Unhinged and unenlightened

A Polytheist Wiccan's Thoughts on Mental Illness

The Pentacle and the Experience of Mental Illness: One Polytheist Wiccan’s Perspective

upsidedownsmoky pentacle.jpeg
Within Wicca, the pentacle is a much beloved symbol. ‘Pointy-side up’, at least. If it is inverted , ‘pointy side down’, it has been my experience that it is often seen as a negative, distasteful, and ‘wrong’ symbol. Why? For some that I have spoken to, keeping the pentagram ‘up’ is a way to distinguish Wicca from Satanism. For others, and this is what we shall focus on, it is due to the symbolism of the pentacle.

Like most anything within Wicca, there is a multitude of meanings that can be ascribed to a symbol. I would like to focus upon the elemental pentacle where each of the points represents one of the five elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit). In this case ‘up’ means that there is one point at the top and that is the spirit which is dominating/above/having power over the physical elements. If it is ‘down’, it can be seen as the physical elements dominating the final point which represents the soul, or the spirit. (Note: I know this does not apply to all Wiccans. However, for the sake of the metaphor, we are focusing on this attitude.) While some may view this symbol as grounding, many Wiccans dislike this inversion, seeing it as a perversion of the properly divine symbol where spirit dominates the body. The physical ought never to take power over the mind!

But isn’t this, to some extent, the experience of mental illness? The body controlling what you experience in your mind and perhaps even warping your reality?

I draw this connection not to try and define mental illnesses or give it a spiritual label- that is beyond my scope. What I am trying to do is to make a metaphor of the experience of mental illness. This, I feel, can be used to point out how mental illness is perceived within Wicca’s sprawling branches.

The fact that this symbol, this dominion of the body over the mind, is seen as wrong whereas the mind over matter is right, reflects an attitude towards mental illnesses. Wiccans (and many other esoteric practitioners!) center their beliefs on the notion that the mind, the spirit, the power of ‘the will’, can trump all (I feel this attitude is especially present in Jungian perspectives). To ‘flip’ this pentacle with the experience of mental illness, where the body/brain chemicals intrude over the mind, presents a serious problem for Wiccans. It challenges the very foundations of their beliefs.

This, I feel, is a large part of the experience of living with a mental illness while trying to live within a spiritual community. Our mere existence is seen as threatening to others’ beliefs in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Speaking openly of our experiences makes others uncomfortable. Because we come to represent this disturbance of what is seen as spiritually and morally ‘right’ – this idea of the mind triumphing over the body we are treated … differently. On a large scale, I feel we are met with disbelief. Disbelief in our powerlessness over the situation. Disbelief over our status as ill, disbelief over our need for exterior help. Disbelief that really, the mind may not always have power over the body. To me, I find this lack of belief very problematic. But I do not want to dwell on it.

Instead, what is a Wiccan to do with this metaphor and the observations it brings? How can we use this to help ourselves? How can it help us understand and express our experiences?

As a Wiccan, I’d like to propose that we push these black and white views aside and acknowledge a basic observation about the pentacle – that it is round, and that round things roll. I feel compelled to say ‘duh’ here because I’ve not heard this discussed much in Wicca (but perhaps I have simply not been aware of it).

Yet it seems to be a very basic part of its nature. It is not necessarily up, or down. How about it tilts a little to the side? The bottom tip it balances on is not necessarily spirit. Perhaps it is balancing on earth, and the spirit is just at the side yet still up. And so what if spirit goes on the bottom? We can still keep rolling and our situation may keep evolving with us. It’s part of life, part of our cycles.

Maybe we will come to a happy statis and sit a certain way for a while. Maybe some turbulence will happen – from outside or within – and it will set us rolling again. But I would like to think that we can break from the ‘up’ and ‘down’ view, and come to see ourselves as going through health and illness as another cycling part of nature.

At least, that’s my point of view. I’d love to hear more discussion on how the pentacle relates to mental illness. Let’s talk about this!

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