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Just when you think you’re done and over with a blog, with a lifestyle, something grabs your attention and makes you swing back over for one last hurrah. A last time for everything, and this will be the last time.

So, I’ve been seeing a ton of posts lately on other blogs (I won’t quote or point them out since I still don’t like being a jerk) that talk about how magick and Christianity really mix well, how Christianity is naturally magickal in many of its forms and there is no reason why you can’t be a good Christian and practice magick.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call bullshit.

Hey, I used to do something like this! (The Witch of Endor)

We can talk theory, we can talk how philosophies and religious practices have mixed and mingled over centuries (and they have: I’d be a moron not to acknowledge that pagan and Jewish religious practices did not inform my own religion and that my own religion could not have gotten where it is today without them), we can talk about how SO MUCH magick comes from Christianity or Christian authors. Enochian is a good example. A lot of the grimoires is another. I know there’s a Pope or two who authored some magickal texts and of course EVERYONE and his mother has heard of Simon Magus.

And then, of course, Christianity has a plethora of folk traditions that are witchcrafty or sorcerous in nature, as well as African Tribal Religions such as Voodoo, Santeria and Palo Mayombe which have mixed with Catholic elements from back when slaves were being brought to the various places in the Americas.

So, you know, I suppose it is POSSIBLE that you can be a magician and a Christian.

Can you be a GOOD Christian and a magician? Not so much.

(Simon Magus is trying to get St. Peter to charge a cover fee.)

I’m not getting into the Bible. I’m not getting into any of that. You can look up what the Bible says and argue interpretation with someone else. I’ve had enough Bible study in my day to hold my own but I do NOT have the energy tonight. Look up the Witch of Endor. Look up Simon Magus.

My main point is simple mechanics.

You’ve noticed by now that I keep saying “my religion”. Yes, much to my shock, have fully returned to the Roman Catholic Church. I couldn’t be happier, to tell you the truth. But one of the things that struck me strongly about my renewed faith was just that…FAITH. There are a lot of people claiming that Christianity is theurgy is magick…but theurgy by magick and a mystery worked by faith have different mechanics and while they may seem similar, are honestly two different things.

When you are a magician, you’re focusing on your own will and your own building up, correct? I mean, in theurgia, I remember always hearing about becoming the god that you are, a little god, and building up your own will so that it can lift you up from the state that you’re in and elevate you. When you are trying to reach the gods through theurgy, you are doing so through your own, or a co-operative will.  I will use the OTO’s Gnostic Mass as an example: when you consecrate the “hosts” in the Gnostic “Mass”, you use your will in drawing down whatever God (Hadit, Nuit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, I’ve heard of others) to empower what you use. It tends to be an active process. (The ECG priest I live with attests to this, but also says it can vary.)

The Catholic Eucharistic Host

Christian mysticism and its esoteric mechanics are exactly the opposite of that. Their mysteries work via negation of the self and faith in God’s Love for man, which will move Him to see to our needs. The focus is upon doing the Will of God and being as an empty chalice for Him to fill. You may direct the power as his mortal emissary (say, as a priest), but this power is not yours- it belongs to God. When the priest seeks to consecrate the Host for communion, he doesn’t use his own power- God acts through Him and the Host is consecrated because God wills it to be so. The process is passive and cooperative.

This is kind of the lynch-pin for why magick and Christianity don’t really work well. Christianity already has it’s own esoteric practice, and it is based in mysticism: its goals are the negation of the self, union with God. The Christian seeks to empty themselves of them self to make room for the Presence of the Beloved, and does not resort to using magick since faith in the Beloved is enough- the sweet and the bitter. All actions done by the esoteric or mystically inclined Christian are done as a matter of faith, not will. Magick, by its nature, is based on the will and with the self as a focal point. This is true whether or not you’re conjuring a goetic demon to get help with whatever temporal matter you want help with, or wither you’re using theurgy to reach a certain god for assistance or henosis. And, well, from what I remember of my theurgy days, as well as my days in other magickal traditions, one of the primary goals is to become a “little god”. You know, what is that weird biblical saying that I kept repeating to myself three months ago? OH YEAH!

The first commandment. THOU SHALT NOT HAVE OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.

That doesn’t only speak to pagan gods, you know. It speaks to money, power, love, lust, temporal matters. It speaks to spiritual and emotional and mental things like wisdom, knowledge, etc.

It also speaks to taking ourselves as a god. Kind of a violation of the first commandment and a bad, bad mortal sin.

The Ecstacy of St. Teresa…she thought that God had the God-thing down and didn’t need her help. Nope.

If you want to call Christianity “theurgy”, you’re not that far off the mark…but understand it is a theurgy (or rather “mystery”) by FAITH, and not MAGICK. Very different. One of the articles I read explicating Christianity as Theurgy and Christ as the Initiator was very well done. I didn’t agree, but the guy has some serious intellectual chops.

Anyway…

With Christian mysticism, you ascend to God according to His Will…Who thankfully wants you there enough to do the heavy lifting. No need for Neo-Platonic world maps, no need for understanding the song of the sirens afixed to their wheels, no need even for candles, books, or words. No need for your own will. It’s really, in the end, between you and God, and how much you’re willing to trust.

Disclaimer: I am not saying pagans are bad (that would make me a hypocrite and an asshole), I am not saying magicians are bad and while I’m vehemently saying why I don’t and will never agree with Christian Magicians, those of you who are? Your business. Not mine. Jesus also said something very important about how it really sucks to judge other people. And while I am stating my opinion here (being a new Christian and a former magician, it kind of hit me close to home), I have not called you out since I didn’t want to bring any grief to you. (Or potentially. Whatever.)

So there you have it. Here’s 10 cents- my 2 cents is free.

And I promise, this *IS* the last entry before total shut down.

There comes a time when you have to recognize that your spiritual path has diverged from it’s original direction enough, that some things won’t be shared (at least for a long time) and can’t be shared with a previous audience. It’s times like that you have to retire the old forms and embrace the new, to strike out in a such a new direction that everything you’ve done before it wiped away, everything like a blank page, everything is clean and new again- and least for you and the God you worship.

Set yourselves on fire with prayer, with devotion, with the love of your God. Never turn away, never give up and never take no for an answer when you get a glimpse of the thing you’ve been dying for. Don’t stop until it lives in you and you live in it, inseparable.

For news on the Demeter devotional, please check with Neos Alexandria.


Persephone, by Patricia Ariel

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Continue Reading »


A Little Kindness, by voodooxfishy

First, I’d like to dedicate this post to Dorothy L. Wood, whom I knew to be talented, enthusiastic, kind and despite her troubles, a truly mystically-inclined person.

WOOD Dorothy Lyn Wood was born May 24, 1985.
She was a beautiful and unique woman.
Dorothy was a talented artist, and free spirit. She was empathetic, loving and bright. She had a passion for nature and travel. She was loved by many, and will be deeply missed.

This was originally going to be part 5 of my series, but following the death of one of the contributors to the Persephone devotional, I decided to bump it up to edition #4. There is a huge deficit in the pagan and magickal communities on how to deal with mental illness, and I think one of the areas of focus of these groups as New Religious Movements (NMRs) should be some kind of “pastoral” training on sensitivity to and how to handle mental illness. There are a great many people who struggle with mental illness, but are able to keep it under some control. There are a lesser amount of people who need constant or frequent supervision-those who live in residential communities or are under hospitalization, for example (hospitalization, I might add, being a short-term solution). There is a large amount of people, also, that fall in between…who have severe and persistent mental illnesses, who have a lot to give and contribute magickally and religiously, who need to be able to count on their support group (which may include the coven, group, etc.) for help when necessary. Seeing an episode in full swing, without warning, can make support difficult to grant due to the extremes of emotions that are provoked on all sides.

There is A LOT that goes into episodes of any kind. Using my own example, I was simply AWFUL for about three years because of misdiagnoses (major depressive disorder and anxiety rather than PTSD and Bipolar I disorder…kind of a huge difference, there), taking the wrong medication (I was on Lexapro for depression which contributed to delusional mania, as SSRIs are found to do), shoddy medical care (a doctor who insisted I keep taking the Lexapro despite the obvious contribution it made to my mania), a substance abuse problem (drinking too much certainly didn’t help) and various stressors I won’t bore you with. It took two and a half years, a harsh wake-up call, an accurate diagnosis, kicking my substance abuse problem and a hospitalization to get the correct medication to straighten me out.

I was lucky to be able to get any of this- there are those who are unable, either because they don’t know how to get this help, or don’t realize that they are ill and need help, or they are simply too overwhelmed by their illness and don’t know how to find a way out of it without intense intervention. There are those who are continually marginalized and screwed by the system, written off  as “undesirables” or seen by the medical community (that’s supposed to treat them) as just another paycheck.

Some people can’t get out of it, and it is in no way their fault- there are severe enough versions of various mental illnesses that some people will be disabled by it all their lives. The structure of their brain, the imbalanced chemical components, the complicated neural wiring or the trauma they’ve experienced can be life-crippling.

Those who are mentally ill don’t always see it. It’s common to deny, ignore or just accept the way you feel as normal, perhaps because of the stigma associated with mental illness can feel so overwhelmingly burdensome or because you’re so used to feeling that way, you sincerely believe it to be normal. It took me an internet search about bipolar disorder and the movie “Mr. Jones” to realize, “Wait a minute…this is really familiar…” This was around late 2007. I had accepted it as reality by the time I went to be screened for it- however, the PTSD diagnosis came out of left field for me. Not so for everyone who knew me, who had known me for years… and reminded me of the things that I had been doing that supported the diagnosis- nightmares, obsessive thoughts of revenge, reliving the events, etc. It’s a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees- you’re in the middle of it. You deal with it, you become inured to it, and since you are dead smack in the center, you have no idea how big the problem is or even if there’s something outside the forest- hypothetical meadows where you can see clearly, for instance.

Now…imagine dealing with all this as a member of lodge, coven, house or online group. Imagine trying to run a lodge, a coven or a group of someone kind and someone starts exhibiting some obviously maladaptive behaviors. I *imagine* (know) that it can be overwhelming for everyone involved, depending on the illness and how it manifests.

Group Dynamics in Pagan/Magickal Groups and Mental Illness

I want to illustrate a couple of examples regarding the way I’ve seen mental illness handled in groups, real life stuff.

Example: Healthy Dynamic

A group I was in had one of its “important” members suddenly afflicted with a severe psychotic episode. I am not going into details about the event because I don’t want to cause said person any embarrassment should they come across my blog. Needless to say, there were emotional and financial concerns, as well as practical concerns as to the running of the group.

Everyone stepped up to the plate, at least those who knew of the events, and offered support in whatever way they could. The person in question was allowed to step down from the position without recrimination and a new person was put in their place. Members of the group checked in with said person as best they could, or minded their own business. There was no ridicule, there was no judging or blame, and the person was welcome and as far as I know is still welcome at other events as they wish to attend. Financial issues were cleared without finger-pointing, jeering or pitying shakes of the head.

That’s it. End of story. Boundaries were respected, this person’s feelings taken into strong import and support offered as it was appropriate. It was as simple as that.

