Suicide and Wicca ~ An’ Harm Ye None

“An’ Harm Ye None”. One day I’m going to be sick and tired of interpreting this phrase, but that day is not today!

After writing my last post about suicide and paganism, I decided to do some googling. Basically, I typed ‘wicca suicide’ into google and was hoping for some sort of enlightening result. After all, if there was some sort of dialogue happening out there about suicide and Wicca, dear old Google would surely find it, right?

Now, I’m not saying that ‘nobody’ out there is talking about it, but it sure as crap seemed that way when the Google search came up. It was a bunch of articles, some about cults, some about (unfortunately) suicides. But from what I saw -> no discussion about the overlapping of Wiccan philosophy and suicide.

Now granted, I haven’t done an intensive research here. Feel free to drop in with your own links, as well as anything useful!

But there was a method to my madness (hah!) and I did that crappy half-hearted research for a reason. I wanted to see if there were resources readily and easily available to anyone doing a quick search in an attempt at help. The answer is that no, there isn’t easy resources.

This is terrible! Wicca is a rapidly growing religion ranking up there with some of the big monotheistic ones, and we have no suicide resources? Blah!

So what can we do? I would like to suggest that bloggers take up the topic. Try and think about how suicide fits into your wold-view, your afterlife, your concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I’m not expecting everyone to write a book, but just breach the topic. Let’s start a conversation here.

And so, in order to lead by example (not that I’m a great example anyways) I’m going to do my part and talk about suicide and Wicca, specifically suicide and the Wiccan Rede of ‘an harm ye none, do as ye will’.

Now the immediate response to ‘an harm ye none’ and the notion of suicide is that the Rede means, point-blank, no harm. This usually is seen as meaning to cause no immediate harm, such as inflicting pain upon creatures. Suicide is seen as being the result of an immediate form of harm. Why? Because in order to die, one must (usually) harm the body in some severe way. Going with the interpretation of the Rede as meaning to cause no (immediate) harm, it seems that the Rede is against suicide.

Or is it? You see, when I was suicidal, I contemplated suicide not as a painful thing, but as a form of release. A blissful step into an endless void of relaxation. Now how does this line up with the Rede?

I, personally, would argue that the Rede still orders us to not harm ourselves physically. I would even take it a step further and say that, as suicide causes very painful repercussions to those around us, we must avoid suicide in order to not harm our loved ones as well.

However! And here’s where I find the situation gets tricky. Are we harming ourselves (and thereby others) by remaining alive and entrenched in our misery? Is suicide really self-harm when the aim is, much like self-harm, to reduce the amount of pain and suffering? I would argue that, in certain cases, assisted death is an ethical option according to the Rede.  How?

Well, consider the amount of pain that a person is in due to their being alive. Consider the harm being brought to those who are surrounding them, watching their loved one suffer and never being able to alleviate their pain. This is often a large amount of pain and suffering!

In the case of ethical assisted death/suicide, as far as I know of it (and I do not know much) the person wishing to die must go through many doctors and all other options of recovery must have been exhausted. This procedure ensures that the person has received treatment, and isn’t merely wishing to die due to a lack of treatment.

Now, in this procedure (that, again, I know very little of), there is a chance that those who know the suffering person will be informed of the person’s choices and be able to understand the reasons why. Due to this, I think that their suffering can be minimized.

Furthermore, in the case of assisted suicide, the person wishing to die is able to die on their own terms. They are mentally prepared for the process and have physical assistance. I would argue that the harm they are causing to themselves in this situation may be less than the pain that living would bring them. In this case, where the harm of living outweighs the harm caused by death, I think that assisted suicide is ethical according to the Rede.

Now, granted, this is a case of choosing between two forms of harm and choosing the lesser harm. Some may say that doing this is against the Rede. I will argue that that depends upon your interpretation of the Rede.

While some interpret the Rede as meaning to do strictly no harm, others would argue that it is impossible to do no harm at all! Even when eating plants, we are harming plants, and stealing food from bugs and deer. So to these people, the Rede is merely advising us to do as little harm as possible. It is with this interpretation that I am justifying my above argument, as I personally find that it is impossible to cause no harm at all, especially in the repercussions of our actions.

Does this mean that suicide is always an answer then? No, I do not think so, and I think it even less in the case of mental illness. Why? Because I believe in recovery. I believe that medication, spirituality, and a balanced environment can greatly help alleviate pain and suffering. And I sincerely believe that in order to apply the Rede, we must do all in our power to try and cease our suffering in as non-harmful way a way as possible first.

This leads me to say that applying the Rede  to suicidal thoughts involves radical self care. It means to take your medication and consult doctors, to call help lines and to reach out in appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate!) channels. It means that even if the suffering person doesn’t feel like taking care of themselves and struggling on -> that is the moral imperative until every last option for recovery is exhausted. This means not only not giving up in the face of adversity, but also to not resign oneself to merely existing in suffering. We must actively try and heal this suffering!

To summarize, the Rede does not order us to live for the sake of living, nor does it force us to endure suffering for some sacred imperative, but rather to take care of ourselves in order to minimize harm to ourselves and to others.

