Tuesday, October 4, 2011

That's not God. That's Crazy.

One of the biggest questions I have to folks in the pagan community who are part of the 'Woo woo I see spirits everywhere and the dead chat with me over my morning coffee' segment of the pagan populace is this:


Is that really a spirit/the Goddess, or might you need medical attention?

That's a question that Aldo Bianchini might have wanted to ask well before he went to church this past Sunday. The 46 year old man was in the middle of a church service at St. Andrea's in Viareggio when a voice told him it would be a good idea to tear his own eyes out. And guess what he did. 

Go ahead... Guess.

In front of 300 people, and God I suppose, he tore his own eyes out with his bare hands. Because a voice from the beyond told him to. 

When first responders showed up to the scene, they found Bianchini calm and lucid. Just in case you wanted to know, while they found his eyeballs, they were not able to reattach them. 

Gino Barbacci, the doctor who treated Bianchini, said it would have taken superhuman strength for a person to gouge their own eyes out and added he had never seen anything like it in 26 years of medical practice.


This guy is not a pagan. He's a Christian. But, this story highlights some dirty laundry of our community. I realize that as pagans we're supposed to be completely ok when somebody tells you that the Ronald McDonald statue came to life and gave you the secret ingredient to the Special Sauce. We're supposed to be just fine and dandy when you claim to be in constant contact with your great great great great great great great great great great grand pappy from the old world who tells you how to go about your daily life. I am - as a proud pagan folk in 2011 - supposed to be accepting and supportive when Lady Merryweather Picklebum talks about how she went camping in the woods and the trees spoke to her and she had sex with an elf.

But, I am told I am not a good pagan, that I don't have enough - or the right kind of - faith, that I am just plain overstepping my boundaries when I suggest that that same person might want to seek professional help. 

There is a difference between a chemical imbalance and spiritual experience. And, no, I do not believe we should encourage folks to speak to the voices they're hearing or give credence to what those voices are saying until they have been checked out by a licensed therapist. 

Do I believe that the dead can communicate, that the Divine can give us messages, that there are nature spirits and they might actually want to chat on occasion? Sure. I believe in a whole mess of stuff. But I also firmly believe that when God tells you to kill your children (there's at least half a dozen cases in the last 10 years of that) or rip out your own eyes or burn things...that's not God. That's not any God. It's not a demon or an angel or a Super Mega One-of-a-Kind Faerie Dude. It's a cry for help. A need for medication and therapy.  

You might not think it's harmful if the voices only tell you that you look skinny in those jeans or that your new haircut looks amazing. But, what happens when that same, trusting voice starts to veer into a realm of the dangerous? 

Why does that make me a bad pagan? And why is the pagan community so willing to go along with the crazy, because we have to accept everybody and everything? It's absolutely time that we stood up for sanity. 

Here's my proposal: If you think you're speaking to the Great Ravioli Monster in the Sky, do me a favor. Go to a therapist. Tell them what you're experiencing. Let them check you out and make sure that you're not crazy, or at least that your brand of crazy doesn't make you a danger to yourself or others. Then, keep talking to whatever it is you're talking to. 

What do YOU think about people hearing voices?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

16 comments:

  1. I think the same thing when I hear people of any variety tell me a deity spoke to them: "Really? So... why doesn't this deity speak to me? Or to anybody else, for that matter?" It's sort of like the "prayer test" that Mormon missionaries give to potential converts: "We want you to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God to know if it is true." And, you know what happens sometimes? People - usually already some other variety of Christian - pray to God and tell the missionaries, "Well, I prayed to God to know if the Book of Mormon is true, and he said no." And if you're curious, yes, that is an awkward moment (I've seen it happen.) So, great - you hear voices - can I talk to them?

    This is sort of the same way I feel when I meet people who talk about spirit guides, higher / inner / child selves, ascended masters, and Reiki guides: "Oh, okay - and... how do I know you're not just putting me on? Or imagining it? Or mentally unstable?" Speaking only for myself, I find it distasteful and alarming when people start talking (bragging) about which supernatural entities are talking to them.

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  2. To tear out your own eyes, you'd have to be unable to distinguish between religious experience and psychosis. There *are* people with mental health problems who can tell the difference - albeit that they're probably the rarer ones. It is possible to be both truly spiritual and not-always-mentally-healthy.