Example: Unhealthy Dynamic

And of course, for those of you brave enough to slog through my post on bullying (part 1…there will be other installments), this will be a familiar story. There was a group I was involved in where a member had bipolar disorder. His behavior was erratic and troublesome, but he did not deserve the manipulation, ridicule and jokes aimed either behind his back or to his face.

I remember him always being slighted by members of the group. Rather than being gently told that he needed to take care of himself or to take a break from the group, he was “dressed down” in front of others and encouraged to drink heavily at group events, even with his current medications (the combination of alcohol and meds would eventually cause him to have seizures).

And, you may remember me mentioning that he had tried to commit suicide. And you may also remember that the group “leaders” decision after this event was to ridicule him, and “strip him of his attainment” (his rank within the group) since in their minds it was no more than he deserved. After the group split up, he left the state and I am unclear as to what became of him.

The person in question, ill or not, is responsible for his own actions, absolutely. He hurt others with his behavior and he probably needed alone time and further treatment before being healthy enough to participate in a group. However, he STILL did not deserve the utter cruelty of those he was trying to lean on for support, who in turn encouraged his dependence- it should have been the leaders, as caretakers of the group, to encourage him to care for himself, offer him support or tell him to leave the group until he was recovered enough to participate.

It’s not hard to see the distinction.

I won’t lie- mental illness can cause disruption in group settings, especially during intense magick or mysticism if an episode is present or about to occur. But so can interpersonal dynamics such as failed relationships within a group, bullying or other things that are common. Sometimes, I think wherever there is human interaction there will also always be drama and disruption- Eris will find an opportunity to fling an apple and we’ll all prove ourselves flawed fighting over it. Mental illness is not the only cause of group disruptions or even the worst of them.

The disruption that active episodes can cause can be mitigated by understanding and right action, compassion mixed with pragmatism. In some cases, the person in question may have to leave the group for a short time, or permanently, or perhaps not- it really depends on how the situation is handled and how it all affects the group as a whole. As we can see from the two examples above, acting with kind efficiency leads to a cleaner, more satisfying result for all involved than cruelty.
Seeing someone have an episode can be confusing, disconcerting, annoying, worrying or even frightening- especially if no one understands quite what is going on.  The person who is experiencing the episode is perceiving and feeling things markedly different from the way everyone else is. A person’s reactions may be deemed extreme when to them, they are acting reasonably…or are partially aware that they are episodic…or, in the cases of many highly-functioning mentally ill folk, they are aware they are in an episode and still cannot stop themselves from feeling as they do, though they control themselves as best as they can.
There are those who will say that getting over a mental illness is just a matter taking responsibility for what you do and not engaging in maladaptive behaviors anymore. IT IS NOT THIS SIMPLE. Taking personal responsibility is only the beginning of what could be a life-long struggle, and depends on so much more than just what a person can control in their lives. There are many examples… Not everyone with PTSD can avoid triggers. Not everyone with depression can just “buck up”. No one with schizophrenia can just stop having psychotic episodes because they don’t want to do it anymore. Not everyone with bipolar disorder can just calm down. Not everyone with mental illness can be so vigilant that we avoid episodes or triggers all of the time, and there are times when we can do everything right and it’ll creep up on us anyway. It is difficult to treat and cure pathological conditions that occur in the brain. While there are many who will disagree with me (and this is fine), given my own study of how mental illness effects the brain (remember my references to brain structure, neural pathways and chemicals?) or rather how structural and chemical differences in the brain can alter behavior, I am of the school of thought that mental illness is a brain disease, an illness that is and is not an illness like any other. I’ll get more into that in part 5, which will talk about divine madness, mental illness and spiritual emergency. Nevertheless, like any other chronic condition, those who are afflicted with it learn to live with it and learn to manage it to the best of their ability.

While the illness does not define you, it’s a part of you that you live with as long as it is active. When a person is in treatment and they are medication compliant and they still sometimes experience epsiodes, do you know what the mental health community calls this? Normal. These lighter instances of mental illness are called “breakthrough episodes” and commonly happen at times of stress, good or bad, even as the person is taking medication.

This is a point that needs to be kept in mind when dealing with people in pagan or magickal groups who are mentally ill. They do not deserve recrimination, or even pity. They deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, yet also with firmness where necessary. We don’t blame the person who develops diabetes, thyroid disorder, cancer or epilepsy (and two of those can cause similar changes in behavior)…why blame someone for being mentally ill?

Mental Illness and Online Pagan Communities

The internet is perhaps one of the most visible ways mental illness plays out in the pagan and magickal communities. It offers the mentally ill individual the power to express themselves, for good or for ill, and give voice to their distress, their delusions, or anything else. While being heard can have the potential to be healing for the individual, being heard in that state by the internet…not so much. People on the internet are very quick to attack, to humiliate, to judge without knowledge of the situation…even well-meaning folk. So-called friends may take from locked posts and “spread the word”, mentally ill folk may be called out on blogs, online communities or even YouTube (yes, I’ve seen YouTube) and their own blogs are often lobbed with ridicule. Further, there isn’t as much opportunity as there is in face-to-face magickal and pagan groups to SEE the person outside of a post fueled by depression, manic or schizophrenic delusion, or PTSD/Borderline rage. There isn’t as much opportunity for the mentally ill individual to “prove their worth” to the group, so to speak, to be known outside of their illness, or even at times to be seen as more than a post on a computer screen.

And yet…I can understand the alarm others may feel. Dealing with those who are mentally ill online (especially if you don’t know the person, especially if you’ve never seen them at their best, especially if the person is talking about things YOU hold sacred, especially if the person’s behavior is frightening or what we consider blasphemous)…it can be difficult to know how to act. We have a right to disagree with someone and call “bullshit” on charlatans, phonies and attention-seekers, so long as we aren’t cruel in how we do it. We have a right to call ideas into discussion and, if we ourselves are targeted by people stridently stepping on our toes, we have a right to tell them to back off.

This is all well and good under the usual circumstances. However, in the instance of the mentally ill person interacting dysfunctionally with the online pagan community, it will only create a cycle of distress on both ends. Remember what I said in part 2 of this series about “sense of noesis”, something mystical experience and psychosis have in common- the sense of being let in on an important, wonderful secret that brings with it a sense of ecstatic joy or terror. A part of this is the desire to share these things with others and one of the key differences often lies in how the information is shared, as well as other characteristics of the information. “The quality of the psychotic, however, is that no amount of evidence to the contrary [of what he or she believes] will convince him.”

So, imagine it: The mentally ill person, in the grip of a delusion which makes them feel incredibly ecstatic or frightened, feels that they are obligated by some duty or driven by some fear to air some of their deeply seated, but wrongly held, beliefs. And they figure, online! Everyone will see it there! And everyone does. Those who may not quite understand what’s going on see the post, and think, “WTF is this, who does this person think they are?” They argue back, trying to call the person out for what they see as offensive, blasphemous, etc. The person is thrown into deeper distress (potentially providing a trigger for further behavior) and stridently argues that YES, this is really happening, and they are completely sincere in their belief. Arguments ensue: the mentally ill individual may attack those who don’t believe them online, calling them out, or may stridently insist in further posts on blogs, community forums and email lists that what they are experiencing is real, which further inflames those who see it. The cycle continues until the mentally ill person’s episode passes or those online get tired of arguing the point.

Some may address the issue without calling attention to the person in question- addressing a general trend rather than pinpointing one source. This is fair. These people may be targeted anyway for respectful disagreement or the post in question… attempting to spare the mentally ill person humiliation while addressing the overall scope of the relevant problem may still lead to being called out by said person anyway. There may be threats. There may be demands for recognition. There may be justifications for beliefs and behaviors, there may just be a plea to be understood. The mentally ill person will still feel targeted, wither or not they are right or wrong.

Everyone, in all groups, is doing their best as they see it. What do you do?

A quick note… there are the ones who just find it funny or expedient to make fun of those who are mentally ill or use their distress to make themselves seem wiser in comparison. Who snicker, laugh and deride the person for the pain they are honestly going through. These are trolls and cyber-bullies, have no excuse for their behavior and I’ll be dealing with that in another post.  But for the record: those guys are fucktards.

Another note…there are also those who are obviously just seeking attention and will do anything to get it. Ignore them, avoid them, and if they’re disruptive, ban them from your group or forum. There are also those who are young or very new and may *seem* ill when they ask questions like, “When am I going to learn to shoot fireballs?” (No, really, I’ve heard this one.) Give them a break. If you can’t do that, ignore them. If you don’t want to deal with them, respectfully send them on their way with reputable resources. They’ll probably remember you well for it if they take something valuable from your interaction.
That being said…

Generally…

Be educated about mental illness and learn to recognize the signs.

Know that a mentally ill person truly cannot help what they going through and if they can control it, they can only control it in varying degrees.  Know that mental illness is an illness just like cancer (yeah, cancer), just like diabetes or just like any other serious or potentially serious, chronic disorder. Know that sometimes, mental illness can be cured (in cases of social anxiety, etc.) or that it can go into remission (for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.) Know that mental illness can be worked with, worked around and in most cases is very, very treatable. Know your limits and needs, and that of the group. Know the person in question also has limits and needs.

And know what you’re looking at! No book or class will prepare you to make an accurate diagnosis on anyone (nor would I encourage you to do so unless you’re a trained professional in an appropriate setting), but being knowledgeable about mental illness and how it manifests would go a long way to helping everyone involved reach some sort of satisfactory consensus, with the least amount of drama and pain as possible.

Below are links to common mental illnesses that I and others have noticed in the pagan community. As mentioned, PLEASE do not use these to diagnose or fling at people simply because their disagreement with you has left you butt-hurt. Use these as educational tools….cheesy educational tools.

Depression

Bipolar Disorder- A Manic Episode

Borderline Personality Disorder

Histrionic Personality Disorder

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Schizophrenia (a child’s diagnosis)

Schizophrenia (an adult)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Often, the symptoms of the various illnesses can mimic the others. So yeah, don’t diagnose others…just know what you’re likely looking at.

Be compassionate, but be practical.

Don’t be an asshole. Don’t make fun of the person. Don’t ridicule them. Don’t laugh at them. Try to treat them with some kindness and even if you can’t understand what they’re going through, give them enough room to be heard and validated. Sometimes, a little understanding can really make a difference in someone’s life.

A good example… I used to be an avid WoW player. (Alliance, Night Elf Druid, level 82…take that, Hordies!) One night while playing WoW, someone came on chat and typed in all caps that they were going to kill themselves. Over and over. There was a large chorus of “Do it and shut up!” from most of the people online at the time. Now, in mental health training, from the lowest caretaker to the psychiatrist doling out the diagnoses and medications, we’re always taught to take every suicidal thought seriously. No matter what- if it’s a cry for attention or a sincere wish, they need the benefit of the doubt. So I told everyone they were a bunch of assholes and I PM’d the guy. Though the course of the conversation, he revealed that he had a serious form of cancer that he wasn’t sure he was going to beat, and while much of the time he felt good about his progress, sometimes he didn’t, and wished he could be heard in a way that wouldn’t upset his family. After we talked (he assured me he felt better), I sent a note to the administrators of the game about what occurred (including the heckling).

