Therapeutic Magic & Mental Illness, an Introduction

**UPDATE 10/12/2014: When I first wrote this introduction I thought I had all my ducks in a row on this subject, but the research and concentration needed to completely cover what I intended to finish could not be done in a matter of weeks, let alone years. Now I do not know if I ever will. However, this was a great start!**

“To be bewitched is not to be saved, though all the magicians and aesthetes in the world should pronounce it to be so”  — George Santayana The Life of Reason: Reason in Art

In the early days of my magical practice, I was taught that in order to perform magic well, one should be of sound mind and body.  Beyond this, in order to perform magic safely, one should be calm and clear of mindgive generous offerings to all spirits and always have complete confidence.  In fact, you can have low self-esteem about your looks, but can never have a bad opinion about yourself when working magic.  When you set out to cast a spell, you must put all of your confidence into it. Not everyone can draw upon that kind of inner power because they are unaware they have it to begin with.  It takes time, discipline, and practice to get to a level where one can achieve reserves of iron will power.  Yet even the best of us aren’t like that all the time, just only when we are working magic.  There are those of us who are flawed, we need more work and time to accomplish raising power.  Then there are those of us who perform beautifully because our minds are wired differently to work best in that dream state in between states of consciousness where confidence and belief in endless possibility flourishes!

Some of us don’t know how to use our weaknesses as assets, we only think our best abilities are going to be our forte.  We struggle because we can’t believe anything is possible in the face of what we can’t do.  We get stuck in the how and why, not the “do” of it.  Even some teachers think they are supposed to fix us once they know we have problems.  Yet we are not the sum of our problems.  Problems are the doors to our power.  Didn’t you know that?

The stigma of mental illness is a powerful one, enough to convince even the most intelligent and kind magus that the insane are a spiritual threat more dangerous than a malignant spirit.  But magic has always been about changing and creating things to better humankind, to gain power over problems and make solutions, and why not heal and train a tortured mind to overcome disorder?

The Unacceptable Ones

The most undesirable candidates to learn magic, from what I remember, were  the mentally ill.  People with these problems are not so readily recognized at first meeting.  Many folks with mental and emotional problems are often rejected from their own subculture before they even get the chance to identify with said subculture.  Some understandably so, others perhaps unfairly.

The most common undesirable are the ones who immediately make outrageous claims like talking to unicorns and turning into werewolves, to less outrageous delusions like claims of speaking with berries and trees and angels, etc…  Whether or not their condition is real, or if they’re just simply being visually creative, the stigma of mental illness alone is disturbing enough to separate them from any circle.  Witches and magicians are not psychologists, and therefore are not qualified to diagnose mental illness, yet they all have the right to choose whom they will teach and accept into their private circles.  This is acceptable, but we should endeavor to understand how common some disorders are, how they are treated, and in what ways magic can assist people coping with their disabilities. Beyond that, we must no longer see people as the sum of their problems, we need to look beyond ‘the crazy’ and treat them with respect and understanding.

Just as mental illness is not a result of evil spirits possessing the body (as once believed in primitive times), but caused by dysfunctions of the brain and body, magic is not a miracle cure, nor is the medicine one takes to relieve it.  A cauldron’s brew of therapy, a medicinal regimen, physical exercise, proper diet, good sleep habits, a regular daily routine, assistance and counsel of doctors (not just from a psychologist, but psychiatrist and primary care doctor) is even more required to handle an illness.  Adding magical practice to the treatment one is already receiving is just another way to get healthy, but with the kick of getting into the heart of the patterns and cycles of one’s thoughts and consciousness.

It’s Medicine, not Poison

I have seen and faced more prejudice over using prescription drugs to treat disorder than over having a mental disorder itself.  You would think that taking medicine to take care of yourself should be indication to others that you are taking responsibility for your problems, especially so when along with medication you are actively participating in therapy and practicing meditation.  It’s one thing to have a problem, but when some ignorant few see you taking your medication, they’ll want to know why.  First of all, your medical history and your medication should not be public knowledge, that is confidential.  Even when involved in a spiritual group, it’s rude for it to become an issue.  However, I have experiences where instead of asking me what it is I’m taking, some people have made assumptions, and soon gossip built up enough drama to dissolve our connections with each other.

