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Author Topic: Mental Illness again and BTW Covens  (Read 8530 times)
Tanuki
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« Topic Start: October 04, 2007, 12:18:49 pm »

This is a direct quote from a livejournal community. I asked the Orginal poster if I could directly quote her. Mental illness and paganism is fascinating to me and her topic seemed to be prime example of how mental illness could prevent a person from practicing at least one pagan religion. How can the mentally ill and religions that incorporate the ethereal or magic come together? Is it possible? I'd like your thoughts.

Here is the original post:

"Question on Mental Illness
When checking some coven sites in my area I found that the one Gardnerian coven refuses anyone who is being medicated for a mental illness, epilepsy excepted. Now, I can understand why an illness like Schizophrenia would be a concern, but what about others like major depression or bipolar disorder? I mean specifically in the case where someone acquired it genetically but has since been medicated and stable. The reasoning provided on the site reads as such:

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

Personally this statement comes across as ignorant, as those who are on medication *are* functioning as responsible adults, and most are able to work and thrive as normal human beings. If they were NOT on their medication it would be a completely different story. Also in most cases this sort of thing is genetic, so acquring the mental illness was not something which could have been prevented. For many, like myself, the need for medication will be lifelong.

So I'm curious for those of you in traditions and covens, especially Gardnerian/BTW... does your coven completely rule out people who have mental illness? I'm wondering if this sort of thing is standard policy.

-------------------

EDIT: Apparently various people are misunderstanding me. I didn't bring up this rule just b/c it's unfair and I disagree. A coven has every right to make any rule they deem necessary when screening dedicants. Also I'm well aware that being admitted into a coven is not an entitlement. It's something earned and if you get in it's something to be proud of.

However as someone who has been practising witchcraft for 11 years and only developed major depression 3 years ago, it DOES concern me that a group would not even allow a dedicant purely because of an invisible disability. It's as unfair as saying "we don't allow in people who need to use a wheelchair." However, again, a coven can make that rule if they deem necessary. I can understand that.

MY MAIN CONCERN AND QUESTION was if this policy was common, because after 11 years I've decided I am ready and devoted enough to pursue that step. However if having depression is going to be a problem, then I'd be better off staying solitary, no matter how ready I may feel. Clearly this rule is not consistent among all covens/trads, so I will continue to look elsewhere.

I did not say this initially, but before my post I *did* send a short, polite e-mail to the coven asking about that policy, and stating that I am medicated and stable and that I had been practising for years beforehand. The run a monthly pub meet in my area so I even offered to come and talk with them directly about it. If they say "no dice" then I move on."
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« Reply #1: October 04, 2007, 01:48:06 pm »

"Question on Mental Illness
 The reasoning provided on the site reads as such:

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

-snip-

MY MAIN CONCERN AND QUESTION was if this policy was common, because after 11 years I've decided I am ready and devoted enough to pursue that step. However if having depression is going to be a problem, then I'd be better off staying solitary, no matter how ready I may feel. Clearly this rule is not consistent among all covens/trads, so I will continue to look elsewhere.

While I agree that that certain Gardnerian coven’s statement is arrogant and rude there is an idea floating around that being on medication, even aspirin, would effect how you are able to do magic or connect with the deity because it works on the mind. But I myself would not hold it against any person if the use of that medication allowed them to be stable. However, some rituals are going to involve incense, herbs, and certain drinks and if that is going to harm you because of the medication that could also be a hindrance. Not that I am condoning what the coven is saying.

Most covens are perfectly happy to work with you on any limitations you may have. As long as your depression is under control and you feel ready then you should have no problems finding a coven willing to work with you. In my opinion, they are the exception in Pagan attitude.
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« Reply #2: October 04, 2007, 04:11:29 pm »



"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."


I think this is a very insulting statement, replace "mental illness" with "leg amputee" and listen to how it sounds. It blames the victim of what in many, many cases is a physical problem. 

