(Book Excerpt) Bearing Witness Transmigration by Danica Anderson, Ph.D.

43bearingwitnesstransmigrationFor seventeen years, I bore witness to the Bosnian women war crimes and war survivors.  In my clinical informed Kolo (Slavic Folk Circle and/or Round Dance) Trauma practices I realized I encountered the purest Orphic doctrine.  Dionysus myths of the dismembered god live on in Thrace of old now the geographic regions of Greece and former Yugoslavia. The process is called, “Transmigration of Souls,”[1] an apt description of my journeys to Bosnia in the aftermath of war.

Much gossip and talk occurred with my rhythmic returns back to Novi Travnik, Bosnia. The Bosnian women survivors often wondered why someone would return without the salves to soften their wounds.  I had little to no funding for my clinical trauma work. Their invisible status to the helping aid organizations added to the environment where wars never end. The only way through and what was left to do was bearing witness.  Let me tell you bearing is the most difficult single act of humanity that ties your hands behind your back as you brave the elements.

Yet, something happens to you when you are without money in the pockets, or huge backers, as one lone middle-aged female (me) facing an aftermath of a hideous vicious war. I continue to swim in the archaeologies of memories of women’s first person stories streaming into the female collective communal gatherings.

Slavs have a kinship with the trees and often metaphors detail a complex but simple archetypes.  My sense and understanding about bearing witness assumes the posture of trees rooted to one spot all their lives.  When the trees fall to the earth, their decaying mass transmigration into the new saplings must be an immense relief for the tree after being in one posture for perhaps hundreds of years.  Often the fall to the ground, the tree is shattered and torn much like the Bosnian women survivors.  But, when I bore witness to the fallen trees I saw how the trees’ energy given while alive leaves behind the flesh filled tree rings of recorded life. The tree rings are a nurse log of life experiences-stories.

In my bearing witness to their first person woman stories, herstories, the tree rings shaped like the kolo (s) nurse life in the present moment and future generations.   I am talking about the vast resources found in epigenetic processes that shape our genome from how each of us live our lives, what we eat and grow, how we play and dance right down to every decision and choice we make.

I am defining transmigration as the sacred pilgrimage and sometimes referred to as rebirth, metempsychosis/regeneration. This in Orphic doctrine is noted as the symbology of a thunderbolt or meteoric stone. [2]  Bearing witness and hearing first person stories are thunderbolts and meteoric stones thrown into your being and consciousness.

By bearing witness female solidarity is threaded into our beings with other women, we discover how effortlessly it is to bear witness and that it was not a struggle but huge important work that heals trauma.  Yes, the thunderbolt and meteoric stones can be thrown at us with the stories loaded with pain and often filling us with terror.

One Novi Travnik young woman told me a story of another young woman who lost her parents and did not know her grandparents either since they died long before the war.  Engineering or some technical field was the Bosnian young woman’s major course of study.

With the siege in Novi Travnik by snipers taking up locations in the surrounding heavily treed hills, going to the market meant a ten second dash and spurts of diving for cover.  Many were killed on their way to the market and even as they stayed hidden in their flats or homes away from windows where sniper bullets would lethally intrude.

However, this young Bosnian woman was able to get out and had forays into the mountain slopes for herbs, plants and berries if available.   Whatever she brought back she shared with others in the Apartment building.  She saved many lives from starving. After the war, an elder woman from another village, who knew her great grandmother, went to her.  The elder woman told her how proud her great grandmother would be that she followed in her footsteps for knowing the plants, herbs and mushrooms.

The mysteries deepen, as this young woman had no interest in botany let alone the idea of botany as a study. When I stayed with her for the night in a shell of once a stately home so cold I slept with my boots and coat on, she made me tea from her hand-picked store of herbs.   The tea was something she learned to do during the Balkan War. My curiosity about this the running storyline from her great grandparents both of which did not survive WWI in their great granddaughter propelled me to ask many questions. She told me she felt guided to pick the mushrooms and plants.  I asked how did she know which mushroom was poisonous or not.   She said she still does not know which are poisonous because she only picks the good ones.

I thought this was exactly how transmigration of wisdom occurs which is especially heightened during times of trauma and the need to survive.  I ended the interview with questions, ‘what is transmigration of souls like when we are not surviving violence and wars?  What is transmigration in times of strength, bonding with all of life and in female solidarity?’

I have only to look at my mother’s survival of a WWII concentration camp in contrast to the prehistoric “Old Europe” (6500 – 1450 BCE) civilization of the Goddess[3] to see how our bodies and genomic multi-nodal learning capacities genetically encode our intuitive ways we behave and respond to life’s circumstances to seed life.  What I saw in my research of Old Europe was how women created culture with no violence and wars in times of strength.   This art form is not dead.  Women simply need to re-member their lives through every single act of daily life and every choice.


See Danica Anderson’s Kolo supporting books here.

Meet Mago Contributor, Danica Anderson.


[1] Graves, R. (2013). The white goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth. Macmillan. 282

[2] ibid., 283

[3] Gimbutas, M., & Gimbutas, M. A. (1991). The civilization of the Goddess: The world of Old Europe. Harper San Francisco.

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I agree -witnessing trauma is the hardest choice we make – but the most heroic one.