Wicca and Depression, Revisited

One of my favorite things to look at when I take a peek at the statistics for this website are the search engine terms that people use to find me. There’s the usual wicca in nc, witchcraft in charlotte, or, my favorite, wiccan pussy (Oliver is pretty spectacular, I know). But one of the most common search terms is something to the tune of wicca and depression or depressed wiccan. My post Being Depressed and Being Wiccan is consistently my most-viewed and, given that it was mainly designed to criticize a stupid Internet meme, I thought I’d write something that was a little more general.

If you’ve never dealt with clinical depression, then I don’t even know what to say to you. What must your life even be like. When I imagine life without major depressive episodes, dysthymia, anxiety, or PTSD, the only thing I can think of is what it must be like to be able to see without glasses or contacts. I’ve been dependent on one or the other since I was five and have never had the experience of just opening my eyes in the morning and being able to see clearly. Never.

Mental illness can be much the same. Some things we’re born with. Some things are the result of our upbringings, traumas we’ve suffered, or brain chemistry that just goes haywire for who-knows what reasons.

When you struggle with depression, it flavors your whole life, like iodine in your drinking water. You might get used to it, but you never really stop tasting it altogether. When I have strong feelings (or no feelings), I have to ask myself, “Is this me being reasonable or is this my anxiety/depression/PTSD talking?” I have to check all of my reactions before I have them. I am constantly second-guessing social cues that other people take for granted. I catch the tiniest details in inflection, posture, and phrasing because I have to supply myself with evidence that people really mean what they say, or explain their behaviors, however trivial, because I learned that people often don’t mean what they say and desire to hurt you (this was a survival mechanism developed after several years with an abusive partner). It takes me longer to decide how I feel in any given moment than it does for other people, because, for a variety of reasons, I can’t always articulate what’s going on inside of me very well. I don’t even always instinctively know when I’m hungry because hunger, sadness, anger, and fear often feel the same to me. A social worker literally had to teach me—with illustrated flash cards—what those emotions might look like in myself.

And there are basically no resources specifically for Wiccans. (Clearly, because people keep Googling wicca and depression and ending up here.)

I’m not actually complaining. I have no idea what Wiccan-specific resources for mental illness would even look like. Given what happens when I Google Wicca or scroll through #wicca on Tumblr or Instagram, it’d probably be pretty fucking terrible. Like Wiccan ethics, we’re mostly left to deal with things on an individual, case-by-case basis. I’m okay with this, because there are, thankfully, other places to turn (at least, there are for those of you—the six of you—who have enough insurance).

But I am disturbed by the tendency in Wiccan, Pagan, and New Age communities to eschew psychiatric care, qualified counseling, and even open discussion of mental illness in favor of, essentially, positive thinking and lots of herbal tea. As I started to get at in my last post on mental health stuff, there is a trend toward shaming those who seek professional help in struggling with depression (etc.). The implication is that if you struggle with mental illness, you’re doing Wicca wrong. You’re “giving in” to negativity or not visualizing hard enough or something. And if you choose to take chemicals to right your brain chemistry, you’re not only doing Wicca wrong, but you’re violating your body, the earth, and tiny kittens and orphans everywhere. Or whatever.

While it’s none of my business what choices other people make for themselves, I am frustrated by the implication that people who live with depression somehow aren’t trying hard enough. Like if they just had a greater knowledge of crystal healing or believed in themselves more completely their lives wouldn’t be what they are.

I’m not disparaging these other treatments, only those who insist that modern psychiatric care and secular counseling are the enemy. I’ve benefited enormously from massage, ritual, time outdoors, and a whole lot of other things that show up in New Age memes on the Internet. But the reason “nature is cheaper than therapy” (or whatever that stupid quote is) is because it doesn’t fucking fix clinical depression. At least not on its own. And if you’re evidence to the contrary, then good for you, but I would have (actually, literally) died without the professional help that I was fortunate enough to receive. Yoga, lavender dream pillows, and walks in the woods were just not going to fucking cut it.

So to you, depressed Wiccan reader who found me via Google search (not you, wiccan pussy guy), please know that you are not alone in your struggles. Your religious choices probably have nothing to do with your brain chemistry or emotional innards (I’m being generous with the “probably” here) and your feelings are not your fault. Wicca—as well as a lot of other things that don’t come in a prescription bottle—can absolutely be beneficial. Wicca was part of the equation when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to be alive anymore. I’ve found enormous meaning in ritual, I’ve built connections that are worthwhile, and I’ve found a place for myself in a world that sometimes seems too fucked up to be allowed. It can be done, and many have done it. Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the resources available to you, whether it be a counselor (secular or religious), a psychiatrist, an SSRI, or a whole lot of hot tea. When other Wiccans (or whoever) tell you you’re not being positive enough, you’re poisoning yourself with “Western medicine,” or that you should just meditate more, they’re probably not intentionally being assholes (I learned this in therapy). They just don’t know what it’s like to wake up without being able to see every day.

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15 thoughts on “Wicca and Depression, Revisited

  1. Davin Raincloud (@druidcrafty)

    Like you, my belief in the Wiccan version of Deity, and Wicca itself was a big part of me overcoming depression. I think this is why the whole Neo-Wiccan, Not real Wiccan stuff affected me so adversely. So now I’m not technically Wiccan, but still honouring deities in pretty much the same way and doing solitary rituals and spells in pretty much the same way. (But I just don’t dare use the term Wiccan or the Tumblr villages will burn me at the stake)

    Atheist materialism and skepticism was killing me. It was not providing me the tools to cope with some pretty fucked up shit in my life. It offerred me no hope.