However, I am willing to think that Paganism, especially the witchcraft kind, does attract people who have physiological issues to work on and are hoping magic will make them okay, special or they will have Powers etc. I prefer to work solitary yet have many (gee, just about all as I think of it) witchy friends. I hear many coven related complaints about having a member who really needs therapy trying to use the coven to work things out, or the closeness and magical work brings out the worst in them. Not Good. If this coven as had too many experiences of that type it may lead to the above statement. Not an excuse, but an explanation.

Someone on meds is working with the illness and dealing with it. I do not see, personally, a problem, nor do I know anyone in the local groups who has been barred for dealing with such an illness. A qualifier of the above type would prevent me from looking into that particular group, no matter what my condition. It can take some time to find a coven that you feel comfortable with, medical issues aside.

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« Reply #3: October 04, 2007, 04:27:27 pm »

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

I don't recall where, but I *have* seen that exact statement before. I can't remember which coven had it on their site though. I found it stupid and offensive then, and I still do.

I can understand not accepting someone into a coven who has an uncontrolled mental illness (both for their own good and the good of the coven! Some practices may very well aggravate a psychological disorder; they might not make the disorder worse, but they could very well bring on an episode or two.) However, individuals who are on medication and are doing well ARE controlling it. That's the POINT of the medication. They ARE functioning in society. To say that they are not simply because they need medication to do so is insulting.

And what about those who are mentally ill but are not on medication? Are they allowed in even if they are currently worse-off than those who are medicated? It seems to me that this coven is not addressing the mental illness, but the *medication*. It almost seems like a "medication makes you a lesser person" standpoint. On top of that, I would HATE to see what would happen if someone stopped taking their meds in order to be accepted into the coven! Shocked
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« Reply #4: October 04, 2007, 05:01:07 pm »

And what about those who are mentally ill but are not on medication? Are they allowed in even if they are currently worse-off than those who are medicated? It seems to me that this coven is not addressing the mental illness, but the *medication*. It almost seems like a "medication makes you a lesser person" standpoint. On top of that, I would HATE to see what would happen if someone stopped taking their meds in order to be accepted into the coven! Shocked

Not to mention, it sets up a VERY ugly situation for "perfect trust".  Because what you're saying is, if you've got an illness, we don't trust you.  Period.
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« Reply #5: October 04, 2007, 05:07:36 pm »

Not to mention, it sets up a VERY ugly situation for "perfect trust".  Because what you're saying is, if you've got an illness, we don't trust you.  Period.

*shudders violently*

And THAT is just absolutely sickening. Maybe by "perfect love and perfect trust" they mean "love and trust only for PERFECT people"?
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« Reply #6: October 04, 2007, 06:06:24 pm »

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

To be honest, I suspect this position comes from the old-fashioned (but still popular with many in the general public) view that someone with a mental illness has some type of major character flaw that is causing the illness. In reality most mental illnesses seem to be caused by some type of physical/chemical/electrical problem in the brain. Medication, in many cases, corrects the problem and allows the person to function normally while they are on it. There is often no reason why a person with a mental illness who is successfully using drugs for it cannot function just as well as anyone else in group spiritual or magical work. A generic "no way" rule is probably just a sign of ignorance on the part of the group with the rule -- as each case really deserves individual consideration.
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« Reply #7: October 04, 2007, 06:38:12 pm »

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

I have a bit of a problem with this, as I have OCD and know there are plenty of people out there with minor mental disabilities.  I agree that this seems to really infringe on "perfect love, perfect trust" more in the sense that you are expected to trust them, but they don't trust you.  Also I agree that mental illness often stems from a physical problem, for instance there is a procedure to freeze overactive sections of the brain to get rid of OCD from what I have been told.

I have come across this idea of rejection before, and the one thing that really helps me deal with it is that it seems through history some of the most accomplished people working in "magical/mystical realities" dealt with rejection and oppression and just came through stronger.  Could anyone claim Aleister Crowley didn't "function effectively in mystic reality" because he battled addiction and was eccentric?  Apparently Gardner didn't think so since he used parts of Crowley material in Wicca, and had a documented friendship with Crowley.  Whether you love him or hate him it is pretty hard to deny that he was a gifted magick practicioner.  Furthermore, I take particular note of Alex Sanders, who of course was the so-called King of the Witches and Alexandrian Tradition founder (interestingly enough Alexandrian is one of the core BTW traditions).  It is well-documented that his first attempt to join a Gardnerian coven was denied.  He didn't let this deter him and ended up getting initiated into another coven, and became quite prolific in the Craft and magickal practices.

