his month’s question touches on some of my favorite things: psychological magick, setting things on fire, and signs and omens!
“I am going through psychotherapy to help me get over a tyranist/narcissist ex. My psychologist had me write a letter to him (but to never send it), where I would write all the negative, horrible things I think about him. I was told to write my heart out of everything, get rid of all negative emotions. Then, I was told to burn it.
I crumbled the two pieces of notebook paper into a ball and tried to light it on fire. But it burned a little bit and in the middle of the burning, the sun came out and the wind blew the fire out, leaving the majority intact.
I proceeded to light it again and my lighter ran out of lighter fluid (first time ever!). I ended up shaking the lighter and getting the fire restarted, but it didn’t burn much after that, the paper turned all black but never turned into ashes. I couldn’t get it to burn any more; so I gave up and put water over the leftovers and now that paper is stuck to the pavement next to my garage.
My question is, what does this mean? Nature doesn’t want me to get rid of my bad thoughts? Is the paper so bad nature won’t take it? I don’t understand.”
Ah, the letter writing exercise! It’s one of the many exercises that traditional therapy uses that we also use in magick and spiritual practice. I’ve done this a bunch of times in my life and it’s always been an amazingly cathartic experience. Getting all that energy out of you through the most powerful of the modern day magick wands—the pen—and transforming it with fire is awesome.
In this situation where the paper didn’t burn as expected we can look at nearly a half dozen possible explanations and that’s before we even get to the spiritual stuff! This could have happened because of the type of paper you used, the way you crumbled it up, the obvious issue of wind outside, how you lit it initially, and so on. There are legitimate practical reasons for why this might have happened.
If we set that aside and look for spiritual reasons, there are a few things we can look at. But there’s a catch.
What you’re looking for is a sign or an omen.
Signs (messages that show up when we are seeking guidance with intention) and omens (big messages that come from the Universe without invitation) mean different things to different people for many different reasons. Culture, circumstance, and personal belief all play a role. So while there may be a commonly accepted belief behind what something means, the real power and message behind it is always going to be personal.
For instance, there is a culturally accepted belief that finding a penny in a random or unusual place is a sign that a loved one who has passed over is with you (aka “pennies from heaven”). You find a penny one day just sitting on top of your dresser that you know nobody put there, but you can’t think of anyone in the spirit world that would send you a message. In this case, you might just have a “meh” kind of reaction and not think anything else of it.
But let’s say you find that mysterious penny on your dresser when your grandmother died two months prior. If the cultural meaning of this sign is in your consciousness your mind will almost certainly go right to the thought of your grandmother sending her love from the other side.
When it comes to your paper burning incident, there are a few ways to look for meaning in it.
First, what was the very initial thought or reaction you had when it went out? Did you feel something in your body, and if so where did you feel it? Did your heart skip a beat, your gut suddenly get tight, or your breath catch in your throat?
Secondly, how did you feel a few hours later? Was it still on your mind? Did you find you’d already begun building a story around it, meaning you knew what it meant and why it happened on some level but your rational mind was still questioning and doubting it?
Lastly, is there a benefit from this? This is the one that can be tricky; you need to be honest with yourself in finding what the benefit of this sign or omen would be for you. Does it help give you guidance in a specific direction that is beneficial? Does it feel like a big signpost on your journey in some way that either confirms something or pulls you in a certain but helpful direction?
All signs or omens are beneficial in some way. They either give us answers and guidance or they steer us away from a harmful situation or toward a positive one, or they bring something into our consciousness that we need to pay attention to.
But even this idea of a “positive benefit” can be challenging. If you feel in your heart that the paper went out as a sign that you aren’t ready to let this go or you need to spend more time with it, that might not seem on the surface as a positive benefit but it could be in hindsight later on.
Being truly and brutally honest with yourself and paying attention to initial reactions is key to sorting this all out because, while there very well may be a sign or omen here, it could also literally mean nothing. There is a good chance that you’re letting your fear-fueled ego run wild. It could simply be that you picked a shitty day to go outside and burn this paper.
The last thing to consider is the way you actually feel around the overall purpose of the letter exercise. Despite the paper not burning how you may have expected, how do you feel about the exercise itself? Do you feel you let go of some of those emotions and energies? Are you feeling like you are less focused on them in day-to-day life? Are you more consumed with the questions of why your paper didn’t burn rather than issues of your relationship with your ex?
At the end of the day this exercise is symbolic. It’s a way of telling your subconscious mind that these thoughts are no longer in your mind alone and they have been burned into non-existence—that they no longer hold any power over you. The fact that the paper didn’t burn all the way doesn’t mean it didn’t work—unless you personally feel it does.
When you asked about whether nature doesn’t want you to let go of your bad thoughts, I would see it differently. Fire needs air in order to burn, but too much can put it out. Air is the element of thought and communication where fire is the element of passion and change. I would wonder if there was enough real passion and fire and desire for change behind the words, or were you “talking” but not really saying anything?
But that’s just me. With signs and omens the caveat of “your mileage may vary” is always essential to remember.
If you would like to check out some more insights I have on figuring out the meanings of signs and omens in your life, I have a blog post all about this that you can check out.
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