Was he telling me the truth?

Does it matter? If he was lying, no skin off my nose. If he was telling the truth, hopefully he felt better.

If you can’t handle it? Then don’t. Walk away, unless the person is in danger- then have the decency to inform someone who can help or who is in a position to do something. Politely excuse yourself. There is no shame in stepping away from a situation you can’t handle or don’t know how to handle- there is shame, however, in being a prick to someone who is likely in a lot of pain. Know what you can handle.

Remember, the person experiencing the episode IS NOT CHOOSING TO DO THIS.

No one in their right mind would CHOOSE to go through a severe manic rage, a psychotic episode, or to think and feel so terribly that they frighten, anger or hurt those around them. Those with active mental illness are suffering. They are people, like you, like me. I’ve known a brilliant would-be physicist who experienced his first psychotic episode and watched his dreams go down the drain. I’ve known (several) artists who are bipolar. Mentally ill people aren’t just in hospitals, residential homes and yelling at you on the bus or train. They’re sitting next to you at work, helping you figure out what your jerk client wants. They’re the soldiers fighting overseas and developing PTSD from the constant stress of war. They’re doctors, they’re teachers, they’re chaplains, they’re clinical psychologists.
They have feelings, needs, hopes…they need love and respect, just like you do.


Don’t write someone off right away just because they’re mentally ill.

Some of the most dedicated, creative and all-out wonderful people I have ever met were mentally ill. I have a friend who has FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and there are times when he says some wise shit that knocks me flat on my ass. (And he’s a ton of fun.) I have many friends with mental illness who are great people, hands down, no arguments.

People with mental illness can have a lot to offer. Personally, materially, magickally. Crowley is a good example (NPD if I ever saw it, and you’ve gotta wonder about some of his impulse control issues). Many of the better magicians I know are mentally ill, to tell the truth.

Skeptical? Here, NAMI has a list for you…some pretty famous people who contributed a good deal to the world, in their way:

People With Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives

Have resources ready.

NAMI

NMHA

Here’s a few examples. These are good to have on hand, should the need arise.


Be open to the person coming back, if they must leave…remember, many mental illnesses are HIGHLY treatable.

The course of mental illness is variable. Some people with a serious diagnosis have one episode, and they’re done. Most tend to vary. Just because a person has a mental illness, doesn’t mean they have to be permanently excluded. Don’t be afraid to play it by ear, trust your gut and wait.

A list of tips, since I am getting very lazy and tired of writing…

Tips for the mentally ill joining magickal/religious groups

1. Check the group out as thoroughly as possible. (Look online, ask around, hang out as a guest and keep your ear to the ground. Some things take time to come to light.)

2. Consider disclosing your illness to the group leader. (This can be iffy…consider it though. TOTALLY up to you.)

3. Keep the group leader informed if you feel you are becoming episodic and may need to take a break. (This, on the other hand, may be a must. At least inform the group leader that you are having a health concern and need time to yourself.)

4. If you are definitely episodic, stay home until it passes. (Take care of yourself.)

5. Know who in the group you can trust. (Some groups have great people in them…)

6. Know who to avoid. (…and some do not.)

7. Be careful what you share with others. (You may not need to divulge all the details of your episodes- spare yourself the potential for embarrassment and recrimination.)

Tips for the mentally ill joining online forums/starting blogs

Everything above most certainly applies. I would also like to add…

1. Check the group history online for how they handle mentally ill folk. (If they’re jerks…yeah. Don’t stick around.)

2. Be on the lookout for trolls. (Use the handy “ignore” or “block” button.)

3. Think before you post. (What goes on the net, stays on the net. Which is why I sweat every time I make one of these mental illness posts.)

4. Know when to walk away from the computer.

Tips for dealing with the mentally ill in magickal/religious groups

1. Be sensitive, but don’t be condescending.

2. Be as supportive as you can. (Don’t drain yourself or the group, but also don’t be afraid to help if you can.)

3. Know when to let something go. (They will probably be embarrassed about something said or done later…know when to walk away from an argument or a statement.)

4. Be skeptical of odd beliefs, but don’t write them off right away. (After all, magick can lead to some odd stuff.)

5. Encourage supportive group unity as much as possible.

6. Do not condone unacceptable behavior- in either the mentally ill person or in the group. (Put a stop to unacceptable behavior from BOTH the ill person and the group.)

7. Don’t be afraid to direct the person to the appropriate avenues.

8. If the person is violent or self-destructive, don’t be afraid to involve the authorities when necessary.

9. Know when you’re in over your head. (Don’t put yourself or the group through what you all can’t handle.)

10. Know when to let go. (Know when the person is beyond your help and needs to move on, for the betterment of the group and yeah, themselves.)

Tips for dealing with the mentally ill online

A lot of the above applies. Net specifically…

1. Don’t let a shit-storm start over it on your forum. (Seriously, it makes you look terrible as a moderator.)

2. Cut down on trolls. They’re assholes anyway.

3. If the posts are just on a free-floating blog and not in a group setting…just ignore it. Or better yet, reach out to them and ask if they’re okay.

4. If the person is threatening violence (actual violence, not delusions of spells and magick powers) or self-harm, report them to the appropriate avenue.

5. Know when to reprimand, block or remove the person from the forum.

To conclude…

Dorothy L. Wood was a wonderful, lovely person with a good heart. She was a talented artist, a compassionate and helpful person, a writer…everything said about her in her eulogy was true. I only knew her through the devotional for Persephone, and later through some of her troubles as they appeared online, but this was a person who had a lot to offer once her possibly very treatable illness was addressed. (Many of her symptoms reminded me of myself, a while back.) Without her contribution, the Persephone devotional would have been missing something very beautiful and poignant in the stark, black lines of her drawing, the youthful but wise depiction of Persephone she brought to life. She died at only 27- plenty of time to grow, plenty of time to explore herself and her illness, plenty of time to find peace and a new way of expressing the magick and devotion to the Hellenic gods that meant so much to her.

Dorothy was really someone special, and I don’t think many people got a chance to see that side of her.

Safe journey, Dorothy. I hope you’re okay in the world below.

Persephone Sketch by Dorothy L. Wood

A Piece Dorothy Wrote on Hermes for Neokoroi

Picture Credits

1. Kindness, voodooxfishy, http://voodooxfishy.deviantart.com/art/a-little-kindness-64680524

2. “Persephone Shows The Way” (Sketch detail) by Dorothy L. Wood.

 

Oh, and PS… while your thoughts, disagreements and agreements are always welcome, anyone commenting with negative crap about Dorothy will be reported, deleted and blocked.


“Sekhmet” by Hrana Janto


Hail unto thee who art Sekhmet in thy beauty,
even unto thee who art Sekhmet in thy truimph,
who travellest over the heavens in thy barque,
at the Mid day hour of the sun.

Tahuti standest in his splendor at the prow,
And Ra Hoor abideth at the helm,
Hail unto thee from the abodes of morning.”

—Invocation to Sekhmet (papyrus of Neb Seni)

I usually agonize over the posts I put up here. I spend at least a month writing, rewriting, saying “fuck it” and putting something in anyway, making sure I’m saying exactly what I mean to say, etc.

And then there are the posts that pretty much write themselves in a day or two, like this one, since I feel so strongly on the matter.

There is a *HUGE* problem with bullying and abuse in magickal and pagan communities. I think we’ve all seen it, we’ve all been victim to it a time or two and we’ve all been part of it: if not as the bully, then as someone who’s enabled the bullying.

*raises guilty hand*

It’s something that I’ve been exposed to so often in so many different contexts, that I wanted to say something about it for quite some time now.

I posted about a specific example regarding OHF some time ago. Here.
It isn’t an isolated incident: I’ve visited a variety of magickal and groups, been a member of three or 4 and participated in enough online forums, websites and groups…and in MOST of these places, I’ve seen, participated in some way or been a victim of bullying. And while I personally feel that bullying *IS* abuse, there are times that things stray beyond what’s nominally considered “just” bullying and into, “Oh my god, what’s going on?!?”: rape, sexual and physical assaults, community-wide osctracization and severe/persistent cruelty. And, I am also aware that sometimes people will bully without full awareness of what they’re doing- as someone with PTSD and resultantly an AWFUL temper, I have been guilty of this.

There are few who are innocent in this regard. We’re all going to do something bullying at one point and as long as we reflect on what we’ve done, apologize to injured parties and correct our behavior, there’s usually impermanent harm done. However, bullying and the condoning of bullying in the magickal and pagan communities has become a trend, an accepted behavior, and it does nothing but create further divisions among us as well as turning off not only the “outsiders looking in”, but also potential-future pagans and magicians. And of course damaging the relationships and feelings in the community, sometimes to the point of traumatization.

I’m not joking or exaggerating at all about that last bit.

So, let’s get on with it and talk about some of the common forms of bullying that I’ve seen, as well as how bullying in magick and paganism (as well as other, more mainstream religious groups) can take on cult-like aspects, to varying degrees.

In the spirit of not causing humiliation, the names of the guilty will not be mentioned where they have not made public record of themselves (a lesson I learned the hard way, let the blogger beware). While I’ll be using some of my personal experiences and observations, I’m not going to be naming names and pointing fingers except in the cases where the bullying was recently done (within the last year) and in a very public way. I’m not going to call names, though I will point out behaviors and comment upon such. I won’t be calling people expletives, but if there’s lying and manipulating going on, I’m going to call “liar” and “manipulator”. Let’s do this with some honor and blunt honesty.

Bullying in Magickal Groups

“Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when a person is…’exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons”. He defines negative action as “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways.” (1) Bullying usually comes in 3 basic types (physical, verbal and emotional) and can be blatant (obviously aggressive), subtle (manipulation, coercion), direct (characterized by physical aggression in many cases, overt emotional aggression certainly, and direct action against the target/s) or indirect (gossip, arguing others into submission, manipulation, rumor mongering).

I won’t go into the full Wiki article on bullying (and it’s pretty decent, considering it’s Wiki, kudos to the writers and editors), but that blurb pretty much gives you the picture that bullying can take several forms.

There are times, as well, that bullying in religious groups (as previously mentioned) come together with cult-like behaviors- an action or statement by a member of a group is seen as threatening to the group idea, and bullying occurs as a way to discourage further argument or questioning. It is also done as a way to keep control of the adherents of a group or to force “unwanted” members to leave the group, for whatever reason, often because said members are seen as a threat to the group-mind or to the leader/ one of the leaders in particular. In the end, I have observed that bullying usually occurs in religious groups because someone in the group has their ego and identity intensely tied into the group, either through its ideology or leadership responsibilities, and sees others a reflection on themselves- a very narcissistic and insecure position, to be sure.

For brevity (something this blog is known for, *eye roll*) and organization’s sake, I’ll list bullying behaviors that often occur in religious groups, as well as cultic behaviors that are often seen that result in bullying.