The use of drugs is no stranger in the practice of magic, in fact the mind-expanding, experimental drugs of generations before ours used them to achieve spiritual experiences and to produce visions.  But that all came with a cost.  Many caused damage to their minds that they could not reverse.  The idea of using drugs to heal now comes with the fear of chemicals inducing more disease.  There is also fear that mind-altering drugs open up the consciousness too dangerously wide, leaving the student vulnerable to hostile, lower spirits who can cause all kinds of mischief and chaos.  The New Age belief in natural cures over standard western medicinal ones only makes things worse for those of us who, out of real necessity, must rely on chemicals to support our very natural bodily functions to help us cope with our problems.  The drugs we use are helpful, not like the recreational drugs, home-grown or not, people without mental illness use at a risk to their mental health in the name of expanding their consciousness.

There is no magical drug to help anyone project the spirit into the astral over night, however my experience with peyote was intense and did work for me right away.  Yet I was not disciplined for that challenge and I believe I have spirits to thank for keeping me safe.  My first out-of-body trip was forced upon me, without guidance it was like being tossed into the void without any hope of return.  Peyote, like any drug, should never be taken without the guidance of a professional healer, not distributed on a whim without spiritual purpose.  In fact, I don’t recommend any spiritual use of drugs either.  The best ways to alter consciousness are the natural, harder, more meaningful ways to get it done: go into trance the old-fashioned way, dance into a trance, get your ecstatic joy on!  No drug can provide that reality.

When I take medicine to cope with my illness, I’m not using it as a crutch, nor am I depending upon it to cure all my ills.  Drugs that help the mentally ill aren’t able to do that.  It would be nice if they could, but if wishes were fishes…

From Problems to Powers

I am a Witch with several functional mental disorders that are often exhibited in annoying, irritating, and confusing ways that make it difficult for me to relate to other people.  Over years of treatment, I took ownership of my problems, gained valuable coping techniques, formed healthy habits, and know when to turn to professionals and check myself into the hospital when I’m at my worst.  My condition is not as scary as it seems and it does not interfere with my ability to practice Witchcraft, in reality, if anything, it has enhanced my abilities.  Once I learned to regulate some emotions, I can also draw upon them and use them to direct a lot of power into my work.  The overwhelming passions that have so often hurt me are ones I don’t have to let torture me when I can direct and project them into something useful.  I have come to the conclusion that Witchcraft remains a magico-religion incredibly beneficial to its practitioners and clients who suffer from even much worse problems, yet I am just one case.  I can only estimate what other mages and Witches have done to help heal people with disorders much worse than my own.

I write from my own personal experience and I do not claim to be any kind of  expert or professional in the mental health field.  I can only share with you what I have found works for me.  More extensive research should be cared out by professionals who are sympathetic to and/or are magicians themselves applying the art and science of magic to use as therapy.

Magic transcends and transforms, what a powerful way to supplement medicine!  And even better, it reinforces self-confidence, too.  That is much-needed in a struggle for order over one’s thoughts and emotions.

Is Magic the Way to Sanity?

I asked a friend what his thoughts were on the mentally ill practicing magic. Eight years ago, after my diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization, I went through a brief period where I worried if it was wise for me to continue to practice magic and provide magical assistance and spiritual counsel to others. I thought that my condition would make me less credible as a Witch in the court of public opinion. It is common knowledge in my town I am a Witch, so would having a disorder soon make it seem that, just based on my story, all Witches are crazy? As time went on, the thought of no longer doing what I loved made me more depressed. Practicing magic isn’t just some hobby that makes me happy, it keeps me sane, and I believe it can help others, too. My friend also agrees, yet one should never thrive on magic alone…

Whether someone who is mentally ill should practice magic is a highly personal choice. In my limited experience of working with schizophrenics, the mental illness makes it harder for the practitioner to tell what is objectively real and what is in their head. However other practices like meditation can actually be very helpful. I was able to work with one schizophrenic and develop his meditation practice to the point where he could control whether he was hallucinating.Drew Jacob, altmagic.com

There is more than one way to create peace of mind, sometimes one has to apply many different ways to get at least some semblance of peace. As I look into the many ways of magic, I turn to Witchcraft’s The Eight Paths of Power, with number one being MEDITATION. Meditation is often confused for mere intent or concentration, but really it is all about disciplining the mind and conditioning it to better regulate one’s thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought it a tad incomplete to just term meditation as forming the will to power. Meditation is needed to become not just a good magician, but a healthy person, because it is the method to reach into one’s center of being to create calm, practice silence, become more mindful of one’s behavior and speech, and condition the self to act more out of this center of calm. The calm that is created aids the Witch (or patient, or anyone!) to have more control over the mind and body, to recognize unhealthy behavior and change it to more constructive modes of behavior — it is not just some superficial form of “asking the universe for something until you get what you want because you wished really hard for it”, it requires deeper understanding and years of commitment.

