In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

Bitch-Slappin’ The Backward Face: Getting Real About Paganism And Mental Health

There are many Pagan polytheists who believe they have daily personal interactions with the Divinities they worship. It’s not unusual to hear someone talk about having a conversation with their Deities while they’re having breakfast or commuting to work, or actually having visions of their Deities while taking a shower or mowing the lawn. Some even claim they can hear their Divinities speak to them with human words and human voices. Is any of this real? Are we all just suffering from hallucinations, or are we in fact communicating with Higher Powers on a day-to-day basis?

It’s impossible to answer this question. It could be that we’re all really experiencing something truly paranormal; it could be that only some of us are and that others aren’t; or it could be that we’re all delusional and are simply interacting with “imaginary friends.” Granted, most other Westerners would probably vote for the latter option, but there’s no way to prove that either. We may never know the truth about the Gods, what They actually are or why we have the experiences with Them that we do; and while the outside world may not approve of such experiences, most of us have no interest in trying to get rid of them and are perfectly healthy and content.

Most of us.

I’ve seen some posts lately from people who believe they’ve been raped by certain Deities and who are still dealing with the trauma that was caused by this experience. I’ve heard stories of people being put into situations by Deities where they are made to suffer serious physical harm and mental anguish. These stories are truly disturbing and my heart goes out to those who believe they’ve actually suffered such horrific events. But here’s my thing: as a polytheist, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that your experiences aren’t real. For all anyone really knows, they could be. But I am going to tell you that just like people who are traumatized by other flesh-and-blood human beings, you need help. And I’m not just talking about lighting candles, making offerings, casting spells or praying to other Deities. I’m talking about going to a doctor and seeking mental help.

I realize how that probably sounds; you probably think I’m dismissing your experiences as “crazy talk.” No, I’m not. I don’t always believe everything other polytheists tell me, because let’s face it; some people really are out of touch with reality, and some folks really are just liars. But if you are actually suffering a real, observable trauma from something you’ve experienced that you truly think was paranormal, then I don’t give one shit if it was objectively “real” or not; that simply doesn’t matter. The only thing that does matter to me is that you really are suffering and that you need help. More specifically, you need the kind of help that religion cannot possibly give you.

That’s an unpopular opinion among Pagans; many of us seem to think that when we have problems, we should just cast some spells or say some prayers and they’ll go away. (And then – when the problems don’t go away – it’s supposedly the individual’s fault for not having enough faith or not being strong enough or not doing their spells right…which is absolute horseshit.) But if you fall down a flight of stairs or accidentally swallow rat poison, whom would you call? 911, or your local palm reader? You’d call 911 of course. When our bodies are broken and bleeding, no amount of praying is going to save us. And the very same principle applies to our minds, because our minds are as much a part of our bodies as our skin and bones. When your mind is broken and bleeding, no religion on Earth – not Paganism, not Christianity, not Buddhism nor Shinto – is going to fix it. Religion can be very helpful; it can give you hope and a way of finding meaning in your life. But praying to a God won’t mend broken bones, and it won’t mend a broken mind either.

I also realize that some people are very nervous about talking to mental health specialists about their experiences; they think they’ll be treated poorly simply for being believers in the first place. But here’s the thing: psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and therapists are actually very respectful of religion. They have to be, because they recognize its potential usefulness in promoting good mental health. If you start seeing a therapist and tell her about the time when you were raped by a Deity, she’s not going to treat you like you’re a freak. She’s not going to laugh at you or call you crazy or stupid. She’s going to treat what you’ve experienced as a real event and she’s going to help you find a way of dealing with it. No, she might not believe that what you’ve experienced is 100% objectively real; but you can’t really fault her for that, and she doesn’t need to believe it to do her job. She’s not going to try and “convert” you to atheism or materialism, either. She’s going to help you find the healthiest and most effective way for you to cope with your problems; and if for some reason she doesn’t, that is her own failing. It doesn’t mean you should give up on seeking help altogether; it just means that therapist is not right for you and that you should look for someone else.

