Post by Sylvia Rose who is our District Disabilities Liaison for Devon, Cornwall, and the Isles
What’s it like to be a disabled Pagan?
In some ways, much like being an able-bodied one; in other ways it can be different. Obviously there can be physical limitations: you can’t get to rituals because you can’t walk that far, manage being cold for that long, or maybe can’t even get out of bed that day. More insidious are the internal differences. If you’re too spaced out for your brain to focus, even dragging yourself physically to a ritual wouldn’t mean that in your mind you were able to meaningfully participate.
So, you need to be kind to yourself. Maybe you didn’t even notice the last full moon. You didn’t mark the last seasonal festival. That doesn’t make you a worse Pagan: it makes you someone with a lot extra to be dealing with too. Over the last couple of years, as my health has become much worse, the usual seasonal celebrations have become painful for me. Not just the getting out of bed, but that that’s so much not where I’m personally at. Celebrating the burgeoning promise of spring when life feels more a matter of surviving than of looking forward? Dancing (or not, in my case) the maypole when rampant sexuality is the very last thing on my mind? I’ll opt out and stay in bed. And that’s ok. If where I’m at is somewhere very different, I have to make the best of what I actually can connect with. Birds nesting, swallows returning, flowers blooming, sunset lengthening and now shortening again, these are all the ways in which, intermittently, I stay in touch with where we are in the year, and with celebrating its pleasures. Sometimes that’s enough: it’s just different. I’ve certainly spent a lot more time watching the sparrows on the bird feeder than I ever did before when I was working.
And sometimes it gets harder to have faith. While everyone else is happily trilling how the Gods send you what you need/ask for/manifest from your own subconscious, it starts to look like by being so ill/disabled/debilitated, you’ve not being doing your Paganism quite right. Which is of course completely not true. Who knows why illness comes, but it’s certainly not sent by the Gods because of anything we’ve done or not done. Yes, you can learn things from debility: you can learn things from any adversity. It doesn’t mean that others are entitled to project their own views of the meaning of illness onto you, Pagan or otherwise. And if you yourself feel further from the Gods, uncertain of what you truly believe, that’s ok too. Don’t ever blame yourself, just go with it and see what might still make sense or give you a feeling of real connection to the greater world. (See sparrows above).
Don’t ever feel embarrassed to ask for healing, as if you might seem greedy for wanting more than your fair share of a ritual’s energy. If others are blessed with being able bodied, why shouldn’t they do something to help those who are less privileged? I’m sure that if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same. And in any case, working with healing energies benefits everyone, not just the intended recipient.
But you might want to spend some time thinking about what healing would actually look like for you. Able bodied people tend to assume that everyone wants to be like them, therefore healing is just about restoring someone to “normal” functioning. Which might be true for you too. But it might be something more complex, something deeper. Most people with a long term health condition, I think, would say that their illness or debility has gone towards making them who they are now. And if you don’t regret who you are, can you regret what it was that made you that way? So true healing might be in living better with your current reality, making your peace with how things are, having more options or less pain. Or maybe not. That’s the great thing about being a Pagan: no-one else can tell you what’s right for you. This Lammastide, the question I’m working with is from Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance: “what do you hope to harvest?”
And be creative. Do things intuitively, not by the book. If you can’t do things standing up, can you do them lying down? There are some strands of Pagan practice that use a lot of external props – the right colour candles and flowers, the right blend of incense, facing the right direction etc. In my view (others may disagree) externalities are useful in as much as they help us connect with something deeper, something beyond. But the true magic is going on within your own head, out of your own will and intent. So lie down and do it all as a trance journey, and you can have whatever colour candles you want, without having to do shopping first. Yes, it’s nice to work energy with other people there, or standing at your altar, but if you can’t, it still works from your sofa instead.
Sometimes illness feels to me like living in a bubble that’s floating gradually away from the quotidian world, to a place where my life is just so different from the usual day to day living that others can’t really follow me there. Which is true. So why would we expect able-bodied Paganism to reach out to our other place? We need to find our own disabled Paganism that works for us, individually, however we are. Which may be less about being connected with the cycles of the sun and moon, which can seem a bit distant, and more with our own immediate energy needs, and systems of self healing.
Some of these can be quite formal, such as reiki or chakra work, and some take more concentration than I can usually summon up. Some can be physical movements, which are useful when your body is working better than your brain. And sometimes I just don’t feel motivated, so I’m kind to myself and don’t. But here’s my favourite self-healing-while-lying-completely-still:
Take yourself into a trance state, whatever way works for you. Then see yourself entering a healing temple. Explore the edges, the quarters: what do you find there? Are there more things you’d like to add? Stand before the altar. What’s on it? Are there candles to be lit, incense to burn, water to purify yourself with? Is this temple sacred to a particular deity? (I usually work with Brigid, but there are many healing Gods). Invoke them, feel their presence. Maybe dance a bit, sing to them. (When you can’t dance in mundane life, dancing in a trance journey comes a close second). Are there other allies you’d like to be there to? Invite them. Then when you’re ready, go to a comfortable couch in the centre of the temple, lie down, and just open yourself to healing. Let energy, light, strength, whatever you need, surround you and flow into you. Luxuriate in it. Drink it in for as long as you wish, and then some more too. Then when you’re full, stand up, say your thanks and goodbyes and return slowly to the mundane world.
This temple is now yours.
It will be there for you whenever you need it and for whatever you need it for.
You deserve it.
Sylvia Rose – District Disabilities Liaison for Devon, Cornwall & the Isles.