Q of the Week: Health

This past week I’ve been mostly bed-ridden with the flu. No, not the swine flu, thankfully! But my condition has been unpleasant enough anyway: dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, headache, lightheadedness, and a few other unmentionable symptoms.

It seems a good time to pose a question that’s been on my mind for months now. Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that the pagan movement has rather a lot of people with chronic health problems? Many of these problems are physical, and include diseases like diabetes, arthritis, severe food allergies, various STD’s, and obesity. Many are also psychological, such as anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, clinical depression, learning disabilities, substance addictions, and mild schitzophrenia. It seems to me that as a fraction of the total, there are more sick people in the pagan movement than there is in our wider society as a whole.

I’m not a statistician, nor an anthropologist, so I’m not in a position to provide any hard numbers about the rate of health problems inside v. outside the pagan movement. I also know that some of these aforementioned problems are epidemics for the whole of our society anyway: obesity is an example. But nonetheless, it does appear to me that many of the people I meet at pagan events, who describe themselves with the vocabulary of freedom, light, spirituality, and empowerment, are also people who require numerous medications daily, and are physically incapable of doing some of the pagan movement’s most distinctive ritual activities, such as dancing. And I meet more of these people in the pagan events I attend, than I do in the rest of the world.

Having experienced pagan culture in nine different countries now, I also observe that the pagans in Europe tend to have far fewer health problems than those here in Canada, or in the U.S.

Well, everyone, here’s my question: Has anyone else noticed this? What might be the explanation? Is there something about paganism that attracts people with chronic health problems? What, if anything, can or should be done about it?

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31 Responses to Q of the Week: Health

  1. thistleblue says:

    I suspect that North American diet and culture has more to do with this than paganism, though considering the number of alternative healing modalities offered by pagans for pagans, it makes sense that those with chronic pain or illness would gravitate toward a system of belief that offers some relief.

  2. west_ says:

    Margot Adler said exactly this in her talk at Pantheacon this year.

    She sees it as a settled question though, and said explicitly that pagans as a whole *are* unhealthy, in several ways.

    i suspect that some folks didn’t like hearing that.

    As for us: Weston Price Foundation has changed our lives with respect to health and food. IMO, Dr. Sally Fallon’s book ‘Nourishing Traditions’ (from Weston Price Foundation research) should be “Pagan Kosher”, its that good.

    • witchchild says:

      I also thought to Adler with this post, and am still sorry I wasn’t at that panel. (though I think her topic was something else.)

      Also, I’ve discovered WAP this year myself and have been implementing it slowly but surely. Got my first pot of chicken broth on the stove.

  3. dubhlainn says:

    ahh… another “all Pagans are Fat” post.

    First of all. BMI numbers are crap (link: http://kateharding.net/bmi-illustrated/). Doctors know it, newscasters know it, but they keep spouting them out anyways. IMO, the “Obesity epidemic” was created by the weight loss industry which is a bloated, greed filled, snake oil industry if ever there was one. Studies have shown that North Americans and West Europeans are as active physically as they have ever been (maybe even more so) and spend the same amount of energy as do people in third world countries and even wild animals of the same body mass in the same temperate zones (link: http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n8/abs/ijo200874a.html).

    Second. Weight is not an indicator of health. Perfectily thin people can be incredibly unhealthy and eat very poorly. While people you may look at and see obese may have a great diet and do their best to stay healthy. I know person after person who work their metaphorical asses off trying to be healthy and excercizing daily only to never loose the weight and end up feeling like failures because their doctors look at nothing other than BMI and because they are constantly judged by their waist and/or hip size alone. When I first came out of the closet I went for my first STD screen I even had a doctor claim that if I lost weight I would be less likely to contract hepatitus.

    There have been other studies made: Fat people actually live longer than thin people: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2006/11/obesity-paradox-1.html, and that Body Mass is NOT a true indicator of future heart problems, and in fact that fat people actually survive cardiac events better more often than thin people: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2006/12/obesity-paradox-2-how-can-it-be.html

    Finally, no one, despite claims otherwise, really understands what makes fat people fat. How much is based on genetics? We do know that in many studies it shows that when people have lost a significant amount of weight show the same charactoristics of someone of average weight who is starving. Conversely someone that is naturally thin is nearly impossible to make them gain significant weight. Even raising tha caloric intake to 10,000 a day and requiring of them a sedatory lifestyle does not do the trick: http://kateharding.net/2007/05/08/yes-i-like-gina-kolata/.

