Dear Witchful Thinking,
Can you go further into depth on why folks with DID/MPD should not attempt between-world travel?
Sure! That’s what I’m here for!
So I may have mentioned in a recent post that people who display symptoms, or have been diagnosed with, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) should not practice advanced forms of magic, such as astral travel, ‘tween the worlds travel, possession, invocation, oracular divination and the like. I stand by this statement.
Let me give you a little background about why I am suggesting this: I am in the process on writing a book about invocation. I came across a citation for a rare pamphlet and wrote to the author to find out more about it. The pamphlet was basically their tradition’s instructions for invoking Spirit in their Wiccan practice. Turns out the author is rather well known, and she is also a professional counselor (probably why her books are so good!). I told her about my project, and she not only refused to give me the pamphlet (apparently it is just for their tradition, and shouldn’t have been cited in the book anyway, so I’m not offended) but she said it was a bad idea and not ethical for me to write the book! The basis of her argument was that some people with certain disorders have a hard enough time telling the difference between reality and fantasy, without adding these magical complications. DID, BPD and Schizophrenia were particular disorders that she mentioned.
DID requires a mental health professional to diagnose, as it can be mistaken as other dissociative disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder (more on that later) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of this info, I am paraphrasing out of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual published by the APA. In general, the client has at least two distinct personalities or identity states (meaning they have different patterns of perceiving the world, and they think differently about the environment and the self.). One or the other personality must take control regularly (although it doesn’t have to be in any regular scheduled time). The client will forget vital personal information that can’t otherwise be explained. Finally, the client’s symptoms must not be explained by any other disorders or substance use.
DID is a response to major emotional childhood trauma, such as rape. Basically the person can’t handle the stress in the so-called “normal” way, and copes by creating alternate personalities to dissociate from the painful memories. It is not a planned event, but a complex series of emotional defense mechanisms that become extreme. Little is known about why some people have it and some don’t, or where it comes from. Treatment is always psychotherapy, and they may use it alongside other strategies such as hypnosis and electroshock therapy (in extreme cases).
Borderline Personality Disorder is another diagnosis that should not be used in conjunction with advanced magical practices. BPD clients, at the heart of their symptoms, are attempting to avoid abandonment. So their relationships are intense and unstable. Their personal identities are persistantly unstable, they may be impulsive and engage in self-mutilating behavior (such as bing eating, substance abuse or cutting [not to be confused with suicidal behavior, although BPD often display those symptoms too]). They may be extremely moody, have inappropriate and intense anger, and a chronic feeling of emptiness.
Schizophrenia is a complicated list of symptoms, but include visual or auditory hallucinations, delusions, disorganized (or incoherent) speech, and they may be paranoid, disorganized or catatonic type, among others. A schizophrenic cannot tell what is really happening outside of them and what is happening in their minds. They may have a flat affect–meaning they talk in a dull, monotonous tone and have no facial movements to indicate how they feel. They may have a movement disorder, causing them to flail, grimace, or interact with objects that aren’t there. Some people with this disease are able to function almost normally, but may have episodes in which they can’t. They may have poor hygiene because they have problems with memory, may be paranoid, or too distracted to help themselves.
Obligatory Ethical Legal Statement: I am not a licensed mental health practitioner yet–I cannot diagnose you. Do not use what you read on the internet to diagnose you, as these disorders are complicated. However, if you believe that you have any of these symptoms, or other symptoms that interfere with your ability to function in the world, SEE A DOCTOR or even better, a psychologist, for help. These disorders ONLY get better with psychotherapy combined with treatments. SEEK HELP!
That being said, you can see why perhaps these folks, or others with personality disorders or trouble keeping track of reality, might not want to engage in advanced practices. Someone who easily “loses themselves”, such as a BPD client, had best not engage in practices that open them up to that possibility (although, symptomatically, they are likely to want to!). The purpose of invocation and initiation rituals is to generate a strong emotional response. The problem is that you don’t always know how invocation, oracular divining or possession will make you feel. With astral projection and ‘tween world traveling, you don’t always know where you will end up and what you will face. Safety cannot be guaranteed. Some folks can’t handle that kind of emotion–and that’s ok. The purpose of these activities is to bring something positive and true to our lives, but it is not required. There are many other ways to touch the divine, and it is better to be safe than sorry. Not to mention that whole personal responsibility thing.
I think there are other personality disorders and psychosis that had better not attempt advance magical practices without serious therapy. Self-knowledge and basic magical safety practices have always been a requirement for advanced workings, and should never be neglected.
If you are leading an extremely emotional ritual, the participants won’t lose anything by getting a heads-up about what they might be experiencing. No one is disappointed to find out the movie is rated pg-13 instead of R, although it might help them decide whether or not they want to watch it. If they will experience tight spaces, beings that challenge their self-image, depictions of violence and violation, or anything else that might upset a sensitive or set off a mental health disorder–warn people!
Give them the option to opt-out and honor that need. It’s the same as warning people there might be meat or peanuts in food–no one makes fun of someone for being allergic to wheat. We easily make concessions for Vegetarians, yet I often see people teasing others about choosing not to go through the dark and cramped labyrinth, or opting out of a ritual to Ares. People have the right to know what to expect. Help ’em out. It is better to say “No thank you. I don’t think I’ll care for invocation” than losing touch with reality.
In the Pagan mental health practitioner community, there is some discussion about whether people with these kinds of disorders should be allowed any magical practice at all. I am of the opinion that ritual is good for all people. Any ritual, because of it’s inherent symbolism, has the potential to affect us on deep emotional and psychological (not to mention religious) levels. The people writing it, leading it and experiencing it all have different expectations and different changes as a result of the ritual. I believe everyone has a right to have access to the Divine. But advanced magical workings are not for everybody. Just as you shouldn’t practice magic when you have the flu, so you shouldn’t practice magic if your mind is not well.
Some things you can do instead
- Can’t be the Oracle? How about using tarot cards or runes, rather than trancing information.
- Can’t invoke? Try evoking–inviting the energy into circle.
- Can’t channel? Try acting. Connect to the Godform energy that is already inside you and fake the rest. No one will know.
- Can’t astral project? Try meditation. That is, go inside yourself instead of outside.
- Can’t travel between worlds? Help keep the energy on the Earth side open. Perhaps read about other worlds instead of traveling to them.