Whenever I researched on Wicca and Mental Illness, the little discussion I could find centered around the dilemma of self-harm. More often than not, the tone felt patronizing and scolding. It felt as if Wiccans were demonizing those who have engaged in self-harm, and strongly chastising those that feel compelled to do so, as if self-harm is a moral problem they will karmically be punished for. As if it was something to be ashamed of.
Yes, self-harm is harm. Unfortunately. But… does this make it some Wiccan ‘sin’?
I am going to argue against this view, drawing upon my own experience and what little research I’ve been able to do. In my own knowledge, self-harm is done often for a sense of relief or out of a sense of compulsion. Now let’s apply the Wiccan Rede to this.
‘An Harm Ye None, Do What Ye Will’
Or, as some interpret it, do your will as long as you hurt no one. What is the will in self harm? Is it actually to destroy yourself, or is it towards a sense of relief? Often, myself, self-harm was a strange way to diminish the pain. Yes, physically it hurt, yet mentally it felt good. It actually released the harm and I felt (controversially) better from doing it. Certainly, I never felt that I was being judged for it by the spirits that loved me. Rather, I felt they were gently trying to urge me away from it and towards a healthier release of emotions.
Now, remember that there is still the physical harm happening. The person is still allowing themselves to be in the crossfire of damage as they attempt to reach relief. It is an unfortunate path, and certainly not a proper one towards healing as it causes harm not only physically but emotionally and mentally as well. Only this harm is not the ultimate goal, I think. The ‘will’ is towards relief, numbness, release, etc, that is a side effect of the pain.
Therefore, I do not feel we can demonize self harm. Rather, we need a complex and very nuanced way to decipher the magical implications of it. I feel that instead of viewing it as a moral flaw, we ought to see it as an unfortunately botched spell. Why? Because the ‘will’ of the person is towards something positive. Release from mental anguish, numbness to take away their suffering, or the rush of endorphins that pain brings. Yet the results and actions taken are harm both physical and mental, mixed in sometimes with the release from mental pain. In my opinion, as long as the will is towards something ‘positive’ such as release from pain I do not feel it ought to be judged as if it was a moral sin.
So, if it is classified as a botched spell, then what are the repercussions?
I think this varies from individual to individual.
Many are quick to point to the three fold law as if it judges one morally and dooms one to punishment. Does it? Or is it simply a rebounding of the actions and will mingle? In that case it would be a very tangled message sent out into the universe. I do not necessarily think that in the case of self- harm the Great Goddess/Universe/whathaveyou would respond with punishment. Why would they punish someone who seeks relief from pain? Rather, the Goddess I know would recognize self harm as the distress signal it is and try and find a way to diminish the harm produced all while alleviating the pain that causes the need for self harm. Perhaps this would happen in the shape of offered therapy, or of a concerned friend. Or perhaps the Goddess will bless the person themselves with the tools to surmount it on their own.
Either way, self-harm is complex and difficult. Though it is named after the harm it causes the body and mind, the goal of it (in my limited understanding) is not to produce harm. It is a desperate plea for help. It is a physical seeking of release from pain. Pagans and Wiccans ought to know better than to judge these people. Instead of heaping more harm upon them with our words by telling them that they will be punished for harming themselves (kind of redundantly) we ought to extend to them kindness and wishes for healing of body, mind, and soul. At least, this is my perspective.