My Harrowing/Hero-ing

Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red, photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

“Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red” photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

When I take action to control my life, I’m told I’m being manipulative. When they say I do not inform them of my life plans, it means they wanted me to ask their permission. When I decide what I want to do, it’s not done against anyone else’s will. When I ask for help, I am not asking for everything. When I ask for assistance, I am grateful, because there are things I cannot do for myself due to abilities I lack. I ask to be useful in return.

…and here’s where it gets personal.

It is not my fault when my help is refused. I am not your burden when you took me on as a “project”. I am not a project. I am a person, and I grow, I learn, and despite disabilities, in order to be happy, I have to help myself, do for myself, and not subsist on the crumbs public assistance assumes will leave me healthy.

I never ask anyone to break their back for me. I never lifted a hand to swipe away your bread for mine. I never got this depressed and sick in order to live lazy. When I volunteered at places I loved to work at, with people I loved to work with, it’s not my fault they turned me away because they thought the work was too hard on me, or maybe they thought I became a burden, too? If I cannot even volunteer, what use am I?

When I lost friends, those so-called pals told me they dumped me because they wanted to remember me as I was before I lost my health. But I am beyond pleasing them showing how crazy that made me feel. And when I could not fulfill deadlines for projects of my own, my passions were dying, I felt my fire flickering, my heart burning… What does it matter if I fail or not when I am considered this burden?

I cannot be a burden. It’s too heavy. I have to lose this weight. Not in the physical sense, but as in this weight of expectation. No more will I let my father tie me to the ground and shape my body into nothing but fat. No more will I let anyone sink me into mud whenever they give me looks of disgust like that. I am not this weight. My body is more than fat and meat. I’m not this heavy thing, yet…

I can be an anchor.

I intend to take action to control my life, and, yes, that is being manipulative because I am cutting off these strings to be master-less. I intend to live my life as I’ve always lived, really: as I choose, by my own power, whether or not you feel it’s what you think is proper or not. I do not need approval or acceptance. I never did. I don’t exist to take advantage of anyone. If I can, and I do, I support others in return with the abilities that I have that you do not. What I can do no one else can, and in that I have great value. Let me shine. Let me be my best. Let me produce.

I am a creatrix.

I should not subsist on crumbs, or favors, or public assistance alone. The shame of disability is a shroud created for me once diagnosis rears its ugly head and all the medical expenses pile up, keeping me a slave to an insane little budget, but how else to live when I have to maintain this balance? I no longer fit the mold. Since I cannot do as all the rest, what use is there for me? Do I forfeit all my learning and talent and remain in my closet drawing pretty pictures no one will see? So what shall I do? Wait to die? For years this body has rested underneath the burden of being a burden, practically the word alone “disabled” is enough to shame me into permanent instability. I am not disability itself. I am my own person. I am myself. Don’t mock me or tell me I’m this burden on society, or that my illness means you’re obligated to nurse maid me to Hell. I am not a crippled child who needs to lean on you in that fashion. Who said you had to work for me? Or fix me? It’s not your job.

While on disability, I’m not unemployed, I am working for myself.

When I choose to stand up for myself, I am not putting anyone down. When I decide to try something new, I am not abandoning help. When I ask someone to let me go, I am not asking them to dump me. Stop beating me up for being me. Quit hurting yourself taking responsibility for me. I never asked you to take my job. That’s always been up to me. Someday you won’t ever have to worry. It’s okay to think like you do because you really think it’s because you care. But it’s not helpful.

I am strong. I survive. I work my way through many tough things. But even when I am alone, I realize my survival has been the sum of many peoples’ assistance through many years. Even in my solitude, I am not an island.

I want you to know, I am not this so-called burden. Each time I’m called that, I think I die, and sometimes I thought I did, but each time I bounce back, I know it’s a lie. I grew up angry. How many women like me are told the same thing? How many lose their lives trying to work their way out of being a burden? How? Why?! I suppose I’m to feel guilty for everything they did for me when I couldn’t do anything in return, and they knew I didn’t have the means, so why did they decide to make me a burden? Does it feel good to stab themselves for picking me up when they knew I was too heavy? Because I’m not stabbing them. Just like they accuse me. I don’t do anything! All day, oh, yes, I sit here and project nothing. Especially not that.