There are no immediate results with meditation. It’s not really even mind control in the cult sense of that term either, because you can still react with emotion, you are not programming yourself to become a robot, meditation just helps to better filter the overwhelming aspects of emotions that can keep us in prolonged states of suffering. Emotions and thoughts are slowed down so you can better deal with them and experience a better quality of life. In magic, meditation helps us to develop a process where we can better direct the power of our previously out-of-control emotional and thinking patterns towards a goal we don’t just want to achieve, but one we can achieve no matter the obstacles. The steps we take to make a spell work, supported by symbols and physical cues (like scented oils and incense for instance), helps to kick-start and maintain this process.  Chanting and ritual further increase the power that meditation starts.  It is the basis for all magic, and healing the mentally ill who need extra help coping with dysfunctional mood and thought regulation.

I will address, in future, each Path of Power as defined by Witchcraft, using it as a guide to suggest and share ways I have used to help me cope with my own struggles. I might add a few more ways I’ve discovered and improvised, too.  Please share with me any ideas and suggestions of your own. Consider this a work in progress. I hope it will help inspire you to write about ways you have utilized magic to heal your own heart and mind.

Magic just might be the right therapy to support sanity, but you don’t have to be crazy to reap its benefits!

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13 comments on “Therapeutic Magic & Mental Illness, an Introduction

  1. forestfae says:

    A few points:

    Dont believe everything you read, and dont read everything you believe 😉
    I have known VERY powerful witches/shamans/medicine men and woman who could not even read, nor have they ever held a book in theire hands back in africa.

    • So have I! I believe, and know, that magic is a healing art/science, one that preceded the medical profession as we know it today. I appreciate the ancients and other cultures’ ways as well.

      I apologize if my post here seems a little disjointed. There is so much on the subject I could write about, much that hasn’t been addressed. After 20+ years of practice, I have started to really write about my experience, yet too many ideas… hard to put them all down! The editing process is a bitch. 😉

  2. forestfae says:

    Sorry, weill leave a more detailed comment in a bit, just busy with stuff in the office, brb.

    • Not a problem! Take your time, and thank you for your thoughtful thoughts so far.

      • forestfae says:

        No problem 🙂

        Dont think I have much to add other than what I have said allready. And I do agree that magick can be healing (when it is used for the right reasons and never selfishly, not saying you do, just confirming one of my own beliefs which I have always strictly adhere to. Never for profit, never for self gratification, never out of selfishness.)

        As for the behavioural therapy, I dont need to tell you that destructive thoughts takes time to grow a firm hold, and it takes time to get rid of them and instead have positive new thoughts in theire stead.Be aware though of labeling yourself too much. I sense a lot of things about you, Valentina. You are strong, but you are also lost at times. Sometimes it is well worth to cut the ties that hold us captive in the past.

        The one thing or rather person that will always be there for you is none other than yourself. From the day you were born to the day you take your last breath she/you will always be that one constant. Embrace her/you.

      • Definitely.

        I go back and re-read what I write and do tend to stick labels/names to things. I do that to “tag” it as a way to isolate it away from myself, plus I find the subject fascinating. I’ve been studying more and more about what causes/what makes these dysfunctions, or rather, the differently-abled aspects of my mind and body “tick” as a means of further exploring who I am. I don’t really view them as disabilities, really.

        I’ve discovered that all my over-emotionality can be a great asset, especially if I were living in the wild. The sensitivity and intuitive nature I have does not seem to fit easily in an urban world. I am only one generation removed from people who still lived off the land from both sides of my family, and both sides of my families have a long history of bi-polar disorder that was self-medicated with alcohol.

        I don’t depend on anyone but myself, and do my best to take care of myself. 🙂 I’m pretty proud of that after years of struggle. I still tend to go back and forth, bending low and rising high, a contradiction of sorts of strength and fragility.

        It is hard to cut ties with my father, especially after so many recent deaths in my family over the last two years. I’m doing what I can to make sure my relatives know I care about them even if they’ve not treated me well in the past. I put love first and I am the first to forgive.

