Life lessons from a witch

an MDMA experience

During my writing retreat in Mallorca, I supported a therapist writing a book about psychedelic-assisted therapy. The down-to-earth way she approached it, immediately caught my attention. I had never been interested in using psychedelics – I am too sensitive to even drink coffee; plus years ago, I had a magical connection with the Peyote cactus without ever ingesting it, so why would I? – but this time I felt a big YES.

So recently I did a private MDMA-assisted retreat, guided by the therapist. My intention was to experience healing; an integration of all the parts of me that had been ignored or repressed, especially the feminine. For most of my life, I have been in my masculine energy and now I want to integrate the feminine to find a healthy balance. I considered this MDMA-assisted retreat as a deep dive, a healing journey, a reward or celebration even, after all the internal work I have done in the past years, cleaning up old ‘baggage’ and patterns that don’t serve me anymore. “I’m ready!” Or so I thought…

Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but what you need

The journey was very different from what I expected. I had learned that MDMA is a heart opener, generating loving feelings that would take away the fear and bring me deep insights. So I was not afraid or nervous at all. I was ready and I was curious. The therapist had prepared the space and gave me headphones to listen to beautiful music, and an eye mask so I could completely turn inward. She was with me for the entire 8-hour trip, taking care of me and writing down everything I did or said.

But just after taking the ‘medicine’, I found out that my experience was not a loving, heart-opening feeling. It was more like I suddenly found myself inside a washing machine, spinning wildly. At first, I was looking at a ‘movie screen’ inside my head, the way I was used to having spiritual experiences. When ‘it’ started, I saw thousands of small puzzle pieces, signs floating around on the screen and then coming towards me, like a 3D movie. “OK”, I thought, “so it is going to be a 3D movie…” And then the ceiling came down… I have no other way to describe it. Inside my brain, the entire cinema collapsed and I had no point of reference anymore. I lost my bearings and it was a bit scary. I was not looking at something, like I was used to in other experiences, but I was actually IN something, or rather something was inside ME. I found myself in a ‘freeze’. Staying still, not talking, not moving, waiting for this to pass.

I recognized this ‘freeze’ state as the default reaction of my nerve system to overwhelming emotions. This is how I have always dealt with situations where I felt emotional pain or sadness. Hold still, pretend not to be there, wait until the ‘danger’ goes away.

Trust the wisdom of your body

When after 1,5 hours the therapist told me it was time for my ‘booster’, I thought “No way! Not more of this, I want less!” When I managed to tell her about my ‘freeze’, she encouraged me to start moving. And that changed everything. The movement helped me to integrate this new reality and that was one of my big learnings. ‘Trust the wisdom of your body’. I listened to my body and felt exactly what movement it needed. I danced on hands and knees, I rolled on the bed, moved my arms and shook myself. That felt good. It was such a relief to learn somatically what I could / should do to get out of a freeze. A big lesson!

I took the booster and felt ’in charge’ again. Impatient even: “Give me more!” I asked the therapist. Another voice inside me answered “Just go with the flow’. Everything became quieter and I landed in an experience, vision or even a previous life; It does not matter what you call it, it was an experience with many details and I got some great life lessons from it, which I will gladly share.

Life as a Witch in the Middle Ages

For the next 6 hours, I found myself in a ‘past life experience’, as a witch in the Middle Ages. I was a beautiful, pure, sensitive young lady, living in a small shack in the forest. I loved being in nature, looking for medicinal plants and enjoying the silence, the sounds, animals, the beauty and small wonders of nature. People brought me wounded animals and I nursed them back to health. I felt it was also my duty, my destiny, to help people. They came to me with their illnesses, wounds, fears, secrets and insecurities. I listened, made amulets, talismans, potions, and herbal teas and applied other medicine that I had learned. In return, my ‘patients’ would leave me a few coins if they could, or some food or some wool to make clothes.

