I try not to spread anger. I try not to spread hate. I try, as much as possible, to be non-violent. But when I see ignorance and harm being perpetuated, I feel that keeping silent is a way to perpetuate such harm. So I find myself compelled to speak out. There are several articles that have pushed my buttons, but they are growing old and so I can try and talk myself out of dealing with them. ‘no need to add fire to fire’ I tell myself.
But this one. This one makes me angry. And perhaps I am adding fire to the fire, but you know what? At least by voicing my concerns, there will be a voice out there arguing for the sake of those of us with serious mental illnesses. And hopefully, I can help those who relate feel less alone. Because seriously, these sorts of discussions need to stop within the Pagan/Wiccan/Polytheist umbrella.
So here it is. My Very Angry Rebuttal to “Am I hearing a God or am I going Crazy?” by John Beckett. I will assume that the article in question has already been read.
I will try and be neutral and keep the swearing to a minimum. But be warned: this is heavily unfiltered
So here we go. Let’s start with the title. “Am I Hearing a God or am I Going Crazy?”. Well. One would think this would be a great discussion on how mental illness can be distinguished from a religious experience. Wrong.
“If this hits you out of the blue, you’re probably not going crazy”
Straight off the bat, the tone is set. The tone is this: don’t worry, “you’re probably not going crazy”. Alright. As much as I respect the general notion that mental illness does not ‘hit you out of the blue’ – it can. It may. And (gasp!) there is a viable chance that the person is actually ‘going crazy’. It happened to me. It can happen to you.
Alright, so let’s keep going.
“I’m a Druid and a priest, not a psychologist. If you need mental health care, I can’t help you – get mental health care.”
To speak like a millennial… Dude, so, like, what’s your point? Aren’t we talking about mental illness here? At all? Or was that just to draw in attention and make your article stand out? Because it looks like you’re derailing the conversation from actual discussion of mental illness to just using it as click-bait.
Here’s the fucking point. Those two sentences really are a disclaimer. It’s a brief nod at the actual needs of someone with a mental illness, and a brushing aside thereof. Promptly after, the author goes on to say how “very rare” it is “for people to go from mostly functioning in the ordinary world to schizophrenic in the time it takes for a God to pick you up and throw you across the room.”
This further reinforces the tone that ‘don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with you’.
Oh, let’s continue. Please, let’s keep going! Because (drum roll) he’s going to bring in JUNG.
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“Irish author James Joyce once brought his daughter to see psychiatrist Carl Jung. Joyce didn’t understand how his daughter could have schizophrenia. He said “The way she thinks is the way I think, and I am not crazy.” Jung’s response was “You are swimming. She is drowning.””
As a friend of mine succinctly said when I complained about the swimming vs drowning metaphor “it’s not even the same ocean”. Dude! Can Y’all get that? It’s not the same! It. Is. Not. The. Same. PERIOD.
“Hearing a God and having mental health issues are not mutually exclusive. Sometimes it’s both. I have friends for whom it’s both – their lives are challenging, to say the least.”
Really? Again- this reinforces the narrative that the experience may not be mental illness. There may be ‘something to it’ and it may just be a god! And to further ease away any worries the person may have, he continues with a disclaimer, followed by more reassurance that you’re “probably not going crazy”, like this.
“If you’re drowning, get mental health care. But if you were swimming yesterday and today you’re face-to-face with a demanding deity, you’re probably not going crazy. Rather, you’re having a religious experience for which both our mainstream culture and much of the Pagan movement has no context.
It’s the lack of context that makes you think you’re going crazy.”
Wait, wait, waittitty wait. Lemme read that last part again.
“It’s the lack of context that makes you think you’re going crazy.”
Oh. Context. Yeah. Uhm. You mean… the general dialogue that is already present all over polytheism and the general western esoterism regarding such experiences? Like the one you wrote? Or were you talking about something that actually discusses mental illness instead of brushing it aside? Because I’ll agree, there’s not much of that. But let’s not fool ourselves into pretending that there isn’t already a whole lot of dialogue already pushing aside psychiatry in favor of Jung adoration and Foucauldian denial (in fact, there’s a whole ocean of it for us to both drown and swim in!).
Paganism, Polytheism, and western esoterism in general, is rife with people claiming that mental illness doesn’t exist. There is a wealth of articles out there regarding contacting spirits and guides and divinities. The real issue here is a lack of any religious framework that encompasses actual mental illness.
But let’s keep reading.
“Your experiences are real”
I have to say, when I first read this line I was furious. It brought to mind the time I was tearfully trying to eat a lemon-cranberry muffin, which to me tasted like boiled chicken. Why? Because it was a hallucination. Was it real? No.
But Beckett oh so helpfully goes on to say “We can argue about how to interpret these experiences, but that they happened is an objective fact. ”
Really? Really? No discussion of how to distinguish hallucination from religious experience? No discussion about the nature of reality and how to distinguish that either? No? Just- it’s real?
Thanks, I’ll try not to remember that the next time I hallucinate. Because that’s the fact of the symptoms of mental illness: they’re not real. The sadness of depression isn’t caused by anything. It’s just there. The hallucinations aren’t spirits speaking, they’re a chemical imbalance.
These experiences are not what I’d qualify as “real” in a factual or religious sense.
Continuing on, Beckett rounds about to the notion that there is ‘no framework’.
“Our mainstream culture says there is one God who is distant and remote and who rarely interacts with people. The loudest religious alternative says there are no Gods. If you relate your experience to a typical Protestant minister, they will mostly likely attempt to explain it in psychological terms – because that’s all they know. Most Pagans will do the same, for the same reason.
All they can imagine is that either you have a psychological issue or you’re making it up. Their worldview doesn’t include Gods and spirits with sovereignty and agency.