I see a therapist whenever I need to, and she has been really helpful to me. I too was slightly worried about being judged for my religion when I first started looking for help, but here’s what I did: I looked online and found a local specialist who’s Chinese and who comes from a culture that isn’t dominated by white American Protestantism. At our first session, I asked her if she’d mind telling me what her religious upbringing was – not “What’s your religion?”, mind you, but what her parents raised her to be – and it turned out to be a combination of Buddhism and Chinese folk religion. Well that worked out just great, because she also knew what it was like to feel marginalized by our predominantly Christian culture (perhaps even more so than I). I therefore didn’t have to worry about her judging me for my faith, because to her it was just another animist/polytheist religion like the one she’d grown up with. The idea of believing in many Gods or interacting with Them personally was not unusual to her at all. So if you feel that you’d like to start seeing a therapist, I’d encourage you to look for someone who comes from a similar cultural background.

Again, just because someone is a polytheist doesn’t mean I have to accept everything they claim to experience as being true. I hear all kinds of things that make me go, “Nope, not believing that!” (And you know what? We have every right to be skeptical about each other’s experiences; it would just help if we could all be a little more politic about it. There’s a difference between being skeptical of something and being a completely dismissive prick.) But every now and again, I hear a truly disturbing claim that I don’t want to believe…but which appears to have had observable traumatic consequences. We need to get past arguing whether such claims are objectively real or delusional; we need to cut right through the bull and right to the bone. The real issue here is whether people who are suffering from such horrors are seeking and/or getting the proper medical and therapeutic help they need. And a big part of that problem has to do with how we as Pagans treat such people. We need to do the responsible thing and treat their problems seriously, and we need to encourage them to seek proper help. Dismissing their problems as fantasy and treating their need for mental help as a moral weakness isn’t just foolish and irresponsible; it’s also purely and simply evil.

(In my belief, it’s exactly what Apophis wants us to do to each other in this case…It’s just one more thing the Backward Face uses to try and engineer the dissolution of every human soul. I say we put that son of a bitch back in its proper place and start getting right with Ma’at when it comes to how we treat our brothers and sisters in the Gods. How about you?)

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8 responses to “Bitch-Slappin’ The Backward Face: Getting Real About Paganism And Mental Health

  1. satanicviews August 18, 2015 at 6:27 am

    Entities are aspects of nature, they in of themselves are not malicious, but will manifest themselves in the same way as anything in nature, following their natures. A fire for instance provides heat, but it can also burn the unwary. Entities such as the Black Shucks, which move on the roads between places, can protect and guide the traveler, but they are also wild creatures of nature that if you build a house over an ancient forgotten road that they oversee, they will cause problems to the inhabitants in the house.

    Often the demons of the mentally ill are aspects of themselves.

    Like

    • G. B. Marian August 19, 2015 at 6:29 am

      This is very true. In many cases, the entities that cause trouble are simply following their natural way, like animals that cause trouble for us when we infringe upon their natural territory. In many other cases, the entities are really just our own personal demons that are bubbling to the surface. I do believe there are some cases where the entities in question are not only distinct from the self but are also insane and/or completely corrupt, and which behave like human serial predators. But at the end of the day, this is all academic; the actual explanation for what a person may be experiencing is less important than the observable effects thereof and the treatment option that’s chosen to deal with it. If a person thinks they’ve been raped by a spirit, and if they are actually exhibiting real psychological trauma from this event (whether it really happened or not), they should be encouraged to seek the same kind of help a rape victim would be encouraged to seek (or the closest equivalent). I find the occult community’s tendency to either dismiss such trauma or “handle it all with magic” to be just as irresponsible and potentially harmful as sending people in wheelchairs to Christian faith healers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. journeymaid August 18, 2015 at 8:37 am

    Yes, yes and yes. Now, I know I personally would never dare explain something like… being raped by a Deity… to a psychiatrist. I know too well that while the person would try to help me, and wouldn’t openly say that my experiences and my faith is wrong, the person still would think that it’s all just in my head and I’m probably hallucinating. I couldn’t relax in that situation. But then, there is also the possibility that I might actually be hallucinating! How do we know? That some experiences are true doesn’t mean all are. That some can communicate with Gods doesn’t mean all can. And besides, what is mental illness, really? It’s far more complex than just being “crazy”. And at that point where a person is suffering what matters most isn’t really debating religious questions, the important part is helping the person through it. And while one person perhaps actually has been abused by a Deity, nine others might actually not be – and those people need to get psychiatric help! How can we tell one from the other? We can’t. We really can’t. Especially not via the internet. >.> Not to mention the fact that that one person who HAS been abused by a deity probably needs psychiatric help TOO. Ah… it really is a complicateed mess. A terribly, terribly complicated mess.

