Before reading my reply below, please read the article “When is Diversity Too Diverse?” It’s on Witchvox, right on the home page. I was so… upset? disconcerted? disheartened?… by the author’s callous attitude toward mental illness and social diversity that I had to write her a reply. See below:
I thought long and hard about whether or not to write you after reading your article. You had some valid concerns, but your approach seemed more judgmental than empathic. Please hear me out?
Paganism holds a huge diversity of people, because we don’t discriminate. In a world with many wounded people, empowering traditions and practices often draw those who have never been empowered. That includes the mentally ill.
I don’t believe that working with the mentally ill as your “bread and butter” gives you a free pass to label them as “crazies”. As someone suffering from anxiety yourself, you should recognize that even “humorous” mentions of insanity can taint the way people look at those who suffer from life altering issues like anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, etc. I don’t see sympathy or empathy in your article, but instead find myself upset at your lack of tact and understanding.
My own coven requires disclosure of mental illness, but it doesn’t auto-exclude anyone. If a seeker is sincere, our high priestess works with them, often guiding their spiritual growth while assisting them in finding medical assistance. A bipolar student may be accepted with the condition that she see her doctor as scheduled and took her meds; she could be placed on probation if non-compliance became an issue. She could also do amazingly well after the support and love of our local community.
As for the license issue, it is absolutely not abnormal to find adults close to 30 without a license. State laws have changed the way licenses are obtained, requiring driving school if you’re under a certain age. High schools have stopped many driver’s ed programs, leaving people to learn to get around via public transportation and carpooling. It’s a privelege to be freed from that and have access to a license and your own vehicle; as someone who didn’t have a license until age 24, I completely empathize with someone who struggles with getting around with the aid of others.
There is no logic in judging the inclusion of people outside of the norm… in a religion that is outside of the norm. The reason people decide to “flaunt” their other-ness (LGBTQ, pagan, goth/punk, etc.), especially at conventions and festivals, is knowing that they are in sacred space. Those public gatherings are supposed to be judgment-free zones, where community coalesces into a rainbow of differences and similarities. It is just as okay to be “normal looking” as it is to be purple-haired and full-body tattooed. To each their own, if it harms none.
After all, I’m a 28-year-old mousy haired woman who wears blouses and jeggings all the time. I don’t do colorful hair or gaudy jewelry, nor does anything about me even whisper “pagan” unless I purposefully dress the part for ritual. But that’s my decision to look “normal”. I’m also depressed, but that makes me no less of a witch or a human; in fact, my coven is the support system that keeps me going during the hard times.
Acceptance is in the eye of the beholder, and it’s also overrated. Pagans as a lumped-up group are generally accepted (be it begrudgingly sometimes, like here in Texas) thanks to pop cultural updates and social outreach (ever read a Samhain article in a local paper? If not, reach out!). We don’t need to act vanilla or fit in, in order to achieve acceptance. Think of religion like coffee: some people like it black without frills, others like it as a superfrappelappe mocha with extra foam. I’m a latte girl myself, but I don’t police the coffee choices of others; it’s their cup to drink.
I looked at your listing for your group, and you have every right to filter out those who would be a bad fit. We do the same in my circle, because cohesion is important for magical practice. However, I hope you will remember that there are people who, like me, could be sitting at a computer, maybe depressed or too anxiety-filled to go out in public, maybe looking for a connection… only to read about how “crazies” like them just aren’t good for the pagan image. Talk about disheartening!
I love reading articles and blogs from other pagans, hearing different points of view and new practices. And I like your writing style, other than the tone directed at the mentally ill; I’d love to see you write about your experiences, your favorite season, a pagan tool you absolutely adore. Anything!
I know my words won’t necessarily make you think, but I can hope.