Mentally Ill Online Pagan

Being a mentally ill “pagan” is all sorts of fun. (high levels of sarcasm here) Mostly because of all the people out there the broader community who all seem obsessed with how everything has to be “naturally” done, or go back to nature, etc. etc. ad nauseum, blah blah blah. And it’s not like this is anything new to experience or see going on; it’s not. Really, it’s rather old-hat around the pagan community, if you just take a few seconds to google or look up past conversations. And I’ve been dealing with the fall out of this ever since I was a baby pagan back at like 12 years old on Gaia Online (my very first experience with online pagans!).

See, back then I was diagnosed with depression, and I was already on medication. Granted, very low dosage, but I was already on my way to learning that I’m medication-resistant. I was diagnosed with dysthymia; which is ‘chronic’ depression, not major depression, but long-lasting, usually over/about 2 years in duration. So I was in some low places back then. But I was also trying to act normal, because mental illness has always been something that the majority of any community wants nothing to deal with. And being diagnosed with a form of depression, and then silently watching online pagan communities was a huge eye-opener for me. There was a lot I saw back then that I was not too terribly fond of, and have certainly held true through the years.

While I was on Gaia (and also silently reading a host of other pagan online boards), I would often read adult-only pagan/witchcraft boards. I would never participate, because I was a little mouse and goody-girl, and I never wanted to break the rules. But if I just bookmarked and read the posts, well I wasn’t breaking rules and I still got the benefit of learning and information that I otherwise would not have gotten. But this was also something that started to help me in growing out of my “baby pagan” stage, because being a kid and reading adult discussions really does have a way of jarring you out of your comfort zone.

I learned very quickly that the majority of these boards were full of what I now term, and lots of others do, the “love and light” brigade type of pagans. So lots of blessed bes out of context, lots of “no cursing”, throwing around of karma and the “Rule of Three”…all things that I stopped holding to well over 10 years ago now. So I got kind of overwhelmed with all the cloyingly sweet and quite frankly (from many of them) oppressively down-your-throat-shovingly pushy pagans that were insistent on what they believed to be right. Now, I’m biased, because of my experiences, but this experience was pretty formative. So many of these people would push the whole love and light, no cursing, make sure you do everything to be happy and for no personal gain, etc, they all had pretty strong opinions on just who should be allowed to practice or worship.

I remember a specific forum conversation that cropped up on one of the online websites, which one in particular I don’t remember anymore. Original poster commented that they were upset that “sickos” were being let into their local gatherings. Meaning, a new member of their real-world community rituals was open about suffering from depression, and this poster absolutely hated that. Because the person suffering from depression was going to “ruin” the ritual. There was a bit more in the original post, I don’t remember the specific wording, but the gist of it being: mentally ill people should not be allowed to participate in such things, they are incapable of doing ritual, and they should be spiritually quarantined because they will “contaminate” other people.

There were a few people that were calling the poster out on their rudeness, ableism, and general asshole behavior/wording. Those people presented great arguments about how if the community or ritual leaders had met with the new member and had evaluated the situation, then it was fine. If the leaders believed they could accommodate the new member, and the new member had cleared it and was taking care of their own health–well everything is fine. Also, mental illness did not disqualify anyone from participating in open ritual, or even in coven work, so long as the new member and leadership had cleared up specific “rules of engagement” per say.

Most of the group though were of totally different mind. Lots of comments about how the poster was right and that sickos should not be allowed in ritual. That mental illness was a sign of deficiency, and anyone without solid mental state was not qualified to practice. Oh, and my favorite, that anyone with mental health issues was totally incapable of worshiping the gods, or even being cared about by them. Lots of people were cracking rude jokes about how they were “depressed their favorite TV show got canceled” or other BS jokes. Then there were other nasty comments about how depression was just weakness of character, and people just have to “get over it”.

That was just the commentary on depression as a diagnosis. But then the poster came back (maybe a day or so later) and said that it turned out the new member of the real-life group was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So cue mass hysteria in the group. Lots of people saying that the poster should boycott, or plaster physical posters all over the ritual space or local community areas, about the “dangers” of mental illness in ritual. It was really quite ugly all the things that I read. Lots of nasty comments about how that new member should be permanently banned from all local events.

And look — I know that is all extreme.

Because I’m part of some pagan Facebook groups now that are very open, polite and welcoming to those with mental illness of all stripes. I’m very open about my own struggles, and 90% of the time in my current groups I have zero problems. I’m in no way saying that everyone in the community causes problems for those of us with mental illness. Not at all. The majority of the time I’ve had very inclusive experiences, especially over the last 5 years.

But there are still people who make things difficult. And let’s be honest–the pagan community has a metaphysical hard on for “natural” and “homeopathic” and “alternative” treatment options. Medication and doctors are all just Big Pharma–a scam to get you removed from all your money and to cause all sorts of trouble. There’s lots of talk in pagan groups about how you just have to pray, or meditate or take a bunch of herbs to will away any health problems.

Cancer? Herb it away! Depression? Pray it away! Muscle aches? Alternative treatment!