    Frankly, I suspect, you are seeing what you want to see. I suspect that if you looked around the university (not the younger students whom are generally healthy) you would see the same thing. The professors and instructors with diabetis and mobility issues, the maintenance man on heart medication, and myriad of emotional problems with all people. I highly doubt there is a higher number of unhealthy people in the Pagan movement as anywhere else in North America (and Europe too). And the few people I know who do have issues with partaking in things like dancing etc. it is more generally based on age. Which is no different than may other religious traditions.

    • drui_en says:

      I’d have to agree with Dubhlainn in that I too believe that you are “seeing what you want to see”.
      I don’t believe that the pagan community has any more members with chronic health complaints than any other mainstream religion, but perhaps it’s a more “visible” situation because the pagan community is a lot smaller and more closely knit (and perhaps its members are more comfortable discussing their health issues openly with others, as it is a more accepting forum than most others).

      One friend of mine in her early 30’s is a very willowy yoga instructor who follows a Hindu path, is plagued with digestive problems, and has been treated for pre-cancerous growths. A 40 yr old Anglican priest acquaintance has narcolepsy. One girl I know turned to Buddhism after developing thyroid cancer at age 27, while a very obese girl I know turned to Christianity because she felt that their God would be the only one to love and accept her based on how she looks.

      Of the many, many people I know, there are precious few over the age of 25 that do not have some type of health concern. Many don’t talk about them openly, but they are there. It could very well be that all of those folks you have dumped into the “normal” pile just haven’t confided in you about what ails them.

      • skiegazer says:

        I think the only problem with the “seeing what you want to see” explanation is, I can’t for the life of me think of a reason why Brendan (or myself, because I’ve noticed it too) would want to see poor health among Pagans. My experience has been repeatedly one of surprise and bafflement at the trend, which I never expect to see and yet seem to notice quite often.

        Now, I have much less experience in world travel, but I can tell you that here in Pittsburgh, the restaurant where I work used to be a huge Pagan hang-out, until it went completely non-smoking. Suddenly, all those Pagans were nowhere to be found. The fact that so many Pagans in the area were also smokers–in other words, that so many indulge in an activity that we know in no uncertain terms to be absolutely fundamentally hazardous to one’s health as well as the health of those in the immediate vicinity–strikes me as odd. I’m not sure what the explanation might be. Perhaps Paganism offers alternative medicines and treatments to those suffering from chronic poor health, while at the same time encouraging more openness about and respect for the physical body. But I think that there also tends to be an emphasis in Paganism on self-interest and even self-indulgence, especially among neophytes and young adults

        Perhaps Paganism doesn’t statistically include more people with health concerns, but I do think that in some ways it encourages those people to wear such conditions almost like a badge of honor, either as another example of their “outsider” status, or as a symbol of a “do what you will shall be the whole of the law” kind of lifestyle. Regardless of statistics, obesity especially is most certainly a problem. If a person can’t do the things that their body is biologically designed to do (like walk for any length of time, or feel energized without coffee, or stomach healthy foods without adding buckets of corn syrup), then even if they don’t “look fat” something is out of balance. As a species, we weren’t designed to sit in cars and office cubicles all day. Even if studies are ambivalent about the relative healthiness of “thin versus fat,” I think personally I’d rather tend towards the thin, strong, active and self-image-loving end any day (even if it means I can’t survive a heart attack thirty or forty years from now).

        • drui_en says:

          It’s not a question of “desire” to see it, so much as reinforcing a current thought or mindset. When we come to a conclusion about something, ‘evidence’ often presents itself to reaffirm such a conclusion (in the same way that when something is on your mind, you’ll become more aware of passing references to it in media and the like).