But when I went to the village, everybody pretended not to know me. The women wouldn’t look at me, and gossip about me, sometimes even spitting or throwing things at me. Only when they needed something from me, they would come to my house in the woods, secretly.

The men were worse. They would visit me in the forest at night; drunk, frustrated, horny, and violent. They would rape me, hit me and basically do to me all the things that they could not do at home. At first I tried to resist, but they would just beat me until I relented. Then I tried to hide when I heard them coming, but then they would torture or kill my animals. So I had to stay and endure it. I saw it as my duty; to prevent them from hurting others.

I could not tell anybody, nobody would believe me, anyway. The men were too strong and dangerous. So I had to let them do their thing and just hope it would pass and they would leave again quickly. The men with high status were the worst. So much frustration, perversity and violence!

Even my little daughters were not safe. I tried to hide them when visitors came, but I knew that was not going to work forever…

It was hard and sad being a woman

It was not just the witches’ life that was hard. Being a woman in general was sad and difficult in those times. We had to work hard to stay alive in rough and poor circumstances. We had to find food with the minimal means that were available, do the laundry and keep the house, keep the kids alive, trying not too have too many mouths to feed, all without upsetting our husbands or attracting too much attention. Women always had a ‘lower’ status. They had no voice, no rights. A husband could beat his wife if he wanted. He could rape her. A woman was completely dependent on her husband.

I would help women from the village to treat the wounds of domestic violence, or I would just listen to their sad stories, or I would whisper words of encouragement to give them the courage to go back to their hard life. I would brew love potions for them, or help them to prevent or terminate unwanted pregnancies. Many anonymous babies were buried in my woods.

Strong and independent women were perceived as threats.

Some men took advantage of their power and tried to ‘corner’ women when they were alone, unleashing their perversities onto them.

Women tried to unite in subtle ways. For example, washing day was dangerous. We would be at the river, out of sight, where any man could do as they wanted. So we always went in groups. When a man approached, we had developed a habit of addressing him by his title “Hello Mr. Notary, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Doctor”. This would remind them of their position and flatter them, maybe putting their impure thoughts away for a few seconds. As the oldest, or least attractive, women of the group distracted the man by flattering him some more, we would move the more attractive young women out of sight, out of the ‘danger zone’.

But if a woman would betray another woman, for example by having an affair with her husband, the other women would point at her when a man with bad intentions visited. They would say “So-and-so needs some help to carry a bucket of water from the river”. While the woman in question would protest “No, really, I don’t need any help” the man would take the prompt and take that woman to the river to “help her get water” and teach her the lesson the other women wanted her to experience…

So this balance between the ‘power’ and vulnerability of women was very subtle.

As a woman, you had to master the art of bowing, like plants in the wind, and get back up. We get trampled on and get back up again.

Sisterhood

It was a very lonely life. I had some ‘witches friends’, who would have similar lives and experiences. Although dangerous, we would sometimes meet secretly. These meetings allowed us to share each other’s pains. We would dance, laugh and sing around a fire in the forrest; in order to forget about the injustice we were suffering every day. When we could, we helped each other, cared for each other. There was nobody else who cared for us.

This feeling of ‘sisterhood’ is something I take away from this experience. How we have to help each other. You cannot prevent bad things from happening to good people, but you can support them, you can be there for them. These sisters know about being an outsider, knowing too much, seeing too much and being too strong. Just knowing you’re not going through these experiences alone, is a small consolation.

Whether you want to be a woman or not, whether you want to be wise and strong or not, I don’t think there is much choice. We are what we are. And it’s beautiful. Maybe the world is not ready for us, but we do what we can.

Wild woman?

