Monday, September 10, 2007

Paranoia and Pagans

When we delve into the occult, we constantly risk the possibility of losing our ability to think clearly. That's one of the reasons it is so vitally important that any serious practitioner of magick or the occult have a good quality therapist of some kind to talk to. We need to be able to talk to someone removed from any issues we are having, someone we trust to set us straight.

It is likely this loss of ability to think clearly that began many of the so called witch wars of the 1960s and 1970s. It is somewhat understandable, but also something that we must be vigilant about today. Descending into that madness is not healthy, and for those of fragile mental mindset, can be downright devastating.

Picture, if you will, the typical person entering the newly discovered pagan world. They are eager as puppies, ready to soak up all information thrown in their direction. They read avidly, everything they can find. Communities are joined, email lists participated in, local events attended. Often, today, the first introduction is to Wicca, but there are other groups out there, too, with as charismatic figures heading them. And so our hypothetical new person finally settles on a path, and formally joins a group.

This person is now in a very vulnerable state of mind. They are open, without mental shields of any kind. In order to become open to the occult in their new family (for the coven or grove or temple does become a new family!) they must let down their guard. Whether this new group of people has their best interests at heart, or is intent on swindling them, really matters not one bit. At some point, the group's leaders will fall down, showing their humanity, and the new person's rose colored view of the occult world will be shattered.

The usual response would be to shrug, and move on. Having learned from the experience, they will either look for a new group or coven to join, or they will decide that the occult is not for them. Either response is quite valid, and reasonable. But there is a small portion of our hypothetical pagan population that is not normal or usual. In some cases, because the occult tends to draw people who are already on the fringes of society, it seems as if we have a much larger percentage of odd people. Statistically speaking, this is correct.

For the unbalanced person, a snub from a new group might cause internal distress. In stressed situations, it might cause them to react in a violent or extreme manner. Sometimes, even frequently, this can cause a slight break with reality. The offended person becomes convinced that their former group mates are "out to get them." And so the witch wars begin.

Paranoia is a very frightening thing. It can cause seemingly normal people to blow things hugely out of proportion. Once you've had a taste of paranoia, it can easily become something that takes over your life. This can be very damaging, on all sides.

For the person who believes they are being persecuted or pursued, feelings of intense insecurity can build up. They may feel they are being watched, spied upon, or talked about behind their back. They can also become violent, lashing out and doing irrational things, purportedly to get back at their imagined attacker(s).

For the people who are assumed to be the persecutors, this is a very trying time. They may be doing their best to move on, forget the past, and concentrate on the future. They may also be smarting over the words and actions of the paranoid person, which, while easily passed off as nonsensical, can still hurt emotionally. Worst of all, they may find themselves drawn into the paranoid experience of the first person, living out the very things they were accused of doing.

For everyone else, those who witnessed only the outer ripples of all this frustration and distress, it may seem quite insane: perfectly reasonable people accusing other people of perfidy, former friends closing ranks against one person, charges of collusion and character assassination, and other heinous acts. How is the community supposed to react to such things?

It can be even worse when one person is a charismatic type of leader, and commits acts that his followers consider unethical or alienating. When a leader is exposed as being just as human as the rest of his followers, it can be a shock. Even if, in quiet moments, they understand that leaders are not gods, but are just as prone to bad days, lapses in judgment, and emotional bad hair days, during the moments of stress and anger, it can be difficult to be understanding and calm. This is a part of the "drawing in" action that happens in these types of situations.

Perhaps the worst thing that can happen, when communities are involved, is for a schism to happen. People end up choosing sides, and there is no winner at all. The community itself is a casualty, and sometimes, it never recovers.

What is the answer, when these things happen? One can simply walk away. It's the simplest answer, but not always the most viable. One can address the issues head on, but that can sometimes bring tempers to a boil quickly, causing more anger and more splitting. One can try and calmly talk it out, but that can be difficult if one or more parties are disagreeable. Communication must come from all involved parties, or it will quickly break down.

There is no clear cut answer when someone enters a paranoid state. The best you can hope for is that it will die out quickly, and that they will get help. Sometimes, it takes community intervention before that happens, but it is the best scenario. The worst, however, is what often happens. And the only thing we can do then, is mourn.
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