          My experiences with many pagans is perhaps quite different from yours, in that I am not an active member in the pagan “community” as it were. I have gone to the occasional large-scale celebration, where people of many different ages, shapes, etc. all congregated together, but I do not have regular interaction with specific groups. Most of the pagans I know are much like myself: i.e. mostly solitary practitioners, or those who work in small groups together. Of all of these types, I only know one person who would be considered obese… the rest are quite healthy, earthy types who do not smoke, are very health-conscious, and lead active lifestyles. None of us smoke, several are vegetarians, and though we may all have trivial health ‘issues’ (anaemia in my case, varying other low-level concerns in others), none are at all incapacitating or hold us back from anything.

          Those who are actively involved in these communities may do so because of a pressing need to belong to something, after perhaps being ostracised by the mainstream groups out there. Many default to Paganism because it’s different, it’s ‘rebellious’ in many people’s opinions, and they may indeed be misguided into thinking that drug abuse and other unhealthy choices are part and parcel of all of that.

        • dubhlainn says:

          Even if studies are ambivalent about the relative healthiness of “thin versus fat,” I think personally I’d rather tend towards the thin, strong, active and self-image-loving end any day

          That is my whole point. Fat, in many cases, does not equal inactive or weak. Just as thin does not equal health. And I can see no reason why a fat person canot love their self-image.

          These are all stereotypes not facts.

          I just returned from a festival with 100+ attendees. There were only two people I saw with mobility issues, one with a chronic back issue from a car accident and one with kidney disease. The rest of us, even we weak fat people, were able to walk around just fine, wash ourselves, set up our own tents and campsites, drum and dance and sing around the fire, compete in the warriors games, and everything else we wanted to do.

    • > another “all Pagans are Fat” post.

      This is a dismissive statement that misrepresents what Brendan was saying.

      1. If you want to use *his* post as springboard to present *your* views on obesity, have the courtesy to simply say so, and proceed from there. It would make your opening unnecessary.

      2. If you genuinely believe that among all the other maladies Brendan lists – and I count TEN of them – that the only one he is *really* interested in is obesity, then you are accusing him of being a liar or being disingenuous. Either way, that accusation demands support from the text.

      You don’t just waltz into a post he thought about, and phrased carefully in order to stimulate intelligent discussion, only to slap him aside like that.

      If your complaint is genuine, back it up.

      If it isn’t, you owe the man an apology.


  4. cruitire333 says:

    I can speak from experience. I’m a big guy and I’m on pills for mental issues. I don’t think this trend is exclusive to Pagans because I see physical and mental health support groups sponsored by a great number of churches and synagogues around my community here in Arizona.

    However…I think Paganism better addresses the social anxieties associated with chronic health sufferers. Anxiety creates a constant need for control. When I tried going back to a local church the anxiety levels went up. I couldn’t control the rituals, the congregation, the beliefs, the community events, or the place where I would go to worship. These anxieties didn’t exist when I first accepted Paganism fifteen years ago but I find a great comfort in the freedom and control of solitary rituals and small group gatherings that come from what I have learned over the years. I would add that the level of comfort is unique to the anxiety sufferer but I do think that the freedom to choose spiritual expression is present in virtually any Pagan. That’s why we’re drawn to it.

    As far as diet – I have recently changed that for myself but not before I became a Type 2 diabetic. I do notice that the majority of people going to our local Pagan meetups are overweight (obese) and a third of them are smokers. I believe the desire to change has to exist before the healing can begin. There are internal triggers that cause people to make bad choices. Paganism doesn’t force you to look at yourself in a judgmental light. External validation is powerful and a great comfort from the pressures of mainstream society. For some people this acceptance allows them to start making healthy changes for themselves. For others, it allows them to continue their unhealthy habits without being judged. It does come down to personal choice and I’ll be the first to admit it.

  5. misslynx says:

    I think there are a number of different factors at play here, some of which have already been identified by other commenters.

    One thing worth keeping in mind is that part of the nature and purpose of religion is to offer support, community and healing to people who need it. That’s just as true of any other religion as it is of the various neo-pagan religions.

