Pagan Studies

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Thoughts on Ritual and Therapy

Many Pagans use ritual and magic with a therapeutic focus.  I've found this to be more prevalent in some traditions than in others, and more common among bootstrap and eclectic traditions.  Those kinds of traditions tend to be more fluid and less conventional in the kinds of ritual they perform, which perhaps accounts for their tendency to be more daring in the kinds of work they do.  The use of ritual for or as therapy is especially common in the tradition from which I arose.

I heartily endorse creative ritual in fostering health and healing.  Ritual performance can enhance therapeutic efforts.  Therapy can be reinforced by the use of ritual supportive of its goals.

Calling upon the help of a deity or deities, of power animals and birds, of ancestors; using cleansing scents, healing herbs, the powers of stones and other natural objects -- all can have therapeutic benefits.  Acting out or engaging in dialogue -- with self, with disease or injury, with another human in ritual, with spirit -- can also be therapeutic. 

In The Pagan Book of Living and Dying we've included suggested rituals around healing from miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion.  I know these methods have helped many women because they have written to tell us so.  There are other rituals in the book that have a therapeutic aspect.

But therapy and ritual are not the same.  Ritual is not therapy.  It can be a powerful adjunct to therapy.  It can advance recovery.  But ritual is ritual, performed for any number of reasons, with many different intentions, including my favorite reason for doing ritual -- celebration.

It's also a mistake to consider that doing a ritual a single time will cure all.  Once may get you over a hump or past an obstacle.  Or the performance of ritual may have a subtler, more gradual effect.  You may even find that performing a ritual on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to be efficacious.

The creative ritualist can design rituals that have great power, while being mindful of each ritual's purpose and limitations.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

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