    I absolutely agree that religious believers/communities shouldn't blindly enable those who are mentally ill - but people with mental health problems do have the right to follow religious paths. Just like any other disabled people do. The most supportive religious communities have social and support services, as well as systems of referral to medical services, for those among them who become ill or face misfortune. That should be the ideal, IMHO. Along with welcome - as far as possible (and I know it isn't always possible). I'm all for being careful, but let's try as hard as we can not to exclude. Isn't healing a big focus of many Pagan traditions? I've had incredible amounts of healing as a result of taking part in spiritual practices. I also have a lot to offer religious communities. As do other people with mental health problems.

    Oh, and let's not support the 'all mentally ill people are dangerous' myth, either. Most people with mental health problems don't tear out their own eyes, or do anything else of that kind. More people with mental health problems experience violence from so-called normal people than inflict violence on others. The media is responsible for much of the myth that says otherwise.

    There's a man in my church who lives in a local care home for mentally unwell people. He is brought by a carer, every week, without fail. He interrupts the service to offer opinions occasionally (we've got used to it and carry on), and he can't always find his way to the communion rail without help, but I see the peace in his eyes when he gets there and takes communion. There are a lot of churches that exclude such people (believe me, I know - I'm researching it). I'm glad that my church is not among them. I'm glad that man is not excluded.

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  3. Sophia, I completely agree that we should never exclude others based solely on physical or mental disability. They have every right to join in religious and spiritual events without the fear of discrimination. On the other hand, just because we do not exclude them, it does not mean that we continue to enable their behavior.

    If someone says they can communicate with ghosts, gods, spirits, etc., there are three possibilities:

    1) The person is lying in order to make themselves look uber special to a tiny population of the macro-community that thinks that's cool.

    2) The person is experiencing some form of mental illness and needs medical and psychological treatment.

    3) The person is sane and telling the truth, in which case listen up.

    What I'm saying is not to ignore someone who seems to be exhibiting symptoms that anyone outside of the pagan/mystical communities would think is crazy. Also, don't build them up and encourage the behavior. Suggest medical treatment, or offer alternatives for what they might be experiencing in a loving but firm manner.

    I believe you and I wholeheartedly agree, but I wanted to make it clear that I do not condone excluding anyone based on disability. Now, if someone is mentally ill in a manner that is either dangerous or causes issues, and they refuse to seek treatment, then I believe it is the group's right to decide whether to continue a relationship with that person.

    Interesting discussion. Perhaps we can bring it up on your show!

    FL

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  4. OK, I agree much more with that comment than with your original post. The biggest problem I have with your post is your statement (repeated) that people who talk to deities, spirits etc should be checked out by a doctor - and should continue only if they are certified sane. Well, I'm not certified entirely mentally healthy (although I do get a relatively clean bill of current mental health these days). And I also speak to Jesus, the Morrigan, land spirits, the flowers in my garden, a number of trees (well, I am studying druidry), my cats, my hamster... Do they talk back? Well, that depends what you mean by talk.* I don't hear audible voices - most of the time. Can I swear I've never heard audible disembodied voices? No. But then, I have a feeling that a fair number of people occasionally hear things during meditation etc, mentally healthy or not. It's not that rare an experience. Like most experiences aren't that rare.

    It would be shocking to state that we exclude people from our communities because they use wheelchairs, but we can say we exclude mentally ill people 'for their own good'. I think we need to be VERY careful about deciding we know what is for the good of other people. As I say, if I needed a completely clean bill of mental health to go to church, I wouldn't get in. I'd also still be a bipolar wreck if I hadn't been allowed to engage in religious community and spiritual experience.

    *One of my cats does engage in miaow-based two-way conversation with me, without fail. "Hi, Milo." "Miaow." It's quite funny.

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  5. What I was originally going to say was "if they are not a danger to themselves or others." Perhaps I'll go back and rewrite that part of the article, as that is truer to my intention.

    Thanks for keeping me honest!

    FL

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  6. Well, I'm of course not trying to censor you. And as you say, the line is fuzzy - it can be hard to know what's harmless and what's not. I'm just sad, so apologies if I'm projecting things into your post that aren't there - I've seen so much exclusion from religious communities lately. Latest one for me is that I got an invite to my local mosque, and then I found out it was up a flight of stairs. Can't be helped, and I'll find another one, but add that to all the churches I'm researching and all the classes in magic I can't get to because all metaphysical shops use their upstairs rooms, and I'm getting a permanent headache. Perhaps I should be researching something other than religion!

