about the most effective means of getting that protection.

See, one of the things I’ve noticed about my own experiences is that they’ve created a lot of fear.  And fear makes things bigger than normal.  For example – anxiety turns the act of making a phone call into a Very Big Deal for me.  It’s not the act of making the phone call that’s intimidating; it’s the fear I have wrapped up in it.

I recently had a discussion about discrimination in Paganism.  Based on that, plus my own experience, plus what I’ve heard from other Pagans, I think many of us experience fear.  We’re told that some guy was arrested for listening to heavy metal music and practicing Wicca.  We’re told that there are invisible spirits and energies that can affect us.  We’re worried about what our families think of our new spiritual path.  The list goes on.  All these things help create fear, especially in people who are predisposed to feeling it.

When you look at the actual numbers though, the instances in which Paganism is the real cause of a person’s hardships are vanishingly low.  I’m not trying to say that Pagans don’t experience discrimination.  Or that some of these afflictions aren’t real.  (Hag-riding, for instance, has never been fully explained by science.)

But I think a lot of Pagans – either because they are afraid of it, or because they’ve got a chip on their shoulder – go looking for adversity.  It can’t just be that you’re lonely and horny, it’s got to be a sex demon.  It can’t be that you’re a shitty parent, it’s got to be that you lost your kids because you’re Pagan.  It can’t be a bad decision to walk through an alley in the bad part of town, you were mugged because you’re cursed.  It can’t be that you misbehaved with another person and had a conflict, it has to be that they’re putting a hex on you.  It can’t be that your man is cheating on you, it’s the other woman witchcrafted him.

Or at least that’s what it can feel like, when the fear is mixed in a little.  Or if you’re not being honest with yourself.

So we spend money on stuff for “protection.”  But I think what we’re really looking for is relief from fear.  Or from uncertainty.  Or our mistakes, misjudgments, and misdeeds.  Or some of those other things that are possible, which we can’t really articulate.

What to do about it – the ethics of protection

First of all, I strongly recommend that you figure out what you need protection from.  Different threats require different responses.

Fear:  If you are just anxious or fearful in general, and need a sort of general protection to feel safe, a talisman might be helpful.  Or professional help.  Look for stones that specifically help dissipate fear.  Brush up on your protection and banishing spells.

Meditation can help with fear.  So can facing and acknowledging your fears.  If they’re overwhelming, you don’t have to do it alone.

Assault/mugging/physical violence: As a long-time martial artist, I have a lot to say about preparing yourself against physical violence.  I believe that your personal safety is your responsibility, both from a legal/liability standpoint, and from a “help can’t get here fast enough” standpoint.  At a minimum, you should make a plan for how to stay safe if violence happens.  Typically that means getting away from danger, so if someone starts shooting, don’t stick around.  If you want to carry weapons (including pepper spray), practice with them!!  And be aware that any weapon you bring to a fight can be used against you.

If you think you might be the targeted victim of violence, there are measures you can take to mitigate the damage and stay alive.  First of all, realize that it takes a LOT of practice to become competent in dealing with a violent situation – probably more than you might expect.  If you want to carry a gun, please please please, take some training classes and practice at the shooting range.  For pepper spray and tasers, practice using them so you know their effective range and capability.  If you want to learn hand-to-hand self-defense, find a good instructor and take classes.  (I have more to say on this.  Stay tuned for another post.)

If you use a stone for preventing attack, it could be a physical talisman for spell work.  You could use a non-detect spell, to avoid being noticed by an attacker.  You could use a luck stone, to reduce the odds that an attacker will target you.  You could pack a crystal wand into your fist as a strike enhancer (but it’s best to know how to hit in the first place).

If you’re using herbs or plants, realize that poisoning an attacker takes time, and a pre-emptive poisoning is frowned upon by most legal systems.  Aside from that, I’d suggest looking at strategies to avoid or neutralize the violence before it begins.  One particularly effective plant-based remedy uses a combination of finely ground and strained wood pulp, carbon-based dye, and blue ink from a pen.  It’s a law-based spell called a restraining order.

Psychic attack:  Most magical practitioners will tell you that magical attacks are super-rare.  Most of the time, if you have a regular practice of offerings to your allies, as well as grounding/centering and developing your energy body, these attacks won’t affect you too hard.  Also, before you fire off your own retaliation, it’s a good idea to confirm that you are in fact being psychically attacked.  Divination (especially by someone that’s not you), or even just asking around can give you information to decide if you’re being attacked.

As with the rest of the suggestions in this post, do your homework and be sensitive to the culture and traditional aspects of the stones or plants you’re using.  I would say that plants and stones are probably a great option for psychic attacks.  First of all, you can enhance them with your mojo.  Second, when combined with the power of suggestion and/or the placebo effect, they can be extremely effective at ending the feelings of being attacked.

When I feel like I’ve been under psychic attack, I generally use a “mirror shield,” which is a sort of energetic construct in the shape of a radar dish.  It’s designed to reflect stuff right back at the caster.  That way, if I’m mistaken and the person is not, in fact, attacking me, there’s no harm done.  If it’s positive energy they’re sending, they get positive back.  If it’s a whammy, they get a whammy back.  While I have zero problem with hexing someone who has seriously wronged me (or poses a threat to me or my family), I feel like this approach accommodates the possibility of being mistaken.

