Some of the most common questions I get asked are about fear. Fear of pain, fear of death, fear of thunder, fear of owls, fear of conflict, fear of failure, fear of brussel sprouts… the list of things people can fear is endless.

Personally, my most important work around fear began after my Dad died. I was 21, and the spiritual, physical and mental pressures I’d been under brought me to the point of collapse; I developed a severe phobia of putting anything in my body. I couldn’t eat, drink or take medication without having a panic attack.

This went on for 3 months and, obviously, I was in a bad way. I lost a huge amount of weight, became suicidal and was nearly taken into hospital. But this surge of fear was the beginning of something wonderful, because it was the final push I needed to find a teacher and begin learning animism formally.

I will not let fear control me

The first step in recovering from my own phobia was a promise I made to myself. I would not let the fear control me, I would not let fear run my life.

This was a powerful moment, an act of power that gave me a bit of room for working with the fear. It gave me something to hold onto as I challenged myself, and something to believe in when I felt overwhelmed by the power of the fear.

Reclamation of power

The next part of recovering from the phobia involved reclaiming a lot of my own power. I hadn’t realised it, didn’t even have the words for it, but I had become a shell of myself.

Every trauma and stress and small decision to ignore my own instincts had depleted me. Each time I had turned away from what I needed, and chosen what someone else wanted, had left me weaker. Each time I had given in on my own boundaries, in exchange for feeling accepted or normal, had taken me further out of touch with who and what I was.

Recovering my own power involved a multi-pronged approach; I worked with my teacher a she used Andean energy medicine to heal the patterns of self-betrayal directly. I held several ceremonies to large parts of myself that had become buried and forgotten.

I accepted the help of an animal spirit who could teach me how to be fierce, focused, confident, assertive. And I asked for the help of the lineage of spirits that had passed on these tools through the centuries, providing a space for them to work in my life through an altar.

And finally, I used acts of power, over and over. I challenged the phobia by eating, first a small amount, then a little more, then new things, until the wave of fear I felt was intimately familiar. I knew exactly how it would come, what it would feel like, and how long I’d have to wait until it faded.

And each time it faded, I felt a little stronger. I had conquered it again; I hadn’t let it control me. The impact this had on my confidence was huge.

Relationship to fear

For a long time, I believed that my fear was of having a physical reaction to something I ate or drank.

But eventually, I saw that what I was really afraid of was being afraid. I was terrified that something unpredictable would happen that would make me frightened. It wasn’t just eating, it was flying, driving in a car, meeting new people; any situation that I believed could unexpectedly turn bad gave me a tight little fearful feeling.

Realising what it was that I was truly afraid of allowed me to work on my relationship to it. Animism is based on the understanding that we can actively participate in our relationships with everything in our lives, including emotions, ideas and situations.

I had a difficult relationship with fear, and seeing that has allowed me to gradually work on that relationship to the point where I appreciate, honour and listen to my fear rather than fighting it.

Animist practices for working with fear

Animism is the ancient expression of how we relate to life. Through animist practices, I’ve been able to change my relationship with fear, and so with the things that used to frighten me. Here are some ideas for working with your own fears from an animist perspective:

1. See this as a relationship.
Whether you’re afraid of birds or spiders or the flu, what does your fear look like? What would your fear say to you if you were listening? What would you want to say to it? At what point did your relationship with this part of life turn difficult? And what would a healthy relationship feel like?

2. Honour the fear.
What has this fear given you? How has it helped you? You might have to look at some hard truths here, if your fear is an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for your life. You might have to let go of some anger at your fear in order to see the gifts it’s brought for you. You might have to take some time with the question before an answer unfolds.

As an example, my own phobia gave me a way to exercise control when I felt totally out of control, pushed me to face my need for spiritual practice, forced me to recognise that I needed help, taught me a powerful lesson about fear vs power, taught me compassion for others in fear, made me take responsibility for my health and path. Without this phobia, I may never have begun the journey of reclaiming my power.

3. Reclaim the power.
Use every tool in the animist toolbox to reclaim your power through this relationship. Craft objects to honour it, write poetry for it, hold ceremonies to thank it for it’s gifts, transform it through energy work and folk magic, ask for an animal or teacher to help you understand the relationship better, ask your ancestors for support and guidance through the problem.

And finally, create an act of power that you can use to challenge the fear as you shift the relationship; without stepping into that space that you fear, gradually at first, you will never fully reclaim the power that you’ve hidden there.

As my first teacher used to say,

“To let something go, you actually have to hold it first.”

An unhealthy fear doesn’t have to hold you back, I’m living proof of that. And while my relationship with fear is a work in progress, knowing that it is a relationship and that I can work with it gives me the confidence to challenge it when and how I need to.

Fear is a powerful message; it tells us where we’ve lost part of who we are, and which part of our lives to work with to reclaim ourselves.

You can find more about the above animist tools in the free 12 week course Foundation in Animism, and more about acts of power in my book The Way of Change.