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  7. Well he heard something. A spirit, a demon, his mental sickness or both. I don't know. But because of his actions and that of others, I would never invalidate the spiritual experiences of pagans and non-pagans and send them to the psych ward. Do I believe in everything that someone tells me, no I don't but i also don't discharge it as them being crazy. I know of a 13 year old girl that attempted suicide many times because a Jinn told her to do it. Her parents took her to many different crazy doctors and none of them came up with a concrete diagnosis. Was she truly mentally ill or was it a jinn like she said. I do not know. Even though is fiction the movie The Exorcist fits perfectly here lol Many blessing and light

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  8. "Don't judge my madness by your sanity."

    Sure the example you cite at the opening of your article is an easy one. If a voice from beyond is telling you to tear out your own eyes well that's nuts and I'm sure that nine out of eight Hatters would agree.

    But prescribing that anyone who has had or continues to have "mystical" experiences should get permission from a mental health professional?

    Well honestly that's more than a bit condescending it seems to me. Because I don't know if you've noticed but most of those people at best believe that anyone who believes in Fey, Magick, interactive Deities, etc etc etc is mildly delusional if not full blown "crazy". That's a technical term, you can look it up. ;-)

    Look I firmly believe that your heart is in the right place. But here's a simple truth that you just like me are going to have to learn to live with if you are going to walk a Magickal or Mystical path. Namely, you don't get to be one hundred percent comfortable with what you see, and hear, and feel.

    It would be nice. It would certainly make life easier. But it doesn't work that way. Instead it's the ongoing challenge of determining for your self what you have perceived means. If it is authentic or if it's just mind fluff. Does this mean that one should never seek professional help? Of course not. And if you are beginning to become uncomfortable with the experiences you are having then it's probably better to be safe than sorry.

    But to seek "permission" to walk a magickal path and have mystical experiences? Especially from someone who's training and world view is generally opposed to such things? Well you may as well ask your parents permission before you fall in love with the sexy kid from the wrong side of the tracks. It's just about as likely as you'll get permission from the latter as from the former.

    Peace
    And
    Long
    Life

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  9. P.S. (and a wall-o-text later...) I'm aware that you weren't implying that we should loose our cultural open-mindedness. This particular perspective is what immediately came to mind for me, and I really wanted to give it a voice. Enjoy the wall. (Sorry about that.) :)

    ~

    I am always deeply disturbed by these things. I can't even begin to imagine what that scene must have been like. (However, I can't help but ask, couldn't someone present have stopped him?) As someone who has suffered from a neurological/neuro-chemical disorder, as well as been exposed to a medical environment and medical information all my life, I feel very strongly about mental health and balance. It saddens me when things like this happen, and I know why you chose this particular incident to help make your point about the "anything goes" issue in the pagan community. But it is a bit extreme, maybe? That's not a criticism, because unfortunately I've seen some comparable instances in the paganverse. I think it is important to distinguish between spiritual experiences and psychological disturbances. Luckily, for most of us the difference is obvious.

    I believe that we (possibly above all others) should be sensitive to the suffering of those seeking the divine and being blocked by circumstance, disease, or any other obstacle or defect. For, although I share your concerns and chagrin, I also think that it's a charming and unique aspect of the pagan community that should never be lost.

    Remember, many of us came to this religious understanding and practice because we too, at some point, were blocked from the divine. Our tendency to embrace the absurd in the name of open-mindedness is meant with the greatest intentions. This does not necessarily exclude, nor should it ever overshadow, our intelligence.

    I agree with you. But it isn't as simple as, "Go see a doctor, and if you're not insane, then we'll take it seriously." I find that when I witness conversations about this sort of thing ("Was it magic, or was it just a coincidence/nightmare/dream/etc.?" ) I am often proud of the way most in our community treat the experience as valid, no matter what.

    People's experiences are sacred in a way. Whether it was "real" or not, usually doesn't change the effect of it's occurrence in the perspective of the individual. I think that when we validate those experiences, even if we're just giving the person the benefit of the doubt, it's an incredibly helpful form of psychological support. Our community offers this "service" without even realizing it. Isn't that precious and amazing? I think it is. I would hate to see the good aspects of this social and spiritual practice lost.

    Love and Crazy,
    Moz

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  10. Hey Roy... Just FYI, this post is about voices in your head, not mystical experiences in general. Also, if I'm not mistaken, the most comfortable position for the greater pagan community seems to be blanket acceptance of claims. The Morrigan gave you a sponge bath last night? Excellent! Send her my way. The Colonel told you his secret of 11 herbs & spices? Righteous!

    Now, do we immediately, after the initial claim of crazy, suggest - or, to an extreme - force treatment? No. Everyone has their moments. And, most of the time, it's probably to get attention. But, if it persists, it could very well be the beginning of some serious mental deficiency.