    Request: Please do a blog post about Wiccan pussy guy, complete with overly suggestive google link bait terms 😛 😛

    Reply
  2. Heather

    This is one of the reasons why I want to going to counseling. When doing readings for certain individuals, I noticed that they clearly had more going on then just needing a little bit of information to help get them to the next stage of their life. I had no problem looking at them and saying, “you need a therapist, not a reading.”
    The science behind mental illness is important. Sure I believe that energy does indeed play a part, however, if someone is truly going to heal and be able to function, they need to look at it from all sides.
    Bottom line, I feel there needs to be grounded and practical attitudes about emotional/psychological health within the Craft community. I perceive, many come to the Craft broken, and look to magic as the miracle pill to cure the ills in their lives. Sometimes that miracle pill really is an antidepressant and a therapist who specializes in trauma. It’s a conversation that I would like to stay in.

    Reply
  3. Verdant Radicle

    As individuals, or even as a group, who are we to judge what others are going through; and who are we to insist upon conformity to an idealized notion of how someone should be interacting with illness and treatment? Humans are not pressed out in cookie-cutter fashion: what works for one may not work for others. As a Pagan, I often find myself disappointed that so many in our own community don’t seem to grasp this simple idea, despite the preponderance of Pagans working as healers.

    I think your post is spot-on, and I’m glad you had the courage to write about it so bluntly and openly. As a society, we have created a mass-reality that some just are not innately wired up to perceive the way everyone else does (or, more accurately, is supposed to). Pagans are supposed to know this – it’s how many describe why they can work with magic and others not – but to try to force someone into a cookie-cutter form and control how that person manages their own perception of reality shows a massive degree of insecurity and even hypocrisy on their own behalf.

    “Don’t take that pill, or you’ll hurt (insert any religion here)” is spoken by someone who has a flawed sense of how fragile their religion is. It is spoken not in the hopes of actually helping the afflicted, or even the religion, it is spoken in the hopes of maintaining an image to the public: an illusion based less on personal relationship to deity, and more on public relations.

    Reply
    1. Heather

      I am so with you on the issue of judgement. There are so many ways to heal… I am fortunate enough to have found an energy psychology modality that works for me, yet some people can’t get out of bed without medication. I think that those who seek mental/ emotional health by whatever means necessary should be commended. I would like to see a culture of health develop within the craft, rather than judgement as to how we achieve it.

      Reply
  4. G. B. Marian

    In our group, we like to say that Apophis can be fought with magic, but that it must also be fought with professional psychological or psychiatric help as needed. Anubis didn’t invent apothecaries and Thoth didn’t invent counseling for nothing.

    Reply
  5. Dana Morgan

    “Do not hesitate to avail yourself of the resources available to you, whether it be a counselor (secular or religious), a psychiatrist, an SSRI, or a whole lot of hot tea.” THIS. Exactly this.

    It’s about applying the right tool(s) to the task at hand. When brain chemicals are off, no amount of ‘positive thinking’ will fix it. When they start to come back into line, thinking positively helps shape the new mindset in really powerful ways (and may help mitigate the behaviours that tend one to depressive episodes).

    I really appreciate this article, and the both/and or all of the above approach you’re advocating.

    Reply
  6. NanLT

    Thank you for this. I was diagnosed with depression after the birth of my youngest 10 years ago. Officially I had post-natal depression and PTSD. I’ve since come to realise that I have been seriously depressed since childhood, and post likelt been carrying around PTSD just as long.

    I also hate those stupid internet memes that suggest all you have to do is think happy thoughts and the depression would *poof* disappear. Right now I am on not 1 but 2 different antidepressants because 1 by itself wasn’t working. Maybe in time I will be able to wean off of one or the other. Right now though? As much as I would love to not have to take pills, I like being able to function in the real world a whole lot more.

    MY depressions isn’t cured. But at least it’s being held at bay while I get my act together.

    Reply
    1. thornthewitch Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad this was a worthwhile read for you. It’s helpful to know that there are other Pagans/witches/New Agers/whatever dealing with similar issues and it’s reassuring to me that more of us seem to be speaking up about it.

      Reply
  7. Chad

    Psychotherapy has proven inneffective for me. I came to the realization that psychotherapy is reactive and not preventative. In other words psychotherapy only helps you to “cope” with symptoms. In other words, you have the symptom and Then you perform technique suchlike breathing excerxises, walking away etc. However psychological therapists do not teach how to prevent those symptoms from occurring in the first place. if you look at all current psychological therapies for depression such as CBT e.g. they are all reactionary based. A person with general anxiety disorder is only taught how to deal with anxiety attacks, but not how to prevent them. Further how does a patient really know whether or not the psychological therapists really care about them?

    Reply
  8. Ginger

    Depression is an illness. Would a Wiccan object to cancer treatment or diabetes or heart disease? Since I’m new to the art I’m genuinely asking. I know many spiritual practices do help those with depression get through the times they struggle through as well as provide much peace & joy – but it will never cure depression as it is an illness!!!!! I’m trying to feel again but I’ve been struggling with what I consider major depression and spiritual practice does help it definitely – but it doesn’t cure it. And to be judged for an illness is frankly quite callous as depression is hell -sincerely is like being in hell due to the immense emotional pain that comes without warning. If that can be cured then gladly someone explain how! Great article!!!!!!:))))

    Reply
  9. Misty

    Thank you so much for just cutting threw all the bullshit of having a real problem that needs a real solution. No (you can shake it off )or (think good thoughts and good will come your way) or (my favorite suck it up and be an adult too bad your life sucks so does everyone elses). I was having a really hard night thinking how am I going to find the strength to get up and breath each breath tomorrow but after reading what you said I feel like I can make it through another tomorrow. Thanks again for being honest (hard to find now a days).

    Reply

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