        I think, because out that experience where I lacked love and acceptance, I do my best to act out of love, and so my magic — all my spells I cast — all of them are love spells. I love magic. I love people. I love to share the power…

        And, yes, I do embrace myself, but I fear too often I may write too much about my dark, sad side. I need to share my joy more to balance things out. I have more joyful subjects to write about soon.

        Thank you for your kind words and suggestions! Please continue to come back for a spell. 😉

  3. Sionnach says:

    As a person with a variety of mental health issues myself, and a history of self-medicating with everything I could find, including magic, I can really appreciate this article. I typically expect the Pagan community to be more accepting of the mentally imbalanced than most others, and yet it stuns me when I am informed that not only does my mental health make me a danger to myself, but that by performing any sort of magic or ritual I could be endangering the very fabric of reality itself! That the gods don’t wish to commune with a person who isn’t entirely light of spirit!

    And yet magic and faith are two of the best cures I have ever discovered, requiring more discipline than any other I have tried (besides years of regular counseling) but so much more deeply rewarding. Meditation is an enormous part of my work to find some sort of balance within myself; I once heard in a philosophy class that brain scans of people who meditate regularly show that they remain nearly unphased by stimuli, while the brain scans of those who don’t meditate changed wildly in response to the same stimuli. I’m not sure if it’s true, but it would certainly make sense; as you said, meditation really calms the mind and allows wise and healthy decisions to be made. Years of cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t even compare to the results of a few months of regular zazen meditation for me.

    It’s also really interesting what you said in your comment: “I’ve discovered that all my over-emotionality can be a great asset, especially if I were living in the wild. The sensitivity and intuitive nature I have does not seem to fit easily in an urban world.” I have always felt very similarly, and it is because of those feelings that I am always seeking to live as absolutely naturally as possible. I am far more balanced over all living as close to the Earth as I can in almost every way short of exchanging my home for a tent made of moss and fallen branches.

    Sorry for the long-winded response. I’m glad you have found the proper balance for your own wellbeing, and it’s a shame that people aren’t more accepting of any and all treatments that make you more balanced and whole (or that people believe they know more about how balanced and whole you are than you do yourself), especially in the Pagan community. Your article has definitely inspired me to give some thought to the extent of magic’s effects on my wellbeing and mental health, thank you!

    • Thank you for the thoughtful and prolific response! Don’t feel bad about the length, I *love* long responses because I tend to write a lot myself (!) and I’m usually one who apologizes for that as well. 😉

      Your response has given me the boost I needed to help me finish the next part of the series this weekend. I was experiencing a bit of a artist’s/writer’s block this week brought on by some unsupportive relatives I can’t avoid dealing with — perfect opportunity to write about how some of my techniques help me filter and buffer me from the unavoidable emotional circumstances, right? Yet I forget that sometimes we have to ride the winds of the storm to eventually come to a place of peace.

      Once again, you’re VERY welcome here! Come back and often soon. I plan to write more often in the days to come. Also, I very much need to share more of my joys, too. Yay!

      • Sionnach says:

        I am so glad that we could be mutual sources of inspiration! And yes, writing is excellent therapy, too. I’m sure you’ll walk away from the experience stronger; death before rebirth, as this seasonal transition often painfully reminds us.

      • *does happy dance* In many ways it’s both painful and joyful at once, leaving me quite ditzy.

        !

      • Hello,

        My name is Kesrie and i have a sister with mental illness, according to the pshychiatrist she has schizofreni. We have been told that these peoples can not be treated and that we have to deal with it. But in this blog i read that there is a possibility to teach these peoples to control themselves . But i like to know in details, how.

        Kind regards

      • Valentina says:

        You’ve been told she cannot be treated? I don’t know what you mean by that. Her condition can be treated with the right medication and therapy, but cannot be “cured” of course. What I talk about is managing and living with mental illness. Part of that is using coping techniques as part of daily life to deal with symptoms. These techniques can be in many forms but may not work for everyone.

        It is best to consult with doctors and therapists first, then combine what you know from them the stress relieving rituals you learn from religious and spiritual practices. Hope that clarifies things.

        I wanted to write more on this, but the subject is far out of my hands. I’m a person who suffers from illness, so I can only write from my experience.

  4. […] I have been writing on Therapeutic Magic for Mental Illness, I faced an emotional block that has delayed me reaching the next parts of that series.  Not […]

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