    And, where is the line? Harm to self or others? Shouldn't we try and prevent that from happening? Shouldn't we, as caring, accepting, loving community members, want to make sure our fellow pagans are well? Could the line be the undue influence over others? "I speak to the Goddess, and she told me you must follow me." There are people that would go along with that. What about to toy with the feelings of others? "I got a message from your grandmother..." Where is the line, and why aren't we even willing to establish it?!

    I don't think the "comfortable" issue is relevant here, because our community's laurels seem to be quite different from the mainstream. And, that's ok. It's totally fine that we're different and quirky - as Mnemosyne pointed out. But not at the sake of our sanity.

    FL

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  11. I don't know what to think about this one. There's a lot about this world we don't understand, and sometimes (weird, unexplainable) shit happens. I'm okay with allowing people to believe what they want to believe as long as they aren't a danger to themselves or others.

    And here's my brand of crazy. I love to go on ghost hunts, partially because I've been curious about the paranormal for many years (healthy, I think) and partially because I almost took a dirt nap myself several years ago and all of a sudden the question of what happens to you after you die became a little bit more pressing (okay, maybe not so healthy).

    In some of the investigations I've been on, some people have claimed that they've been able to pick up on emotions. I haven't, but hey…I'm cool with that. Whatever floats your boat. I do have to say this though. In two of the places that I've been, I have felt the atmosphere suddenly get "heavy". In one location, I was off by myself a bit, fiddling with the setting on my flash because it was outdoors and I couldn't get it to work properly. I don't really think I'm one to get freaked out easily. Hell, I've wandered around Bachelor's Grove by myself. So, I call someone else from my group over and she said it was "like running into a brick wall". Weird. Nothing showed up on camera though, which was kind of disappointing.

    And then…there was Deadwood Cemetery in South Dakota, which was one of the places I stopped on my vacation. I went there, visited the graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane, and then walked around the rest of the cemetery because I was told one could learn a bit about the history of the town. (Like the fact that it had a big Jewish population; there was at least one stone in Hebrew in there). In the middle of the cemetery, I get this "heavy" feeling again, but brush it off as just my imagination and start heading down the other side of the cemetery (which was on the side of a STEEP hill). About a quarter of the way down, I look up from my feet (I was trying to pay attention to where I was going so I didn't go down the hill ass first) and see, in a flash, a woman in old fashioned clothing standing amongst the trees. She was wearing a light blue shirt with a ruffle at the front and a dark gray skirt. She was brunette and wore her hair up. It was there and then it was gone in an instant, so I have no idea whether I saw something or was imagining things. After all, they say that the brain is great at picking out patterns and re-organizing them as faces and what not. Was just my brain interpreting the different patches of shadow and light as a human figure? I just don't know.

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  12. The interesting thing was that, as I continued walking down the hill, I came across a sign that read "North Potter's Field" and it was the approximate place where I had seen the lady "standing." The potter's field, by the way, is where they bury people who are too poor to afford their own plot of land or gravestone. Interesting. On the way out, I was tempted to ask the people working there if the place was haunted and if they'd seen anything, but yeah. I didn't. I didn't want people to think I was nuts. Big mistake.

    Later that day, I went to a museum and listened in to a guide giving a tour. One of the things he pointed out was that many of the town's prostitutes were buried in the potter's fields. He also mentioned that these were a horribly abused group of women, many who had been tricked into coming to town with legitimate work, only to find out that they would be working in a brothel. My jaw hit the frigging ground, and I really regretted not saying anything to the people working there. And to this day, I am STILL tempted to email someone there and ask them if they've seen a female apparition by the North Potter's Field and, if so, to maybe leave some flowers out next to the sign.

    So yeah…still planning on going on the ghost hunts for awhile. I may not be able to convince others that there is an afterlife and ghosts exist, but I might be able to convince myself. I don't know. Is that crazy?


    @Sophia Catherine My cat and I hold conversations with one another all the time. My husband thinks it's hilarious.

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  13. Someone told me once that part of the definition of mental illness includes "impairment of functionality", ie, can they keep living a normal life.

    I think this is a somewhat fair metric for the difference between spiritual voices and crazy voices. If someone has put all of their trust in the voice, internal or not, is willing to do anything it says, regardless of consequences - that's crazy.

    If not, then you just have to differentiate between the attention-whores and the truth-tellers, but that can be done at leisure. At least, that's my personal barometer.

    Good question! :)

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  14. Great Ravioli Monster in the Sky is the Flying Spaghetti Monster's lesser known brother. You may not be suffering from delusions, you may just be a pastafarian. Long live his noodly appendage!

