I decided to write this post about my experiences of recovery and how my life path of paganism (especially shamanism) has helped me. Just a bit of back ground first though, you see I suffer from mental health problems and have done so probably all my life although I wasn’t diagnosed until a few years ago. I had an extremely traumatic childhood involving emotional, physical and sexual abuse right up until I actually began my spiritual path, although by the time I’d got into adulthood I was abusing myself rather than others doing it. Suffice to say I was a complete and utter wreck!
It is true to say that in the past I’ve spent quite a bit of time under the care of psychiatrists, even spending time hospitalised, and even now I am still in therapy and take certain medications, which actually really help me to be able to live a life that isn’t psychotic. However, I truly believe that what has helped me even more is finding a spiritual path that felt right to my soul, that ‘fitted’ me like a glove. One that nurtured my creative and unique spirit and helped me to be authentic. That path is paganism, specifically Shamanic Witchcraft.
I was brought up as a Christian, my mother being a lapsed Catholic but still holding the tenet of Christianity although my father was an agnostic. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I embraced Christianity for myself, joining an organisation which held the Bible (in its entirety) as the sole guide for humans, in fact more than just a guide – it was the rule book! Now, I’m NOT bashing Christianity here because for some this path works, and we each have our own individual path, but for me it didn’t. So, after having turned my back on Christianity I was searching for ‘something’ that would work. I always needed to believe in something bigger than myself, something that would feed my soul. Then, one day, in the middle of the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire, I came across what I can only describe as the spirit of Cernunnos (although I didn’t know the name at the time) and my life changed. It was a life defining moment and an experience that still makes my eyes well up with gratitude and the hairs prickle on the back of my neck. I had finally found what I was looking for, a spiritual path that could give me what I needed and wanted.
Of course my path has majorly evolved since then, from beginning as a real newbie interested in Wicca through to what it is now and along the way I went off along different paths such as Druidism but always came back to witchcraft. Then I was mentored by a shaman and encountered the spirits of plants and animals for the first time and that had a major impact on my recovery. So my path is what I have made it while being guided by the spirits and my patron deities – you could call it a bit of this a bit of that, an eclectic or whatever but it is meaningful to me. And that’s what counts!
So how has my path helped in my recovery? Well I think the main thing is that it’s taught me that I am responsible for my life, no one is going to ‘fix’ things for me and actually there are no ‘fixes’. Life is what it is in any given moment. Everything is energy, pure energy, and life is fluid, not static. I have choices and depending on the choices I make my life can be positive or negative but even if the choice is negative I can still learn something from it. I don’t have to be perfect because there is no perfection – perfection is just a human construct. Even nature isn’t perfect – it just is what it is! The reason why all things in nature work is because there’s harmony. We often call nature cruel but in fact this is another human construct. There is no goodness or cruelty in nature, she is what she is but there is always harmony and balance (as long as humankind doesn’t stick its big clumsy feet in and unbalance things). It often makes me smile when people see an Orca (so-called Killer Whales) throwing around a seal they’ve just caught. I’ve heard people say ‘oh how cruel’ but it’s normal, it’s nature, it’s what Orcas do on occasion. Actually they do this to skin the seal so it’s more easily eaten. To us it’s cruel but in actuality it’s just nature doing her thing. Anyway, I digress.
So, there is no ‘rule book’ to tell me what to do or how to behave – I’m on my own baby! But as a Wiccan priestess (yes I’m also one of those), I do have the Wiccan Rede, which at the end says ‘An it harm none – do as thou wilt’, and as I’ve talked about before in an earlier post this puts the emphasis on me to take responsibility for my thoughts, speech and actions. I can’t blame anyone else, there is no one to blame. If I fuck up it’s because of me and not my best friend, the woman down the road, the person who crashed into me with their shopping trolley, what happened in the past, those who hurt me…and on infinitum! I guess you could say the buck stops with me! That’s a sobering thought isn’t it.
Another aspect of paganism that has truly helped in my recovery is how my sense of time has changed from linear to cyclical. The Wheel of the Year, seasonal change, birth, death and rebirth. There is no end, no finish, just continual cycles and for me that’s really comforting. If nature goes through cycles then so do we. I know that if a difficult time hits me, if depression sets in or whatever, it will pass…change is inevitable. So when I have a particularly emotionally difficult day (as I did yesterday) I know that it will pass eventually and meanwhile I can still learn much about myself and how to change myself from the bad times as much as the good times. In fact, I no longer think of the difficulties as something to shy away from (even though sometimes I do just want to stick my head in the sand and ignore it all). The difficulties I still experience are learning curves and we as humans never stop learning, not ever!
A great aspect of how paganism has helped in my recovery is…lack of sin! Yes, getting away from the idea that we are sinful creatures in need of a saviour has really helped me in living a better, more wholesome and authentic life. It takes away the guilt and shame of living somehow (although I still feel guilt over other things), what I mean is it takes away the guilt of being human. We, as humans, are imperfect…we are meant to be because it is how our souls experience and learn too. If everything were perfect there’d be no need to learn anything at all, no challenges, no satisfaction…and dare I say it…little joy! I guess that last one might be just me because I do feel joy when I overcome some hurdle. In paganism I am my own saviour and that’s not really narcissistic because it means I have sole responsibility for myself. Through freedom from sin I have found I also do not fear death. Ok, I perhaps fear a little the way I might pass on but death itself is just a portal, a doorway….transformation, and if we take life seriously (meaning responsibly) we are transforming all the time anyway. Death of the physical body is not an end, it’s really merely the beginning if you like. Paganism has helped me release my attachment needs, although I still have them but when I stay in the present moment they dissipate and the attachment dissolves.
Most importantly maybe paganism has put me in touch with deities and spirit guides (animal but for the most part plants) who through their support and great wisdom have helped me realise that there are always opportunities, no failure and through honouring them I gain a sense of coming home. It is often at odds with what I am taught by secular aspects of my life and I do find it hard to live in different realities at once because I still feel I ‘should’ do this and that because other people say so but when I go to my guides and patron deities they show me the middle way…and yes, I have become a ‘walker between the worlds’, which isn’t always easy but it feels right to me.
So, am I recovered? In many ways yes but in some ways no. My journey of healing continues and exploration continues but this is life…and it is what it is! There are no quick fixes, there is no magic wand that will make everything all right and ok. I believe that suffering serves an important purpose and that a person has to suffer in order to be able to relinquish it in the end. I believe in evolution of the spirit as well as the body, and that evolution continues in a cyclic fashion bringing with it more lessons to learn, more exploration and with it more satisfaction. That is how paganism has helped me recover!