1. Gaslighting and Denigration

“Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.” (2)

This is actually a very common form of abuse, and I think everyone does it without realizing they do it, to varying degrees. Gaslighting often comes in the form of, “Oh, you’re just over-reacting!” This is a way of diminishing your perceptions, making you question your views of the events, and leaving you open to further manipulation from the abuser. Not only is it a way of diminishing your perceptions, it’s also a way for the abuser to diminish the impact of what they’ve done- up to the point of denying anything is wrong. This can even be done by enablers of the abuse, well meaning or not. And if it’s known you’re mentally ill, FYI, prepare to defend against it.

“So-and-so doesn’t mean to scream and yell like that. So-and-so deserves the benefit of the doubt. Are you sure you’re not over-reacting?”

“I think you’re being over-sensitive to what was said and done.”

“Stop being dramatic- it was the heat of the moment and I was stressed out.”

For mentally ill folks: “Are you sure you’re not symptomatic? You’re really blowing this out of proportion. Maybe you should get your meds adjusted/take your meds.”

From an article about gaslighting: “When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling—that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation—pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines [women] as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that [women] need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.

I think it’s time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation…” (3)

Though the quote was directed at women, I think the same could be said about victims generally, who tend to be incredibly disenfranchised.

Denigration is in a similar vein, and outright denies the value of what another person is feeling, perceiving, etc. (4) It’s taking something, a quality about the person perhaps, to define them negatively and so distract from one’s own unstable viewpoint or bad behavior.

“I’m not going to listen to his/her criticisms, they worship Set! What do they know about morality?”

“They’re were shitty members of the group anyway- absolutely worthless.”

“Why should I take her word seriously? She uses Wikipedia as a source!”

Heh. Guilty conscience.

I’ve seen (and experienced) both of these with great frequency in most of the groups I’ve been in or visited. Former members are denigrated when they can no longer take the dysfunctional dynamics of the group. Current members are told, one way or another, to “get over it” or that they’re over-reacting to circumstances that are harmful to them, and to others. Some of the former members of said groups (and I say this as both member and frequent visitor to various places) were incredibly generous with their time, money and resources, and often contributed a significant amount towards said groups. However, the tide of opinion changed once they left or raised criticisms, after which reasons were found or concocted to assure the groups, and the group leaders, that the group was better off without them anyway.

Abuse of the religion or philosophy of the group (see below) can also play into this. I remember a member of a group (now defunct) that I was participating in (and left on very bitter terms about a year before this instance) tried to commit suicide. The person in question was a fellow sufferer of bipolar disorder and while he and I were not on speaking terms well before my split with the group (for personal reasons), it was a sad thing to happen. The group’s response was to “strip” him of his “attainments” (IE, his initiations within the group) and start him over again from the beginning, denigrating him for trying to commit suicide. Their justification of this was, “by trying to take his life, he is saying life and the Great Work is worthless. It’s no less than he deserves”.

2. Intimidation

“Intimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that “would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities” fear of injury or harm. It’s not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened.” (5)

This can go hand-in-hand with verbal/written abuse and aggressive behaviors such as throwing things, screaming, breaking things, etc. However, this can also go hand-in-hand with the misuse of authority. There is often an implied threat that degrees, initiations and whatnot will be withheld in the case of overt disagreement or raised criticism. As a result, many enable the bullying to continue and are rewarded by receiving whatever initiation the group provides. Thus, the cycle continues.

I’ve seen this as a present dynamic in many (though not all) pagan or magickal groups. I’ve been to events where I’ve heard the volunteers screamed at and treated, to quote they themselves, “like dogs”. I’ve been around people who’ve been belittled, insulted and cowed into continuing with an event, only to have the person explain their behavior with a justification. Not acceptable. I’ve also seen people in magickal and pagan groups who, after raising criticisms and becoming angry over mistreatment, no longer receive following initiations until they kow-tow to the offended party…or they leave and give up entirely.

I can share a personal story here (and a very funny one, IMO).

I was friends with these two girls, one whom I cared for more than the other. (And no further details will be given.) Through mutual reasons, our friendship was deteriorating and would soon be no more: I recognize my part in that and am not proud of my asshole, disrespectful behavior- had they called me on my shit in a functional way, I would have deserved some of it. However, they invited me to their home to “talk”, have cookies and work things out…and ended up exposing me to some very delusional, hysterical behavior. The first girl was content to stand at the back of the room with her eyes rolling into her head, when the second puffed herself up and claimed to be possessed by a certain entity I won’t name, screamed that I was “arrogant” and “The Fallen One” and that unless I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, all my pagan gods will abandon me. (Really? Pagan gods abandoning me for not accepting the J-man? That’s a first…)

I told them to pick the plank from their own eye before they picked at the speck in mine (Matthew 7:5, btw), laughed in their faces and left. I never saw them again, I’ve never forgotten the incident…and it never fails to bring an incredulous laugh.

I am protective of their identity primarily because I don’t want to cause them humiliation, and partially because these attempts at intimidation had their root not just in personal hurt and bullying, but also in mental illness. This is a subject I’ll go into more in my “Mental Illness and Magick, Part 5″ article, which focuses on magick and groups.

3. Coercion

Also common, often not as overt and more in the form of pressure or expressed through intimidation. “Coercion may involve the actual infliction of physical pain/injury or psychological harm in order to enhance the credibility of a threat. The threat of further harm may lead to the cooperation or obedience of the person being coerced.” (6) The coercion may be baldly stated, or implicit. “If I don’t give enough money for the coven fund, they won’t let me come back.” or “I have to do this, for the good of the group, so-and-so says so.” Though this, people are then forced to do something involuntarily, and the bully is able to write it off as voluntary, especially if coercion is implicit. This then leads someone to taking on perhaps more responsibility than they can handle.

An example of this…there is a predominant culture of liberal sexual values within the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), which encourages polyamory, casual sex and multiple lovers. This, in itself, is fine- “Love as Thou Wilt”, after all. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities in a responsible and consensual context. When there is a predominant group consensus, people who don’t follow along may feel a pressure to conform, either through exposure to the behavior or by being curiously asked for participation. This, also, is fine- there is no harm in respectful interest. There will also always be a pressure to conform to a culture in a group, be it a religious, social or business group, simply because of the presence of said circumstances and its visibility. The majority of my experience with the OTO has been in this respectful trend.

However, no matter how many respectful members there are in a group, there will always be those who will use group values as a means to express predatory behavior, and this is almost too easy to do concerning sexuality. There are people who mistakenly feel that they’re entitled to your body and your sexuality through the abuse of the values set forth by the group, as if the target is merely a mirror to their whims. Some coercive attempts I’ve heard are, “What are you, a Puritan?” and “The Law is Do What Thou Wilt, so why won’t you have sex with me?” The predatory members tried to apply social and religious pressure to achieve their way sexually (for the record, they failed). Coercion can be effective, and can lead to victims performing sexual acts involuntarily…with the convenient excuse by the predator, “It’s what he/she agreed to…do what thou wilt, after all.”

I know this since I personally know victims who’ve been taken advantage of, even raped, in this fashion, and also since Sabazius, the US Head of the OTO Grand Lodge, made some laudable posts about it on his own personal blog:

“The following statement is from our Minerval Guide:

As expressed in Liber CI, the Order exists in part to foster free and joyful relations between its members. However, sexual conduct that is not between fully consenting adults is antithetical to freedom and is not tolerated in O.T.O.

Freedom has no room for coercion, and refusing an unwanted sexual advance is not “un-Thelemic.” No O.T.O. member should ever be forced, pressured, or made to feel obligated to have sexual relations with any other O.T.O. member, for any reason.”

AND

“Since my last post, I have received several reports from women who have been subjected to violence within some kind of an O.T.O. context in the past. One of these women told me that she had been in touch with several other sisters who never reported their mistreatment, and saw no reason to now because their attackers were no longer active members. Others reported that when they attempted to discuss their troubles with their brothers and sisters, attempts were made to either ignore or excuse the bad behavior, occasionally offering such quotes as “There is no guilt” as if that were an excuse for assaulting someone. This is simply unacceptable.”

I applaud Sabazius on his willingness to speak out against such reprehensible behavior, as well as encouraging members to speak out and authority figures to support the victims of assault.

4. Verbal and Written Abuse

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t do this at one point or another. We all get angry and say things we don’t mean. Hopefully, we accept responsibility for what we’ve done, apologize to those we’ve wronged where possible and do our best in the future. Nevertheless…

“Verbal abuse (also known as reviling) is described as a negative defining statement told to the person or about the person or by withholding any response thus defining the target as non-existent. If the abuser doesn’t immediately apologize and indulge in a defining statement, the relationship may be a verbally abusive one. Verbal abuse includes the following: countering, withholding, discounting, abuse disguised as a joke, blocking and diverting, accusing and blaming, judging and criticizing, trivializing, undermining, threatening, name calling, chronic forgetting, ordering, denial of anger or abuse, and abusive anger.” (7)

Verbal abuse can be overtly aggressive, or even passive aggressive, as one can see above. Abuse disguised as a joke, withholding, blocking and diverting and denial of anger or abuse is something I’ve often seen in pagan and magickal groups.

Now, keep in mind that there are times to call a spade a spade. However, there are ways to do it. In dealing with a bully, one has to be firm and assertive in their stance, or the bully will very likely find ways to gaslight you or denigrate your viewpoints (well, honestly, they’ll do this anyway, so be strong). However, one should be careful, even in dealing with bullies, not to become abusive yourself. There is a difference between saying, “Your behavior is unacceptable” and “You’re a toxic bitch.”

And example from my own life: I recently, paired with another friend, wrote a series of letters to whom is now a former friend. I asked said friend to help me look over the letters since I was incredibly angry with this person and PTSD triggered, making me pretty volatile. It was about said person’s bullying and using behavior which had offended several in said group that refused, for one reason or another, to confront them on the issue. A quote from the letter (omitting identifying parts),

“You have been domineering, controlling and sometimes even bullying to other members of [group]. I have noticed this, especially, in both personal and [group] capacities, regarding… though it has extended to other members as well. …”

My friend was invaluable in helping to phrase things well, though there were certainly times we checked each other. My initial letter was very, very aggressive, even defining, and she helped me to tone it down. For the second letter, I actually had to take out some of her more colorful suggestions for epithets, sticking to truthful but less inflammatory words. Looking back, I think the letters expressed well what I wanted to get across, calling a spade a spade, without being abusive. To be honest, they didn’t do much good and she refused to talk to me other than in person (and I couldn’t…volatile, PTSD triggered, wasn’t going to risk it). As my friend put it, I was “stonewalled”. So, that was that.

5. Social Isolation

You’ve disagreed or had some strong words with a member/leader of your pagan or magickal group. The issue was an important one, and you did your best to get it fixed. You come back to your group…and find that you’re about as welcome as a fart in an elevator. You go to talk to some friends, maybe even friends whom you thought were like-minded, only to watch them walk away from you, very purposefully not looking back. Everyone is quiet and tense around you, and won’t look you in the eye. Perhaps, sooner or later, someone will ask you to leave and not come back, isolating you from part (or all, in some cases) of your social network. It’s a very common thing, sadly.

Or maybe the inverse happens. Maybe the group has decided that your friendships outside the group are detrimental to your spiritual growth. And so, by compulsion, by coercing, by convincing, they drive off your friends or monopolize your time so that your entire social circle comprises only of the group.