All of this is not to disparage any alternative treatment or natural options that are well-thought out and done with proper doctor or medical supervision; or even using herbs or any other kind of treatment. When it’s done right, and under proper supervision, well that’s just fine on all fronts. I’ve no problem with any of that. I’ve had my doctor recommend alternative treatments for me in the past.

There is a hell of a lot of alternative pushing in terms of mental health in the pagan community though. Lots of “pray away the depression”, or take xxx herb to stabilize your mental health. Lots of meditate or use these salt lamps, or use xx crystal and sleep with it to get rid of whatever problem you have. And this comes at the detriment of real, valuable, and yes chemical treatment by medical professionals. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen someone come into a pagan group asking for a cure or treatment for their problem, and when they are told to first go to their doctor and clear all “mundane” possible reasons — they scream about wanting magic cures. Forget clearing their actual medical health first, oh no, first jump to the magic and the woo.

So I get blow back from this. Because I will admit that I am bipolar and OCD, and I take medication to control these; as well as some counseling and general talking. I make no bones about the fact that my brain is chemically imbalanced. I need medication almost all the time–minus a few short spurts of time where I can control it without medication–and without medication my brain is imbalanced. I do not function without proper medical treatment. You would not believe though how often I get told that I just need to stop taking my medication and focus on whatever the latest fad pagan-flavored ‘treatment’ is. Because this will of course magically cure the chemical imbalance in my brain, something I’ve been treating and dealing with since perhaps the age of 5-6 years old.

I’ve no need to justify my treatment, I know that. But even now, when things are generally good among the community where I chill out, things pop up. I got a message on my tumblr from someone anonymous today while I was at work; which is in itself a bit amusing considering I don’t think I’ve posted about my bipolar or OCD in quite some time, and it’s been a while since I specifically addressed my religious beliefs:

You should be ashamed to be calling yourself pagan. You’re not a real pagan if you are sick and taking medication for some mental bs. stop lying and saying you’re pagan.

It’s good for a laugh; to be honest. I don’t care about them thinking it; and I’m certainly not willing to bother responding on tumblr. It’s really hilarious. I’m just amused that someone thought so strongly that they need to call me out for being “fake pagan” just because I am not neurotypical.

Which just brings me back around to: being mentally ill in the pagan community is not fun. It’s a pain. And even though things are getting better, there are still problems. Today was just a little reminder that the community still has issues.


10 thoughts on “Mentally Ill Online Pagan

      1. I’m having a pretty rough week myself in the mental health department. if you wanna talk feel free to ask for my skype or email.


  1. Thank you for being so brave and sharing this. I too suffer from OCD, bipolar type 1, panic disorder, and anxiety. But what I’ve noticed? Most truly gifted pagans have something a bit neurodivergent about them – their heads broken open in a way – that perhaps cracks them open to let the light, or the gods, in. I am a gythia in training in my Heathen kindred and do a lot of intense spiritwork and my pagan friends, community, and mentors have been nothing but supportive. I really think self-care and medication and mindfulness go hand in hand – it is all about balance, as it were. There is still a lot of stigma but Facebook communities like Followers of the Old Ways are extremely supportive and caring. I think it just depends what crowds you run with. You are in my thoughts during these troubled times – I too have struggled with mania and depression and OCD, and I know what bears they can be. Wishing you the best.


  2. Usually this is from the neos, a group as a whole that I eschew. They are modern through and through and are usually idiots. I do not apologize for that opinion. Lines have to be drawn. You are not alone. I was probably depressive throughout my life until I was formally diagnosed in my 40’s along with anxiety disorder (I also have a touch of OCD and am a damn perfectionist). Once I forgot to renew my meds and within a few weeks I was a weepy mess. No one among the Hellenic recons worries about this. Hey, we have a god and his family devoted to medicine and healing. (Damn Dimwits!!!)


  3. Can’t believe that anon tumblr hater! May as well have said ‘no imperfect people allowed’. Medication has turned my life around as far as treating my depression and anxiety, when ‘love and life’ and ‘get over it’ wasn’t enough. The fact that you are facing your mental illnesses gives you ten times more power than the ones who ignore it or pretend it doesn’t happen to people.


  4. Dear Emily
    What a heart touching story and as a live psychic (more like a live life counselor) i too deal with this on a daily basis. I love the way you are so open and honest as this is one of the main healing tools that you have… I too have dealt with twits from every community and please do not let their venom interfere with your healing. Every day is a new start … every second is precious so tell anyone toxic to get lost! You are a wonderful writer and your honesty is refreshing



  5. Hugs You know what, you’re brave and amazing, and your beliefs and practices are just as valid as anyone elses. I have seen some of this behavior, and it makes me want to really hurt people. The really messed up thing is that most of these supposedly “stable” people are more messed up than the people with diagnosed mental issues. They’re hateful, closed-minded, bigoted, insensitive… I could go on for days. What ever happened to the whole “Pagans are loving and accepting to all those that no one else wants” mentality that used to be so big? Now it’s all lip service and nothing else. You take care of yourself and just ignore the haters. There’s no pill for their issues.


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