Who calls herself a priestess–and what’s she so mad about? Or is she mad as in crazy? Or both?
A priestess might be a woman considering the various angles of “mental health” and fighting for clarity about what helps to heal the body, spirit, mind–and the Earth.
She may have frequent, intimate dialogues with water, land, sky and flame who tell her: do this for us, please; what’s happening at human hands is insane. The mad priestess is a conduit. There are many of her ilk among us.
It doesn’t matter whether the priestess is angry-mad–or crazy-mad—the two are famous for one-and-the-same. If you can’t handle your anger, you need therapy, right? Especially if you’re female and don’t properly blunt your voice.
You might be crazy with grief, with loneliness, with the curve balls life’s thrown at you. You might be at the end of a rope that is only fitted to your tenuous grasp, and not know why.
You might handle it by learning how to priestess.
Is that nuts, bonkers, mental? Priestesses don’t exist, except as figures of archaic lore—sibyls and seers—long before asphalt and computers and stuff, right?
Today the work of a priestess might be directing intention toward the rhythm of change in service of communal health, and guiding others who will listen. She can only do this in her own chosen way.
A priestess works undercover and that’s hard. But she is handling it, studying the ley lines of madness that run through her people and her world. She turns to the felt experience of body and spirit, searching for clues as to why humans are chronically sick or sad; why we lash out and stoke fear against select Others.
Or why we are despoiling this lovely home we’ve been raising ourselves on for over 200,000 years.
Ever heard of madness as “spiritual emergency?” A spiritual crisis. The feeling that you’re “losing your mind” may come on suddenly, intensely, and be quite disorienting:
Spiritual Emergence is a natural process of human growth and transformation characterized by increased awareness, greater sensitivity and richer connection to others and the surrounding world. These experiences may seem unusual and challenging either to the experiencer or to those around them as they can seem outside of everyday reality. It is common to become more concerned with social, economic, health, and ecological issues and the bigger questions in life such as purpose, meaning and values.
A priestess isn’t just sitting on her cushion meditating. She is “concerned with social, economic, health and ecological issues…” as she navigates the dark night of the soul. The year 2020 looms with consequences if those with fearless, outraged, and caring voices choose to stay mum.
Call me a mad priestess then, trying to resolve a spiritual crisis on a threatened planet where species extinctions, nuclear weapons, and war against people of color escalate daily.
Speaking out is in my nature. An earlier blog was called The Nutrient Path. My book tells the story of a double healing in my daughter with autism and myself: Lunacy Lost: A Memoir of Green Mental Health. From 2008 to 2011 I created and facilitated a course in alternative mental health called Natural Mind. I earned a certification and practiced as a Holistic Mental Health Coach, lead nature-spirituality groups, and taught workshops on myth and ceremony. But this effort will be different.
I see “mental illness” shifting its shape. It leaks beyond the stigma for “those people” and into us all. This did not happen overnight.
In the Seventies there was an early sign: Christopher Lasch’s groundbreaking book, The Culture of Narcissism deftly warned about a widespread, unhealthy me-ism. Prozac hit the world between the eyes in the late Eighties, and the proliferation of antidepressants and antipsychotics claimed many, killed many, and made some kill others. That was new.
Now the president of the United States is openly called “unhinged,” a sufferer of “narcissistic personality disorder,” cited to show “impaired mental capacity” in public letters from hundreds of mental health professionals, His own cabinet once talked to the FBI about invoking the Constitutional 25th Amendment to remove him from office as mentally unfit. Vanity Fair describes Trump’s meltdown over COVID 19, reporting on his fears that the press tried to contract the virus in order to give it to him on Air Force One.
How does this whack our perception of mental illness when the topic is regularly paired in the news cycle with a nation’s chief executive?
But there’s more. The Pharma-folks who brought us psychiatric drugs with black box warnings about suicide/homicide finally gave up on new R&D into all that. They moved on to the opioid crisis, paying even greater fines for lying and misleading than before. Yet people are still dying like flies from addiction. Nonetheless their business in antipsychotics, antidepressants, and benzos is still going strong enough for them to boast predictions for the market into 2029!
And what’s up with making it easier for persons designated “mentally ill” by Social Security to purchase firearms without that pesky background check —while the same forces who rushed this through proceed to blame mass shootings on the mentally ill?
Half of the population says keeping up with the news cycle causes anxiety, depression and PTSD, according to the American Psychological Association. I come awfully close to losing my moorings while watching news of the coronavirus: nurses and doctors pleading for mere masks and gowns, refrigerator trucks full of dead bodies because the morgues in some cities are full, governors forced to bid against each other—and the federal government!—for essential medical equipment, only to see their orders evaporate when outbid.
“Mental illness” has long meant stigma, a trash bin for placing losers and the lost with their little diagnosis tags as a consolation prize. I know the drill. As a teenage runaway who found herself institutionalized in 1969… as a family member to those labeled schizophrenic, depressed, or bipolar…as a mom still parenting a young adult with autism who can’t find her way.