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  15. I get the point you're making here, at least I think I do. I could be wrong, because my particular form of autism makes it difficult for me to "get it" sometimes (and vice versa).

    The thing is, I was "checked out" by several doctors a few years ago when the "voices" started coming back. I started hearing voices as a child, and I've only ever heard something negative that wasn't my own thoughts, maybe one or two times. All I ever got from the visits were meds that only served to make me extremely ill. It was all pointless.

    These voices, the people behind them, have helped me improve my life, and I can say, as can the people around me, that they're separate from me. Most of them, at any rate. I don't have the ability to pull knowledge out of my head that I've never had before, unless it's through some kind of psychic ability. I know a lot of people don't like that word, "psychic," but I'm using it anyway, and I'm going to assume here that nobody thinks I'm referring to a charlatan at a circus.

    Are there times where I'm terrified of the stuff I pick up on? Are there times where I'd like to take magical meds and make it all go away? Sure, but it's not the voices I'd like to get rid of. I'd like to be able to hear my friends speaking to me, I'd like to be able to hear a bird tell me all about this random huge bug he's looking for, only to see him fly away after finding one, and I can see it in his beak. I'd like to be able to help my neighbor talk to her deceased son, not because she asked, but because he walked in my living room and basically demanded that I do it.

    Do I worry I'm crazy? Not anymore. Do I worry I may become so? All the time. And it's not because of a previous history of mental illness; the worse thing I've had was severe clinical depression, it's the autistic brain I have. I'm not going to go into that, but in case nobody knows what I'm saying, it's like having an adult brain and a child's brain together in the same skull. Things I could handle a second ago, like the random harmless ghost in my back yard, is no big deal. But gimme five minutes and I'm a sniveling five-yr-old all over again, because it was drilled into my literal-thinking brain that anything like that was going to kill me. Doesn't help I've had a spirit attached once that made that desire clear.

    I am one of those that really speaks to the "gods," though I see them as people, not "special." Difference is, I may talk about here, at this moment, but I'm not open for it otherwise. Not everyone who can do this is out for the favor they might receive... if Freyr wants me to try it, sure. I will, but he'll have to make up for the effort on my part, because of the extreme stress. Which is why he won't ask. I've had folks from the other side ask, and maybe demand it. I just let them keep talking, and I say "No."

    For the record, there are people who have "the gift" and just lose themselves completely anyway. In a way, being autistic kinda prevents that, for me at least. I can't accept new programs like "crazy," unless it's a huge thing like the big bang, or something. It's just not possible... just like I can't lie. I may be wrong about a lot of things, based on a lack of understanding, or whatever, and I may not make sense to a lot of people, but I'm unable to lie. And I'm not bragging about it. I wish I could lie, then maybe I would be able to tell if people were lying or not - it's the same part of the brain that I don't "have."

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  16. I like how at the end of 'A Beautiful Mind' when an elderly Prof. Nash, approached in conversation by a new student, ignores her and first asks a student that has been vetted to exist already if she sees the new student too.

    This was the movie about the mathematician who formalized game theory and suffered from delusions and hallucinations of people who weren't there.

    Robert Nash would probably say about this problem that independent verification of the existence of individuals via second sight can resolve itself in three ways.

    The first solution as he would call it would be a situation in which everybody who says they see Invisible George cannot agree on what Invisible George just did and said, at least not when they're allowed to work out the specifics with each other before privately advancing their claimed observation.

    The second solution is what Nash would call factions. When, for example all the seers raised Mormon insisting George just said the Book of Mormon is entirely true, and the ones raised Christian all being consistent with one another that it is not, that is the formulation of realities in a game theory sense that is resolving into factions. However, to be useful, the question ought to be, 'What verse of which golden tablet did George just point to?' If, again, the seers separated into two (or more distinct and significant) factions, this would be indicative of a planes of reality situation, with one group observing one, and another group observing another.

    The final solution is one in which there is only one core solution. All seers perceive the same thing. You usually don't hear about that, but when you do, it's accompanied by a sense of the practice being uncontroversial. For example dowsers in the 19th and early 20th century. They always came up with the same answer, and always were right from the stories I've heard from old-timers, and the farmers didn't really consider it any more dabbling in witch-craft than they would hiring a geologist. Once it's testable and repeatable and intependently verified it loses its spookiness and just becomes an instrument.

    Mental illness is always in the first solution, "religion" in the second. And the third is what we call reality. The way this is determined is testing and verification.

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