Archive for May, 2015

Improving Online Mental Health Self-Help Culture

Online mental health self-help culture has its pros and cons-  most of these are also true of other medical conditions and disabilities- particularly ones that are less well-understood or acknowledged by mainstream health care professionals and institutions. These are some observations I’ve made after long-time participation in autistic adult & neurodiversity communities. Note that I am far more familiar with helping adults with autism & parents of kids with autism than say, people who have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Pros:

* Spread of good information about mental health, self-help techniques, both mainstream & alternative mental health resources

*More access to information & support particularly for people in under-served populations- uninsured, low-income/working-class people, people of color, GLBTQ individuals, folks with disabilities in addition to mental health issues, people in countries or regions that have minimal or non-existent mental health care

*People finding community, sometimes pride in neurodivergent, mad, disabled and queer identities.

*More understanding for family, friends, community members and mental health professionals

*Advice on how to navigate healthcare/social service/education bureaucracies, and less conventional ways of accessing basic needs (barter, sharing, crowd-funding)

*Peer supported/confirmed self-diagnoses for people who might have a harder time accessing formal diagnosis. Sometimes a person later gets an official diagnosis, services and accommodations.

Cons:

*Spread of bad information on mental health, ineffective or inappropriate self-help techniques (either for everyone or for specific individuals) Framing either mainstream or alternative mental health structures/techniques as either 100% good or bad.

*Professionals & family members who are otherwise unaware of the broad range of mental health self-help communities may see more extreme factions and assume they are representative of the whole. But this is a problem with every subculture, internet or otherwise- especially if something is either unfamiliar or someone is already prejudiced against it, they will pick the most extreme version of it, and that’s the part that becomes most well known, even if it’s a small minority. (This is why respectability politics never works!) And if some part of the media gets involved, well St. Dymphna help us!

*False self-diagnoses that lead to a person to engage in self-help and self-medicating that harms them, spreads inaccurate information about a condition to others. (I’d add “uses self-diagnosis as an excuse- but those of us with official diagnoses are so frequently told that “we’re just using X as an excuse, it’s all in your head, not real, that didn’t exist in my day, blah blah” that quite frankly I doubt that many people specifically seek neurodivergent labels for themselves while knowing they are not accurate. Yes, sometimes there are hypochondriacs or maybe even trolls that try to infiltrate communities. But this is not something people seek out to be “cool”.

*Confusion by both participants and outsiders between  identities and subcultures perceived as unusual/eccentric- such as- otherkin, multiple systems, various alternative spiritual beliefs & practices, gender & sexual minorities that *do not* by themselves indicate a person having mental distress issues vs. assuming that if this person claims this identity they must necessarily be mentally ill, add extra stigma helping.

How to we increase positive results of our communities while reducing negative results?

*Self-care and knowing your limits- do what you need to do to take care of yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If that means taking a break from these communities- both online and in-person support groups, fine!

*Figure out clear boundaries for what you are and aren’t willing to do to help others- a therapist can help with this.

*Get out and be social, hang out with people who are supportive but don’t have mental health/substance abuse issues themselves

*Get lay-level training about how to deal with mental health crisis- both for yourself and others from orgs like National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Note: I know some of my fellow activists don’t care for NAMI- I am just suggesting them as a baseline, you don’t necessarily have to agree with them on everything to learn from them.

*Suggest and redirect people towards groups that focus on resources in their area (I’ve often encountered pleas like “I’m about to become homeless/lose X type of benefits etc” from people without them telling us where in the United States they are, let alone where on the entire frickin’ planet!

*Encourage people to seek out in-person help in their local area, and not wait til things have gotten to an emergency level (or what they perceive as an emergency!)

*Recognize when/if you have a Savior/Martyr/Compulsive Parent Figure Who Must Help/Adopt all the Lost Puppies & Orphans type mentality. Helping people is a wonderful thing! It can also become an addictive and dysfunctional behavior!

