At some level, mental health and the practice of magick have been focal points for me for years. They have recently come into sharp relief due to the illness of a family member.
This family member (FM) has experienced a severe and ongoing psychotic break. A psychotic break is not the same as a nervous breakdown, instead it marks a deviation from perceiving reality “as we understand it”. Already there, we have the crux of my considerations. “Reality” (that entirely subjective and in some respects moralising word) can deviate depending on gender, culture, religion, drug intake and mental health (the latter being determined by whether one fits in with the generally accepted standard of reality dictated by all of the aforementioned).
FM’s break with reality became most apparent to us when she abandoned her home, money and clothes due to a “cyanide bomb” in her house that had “contaminated” everything. Shortly afterwards she was admitted to a psych ward where she soon feigned wellness to get out. It is a fact that those experiencing a psychotic break can pretend wellness to get away from those who would contradict their world view or force help upon them. I speak from experience. Nothing delights a psychiatrist more than a bright smile and an admission that everything you believed yesterday was, well, just crazy! We are called “high-functioning” because we can recognise when to fake YOUR reality and when it is safe to live our own…
So once FM left hospital she hopped on a plane and flew to relatives over a thousand miles away. There she helpfully had a telepathic conflab with the local mice population who promised never to enter our relative’s house again. In the meantime she pendulumed and communed with “the Universe” and has been told what to do next… It will happen on Wednesday. We await developments with baited breath, and there will be a collective “Aw shit!” from the family, if serendipity is on her side and she lucks out.
But all through this I have listened to my “rational”, mainstream, a-spade-is-a-spade family and their judgement of FM’s behaviour and beliefs. Apart from empathising with lunatic moments, I nod inwardly and think, Uff, and if they knew what I think and experience! Furthermore, add to that my pagan/magickal friends’ thoughts and beliefs and, at least in my world, my family starts to be a hawkish minority amongst a swathe of talking spirits, low magick spells, high magick conjurations, and more.
Who gets to say whose reality is the norm? What is real and unreal? Yet even the unreal is by some considered manifest purely by dint of it being thought into existence – I think, therefore I am – I conceive it, therefore it is.
But now I hear the bells of postmodern relativism and the voices that might say, it’s all relative; at some level it is all real. But in everything being real, is nothing actually real? Do we in fact live in a delusional fallacy where madness is the mark of humanity?
Psychiatrists are, contrary to common opinion, wary to label people insane due to their beliefs. More than one psychiatrist has told me that if they turned their inscrutable gaze to any world religion, they would only find neurotics and insaniacs. So there has to be a leeway ground of mad-but-functioning and insane-but-safe; specifically, if the person is harming neither themselves nor another (actually unlike many religious folks) then they should be allowed to go on their merry way … as is, so far, the case with FM.
I know certain pagans would cite a psychotic break as a shamanic experience, a spiritual opportunity to connect deeply and ultimately come out the other side as a healer. This is FM’s version of events. She has taken on the mantle of healer. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about her vitriolic and bile-filed offer of a healing sledgehammer to my own fair head. This chick ain’t no healer. To compare psychosis with initiation is a very dangerous thing and shows a lack of knowledge about either. Certainly there may be some similarities, but just because I hold a feather in my hand does not mean that I am a bird (although as a child I really did believe that a crow had taught me to fly)!
Mental ill-health, be it depression, paranoia, or psychosis, if managed appropriately, can lead to a richer spiritual practice and a more authentic life. But in the process it can also (and must?) tear up the very fabric of your life, your relationships and all that you believe. Some are left bereft and grieving, in a cycle of regret and self-recrimination, while others emerge stronger and more focused, and yet others again oscillate between the two states and all shades in between. This instability can be used as a weapon by the sufferer or those around her to denigrate her ability to be a witch or magickian. And yet, looking back at those we still learn from today, I see dark moods, instability, seemingly irrational behaviour, a certain madness. Who knows if one causes the other, or perhaps if one CALLS to the other.
If sanity is the foundation upon which one is permitted to practise magick, I suggest most of us give up at the starting gate. Personally I think that a little insanity is vital to see beyond the accepted norm.
FM’s whisperings from the universe may come true. She may even heal some people along the way. But for now, as long as she does not hurt herself or others, she must be allowed to walk her path. Just as I walk my path, except that when I feel spirits and see daemons I don’t mention it over coffee to my friends and family … I just tell you … and you’ll keep it secret, right? 😉