Are you ready for ritual? The effects of mental illness, trauma and anger within the Craft

By Daracha and more from Galloway

*TRIGGER WARNING* This post discusses mental illness, sexual abuse, miscarriage and other related topics.

A note from the authors:

In the initial publication of this post, it was brought to our attention that there was a very broad tone to this article. This post discusses the appropriateness of participation in rituals and magical workings by those who are not only mentally ill, but who use witchcraft as their sole means of healing. We recognise that very few people will go through their lives without experiencing some form of mental illness, and know that many of our brothers and sisters within the craft suffer from some form of mental illness, which they manage and experience on a daily basis. This article is not directed at them, more at those who use witchcraft (and paganism in general) as a replacement for professional help.

Not much in the Craft is easy. You can’t just claim to be a witch overnight: it will take some time to really understand what witchcraft is. How witchcraft is perceived today in society is a large factor in your understanding, too. In fact, most religion is difficult to involve yourself in professionally, especially when you enter into the study of it. I met someone last year who is training to be a priest – Catholic I think – and he had many, many years of training to commit to.  Even then, may never get a parish of his own. It will depend how hard he works, and even how enthusiastic he is.

It is here we can actually draw parallels to studying the Craft, or indeed most other religions. If you lose interest or enthusiasm, it becomes apparent (hopefully by yourself, firstly) that this may not be for you. There are other factors that come into play, too. As much as some would disagree, the way you live your life outside of circle should be regarded as just as important as how you conduct yourself in ritual or around perceived “elders”.

This also applies to people suffering from mental health issues.

Many covens all over the world have had people with mental illnesses within their groups, and sometimes that illness has caused anger, arguments, and suffering within the group. Some may have been the victim of some kind of heart break, abuse, rape, murder, or untimely death of a loved one.

Without first seeking professional help, bringing that kind of baggage into your coven or working circle is not wise – it can affect the ritual you do, it might affect the dynamic of the group… most of all, it can harm you. We are not saying that if you have a mental illness you should stay away from the Craft altogether, but think about how you feel, and how those feelings can affect others around you.

If you are sad, angry, hurt, or confused, maybe you should stay away from rituals for a while. I have done this once before. I spent the better part of a year away from rituals while I sorted out my head when I was younger – it was the best thing I could have done, not just for the coven, but for myself. I’d do it again if I had to.

Some people seem to have permanent illnesses that affect their position in the group. Some illnesses come and go, while others are ongoing and require constant management. Without this management, these illnesses can result in arguments, selfishness, backstabbing, and the breaking of oaths. When that happens, often there is no going back. We’ve heard of this in covens over the years – a person who suffers from unmanaged, out of control bipolar disorder starting arguments when things are not going their way. Eventually it can erupt into banishment from the coven if they’re not careful –  the mentally unstable person demanding respect and notoriety yet refusing professional help ends up being ignored, left alone and not given a chance to redeem themselves within their magical group.

When illnesses come and go, people like this often they regret what happened. They then need to swallow their pride and apologise if they want to re-enter into the group. But in some cases people who have left groups have broken oaths and spoken of coven secrets. Often, there is no return from this, no matter how much you say sorry. You had a choice, and you chose wrong by outing that group.

I have met people who used to be members of a coven who have been asked to leave due to their troubled state. Not only that, but they also appear to dislike the opposite gender. Most of them had been with so many partners in their lives, that they had a love/hate relationship with them, or seemed to be constantly single but had issues with that. This attitude is not acceptable in the Craft either; you need to accept that all genders are equal and stop spouting vicious, unnecessarily over the top  feminist/misogynistic views. But when such extreme views are coupled with an unmanaged mental illness or trauma, it can spell extra trouble.

Here’s a hard but common issue: some victims, when they haven’t had the appropriate time to heal/medical attention, can sometimes bring their experience of trauma into a coven. One example that crosses my mind is a rape victim.

A rape is an unfathomably terrible, disgusting and often soul-destroying experience. We are not here to argue this point.

It’s a difficult discussion, as this person is a victim of an attack that has changed their lives, and yes, it was nowhere near fair. But witchcraft should not be pivotal in their healing process. Your high priest and priestess are not trained mental health professionals and should not be treated as such. It is absolutely fine to seek fellowship, love and company from your coven, but ritual and magick should never take the place of professional help and genuine healing.

Sometimes rituals can help you heal, but in many cases the healing process should really have started BEFORE you return to rituals. There is always a way out of the feeling of disempowerment, to make steps towards healing  – often with the maturity, ability and expertise to help others with the same issue.

Sometimes people refuse help, but will dwell on the negativity in their lives and the unfairness of it all.  This, in turn, can draw to attention seeking behaviours in a few circumstances. If it is your choice not to receive help and not to take steps towards healing, this is ok in some settings. Your choice is always your own.