    I remember a conversation a high priestess I know once told me about, when she’d been doing interfaith work for some while and had developed a number of friends among the clergy of other religions she had met through that. She said that she had once been talking with some of them about the prevalence of mental health issues and other complicated life problems she saw among the people in her community, and had added that “I understand that offering support for people dealing with those kinds of problems is part of what we’re here for, but I can’t help wondering why it is that they all seem to flock to my faith…” And a little old minister from one of the mainstream denominations patted her on the shoulder and said “My dear, I assure the rest of us are all wondering the same thing about ours!” 🙂

    However, there are also a few factors that may be specific to paganism. As commented, more so than most other faiths, we have an association, at least in many people’s minds, with alternative healing methods such as herbalism, energy work, etc., so people with physical health problems, particularly those that are unresponsive to standard medical treatments and/or not always widely understood or recognized by mainstream medicine may be likely to be drawn to paganism for that reason.

    Also, there are elements of at least some pagan religions that specifically imbue the body and sexuality with sacredness, and this is likely attractive to a lot of people who are dealing with issues around body image and sexuality – survivors of eating disorders and sexual abuse, etc.

    On the not-so-positive side, there can also be a hedonistic element to some pagan religions that can be taken as encouragement to continue unhealthy-but-enjoyable practices such as excessive drinking or drug use, overeating, etc. The tenet that “All acts of love and pleasure are My rituals” is a valuable and positive one in many ways, but it can also become an excuse for overindulgence when not balanced by an awareness that not every form of pleasure is healthy, particularly when in indulged in to excess.

    In addition, there is the factor that a lot of the people drawn to paganism tend to be of a fairly bookish or “geeky” disposition, and that’s not a factor with a very positive correlation with physical activity. Many of us tend to live predominantly in our heads rather than in our bodies, spending most of our recreational time reading or doing computer work rather than doing anything physical. That sort of sedentary lifestyle can definitely be a contributor to a lot of health problems. I know for myself personally, it’s only been over the past five years or so that I’ve been making a really concerted effort to turn that around in my own life, to eat better and become more physically active, and to maintain more of an awareness that I have a body as well as a brain and that they both need regular exercise and good nourishment.

    (continued in next comment)

  6. misslynx says:

    I think also makes a very good point about the accepting/non-judgmental nature of a lot of modern paganism, and how that can be a double-edged sword, offering some people an excuse to stick with unhealthy life choices and others the space to try and change without being motivated by shame or guilt.

    In my immediate circle of pagan friends, I have seen a considerable movement toward greater health-consciousness over the past few years, with a lot of people quitting smoking, taking up various forms of exercise from yoga to running, and eating more healthfully. I suspect that may be partly due to the fact that a lot of us are approaching middle age (or already there) and don’t feel as invulnerable as we might have when younger, and part of it is likely also that the more people in any given community start doing things like that, the more others are motivated to do so as well. Peer pressure, even when it’s not active pressure but just an awareness of what others around you are doing, can be a positive or negative force. I don’t know how typical what I see around me is of the broader pagan community, though. I can only hope that maybe it’s the beginning of a positive trend.

  7. snowcalla says:

    I’m going to try to express my thoughts without sounding like I have hate or disgust or pity for people, because I don’t. But I know people get really touchy about things like medical/mental/norms/etc.

    That out of the way – I have very much noticed this. I have noticed that Pagans are more likely to be physically or mentally/emotionally handicaped, gay/bi/trans, or otherwise considered “undesirable” or “out of the norm” by society at large. I’m not saying *I* consider all of them undesirable, I’m saying they are people who would be marginalized by society.

    I don’t consider this a problem, in and of itself. I do think that if Paganism is to survive and thrive we also need to attract a demographic that is mostly missing – healthy families. I’m not at all worried that Paganism seems to draw in people who are from the fringes and those who are damaged in some way – but I am VERY worried about the fact that familes either aren’t attracted to Paganism or aren’t made welcome in Paganism. That does mean there is something wrong with our group dynamics.

  8. alfrecht says:

    diseases like diabetes, arthritis, severe food allergies, various STD’s, and obesity.

    You’ve got at least three (and possibly four) things here which would, by many people, be considered “self-inflicted” diseases. The perception of this is often one which includes blaming the person for the existence of their disease. And while personal responsibility must be accepted to manage these conditions, nonetheless there is also often an accompanying begrudging of sympathy, compassion, and understanding that goes with it. And I have to say that’s a very privileged, temporarily able-bodied viewpoint.

