Remembering “The Burning Times,” Part 2: Healing by Beth Bartlett

You can read part 1 here.

The effects of “the burning times” are still with us. I can feel this in my own body. As Starhawk put it so vividly, “the smoke of the burned witches still hangs in our nostrils, . . . remind[ing] us to see ourselves as separated. . . in competition with each other, alienated, powerless and alone.”[i] However, she continues, “the struggle also continues.” That struggle is the impulse toward wholeness, healing. That journey toward healing begins with remembering and acknowledging past harms, so that we may better understand who we are and the ways these continue to live in our bodies, psyches, and culture in order to address them.

In South American indigenous cultures, trauma is recognized as susto, or “soul wound,” and it is on that level that healing needs to happen.[ii]  To quote Shirley Turcotte, “Healing from trauma is a spiritual matter, a relationship matter, and there are places in recovery that require a precious spiritual response.”[iii] The women’s spirituality movement continues to be one such precious response. The work of Starhawk and others to reclaim the word “witch” and to revive and reimagine a tradition of valuing immanence, the sacredness of the earth, and the ability to change the world for the good has been invaluable in this.[iv] In her examination of the reasons for the persecution of witches, Starhawk names the “war on immanence” as one of three factors.[v] If the spirit was not present in the earth itself, then people had to rely on priests and the Church for access to a transcendent god. 

If the earth and all beings on the earth were “dead,” inert things, then it could be understood and treated as a machine. The earth could be mined, drilled into, deforested, poisoned, and its waters dammed, dredged, straightened, and treated as sewers for human and industrial waste. The Cartesian mind/body value dualism it invoked meant that all those associated with immanence – women, indigenous, colonized Others, LGBTQ, differently abled – could be similarly treated. Thus, reclaiming the immanence of the divine is radical and restorative.  In their refusals of dualism and revaluing of immanence, of restoring the sacredness of the earth, Starhawk, Susan Griffin, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Carol Christ and others have all contributed immensely to this healing.

In their efforts to reform and revision the predominant male-centered world religions, feminist thealogians have also made steps toward healing the aspects of those traditions that have been so damaging. In their revival of ancient goddess worship, Carol Christ and others have worked to restore the energy and sacredness of the feminine divine to a broken world so in need of this. In her foundational essay, Christ enumerates four reasons “Why Women Need the Goddess”: 1) the acknowledgment of the legitimacy of female power as benevolent and independent; 2) the affirmation of the female body; 3) the positive valuing of will as the flow of energy in harmony with others; and 4) a revaluation of women’s bonds and heritages, each of which was undermined by the witch persecutions. As Christ says, the misogynist tradition of viewing women and women’s bodies as evil reached its nadir in the Malleus Maleficarum[vi], and the symbol of the Goddess aids us in the healing and celebrating women’s bodies as creative and wise, our will as valid, and our bonds with each other as sources of strength and joy.

As we learn more about the ways trauma lives in our bodies and our very cells, other paths of healing are opened, and we are learning how to metabolize and discharge ancient wounds.[vii] A few years ago, Tina Olson, then director of Mending the Sacred Hoop,[viii] told me that as they were seeing patterns stemming from past abuses repeating in the next generations, they were shifting the focus of their work from the criminal justice system to healing. They were providing trauma-informed care that engaged women in healing at their own pace in a way that is more traditional, and takes into account their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing. At that time, I had little idea of what that entailed until I had the privilege, through Mending the Sacred Hoop, to be trained to offer such healing practices through Indigenous Focusing Oriented Trauma (IFOT) therapy. It was an incredible honor to learn from indigenous elders from British Columbia, as well as from those in my training cohort. Even though I had already trained in Somatic Experiencing® trauma therapy, this decolonized approach completely altered my worldview and sense of the space-time continuum. I learned that the “felt sense”[ix] in each of us “is our teacher and our natural way to spiritually connect with our ancestors and to connect with all of life and land.”[x] The indigenous approach recognizes all our relations, and that the medicine may reveal itself in a stone, in cedar, or the waters of Gichi Gami. I remember Shirley Turcotte saying that first day, “All time is now.” It was only through immersion in the practices that I came to understand that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously, so that in healing in the present, we are also healing the trauma of our ancestors and that of generations to come. Similarly, during the practices, healing would often come through the assistance of an ancestor. As Turcotte said, healing from intergenerational trauma requires moving between dimensions with kindness and grace. I know this healing to be possible.