There is much more to be said on the topic of suicide, notably ‘what about suicide and the afterlife’? or ‘what about suicide and the deities’?, but I will close this post here. I believe it’s long (and heavy) enough as is. Hopefully I’ll get around to the other topics soon enough.

I would just like to close by saying that, if you disagree with me and want to discuss, please be gentle. I am in a very fragile state these days and do not feel like having someone verbally assault me for voicing my support for assisted suicide. I understand it is a difficult topic for many and sincerely hope that I have handled the topic with enough delicacy.


An’ Harm Ye None- Trigger Warnings and Wicca

Now, this is a very complicated piece for me to write. I wrote an unpublished piece on this before, filled with expletives and personal examples and a healthy dose of rage. I’m trying to write something calmer now, and we shall see how that goes.

Trigger warnings have been the subject of much debate, and they’ve even been banned by some universities. Similarly, some medical professionals say that trigger warnings are detrimental to the health of those with PTSD.

Well, I disagree. Why? (How dare I, a crazy person, disagree with a doctor?)

Well, simply put, because I feel otherwise. As someone with a mental illness, I am used to having to argue with doctors. They’ve been wrong about me, about others, and sometimes they need to listen to us to know what we need. You see, mental illness is this funny thing where they can’t just scan/look at you and they know what is wrong. They have to ask you how you feel. And that is all they know. So they have to ask us what we need, what makes us more confident and feel better, and that is valuable information for them. In the case of psychiatric wards, a great deal of changes has been brought to them due to patient feedback. I think trigger warnings is similar.

So alright, I disagree with the doctors. But the teachers are against it, and teachers know how to teach, don’t they? To that I say: teachers are used to dealing with highly functional people who are mentally able to attend their classes with ease. The mentally ill arrive in straggles, glimpses, and hiccups. We slither in and sit unnoticed and virtually hide the entire time we are there. Let me put it this way: the mentally ill are probably a minority in classrooms (at least university ones, where the trigger warning discussion is taking place) and when they are there, they probably interact very little with the teachers.

So no, I don’t think the teachers know how to teach people with mental illness. I think it should be a skill taught to them, with guidelines on how to integrate those with mental illness and severe disabilities into the classroom. I think trigger warnings ought to be one of these and I think that teachers who turn down basic and generic trigger warnings are being discriminatory.

Let me give you another example. I knew someone who had neurological damage and therefore couldn’t watch films. It made them dizzy and nauseous. However, they wanted to take this one class by a teacher who used extensive amount of film clips in class. They went and spoke with the teacher, and the teacher was glad to warn them a few seconds before a film was to be played.

Now, this teacher was one who railed against trigger warnings. He was mentally ill himself, but not of a condition that has triggers (so yes, points of view will certainly differ on this within the community). Yet he was willing to do basic trigger warnings for a physical condition.

Let me give you another example from another teacher, who was a lovely person who loved doing charity work and was a firm believer in peaceful protesting and was generally sensitive to the needs of students. With no warning one day she put on a documentary of the life of Gandhi, and so the students were forced to watch a re-enactment of a mass shooting. After the class, knowing that the teacher was a sensitive person and that I was not the only one severely distressed by the film and the non-warning, I approached her and tried to gently rebuke her. I tried to tell her that such material ought to have a trigger warning. She said nothing. I tried to explain further, saying that women I knew who came from shelters could pick up on the slightest cue of violence. Even something that seems subtle to one that hasn’t gone through domestic violence, such as the manner one strikes a paper of moves an object, is glaringly loud to a victim of violence. So please, I told her, use warnings. She said nothing.

A few years later, I saw her mocking my description on Facebook and using it as a sign of how ludicrous trigger warnings were.

Well. Let’s take some deep breaths. Needless to say, this made me furious. The person whose example I’d given her was a very close relative of mine. I myself had been at a women’s shelter as a young adult. I’d seen how in there, cupboards were closed so softly out of habit, for fear of triggering rage from their abuser. I saw how just they way they all put their cups down silently. These women who invisibly navigate society were experts on the slightest cue of violence. None of them would have thought striking a paper in a violent manner to be funny. It would have set the whole household in tears because their survival had depended on reading this language of violence that is invisible to the rest of the world.

And since the ‘rest of the world’ (read: largely male and privileged females) doesn’t see this language, they think the idea that it might exist is silly.

Well, I’ve got some very strong words to say on this. WE EXIST. We, those who you laugh at, we exist. We, those who cry in class because of violent material, we exist. And WE, WE DESERVE to have our needs met. We have the same fucking rights as the rest of the privileged and safe world and WE DESERVE to attend classes with our dignity intact.

These teachers, who blatantly disregard the sensitivity of battered women (that was the case of the woman being laughed at by my teacher) are exerting their privilege to create an invisible barrier. They are saying ‘normal people only’ and ‘functional/neuro-normative people only’.

