“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 mind, give 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!