The Importance of Maintaining a Healthy Level of Skepticism
There is a very fine line between magic and madness. Some who follow this crooked path believe they go hand in hand and you can’t have one without the other, but I say that is an unhealthy view point. For magic to work, it is best to be a sane functional human being grounded in this world. That is what I was taught. Too often sanity is thrown without caution into the gutter and people run head first into madness not even thinking for a second of the consequences. So, let’s go over the consequences, shall we?
Mental Illness in the Pagan Community
Mental illness still carries a taboo in Western society. We don’t want to talk about it, we don’t want to see it, we don’t want to admit we are affected by it – we just want to hide it under a rug and forget about it. Almost everyone in the Pagan community has suffered from a mental illness at some point in their life because 20% of the general population (in Canada) has had mental health problems during their lifetime. If I use my fingers to count all my Pagan friends who have suffered from depression or bipolar disorder alone I would quickly fill up both hands and need to move on to my toes. The majority of them sought help and took the steps necessary to reach a level of mental health they were happy with. There were also a few that spiraled down in the other direction who refused to admit they had a problem and lost everything and everyone they loved because of it.
Sometimes the (online and physical) Pagan Community is too accepting and accommodating of everyone’s own personal level of crazy. Because we are on the fringe, many think we have to accept anyone who identifies as one of us and take them as they come. Sometimes we are too afraid to tell someone they are crazy (this is especially hard to do when the person in question is in a leadership role). After all, who is a Pagan (believing in many gods, spirits, and magic) to tell someone they’re nuts or are taking something too far? But when no one calls a stop or calls bullshit, then things do get taken too far and people with real mental illnesses end up being accepted as sane. This never ends well. Have you ever watched an untreated schizophrenic, bipolar, or someone with a delusional disorder try to run a group? I have and I can tell you it is not a pretty sight. If people believe them in the beginning, they certainly won’t by the end, and by then it’s too late to do the right thing in an amicable way. The mentally ill person will have a breakdown when they feel their delusions are being attacked. They will threaten and drive everyone away who questions them, sometimes even trying to physically hurt, verbally assault, or magically attack people they once treated as friends and family.
What can you do? Inform yourself about mental health. Maybe something you thought was normal actually isn’t and there is easy help for it. Admit to yourself that you have a problem if you are the one suffering from mental health issues and then seek professional help and guidance to deal head on with those issues. If it is someone else in your magical community, gently confront them about their issues, ask if they have sought help or if they plan to, and offer your support. Have online and local resources ready in case they do choose to accept help. If the person denies there is a problem and denies help then all you can do is walk away and leave it alone. Forced mental health treatment is an option for family members and professionals alone and is still considered on shaky ethical ground in the legal system. The bottom line is, if someone doesn’t want help, they don’t have to accept it. Respect the person’s decision either way.
I once met a wonderful and beautiful witchy woman who was beginning to show negative symptoms of schizophrenia like her mother before her. Me and all her friends, including one who also had a schizophrenic mother, offered to support and help her, but she became verbally violent and completely rejected the idea she could be mentally ill. We kept trying to support her as friends anyway, but she pushed us all away one by one and we had to let her go her own way as much as it hurt to do so.
Determining Your Own Reality & Sanity
You need to draw a line. I believe everyone needs a boundary line for what they consider sane and to agree with themselves that everything beyond that line will not be considered sane. The danger of believing everyone and everything is never finding out what you yourself believe and consider part of your reality. This can lead to one getting burned, getting hurt (don’t drink the kool-aid!), or becoming disillusioned and leaving the path all together out of bitterness. Sit down and decide where it stops for you – does it stop at conspiracy theories, apocalyptic prophesies, aliens? At what point do your hackles raise, doubts surface, and disbeliefs set in? Everyone has their own reality and it will not be the same as your own personal view of reality and sanity. That is why it is so important to find your own so people can not impose their reality upon you. Don’t ever let anyone bully you into validating their own sanity (or lack thereof).
I have met a Pagan man who thought he was the reincarnation of the last Japanese samurai. Good for him, but he felt it was his duty to inform everyone of this upon first meeting him as well as trying to convert everyone to his own twisted personal manifesto of life, the universe, and everything. With him I didn’t draw the line at reincarnation, I drew it at his crazed eyes and his need to make that fact the first thing everyone knew about him. Whether what he said was true or not, he took his beliefs to a place that was not sane in my reality. He wanted other people to treat him as special, but only succeeded in being ostracized by all the local Pagan groups who thought he had lost all of his marbles and then some.
I once met another middle-aged Pagan man who believed he shared his brain with the spirit of an ancient nineteen year old princess who was a priestess and could talk to aliens and relate the information back to him to tell the world. According to the aliens via the princess, the world is going to end and it is his duty to warn us. I drew the line when I realized he had taken the story from a video game and twisted it into a grand delusion he believed was real and not part of a game.
I once met a Pagan I thought was a woman, but who turned out to be a man who had been repeatedly turned down for sex change surgery due to mental health issues. They told me they were really a woman, but they weren’t really even a human being because they were really a cat. This person told me if I didn’t go out on a date with him/her, they would kill him/herself. I didn’t draw the line at gender identity or even at them being a possible reincarnation of a cat – I drew the line at their attempt to manipulate me and others with the threat of suicide.