*Learn about Minority Stress Theory, and particular issues facing various minority groups that can affect them while accessing mental health care. Learn about different cultural views of mental health

*Share information about how to get professional help, while being understanding of concerns people may have about doing so.

*Moderators of different communities/fora should talk to each other to share information about problematic individuals. Even if some of their behavior is related to their mental health or neurodivergence, that is not an excuse for breaking rules that are clearly stated, being disruptive, or harassing and bullying other people. Hence why, in these communities in particular to clear rules that all participants agree to, and steady & active moderation. Confidentiality is also a must.

May 30, 2015 at 3:05 am Leave a comment

Capitalism, Neurotypicality, and the War on Consciousness

Sean articulates many thoughts I’ve had over the years about being autistic. Also why I Just Can’t Deal with mainstream autism groups anymore.

May 28, 2015 at 12:29 am Leave a comment

Gaining a Global Perspective

I’m excited to see how international my readership has become. While more than half of folks who view my blog are located in the U.S. (whether that means they live there or are travelling), it’s also fun to see where else my readers are located I recall seeing: Argentina, Jamaica, United Kingdom, Brazil, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Japan, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, the Faeroe Islands. I myself follow blogs written by people in Canada, Portugal, New Zealand, the Philipines, Kuwait, Israel, France, Germany, Britain, Australia…not sure where else!

I also keep an eye on the search terms that lead people to my blog- some I’ve noticed recently: mental illness and paganism, “I’m wiccan but mentally ill, mental health prayer wiccan, pagan flower communion, perennial philosophy unitarian, jack in the box origins, trickster, pop culture paganism. I do have plans to write more on mental health & spirituality- when I first started writing on the topic, I could find very little about Paganism specifically, let alone any one Pagan path or any mental health conditions beyond depression and anxiety. I’m glad to see more people writing on the topic, though of course there can be mixed results sometimes when people start giving amateur advice! More on that later.

Well I was thinking about to have a truly global perspective as a blogger. It’s tricky enough keeping a multicultural view just within the United States that includes all the regional variations. I’ve also only had the opportunity to travel to Canada & Mexico- far more than many have- but then again just the traveling I’ve done within the country is far more than some do as well. The awkward part is that growing up, we are taught very little about world history and other cultures. Even what we learn of U.S. history tends to be limited to A Series of Wars, Conquest and Cool Stuff Done by White Guys, with heavy emphasis on memorizing dates of battles. What we learn about Europe is mostly limited to Britain, France and Germany (mostly military related) and aside from the Italian Renaissance and the Spanish empire, the historically Catholic nations of Europe are ignored, and Eastern Europe is a shadowy realm of feudalism and communism. Africa is That Country That Has Starving Children that Angelina Jolie sometimes adopts, Asia (China & Japan) is Exotic & That Place That Has All Those Smart Kids that Dumb American Kids Need to Work Harder to Compete With and South America is Where The Drugs Come From.

So yeah, you get it we’re ignorant. You already knew that, I’m sure! The tricky thing is, when the rest of the world knows more about your culture than you know about everyone else’s- but at the same time which parts can you assume they know and which can’t you? So I try not to- I try to remember to explain origins of distinctly American holidays and customs. But there are other differences I have to remind myself of, especially since I write about topics that tend to be “off the beaten track”- that is when I look up info about a particular country, I’ll have to do more digging to find out how say, autism, bisexuality or magic are viewed there, and if these concepts even exist in their languages! One thing that does give me an advantage, is I live in an area with many immigrants- refugees in particular from Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa and many other places. Having these folks as neighbors, co-workers, classmates and friends has challenged my “Of Course Everyone Does That” style assumptions, as I’ve ended up explaining “Why Do Americans Say/Do X Thing?!!” to them, and they’ve done the same about their own customs and habits.

May 27, 2015 at 3:39 am 3 comments

Pagan/Queer Community comparison

One important thing to remember about the word Pagan is that it’s based on self-identity. Personally I am a supporter of Project Pagan Enough, even at the risk of implying a “Pagan means whatever you want it to mean” stance. My stance is- let’s quit wasting time and energy arguing over who “counts” as Pagan or not.