(I saw both examples when looking it up, so I figured I’d include both.)

“Social isolation refers to a complete or near-complete lack of contact with society for members of social species. It is usually involuntary, making it distinct from isolating tendencies or actions consciously undertaken by a person, all of which go by various other names. Social isolation takes fairly common forms across the spectrum regardless of whether that isolation is self-imposed or is a result of a historical lifelong isolation cycle that has simply never been broken, which also does exist. All types of social isolation can lead to staying home for days or weeks at a time; having no communication with anyone including family or even the most peripheral of acquaintances friends; and willfully avoiding any contact with other humans when those opportunities do arise.” (8)

I have several examples of this, though the most memorable was from the defunct group I mentioned in the sub-section “gaslighting and denigration”: they employed social isolation almost artfully. Any friends outside of the group (unless approved of by the group) were ridiculed, denigrated and mocked, and activities with others outside of the group was sometimes frowned up, unless it was speculated that the person could be brought into the group (or unless the leader was sexually attracted to the other person) and at times, run off when the person expressed distaste, dislike or alarm at the group’s tactics. The group succeeded in socially isolating a few of the members completely, fostering a dependence upon the group socially and psychologically. The rest of us left…

…and then were forbidden contact with the members remaining in the group. Just as they were isolated from us, we were isolated from members we still cared for, our connections to them forcibly severed.

Please keep in mind, though, that social isolation doesn’t have to be that “in your face”- it can be a subtle pressure to leave, or it can come paired with…

6. Social Aggression

“He also suggests that social aggression or indirect bullying is characterized by attempting to socially isolate the victim. This isolation is achieved through a wide variety of techniques, including spreading gossip, refusing to socialize with the victim, bullying other people who wish to socialize with the victim, and criticizing the victim’s manner of dress and other socially-significant markers (including the victim’s race, religion, disability, sex, or sexual preference, etc.). Ross outlines an array of nonviolent behavior which can be considered “indirect bullying”, at least in some instances, such as name calling, the silent treatment, arguing others into submission, manipulation, gossip/false gossip, lies, rumors/false rumors, staring, giggling, laughing at the victim, saying certain words that trigger a reaction from a past event, and mocking.” (1)

Social aggression is another way of social isolation, and boy, it works. This is a kind of indirect bullying that criticizes qualities about another person with the aim of socially isolating them- several examples are listed above.

I’m sure we’ve all either been through or participated in this, so I don’t need to give an example. I will, however, tell you to be careful in your own doings. It is very easy for venting and concerned conversations to become gossip, especially if you aren’t careful. If there is someone who is causing trouble with disruptive, bullying and abusive behavior, you have a right to process things, vent and call the other person out on it- it’s natural to want to check yourself with your peers and make sure everyone is on the same page. BUT STICK TO THE FACTS AND DON’T INDULGE IN CHARACTER ASSASSINATION.

With a specific instance, it was very difficult to stick to the straight and narrow. I hope I succeeded and I doubt that I did as much as I wanted to. In comparing notes with others, I found many to be very reasonable and straightforward with both their experiences and the pain caused to them by these experiences, and they helped me understand the long-standing problem that bullying and ruthless using/social climbing played in the group’s dynamic. However, there were times I felt I had to rein people in, once some accusations veered into the ridiculous, ranging coercive magick, sexual dominance, adultery and personality disorders. While I certainly have no love for this person, I couldn’t sit by and let these ideas go unaddressed, simply because they were blatantly wrong, and bullying in their turn. That being said, I am sure I am not so innocent in this regard either, but I did my best.

7. Psychological Manipulation

“Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at the other’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. Social influence is not necessarily negative. For example, doctors can try to persuade patients to change unhealthy habits. Social influence is generally perceived to be harmless when it respects the right of the influenced to accept or reject and is not unduly coercive. Depending on the context and motivations, social influence may constitute underhanded manipulation.” (9)

Methods of psychological manipulation can involved deliberate triggering, arguing others into submission, the silent treatment, “cultic” threats, blame-gaming and ties in with gaslighting, coercion and intimidation. The blame-game is classic abuse- turning around all your statement to make you take the blame for what the other person is going.

One: “Why are you gaslighting me?”
Two: “YOU are the one gaslighting ME!”

Or perhaps they will use your own flaws against you, only exaggerated to make it seem as if you share equal or greater guilt.

One: “Why are you bullying other people?”
Two: “The way you’re talking to me and about me is abusive. This isn’t what members of a group do for one another.”

And so on. The girls from my “intimidation” example is also an example of psychological manipulation through cultic threats, though poorly applied. Another is from the defunct group I mentioned, where I was told that dating certain people (who were very nice people) would make certain goddesses angry with me. (I dated them anyway.)

8. Using (often linked with “ruthless social climbing”)

In larger magickal groups, just as in businesses, there is a lot of using behavior in the name of climbing the social ladder: taking credit for the works of others, making others work for what will reflect positively primarily upon the one, using one smaller group for the advancement of oneself through the larger body of the group, using group members for money, sexual favors, social status and exclusive psychological comfort. The list goes on. The strongest example I have of this is also from the defunct group: near the end, the leader of the group lived off of a few of the group members, two of which who became sick of him and told him to go elsewhere. Before this, he often depended on them to feed him, buy him alcohol and stroke his ego. Other instances I’ve seen are of the less-severe type, though still degrading- shoving responsibilities on others and taking credit for their efforts…and then eliminating threats to said person(s)’ authority.


Sekhmet, from a temple at Karnak

I am the goddess Sekhmet, and I take my seat upon the place by the side of Amt-ur the great wind of heaven. —Papyrus of Ani; Egyptian Book of the Dead [Budge]
240 BC, Chapter of Opening the Mouth of Osiris Ani

Some of the cultic behaviors I’ve noticed that often go hand-in-hand with bullying:

A. Oppressive Financial Obligation

Placing inordinate financial burdens upon members, or specific members. Also, allowing members to take inordinate financial burdens upon themselves without addressing the issue in good faith or not allowing such abuses to happen in the group’s context. Expecting more than the agreed upon amount of money not included in fees for food and classes, dues/coven fees and reasonable donations. I’ve seen several instances where the running of the group, financially, depends upon one person or a few peoples, who either were forced into it or made to feel obligated to do such. No sincere attempts were usually made to dissuade people from taking on such a burden, with the excuse, “Well, s/he’s made her/his choice.”

B. Lying For Legitimacy

Many groups will claim lineage with magickal orders or pagan traditions that they simply do not have, and the inexperienced, the naive and the trusting are usually the ones who pay the price for this.

C. Discouragement of Criticism/Encouraging Blind or Total Acceptance

I can say how often I’ve run into this, in a variety of contexts. The group leader (usually) or several group heads set the rules and the tone for how group beliefs are interpreted and everyone is expected to follow along. Discomfort occurs when someone goes against the grain. Any criticism, legitimate or not, is nipped in the bud and ignored, or rationalized away. People are expected to embrace beliefs fully and without question, and there are also traditions that require this as part of their oaths.

D. Physically and Emotionally Distressing Situations

A caveat- initiation can be physically and emotionally distressing. Honestly, it’s meant to be unsettling, and it’s meant to distress you, if not sooner, then later as the effects are being felt. However, there are circumstances in which this is abused.

Pressured sexual performance as a part of initiation, initations which are harmful to your health (being made to withstand extreme temperatures, being made to fight other members, being beaten), sleep deprivation, forced fasting, being made to watch as your partner is engaged sexually (without your consent, not judging swingers or poly people), the list goes on. Listen to your gut- it is rarely, if ever, wrong.

E. Love-Bombing

You’re so great! You’re so wonderful! You’re so accepted with us! We love you! Now that you’re here…

“Love bombing is a tactic often employed by cults (or any religious, political or other group of like-minded individuals who may not have a mainstream belief system) as a way of luring prospective members. Current members typically “love bomb” potential or desired new recruits by showering them with affection, praise, and offers of friendship. Cult awareness experts warn that this seemingly kind and welcoming practice is often the first step in a mind control (“brainwashing”) process that leads to religious conversion or involvement with a group that may be harmful to its membership or to society.” (10)

Be wary of any group that seems too good to be true.

F. Encouraging a new identity based upon the group

Again, a caveat- in initiatory groups, some of this is normal. You take on a magickal or religious identity. Several religions do this with initations or formal recognition of priesthood. A group approaching this in a healthy, balanced way will encourage outside interests, a social circle of the person’s choosing and an identity with the group that does not take place of the person’s primary persona, but rather compliments it. An unhealthy group will have you define yourself by the standards of the group, as well as measuring your spiritual and psychological health by the groups’ standards. (Again, mentally ill people, take heed.)

G. Entrapment, or limiting/controlling access to relevant information

Yet again, a caveat- no magickal group is going to give you all of it’s information all at once, and there’s a very good reason for this: the cycle of initations works best when the initiate has prepared themselves, done the work necessary and taken the appropriate initation. The subtle bodies have been prepared, the mind is primed and the initation has its best effect. (I’m going to leave out the stuff that I believe to be true but I think is oversighted, which is “the profane should not glimpse mysteries they aren’t ready for”.)

I’m talking about information like, what does the group expect of you as a member? What are your rights? Who can you report to if there’s an issue? Where does their operating money come from and where does it go? What oaths are you expected to swear to? (I am aware there are legit groups that don’t inform you of the oaths ahead of time…I don’t agree with this.) What will be expected of you as you progress through the ranks? Pay careful attention to the reality of the situation…many groups that aren’t on the level espouse nice ideas that play out with many people being taken advantage of.

H. Negative consequences in leaving the group

This runs the gamut from simply “not being friends anymore”, ostacization, rumor mongering to trying to exact fees, threats, stalking and assault. There should be no consequences in voluntarily leaving a group on good terms, simply because it’s not “your path” to travel with them anymore.

I. Cult of Personality

“A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” (11) Often, this happens on a smaller scale with charismatic leaders or members of groups. They are highly respected, even idolized, by the group. Their words and requests carry greater weight than those of the other members- these parts MUST be memorized, these instructions MUST be carried out, just so. I’ve even seen it bad enough that the personality and style of the person in question is then imitated by the group! See also “narcissistic leadership” in a google searchbox near you.

J. Abuse of the Religion/Philosophy

This is redefining the group’s religious beliefs to suit the needs of the person doing it. An extreme example is when Pope Urban II allegedly declared it all well and dandy to kill people in the name of God, and used passages from the bible to support it. (I think it was Pope Urban…) Another is the example used in “coercion” and “intimidation” and I’ve seen other groups twist beliefs to suit their needs…

“I am the goddess incarnate and you will serve me as such. It was considered possible in the past this way…”

“If it’s Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, then trust me with your money…”

“In the old days, if a witch betrayed her coven…they would kill her.” (Craft reference! HAHAHA!)

For a more complete list of cult red flags, check these out:

Rick Ross’s Top Tens for Cults

Revelife’s Warning Signs of a Cult

Scroll Down To “So Am I Joining A Cult, Or What?”

Warning Signs In Covens

To conclude for now, the below comes from the negative confession. While they don’t directly correlate to bullying, I do believe that they are relevant to bullying’s effects.