As we restore our relations with our ancestors, with each other, and the earth, I am reminded of the words of Susan Griffin, “The earth holds a vast wisdom and a capacity to heal that we are only beginning to comprehend. We are made from this earth. This is my hope.”[xi]

Sources

Christ, Carol P. “Why Women Need the Goddess.” In Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987: 117-132.

_____. “Rethinking Theology and Nature.” In Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in  Feminist Spirituality. ed. Judith Plaskow & Carol P. Christ. New York: HarperOne, 1989.

Duran, Eduardo. Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indians and Other Native Peoples.  New York: Teachers College Press, 2006.

Griffin, Susan. Made from this Earth: An Anthology of Writings by Susan Griffin.  New York: Harper & Row, 1982.

______. The Eros of Everyday Life: Essays on Ecology, Gender, and Society. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Menakem, Resmaa. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press, 2017.

Olson, Tina. Personal Interview. October 16, 2014.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. New Woman New Earth: Sexist Ideologies & Human Liberation. New York: Seabury, 1975.

Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Fifteenth Anniversary Ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Turcotte, Shirley & Jeffrey J. Schiffer. “Aboriginal Focusing Oriented Therapy (AFOT), in Emerging Practice in Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.  Jessica Kingsley Publishers: 55-74.

Turcotte, Shirley. “Aboriginal Focusing Oriented Therapy and Relational Consideration of Unresolved Trauma.”

BIO: Beth Bartlett, Ph.D., is an educator, author, activist, and spiritual companion.  She is Professor Emerita of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She also served as co-facilitator of the Spirituality Task Force of NWSA. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including Journey of the Heart: Spiritual Insights on the Road to a Transplant, Rebellious Feminism: Camus’s Ethic of Rebellion and Feminist Thought, and Making Waves: Grassroots Feminism in Duluth and Superior. She has been active in feminist, peace and justice, and rights of nature and climate justice movements, and has been a committed advocate for the water protectors.


[i] Starhawk, Dreaming, 219.

[ii] See Duran, Healing the Soul Wound.

[iii] Turcotte, “Aboriginal Focusing Oriented Therapy.” Turcotte is the founder of Indigenous Focusing-Oriented Trauma therapy and with other wise elders holds trainings in IFOT throughout Canada and a few places in the United States.

[iv] See, for example, Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance; Dreaming the Dark; and The Earth Path.

[v] Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark, Appendix A: “The Burning Times: Notes on a Crucial Period of History.”

[vi] The Malleus Maleficarum, penned by two Dominican priests,was the main handbook for the persecution of witches in the 15th and 16th centuries. See “Remembering the Burning Times: Part One” in the FAR blog for a discussion of the Malleus.

[vii] In his My Grandmother’s Hands, Menakem provides excellent insights, exercises, and somatic tools to metabolize, discharge, and heal these ancient wounds.

[viii] Mending the Sacred Hoop, based in Duluth, MN, is the primary Training and Technical Assistance provider on domestic abuse intervention and healing for tribes in Indian Country.

[ix] Turcotte defines the felt sense as “a bodily experience of interconnected emotion, energy and sensations that are an expression of knowledge of collective experiences through time.” See Turcotte & Schiffer, “Aboriginal,” 58-59.

[x] Turcotte & Schiffer, “Aboriginal,” 61.

[xi] Griffin, Made from this Earth, 20.



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, General, Healing, Thealogy

Tags: , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. The key to healing of any kind is to re-member what we have lost – not just our own losses but worse – our communion with the earth – this is ‘Susto’. Soul Loss. As others say healing can’t happen until we have restored our connection to our broken/stressed planet – family/culture doesn’t take us round the circle… we begin as earth and end as earth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Powerful essay, thank you. I agree with Sara that re-membering is the key. I am also moved by the concept of Susto. I see it as the wound which festers unless it is allowed to heal – and it festers throughout generations. Our culture and society are in deep trouble because those wounds are still so active. I think the best we can do is to heal ourselves and those around us and to spread the healing as far and wide as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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