So I believe that history has shown us that many true seekers can and will overcome adversity and prejudice and able to succeed as many others before them.

Also, while it obviously comes down to the individual coven, I think that perhaps some just may be forgetting (or unaware) of history.  If someone were completely mentally unstable I could see being extremely cautious or flatout denying entry, but otherwise, this seems to be an unjust prejudice.

And yes, this is is kind of fluff bunny but there is a decent quote in Wicca for the Solitary Practicioner [Cunningham] that basically hints that the Goddess and God are more qualified to determine who is and who is not a Wiccan than certain individuals...  I don't think even the most stalwart witch would claim superiority over deity, just my opinion though.
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« Reply #8: October 04, 2007, 06:54:41 pm »

"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."

I'm a little mystified as epilepsy being classified as a mental illness in the first place. In my experience “high voltage” energy work can worsen seizure disorders. Oh well. In any case, medication is a poor benchmark. I could see "actively receiving treatment for a mental health condition" as a more reasonable benchmark, though still problematic. In a tight working coven where you are heavily screening members, what I would do is ask if they had any problems with mental illness. If they did, I'd do some divination. If they pass that check, I'd ask that they sign a HIPAA waiver to allow their therapist to discuss their condition with one of the group leaders. If the therapist isn't clueful about the person's spiritual practices, phrasing things in "encounter group" terminology can sometimes get the point across. Then I'd do more divination. Then, depending on their condition, I'd ask them to agree to let the coven do a binding spell on them to prevent them from damaging group workings if their mental illness gets out of control.

My group has a congregational model, so there isn't this fuss over who qualifies to be a member and who doesn't. Anyone who comes to three events can be a member, so long as they haven't gotten thrown out for blatantly inappropriate behavior. In a tight working group like a coven, you need to be selective, but I think everyone should have the opportunity to celebrate their faith in community. We've always drawn the line at behavior, not "how crazy are you?" One of our church elders is profoundly mentally ill, but she behaves reasonably well and is very dedicated to our group. She's responsible enough about her mental illness that if she isn't going to be able to behave reasonably, she stays home.

We've got what I call the "projectile vomiting rule" for responding to disruptive behavior. It is based on the example of someone who has a medical condition that includes uncontrolled projectile vomiting. If they want to come to our rituals, they need to be able to excuse themselves and vomit in the shrubs, not on the altar. They need to take personal responsibility for how their disruptive behavior effects others. If they can't, we are going to sit down with them and talk about their behavior and offer what assistance we can in controlling it or redirecting it. If this doesn't help, we respectfully ask them to not participate in group rituals until they have better control over the situation. If we had someone who was an active member of our community and came down with an uncontrollable "projectile vomiting disorder", we would ask if they would like clergy and perhaps a few friends to visit them on the holidays to have a small observance in a controlled situation where everyone has agreed to accept the risk of being vomited on.

Same goes with crazy. If you can keep it under control reasonably well, you can come to open ritual. We accept that mental illness may be the cause of bad behavior, but it is not an excuse for bad behavior.

-- Joshua
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« Reply #9: October 04, 2007, 07:32:05 pm »



"... we will not take anyone who is on medication for any mental illness except for those who have epilepsy. It is our belief that if you cannot function as a fully responsible adult in mundane reality then you cannot function effectively in the magical/mystical realities and should not attempt to do so until you have all your oars in the water and they are working all in proper tandem."


The quote itself does come across as rude and dismissive, and a little bi-polar itself. After all, if you are being medicated, my assumption would be that you do in fact now have all your oars in the water. The implication, to me, is that they would not consider an applicant with oars out of the water, medicated or otherwise.