In my position it was of course impossible to have a ‘normal’ relationship, so I lived my life mostly alone. I had one ‘friend with benefits’. Richard, a man who was always on the road, working in different villages, would always visit me whenever he was in the neighborhood. In fact, he was the executioner of our area. Because of that he was feared and was also a bit of an outsider. We never talked about his work. He once told me that somebody had to do it and then it was better if it was done ‘clean’ and not by some pervert. Richard was a gentle soul. He was soft-natured, sweet, respectful and loving. He knew about bodies, both about pain and pleasure. We saw each other every few months. Whenever we spent a few days together, we lived in our own bubble. Nobody bothered me when he was around, people did not even gossip about us. I felt completely safe with him.

Betrayal

There was a man in the village with whom I had a special connection. He is a kind of doctor, a scholar, and we sometimes collaborate. We have deep conversations beside the corpses he dissects – that is the only place we can meet in secret. We compare our knowledge side by side, talking as equals. We truly are on the same level. I love those nights when I can truly be myself. I admire his intelligence and sharp mind. I share all my knowledge and secrets with him. I love this man. And he says he loves me too. He truly “sees” me…

One day I invent something important, a medicine or cure. But, of course, it can never be known to be mine, a women. My friend suggests releasing it under his name. “We both know it comes from your brain,” he promises. It becomes a huge success. He becomes famous and is asked to talk about it everywhere. He travels so much and is so busy being ‘important’, that I hardly see him anymore. And when I do see him, I notice he’s keeping his distance.

It breaks my heart. I mourn the loss of my best friend, my companion. I let him go, I won’t bother him anymore…

He becomes a ‘women’s doctor’. He used the knowledge I shared with him over the years to pretend that he understands women, but he abuses them. I find out that he now even joins the other men who rape my witch friends in their parts of the woods. I am so sad. I am forced to carry this weight of sadness and injustice in silence.

But one day I need help, urgently, to save someone (a witch friend?). I have nowhere else to turn but to him. At night I go to his house and beg him to help. But he says it’s too dangerous now, “given his position.” WTF! He owes that position to me! I say it, and it sounds more threatening than I mean it to be. He mutters that he’ll see what he can do and shuts the door in my face.

The next day, they start digging in my forest. Men from the village with harsh eyes. One by one, they discover the baby corpses.

I know what this means… This is the end. He wanted me ‘out of the way’. Such a betrayal.

Die like a witch?

Like many women before me, I end up at the stake to be burned. I am so disappointed. I just want it to be over. I’m afraid of the pain. I’m afraid I’ll scream like a real witch. I’m afraid that all my bitterness, disappointment, and injustice will surface.

My friend Richard is the executioner… He is just doing his job. When nobody is watching, he promises me that he will make the fire in such a way that it will burn faster as opposed to another setting where the villagers will get a ‘longer spectacle’. It makes me feal strangely safe; at least the executioner is not mean to me. He even allows my girlfriends to put a scarf around my neck with some gunpowder inside. Once the fire reaches my torso it will explode and hopefully the ordeal will not take too long…

The worst part is the villagers and all the things they shout and throw at me. These are the people I was always there for. Those I helped and comforted. I know their deepest secrets. And that scares them. I know it.

I try to focus on love. My friends stand somewhere at the back of the square, where I can see them. And they can see me – that’s how we always do it. It’s terrible to see a friend burning – because you know, one day it will be your turn too. But by focusing on them, I can feel their love amidst all the hate and filth being shouted and thrown at me.

I search the crowd for my doctor friend. But I don’t see him. Instead, I see a curtain being drawn shut in his house. He did this to me, but he is not man enough to watch it…

Should I let him hear it? Should I shout our secret loudly across the square? And the other secrets, too? Who’s having affairs with whom? The names of the important men in the village who suffer from impotence? It might feel good for a moment. But then they’ll have even more reason to hate me.

No. I won’t do it. I want to go with dignity. Maybe by showing my loving side it will make a few people feel guilty.

But when the fire starts, it hurts, it tears me apart. Both my heart and my body. This is inhumane. They shouldn’t do this to anyone. It hurts so much! And it is so unfair! I start screaming and screaming. Like a real witch. All the hatred and injustice pours out of me. My friends look away.