I met a witchcraft teacher online who told me she was everything I wanted. She told me she had been a nurse, a teacher, and a foster mother. She told me she was in an active coven and a practicing witch in her community. I went to meet her and even ended up living with her for a short time. Nothing was as she had said. She genuinely believed every lie she told me, but none of it was true. She had deliberately surrounded herself with weak-minded people who wouldn’t question her so she would not have to face her issues. Her delusions had gotten to such a level that when I finally untangled her lies and confronted her, things ended very badly for both of us. I wrote of that experience here: Apprenticing with Baba Yaga.
Respecting Yourself and Others
belief 1. something believed; an opinion or conviction
I choose to believe what I see and what I experience for myself as well as what those I trust in truth and character have seen and experienced. I acknowledge others may have had different experiences. I don’t expect people to believe what I believe. Just because some people do, doesn’t change that I don’t expect it from them. I have had good and safe experiences for the most part, minus a few very bad and dangerous situations. I have had sane and grounded mentors who believe maintaining a healthy dose of skepticism about everything is important to keep you sane and grounded in the physical realm.
I respect other people’s reality and beliefs to a point. If they go too far and try to impose their own views upon me, start a war when I disagree with them, or inappropriately step on my territory, then my respect for them turns off and the finely sharpened sword comes out. I will defend myself if needed, but I’m not going to go out of my way to hurt that person especially not publicly, anonymously, or emotionally. I respect myself too much to lower myself. Respect yourself first and others second. Keep your priorities straight.
The Dangers of the Internet
The internet is not reality. It is a place much like the imagination. Anything is possible online if you desire it so, but it can all come crashing down and disappear too. You can be anyone and anything you want, but it doesn’t make it true in reality just because it is so on the web. Online you may be a powerful archpriestess who people bow and scrape to, but in reality you flip burgers at Wendy’s and bow and scrape to your greasy assistant manager.
Our modern Western culture lives so much within our minds obsessing about our individuality that the internet is a dangerous place where even mentally healthy people can fall victim to delusions and loose themselves to unreality. I remember back when I first started looking for witchcraft on the internet. I remember all the sites for “are you a vampire?” or “are you a fairy?” with their lists of signs that prove you are which actually describe every single teenager and insecure person out there who just wants to feel special and different from everyone else. Everyone wishes they were Harry Potter and to be pulled away from their mundane life to something special and magical. Feeding into these natural desires and insecurities has become an entire market on the internet. Role playing has become confused with reality.
Anonymity has caused people to run loose doing and saying things they would never say face to face with people and therefore consequences. The internet is a big city where the power just went out at night masking faces and everyone is running around looting, raping, and killing reality thinking no one will notice and no one can stop them.
Whether online or in real life, it is up to you and you alone to rely on your own ethics, your own sense of right and wrong, your own self-control, and for you to show the respect to people you desire from them in return. No one is going to hold your hand and do it for you on the Pagan path. This is not an organized religion with everything dictated to you by someone who you give the authority to determine what reality is. You have to set your own compass to navigate the world and the internet with. If you don’t stick to your morals and call out people who are acting unethically, then you can’t complain later when you and others get hurt because of inaction.
Owning Your Shit Online and in Real Life
A blog is one person’s soap box. It is their safe territory for expressing what they believe and experience in an environment within their control. If you don’t like what someone believes, then why waste your time reading their blog and getting upset over it? If things incite you, why dwell on them? Why let them needlessly fire you up? There will always be people and opinions who upset you. Just stop feeding them your attention and move on away from the drama. Don’t dwell. The same thing goes for different forums and online groups who share beliefs as well as different traditions and organizations in the real world. Hate all druids or just witches who wear crushed velvet robes? Why dwell on it and attack them? Find something you don’t hate instead.
If something really upsets you, ask yourself why? Did it make you feel threatened? Did it make you feel ashamed? Did it make you feel angry, hurt, sad? Why? Where did that feeling come from? Was it that an idea or opinion expressed threatened your view of reality? What past experiences, unconscious judgements, or issues of your own caused the reaction? Did you let the emotion override your capacity for rational thought and action? If you feel such things about a person, don’t try to respond to them while you are under the sway of your emotions. Deal with your issues yourself, don’t dwell on what or who upset you and made you aware of your issues.
There is a huge difference between just not liking someone and not liking someone for being crazy or unethical in some way. In the first instance you just need to own up to your dislike and move along, and in the second instance you might feel morally obligated to say or do something. But, once again, it’s all subjective to your own view of reality and your own moral compass. One person may think something is okay while another person thinks harm is being done by thinking it’s okay. Neither person is wrong and that is the paradox of being human. Life’s not fair and then you die. Did I mention not to dwell?
Own up to your own darkness in order to move ahead along the path. Own up to your own issues and don’t blame them on others. Know yourself and the rest will follow.
…and now back to your regularly scheduled programming on gardening, wild harvesting, mead making, and crafting. Oh, and comments will now be moderated forever more.