    I am not overweight (and am far from obese), but I am diabetic–and Type I (insulin-dependent/juvenile onset) diabetic, and have been for more than 3/4 of my life. I did not get this disease by mismanaged eating habits or lack of physical activity. I was diagnosed severely asthmatic before I was diabetic. Lots of things can accompany growing up “sick” that aren’t particularly nice, including perceived desexualization (which disabled folks of all types experience), not to mention not being able to participate in many activities that most people would consider “normal” for kids, etc. The religious communities with which I was involved (via my family) at the time were no help either: the options were to pray to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes; to have the sacrament of “anointing of the sick” (which is not anything like a prayer for healing, but instead is a Vatican II re-packaging of the sacrament of extreme unction, i.e. last rites, in advance of one not being able to have them if one died of one’s afflictions in the meantime…and I had this about three times); and to be told that I was sinful and that this was the just dessert of my sinfulness (or, if not my own personal sinfulness, then the general fallen nature of humanity and the material world), and that if Christ can suffer and be crucified on my behalf, then living with pain and discomfort and not being able to do many things was not as bad as that. There were several times when I was in the hospital, and was told that the priest would be visiting me to say mass and just be there for me a bit, and he never came. Is it any wonder that someone like me would walk away from a religion that treated its disabled members in such a manner?

    And I have to say, some of this type of thinking is still present in different branches of paganism, and it really sucks. John Matthews said in a workshop on Celtic shamanism that I was at one time that if one is a “true shaman,” then one is fully healed and whole in body and mind, and that if one continues to be “sick” after one’s initial “shaman sickness,” then they’re not fit for the work, etc. Well, that’s actually quite at variance with much actual shamanic tradition (including a great deal of Celtic tradition, which isn’t necessarily shamanic, but we’ll leave off that debate for now), and simply falls into that same category of thinking as before. Nothing short of genetic re-writing or major surgical/transplant intervention (which wouldn’t necessarily be successful) will change the fact that I’ll need an externally-supplied source of insulin until the day I die. To therefore conclude that I’m somehow less spiritual, less deserving, less able as a human (in ways other than strictly physical limitations) because of this is utterly ridiculous.

    I see a lot of people in modern paganism who are doing a very good job of finding ways to creatively and spiritually come to terms with great physical and psychological conditions, and I think it is inspiring and wonderful to encounter this. I also see a lot of what I perceive as “normal” and “healthy” pagans who don’t give a rat’s arse about their disabled coreligionists, and do things to make access to ritual more difficult (and I have stories on this, but I’ll spare you them for now…) and to discriminate against them.

    • alfrecht says:


      And in this, even Christian scripture (despite, alas, the actual ongoing religious practice not always following suit) absolutely beats the pants off paganism–the story of the crippled man being lowered down through the roof on a mat to Jesus while he was preaching ought to demonstrate how important it is to make access to spiritual resources easy for people who may most benefit from them.

      I have been told on more than one occasion–from hostile parties, but also by (pseudo-) spiritual people–that my diseases are all in my mind, and that I can “create my own reality.” No matter how much I might wish, pray, and meditate that my diseases will go away, that does not eliminate my need for insulin at the end of the day. If paganism is supposed to be more about materiality, the needs of the present world, and embodiment than many other religions are, then it must embrace bodies of all shapes and sizes, and bodies of all conditions–the healthy as well as the sick. While it would be great if we were all healthy and didn’t suffer from diseases (and you can sign me up for that by all means!), it’s simply beyond the abilities of modern medicine to bring some of these things about. So, instead of further blaming and discriminating, why not explore more friendly and compassionate options?

      Let’s face it: even without a concept of the “fallen creation,” as pagans we can look around the present world and see that it is unhealthy in general. There is environmental destruction on unprecedented levels; there is an economic crisis that bespeaks of anything but a healthy approach to materiality; there are social difficulties, discrimination, “culture wars” and so forth that could fill volumes on a daily basis if one only focused on headline-worthy matters; there are wars and genocidal actions taking place in many locations…and that’s just the start. There are also more people living right now than at any other single time in history. If our population as pagans did not to some extent reflect microcosmically this macrocosmic set of difficulties, then I’d be more surprised…but, perhaps therein lies the difference. More pagans feel that these things (including health problems of various types) can be dealt with better from the pagan perspective than from a variety of others. And I would agree with that, in principle. However, practice and the general attitude of many within this set of movements varies greatly…

  9. uncledark says:

    Is there something about paganism that attracts people with chronic health problems?