But in the world of the Craft,  if you continually bring that to a coven or group, you may begin to cause trouble for the other members – especially if you are supported by them, but DON’T change your attitude, and never appear to heal from it.

People are only too happy to help people suffering from trauma, but ultimately it’s you doing the healing, not them. It can be hard, but very possible to heal. Your working group there to support YOUR work, but again: they are not trained professionals. If you seek out the help you need, yet your experiences or mental health issues are affecting your ritual work, they may ask you to leave until you are ready to go into ritual or continue on with your spiritual path. Unless a coven can work out some sort of empowering ceremony delicate enough for that hurt individual, serious and intense rituals should be avoided.

No sensible High Priest or Priestess would initiate an adult with unaddressed mental health issues. If they did knowingly, it would be irresponsible, to their own folly, and they will have to suffer the consequences themselves. It may be that they don’t have any respect or trust from any other coven, Elders or Traditions.

It is also extremely unwise to blame the gods for your misfortune and pain. Miscarriages, for example, are absolutely horrible things for people to go through, but one issue that has been noticed by many is the appearance of blaming the Gods for the loss of said child. The Gods had no hands in it, you need to stop wondering why the Gods have seen you in an unfavourable light and caused the death of your unborn child – it’s more likely a medical reason. Someone we met a few years ago blamed the Gods for all their miscarriages. In the end, it had something to do with their blood type. They still managed to have lots of children anyway.

This practise of scapegoating isn’t limited to we pagans, either: it’s common knowledge that a lot of Christians blame their God for the death of a loved one, and I never understood why that was. I’ve never blamed any Gods for anything, I don’t believe in using any kind of scapegoat. My level of worship does not go so far as to believe that the Gods will be on my side if I got pregnant, or I went for a great career job. That’s not what I expect from them. To me, it’s about guidance, advice, snippets of information, and knowing if you are on the right path.

Anger within ritual is not good. If you are angry about something, it’s hard to do anything, even meditate. So why would you go into ritual while angry? Alex Sanders even spoke about this in Stewart Farrar’s book What Witches Do. After spending a day out doing an interview with rather ignorant people of the media, Alex came home angry and tired, and in no way ready to do an initiation that night.

I’d be a hypocrite to try it,’ he apologised. ‘I could sail through it, or course, but it wouldn’t mean anything.’ Then he laughed and added, ‘In my present state, you’d do better to form a circle and protect yourselves against me.’ Even high grade witches are human, but if they are as they should be, they have the self-knowledge and sense of responsibility to act (or refrain from acting) accordingly.

Every human knows that when you are angry, you cannot concentrate, and end up doing something you regret – how many people have reacted physically while angry (like smashing up a ex’s car with a baseball bat) and regretted it when the consequences catch up with you – the same goes for ritual – anger can throw so many energies into a rite that may not be good for it. Remember, it’s all about intent, and if you forget your intent due to anger then it may change the initial aim of the ritual. You need to step back and relax, give your role to someone else if possible, or just sit out of the ritual completely.

The same often goes for people who are upset before a ritual – especially if it is in regards to the ritual. This has never happened to me, but someone I spoke to once was upset and tired before a ritual. In the end, the ritual did not go to plan, the upset person got even more upset and had many regrets after it, as did the other ritualists. They promised themselves that if they ever felt that way again, not to do the ritual, and that is very wise. The High Priest and Priestess that evening did not double check with the ritualists to see if they felt alright. As a HP and HPS, it cannot hurt to check. Of course, it’s also best the ritualists speak up in future if they have an issue. Luckily it was only a smallish private ritual.

If you feel very drawn to the Craft or Paganism, and intend to attend public gatherings and work with like-minded folk, please make sure you are well enough with a positive attitude to do this. Do not enter into the Craft with hatred of any race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, attitudes or abilities. If you have issues with something in the Craft, don’t go near it. Stay away, nobody in the Craft will understand why you are there; they will encourage you to leave. It is your responsibility to stay away from something if you are not capable of working safely, especially when it involves others.

It is also important that you are trusted in the Craft – if you are a High Priest or Priestess and have mental issues or trauma surfacing, it is best you don’t take others under your wing and train them, let alone be treated as an authority. You should step back from the Craft scene and not let anyone pressure you into any leadership roles. You may only make bad judgements, maybe even train and initiate people who are just as ill as you, and thus cause a rupture within the Craft scene… especially with any people that ‘pamper’ your own issues. You have to be careful how you feel, let alone trust those beneath you with the Craft.