This reminds me over some of the “who counts and is included?” struggles we’ve had in another of my communities- the GLBTQIA+ which is really a cluster of overlapping communities who work together (or don’t) with varying degrees of success. Gays and lesbians are typically at the center, just as Wiccans and religions that somewhat resemble it tend to be fit the general public’s idea of what “Pagan” means (if they are aware at all!) Likewise, how much a bisexual, and/or a trans person identifies with “GLBT” may depend on how the B and T are actually included. Do asexuals “count”? Are heterosexual cross-dressers, kinky and polyamorous people part of a broader definition of queer? Those are questions that keep arising.

As a board member of a bisexual organization I ask the question- who is it that needs access to our community and movement? The answer is, people with an attraction to more than one gender, regardless of what label they may or may not use. In the broader GLBT community we can ask similar questions- who is being excluded from dominant social norms of sexuality & gender? Whether they have so-called “passing” privilege or not is irrelevant, so are Oppression Olympics.

It is likewise with the loose association of minority religions that band together under the label “Pagan” to gain inclusion in the military, in public schools, prisons, and generally protect their religious rights. Socially and spiritually, we might not have that much in common but we face prejudices in majority Christian, Jewish, Muslim or secular countries. (OK so there’s only one majority Jewish state, but still my point stands!)

I see the folks who privately practice magic & other esoteric practices and identify religiously as Christian, Jewish or secular as being somewhat equivalent to the heterosexual kinky, cross-dressing or poly folks in relation to the Pagan and GLBT umbrellas respectively. Folks in both of these groups tend to face less discrimination than others in the Pagan and GLBT umbrellas, and maybe more prone to identify as allies or not associate at all. Religion and sexual behavior, of course can be totally private things, but in particular situations a person may find their personal practices held against them in a custody battle or a political smear campaign in a way that others may not. On the other hand, if you are a Catholic that practices folk magic & BDSM, you probably will not need to debate over whether to “come out” about these practices to your relatives before your wedding. Yes, some people have BDSM-themed weddings, and some people go around introducing their partners as their masters or bottoms. But this is generally going to be kept more private, as compared with telling people about your partner of the same gender.

Questions to Explore:

What determines whether a person belongs to a minority community? Their self-identity? Their behavior? Their access to privileges or experiences of oppression/discrimination?

How might membership in a religious or sexual minority community differ from that of an ethnic/racial minority community?

Is it easier for some people to reclaim & identify with words with derogatory connotations like queer and pagan?

May 27, 2015 at 2:12 am 4 comments

Caer’s Devotional How-Tos

Caer Jones has a bunch of great articles on her blog about developing devotional practices that can be useful for people of many traditions- or even folks who haven’t yet figured out what path they are on yet. Even if your practice ends up being totally different than what she does, it gives you some ideas to work with.

Growing Devotions

Part 1 Understanding Devotions

Part 2 Finding Your Center

Part 3 Connecting with the Land

Part 4 Embracing the Ancestors

Part 5 Knowing the Gods

Part 6 Returning to the Center

Striking the Spark: Oil Lamps- What, How to Make & Use Them

Part 1 History of Oil Lamps– symbolism, fuel options, types of oil lamps

Part 2 Constructing the Standing Wick Oil Lamp

Part 3 Constructing the Floating Wick Oil Lamp 

Part 4 Using Oil Lamps

Building Woo Spaces

Altars & Shrines– How are they different?

Personal Shrines 

Working Altars

May 24, 2015 at 9:25 am 2 comments

Polytheist Public Shrine Project – Reboot!

Awesome idea that folks of many paths can participate in!