Ghosts/demons:  If you’re worried about being attacked by ghosts or demons, my first advice would be to either look at the situation with a good deal of skepticism, or talk to a professional.  There are many ways this could be your mind playing tricks on you, and I would say most of them could be solved without any kind of spiritual solution.

BUT – it can happen.  I go to work every day in a haunted house.  (Got a whiff of cigar smoke in the men’s room just today.  In a no-smoking area.  With the building empty.)  There’s another building around the corner from me that’s haunted by an old lady who keeps changing the station or turning off the radio.  It’s had about a half-dozen different restaurants go out of business in it over the past few years.

It can be hard to tell if it’s just you, or if it’s really an external intelligence.  Again – be discerning, and do your homework.  If there’s a rational and logical explanation for what you’re experiencing as a ghost (or other Non-Physical Entity), I suggest solving that part first.

Legal troubles:  There are a lot of traditional remedies for getting a court case decided in your favor, or keeping the law away from your doorstep.  Do your homework, and do as you will.  Also be mindful that you’re less likely to be arrested if you’re not doing anything illegal.

Special Bonus – “What’s Meant to Be”

This is a phrase I keep hearing.  “It’s meant to be,” or “It’s not meant to be,” or “The Universe must be telling me not to do this,” or some variation.

This appears to be a holdover from the Calvinist (Christian-Protestant) doctrine of predestination.  Essentially, Calvinists taught that God “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”  In other words, God makes everything happen.

It seems to me that if you’re a witch (or a Pagan), you’re doing it to have some agency over your life.  Surrendering your agency to some higher power – without question – is sort of the opposite of being personally empowered.  Whether we call that “god” or “the universe.”

Now, sometimes people will comfort you by saying “This just wasn’t meant to be,” like after a breakup, a death, or an unfortunate turn of events.  In this case, I think it’s OK to say stuff like this to help someone get through tough times.  Because even then, it may be that it was just the other person that didn’t mean for things to continue.

But in the case of “I didn’t get that promotion because it wasn’t meant to be,” or “The Universe must be telling me that I’m not supposed to do this,” we’re assuming that a Non-Physical Entity (NPE) knows all about our life, and is making decisions to guide it in our best interests.

And that assumption is problematic.

For example, you might be interchanging “Universe” for “Christian God,” just out of habit (from your culture, or from your upbringing).  Or, you might indeed have an NPE directing your life, but it may or may not have your best interests in mind.  It may or may not know the intimate details of your life.  Many magicians have stories about asking an archangel for something (like more time to focus on their side-job), only to have it backfire (like losing their primary job).

As a Pagan, part of my path is being aware and deliberate in the things I do.  Part of that means that “I am the the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”  The only individual who might possibly know more about your life than you do would be your guides (or Holy Guardian Angel), but even then, they aren’t in the business of living your life for you.

So when you’re thinking about your life path and you come to the point where someone says “It must be meant to be,” take a moment to ask – meant by whom?  Who means for it to be this way?  Do I agree with that?  What do I mean to have happen, and what am I willing to do to get it?  Can I work a little harder for this?

Final thoughts

If you take one thing away from this post, I’d like it to be “Healing what?”  “Protection from what?”  and “Meant to be, by whom?”  If you just ask those questions, they will help you get to the heart of what’s really going on.  Once you know the source of the issue, it empowers you to take all sorts of actions to address it.

If you’re someone who does healing for wounded people, either as a shop owner or a life-coach, try to be aware of the profit motive.  If you’re really trying to help your clients, I think you need to make a decision on whether you are trying to make them feel better, or if you’re trying to actually help them get better.  Sometimes healing and growth require some discomfort, and if you’re trying to soothe away all your clients’ discomfort, you may be doing them a disservice.  (Not telling you how to run your business.  Just offering some thoughts on how you can run your business mindfully and ethically.)

If you know people who are always on about “healing and protection,” or who are always buying new rocks or plants to help themselves, try not to be too judgmental.  They’re probably doing it because they’re hurting in a way they may not be able to articulate.  I mean, I know I’m guilty of bagging on people with 14 pounds of crystals hanging off their necks and wrists.  But if I take a moment to look with compassion, maybe instead I see someone who is just struggling and doing the best they can.  Maybe just listening to their story can help; there is a well-researched and documented healing effect in telling the stories of your trauma.

Lastly, if you’re addicted to buying stones and plants, or if you’re always on the prowl for new healing or protection, it’s worth your time to dig a little on your insides, and target your magic a little tighter.  Maybe even get a specialist (magical or mundane) to give you a hand.

What are your thoughts on stones and plants for healing and protection?  Do you think Pagans need as much healing and protection as the books imply?  Do you think it’s a cop-out to say “healing and protection,” either to make a sale or to avoid having to research things?  Do you just want to argue with me?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

About the Author

I live in the sagebrush desert of southern Idaho, in a little town perched above a deep, rocky canyon. I've been pagan for a little over two decades. I've dipped my toes in Wicca, Rosicrucianism, Yoga, Reiki, and Qabala, only to settle into an Earth-based Neopagan Buddhist path. My credentials (if you care about such things), include an MA in English, an apprenticeship with Jason Miller, and a few publications here and there. I run a small Pagan group with my lovely wife, where we encourage people to show up, do pagan stuff, and live empowered and ethical lives.

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