In practice, each individual coven is likely to have it's own policies about the mental and physical restrictions around their applicants. Our outer court once had a physical limitation on it's applicants, for the very simple and practical reason that the site where we were teaching had stairs, and no "handicapped" access.

Coven leaders are the ones to decide what constitutes a deal breaker in the area of "acceptable" applicant. I suspect a high priestess with knowledge and understanding of mental illness would be more open to that than one who has never dealt with a mentally ill covener in circle.

Our coven's one firm policy is that while we can support coven members, we cannot fix them, no matter what the breakage. So, for new members or old, craft is no cure for what ails you; even though some seek it as such.

As far as I know, there is no over ruling Gardnerian prejudice against mental illness as a whole. And the rather blunt rudeness of a single coven is not representative of the whole.

Teri
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« Reply #10: October 04, 2007, 07:35:33 pm »

Our outer court once had a physical limitation on it's applicants, for the very simple and practical reason that the site where we were teaching had stairs, and no "handicapped" access.

That at least makes sense in that however much we (generally) might like, we can't always fix something like that - at least not immediately. Some things you just don't have options over.
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« Reply #11: October 04, 2007, 09:13:55 pm »

Our outer court once had a physical limitation on it's applicants, for the very simple and practical reason that the site where we were teaching had stairs, and no "handicapped" access.

Off Topic:

I didn't think that Gardnerians had outer/inner court divisions, or actually outer courts at all.  Is this usual?

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« Reply #12: October 04, 2007, 09:43:57 pm »

This is a direct quote from a livejournal community. I asked the Orginal poster if I could directly quote her. Mental illness and paganism is fascinating to me and her topic seemed to be prime example of how mental illness could prevent a person from practicing at least one pagan religion. How can the mentally ill and religions that incorporate the ethereal or magic come together? Is it possible? I'd like your thoughts.

Other people have already made most of the comments I might have, so I'm going to do a reprise on what I said on the LiveJournal thread plus a bit. (Not BTW, but tend to lean that direction in terms of approach to a bunch of this kind of decision, as far as I can tell from conversations.)

1) I think the phrasing given is lousy.

2) That said, I think it's important for group leaders (and groups as a whole) to be aware of their own limitations and issues as well as their own past experiences. Most people I know who are in similar positions have a more nuanced list - but most people I talk to have some stuff they're a *lot* more comfortable dealing with than others.

The example I use is that one of my exes met almost all of the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder (though I could never get him to see anyone for possible help/diagnosis: doesn't really matter: the behavior itself did damage, whatever name it goes under.)

He was part of my first serious relationship: a lot of my early peer-to-peer intimate responses got set by some of his behavior. I've done a *lot* of patching up of inflicted damage since then, but I know that I still don't respond to particular behavior patterns (and specifically the "I love you I love you I love you, I hate you I hate you I hate you" intense cycles very well. Some things I'm more sensitive too. Some things I'm *less* sensitive to. Both have been problems in group work from people with similar patterns.)

I continue to have very real concerns about how to handle those particular patterns in small group work, as a priestess responsible for the health of the group as a whole. That isn't to say I wouldn't be willing to give it a try under really optimal circumstances - but chances are, those aren't going to be true all the time.

(I'd want the person in question to have a really solid stable grasp on how to mediate their behavior and take appropriate responsibility for it, I'd want them to have an ongoing relationship with a capable therapist, and I'd want to make sure that a) whoever was also involved in group leadership felt reasonably comfortable dealing with it (and was fully aware of my past damage from specific behavior) and b) that I had nothing else major on my plate that year. I would not, for example, say yes if I knew I'd be starting a significantly different job, dealing with a family medical issue of some duration, or if I'd recently been significantly ill: this kind of thing, right now, is something where I'd want to go into it with substantial personal reserves of energy and focus. Life will happen anyway - I might not be able to keep that up for the duration of someone's initial training. But I can at least start out as solid as possible.)

On the other hand, I don't have the same kinds of issues with depression, bi-polar disorder, or a number of other issues. I'm certainly aware of concerns, have friends who struggle with some of them - but those situations haven't done the emotional damage to me that makes me really unable to trust my own instincts on some things.