Gangleri's Grove

Roughly a decade ago, maybe longer, my friend Krei S. started the “public altar project.” With this project she encouraged Pagans, Heathens, and Polytheists of all stripes to create shrines – temporary, ephemeral, often with found objects – in public places for the Gods. This project ran for a few years and then, due to a number of circumstances, fell by the way side. I had participated in it three times, first with a shrine to Holda erected in Berlin, then one that I did with my adopted mom to Ran, Aegir, and Their Nine Daughters erected on the beach at Big Sur, and finally a shrine to Eir at the base of a tree in a NYC park. I hadn’t thought about the project in years, until last week while on my artist’s residency.

During the residency, each artist had to give a brief presentation on his or her…

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May 24, 2015 at 8:23 am Leave a comment

Mystery Traditions/Religions

Many religions have a distinction between exoteric– or outer knowledge available to all members of a religion, and esoteric, inner knowledge only available to a smaller class of initiates as part of a mystery tradition or mystery religion. In many cases throughout history and various cultures, this pool of potential initiates could only be from the noble or priestly castes. In others, such as many of the mysteries of Greece & Rome, they were available to any free citizen (some only to men or to women)

To be considered for initiation, a participant must be seen as spiritually, physically and psychologically ready for the intense, trans-formative and ecstatic experiences involved. An initiation often involves an ordeal– a difficult and possibly dangerous test. If a prospective initiate does not pass such an ordeal, this means a denial of initiation at that time or for the rest of this life. It is called a mystery because not only is it secret, but because the participants have gone through an experience they cannot describe to others. In several of the Greek & Roman mysteries, it was believed that one could only gain entrance to the afterlife- or a better afterlife by going through these mysteries- hence they were very popular.

Wicca and witchcraft in most forms are both mystery traditions. It is certainly perfectly valid to practice many forms of Paganism in an exoteric manner- focusing on celebration and regular devotion- as a layperson, or simply in a tradition that does not have a clergy/laity distinction. Other traditions of Paganism exist only in esoteric form, and one must be initiated to participate. In Wicca- there are typically 3 degrees of initiation, and the third makes you eligible to lead a coven and initiate others. Many covens have what is called an Outer Court, which includes people who are not yet initiated, or have only their 1st degree. The Inner Court is reserved for members who at least have a 1st degree. Lots of Outer Court material has been released to the public- starting in particular with Rites from the Crystal Well by Ed Fitch, Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham. As a result, Wicca- or as traditionalists may call it Neo-Wicca* has spread like wildfire. Though solitaries frequently self-initiate, I believe the term *dedicate* is more accurate, and think initiation is something that must be done by another person, generally within a group structure like a coven, grove or magical lodge. I’m not Wiccan, however so really my opinion on this is moot, though we do have initiation in various types of Druidry, such as ADF, the organization I belong to.

*Note: some people will consider the term “Neo-Wicca” to be derogatory, use with discretion. Non-traditional, eclectic or non-British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW) are less controversial terms to use.

Mystery traditions and religions are also found outside of Paganism. Christianity arguably started as a mystery religion, and in some cases still is- particularly in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. This is even more so for priests, monks and nuns. Likewise in Buddhism and Hinduism, there are regular practitioners as well as members of more esoteric sects. Mormonism is also an interesting case- a regular member of the LDS church attends services at a ward, similar in set up to many Protestant sects. But if an adult Mormon fulfills certain requirements, he or she can get what’s called a Temple recommend, and gain access to special ceremonies in the Temple. This is modeled after Temple-era Judaism’s Holiest of Holies, and also has influence from Freemasonry, as their prophet Joseph Smith was a Mason- like Gerald Gardner. So bizarrely enough, Mormonism is in some ways Wicca’s distant cousin.

Questions to reflect on:

What’s the difference between exoteric and esoteric?

Do you need to be initiated or become part of a mystery tradition to be a Pagan?

Do you need to be initiated or become part of a mystery tradition to be Wiccan?

In *your opinion* is self-initiation valid? In what tradition(s)? Under what circumstances and why? (No right or wrong answer here!)

Does the religion of your upbringing (if any) have a mystery tradition or esoteric aspects?

