By Sylvia Rose
A young man is picked up by the police near Avebury. They are concerned that he is distressed and acting strangely. He talks somewhat incoherently of the summer solstice, of speaking with the Gods, of swords and magic. They have concerns that he might be psychotic, and pass him over to the local mental health team. A mental health assessment wonders whether he should be detained under the Mental Health Act.
However, he manages to phone his local PF District Manager. She confirms to the mental health team that he is indeed a member of the local Pagan community, amongst whom talking with the Gods is perfectly normal. And yes, there has just been a solstice ritual at the stones. Although the young man remains distressed and clearly in need of help, he is no longer treated as if he were mad.
The power of advocacy.
A care worker in a residential home is aware that one of the elderly people there is Pagan and would like to be involved with local Pagan activities, but management do not consider this an issue that they need to worry about. What can the worker do to support that person’s rights?
A woman with ongoing mental health needs, severe enough that she needs an enabler with her when she goes out, is having her care needs reviewed. There is a suggestion that instead of her employing her own enablers under a direct payments scheme, the health trust would prefer to outsource this care to a commissioned service, giving her little choice over who accompanies her. An advocate from the PF Disabilities Team is able to confirm that she is a valued member of the local Pagan community and regularly attends moots and rituals. (The note-taker for the meeting interrupts here to ask how “moot” is spelled.)
The advocate explains that in Pagan ritual there are no spectators, no congregation. Everyone who attends stands in circle, and everyone’s energy influences that of the whole group. Also rituals can go on very late, and there’s no way of guaranteeing when it (and subsequent feasting) will finish. Therefore it is crucial both for this young woman and for the other rituallers that she herself is able to choose who comes with her to ritual and to be sure that they are flexible in terms of time, fitting in, and possible exposure to adverse weather conditions and muddy walks. It also helps everyone if it can be the same person each time.
They added that Paganism as a spiritual belief system helps people to make sense of their lives and provides support when people are struggling. It therefore clearly meets the Section 117 aftercare criterion for people who have been treated for mental health needs, of helping to reduce the risk of a deterioration of their condition.
We shouldn’t need to be still arguing that Paganism and its various components are valid religious paths. But sometimes we are. Sometimes people need support to risk speaking up for themselves about being Pagan, for fear of prejudice or discrimination. Sometimes they need someone else to explain exactly what it means and what it entails.
And that’s where a representative of the PF has most power: in being able not just to back up but to also legitimate what someone is saying. To confirm that this is indeed a recognised spiritual path. And to remind professionals – tactfully – that under the Human Rights Act people have a right to practice the religion of their choice, and Paganism counts as one of those choices.
And that to us, our Gods are real, not just hallucinations.
PF South West Disability Liaison