There are some conditions I'd be even more wary of - any kind of issue with disassociation or schizophrenia is even more problematic in groups that do aspecting, horsing, Drawing Down, or related work. Doesn't mean I'd never go there - but I'd want to do it really very carefully prepared, and very step-by-step, and part of that would be being sure the person in question started stable, had a good ability to set their own limits, etc. That's something that takes a lot of time to be sure of.

3) I think every small group has the right to decide who is and isn't open to potential consideration.

Very bluntly, you can't dictate trust and emotional connection. Plus, in the case of small coven settings, you're generally meeting in someone's home: it's flat out rude to insist they invite someone (repeatedly and regularly) that they can't feel comfortable around. Some people have been in flat-out abusive situations from someone who had diagnosed mental health issues, others have had bad experiences with people who went off meds without warning, and still others don't feel they can take a teacher's responsibility comfortably. Again, you can't force that. It would be nice if people would do work towards fixing some of that - but it also, quite reasonably, might not be someone's top priority. (And in a religious group focused on the service of particular Gods, I don't think it automatically should be.)

A year ago, I was at a beginning-of-school presentation from the counsellor at the school I work at talking about mental health issues. She was talking to otherwise extremely capable faculty, but many of them were not terribly familiar with mental health issues, either in general, or in terms of adolescent development. I started getting looks, because I kept going "Well, I know someone with X: here's some stuff they wish people had spotted earlier or that would have helped in their teen years." It suddenly hit me how much many otherwise well-educated people don't know - and in particular, may not know about the practical issues and concerns involved.

My experience is that the Pagan community is more open about talking about some of this than many other populations. (Not always in the most useful ways, mind you, but it's at least on the radar.) The thing is - that means that for some people it's something they've done a lot of work with, and feel they know what their limits are. And for other people, they're aware of just how much they Really Don't Get - and don't want to risk a student's well-being, sanity, or ability to function because *they* don't know enough. I'm pretty sure that's a reasonably responsible reaction. In an ideal world, those people would be able to get substantial useful training (and practical guidelines) and have time to integrate much of it into their practice. In a world where the group leadership often works full time at some other job, and has other obligations as well, not everyone's going to choose to shoot that to the top of the to-do list.
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« Reply #13: October 04, 2007, 10:12:55 pm »

I didn't think that Gardnerians had outer/inner court divisions, or actually outer courts at all.  Is this usual?

I'm feeling ancient again. Smiley The whole "outer court" thing was created by (some) BTWs in 1960s as a way to take pressure off of teaching covens who were overloaded while providing a way for said covens to see potential members in action.
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« Reply #14: October 04, 2007, 11:23:51 pm »

I'm feeling ancient again. Smiley The whole "outer court" thing was created by (some) BTWs in 1960s as a way to take pressure off of teaching covens who were overloaded while providing a way for said covens to see potential members in action.

Ah.  I admire the model and can see its usefulness.  I had thought it was a wiccish innovation, but then I had never heard of most neo-paganism before hitting uni ('81).  My reading appears to have missed a few points.

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Mental Illness, Spirtuality, Christianity vs. Paganism « 1 2 3 »
Social Discussion Boards
Tanuki 33 11748 Last post October 30, 2007, 05:30:14 am
by EverFool
For those of you who practice in groups/covens/groves/lodges etc. « 1 2 »
Pagan Religions
TribalCat 16 4875 Last post July 14, 2008, 02:04:38 pm
by JenniferK
Many Christian pastors dismiss mental illness « 1 2 »
Religious News
LyricFox 25 6461 Last post October 17, 2008, 05:59:46 pm
by RandallS
using magic to cope with depression and other forms of mental/emotional illness « 1 2 »
Faith in Everyday Life
rose 20 6253 Last post March 04, 2009, 03:17:48 pm
by fatalperfection
Chronic Mental Illness « 1 2 3 4 »
Chavi Memorial Chronic Illness SIG
Keilia 59 24946 Last post March 07, 2011, 01:05:54 am
by Dannan
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