Part 2 and Part 3, coming soon.


Please don’t make her mad. You don’t want that. You REALLY don’t want that.


O Burning One who came forth from backwards, I have not told lies.
O Orderer of Flame who came from Memphis, I was not sullen.
O He-Whose-Face-is-behind-him who came forth from his hole, I have not caused (anyone) to weep.
O Annoited One who came forth from the chapel, I have not dissembled.
O Lord of Truth who came forth from Hall of Two Truths, I have not discussed (secrets).
O He-who-is-over-the-Great-Ones who came forth from (?), I have not struck terror.
O Proclaimer of Speech who came forth from Weryt, I have not been hot(tempered).
O Dark One who came forth from darkness, I have not cursed.
O He-who-Brings-his-Offering who came forth from Asyut, I have not been violent.
O Proclaimer of Voice who came forth from Wenis, I have not confounded (truth).
O Possessor of Faces who came forth from Nedjefet, I have not been impatient.
O Possessor of Two Horns who came forth from Asyut, I have not been garrulous about matters.
O Nefertum who came forth from Memphis, I have not done wrong, I have not done evil.
O Ihy who came forth from the Primordial Waters, my voice was not loud.
O Youth who came forth from the Double Scepter Nome, I have not been neglectful of truthful words.

—Plate 31, Parts of the Negative Confession, Book of Going Forth by Day, Dr. Raymond Faulkner

See Part 2.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullying

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

3. http://thecurrentconscience.com/blog/2011/09/12/a-message-to-women-from-a-man-you-are-not-%E2%80%9Ccrazy%E2%80%9D/

4. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denigrate

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimidation

6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coercion

7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbal_abuse

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_isolation

9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation

10. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_bombing

11. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_personality


Frail Equilibrium by Olesya Novik

Magick and mysticism are unbalancing. They are meant to be that way because they tear down the preconceived/illusory notions upon which we base our lives. We cannot have our foundations ripped from us and expect to remain perfectly balanced and stable: it is up to the magician to rebuild his foundations as necessary. Four quotes sum this up perfectly for me:

“Sanity is the lot of those who are most obtuse, for lucidity destroys one’s equilibrium: it is unhealthy to honestly endure the labors of the mind which incessantly contradict what they have just established.” — Georges Bataille

“…there are some kinds of madness that are gifts from the gods.” — Plato

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Viktor Frankl

“What doesn’t kill us, makes us stranger.” — The Joker from The Dark Knight

If doing magick doesn’t upset your balance, to quote several pagan forums I’ve seen, “UR DOIN IT WRONGZ!” Nevertheless, just as magick is meant to imbalance you, it should re-balance you as well, though the efficacy of one option or both really depends upon the efficacy of the magician. Magick is meant to “break open the head”, to redefine one’s perceptions and spiritual/mental boundaries, and it can take quite some time before you are able to process all that you’ve learned. This can be painful, but in reality, it is a gift, and an opportunity to forge yourself as a weapon and through the fire become stronger than you already are. I can certainly say (and I think I have) that overcoming my mental illnesses daily is both the making and the breaking of me, an almost constant opportunity to transform myself when the old ways no longer suit. No matter how severe our illness, no matter how tenacious against medication, most of us still have a choice in how we perceive the hand life has dealt us and what we do with the cards we’re given. Even more so, those of us who are mentally ill who practice magick, since we are doubly undergoing transformative experiences that can meld one into the other. There have been times I’ve utilized my mania enough to teach me spiritual lessons…and there have been times that I’ve been too out of my mind with mania to do much of anything. Mental illness and magick can be a potent combination, yet certainly hazardous if not used correctly and with caution.

In the end, I can say the same thing about mental illness and magick- it doesn’t leave us in a safe, normal little place. We’ve grown beyond our own boundaries and re-erected them, and often grow beyond the confines of what society expects of us. Some of us are more apt to protective camouflage than others. While I think everyone needs a little protective camouflage just to be able to keep your head down when you need to, I am also heartened by the fact that magick and mental illness both force you to confront the truth of yourself, to dig deep and find in the muck of all that pain something valuable, something beautiful and worth polishing until it shines like a star.

We’re getting a little Orphic, aren’t we? I suppose it’s appropriate.


But, can magick itself make you crazy?

You know, there’s a wide variety of answers to that question and usually needs more questions for clarification. Can magick make a perfectly normal person go nuts? Does there need to be precursors, such as stress, predispositions to mental illness, etc.? How do you tell the difference between mystical experience and mental illness?

There is really no simple answer to this question, and pagans/magicians are going to come out left, right and everywhere in between. I can only give you my opinion, which I’ve based on my experience with my own madness and with my own magick, observing others in the pagan community struggling with similar stuff, and my experience in the mental health field in being able to observe first-hand diagnosable conditions which mimic divine experience. It all, really, should be judged on an individual basis. But, to answer each generally…

Can magick make a perfectly normal person go nuts?

Sure! But what doesn’t?

Thinking logically, dealing with something that is unbalancing absolutely has the potential to make you crazy, BUT doesn’t necessarily mean its going to. There are plenty of people who do their magickal work and work through the imbalance it sometimes creates to rebalance themselves. Magick, as I’ve mentioned, also serves to rebalance you, and rebalancing is a part of magick’s natural progress. In that sense, magick could also help make you sane, eh? It really depends upon you and the kind of work you’re doing- and honestly, there’s no one work I would call “taboo” to the mentally ill or say would make you nuts, even if it seems that way in many cases. Some people I know can NOT handle Goetic work and it’s majorly triggering for them; however, I also have friends who thrive on it! While Satanism has never worked for me personally, I have a friend for whom it changed his life for the best. For every kook you have in chaos magick who doesn’t know what he’s doing, there may be one more who thrives on it. So, you know, don’t judge.

I’d like to say that any “unbalancing” thing could make you a little nuts, potentially. Trauma, life events (good or bad)…it’s up to you to rebalance yourself.

Does there need to be precursors, such as stress, predispositions to or existing mental illness, etc.?

…well, it certainly helps. But again, it’s no guarantee. Some may have all the perfect predispositions and come out fine. Predispositions are what they are and there’s really only so much you can do to mitigate them, depending on how you live your life.

Existing mental illness can definitely lend to more “crazy” coming out with the magick, but it depends on how you handle it. Honestly- it’s going to happen. You have to know yourself well enough to deal with it.

If there’s any imbalance in your life, you are certainly going to feel it when you start doing magick. In my experience, magick tends to root out your issues and throw them in your face so you deal with them. I can name a whole slew of things I have observed in others, but I don’t want to risk embarrassing anyone. The only way around is through- when magick throws something in your face, DEAL WITH IT. Fix or leave your relationship, get that pain in your side checked out, make a therapy appointment, start saving money, end that toxic friendship, stand up to the bully in your life, etc. Don’t sit and ignore it or whine, that will only make it worse and a further source of imbalance. It’ll be stressful, sure, but not dealing with it will be more stressful.

How do you tell the difference between mystical experience and mental illness?

Sometimes it’ll be pretty obvious. Sometimes it won’t and you’ll never tell the difference. Sometimes it’ll be a little of column A and a little of Column B. Check your experiences against the previous entry (Psychosis and Mystical Experience) as well as your own experience. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard, probing questions of yourself.


Generally…some tips for the practitioner:

Take your damned meds

Do I really need to go into this? Take your medication. Take it as it’s prescribed, learn all you can about possible risks and side-effects, have the courage to question your meds if they’re not working or interfering with your life, thought processes, physical abilities, etc. Be pro-active about it. Once you get the right combination of medication (or simply just one, if that works), TAKE YOUR MEDS. Don’t wean yourself off without doctor’s supervision or advice (I’ve done this for lack of decent doctors…it’s not pretty.) Don’t drink or do other drugs while you take your meds and if you MUST, do the research necessary to learn about drug interactions. Learn what foods, herbal suppliments, vitamins or whatever else could interfere with the efficacy or absorbtion of your meds. BUT TAKE THEM.

Learn all you can about what you have

Knowledge is power. The more you know, not just book-wise through the study of your illness, but through the observation of yourself and learning your triggers, your warning signs and how you behave pre-, during and post-episode, and in this case *especially* observing how different magickal practices effect you and possibly trigger you. Different magickal practices can do different things, and it really depends on what you’ve got, how you handle it and what the magick is supposed to do.

Learn the laws and resources in your area

Learn the resources in your area- emergency mental health clinics, hospitals, advocacy groups, sources of information. Learn what the laws are concerning the mentally ill in case you need to advocate for yourself. (See below.) Learn your rights as a mentally ill person- the right to refuse treatment and medication, the right to decide how your treatment progresses, etc.

Get a damned good treatment team

Don’t be afraid to tell a doctor to fuck off if they are: not listening to you or treating you with respect, if they are transgressing professional boundaries, if they are unethical or even if you just aren’t comfortable with them. Find a practitioner you actually like and who won’t just tell you pleasant untruths, but also find one that respects you while telling you unpleasant truths. Find one you can talk to: a therapist whom you can tell if you don’t like your medication, who won’t project their expectations onto you, etc.

And, I speak from personal experience…if your shrink tells you he’s in love with you? RUN!!! It is a violation of ethics in the extreme, and usually telling them “no” will not stop them. They’ve crossed a boundary and it’s best to sever the relationship and find a new practitioner. Don’t tolerate these actions- it is a person who is in a position to help you trying to take advantage of you.

And don’t go to a General Practitioner/Internist for the psych meds. They usually don’t know what they’re doing.

Advocate for yourself

Stand up for yourself. Even if there are times you don’t know what’s best for yourself, you still, 90% of the time and in 90% of the cases, know better than anyone else. Take your doctor’s and therapist’s advice, but don’t be afraid to take the reigns in your own treatment. Don’t be afraid to change doctors if you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask for a new medication or refuse a medication that is hurting you. Don’t be afraid to work with your medical team. Don’t be afraid to disagree with your doctors if you want to try to go back to school, get your own place, have a family, practice magick, etc. Remember that you are your own person, and don’t let others take your power over your own life away from you.

If possible, have a good support network

It’s nice to have friends, REAL friends. Being mentally ill, especially with severity, you find out quickly who really cares for you. Treasure your real friends and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Conversely, don’t allow yourself to be sucked into predatory covens, groups or lodges. Like some churches or groups of any religions, unhealthy pagan or magickal groups will lull you with promises of friendship conditional on how well you accept their dogma. They are usually the first to leave when you need them most. Don’t sell yourself to these people for comfort. Stand strong and choose real friends carefully.

Take care of yourself

Eat well. Get plenty of sleep. Moderate your stress levels. Develop a functional routine and stick to it.