Yet they have no problem labeling in large ‘Warning: Contains Violent material’ when discussing public tragedies such as the holocaust. An event that, for many in the class, they didn’t live through. An event that they do not suffer PTSD from. They make trigger warnings for what affects ‘normal’ people, yet refuse to do so for victims of violence.

And then they laugh at the victims of violence.

Where is this discrimination coming from?

In my case, I think it has to do with misogyny. Because, let’s face it, if a veteran had walked in an said they wanted to be warned beforehand of any material/discussion that had to do with war, I highly doubt the teacher would be making fun of them on Facebook.

Fun fact, domestic abuse is considered a form of torture. Yet there is no honor or bravery attributed to these women who took blows for their children. There are no bumper stickers supporting women’s shelters.

It’s not surprising then, to me, that trigger warnings are laughed at. That the subtle signs that these women see are seen as ‘too much’. Notice the dialogue surrounding trigger warnings. It’s very much what misogynistic people (men and women) say about women.

Women are ‘hysterical’. ‘Too sensitive’. Etc, etc.

And yet… institutions and teachers say they want to integrate the mentally ill. They want to help them. Yet… they turn down our largest demand and say that it is impossible. Trigger warnings, are ‘too much’.

And yes, I suppose for those who are used to not having to watch every single sound, smell, and cue for a trigger in hopes of functioning, having to look out for them seems radical. For those who can happily scroll through the news without feeling affected, it seems like a tiring weight to carry. For those who are unused to the burden of mental illness, to carry this small part seems overwhelming.

Pardon me while I maniacally laugh. Welcome to my world, muahahahahaaa!

But I digress. What does any of this have to do with Wicca? Well, an harm ye none. Now, even if you disagree with me on all of the above, know this. For someone with PTSD to desensitize to triggers and eventually ‘overcome’ them in order to achieve the socially touted state of ‘normal’, the triggers need to be measured out in small, gradual doses. But how can this be done if the person doesn’t know when the triggers are coming? The answer is that we can’t, and that an overdose of triggers can be damaging and, in my experience, cause even more complications/ worsen the condition.

Therefore, I firmly believe that in order to “harm none” and better yet, promote healing and integration, we need to use basic and generic trigger warnings. Socially, we already do use some. Content that is violent and difficult to cope with for the general public is marked as such. Now we just need to apply these warnings to generic triggers for mental illness, especially PTSD.

I understand that some may disagree on me with this. Please, comment away! I’d love to hear some discussion regarding this, respectfully, of course.

Wiccan Rede and Self -Harm

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.

Book of Shadows Update and Values Post

When I told myself that I was going to do a light post today, I thought I would simply update everyone on the progress of my Book of Shadows. After all, I had posted the other day about how I felt that me starting a new BOS was the start of a new stage in life, so wouldn’t it be nice to keep everyone updated?

But then I saw Beverly Blaine’s post on Values here and I was immediately torn. I wanted to do a post like that too! Then I almost instantly thought… 20 values? I don’t know of any Wiccan values list that is that long. Even the ‘Goals of a Witch’ by Scott Cunningham is only 13 points long.

As I sat and sipped my cup of green tea (delicious, btw) out of my Zelda cup, I decided to blend the two concepts. Why not give you both an update on my Book of Shadows as well as a discussion on Wiccan values? Because oh so coincidentally the progress I’ve made in my BOS is writing out the Wiccan Rede, which just so happens to also be my main value in life.

So let’s start with the progress in my BOS. So far, I feel it is progressing well. I have written out the Rede by hand with a quill, and have added some swirls in the corners. [I will not post pictures of it fully, as it is a sacred object and I am not comfortable sharing it with the public] As it is an old BOS that I am erasing and re-updating (before that it was a journal that I had repurposed) it feels like a beautiful merging of the past with the present. For my PTSD, to erase the journal entries from a negative time in life in order to refill them with beautiful watercolor and positivity- it feels very holistic.

Now, for the Rede. The Wiccan Rede is famously known in its shortened version as “An Harm Ye None, Do What Ye Will”. But in truth, it is a rather long poem about the cycles of seasons, magic, and living correctly. It was beautiful to read, and really brought me back to my roots. Namely, living magically in tune with my spirituality (whatever that means has changed for me over the years, as it does for many a Wiccan) and non-harming. When I first fell across this value it was through yoga as ‘ahimsa’, then through Buddhism, and finally through the Wiccan Rede. I would say non-harming is the value that I have hinged my life upon, and the one stable principle that has guided me through many difficult decisions.

Some people find the Wiccan Rede simplistic, I find it incredibly nuanced. Non-harming is a delicate affair. It forces you to stand up for yourself in order to not allow yourself to be harmed by others. It forces you to be gentle when voicing yourself so as not to harm by your speech, yet you must speak up because silence can reinforce harm as well by allowing illusions and falsehoods to live. Worse, often we are forced to balance our decisions upon the past of least harm, as there seems to be harm happening no matter which way we look.

There are so many ways to apply the Rede to mental illness and the concepts surrounding it, but I wanted to keep this post short. For now, is the Rede (or some similar concept of non-harming) something you ascribe to? If so, how does it impact your life and especially your experience of mental illness?