“What I do is help break the surface away. It’s like peeling away the layers and getting to those parts of yourself that so many of us have become totally disconnected from,” Melissa Sanger, womb witch and feminine empowerment artist tells me over a rather chaotic Zoom call. After several failed internet connections and confused frozen faces, I wonder if technology will allow us to speak. “A higher power is testing us,” Sanger muses.
In order to have a meaningful conversation with Sanger I soon realise it is important to adjust to this way of thinking. Higher powers, yoni eggs, womb temples and plant medicine taken with indigneous tribes in Latin America are a world away from my own practice of spirituality (a little yoga here, a splash of gratitude there) but I do my best to meet her in the middle where our very different cosmic spheres overlap. On her website she explains how she uses a number of techniques to provide healing and re-embodiment. For the sake of potentially achieving true enlightenment, it feels important to give her approach my full respect.
In lockdown, Sanger has adjusted her business model (if womb witches have such a thing) to cater to isolated clients looking for spiritual self empowerment. Normally her work includes personal coaching, yoga teaching, herbalism and other practices but a global pandemic has put that on hold. Instead she has developed a series of online “Virtual Goddess Temples”, which I attend in my quest for understanding. It is Friday night and I feel deflated after a week of online meetings and constant Slack messaging. Another Zoom call feels like the last thing I want to do, but my sister, a devoted attendee, convinces me this will be the best introduction to Sanger’s practice. I set up my nest area with blankets, a candle, paper, pen and an open mind and congratulate myself on being so explorative.
At 8pm a group of around 25 people who “identify as having a womb” (what would JK Rowling think?) begin to flash up on my screen. Sanger gazes serenely into the camera, a feather earring hooked into her earlobe and a rose tucked into her hair. What sounds to me like spa music plays in the background. Slowly, women of various ages and from all over the world including Switzerland, America, Indonesia, Australia and various countries throughout South America appear. I am particularly fascinated by one with long brown hair topped with a bejeweled fairy crown.
As the ceremony begins I leave my camera off preferring to lurk in the shadows scribbling notes, but then Sanger invites us to introduce ourselves and share our intention for the temple. I am wildly alarmed and unprepared when she then asks us to reveal our life’s ambition with the group. To be so exposed is unsettling, but I turn my camera on for the sake of full immersion.
I am fully under the influence of her spiritual hold. When she takes out a drum and starts singing a song, I don’t bat an eye.
As each “sister”, the term Sanger uses for participants, shares their story there is a change in my attitude. It feels liberating to say what you want in life out loud with a relative group of strangers in such an unusual setting. As a woman, naming my desires does not come naturally, but this exercise seems to open me up and I listen intently to her detailed brief of the current astrological forces at play. By the time the guided meditation arrives, delivered in Sanger’s pouring cream voice, I am fully under the influence of her spiritual hold. When she takes out a drum and starts singing a song, I don’t bat an eye. That night, I have the soundest sleep I’ve had in months. What so many pills and invasive treatments claim to achieve, Sanger has conjured in two hours of deep breathing.
“I think this pandemic is causing constant worrying in the higher parts of our bodies,” She explains to me a few days later. “Suddenly we don’t know about the future. But when we take a moment in time, like we do in the temple ceremonies, to arrive in the moment, notice how our body feels, notice how our heart and our womb feels, we accept the situation. That brings with it a state of peace.” Despite not being in a ceremonial situation, I find her expression hypnotic. When she describes herself as a “womb witch”, the title feels completely foreign to me, but also fitting, for someone who has dived so deeply into a new way of life.
“I never really fit the norm,” Sanger tells me with the self awareness of a much older person. “I’ve always been rebellious in some way.” It is this spirit of rebellion which fuelled her new found vocation; teaching and educating women about their sacred inner worlds with the help of Reiki, breath-work, guided meditations, Cacao Ceremony, Mayan Nawales Astrology and ecstatic dance to name but a few of Sanger’s specialities. Building this new life wasn’t easy though and one that Sanger had to figure out predominantly alone. Career counsellors don’t tend to wade into the job opportunities within the spiritual cosmos.
“I definitely didn’t get on with the schooling system which felt very oppressive to me.” Sanger confirms. “It seemed like you were an identical meat patty being pushed out into a capitalist system, one that seems incredibly self serving.”
It was only through art and photography (“they were the freest roles I could identify within the system”) that Sanger began her transition from a rather unhappy and unfulfilled teenager, to someone who now commands alarming composure and knowledge in her field. While at art school, she began taking nude self portraits in nature and discovered the work of Ana Mendieta, Jade Montserrat and Marina Abramovic. It was this artistic awakening which ultimately set her on the trajectory to where she is today. A lot of her practices (particularly the one of bleeding “body to earth” during her period) seem disorientating, but she reassures me my reaction is just a product of hundreds of years of patriarchal society at play in my subconscious.
“I think patriarchy is a system that men and women and everyone in between are deeply affected by and it’s destructive for all”
Fighting the patriarchy is a topic where our spiritual spheres certainly overlap so I find myself readily understanding Sanger’s decision to “hold space for those with wombs” rather than all genders. “I don’t think patriarchy is a negative aspect of men alone,” she tells me. “I think it’s a system that men and women and everyone in between are deeply affected by and it’s destructive for all.” In her line of work, where you are expected to be at your most vulnerable but also open to dramatically new ways of thinking, it makes sense to remove the complicated factor of gender. When I ask her if she thinks women are fundamentally more spiritual than men, she answers matter of factly; “feminine beings are the creators of the universe.”
This brings us onto the topic of menstruation, where it would appear, Sanger has found her most radical niche. I say radical, but what I really mean is the belief system most at odds with typical Western thinking. As we discuss the topic of periods though, I find myself squirming, only to come to the realisation that I have been conditioned to believe this process, celebrated in many other cultures as beautiful and godly, is icky. I find this the most enlightening topic of our entire discussion.
When her period stopped at 16 following an eating disorder and then again for a cacophony of reasons at 19, Sanger went on a “personal quest” to figure out why. “At first it felt quite exciting to be so linear like men. I was very dissociated with my body and actually liked the fact it had stopped, but then, after a while, I started to feel like I wasn’t a woman.” Scans and a change in diet proved fruitless and frustrating.
It was only when she began what she refers to as “moon training” with indigenous women in Ecuador that she became enlightened to her situation. It was through her own, often painful and emotional experiences, that she is now able to help women understand their own bodies with similar clarity, reaping powerful results.
I can understand why Sanger provides many women with much needed comfort beyond the walls of their GP’s office
Today, Sanger works with a diverse range of women facing complex mental and physical challenges. Some clients have had hysterectomies and are trying to reconnect with their ideals of femininity, while others have lost confidence in themselves and are looking to form a stronger sense of self. These problems seem to me beyond the limited solutions of Western medicine, and I can understand why Sanger, in the process of discovering alternative solutions for herself, now provides many women with much needed comfort beyond the walls of their GP’s office.
I wonder how this way of life fits with her previous existence as a rather wild and wayward teenage girl. The short answer is it doesn’t. “The more I realised how alive and connected and present and productive I could be just through connecting with the elements, I became so much more aware of this cultural numbing I was using to try and forget myself,” Sanger expands. She has now been sober for eight months and, in the process, friendships have fallen away without the crutch of drinking to sustain them. “It doesn’t make me sad because the relationships I have today feel so much more powerful and sustaining,” she answers when I mention this loss must be upsetting. “My mentality has changed. For the first time, I am truly happy.”
Sanger will be running “The 4 Archetypes of the Menstrual Cycle: An Online Initiation Journey”, a six week course starting in September 2020.