Tree roots, photo by pink fuzy ratRooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul, edited by Tara MillerRooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul: Magic Practitioners Living with Disabilities, Addictions, and Illness, edited by Tara Miller
Immanion Press, 978-1-905713-91-2, 222 pp. (incl. introduction and bibliography), 2013

Tara Miller has compiled stories and interviews about Pagan spiritual practices and how these practices help practitioners cope with disability, chronic pain, illness, addiction and compulsive behaviour. The compilation begins with an interview with Dr. Kimberly Hendrick about her ground-breaking Pagan Health Survey that highlights the main issues within the health system and its intersection with a Pagan lifestyle. The survey sheds light on to the immense overlapping of the LBGTQ community (40%), the idea of Pagans viewing their health care more holistically (mind, body, spirit) and systematically rather than symptom by symptom, and the stigma of seeking out mental health services and having spiritual practices considered a mental health diagnosis. From the findings of the Health Survey, it seems Pagans have a model of self-empowerment in religious practices as well as health care.

Miller continues the exploration of Pagan practices and mental health diagnosis by conducting an interview with Drake Spaeth, Psy.D, a medical practitioner who is also a Pagan minister. The conversation focuses on the importance of the separation of mental illness from spiritual practice and how it is being addressed with physicians so that Pagan practitioners can get the help they need. The interview delves into the problems of finding marriage counselling, family counselling, and the psychological crisis associated with spiritual awakenings. Most importantly, Miller notes the importance of finding the right therapist and seeks to empower readers to know that the power of health care is in our hands.

The section “Speak for Yourself” discusses people’s propensity for victim-blaming specifically dealing with the ideas of karma, the law of attraction, and positive thinking. It also explores the dichotomy of sick and well and the fact that we are all, disabled or not, somewhere in the middle at any given time. It questions the standard of wellness as everyone has waning energy and concentration from day to day. The chapter concludes that the main focus should be: is a practitioner ready for the particular ritual you are about to perform? This conversation encourage mindfulness in speech and action which leads to self-awareness to all who practice magick or any other ritualistic art.

Miller begins a great dialogue on recovery with radio host Dierdre Hebert and introduces an adaptation of the 12 step program for a Pagan belief system called Pagans in Recovery. It is a Pagan-specific program derived from the Oxford Group’s program “Moral Re-Armament” which helps participants connect to a higher power. Pagans in Recovery recognizes that each form of deity is as different and complex as each individual person and allows one to focus on their relationship with deity instead of reciting Christian prayers and recognizing Jesus as a central figure. This dialogue and resource is indicative of why the book is so important: Miller not only gives people a platform to share their experience and practices but more importantly, introduces resources such as websites, books and organizations that offer support like The Pagan in Recovery and The Witches Voice.

The book is dynamic with different voices and stories, such as Lady Cedar Nightsong’s experience with kitchen witchcraft and handicraft magick or Lydia Crabtree’s inspiring piece called “Turning Disability into Opportunability”. The different outlooks and journeys as well as the different forms of writing can be helpful to someone navigating a life with disability or addiction. It covers a broad scope of disease including parenting disabled children to difficult pregnancies and infertility. It offers many resources from organizations to helpful books and authors. A few of the stories mention meditation techniques or specific practices to follow or certain goddesses to invoke and tips in psychic shielding. Miller offers her heartfelt experiences, explores the importance of medical ID tags and the origin of the symbols used on the tags.

As a reader with a major hearing disability, the book offered me sound advice in terms of dealing with my diagnosis through a lens of karma”, and not imposing my truth on others in a similar situation. As a kundalini yoga practitioner learning about the Pagan lifestyle, I am becoming more aware of the similar practices of the two paths with many differences only on a semantic level. It inspires me to continue learning about the Pagan practice as well as to introduce the path of kundalini yoga to those on the Pagan path. Breathwork, meditation, awareness, and yogic movement can have a huge impact on symptoms that may come along with navigating disease, addiction and chronic pain such as anxiety, sleep deprivation, and stress.

Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul is a wonderful reminder that we are all navigating a world full of suffering and that seeking our higher self is closer to our truth, no matter what practice it may include.

Image credit: pink fuzzy rat