Once you realize I am not a burden, you’ll be on to calling someone else the same thing. By then, I hope, I will have forgotten the sorrow of it, yet for now it is not a nothing, it is something I choose to toughen me up. I do not like getting like that. I like being soft, but like so many of you have told me,

  • “it builds character”

.

(not addressed to any one person, or organization, but written for all the women like me who are striving for independence while living with a disability)

I’m Not Laughing, But I Will Smile for Robin

When I heard about his death, I knew it wasn’t a joke. Yet, like the song, it seemed like he “started a joke that sent the whole world crying…” Oh, Robin, sweet Mr. Williams, I wish that one smile of my own could have kept you alive. But no matter now that I’m not laughing, I will smile for you.

There is always hope. Eighty percent of us who seek treatment for our depression don’t kill ourselves, yet the strongest risk factor of depression is suicide. Yet we can’t ignore that fifteen percent of the clinically depressed end their lives. Many of those also suffer from substance abuse problems. I’m not writing this as if this were some book report. Feel I need to provide some bright facts. *grumbles*

I know too many people who have died at their own hands. The first death I ever witnessed was a suicide. He promised me and other friends that he’d be everyone’s worst nightmare.

And promptly aimed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

In
front
of
me
.

He was only 17 years old, and since the age of 14 he battled addiction. He wouldn’t be the first person I knew who committed suicide, but he was the first and most violent.

Robin Williams disappeared just as violently as that boy I used to know. Those blue eyes of his sparkled with tears as much as laughter. Robin always reminded me of the kind of guy that’s the life of the party, but parties end, and he, like so many who suffer from depression, I can see turned to drink to keep that feeling of euphoria flowing… self medication they call it. I think all addicts are mentally ill.

I’m no addict, yet I can understand the despair that drags someone to the bottom of existence. I suffer from manic depression. In fact it is something that keeps me from writing, but sometimes it really gets me obsessively writing! I have not updated my blog since I was critiqued harshly for writing too many posts that were my purest expressions of grief. I felt obligated to be of great cheer to write, yet as William S. Burroughs wrote, “A writer lives the sad truth like anyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it” and that is very much like me. Like many, many other people.

We’re all lonely and sad together on this one planet, aren’t we?

Oh, I’m not unhappy all the time. At other times I’m a pure joy jumping with glee and I can barely contain it! Over the last few years I’ve written a lot about my emotional pain, the scars of my personal grieving process over the loss of my mother and friends I boldly display whether or not anyone is reading, and not all poetry I produce is about one person or that thing that made me sad. However…

What I’ve learned all my life dealing with mental illness (in my family and my own experience): people judge you for everything you do and say once you’re under that label, you will lose friends constantly due to behavior you can curb and can’t control, and there are times when the pain is so intense no one else can possibly gauge how you feel or help you with just words.

All one can do is keep going, which makes things all the more difficult because even though everyone likes to say “help is available” or even we like to tell someone glum the bland statement “You need help” and the ever so useless “things will get better”, they don’t have a clue how to go about helping anyone, or themselves. Not unless you open up. AND even then not unless someone is there to listen. To just be there to listen! I’ve often been asked, “How can I help you?” whenever I’ve felt so down I might as well be crawling.

The answer is fairly simple: “Don’t do anything but be there.”

Playing a supportive role takes doing nothing and comes with a lot of “don’t do this” rules. Like don’t judge. As well as one very important “be” and that is: be gentle.

You thought I was about to say “be understanding” didn’t you?

Being gentle to someone in pain takes a special kindness, far better even than attempting to understand. When someone is in physical pain, or suffering from a bleeding wound, would you be tough with them? Soothing the illness helps ease. We want to transform “disease” to “ease” — the depression can’t go away, no one can make it disappear, but we can make the ways we endure it easier by simply helping each other reach peace.

But.

