Healers in the Modern World

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While the term 'Witch' has enjoyed a significant reclamation in spiritual and political spheres since the mid-20th century, the related but different term 'Healer' seems to be moving in the opposite direction. And this is particularly ironic since one of the attributes widely attributed in popular folklore to witches was their capacity to heal!

To call oneself a 'healer' even in metaphysical and holistic health communities these days is somewhat of a taboo. Instead, we are encouraged to use words that center our healing in 'work' such as bodywork, spirit work, or energy work. We call ourselves coaches, mentors, therapists, spiritual counselors, practitioners, and more. But we aren't supposed to think of ourselves too literally as healers. And the reason for this is almost always reduced to our blanket inability to instantaneously cure cancer. 

But at what point did being a healer become synonymous with being a successful oncologist? And since when is 'healing' only about severe physical ailments like cancer?

Healing as Medicine, Magic, & Beyond

Traditionally people have come to healers for the kind of help now offered by medical professionals, and in fact, much of modern medicine is built on the shoulders of folk herbalists and other healers from around the world, but our art has never been restricted to this kind of practice.

Throughout human history including today's world, medical care has only been one part of a person's well-being. Healers know this. And healers offer care that medical professionals cannot. Just as we wouldn't go to a psychic medium to treat a tumor, we shouldn't expect a doctor to counsel on our spiritual needs. And we have no reason to write off the role of non-medical healers just because the mechanics of their art function outside the mechanics presently understood by modern medical sciences. 

People benefit from touch healing, from sound healing, from ritual, from theurgy, and from divination into their relationships to the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. This magic permeates and informs many of our contemporary spiritual practices--and not just those in Pagan circles. It is part of the human experience. 

And we need our healers to help us remember this.

The Healer Archetype

For some people, healing is a full-time profession. Some people live in supportive communities where they are able to make a living as astrologers, angel channels, mediums, witches, and in related holistic service professions. Sometimes their craft has a specific name or a lineage, like Reiki or Wicca. Other times, they have stepped into a role that transcends a modern understanding of their work as engagement with any specific form of spiritual or magical technology.

For a much larger group of people, healing is a power we attune to, either in ourselves, our immediate families and social circles, or the greater world around us. Conventionally, the 'Healer' archetype is often understood this way. Healers begin as wounded folks themselves, and through their own journey in search of healing, they become a channel for that process in others.

Where we expect a doctor to complete medical science degrees and a practice residency to learn their trade, perhaps our best healers come from a process of understanding and living with deep wounds themselves instead. And while there is certainly overlap between modern medical science and healing, comparing our healers to our doctors misses the different role of each.

What is the Role of Healers?

Generally speaking, doctors diagnose physical illnesses and advise a treatment plan for them. Some healers are trained to treat some physical illnesses as well, but the role of the healer is beyond the physical. The healer's work touches the transpersonal, the metaphysical, and the holistic--not just the rational, the scientific, and the physical.

A doctor's work generally fits well to the economic model of our modern society. The patient is evaluated and treated more or less within a single appointment. Healing takes time. Healing is experiential, subjective, and contextual. Our healer is not just an encyclopedia of medical knowledge matching symptoms to proven treatment, but a guide through the holistic journey of our wounds.

That is to say, the power of the healer is not necessarily to provide an external cure for you. The power of the healer is to ignite that same power within you.

In this way it perhaps makes more sense not to think of the term 'healer' as just a profession or noun, but instead as a descriptor--like courageous, persistent, or resilient. Claiming our role as a healer is about becoming a resilient Earth critter and inspiring other Earth critters to feel the same way about their own situations.

Healing is not a synonym for medical treatment. It's a synonym for a web of resiliency being woven outward from one individual, to one community, to an ecology of Earth's many children. And healing has perhaps never in human history been needed as much as it is today.


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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to info@pat-mosley.com