May 22, 2015 at 3:22 am 1 comment

Nature/Green/Eco-Spirituality isn’t always Pagan

Like all the Centers of Paganism, the Nature-center definitely extends beyond the bounds of Paganism. There has been a general rise globally in ecological awareness in both secular and religious contexts, and Pagans have most certainly played a role in the latter. But seeing nature as sacred and worthy of protection and/or preservation is not a uniquely Pagan feature!

In my opinion, making an effort to conserve resources and be ecologically mindful is just part of being a good citizen of planet Earth. You can have some theological rationale for it, like regarding the Earth as a living being (the Gaia hypothesis), being a steward of the Earth (as in the Abrahamic faiths) seeing everything as divine (pantheism) or see many spirits as being part of nature (animism) You can even combine some of these beliefs as many people do. Or you can simply regard the Earth and all its creatures (including humans) in a scientific manner. I think the important thing is what you do, not why you do it!

For indigenous people, the issue of sovereignty and habitat preservation is important to maintain traditional relationships with the land, animals and plants- and thus their cultures. For example, with global climate change, the warming of Arctic areas is having an adverse effect on the reindeer herds that the Saami people of Scandinavia & Russia depend on. Closer to home (for myself) the Idle No More movement led by First Nation people in Canada has been gaining steam, including some support from polytheists and Pagans.

One approach that can be easily incorporated, regardless of a person’s location and culture, includes scientific information and gives a lot of space for various theological views and practice, is bioregional animism.

The intersection of ecology and religion (and socio-political implications related to it) is very broad and complex, so I’ll go into more specific aspects of it in other posts. For now here’s a preliminary list of reading to get you started. (To be frank I have not read most of them- with the exception of Creation Spirituality!) As time goes on and I read more, I will post reviews- for one I am very interested in Lupa’s works.

Books-

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality & the Planetary Future by Bron Taylor

Animism: Respecting the Living World by Graham Harvey

The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature by Emma Restall Orr

The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythyms of Nature by Starhawk

Plant & Fungus Totems, New Paths to Animal Totems, DIY Totemism, other works by Lupa- see her website Green Wolf for more info

Ecoshamanism by James Endredy

Original Blessing, Creation Spirituality, other works by Matthew Fox (from a Catholic viewpoint, but much of it applicable/inspiring to people of other traditions

Bibliography of Earth-based Judaism– Tel Shemesh

May 19, 2015 at 1:37 am 5 comments

It’s Easter Fox, Not Easter Bunny!

It’s now past the season for this, but I came across this and wanted to post before I forgot. And perhaps our friends in the Southern Hemisphere can use the idea come September…

Move Over Easter Bunny, here comes the Easter Fox! interview with a fellow who’s been trying to bust misinformation about Eostre/Ostara (If you’re familiar, the problem isn’t so much Bede, it’s Jakob Grimm- and the supposed festival was supposed to be in April, not March!)

Eostre, Ostara and the Easter Fox

An Easter fox- it just seems more appropriately German in character. And I’ve been following Trellia’s blog, and she’s a British Pagan who also practices Shinto, and is devoted to the kami Inari, who is associated with foxes. So I thought she’d appreciate it too!

May 18, 2015 at 6:47 am Leave a comment

Ways Religious Syncretism Happens

Syncretism is when you combine two things together to create a new thing, and it’s very common in many religions. It happens both historically and in modern times, for a variety of reasons. I’ll start by discussing historical examples, and will cover ways to approach syncretism yourself in another post.

Syncretism in the Roman Empire– We’ll Go to War with You and Then Add your Gods to Our Pantheon!

As Romans added territory to their Empire, they encountered people who worshiped other gods. Being polytheists, they didn’t really care so long as the Gauls, Germannii and so forth obeyed them. But the Romans liked to say “oh, that god you call Wodan is kinda like Mercurius”, just as they had done earlier with the Greek gods. This is referred to as Interpretatio Romana. Sometimes these foreign gods were adopted into Roman religion, often with Romanized names. Sometimes we don’t know the original Celtic, Germanic, Iberian or Slavic name as a result. In addition various Eastern mystery cults were brought in- often by soldiers and traders- including Isis (Greco-Egyptian) Kybele (Anatolian) Mithras (Persian) It was kind of like the ancient Roman version of the New Age- ooh, cool, I’m going to try out this new religion! Complete with parents and other authority figures getting annoyed by all this weird new-fangled stuff. More on mystery cults in another post.

