A Tragedy Creates Potential for a National Pagan Discussion on Health

David Grega (1984 – 2012) was an important figure in Pagan mass media and he was only twenty-seven. He passed recently due to heart failure. He was part of the Pagan Centered Podcast and the Texas branch of the Pagan Newswire Collective.

Peter Dybing, charity coordinator and Pagan blogger, wrote his concerns about the state of our community’s health. “One of the most valued principles within the Wicca community is that all bodies are sacred and beautiful. This is so engrained in our culture that that we have developed a collective amnesia concerning the health affects of obesity. To even mention the issue has become a kind of taboo. Yes all bodies are beautiful, but all hearts, circulation systems and health levels are not.” “A Pagan Taboo, Obesity”

Margot Adler, author and journalist commented “Peter:
This is an issue that my late husband and I discussed all the time. “Why are there so many obese people in Paganism,” he would ask me. “it’s a nature religion after all!” He was fit, a runner, ate perfectly, and I should say he still died of cancer. As for me, I had a history of being overweight most of my life. I was two hundred pounds during my sophmore year in college. I ate partly because it was a fortress against the world. Particularly for women in the sixties and seventies when sexism was rampant, and we wanted to be taken seriously, being overweight allowed me not to be a sex object. It also was the one reliable comfort and pleasure. I read “fat is a feminist issue” – a really important book. Now I am only about 5-7 lbs over what I should be, and the only way I have been able to keep the weight off is to walk at least 5 miles a day which is not something that is easy for everyone. I live in Manhattan. after all, and I don’t have a car. But I wear a pedometer almost all the time, and at 66, I am probably more fit than I was at 20, at least in some ways.I tell people Go out an get a pedometer, and if your health permits, start a walking program and slowly work up to ten thousand steps. I did 20 thousand today. That’s almost ten miles. The truth is that fit overweight people usually don’t have many medical problems. I have long wanted to hold a workshop at Pagan gatherings to discuss all this, perhaps a panel with a group of people.”

Epiphany Paris commented “I personally don’t see a contradiction between seeing the body (any shape) as sacred, and also having an emphasis on health … One way to be supportive would be to sponsor workshops on health, and have those offerings available to anyone in the community.

Last thought… one thing I know is that hating my body makes it a lot harder to get healthier. Thinking of my body as sacred embodies me to increase my health. Thinking of our bodies as sacred does not equal, to me, ignoring health.”

Iris Firemoon at her blog posted a response The Pagan Conversation of Obesity. “Obesity in the Pagan community is a part of the larger issue of health.  And health is not just about weight.  It is about treating our bodies as sacred.  It’s about what we put into our bodies and making sure that they are in the best condition possible for the long haul.  It’s about putting things into our bodies that were created by nature or the gods, not by putting synthetic replicas into our bodies as a substitute. It’s something that not only Pagans struggle with, but health is a consideration for all humans.  When we are at the height of our possible health (which is different for all of us because of genetics, injury, etc.), we improve the quality of our life.  We reduce disease.  We prolong life.  We feel better for longer.  I strongly believe that our bodies respond better to invasions and prevent disease when they are in optimal condition.  We are better vessls for divine work.  We are better able to serve.  We are better able to participate.” – Iris Firemoon

In a thread on Google+ I found out that Dave had started Pagans Promoting Healthy Active Tendencies (PHAT) It was sponsored by the Pagan Centered Podcast.

Many say that Pagans are just a bunch of overweight feminists. Well, we have mostly overcome the negative aspects of feminist extremism – but that overweight part still applies. Time for us to do something about that! That’s why Pagans promoting Healthy Active Tendencies (abbreviated: PHAT) was created. We’re here to provide peer-advice among Pagans on what works and what doesn’t work for us. By having a network of peers, we hope to spread this to the entire Pagan community and eventually grow beyond our reputation of being a fat community.

The acronym PHAT (pronounced like the word “fat”) embodies the informational ideal of this group, where people go from being overweight to “pretty hot and tempting” as 90′s slang would put it. Pagan paths are largely paths of self-transformation and this group encourages positive self transformation.

They aren’t sure if they will be able to maintain the site since Dave had most of the information.

The site looks like it had a good start with some informative articles and they encouraged participants to meet with their doctor for a check-up. The site also mentioned that Dave had lost over 100 pounds since trying to lose weight. Weight lose is supposedly one of the key components to improving heart health.

At the blog Shackled Spirit – Disability’s Spiritual Toll Lydia M N Crabtree wrote “Mourning, Discipline and Responsibility”.

“New research demonstrates that some of the most beneficial health results come from having and participating in an extended community. Belonging and being active in a church or club or some other group. I feel that for neo-pagans, this is one that is very difficult to achieve. The numbers of viable, healthy groups available for participation are limited and those limited groups often harbor a wariness or cliquishness that makes it difficult for new persons to become involved. This speaks to a discussion regarding communal responsibility to those who identify as like mind and are outside the scope of this blog – this time.

Finding and managing ones illness through traditional means of responsibility come discipline is being in a leaking ship while navigating  uncharted water of illness undefined and disability difficult to manage. From one day to the next my physical and mental capabilities shift making setting some disciplined exercise or even sleep wake schedule hard to do. I would say impossible; however, I am not so sure that it is. I would love to hear from others who are disabled and discuss how discipline and responsibility play a role in their continued illness.”

T. Thorn Coyle replied:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of the obesity article and how it is fraught with a combination of privilege and real concern. There are so many factors we need to take into account, and responsibility, discipline and choice are only one axis. An important axis, to be sure, but when we have systemic hurdles to good health from agribusiness and food corporations who have conspired to load the market with cheap, non-nourishing foods that directly impact our health and our communities, we need to remember that personal responsibility is but one part of the equation.

Thank you for speaking your truth, and writing of your illness. I have students – all of whom must have some sort of exercise program that is suited to their health and body ability – some of whom struggle from the aftermath of invasive cancer surgery, or imbalanced hormones. They exercise and eat well – often spending money they can ill afford – and are still not thin. Conversely, I know other people who are actively in bad health, some of it from lack of exercise and good food, who are simply not choosing to make the changes that will enable them to even get out of a chair with greater ease.

These are tricky topics and we would all do well to bring compassion to the table.”

It is a tricky topic. Personally, I would not want to attend a festival or conference and have someone hand me literature about dieting. That is between my physician and myself. There is the potential to have Pagan type weight loss or health support groups such as Pagans promoting Healthy Active Tendencies (abbreviated: PHAT). There is room for discussion along with other health topics such as diabetes, mental health, sexual health, and drug abuse.

The question is. Where do we want to go from here. Perhaps workshops and discussion panels would be appropriate. If they happen, I want to see this include a mix of people from the medical field, spiritual leaders, and people with personal experience.

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About Tara "Masery" Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a Neo-Pagan panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She is the editor of Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul which you can find at Immanion press. www.immanion-press.com/info/books.asp She has a minor is religion from Southeast Missouri State Missouri State University with an emphasis in mysticism. Masery has lead various groups over the years and organized Pagan Pride Day events. Her magic and author page is at www.taramaserymiller.com


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