Magic and Mental Health: my spirituality and self-care tips

Magic and Mental Health: my spirituality and self-care tips

I have a wild imagination: for better and for worse.

At twenty-one years old I was like a tidal wave of obsessions, compulsive rituals, and panic. The deadly cocktail of OCD and anorexia had clogged up everything that made me who I was. Wading through it took several years and I still have days where the old tides lap at my feet.

At the same time, I have always been a spiritual person. I love finding patterns, asking questions, and constructing meaning from the smallest things. I love feeling a part of the universe, something far bigger than me. It comforts me, and brings clarity to the chaos of my brain. I enjoy imagining, dreaming, and acting out fantastical situations in my head.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that I find spirituality really helpful as one tool against the onslaught of mental illness. Note that I’m using the word ‘spirituality’ broadly – it does not refer to organised religion (though for some people that works too), but to “a connection with something bigger than ourselves, our inner world, and the values and comfort this provides”. But what does that really look like? I want to share a little bit about how I use the magic of the universe to combat intrusive thoughts and anxiety.

Can “magic” affect reality?

The line between reality and fantasy is thin. They are opposites in the dictionary, but in day-to-day life they are closer together than you’d think!

This is because we create everything. That is, we humans create our own worlds. What we experience as ‘reality’ is what we perceive, right? But perception is a series of biological signals between our senses and our brain, and we all have different eyesight, hearing, and sensitivities. When we see something, our brains process its depth, colour, lighting, textures, and movement. And every brain will do this in its own way due to our genes and environment. In addition, our emotional state can exaggerate objects or change our perspective on them too. It can literally be a glass half-full or half-empty situation!

Because so much of our world is subjective, we can shape our realities by changing our mindset. Techniques like the law of attraction can alter how we see the world around us. Visualisation can literally help us to achieve our goals. By ‘seeing’ something in our minds, we can make it feel more ‘real’, and therefore feel more confident and make better decisions.

Sometimes, I feel unsure about whether a thought is coming from my soul and true desires, or from my mental illness. How do I maintain the distinction between the ‘good’ magical thinking (like imagining, visualising, being creative) and the ‘bad’ (intrusive thoughts, compulsive rituals)? Over time I’ve developed two questions to ask myself whenever I feel uncertain. Number one: did I actively choose to experience this thought or feeling? Secondly, is the thought or daydream helpful or not?

When I have an intrusive thought, I can note that is was unchosen, and that I don’t have to let it into my reality. I know I’ve found something to really believe in, enjoy, and use to improve myself, if it is intentional (I choose it) and it is helpful (it’s effective and makes me happy).


What spirituality does for me

Having a mental illness, or going through any emotionally upsetting period, is hard work. At first, I was focused on getting through my medical treatment, which for me meant a lot of therapy, a short time on medication, and a lot of homework (like exposure-response training). It can feel daunting, like you’re adrift at sea and while the storm is dying away, you have no idea where the next island is. Having some sense of attachment to the universe can give you hope when things get tough. It should never replace medical treatment, but may complement it.

Spirituality and medical treatment actually intersect a whole lot more than you’d expect. In professional treatment, you tend to follow a set routine of diagnosis and treatment, tailored to your condition. But as part of this, you can go from a diagnosis with a psychiatrist (very science-y)…to a recommendation to attend meditation practice? What?!

The thing is, medical treatment is there to relieve the immediate symptoms, establish a cause and treat it. Awesome – but what about all the feelings, finding personal strength, and recovering your identity after illness? This is where some people’s minds benefit from exploring other routes. Mindfulness, meditation and loving-kindness approaches all stem from Buddhist teachings. Yoga goes as far back as the Vedic texts (from India) that also led to the development of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Wicca is also packed with practices that bring comfort and help you feel more grounded and ‘one’ with the world: kitchen witchery and green witchcraft, for example. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or therapist about this if spirituality is important to you (there’s a great resource about this here).

One of my favourite things about feeling connected with nature and the universe is the sense of meaning it brings. When my life feels very small and hopeless, I keep in mind that yes, I am very small, but I am part of this incredible organism we call humanity. And that’s part of the unique and unlikely ecosystem of Earth – which itself is part of a largely unknown, mystical place called the universe!

Since becoming more interested in pagan and witchy spiritualities, I have also discovered the wonderful online community – and witchcraft within my own family too! Just meeting people with interesting views on the world is so eye-opening, and heart-opening too.

Finally, developing my spirituality means learning, which is something I love to do. Learning about history, about science, about other human beings. Exploring other languages and symbology. Put simply, a lifetime’s worth of knowledge! I don’t think I’ll ever fit it all in my head, but each small piece makes the big picture seem clearer.

Mainly, developing my spiritual growth has been a combo of creating meaning for the world outside, and strengthening my inner world. Grounding, calming, and feeling more at peace. So, I’ve gone on and on about the philosophy of it – perhaps it’s time to share some of my favourite ways to bring all this learning into my self-care routines. These ideas are mostly inspired by new-age and modern pagan techniques, but I believe they can be applied widely to other perspectives and belief systems.


Tips for spiritual self-care

Firstly, I like to end a long day with a quiet evening. Ten minutes of meditation, some music (classical, lo-fi beats, or binaural tones), and taking a magical bath is always a super treat. Try adding epsom salts or skin-safe oils like chamomile or rose. That being said, don’t add essential oils directly to water – they can stick to your skin and cause irritation! Always use a carrier oil and check the bottle for safety instructions.

Cooking with plenty of herbs and spices is a great way to feel connected to the world. Its physicality means my hands and senses are distracted from repetitive thoughts and the urge to wash my hands. If green witchcraft particularly interests you, you might find a book on herbology and the different meanings of plants that you cook with. Simply associating an ingredient with a feeling can make you experience that feeling. Try bay leaves for protection and rosemary for creative inspiration.

It is well-known that most spiritualities create or maintain their own sacred texts – for a witch it will be their grimoire (or book of shadows in the case of Wicca). This is a place to store all of your learnings and reflect on the world. Mine contains a blend of physics, artwork, literature and personal reflections! I record everything from tarot readings I enjoy, to ancient languages that fascinate me. This is a somewhat patchy grimoire but it’s mine and I feel very attached to it. Whether you keep an elaborate tome or a simple diary, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve heard that recording your gratitude, interests and goals can be very beneficial for your mental health.

In a similar vein, I highly recommend reading widely. Find genres that feed your soul: that means books you can’t put down, books that make you feel warm inside, and books that open your mind to new perspectives. After all, there’s a chance we only get one lifetime: best to experience more than just your own, right?

I also love to do a deep-dive into my inner world with the occasional tarot reading. I love working with decks from my favourite artists and spending some time focusing on what I want. Tarot can be read intensely or casually – I love its versatility and how such an elaborate system is simply a tool you can use to find out how you really feel about things.

Finally, whether you follow the wheel of the year, the Christian calendar, or any other cycle: use key holidays to hold reviews of your life right now. What are your values? Are you doing things that line up with them? Where in your life or personality do you think you need some growth? Make a list of what’s working and what you would like to try in the next month or quarter.

Some of these tips may sound simple, but by practising them regularly (or simply by taking them seriously and making time for them), you can use them to contribute significantly to your growth as a person. And the more I’ve grown, the more I’ve felt connected with other people and the world we live in.

OCD and anorexia can make me feel out of control and like I have nothing to hold onto. Alongside other things like medical treatment, my family, and my wonderful partner, developing a deep sense of my place in the universe is proving an effective aspect of recovery. I still have a lot to learn… but that’s probably the most exciting part of it! My spirituality will continue to unfold and develop throughout my life, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.