That doesn’t mean such beings don’t exist.”
Here, as someone with an actual mental illness and someone within an esoteric community, I will simply say NO (like grumpy cat). No, no, no. No to the idea that pagans will explain anything in psychological terms other than (fucking) Jung. In my half a dozen years of living within an esoteric community, not once did anyone attempt to push me towards a doctor. Not once did anyone support the idea that I was mentally ill. If they had, it may have helped me get help sooner. Instead, I was constantly pushed towards the idea of there being spirits, Gods, and pseudo-psychological reasoning.
So no, don’t try and say that there is ‘no framework’, and that psychology is “all they know”. They do exactly what Becket discusses right in his article- that don’t worry, “you’re probably not going crazy”. And after making a quick disclaimer of ‘not being a doctor’, they will push their spiritual agenda.
Alright, let’s keep going.
“Our ancient ancestors had context” Yes, really. Let us discuss the persecution of the mentally ill in ancient times. No? Wait? What? Aren’t we talking about that? Or are we narrowing our view to only the ‘positive’ symptoms of schizophrenia such as hearing voices? Why aren’t we discussing how ancient worldviews would have taken in chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, or anxiety?
Why? Because we’re not really talking about mental illness. That’s why. Beckett’s article is almost solely about spiritual experiences. So let’s keep straight on moving, shall we?
“Find a polytheist priest” To which I say…
WHY NOT CONSULT A DOCTOR?!
Here’s a chart of what a doctor can do vs a polytheist priest.
|Provide immediate first aid. You know, in case you’ve physically injured your self. Or if you’re in a state of mania, intense depression, or whatnot, you can receive B12 injections, fast-acting anti-depressants, etc. Just to ‘get you back on your feet’.
||“provide spiritual first aid. Grounding and shielding, prayers and offerings. That will help you get back on your feet where you can start to process your experience.”
|Provide context such as ‘am I crazy?’ – because that’s their fucking job. You can actually discuss with them whether you are having symptoms, to what severity, and what that means.
||“provide context… A polytheist priest can tell you how they experience the Gods”
|Suggest resources such as therapists, psychologists, walk-in clinics, social workers you can talk to, service dogs, etc. They can even refer you to a specialist and you could get a second opinion too!
||“suggest resources. There are books that are helpful. Devotional practices are essential. And while they may not personally know a priest of the deity you’re experiencing, they probably know someone who does. Networking isn’t just a business thing.”
|They can refer you to trained professionals such as psychologists and social workers who will help you ‘figure out’ your experiences. Because that’s what doctors are supposed to do when someone is in distress. Get them help.
||“They can help you figure out how to interpret your experiences.”
A doctor/medical professional should always be consulted in the case of potential mental illness. Yes, consult a priest all you like, but if you feel mental illness encroaching on your spirituality, then why not see a doctor? It boggles my mind.
Oh, and here’s a thing. A doctor will consult with you even if you really are crazy. Most ‘spiritual’ people and priests who are legally priests… will not. It’s not just OBOD that refuses anyone who is on anti-psychotics. It is a general trend within the Pagan/Wiccan/Polytheist umbrellas to refuse mingling with serious mental illness. So even though one may very well want to seek a priest- that priest may refuse to see them due to that person’s illness. Just saying.
“As an aside: if you consider yourself a priest or priestess and you can’t do all these things, learn. And learn quickly. When someone calls you out of the blue begging for help, you don’t want to have to tell them “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I’d ever have a need for that skill.”” OMG. This, this right here. This enrages me, because the author literally began the article with a disclaimer of how they did not know mental illness because their profession was that of priesthood. Yet they say a priest ought to be able to help someone “out of the blue begging for help” regarding mental illness vs spiritual experiences, when obviously not being able to do so themselves? Because if this article was any indication, the author would merely push the person towards believing they were having a spiritual experience and not give them any sort of actual help in distinguishing the two.
“Those of us who are polytheists and especially those of us who are polytheist priests must be ready to respond. There is no one else who has the first-hand experience to tell people “no, you’re not going crazy. You’re hearing a God.””
That, right there, summarizes the author’s view of a discussion regarding mental illness and spirituality, as presented in this article. Parading the idea of being ‘ready to respond’, all while insisting that the person is ‘not going crazy’ and that it is purely a spiritual experience.
For me, this is enraging. But let me try and put my anger aside.
To summarize: Beckett pretends that he is about to discuss mental illness vs religious experiences. He does not. He practically uses the tagline of mental illness as click-bait. He then goes on to repeatedly insist that the person is probably not having symptoms of a mental illness, but a spiritual crisis. He claims that there is ‘no context’ for such experiences, all while being an example of how there is definitely a context- that of pushing aside the symptoms of a serious mental illness as being solely spiritual experiences. Instead of proposing what a doctor could do to help clarify a person’s experience (or how to bring this sort of issue up with a doctor) he solely focuses on what a priest should do for a person. Again, he insists that it is probably a spiritual crisis and encourages reassuring a person that they are not ‘crazy’.
To this, I say that this sort of ‘discussion’ of mental illness is not really a discussion thereof but a dismissal. If the author had not pretended to discuss mental illness, then the article would have been fine. But pretending to discuss something when you are not actually going to discuss it erases it.
Imagine if someone had an article claiming to discuss the experiences of a black woman vs a white woman, only to spend the entire article assuming the reader was white?
Erasure is dangerous, people. I won’t go on to explain why. I don’t want this article to ramble. Suffice to say, I consider Beckett’s article to be yet another nauseating example or erasure, of dismissal, of pretending that mental illness isn’t a problem, and of (once again) the priesthood failing to do their jobs in actually engaging with the mentally ill and discussing mental illness.