Pagan, Heal Thyself

Pagan, Heal Thyself January 20, 2017

Home-grown Herb Tea. Photograph by Allison Ehrman
Home-grown Herb Tea. Photograph by Allison Ehrman

It’s that time of the year again. Schools, offices, shopping centers, and gathering places are filled with the sound of sniffles and coughing. Despite how many times you wash your hands or how much you try to avoid that sick person who decided they just couldn’t stay at home, odds are there’s a virus out there with your name on it.

A bad cold has been spreading through my own community like wildfire. As I type this, one of my sons has recently recovered from it and is back at school while my other son is convalescing in the basement with video games and a box of tissue as his constant companions. He assures me that he doesn’t need another cup of tea, but my motherly instinct will make me offer one again before too long. I, myself, have been doing a self-analysis of sorts all day long – allergies and soreness from my progressive weight training routine, or the beginnings of congestion and muscle aches from the dreaded virus? When is the medical tricorder finally going to become a reality?

I believe that as frustrating and unpleasant as a temporary illness is, I might as well approach it as a learning opportunity. As pagans, we are well equipped to experience such times within the context of our place in the universe. Being sick is the ultimate reminder that we are mortal and that our time on earth is limited. It’s almost as if Mother Nature knocks us down from time to time just to get our attention and say, “Hey! None of this is permanent. You and everything you will ever know are temporary visitors in this place. Make the most of what you have while you can!”

On a more granular level illness represents a mini-cycle of life, except it begins with a decline and then proceeds through symptoms that can bring to mind death, followed by a period of dormancy, and finally sweet rebirth back into health and life. I’m always amazed by how much I take for granted being able to breathe through my nose, swallow without pain, or go an hour without a coughing fit until those times when I can’t. Not so during the first few blessed days after a cold’s final symptoms have cleared. Everything seems new again and I’m grateful for every moment without suffering.

But all of this isn’t to say that we should endure illness without any attempt to alleviate our suffering. As a scientific pagan, I enjoy reading the latest medical research as a hobby. I’m wary of quack cures that may do more harm than good and are frequently designed to line the pockets of those who promote them. I’m very interested in the root causes and proven treatments for the wide variety of sicknesses that afflict humans. For colds, common sense approaches such as drinking plenty of fluids and getting extra rest are demonstrated ways to enable our bodies to heal as quickly and efficiently as possible. And over-the-counter medications can alleviate symptoms in ways our ancestors could only dream of.

I also understand that medical science has a long way to go in analyzing traditional folk remedies. For example, research into various herbal treatments has been limited and has provided mixed results. On the other hand, the placebo effect and the power of a positive attitude have both been shown to lead to improved health. So I believe that when we are under the weather we should pamper ourselves with our own preferred, benign treatments and take the unplanned opportunity to listen to our bodies. At best, the herbs or treatments we’re following will confer an actual physical benefit. At worst, we will believe they are providing an actual physical benefit and the healing process will proceed more quickly and smoothly anyhow.

Below is a ritual for healing. You will notice that the focus is on simplicity, introspection, and self-pampering. The only supplies you will need are a broom, items of comfort including a soothing (and hydrating) beverage, and a candle and lighter/match.

  1. Fill your ritual space with your favorite comforting items: soothing beverage, cushions, blanket, tissues, soft music, heating pad, calm pet, etc.
  2. Walking sunwise, use the broom to symbolically sweep away germs and negative physical sensations.
  3. Turn to the east and invite clean air and light into the circle.
  4. Turn to the south and invite warmth and joy into the circle.
  5. Turn to the west and invite calmness and peacefulness into the circle.
  6. Turn to the north and invite rest and patience into the circle.
  7. In the center of the circle, invite Mother Nature and her wisdom into the circle.
  8. Light the candle while repeating these words:

Light, warmth, peace, rest,

Embrace me with your healing.

  1. Sit in the center of the circle and slowly sip the soothing beverage, until you feel calm and relaxed.
  2. Make yourself comfortable, sitting or lying with your eyes closed. Listen to your body for a few minutes. Experience the physical sensations it provides, pleasant and unpleasant, as they arise and pass away.
  3. Envision a point of light at the core of your abdomen. Slowly infuse it with a feeling of healing warmth. Imagine the light and warmth gradually expanding until it has filled every portion of your body, from the top of your head to the tips of your fingers and toes. Bask in that warmth and healing.
  4. If you feel sleepy, allow yourself to nap. This is all a part of the wisdom of nature and the pathway to healing.
  5. Allow yourself to abide in this circle of healing for as long as you need.
  6. Extinguish the candle while repeating these words:

Light, warmth, peace, rest,

Embrace me with your healing.

  1. In the center of the circle, thank Mother Nature for her wisdom.
  2. Turn to the north and express thanks for rest and patience.
  3. Turn to the west and express thanks for calmness and peacefulness.
  4. Turn to the south and express thanks for warmth and joy.
  5. Turn to the east and express thanks for clean air and renewal.
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