(This post is in honor of those who have died by suicide. For more on what you can do to prevent suicide, go to the National Foundation for Suicide Prevention or National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you live in the United States and you are in a crisis, call 988 or text “help” to 741741)
When I was a Christian, I was a part of a Pentecostal denomination for a while. They believed strongly that most of the time, seeking out medical care for physical ailments (and all of the time for mental health ailments) was a lack of faith in God and a lack of faith in how God designed the body and the mind. I remember one time having such a severe case of stomach flu that my parents ended up having to take me to be rehydrated in the ER. When mentioning this to one of my youth pastors later, I told him that I had prayed for hours to be healed before my parents took me in. His response? “It would have happened the next hour if you had simply waited.”
There are so many problems in that statement, but I bring it up to discuss the attitude. And it is one that, unfortunately, Wicca isn’t immune from. For example, I read this quote in a book I otherwise have liked very much and, despite this, would still recommend it. It’s talking about the ethics of doing healing spells for others, but what it says is very troubling.
“She (the person mentioned in the previous paragraph as an example) has something to learn or gain from that illness; otherwise, her Younger Self and Higher Self would not have permitted it.” (True Magick: A Beginner’s Guide, Amber K) In other words, this person is sick because, on some level, they decided to be and they “deserve” the illness because they have things to learn or gain.
Many Wiccans are anti-establishment and have a natural distrust of doctors. Their belief in the divine power in nature also leads them to embrace natural healing methods- supplements, herbs, energy work, and more. There is certainly a place in medical treatment for alternative/natural healing methods, especially in preventative care. I’m not denying that. I’m also not denying that you can learn or gain from just about any situation in life, including serious illness.
What does infuriate me, as someone who suffers from chronic illness, both physically and mentally, is when people use witchcraft as a weapon against those who seek medical care. They accuse them of a lack of faith- of course, they don’t call it faith. They say that they haven’t done adequate shadow work, or that their chakras are simply blocked, or that “my (fill in the blank- Reiki practitioner, herbalist, naturopath, etc.) cured that for me and could cure it for you.”
Today I saw a post in a witchcraft group where a woman who admitted to her mental illness was told that she had obviously just given up and resigned herself to being on meds for the rest of her life. Well, there are worse things than being on meds.
- Being in and out of the hospital is worse than being on meds
- Being unable to function daily is worse than being on meds
- Having to put your life on hold to deal with your symptoms of chronic illness is worse than being on meds.
- Suicide is worse than being on meds.
You get the picture.
Let’s focus on mental health since that seems to be the main focus of the shaming. In 2020, one person died by suicide every 11 minutes in the United States. Those rates were undoubtedly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they line up with what I’ve seen in previous years. One in twenty Americans has a severe mental illness (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, severe major depressive disorder). 60 percent of people who do kill themselves have a diagnosable mental health disorder.
Medication non-compliance is one of the major reasons for relapse into severe mental illness, especially illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. When we urge people to get off medication despite the advice of their doctor, we are taking a very serious responsibility on ourselves. I wonder if people who push this really think of the potential consequences. If a manic person crashes their car or spends their life savings after going off their meds, or a schizophrenic person ends up on the street or in jail (where, sadly, in America, you’re much more likely to wind up than in a hospital in a mental health crisis) are you willing to accept your share of the blame in your action? No, you didn’t tell them what to do, nor did you do the action yourself. But you helped shame them out of a therapy that was keeping them from the worst of their illness.
Here’s a note to those people who think people just give up and get on meds, looking at it as the easy way out or as the path they took because they simply weren’t educated enough- people already feel shame about their mental illness. I can guarantee that anything you say to them along those lines are things they have already thought about themselves. There still remains a stigma against seeking mental health care.
And nobody likes to be on meds. Meds have side effects. They cost money. They’re inconvenient. And they lead to people giving their opinion on your health care as soon as they find out you’re taking them. Anyone who thinks medication is “happy pills” or that they mask mental illness has never dealt with it. Medication very, very rarely makes a person asymptomatic. It controls and lessens, not eliminates. The illness is still very much there to be dealt with. Just like an asthmatic person can have an asthma attack despite taking their medication correctly, people with mental illness can still have a crisis if they take their medication correctly. No one claims medication is a cure-all.
“But magick works….”
Yes, it does. However, it’s not like movie magic. There’s no one who can grow all our bones back with magic like in Harry Potter. Magick works in accord with nature and in accord with our own actions.
People don’t always like to realize that. What’s ironic is that many people say those who are looking for medical treatment are just looking for an instant fix and then turn to magick as if it were an instant fix.
I’ve had powerful experiences with magick. I have had life-changing experiences with magick. And I can honestly say that magick is at its most powerful when you are flowing along with the energy of your spell by acting in accord rather than standing still and expecting the God and the Goddess to just hand you your solution on a silver platter.
What is acting in accord? Well, it’s simple. Don’t do a spell when you apply to grad school, and then don’t take the time to edit the documents you are submitting. Don’t do a spell for a job and sit at home doing nothing. And don’t do a spell for health and expect it to take the place of medical care.
I remember Pete Buttigieg getting criticized for his statement about the COVID vaccine. He said that God would work through that to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But that statement is perfectly in accord with Wiccan thinking. Magick works in many ways, and saying it can’t work through the hands of a trained professional is just limiting it to the ‘movie magic’ kind of experience. To accuse someone of not believing in their own inner power, the power of the God and the Goddess, or the power of magick because they have sought treatment for mental or physical illness borders on spiritual abuse.
Wicca has so much to offer those who suffer from chronic illness, physical or mental. It acknowledges the importance of the physical body and mind. To take care of it and not to harm it is not selfishness or a lack of a desire to do penance, but instead is common sense. Many spirituality techniques (visualization, prayer, meditation) are recommended even by secular practitioners to their patients because the research has shown the benefits of those practices.
But where it differs the most from religious sects that practice faith healing (because certain branches of Christianity are not the only ones that do this) is that it reassures you that you haven’t been “zapped” by the Goddess for some sort of spiritual failing, nor have you been given an extra burden because you can’t learn life lessons in any other way. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes things happen. We don’t believe in Deity that controls every tiny aspect of our lives or our world.
I do not doubt that those who do this are well-intentioned. I just urge them to think before they speak and judge whether or not their words are consistent with the beliefs they claim to hold, as well as with basic empathy and compassion.