For all its attractiveness, neo-paganism is not without precautions.
A magico-religious system that encourages agency and empowerment, legitimises the unseen world and psychic phenomena, and by symbols, myths, and ritual speaks directly to the primal brain or unconscious, is very seductive indeed. Couple that with a celebration of the Divine Feminine, a basic tenet of manifest deity that is deeply ecological, and a practice akin to psychological development and well-being, and it’s no surprise that so many are attracted to it.
Including the mentally unstable.
Those seeking healing, of any sort, are naturally drawn to promises of magical cure. And while Wicca and similar neo-pagan traditions do provide many methods toward healing and wellness, some guardrails are appropriate for discussion.
First, magic versus magical thinking. Is magic real, and possible for the individual to achieve? This is an age-old debate which will not be undertaken here – but for the sake of discussion, let’s say that it is. Magical thinking, on the other hand, is a phenomenon of childhood in which the child’s still-developing brain equates thoughts with results. To wit, if a child experiences anger toward someone who then becomes ill, the child will assume that his or her emotional response caused the illness to happen.
The adherent to neo-pagan practices may well believe in magic and cast spells – but must not engage in magical thinking, as wishes do not make a thing so; rather, understanding of this phenomenon on a deeper level is essential. The mature concept of magic is the application of one’s will to create a tiny ripple in the fabric of the universe, one view of such as individual consciousness affecting the collective unconscious – for which steps, and a great deal of raised energy, must be applied, the outcome less than predictable. It is never wish-and-it-will-be-so, or ‘all about one’s intention’ (as is often heard today). Rather, it is a system with rules and practices that must be followed, and surely strength in numbers – at the least to avoid a misconception of omnipotence.
Secondly: paranoia. Hexing and curses are much less prevalent and possible than many witches or pagans believe. Far more likely is the belief itself – and when one believes oneself cursed, this brings with it a fair paranoia, in itself likely to bring about negative consequences. In addition, the concept of working not only with deities but spirits of all type can result in anxiety that one may contact or release a harmful entity – even a fear of mirrors as a portal to another realm, for example. Further, when one is experimenting with an expansive reality, one may lose one’s sense of what is and isn’t real, creating a general distrust in one’s surroundings or perception thereof.
Altered states of consciousness, and the ego dissolution resulting from same, is another area of caution. If one is psychologically healthy, with an intact ego structure or sense of self and individuation, the trance state represents no threat as one is firmly anchored mentally. However, if one is on the schizoid spectrum, for example, in which ego boundaries may already be compromised, ego dissolution – the relaxing of said boundaries in order to achieve a sense of oceanic boundlessness and interconnectedness with all else – may exacerbate one’s mental state. In effect, one could expand beyond one’s own boundaries…and find it difficult to return.
A different type of concern is the artificial inflation of one’s own abilities. The concept of personal power is encouraged in the neo-pagan system, which may attract those of megalomaniac tendencies or even narcissistic personality; it also may encourage a belief in supernatural ability, leading to dangerous practices. As well, the manipulative or even sociopathic individual may be drawn to such a system, using magic to enhance their sense of power over others, preying on the vulnerable who are primed to believe in the supernatural.
With a balanced mental state and sense of self, proper precautions, self-protective methods, and solid knowledge of neo-pagan practices as well as the support of others, none of these need be major concerns. It is fair, however, to consider – and to make sure that we are not fools rushing in.