    Oh dear, this was a very unstructured comment. I hope it made at least a bit of sense. Thank you for a very good blog post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • G. B. Marian August 19, 2015 at 7:28 am

      Thank you! And I agree; if I believed I’d been raped by something paranormal, it would be very difficult for me to talk about it with a mental health specialist as well. (It’s already hard enough for rape victims to discuss their experiences with anyone in general.) But as you said, it could be that such an experience really is a delusion, a symptom of mental illness; and if it is, religion isn’t going to make it go away (or at least, not all by itself). I think we here in the Pagan community really need to do a better job of facing up to mental illness; it’s good that we accept each other’s spiritual experiences as valid (even if we don’t always agree on just how they might be valid), but when those experiences are having bad or unhealthy effects on us, we need to use the appropriate tools for dealing with them. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I feel like Pagan leaders aren’t doing a good enough job of encouraging this.

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  3. trellia August 18, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Great post! I completely agree. Mysterious things can happen to those following a spiritual path, and one may never know for certain whether they are the result of psychology or the supernatural. But if such experiences are detrimental to your well-being, then absolutely you should be seeking mental help, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of – it means that you’re actually wise and brave enough to confront the issue. It can be extremely hard to try and tell a fellow Pagan, or indeed any other friend or relative, that you are concerned about their mental health; society still places big taboos on talking about such things.

    Like

    • G. B. Marian August 19, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Yes, there are still plenty of stigmas against mental illness and seeking mental help. When will people realize that this subject shouldn’t be treated any differently than seeing a doctor for a physical illness? Of course, physical and mental health are slighty different in certain ways; but the general principle remains the same. Your body gets injured or sick, you see a doctor; your mind gets injured or sick, you see a doctor. Some mental illnesses can’t be cured or fixed, but then again the same is true of some physical illnesses as well. But you still go to a doctor and seek treatment even if you have terminal cancer, and the same principle should be applied if one has a chronic mental condition as well. For Gods’ sakes, I just don’t get why people continue to have trouble understanding this; it ain’t rocket science, now!

      But in any case, thank you for liking this post. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. katakhanas August 18, 2015 at 11:18 am

    We need to be having more of these types of discussions in our communities. I’ve been in therapy for a little over a year now and I am very cautious about what I choose to share regarding my religious experiences with my therapist, who is a staunch atheist. The couple of times I’ve broached topics related to my history of involvement in Chicago’s Pagan scene or what goes on in my Ifa house, for example, I incurred a maelstrom of condescension from her. So now we just stick to talking about ways I can mitigate my job stress–without saying the G-word. In contrast, when I lived in Hawaii, my Wasband and I had the best marriage counselor ever. She totally reminded me of Yoda (old, wise, and very tiny, but super fierce and Force-full!), and her spiritual background was much more compatible with mine as she practiced indigenous Hawaiian beliefs/animism combined with Zen Buddhism. She was keenly interested in my religious life and metaphysical beliefs and she even accepted Tarot card readings from me as payment!

    As far as ever coming to epistemologically determine where our minds leave off and where the Gods begin, all I can do is quote a line from one of my favorite books as a child (“The Witches of Worm” by Zilpha Keatley Snyder): “Belief in Mysteries, all manner of Mysteries, is the only lasting luxury in life.”

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    • G. B. Marian August 19, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Man, I wonder how many other religious clients your therapist sees; I figure there has to be a few others at least. I’m sure you have your reasons for staying with her (and please don’t feel that you have to share them), but if they’re purely secular, I can see how the religious disagreement wouldn’t matter. Yet there are situations in which people might be unhappy with their therapists while also feeling like they can’t see another one for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s an issue of having to build up trust with a stranger all over again, which I know from experience can be very disheartening, stressful and even scary. But I just want people to know that trying other therapists is always an option and that everyone has a right to work with someone who makes them feel comfortable. I don’t want anyone to feel like if they have a therapist who is judgmental toward their beliefs, well they should either live with it or give up on therapy altogether. There’s all kinds of therapists out there and sometimes it might take a couple of tries before someone can find the right one.

      Like

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