    I would say that, rather, there’s something about mainstream life in America that repells folks with chronic health problems, especially mental/emotional problems.

    A lot of folk I have known in the Pagan subculture come to us more through a feeling of spiritual homelessness in mainstream culture, a feeling of rejection there, than due to spiritual revelation.

    This is not to say that there aren’t spiritual reasons, but that the reason why some come and stay is due to a feeling of acceptance-despite-our-troubles.

  10. west_ says:

    i once tried to get an american druid grove to once, JUST ONCE, ditch the sodas and gorge-fest at their summer ritual, and focus on bringing only local or homeade, organic foods in reasonable proportions. None of us would starve from such a suggestion.

    I was immediately laughed out of the room. the obese/bipolar folks in charge thought that suggestion was the damn stupidest thing they’d ever heard, didn’t give it a second thought. At the large festivals i’ve attended over the years, unhealthy behaviours of various sorts are the norm. The garbage alone generated by Starwood festival is stunning.

    Anecdotes aren’t science… but I think Margot Adler and your observation here is absolutely correct. And will say again that many will fiercely resist recognizing it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Interestingly, to me anyway, is the fact that few of those I know of within Paganism developed these problems once they were Pagans (as many have left previous religions and became Pagan later on). Most had these health problems prior to coming to Paganism – being Pagan has nothing to do with the illnesses themselves. They come to Paganism looking for answers, comfort, and acceptance – not a hide out from their diseases but a way to cope with them. Not to excuse themselves or be lazy about their health but to heal themselves. Even if that healing can only be in part.

    Why does it happen that people with health (mental and physical) come to Paganism? Perhaps it is because we are perceived, usually, as a more compassionate group of people. We don’t blame the sufferer for their illness nor do we add insult to injury by saying their illness is a punishment for ______ by _______(enter diety of choice – usually one of the Abrahamic variations).

    What is to be done about it? Those same things that have been done – acceptance, compassion, and defiance against the “societal norm” that prevents those who are ill from feeling whole or worthy.

  12. ecstaticlght says:

    Yes I’ve noticed it for several years. Like some of the others I think part of that has to do with Pagan life in general being a place where everyone can feel accepted. Type 1 Diabetes is not a weight, stress thing, but it can be triggered by multiple bouts of say..Strep in a row (that triggered my sister and my son), so bad health conditions can be a factor.

    What I haven’t seen anyone put forth is that the work that goes in to our paths requires a lot of deep deep inner digging and diving. If people are doing this without solid teachers or leaders to help them, then it can effect their mental states which in turn can effect their health. I have chosen a learning path that promotes health. It feels so wonderful to gather with folks that see the care of their bodies as part of their spiritual work. We are shiny and the energy in the room is lighter. We still have issues, but the level of medication is down, the food is healthier, we make sure we are working out/exercising.

    It is also IMO a bit of the group mentality. If you are working with a group that doesn’t worry about size for any reason then you’ll see them all do what they do. Paganism in general is a whole lotta food going on too! I think that as there are more groups like I am enjoying work with, the more we will see the health of our fellow Pagans begin to be on the upswing.

    I do find that the longer I go along the path, that I think it is part of my gift to have a body and mind that I need to care more and more for. The healthier the body and mind the clearer the conduit for the energy. I have a ways to go, but I’m consciously working on it.

  13. erynn999 says:

    The average American — or Canadian for that matter — is not going to tell a stranger about their health problems and particularly not about their mental health problems. My guess is that you hear more about it from Pagans because you have more Pagan friends and interact with them more often. The same goes for folks with chronic mobility problems. Most of them aren’t going to have the energy or even the need or desire to be where you are, so of course you won’t see them. On the days when I feel my worst, nobody sees me because I stay home in bed.