If you are potentially violent…

I almost didn’t add this in, but I’m going to. I myself have to watch this- in extreme moments (mania, depression, mixed episodes or just binges of angry) I have the potential to be physically violent. Most of the time, I have a lot of really good self control- I can count on 2 fingers people I have physically attacked since becoming an adult, no matter the circumstances surrounding it (one of those people was self-defense). Nevertheless, I still did it, and it’s not something I’m proud of. However, I have a much stronger tendency to be violent to myself, something I have to work much harder to control. I used to cut quite often as a young adult and have attempted suicide a few times. Obviously, I was not successful. Some tips here:

1. Stick to your treatment team and your treatment plan. Unless a member in your team is doing something really unethical, wait for a better time before you switch up. Talk to them about how you’re feeling.
2. Take your meds.
3. Stay away from specific people triggering you. There was a time recently where I was so angry at someone for their treatment of friends and loved ones that I refused to meet them personally to speak about the issue because I didn’t trust myself not to punch them. It’s probably best not to tell them this, as it can be construed as a threat.
4. Find an outlet. Self-violence and violence against others is often an outlet for the violent person’s emotional pain. Find something else. (I always tell people to run behind a door and call my therapist for me if they see me doing puzzles.)
5. If you have sadomasochistic tendencies, learn how to express them functionally and safely. Not all sadomasochism is a mental illness, but it can be taken too far. Learn the value on consent and stick to it- there are people who can take it pretty far but consent is absolutely key. Learn ways to safely hurt others…as much as they WANT to be hurt and under the circumstances you both agree on. If you can’t do this, then you shouldn’t express your sadomasochism.
6. If you find yourself in a violent moment, take the time to calm yourself. Remind yourself the reasons why you shouldn’t hurt yourself or someone else. Use your outlet. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to call 911 or to check yourself into 24 hour observation.


Magickally…

Tread Carefully- Gear Your Work According to What You Can Do

If you’re stressed out, pushing episodic and need the rest, don’t start the Abramelin Ritual. Really, just don’t do it.

Okay, extreme example (and some people may quip that’s the perfect time to do it), but you get the picture. Don’t do any magick you can’t handle. To a certain extent, it may take trial and error, but to another you can rely on your common sense. Don’t do heavy Enochian work if your mania is about to blow. Don’t engage in katabasis if your depression is feeling oppressive. (Caveats to this advice, see 2 down.) If Kabbalistic work makes your episodes worse, then wait until they pass. Make a logical judgement as to what you can do, and if you can’t make that judgement, well…

Know when to take a break, even a long break

…then don’t do anything, except maybe meditate. Don’t be afraid to take a break, to stop doing magick until you’re better. The gods and your spiritual journey aren’t going anywhere, and from what I can tell, the gods seem to understand if I need a breather in the name of my mental health. YMMV.

Don’t practice while episodic, at least most of the time

Most of the time, doing magick while episodic is a BAD idea. I’m not talking mild hypomania (the productive kind), mild dysthymia or some anxiety. I’m talking if you’re wildly manic or incredibly depressed. I’m talking if you’re psychotic. I’m talking if you’re severe enough that you need to be in close contact with your mental health professionals. Get yourself under control, first.

Now, I WILL say, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are few. There have been times that regular practice has helped to calm and center me, or the magick I was doing at the time helped me break through an episode. HOWEVER, I’ve also done magick during an episode and more often it made the episode much, much worse.

Keep a journal, monitor yourself

Record not only your magickal activities, but your mental health patterns and how your magick effects these. These can be INCREDIBLY helpful in discovering triggers and how your magick interacts with your state of mental health.

Keep a healthy dose of skepticism

Sometimes, it’s God. Sometimes, it’s you. Sometimes, it’s both. Don’t be afraid to question and examine your experiences for authenticity. Examine your experiences against the examples of the previous entry in this series and your own experience. Does this euphoria seem more like mania? Does this voice seem more like the spirit I was working with a few days ago? Don’t be afraid to parse the difference between magick and madness.

Practice Introspection and Meditation

KNOW YOURSELF. It’s good advice for anyone. Examine yourself intimately (stop it, I know what you’re thinking here) and practice meditation of some kind to help calm and center you. I would suggest zazen, or if you need more active forms of meditation, hatha yoga or tai chi also work. Creating art can be considered both purgative and meditative. The options are endless.

Don’t be afraid to use magickal, as well as mundane, resources

Spiritual people don’t always stop at just the mundane methods. While I would never recommend skipping your meds or eschewing your doctor, I would recommend (in tandem with these things) trying spiritual and magickal methods as well. Talk to various healing gods and ask them to help you balance yourself and to look out for you: Apollon, Asclepius, Hygeia, Isis or Thoth are some suggestions. Or, hell, here’s a wiki list: Go nuts, or not.
Do some uncrossing and centering work. Work with solar energy or if you can be careful, some gentle lunar energy (sometimes, as you all know, the moon can make you nuttier).

Studying your astrology natal chart can be helpful- I shit you not. Mine has “bipolar” stamped all over it, among other things, and knowing the aspects that cause issues help me to better pin point how to handle them.


Know that you’ll make mistakes, and don’t hate yourself

You will probably, accidentally or on purpose, push yourself too far. There will be fall out you’ll have to deal with. This is okay. Just dust yourself off, pick yourself up, and try again when you feel better.

…and take your damned meds.

These are just general points of advice…any practitioner who is dealing with mental illness can certainly tell you that there are specific ins and outs regarding the individual illness. Manic psychosis is different from schizophrenic psychosis is different from borderline personality disorder episodes is different from Asperger’s syndrome and so on, and on. A lot of this entails personal responsibility on the part of the practitioner: being able to own who you are, warts and all, how to deal with something beyond your control and how to express it in a way that, if does not fit into cultural norms, then isn’t illegal or damaging to yourself and to others. While I personally think a lot of our cultural norms are ridiculous, some of these “lines in the sand” exist out of necessity.

Mental illness can make you or break you. The same can be said of magick. It’s up to you to consistently make the choice…will this kill me, or make me stronger?

Next time…Divine Madness and Mental Illness.

Picture Credit

1. Olesya Novik, Frail Equilibrium, http://fantasyartdesign.com/free-wallpapers/digital-art.php?i_i=1776&u_i=2462

To continue from Part 1… This article will discuss the similarities between mystical, magickal and psychotic experience. Psychosis is a phenomena present in several mental illnesses and IMHO is a potential in all of them: severe states of depression, mania and anxiety can and have led some patients to states of psychosis, usually delusional states. (Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.) However, in some bipolar people and people with schizophrenia, hallucinations are also not uncommon. HOWEVER, as you’ll find below, the similarities between psychotic states and mysticism are pretty shocking, and there’s not much of a hop from mysticism to magick.

This is purely speculation on my part, but I wonder if the two experiences (with differing actualities and differing results) have a common root. Mysticism and psychosis are both reinterpretations of reality, the former hopefully leading you into a truer, more whole picture (for better or for worse) and the latter a medical symptom that distorts reality. However, I can say from experience that living through such things can lead one to a greater understanding of themselves and how they fit in the world, since (at least I find) the experience of psychosis to be potentially shattering to the personality. You have no choice but to redefine yourself in such a way as to withstand the next blow.

Anyway…


Picture of Psychosis- Maureen Oliver

How are they similar? How are they different? Comparing and contrasting Mysticism and Psychosis

Now, I don’t want to completely reiterate what I’ve found in Tomas’ Agosin’s very awesome article (see below), but I will be drawing heavily on his criteria as well as supplementing it with my own experience. Agosin’s similarities are mainly focused on mysticism. However, it won’t be too difficult to see the similarities between magickal and mystical experience.


  • Intense subjectivity and ineffable quality. I don’t think I need to say that magickal and mystical experiences are intensely subjective, and it can be incredibly difficult explaining one’s mystical or magickal experience to another person in terms to make things easily understood…unless, of course, the person you’re speaking with has had a similar experience. Agosin says, “The person is totally focused inwardly. There is a compelling attraction to what is happening inside so that the outside world and daily ordinary aspects of life seem irrelevant. The external world is only relevant to the extent that it reflects the profound subjective experience the person is going through.”

I can stress enough how true this is. With super intense mystical experiences, the world around you just really isn’t as important, and it can take a while to get back “into the groove”, so to speak. For those of us who are mystically inclined, it can take quite a bit of internal cajoling, self-threats (“you’ll have to pay these consequences if you don’t get up and do your job…yes, I know money is an illusion, so is hunger but it’s not pretty…”) to make yourself come back to the waking world. HOWEVER, the mystic learns to balance his experiences in the waking world, to integrate them as a part of the larger picture, to see the value of his mundane life as a means to apply the lessons learned in his spiritual one. The psychotic, however, may not be able to do this in a manner that is psychologically integrating, at least not while in the midst of an episode. Agosin says that they mystic maintains a healthy attachment to the world:

  • Attachment to the world. “The mystic, through practices of self-control, concentration and study, gradually reduces his/her attachment to the world. The mystic sees the material world as transitory and values that which he/she perceives as more permanent, eternal.

The psychotic also detaches from the world in that he/she focuses on inner experiences to the exclusion of socially established rules of behavior. But the psychotic is also highly subjected to profound and intense reactions to whatever is in front of him/her. His/her ego boundaries are easily broken down, and because of the incapacity to control emotions, it is easy for the psychotic to shift from one state to another very quickly, leaving the patient with a disruption of any sense of continuity in his/her sense of self and the world.”

I both agree and disagree. Not all mystics maintain attachment to socially established rules of behavior. The Aghoris and Kapalikas of India are sterling examples of this, as well as many religious practices that are counter-culture to the ruling environment. Many will say LHP people are mentally ill, when I can certainly say I’ve known more than a few mentally stable LHP practitioners who simply did not believe in the same cultural rules as the rest of us.

(Sincerely, “adhering to cultural standards” is a criteria for determining mental health…something I never agreed with and still don’t. Sometimes, counter culture is healthier that pro-culture.)

Mystical experience has also been known to break down ego boundaries, create some intense emotional states and can really make you question your sense of self. I don’t think these markers should necessarily be a criteria for determining psychotic experience UNLESS it fits with other critera, such as duration and frequency of events, as well as identifiable triggers. The mystic should be able to integrate the experience, sooner or later. (On mysticism/magick making you crazy, we’ll get to that in part 3.)

  • Sense of noesis. Mystical experience brings with it the sense of being clued into some great, wonderful secret. It brings it’s own high- ecstatic states, inner transformation, a break down of things you thought you once knew. This feels incredibly important to the person experiencing it, and a part of mysticism is being able to not only integrate what you have experienced but *sharing* what is relevant to share with others.

I tend to think that they mystic chooses to share this importance in non-harmful ways (such as writing about it, etc.) and being open to criticism as it comes. The mystic may firmly believe in what he believed, but he will accept you non-belief or even the possibility that all this is in his head. The quality of the psychotic, however, is that no amount of evidence to the contrary will convince him. As my favorite psychology professor once demonstrated:

Patient: “There’s a little green martain in the trash can.”
Counselor: “I don’t see one.”
Patient: “Not in that trashcan, the other one.”
Counselor: “Not here either.”
Patient: “Well, it’s invisible.”
Counselor: “Then how come you can see it and not me?”
Patient: “Only special people with a certain DNA can see it.”

Et cetera. One could possibly argue that initiates of some traditions, orders or paths act this way, though that is remedied with initiation in many cases. The initiates at Eleusis did not understand the mysteries until their initiations were finished- how can you understand what you don’t experience? Can you imagine explaining it to someone who didn’t believe in such things?