What happens when “being there” is not enough? I don’t think I can answer that for anyone else, yet even I find myself trying to come up with answers for and why and because.

So I write like I do when I think out loud to myself.

The path to emotional wellness is also a physical health issue fraught with so many ups and downs, I’m surprised anyone survives it. Few folks truly feel inclined to believe a person who eventually turns to suicide to end their constant suffering (not that I’m condoning it, mind you!) justifiably did it to truly end their true suffering.  What many don’t realize is that depression is long term suffering, especially since any kind of depression isn’t just simply explained away as a case of the blues.

I believe when suicides happen, individuals are in deep pain as serious as with any disease. Robin Williams was an actor whose struggles to keep sober and to combat his constant manic ups and downs wore him out. Even though he loved his family and friends, I am thinking that most likely he just wanted that constant pain to end. I’m sad that he died and lost the fight, just like I am broken-hearted over anyone who finally succumbs to any other fatal disease.

Because, believe it or not, depression kills. Depression, more so than experimenting with recreational drugs or what-not, leads people to numb their pain with alcohol and other substances. Whether or not you stay alive, it kills you, eats you up. You can have every luxury in the world and still have that unreasonable, unexplained black emptiness erasing you inside.

I don’t need to list suicide statistics to tell you how much of a problem this violent way to end life is in this country, especially among men, impacts so many families and friends. It’s a kind of death that continues to cause far more pain than any other passing, mainly because it is unnatural for a living being to turn against one’s own need for self-preservation. A person may decide to act on their need to end their pain, but the body itself will still fight on instinct to survive everything you put it through.

I’m no stranger to suicide attempts myself, but it’s never the longing to die, only to end pain that was at the heart of every attempt I ever made. Just so we’re clear, I am not telling you I’m suicidal now! But Robin’s death brings up all those dark memories, and makes me think of people who are suffering as I write these words, and I weep many nights just thinking how helpless I am to fight against my own depression, let alone help anyone else with theirs. Yet it is because I’ve suffered, I know there is a need to lend a shoulder to cry on for someone else, even if they may not actually be crying out loud.

It’s not an easy thing to witness someone in pain as you stand by, but if you knew how good it does to help that other person stand on their own, you’d do it time and time again.

I think it’s the basis of strength.

There are times I wish I could turn back time… or be there for just one more person before they shut off the clock.

So what keeps me ‘ticking’?

Most times I am outside of myself, aware that there are lives all around me not in pain who are simply alive, and it is that life I am grateful for being there. Animals especially surround me everywhere I go. This summer’s filled with life in my neck of the woods.

And I have many, many beautiful pictures to show you… coming soon.

I’m coming in out of the darkness.

Who’s Afraid of the Devil?

I grew up Evangelical Christian, and in my mother’s house we had more than a healthy fear of The Devil. That fear was especially keen during the early 1980’s when day care sex abuse hysteria, also known as “the Satanic Panic” (because all of the allegations of satanic ritual abuse that went along with the molestation allegations), made everyday life for a kid full of the potential to get raped, or murdered, by devil worshipers who could be anywhere. It was all over the news, talked about at church, but what was most heavily emphasized was about the sex. Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. Any thoughts about it made you subject for the Devil. You could invite Him in with just one horny mind. A campaign of shame was hammered into our thoughts to prevent us from getting curious about it, or daring to give in to the natural urge teenage and young adult bodies manifest as they grow. The more we were told that the seat of evil was in our pants, the more it raged. Even when in love, the guilt of heavy petting ruined perfectly innocent relationships. The Devil was everywhere, right in our underwear.

