P is for Perpetrator. But who is the perpetrator?

The Year of the Body: Week 11

in which the body reveals the secret spot where the perpetrator is buried

Friends, soul writers, mystics, and lovers of prayer,

I have spent the last week thinking about perpetrators. Not because I want to. Who wants to focus on the pain one person inflicts on another.

But perpetrators are an integral part of the healing power of The Return of the Witches, Jeanne d’Arc Listening Novena this summer.

This novena—which means prayer practice—is calling me to help us heal 3,000 years of patriarchal abuse inflicted on women and men who dared to stand in their own spiritual authority or who lived in the margins of society where they were easy targets for abuse.

I’ve known for a while that there have to be 13 witches—13 women accused, abused, and murdered under the once sacred moniker of “witch.”

These 13 stretch across time from 900BCE to 1960 and around the globe from North America to Europe to the Middle East and Africa.

What do they have in common? They were labeled witches.

What is a witch? As late as 1584, Reginald Scot in The Discoverie of Witchcraft, acknowledges that “At this day it is indifferent to say in the English tongue, ‘she is a witch’ or ‘she is a wise woman.’”

And yet, these “wise women” were hounded all the way to the grave by perpetrators in all patriarchal religions.

The perpetrators matter.

I am not bringing them up to retraumatize ourselves with what was done to these women, but because the holy purpose of this novena is to end the tyranny of patriarchy.

And the only way patriarchy ends is to pray for the perpetrators and free them from thousands of years of toxic beliefs. To restore them to wholeness just as we restore the women to life.

So I realized I needed to not only name the 13 women but also their 13 perpetrators.

I thought this would be a daunting task requiring a lot of research. I was surprised at how easy they are to find. The perpetrators didn’t try to hide. They were proud to declare that they were the holy ones speaking for the one true God. And the women, the wise women, the witches, were speaking for the devil.

An interesting side note is that the Catholic church “conjured up a figure to express pure malevolence—the devil" toward the end of the Dark Ages.

“Since no one had actually ever seen the devil, his form—red color, horns, tail, triton, and cloven hooves—provides insight into the mind-set of his inventors. In The Alphabet vs the Goddess, Leonard Shlain explains that every one of those symbols are goddess symbols.

The devil was an invention by the dominant church to continue the long patriarchal work of destroying the Goddess and eliminating any vestige of her power and presence in human memory.

So these women were executed for consorting with a figure that doesn’t exist. A figure that rose fully formed out of fear-filled patriarchal minds.

Quickly 13 perpetrators lined up next to the names of the women they persecuted.

  • Who ordered the murder of all Cathars in France in the 13th century?
    A pope.
  • Who was responsible for the execution of countless witches in England and Scotland?
    A prince known to the world as the author of the King James Bible.
  • Who ordered the Cherokee to walk the Trail of Tears?
    A president.

Are you noticing a pattern? In the middle of the night I heard this list of perpetrators:

plantation owners

How odd, I thought. What is it with P? Patriarchy. Power. Perpetrator.

I wrote this list of perpetrators in my journal on Monday and showed up for opening night of Somatic Writing with Tanya Taylor Rubenstein on Tuesday.

In class, Tanya taught us a bit about how the body stores trauma along the Vagus Nerve that stretches down the body from the base of the brain. The Vagus Nerve controls our involuntary systems such as the heart, digestion, and lungs.

And it remembers. The body remembers. As the famous book title says, The Body Keeps the Score.

Only our conscious mind doesn’t know it.

Tanya introduced us to the five most common trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, fawn, and flop. She then gave us a few writing prompts to ask our bodies to show us where we store the anger and rage of fight in the liver, or the always busy, relentless pursuit of the to-do list response of flight.

Flight, she said, is often associated with the spleen, but it might be different in our body.

So she asked us to ask our bodies where flight is stored and what story that hidden memory wants us to hear.

I was so surprised by what happened next that I’d like to share it with you in the hopes that my story helps you notice where your perpetrator is hiding in your body.

Before I’d even finished writing the prompt, I felt a relentless push to achieve, perform, produce in the back of my neck on the left side. I felt my body being prodded from behind like a cow being driven to market. And I couldn’t see who or what was driving me. I felt what my body has felt lifetime after lifetime until the prod was stored deep in my neck.

But here was the surprise.

I suddenly realized that even though no one is prodding me from behind, I had kept going faster and faster, working harder and harder, believing that somehow, magically, if I just go fast enough, I can get ahead of the prod.

But of course, I can’t because there is no one poking me from behind anymore.

And in that moment, I realized I had become my own perpetrator.

I had inculcated the protestant work ethic so fully that I had succumbed to what psychologists call the Stockholm syndrome.

Remember Patty Hearst when she showed up to rob a bank dressed like her kidnappers in the Symbionese Liberation Army? That was me. I was now showing up in the guise of my own perpetrator, the protestant work ethic--a patriarchal prod if ever there was one.

But when I felt that prod in the back of my neck and turned around and saw that no one was there…I easily extracted that old trauma response. And as it lifted out of my body, I realized I was free from now on to follow the call of something or someone beckoning me forward.

  • I could hear and see Jeanne leading the way to the work of my life in The Return of the Witches.
  • I could hear the call from witches of old to tell their life stories—not their death stories.
  • I could hear the voices of toxic patriarchs asking, begging, to be freed from the shackles they created.
  • I could hear the sacred voices of the old woman and young girl in my children’s fairy tale about witches.

My perpetrator—who was me—is gone.

So I leave you with some questions to consider:

  • Do you have a flight response that keeps you going and going to the point of exhaustion?
  • Who is your perpetrator?
  • Where in your body do you feel this relentless drive to perform and produce?
  • What story, what holy beautiful story is waiting inside your holy beautiful body to be heard and seen and brought to life?

I can't wait to see what Tanya has for us this coming Tuesday for the 2nd of 4 sessions in Somatic Writing. You are welcome to join us if you want to discover the freedom that comes from liberating your body from old buried trauma responses. The first session was recorded and you'll have access to it by following the active link on your receipt when you register.

Here's the intensive if you'd like to know more.

Somatic Writing Prayer Intensive

to the miracle of freeing the trauma in your body and hearing your own sacred, precious, creative voice speak, 


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