When the scarf with gunpowder finally explodes, my head flies off. “There you go, that will teach them,” is my last thought “maybe that will finally earn some respect…”

Why I stayed away from femininity

Life as a woman in the Middle Ages, especially as a witch, was hard, sad and lonely. I must have carried the energy of this past life with me into my current life. Or maybe the energy of past womens’ lifes has collected somewhere and I tapped into it. Maybe it is transgenerational female trauma. Anyway, it is now clear to me why I had stayed away from femininity for so long. To me it felt like a great vulnerability, a weakness, I saw it as dangerous. As a woman you are a ‘prey’ and you always have to be alert. People take advantage of your goodness. So being in my female energy is not that attractive, actually. Therefore I had decided to live my current life in my masculine energy. To focus on doing, being productive, efficient, and all things feminine were repressed or ignored because they were dangerous. Hopefully, I can now rebalance and acknowledge that the danger as I felt it then, is not present anymore. Yes, there is still an imbalance, but the position of women has improved. And their power is more recognized now. I no longer need to hide that part of me.

Good people do bad things. And bad things can happen to good people

At the beginning of this witches life, I was very pure. At the end of that lifetime, I had become bitter. In this life I don’t want to be bitter, so I have to manage my expectations of life, of people.

In the days after the MDMA journey, I began to ‘remember’ other details of my witch life, apart from the horrible ones. Sometimes when I got back home in the forest, somebody would have left a pile of firewood next to my house. Or they would bring freshly baked bread or a basket of strawberries. One time a farmer even brought me a small goat! There were good people. Especially the farmers were humble and hardworking and they had a kind of respect for my connection with nature. They just had to make sure nobody would see them helping me.

So in the days after the journey, I began to see the complete picture of this life, this experience:

There is no light without darkness. Live has good and bad experiences. If you only focus on the bad things, you will become bitter. If you only want to see the good things, you will be disappointed again and again, because you are are not in touch with / prepared for reality. So focus on the good things, accept the bad things, but don’t let them take the centre of your life.

Digital detox

I was advised to take it easy in the days before the retreat. But it is hard to let go of everything on your to-do list. I was managing 4 Airbnb’s and had lots of other projects going on. My first idea was to work extra hard to get as much done as possible before the retreat. But during a prep meeting with the therapist, I realized that I really want to make a switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’. And that it would be weird to wait for that switch to happen during or after the retreat. If this is what I wanted, I had to start NOW. So slowly I tried to release the reins… Difficult!

During and after the retreat I left my phone off and then on ‘do not disturb’. I was in such a different state of mind that I did not open my laptop for almost a week. That has never happened in 15 years!

A potential project that seemed interesting before the retreat now only feels burdensome: more work, more responsibility, why would I say yes to that?

When I did try to do some work, even after a week or ten days, my head felt so ‘expanded’, that it was difficult to ‘squeeze it back into a box’, that is what working felt like. It even made me nauseous when I tried. Even now, a few weeks after the experience, I am still working on trying to find a balance between a few hours of ‘doing’ and then going back to ‘being’ again.

What helped is switching to a new to-do list, so I started with a blank slate. I could now choose how to fill it. Prioritizing important things. For now, little to no social media. Simplifying.

Perhaps you don’t have to do a psychedelic journey to experience this. A digital detox with a clean slate afterwards may give you a similar experience.

Word of warning

MDMA is not for everybody. And taking a pill at a festival is not the same experienced as an MDMA assisted retreat with an experienced therapist/sitter. The context matters, the preparation matters (I got a thorough physical and psychological checkup), and the after care matters (assistance with integration was included in my retreat). The set & setting are important for the (learning) process. Please seek expert advice if are interested in this experience. There are also other ways to get into a different state of being – such as breathwork, meditation, fasting, hypnosis etc – which can also allow you to gain insights that you normally don’t have.