Without getting into all the hoopla of the Book of Revelation (I refuse to quote scripture here because I have an aversion to the Bible, not because I disrespect Christians, but because it’s a religion I don’t identify as my own, and I feel disrespected whenever anyone uses Biblical scripture to defend their beliefs to me because one should not use a book to give me their personal testimony), I’ve always wondered why sex was such a taboo and not a celebrated thing. You would think that people who revere life even in its earliest stages would also be pro-sex! Because how else will we get those babies? Babies come from sex. More specifically, babies are born out of women’s bodies. It’s a woman’s body that is a battle ground in regards to religious morals about sex. You can’t have life without sex, right? So how did sex get so molested? The Devil made men do it. He got up into women’s bodies and made men’s lust evil and twisted so babies come out unhealthy. At some point, I suspect, the Devil was born from the belief that still-borns, sexually transmitted disease, and sexual abuse all originated from one supernatural enemy — a scapegoat to pin the blame on for the sins of men who couldn’t control their urges, especially ones that brought them down into animalistic and brutal practices.

I don’t believe the Devil as molester and rapist was ever a pagan god, or even any god’s adversary, but a personification of the feral side of human sexuality — the kind people greatly fear will take over their bodies while in the throws of lust and euphoria. When we’re naked, we are really stripped down to our true human animal skin, and when it comes to sex, we behave as we truly are, throwing ourselves back to nature.

Getting back to everyday, modern society here, I notice correspondences between symbols, numbers, and the common iconography that people associate with their fears and desires, how we use these images to create good luck and even invite bad things to happen to us. One thing I see repeating throughout pop culture is the Number of the Beast — 666!

I’ve known people who will actually defend the so-called power behind this number, adding so much of their fearful energy to it that they create their own reality of “evil out to get me at every turn”. Why do that? No wonder some people put no stock in other forms of positive ways to fuel their own power and turn to other people for spiritual help. They simply cannot believe that number won’t have any hold on them, especially when I point out that not all cultures on earth consider it unlucky or associated with the Devil.

In light of today being International Women’s Day, I know that the number 6 has a much more benign meaning in Numerology… The number 6 relates to feminine sexuality, family, fertility, domestic duties, womanhood, and home. This makes me wonder if that number has a connection to a fear of the Devil as being a fear of sex, especially as a fear of women having control over their sexuality and being independent of men.  My feminist views aside, I must consider the other meanings of this numerical conundrum.

In Kabbalistic Judaism, the 666 number is representative of the awesomeness of all creation because the world was created in six days, and there are six cardinal directions (north, south, east, west, above and below). Also if you add the numbers 666 together they equal 18, the number of life, also known as the Jewish “Hai” or “chai” which means “living, alive”! It’s customary in modern times to give monetary gifts in the number of 18 because of that spiritual significance.

The number six is a lucky number, and a triple six is a triple trinity. Trinities are really considered special in many religions, most representing the three main forms of gods and goddesses, including the Christian God, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. All trinities also represent three stages of life being youth, middle age, and old age, the emphasis on life, not evil or death. You can put whatever power you want on a number, or any type of sigil, and it can work a miracle for you depending upon how hard and well you believe…

I read somewhere once that the number 6 was sacred to the goddess Aphrodite. I believe that the number 666 may have originally been a sign not of “the beast” but of the lust men have for women, or the lust people have for sex, and that the number represented wild sexuality, something that was later considered evil because it related to the temples of the love goddess where ritual prostitution was practiced, and eventually abused. From there it must have grown, especially with the advent of more conservative religious thought (yes, even the Romans before Christianity frowned upon  some lecherous behavior) into a major misongynist hysteria that manifested with the mythos of the Devil, especially when it involved the prostitution and rape of young people. What once was a sacred institution became a den of debauchery, where people used religion as an excuse to disguise their true intention to exploit the innocent. Hello, slavery!

Just like so many religious institutions today. We trust our clergy, no matter what god devoted to, to be perfect representatives of our god, trusted to help and educate the innocent in the ways of that god. But can we not see how tempting a position to apply for that makes an already perverted “beast” of a person to want to be in? I can imagine it was the same for followers of Aphrodite to use the excuses of religious worship to take advantage of people, especially ones who were taught that it was okay to be a sexual slave in the name of the goddess.

Such behavior leads to un-wellness — centuries of it — and it’s no fault of any god/dess, or even any Devil, and no one need put a number on it either. 666 triggers all sorts of distortions and demons in the mind, even people who aren’t religious are unnerved by it, as if human beings have conditioned each other to see those three 6’s as three human figures buggering one another — come on, you can see it — and that means we’re all going to meet our doom, or that we have dirty minds.