As there is no proper ‘school’ of witchcraft and priestess training in the world, people need to be careful who they train. That’s why training takes years – like the Catholic priest in his school. You need proof that that person is stable, and consistent in that stablity. They have to have a general interest in the happiness of mankind to be capable of being trained. People come to Catholic Priests with trust for advice and confessions; you would need to prove your ability to be able to be that kind of authority. If you had an untreated mental illness and a bad attitude, you may advise the person to do the wrong thing, and you are not really in the position to dole out advice.

Time can prove someone’s worth. As I said above, sanity must be consistent in a seeker of the Craft for the safety of all.

We are not demanding all mentally ill folk leave the scene altogether. But we cannot stress enough to you – if you have issues, by all means seek help from medical practitioners, and helplines before you throw yourself, or demand to be involved in a working group. Seek help, and stick to it. If you’re too arrogant to listen to this advice, then it will go badly for you – I promise. Witches are healers for the most part, and if you need healing, then take time out for that before you become a healer yourself, and enter into Witchcraft, or any kind of Pagan traditions and its rituals. Damaged people cannot be healers, unless they have overcome that damage.

Think about it. You’re working with magick, for Odin’s sake. Make sure you’re rational enough for that.

The Craft will test you. The Gods will test you. Magick will test you. You need to be very ready….

Remember:

–          There is a lot of responsibility you must consider when becoming a Priest or Priestess in the Craft.

–          If you have been raped, abused, or traumatised in your life, make sure you have gotten the professional help you need and are ready to take on a spiritual path that involves rituals, magick and other people, also the training and the giving of advice of others.

–          If you have any hatred toward ethnic groups, religions, sexualities, or genders, consider what you are doing and thinking – these are not accepted in the Craft, do not bring your grievances in, no one will appreciate it or put up with it.

–          If you are bipolar, or have any other mental illnesses, be especially sure that you have had adequate professional help to manage your condition, and be mindful what you do in the Craft. Think about your actions, what magick you do, who it will affect, and how ready you are to work as a Witch, HP or HPS.

–          An initiation, whether self or otherwise, is opening yourself up to the gods and the universe. If you are self initiating, please ensure you are mentally ready. Generally, decent HP and HPS will keep you around for a long time before they initiate you, so that all parties are satisfied you are ready for what’s to come. Patience, patience.

If you like, test yourself to see how you fare with this exam . Most of the time when you Google ‘mental illness’ with the word ‘witchcraft,’ you get sites that talk about the witch craze of Salem, Massachusetts. Today, with Witchcraft and Paganism becoming a religious belief of a different sort to Salem, it’s a completely different thing.

Back then, if you were crazy you must have been a witch, today if you’re crazy, it’s best you DON’T become a witch…

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Are you ready for ritual? The effects of mental illness, trauma and anger within the Craft

  1. One of my favorite sayings on this topic is that the mentally ill and mystics/shamans/witches find themselves swimming in the same sea – it is merely a question of who can swim and who can’t.

    I suppose what bothers me about this post is the seeming (and very prevalent) assumption that it is an either/or proposition: either you are mentally ill, or you are not. I think the reality is far more grey than that. Like physical illness, mental illness can be chronic (particularly when left unattended) or periodic or occur in isolated instances, be mild, moderate or severe – but it is VERY rare for someone to go their entire lives without experiencing it in some form.

    Magick in my experience is very much a two-edged sword. On one the capacity to wreak havoc upon a person’s psyche is immense. I mean, IMMENSE. On the other, it affords an opportunity to delve into that space, to uncover wounds, lance them, and allow the healing process to occur. I know of more than one individual whose Craft work empowered them to uncover childhood sexual abuse and similar traumas from their unquiet graves.

    Baphomet teaches us (those of us who work with Hir) the formula ‘Solve, Coagula’. Mental-health treatment very often is about the Coagula aspect – stabilising the sufferer through (usually) drugs and talk-therapy. But to heal the fractures within the psyche, that can sometimes require the Solve, the de-stabilising influence to break through existing (and often unhealthy) coping mechanisms. As I understand matters, this is a not-insignificant aspect of the shamanic journey – to retrieve and reintegrate that which has been fractured by trauma. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that insanity can sometimes be the sanest and healthiest response one can have.

    So, I am not as didactic about who should engage in ritual, and who should not. Really, it depends on a lot of things. Common sense certainly helps. Assessing things like chronic or isolated, mild moderate or severe and the implications of these factors is very important for group leaders and facilitators. Compassion and a little research on mental health conditions can pay big dividends, as can honest communication between people regarding their expectations of group ritual and the coven.

    • Hi Gavin,

      Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. 🙂
      Please take a look at the new edit of this post. I hope it addresses some of your concerns.

      – Galloway

    • You make a very good point here.