Initiate: “And then we drink this drink, and Persephone herself appears from the Underworld! I no longer fear death since I am a Child of the Mysteries!”
Person: “Uh-huh. Why can’t I see Persephone?”
Initiate: “You have to do other things first, prove yourself and all that stuff. Be purified.”
Person: “Why can’t I just see her now, if she’s real?”
Initiate: “There is a special set of rituals you have to go through, first.”
Person: “You’re an initiate, make her come here now.”
Initiate: “Persephone doesn’t come at my beck and call! It just doesn’t work that way!”

See what I mean? While I have no doubt in my mind that the Epopteia at Eleusis was a very real and life-altering experience, I don’t see people “not in the know” being able to really understand it.

  • Loss of self-object boundaries, disortion of time sense, perceptual changes. Mysticism, magick and psychosis are also characterized by a loss of ego boundaries. In mysticism and psychosis, there is a sense of interconnectedness: if not with other people, than perhaps a greater awareness of a person’s place in the universe. A person gets a greater sense of their true will, so to speak. There is an expansive sense of self, as if you could contain all possibilities and anything could be done. Time sense is often lost- I can think of several times that I think I’ve been meditating or in ritual for 30 minutes and a full 2 hours has passed me by. The present moment feels eternal (and actually, if you listen to the Zen Buddhists, it is eternal)…so maybe it’s rather shedding the illusion of time sense.

The mystic counters this with a health sense of self, or self image, and ego identity: not necessarily an image of the mortal self, but the true self as it relates to all aspects of the person’s present existence, including the mundane persona that we all must work with. I believe Agosin is correct when he says, “The mystic wants to be an infinitesimal point of consciousness, with the smallest possible ego, so that he/she can perceive life in the least distorted way. The personality is seen as a barrier, a filter that does not allow one’s consciousness to perceive life in its truest form. Humility before the enormity of the universe is a common attitude in the mystic.

Hear hear.

The psychotic’s experiences, however, seem to be more self-centered, and he believes that HE is the only one able to experience such things, that HE and HE ALONE is “omnipotent and omniscient.”

The psychotic sees him/herself as omnipotent and omniscient. There is a great increase in self-centeredness, with a feeling of being all-important. He/she is the center of the world, and only he/she is sufficiently important to matter. Ego identity and sense of self are ephemeral to the psychotic, and they rarely have a strong sense of self.

Agosin does say, “Ego-identity is shed by the mystic. He/she works to transcend the smallness of ego and tries to find a more expansive sense of self. The psychotic has never acquired a strong ego identity and often clings to whatever fragments he or she can find of him/herself.” Now, in dealing with some of the Western LHP traditions, this may not necessarily be the case. I know that some Typhonian practitioners and Dragon Rouge adherents attest more to ego-exhaltation, the process of making a person a god while still upon earth. While I personally don’t agree with such, I would not go so far as to call such practitioners “psychotic”. And sincerely, I think many of us have known talented practitioners with an ego to beat the band- I know I have. I can almost CERTAINLY name several famous occultists off hand who thought more than a little highly of themselves…maybe they were the Prophet of a New Aeon or the Father of Modern Traditional/Sabbatic Witchcraft. This doesn’t make them psychotic.

I personally would look for some very marked and obvious delusions of grandeur, some of that insistence I mentioned before. There are lots of interesting UPGs floating around out there, and who are we to say what is true and what isn’t? To talk about a topic that was a rather hot one not a few months ago, there are god-spouses and there are god-spouses. There are those that claim that they are “married” to a god and they see it as a healthy expression of commitment, service and the strengthening of a bond. They do not need recognition from others, though if they do they are able to take criticism. And then there are those who insist on legalizing their unions and being honored and hailed as “husband/wife of N.” They will attack, verbally or whatever other way, their dissenters for disagreeing. Hmmmm. Big difference.

And for the record, NO, I don’t believe myself to be a god-spouse. I will write about spirit relationships some other time, but the “god-spouse” phenomenon will have to be based on observation only.

  • Perceptual changes/Intense affective experiences. Both psychosis and mystical/magickal experience include changes in perception and strong (sometimes fluctuating) emotional states. While I’ve seen many people assert that it is easy to tell the difference between hallucinatory phenomena/synesthesias and genuine mystical experience, I would like to HUGELY beg to differ. There is a often a profound difference but sometimes, the experiences can resemble each other strongly.

Remember the example I used earlier, of a person considering themselves the “spouse” of a god? There are several famous saints who have claimed to enter into a “mystical marriage” with the Christian Jesus. (The whole god-spouse thing is really an old concept, and shouldn’t be spurned on the basis of how it sounds to the modern ear.) St. Catherine of Siena was one such Catholic saint who claims to have experienced a mystical marriage with Jesus. (2) As cited from a Catholic website: “She received the stigmata in 1365, but there were no visible marks on her. In the year 1366 she had a vision of Jesus giving her a wedding ring which she wore till the day she died, at the age of 33 years. In The Secret of the Heart, by Sr. Mary Jeremiah, theologian and contemplative Dominican, we can read about the deep spirituality of Saint Catherine. He focused on her intimate and loving relationship with Jesus.” This marriage was said to be hugely ecstatic, cause both great terror and great joy in St. Catherine. New Advent defines “mystical marriage” as:

“(1)… the mystical marriage consists in a vision in which Christ tells a soul that He takes it for His bride, presenting it with the customary ring, and the apparition is accompanied by a ceremony; the Blessed Virgin, saints, and angels are present. This festivity is but the accompaniment and symbol of a purely spiritual grace; hagiographers do not make clear what this grace is, but it may at least be said that the soul receives a sudden augmentation of charity and of familiarity with God, and that He will thereafter take more special care of it…Moreover, as a wife should share in the life of her husband, and as Christ suffered for the redemption of mankind, the mystical spouse enters into a more intimate participation in His sufferings. Accordingly, in three cases out of every four, the mystical marriage has been granted to stigmatics.” (3)

There is, of course, the mystical marriage of God and the soul as espoused (pun intended) by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, but that’s another beast entirely. We’re talking about the ecstatic, visionary experience of being especially chosen by a god not only for a marriage relationship but also for a special purpose of supernatural import that will effect the salvation of the world.

Keeping in mind that St. Catherine’s stigmata were “invisible”, how do we know the pain she experienced wasn’t an intense synesthesia? How do we know this is a vision, and not a hallucination accompanied by delusions of grandeur? Had we the opportunity to observe St. Catherine, we might be able to find an identifiable trigger that brought on this experience (in my opinion, both psychosis and mystical experiences have identifiable triggers, and magick- by nature- triggers all kinds of interesting spiritual/psychological phenomena through ritual). St. Catherine obviously had a history of such experiences/epsiodes and one could see permanent alterations in her thought processes. This is the woman who went to Rome, at a time when women were expected to defer to a man’s wishes, and ordered the Pope (the de facto ruler of the Christian world) to remain in Rome! If we judge her behavior by the culture of her time, then a practitioner of mental health would have to ask if there was something seriously wrong with a “mere” woman telling the Pope what to do because “God” told her to do it.

(And for the record, I believe St. Catherine’s experiences were legit and I would have love to have been a fly on the wall during that audience with the Pope.)

There are many that like to delineate between positive and negative experiences: saying that it is the psychotic who experiences negative episodes and the mystic who experiences the positive. To that, I would like to say that the people who think so must not have much experience in either.

I do, however. During the height of my own very active mental illness, I experienced what is termed “mood-congruent delusions”: delusional ideas that coincided with my either extreme mania or extreme depression. The nature of those delusions, I don’t feel like sharing, but I can certainly share that these states were similar (though not the same) to mystical/magickal experiences I have had, both positive and negative, in feeling if not in actuality. Both were incredibly vivid and overwhelming. They could be either intensely frightening or incredibly wonderful. Both changed my perception of things around me and how I interacted with reality’s “concretes”. However, there were subtle differences between them, most of the time. During delusional states, I lacked “reality testing” and was unable to bring myself down to a rational level. During mystical experiences, I am better able to reign in my thoughts and achieve a sense of calm and levelness that I can’t during extreme episodes of illness. Following mystical experiences, I am able to examine it and listen to criticisms and consider possible alternatives (am I out of my mind again? How does the quality of the experience compare to others I’ve had? And so on). Also, mystical/magickal experience, while it tends to dissolve the ego (depending on what you’re doing), your sense of ultimate “self” remains intact- in fact, you are probably more aware of it than ever. During my own psychotic episodes, I was completely engulfed in the experience. There was no self- only the dizzying highs of my manic rage and the dragging lows of my depression, and the delusions which accompanied them at their worst.

Notice, though, I said “most of the time”. Following a period where my mental health began to improve, except in very extreme states I was able to maintain lucidity during manic psychosis, which is often a common feature in those with bipolar disorder with the tendency towards psychosis. When on (the wrong) medication to calm my mania, I experienced auditory hallucinations and remained aware that that was exactly what they were and that I should ignore them until they went away. (I am thankfully on a very low dose of the right medication now.)

Back to Agosin. He supports the concept of differences in ego identity: the loss of ego for the mystic and the expansion of consciousness, and the lack of strong ego in the psychotic and the tendency to grasp onto whatever fragments of self they can find. But I want to sincerely point out that magick/mysticism has the ability to utterly shatter the ego and leave the unprepared mystic in a sort of frightening limbo. Agosin also states that serenity is a feature of the mystic, though I would have to be honest and say fear if often a natural response as well. If you study the lives of the mystics or great magicians, you will find both in equal measure. Though, I have to admit that serenity usually prevails in even the most frightening mystical experience, whereas fear is the driving force behind psychosis.

  • Thought processes are not disrupted in the mystical experience. In the psychotic experience thinking usually becomes fragmented and disordered.”

I think I’ve gone over this before. Thought processes most certainly can become disrupted in mystical experience, though perhaps not in the fragmented way of the psychotic. They are more simplified, rather.

So what’s with all the blah blah?

There are many other differences and similarities, but I will leave that up to the reader to peruse and discover in their own time. (Though psychosis-wise, hopefully not through first hand experience.) The point of explicating all this is to illustrate how difficult it can to differentiate between psychotic experience and mystical/magickal experience, and hint at how easily one can blend into the other (which will be better explained in part 3). It’s not that I believe pagans and magickians should accept every story they hear, but maybe that they should take everything with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of compassion and respect. Many prophets of religions, ancient and modern, we undoubtedly regarded as mad by their peers, and many prophets of religions, ancient and modern, probably were. (I could voice personal opinions, but I’ll be nice and keep them to myself.) Think for yourself, question everything and don’t be afraid to decide on your own answers, but at the same time, let others decide on their own as well…wither they’re mystical or mad.

Works Cited:

1. Agosin, Tomas. Mysticism and Psychosis. Retrieved from : http://www.seedsofunfolding.org/issues/11_08/feature_english.htm

2. http://www.catholic-religion-and-more.com/saint-catherine.html

3. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09703a.htm

Picture Credit:

1. http://www.voicesforum.org.uk/expsych.htm

(I will be going back through my entries and adding picture credit.)

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