Thinking beyond numbers and symbols, getting to the heart of their meaning and how they can be used, and realizing no thing has any power over myself except what I give it, helped me grow up. And I’m a Witch, I love the magic of these things, you’d think I was a messed up crazy person over all this, but being what I am is the heart of being wise — we practice the craft of it.

How I survived the satanic panic was that good common sense won out over fear. Faced with other people’s ignorance and all the over-the-top claims of satanic abuse every neighbor and their mother had to the point where anyone, including myself, who wore black was suspected of being a Satanist, somehow I developed patience and tolerance, and I took the time to learn mercy and forgive. And, *gasp!* I even made friends with real Satanists who shared with me their stories, set me right, and really helped me appreciate the world we live in.  Anything that could not be answered logically by my mother and other authorities, I turned to the library for help, and that place became my safe haven. To this day libraries are like my church, book stores a spiritual warehouse, and my own reference library at home is like having a chapel at arms-length.

Where did I get my confidence and wisdom to appreciate our differences? You’ll laugh when I tell you that I swear it came from the gods! I escaped into my mind and imagination. I had visions, inspiration, poetry to read, heroes to dream about, and, no, that’s not pathetic, that’s using my mind.  It’s a good thing.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the lessons from my childhood, but I’m also grateful to not live in that atmosphere anymore, to not fear sex or be in constant anxiety over the world blowing up, or even being afraid of eternal damnation if I should die (because no one was ever sure of getting to Heaven due to the multitude of sins one could commit without the reassurance of constant absolution). Besides, I’ve always suspected that “the Beast” already lived and died. He was quite possibly Nero or any number of naughty Roman, or other ancient bad boy leader in power at the time the Book of Revelations was written. No matter, I don’t make the Bible my book of choice as to what choices I make in my life.

The real devils are real people who have the nasty problem of seeking power and control over other people, sexually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. They take advantage of our innocence and vulnerability. They don’t come out of the dark wearing horns and black capes and they don’t use magic or cast curses on us.  The real devils are far more direct, brutal, bloody. They don’t rape us as part of satanic rituals, nor seek to sacrifice us to the Devil. They charm us into sacrificing ourselves to them. The nicest people are the best murderers because they take advantage of our desire to be nice, not just come at us when we’re vulnerable. I shake my head when I hear people claiming demons are inside them or following them around when we have living people who don’t have to have a devil in them to be completely devilish.

Don’t fear 666, or the Devil, or sex, or preach against all the things young people will naturally do due to being human, and don’t tell anyone they’re possessed by the Devil even if they are selfish and naughty — be sensible and guide them to be wary of real dangers in life. Teach yourself and others to have self esteem, to be physically strong and fit, and to read the psychological signs of people out there who may hurt us.  Lead by example.  Live in love.  Be blessed and give blessings in return.

Can I get a Blessed Be?  *giggle*  Or how about an Amen?

In Case You Forgot

If ever any friend of mine has ever felt I talked over them, ignored them, told too many stories that weren’t true about them, grabbed at them too much for their attention, made them feel second best, or that I shoved them aside because I had something else going on that was more “me-centered” and it hurt their feelings, please know that it was never my intention to make you feel disregarded, or disrespected.

I’m too excited when you’re near me, I don’t know when next you’ll go, so I’m anxious to tell you everything I’m thinking because I so easily forget it, sometimes way before you leave.  I can’t let you leave before I get the chance to share with you all the wonderful things I’ve been saving up while you were gone.

I forget that you are just as excited to share as well.  I don’t know how to listen to you.  My thoughts are racing.  I’m sorry.

I’m alone too much.  I know no other life.  The world all around me is too wonderful and too much.  Everything spins me around.  I’m turned on all the time.  Even my own voice is on volume 10.  I can look at your face and not hear a word you’re saying because I’m distracted by the scent of your skin, the bands of light in your eyes, and, look over there!  A squirrel just darted up the tree behind you, but I can’t say anything about it because the scent of peonies is riding the wind, and when I blink I can’t understand anything for that moment you were talking.