    I have a boatload of chronic health problems and I make no secret of it. Not because I’m “proud” of them but because as an activist working on some of them it’s inevitable that they will be aired publicly. I live on disability and I still do what I can to serve my community.

    I cook most of my own food rather than eating prepackaged stuff. I avoid things that actively make me feel ill. I do activism around military women’s issues.

    As far as the Veterans Administration is concerned, I’m an example of reasonably successful treatment. I went from the pain clinic wanting to put me on a methadone cocktail for my fibromyalgia to taking a few tylenol a day and managing with meditation and determination. I went from being so broken and agoraphobic that I couldn’t leave the house without someone with me to being able to fly to Ireland to travel the west of the country with a bunch of strangers on a bus. I went from hobbling on a cane everywhere I went to being able to do a short backpacking trip carrying everything I needed for three days in the wilderness.

    Yet I am still on anti-depressant medication. My body still protests adamantly if I do things outside of a fairly restricted set of activities. I still have nightmares and flashbacks that are triggered by reminders of certain things. I am not less spiritual because my health is poor. On the contrary — my spiritual path is what has helped me immensely in being able to cope with the very real problems and restrictions of my physical and emotional/mental conditions.

    People come to Paganism because they think they’ll get something they need out of it. As noted, mainstream religions have programs for the same kinds of issues so it’s not like we’re the only ones dealing with this stuff. It’s what spiritual and pastoral counseling in Christianity is all about — dealing with physical and mental and emotional issues that are too big to cope with alone.

    Asking “What, if anything, can or should be done about it?” makes it sound like those of us with health problems are a burden to the Pagan community that should, perhaps, be got rid of so that the rest of you can be poster children for glowing health and vitality.

    What can be done? It depends greatly upon the needs of the individual.

    What should be done? That depends upon how you see the impact of these issues upon the community.

  14. marytek says:

    I don’t have an illness but a birth defect. I am also one of the few small tiny voices in the pagan community which does not use “alternative healing”, instead relying on “western” medicine for much of my life.

    I don’t see any greater number of disabled and ill individuals within the neo-pagan community than in any other community. The obesity thing I do note and have seen this in great abundance, but so too that of the very thing. It’s rare that you will have a robust, size 6-8 woman or a man with a 32-inch waist in the neo-pagan community…either the ladies/men are very thin or overweight.

    As for why European pagans seem healthier, that’s probably more due to health standards within their respective countries than anything else. In many countries in Europe there is a greater emphasis on preventative medicine, better portion control and a greater emphasis on physical activity. Not so much here in North America. It isn’t just the neo-pagans who are getting sick and fat, so too is the greater North American citizen.

    • lupabitch says:

      I am also one of the few small tiny voices in the pagan community which does not use “alternative healing”, instead relying on “western” medicine for much of my life.

      Maybe we know different sets of pagans, but most of the pagans I know prefer western medicine to alternative medicine for most things. They may supplement with alternative methods that have worked for them, but they don’t eschew it entirely, and generally use it for their primary care.

      • marytek says:

        I keep getting advice with regards to my UTIs and when my incision was healing last year. None of the suggested “remedies” involved any known form of western medicine. Examples of what I got were:
        -rub some vitamin E oil on the incision
        -rub some raw honey on the incision
        -rub some other type of “natural” ointment
        -take some echinacea
        -cranberry juice (a study was done in Germany by a team of nephrologists and urologist and what is most beneficial, other than antibiotics, is drinking lots of water.. they found no difference between peeps who drank 2L of water a day and those who drank 2L of cranberry juice a day)
        -bilberry supplements
        -energy work

        I don’t respond well to energy work. And I did find out later that some peeps were sending me energy during my surgery 18 months ago. I was sent into Acute ICU and nearly died. The last surgery I had prior to 2007 was in 1993 and I didn’t know any pagans then, and no energy was sent to me then… the recovery time from surgery was blissfully short like all other prior surgeries. This one, I got energy and I nearly died. I personally view people sending energy “willy nilly” to be a violation of the recipient, unless said recipient asked for it. If it’s not asked for, don’t send it.

        • erynn999 says:

          Count me as being in favor of a great deal of western medicine. I have had chronic UTIs most of my life and it’s antibiotics that knock them out, not cranberry juice. Likewise I take psych meds so I’m not suicidal. Some alternative health stuff works, but certainly not all of it, and definitely not in exclusion of western allopathic medicine.

