Becoming the Invisible Child

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When I was young, after my mother died, I chose to make myself invisible. I understand why. As a child who was trapped in my father’s world, I could not make another choice. I accepted the abnormal of his world as the only normal I available to me, and allowed him to shut me down so completely it was terrifying. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t allowed to complain, cry or express fear. I was not allowed to show positive emotion either. If I got excited about something my father froze me. As I grew older, It didn’t take much to shut me down, just a word. Or a look from him. But, I didn’t fight back or take a stand. Never. It seemed that the best I could do was remove myself, so I became invisible, even to myself. Especially to myself. I began to believe his story was mine.

Without knowing it, I cast a deep spell upon myself. I faded from view until I was scarcely a pinpoint anymore. I needed to recover myself from my deep hiding place. Finding my way back took decades. Still searching, in 2002 I made an appointment with a shaman’s apprentice on a cold winter’s day. I walked up the front steps of a grey Victorian house in Hardwick, Vermont and opened the old grey wooden door. It seemed an unlikely place to find a shaman’s apprentice, perhaps, but there I was.

“What do you want?”, the healer asked. She lit some incense. I was lying on a reiki table near the old bow window facing south toward the street. I realized that she wanted me to set an intention for the session.

“Honesty. Understanding, truth,” I said. She began the journey inward with me and I allowed myself to follow. After a few minutes of silence, she laughed and said, “You’re good at this. Most people with your kind of background in advanced education are so much in their heads they have difficulty going into the dream space.” I thought about that. Interesting. But I continued to follow her lead.

After another space of time, she opened her eyes and said, “I went into your your past and asked what you needed to know. I saw you when you were very small, so small you were in a crib. You were very upset. Do you remember anything about that?” I didn’t.

She continued, “You were upset because nobody came for you when you cried. Nobody came for a very long time. You were cold and hungry.” She said she also saw a beautiful red flower inside me back then, and told me that it was my root chakra. It had large open petals that closed up as she watched. She told me that I had closed them myself.

The shaman’s apprentice explained, “Your family didn’t know who you were. You were meant to be the answer to their need for love but they didn’t know that. They withdrew from you. You withdrew from them. You felt abandoned. You closed your heart chakra and forgot what you had done. Later when you wanted to open up to them again you didn’t know how.” I knew, vaguely, that by ‘root chakra’ she meant the tribal connection, the most basic connection to the human family we have.

“The root chakra is the energy center that supports our lives in a very basic way she explained. It reveals our connection with our family. It is about survival and how we feel safe. If the root chakra is not functioning we have difficulty expanding our lives. We have difficulty connecting with ourselves and others.”

Suddenly, my own history began to make sense in a new way. I asked to know the truth and here it was: I did it to myself. I was the one who stepped away from them. I lost my temper when I felt abandoned. I believed my own drama. I cut myself off. After I detached and closed my being, we no longer had a way to connect even if we wanted to. I forgot how to find the way back.

Then, I realized that if I had the power to overwrite my own story once, I could do it again. I remember my mother once telling me that I had a temper when I was small. She told me how I ripped my dolly apart once when I was angry. Its quite normal for young children to express temper, but, it seems I did more than that. I tore myself apart and from then on I never felt secure no matter who reached out to me. Without a root chakra I could not find myself or any other human being.            Perhaps my felt-sense of always trying to find my way back from somewhere began then. The shaman then began trying to rearrange the energy patterns of my root chakra, which was still very closed. Once I was aware of my part in the past drama the process took years of conscious work to unravel, but the information she gave me was a critical starting point.              

“Will I be more able to connect with others now?” I asked when the session began to draw to a close. She said it would take time and that I’d have to work at it. “Develop your connections with the earth as well because the pathway to restoring the root chakra is through the earth. Learn how to ground yourself,” she advised.

Then she queried, “Who was the old man sitting there with you while we were in the dream world?”  She seemed to expect me to say, perhaps, “Oh, that would have been Uncle Joe, he was always my best friend,” or something similar. I stared at her. “An old farmer? Beside me? I have no idea.”

She seemed genuinely surprised that I didn’t know who this man was. She continued, “He was sitting with you beside your crib. He was an old ‘salt of the earth’ man with dirt on his overalls and boots,” she added. So, I wasn’t alone when no one came to get me when I cried? Someone was present? Who was this? An angel, a guide, or an ancestor? Knowing this changed everything. I had an ally. Who, what was he? Someone who knew me from my earliest breath?

As a small child I did not realize anyone was present, but over time, it came to me that this man was an ancestor, my mother’s grandfather. Robert George MacLean, born in Ireland. He lived in Balleymoney at a place called Garum Dubh, or Black Garden. The shaman mentioned she saw dirt on his boots. On a visit I made to Garum Dubh in 2014, I learned that his life work was to reclaim a bog and turn it into farmland. How did I identify him? During that visit to the dream world with the shaman I caught the scent of stone. His boots smelled like stone. The shaman saw the dirt on his boots and although I didn’t see the old man then, I caught and remembered the scent of stone.

On my visit to Ireland, a farmer I met there explained a good bit about the life of the men who worked the bog. In my book I describe what this realization came to mean in my life I also describe my physical visit to Garum Dubh in 2014 and how this story was confirmed.

The shaman’s vision allowed me to remember that I was not alone, and I then admitted the old farmer to my conscious understanding. I accepted that he was one of my Irish great-grandfathers from Ballymoney. I began to understand I was more protected than I realized. With new awareness, I began to  imagine him with me as I learned to grow my gardens, and communicate with herbs, flowers and the stones I found along my path. Because I allowed it to happen, the comfort of his presence and my earth connections grew as, clear, warm, strong and persistent as the fragrant breath of summer. (To find more information about this, check out Developmental Change History httml.)

The advice the shaman’s apprentice gave me also made me think deeply about a practice my parents taught me when I was very young, which I name “The Call to Beauty.” I began to realize that this practice alone saved my life. They taught me how to pass through awareness into thresholds of beauty. Was this a clue to finding the way back to connection with them and others? In my book you can discover how I found that the same practice seems to have been preserved in other Celtic families.

Darlene Witte
Darlene Witte

Professor of Education, (retired) at Johnson State College in Vermont leads the Green Mountain Writers' Poetry & Performance workshop that meets on Zoom each month on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays at 7 PM ET. Find out more at

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