I don’t dare ask you to repeat what you said.  It’s embarrassing to admit I blanked you out. You’re going to hate me for doing that.  You don’t deserve to be blanked out.

I can’t tell just any tale about you.  When I talk about you, I will make you fantastic.  I will worship you a hero.  I will breathe into you the poison of a monster if I’m angry with you.  You’ll always be poetry to me.  I won’t name you.  You’ll always have many different names.  I’ll dress you up in costumes.  I do this to avoid reality.  I suppose it’s unhealthy at times, yet it’s too fun to quit.  Try to guess who you are.  You’re all my friends.

You are fantastic.  Let me like you.  I know who you really are off the page.  But let me dress you up some more.  Because I don’t get to play as often  anymore.

I don’t know how to get your attention.  I don’t know how other people do it.  I always think I need a gimmick.  I have to perform.  That’s what I do whenever I’m in public.  Me alone is not enough.  And I can’t let the space between us be silent.  If you’re too quiet, I panic.  I don’t have your attention.  You’re not responding.  I have always had to fight for attention.  I go over looked if I’m not dramatic.  I gotta stand out and shine.  I must entertain you.

I don’t know how to show or return affection.  I really don’t!  I have never understood it.  Giving hugs and shaking hands is uncomfortable.  I never know when someone is sincere when they are touching me.  People touch each other for all kinds of insincere reasons, but when I touch, I am for real, and I pick up all sorts of unsavory feelings from strangers.  No one gets that.  They don’t operate like I do.  Do you know me?  Or do I have to touch you in some special way, and if I do, will I find out if you really like me, or not?

When I reach out, it’s an awkward dance — was that a real hug of comfort or when you were saying hello, you were really telling me good-bye, right?  Like when some people say ‘Let’s do lunch sometime!’ and ‘We ought to meet up…’ and not really mean it, yet I always take it literally and believe it, especially the ones I really want to like me.

I’m alone.  It’s the only way I know to be.  Only way I’m confident to be.  But even I can reject myself…  I should not do that.  We all only have ourselves in the end.  No one else gonna take care of you, who else will love you most?

Do you know I always have to give myself something to look forward to in order to keep going?  I’m so busy pushing myself and patting my own back that I forget to see you giving me support.  I get caught up in my sorrows, hurts, and past complaints, I can get lost within my own shadow.

And I am always somewhere supporting my wounds,  not doing enough to support my healers.

Healers need healing the most.  Because they do the most work.

I take a lot out of my healers.

I’m difficult without wanting to be.  I wish I wasn’t.

I don’t know how to listen.  I can’t listen to you.  I’m in a cloud.

Every night I torture myself with thoughts of what I could have said, or should have done, and talk to myself like I would talk to you if I could talk to you one more time before I sleep, as if you are there in the room with me, so I can make things right with you. And every night I cry because I pray so hard that somehow my wishful words could reach you and bring my love to you so that you never again feel like I don’t like you.

Don’t get caught in your own shadow.  Remember, somehow, remember, despite what you think you swear you may know about me, I’m in my dark corner of the night unable to sleep, saying out loud my “if only you were here’s” and “what I would do different’s” but knowing that when you break away…

When you say it’s “for now”, it really means “forever”, and I lose track of everything with you not in it.  So continue to be in my everything, because you mean so very much.

Without you I would not have been able to crawl out of the pain hole I fell into when my baby boy died, when my mother died, when my aunt died, when my roommate died, when my boyfriend died, when so many others died, and, when I died you revived me, took me to the hospital, held my hand until I woke.  Thank you for being there when no one could be and refused to be.  You were there when my heart got broke a hundred times.  You stayed up with me all night to talk about all the boys who used me.  You were the God who carried me home.  You were the Goddess who tucked me into bed.  Yours were the lips that kissed me on my forehead and bade me many wishes well.

Thank you, a million times, thank you.

Don’t forget!

— For Mindy

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!