  15. I started into Paganism as a physically healthy and mostly sane 16 year old (I’m an army kid so there’s no such thing as entirely sane :p ). As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed a whole gamut of health problem, both physical and mental. Physically thanks to a combination of genetic inclination, injury and several internal health problems I am over weight and pretty shot to peices. I spend most the winter on antibiotics and sucking on my asthma puffer. The mental stuff is all due to recent and rather traumatic events.

    What I ahve found is that the Pagan’s I do deal with regularly have a) been immensly supportive and b) think outside the box when helping me decide on courses of action. On the other hand I’m getting shrugged shoulders and “suck it up” from the majority of non-pagans in my life. I also have found that my fellow Pagan’s are more likely to help than my non-pagan friends. They’ll do a little research on the side, send me links to alternative, or complimentary healing information etc where non_pagan friends are sweet and supportive but don’t go that extra step (not that I expect them to, this is just what I see people doing within my friendship circle).

    In general I think you find its also that we’re supportive of people. We’ll go that little bit further for others within our immediated sphere, whether real world friends or internet based ones, and that translates into people not holing themselves up when they’re unwell but rather continueing to be an active member of the community. I think, basically, that it’s less that we have more sick and overweight people but rather that we have more active sick and overweight people.

  16. lupabitch says:

    I’ll have to agree with the assessment of pagans being more willing to talk about these things. For example, with mental health, we already believe in things (magic, spirits, etc.) that some people in American and other western cultures would associate with various psychopathic illnesses (never mind that the DSM does make allowances for cultural and religious beliefs involving magic, animism, etc. when discussing these illnesses). So it’s not surprising that we have less tendency to adhere to stigmas about mental health–though I have still seen plenty of prejudice against the mentally ill in the pagan community, including accusations of illnesses used as slander.

    I also agree with those who mentioned the support that pagan religious structures and practices can have for those dealing with various illnesses; hence why my thesis will focus on that particular topic (short version).

  17. kallisti says:

    Much of today’s life is damaging to the average person, both physically, and mentally. Until quite recently, most people would never hear of mass murders in their lifetime.. Now we hear it almost daily, with colour photos and video. That cannot be healthy for most people mentally. But that is just one of the more extreme examples of the assault from the infosphere on us. Add to that the fact that in most of North America, to eat a healthy balanced diet is almost impossible for anyone living near or below the poverty line. And in the US, you don’t have universal access to medical care, so people do without, and don’t go to see a doctor until they can’t take it any more and many times that is the point of a life or death situation. Then there is the stigma of against mental illness…and being told it’s all in your head!

    I have to agree with many here that the reason why we see so many of the walking wounded here is that we are much more accepting and supportive as a cluster of religions. We see that like the planet, parts are healthy, but many are not. We are part of this planet so healing and accepting each other is part of healing and accepting our planet Earth. We are also more accepting of diversity.

    Another point is that the neo-pagan family of religions is a much more cerebral religion than most. You will find more bookworms than jocks among our membership.


  18. Brendan, you are unwrong. I have known quite a few Pagans in my day and many from other religions too. Not only are Pagans sufferring from health problems, both mental and physical, but they tend to suffer from poverty too.

    • marytek says:

      There are those of us who could be considered successful, such as myself..in my mundane non-spiritual life I am a Certified General Accountant, employed full-time as a Chief Accountant at a large multi-national advertising company. I have a friend who is a hospital chaplain, few who are librarians, a high school teacher. And I know several nurses too.

      There are those amongst the neo-pagan community who also are poor, for various reasons. I do know several people who have decided to follow career paths which are not monetarily satisfying (ie. have a difficult time paying the rent) or who have decided to jump off the job-wagon and declare that if they can’t find something that suits them then they might as well be on welfare.

      It’s rare that I see a person actually say that yes, they do want to get a high paying job like an accountant or dentist or GP or lawyer or whatever. Is it lack of motivation? Don’t know. Not to paint all poor neo-pagans with the same brush, but there is a sizeable portion who are woefully under-employed due to their own actions.

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