      Ritual can shake ‘things’ loose. Often people who suffer trauma very young forget what’s happened and then you start playing with altered states and everything comes to surface. If it’s handled well at the time then it may well be less of an issue later when they do seek professional help, but it serves no one well if it’s the cause of drama because no one is capable of being sensitive to the persons needs… there is as much an issue of ritualists being prepared to deal with this kind of problem as those with the issues seeking the right help.

      Ritual, solo ot within a group, can also be a tool for putting things right in your head. There are aspects of ritual that are, for one, incredibly soothing to a disordered or chaotic mind. There are techniques that help us focus and others, when used in conjunction with regular therapy will vastly accelerate the healing process or coping mechanisms.

      And yes, sometimes ritual and magic are required to blow away those coping mechanisms that got locked into place too early and have acted as a plaster over festering wounds for too long. Not all stable and in control people actually have their shit together under the surface…

      Often the least stable of people appear to be completely on the ball, because suffering trauma and mental illness often leads to developing powerful coping mechanisms, and the stigma around mental illness often equals sufferers to hide their issues away. They’re not the people causing issues in circle, or acting out, because that would blow their cover. Mostly they’re the people who are a little less reliable about showing up or actively avoid responsibilities that might stress them… They, WE, are also the ones who are pathetically grateful when people find us ways to help and participate where we otherwise wouldn’t be.

      This is going to sound a bit harsh, but the people who cause massive dramatics and difficulties within a magical group because of trauma or mental illness are frequently the ones caught to be lying about their experiences with either or both later as well. There is a big difference between someone suffering a mental illness and someone who is a drama queen and attention seeker using mental illness as an excuse.

      • I’m in full agreement with you, and only want to add two things: first, to reiterate that rituals drawing upon the Coagula aspect can indeed be very stabilising for those with mental health issues, “putting things right”, as you say. And second, that even ‘sane’ people (yes, yes) can experience untoward effects if they indulge exclusively in rituals designed to destabilise. In ritual magic as in other areas of life, “all things in moderation” can be a useful principle to adopt.

  2. I see your point and I believe that if you have serious baggage it should be delt with, regardless of your “faith” or your practice of the craft. However to say that those who have emotional baggage should avoid the craft is ridiculous as it would exclude 100% of the population over the age of 25.

    You would be better of saying emotionally unstable or mentally unstable people. There are many survivors of trauma who are quite stable.

    • Hello,

      Thanks for the feedback! We have just re-worded some of the article, as we realised the tone was too broad. This piece is not suggesting all with “baggage” avoid the Craft, rather that people with serious mental issues should seek professional help before getting involved.

      Galloway

  3. I am a bit surprised that people who think they are “cursed” wasn’t mentioned. Yes, psychic attack does happen, but someone with a mental disease could have the delusion that some person or group is “cursing” them and strike out inapropriately. The first step in the recovery of someone with a mental problem is admitting that it is the disease, and not anything or anyone else. I have also heard that 90% of all information you get while under “Psychic Attack” is false. And most the time it is “something else”.
    A simple one card tarot reading should be done before any ritual imo.

  4. diane

    This is a wonderful article and medical conditions require medical help. When a person has something physically wrong with them and testing shows that it is wrong it is a medical doctor that they have to turn to in order to get the help from healing with that condition. You might be able to ask Deity to lead you to the correct type of healer however finding that healer might be a gift from Deity but than it is time for that doctor or other professional to do the required work to bring the medical condition under control. Sometimes when a person goes to alternative healers and I believe in all states when a person goes to an alternative healer they will be given a paper to sign with a statement that reads. Medical conditions need the help of a medical doctor, while alternative healing might help the condition and be an aid in a condition it does not take the place of medical care.
    This is a great article and thanks for sharing it. Blessings d.

  5. darachamelangell

    I’ll admit that a lot of people I know who have issues in the Craft are those suffering from trauma, but am trying not to have to go into detail about them, and of course, avoid naming them. For people to understand our post properly, I feel we’d have to go into detail and that is not what we wanted. These traumatic people – some more than all – are being incredibly selfish and rude to the very people who could never be unkind! One of these traumatised people was seen recently and is not in a good way at all. But they have no friends because of their past behaviour – nobody trusts them. It’s sad, they even dislike me for unnecessary reasons that are well over 5 years old. It’s up to them to approach me for an apology, but I cannot see that happening. Mental issues do need attention, and the ones I know ignore them, I am sorry if some people feel as if it is them or people they know I am talking about here. If you are working well in the craft with an illness, then this post does not apply to you. Only those who wont seek available help. Nor does it apply to those who cannot seek anymore help than they already have. A knowledge of illness within a group is good.

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