Colonialism, Slavery, Suppression of Culture/Religion– When people from West Africa were enslaved and taken to the Caribbean, the American colonies, Brazil, and other parts of South America they brought their culture and beliefs with them. Because they were expected to be “good Christians” (often synonymous with being an obedient slave!) they kept their traditions alive under the guise of Catholicism- various spirits were identified with saints. Theology note: in many of these traditions there is a Creator God- identified with the Christian God who is more distant, and other beings who serve Him- so the world “god” is only used for the High God, the rest are Spirits or Powers.  In mainly Protestant areas such as the Southern United States (outside of French Catholic Louisiana) African influences can be found in music, ecstatic healing and dancing, folk art, stories like Brer Rabbit and Aunt Nancy (Anansi) belief and magic. These are often referred to as Afro-Caribbean religions. *Some* followers of these faiths identify as Pagans or associate with Pagan & metaphysical communities, others group themselves more with African Traditional Religions (ATRs)- some with both. Many also consider themselves to be Catholics, and would look at you strangely if you invited them to a Pagan Pride event!

Similarly in Central and South America, indigenous religious beliefs are often syncretized with Catholicism. It’s very interesting to watch how various Catholic officials in Latin American have reacted over time to manifestations of folk religion. La Virgen de Guadalupe, (who may be influenced by the Aztec goddess Tonantzin) is totally accepted as the patroness of Mexico. The cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death, a female Grim Reaper figure) on the other hand is greatly discouraged by the Church, but has many devoted followers who generally identify as Catholic.

Conversion of Europe- Messier than Your Sunday School Teacher said it was… Now, to be clear in contrast to the mass conversion of the Americas, Christianization in Europe was not necessarily the result of colonialism. It was nasty sometimes, but it didn’t go along with slavery and genocide to quite the same degree. Within the Roman Empire, colonialism and slavery were already there, Christianity was just a nice bonus. Outside the Empire, people typically became Christian because their king or chieftain said, “I’d love to be allies with you, neighboring Christian king- sure I’ll get baptized if that’s what it takes!” and then the peasants had to at least pay lip service to Christ, even if their heart wasn’t in it. Remember, for a good chunk of European history, in many places there was a lack of formal churches and trained clergy, and most people were not literate. So often people were mostly “Christian” politically, but on a daily basis in their little villages, they were praying and making offerings to spirits and ancestors- over time more Christian language was added, and gods became disguised as saints, so in many ways not so different than the later examples I gave in the so-called New World. Actually one way we often learn of various gods and holidays and customs, is from accounts written by clerics complaining about this or that awful pagan thing those ignorant peasants keep doing! We have to keep in mind that they may exaggerate and make it sound “worse” than it was (especially if they are trying to convince Rome to send more missionaries to someplace cold!) but still it’s kind of a ironically fun way of finding information!

So likewise, if you are researching European forms of polytheism, you will likely need to research local folk versions of Christianity in whatever country and region you are studying.

Questions for reflection (this is messy so there are really no “right or wrong” answers!

How does syncretic polytheism in the Roman Empire remind you (or not!) of modern cosmopolitan cultures?

Who of the different people(s) I discussed might consider themselves pagan, Pagan, Christian, Catholic or a member of an indigenous religion? Might they identify with more than one label? Can you be both pagan and Christian? Why or why not?

What examples of syncretic folk religion are you familiar with in your own life? (Could be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist etc)

Have you noticed differences in how religion was taught officially vs. how it was practiced at home? Did this cause any confusion for you growing up?

May 18, 2015 at 2:02 am 3 comments

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