My older brother once remarked, “I’m interested in the nature of reality.” He struggled most of his life with the collection of symptoms known as schizophrenia, but this remark was no nutty non sequitur. He was referring to the one thing he never lost–an unflagging love for mathematics, physics and chemistry.
Before he died he was quarantined in a nursing home, ravaged by C. difficile, with several textbooks literally stacked around him. In his bed, next to his pillow, jostling the aluminum bars raised to keep him from falling out. His books were bricks of solid knowledge he’d never crack again, their dark colors stark against the white bed sheets. “They’re like his teddy bears!” an administrator crowed. Simply more evidence to the observer that my bro was a crazy man.
I suggest it is the duty of all mad priestesses to join artists, shamans and consciousness-researchers, mathematicians and spirituality-of-science buffs in looking into the Nature of Reality, crazy as that may seem. To what end? The more you look, the less is ironclad; you just might understand how little you can ever profess to know about another person’s reality.
Often, there’s a heart-tie that spurs the interest. For me, even though that brother has passed, there’s still the unstoppable drive within my family that someone–at least one in each generation—be labeled mentally ill. A need to attach this person, for the long-term, to the most dangerous drugs psychiatry has to offer, to ensconce another lifelong consumer into the machinery of the mental-illness industry.
Despite writing a book about the roots of this on our father’s side, which my family did read, the pattern unfolds with a life of its own. It’s partly why I must come forth as a Mad Priestess now–I’m watching helplessly as the next generation falls in line.
A young person who should be grabbing life with body and soul finds himself so wracked by drug experiments he threw up bile for months as the professionals attempted to “adjust his medication.” In a year’s time he seemed to have shrunk in stature, though others said my reaction was an optical illusion–instead, his changed appearance was due to weight gain from Risperdal–“well worth it,” in their minds. Eventually a hiatal hernia was discovered, which can be a side effect of antidepressants. This is a human being who’s been on many cocktails since he was a little boy: Ritalin, Adderall, Abilify, Lithium . . . and has begged to get off his meds.
He is talked about behind his back by other family members; he has been the chaos that wears out his parents; there are triangulation’s that regrettably I got caught up in, all of us trying to help. The professionals’ answer was to peg him to one of today’s trending labels, bipolar, with its concomitant med-checks, psychiatrist visits, therapy sessions, support groups, and medications that will define his life.
As with most of our afflicted, it’s his oh so vocal, too public suffering that family members fear—the outrage he expresses over his loneliness, envy at what a sibling has, anger that spills everywhere because he yearns for a romantic partner to marry and raise a family with. How human: he feels life passing him by.
It is suffering, it is sorrowful, but is it mentally ill? Proponents of the “genetics” argument, take note: adopted from another country, he is not genetically descended from the bloodline where our mental-illness tragedies have clustered since the 1800’s.
But the family pattern grinds on–the Mad Priestess’ calls to alternatives ignored–because no one can deal with him: he’s too raw, too open about his pain.
And it’s frightening to look ahead: who will be next? The newest generation, not even in preschool yet…which of them will be chosen to serve the stigma someday? Due to adoption plus marriage, they don’t carry the genetics for “the family disease” either.
May this tithe to madness end, with courage instead of fear. Because it takes courage (and stamina!) to sit with persons in their sadness and loneliness. To not feel so threatened you must keep them drugged (feelings zipped up and out of sight, or displayed only in the properly enclosed mental-health settings), because their big black hole (spiritual crisis?) comes too close to triggering your own.
A mad priestess asks: what is this thing we call “mind” anyway? If I’ve learned anything, it’s that healing is done by, for and with the body and spirit. Popular definitions of mental health latch onto the phrase well being–emotionally, psychologically, socially. Such talk focuses on absence or lack of fulfillment rather than “happiness.” Few in the trenches bother to pin down exactly what is mental or of the mind. The soul is a forgotten subject; behavior is the obsession.
Why must we be honest about all potential causes of madness and cures? Because the suffering is real, and millions need help. Carrion industries are happy to profit by exploiting stigma and pushing drugs. Alternatives with promise and track records are pushed to the sidelines. Have we given up? Dystopia, I bend my knee to thee?
Worldwide, stats claim 1 in 4 adults, or 450 million people, fall into 300+ official diagnoses–from old favorites like major depressive disorder, to current spawn such as internet gaming disorder.
Women and men end up with different diagnostic labels, but the rate of “mental illness” is divided equally between genders.
Teen suicide is up, emotional suffering among millennials and Gen Z burgeons. For elders, it’s the prospect of dementia, the fastest growing “disease of the mind.”
So who among us can forego concern?
This blog will endeavor to explore some roads less taken to a possible solution. Here are some things the Mad Priestess will mull:
- What do toxic substances have to do with a diagnosis of mental illness? How can foods and chemicals make you crazy? Can the right foods heal you? How is exploring this line of thought NOT the same old song & dance of Psychiatry that says mental illness is a biologically defective brain?
- What about practices that focus on energy or spiritual healing, is it woo-woo hype? Can we sort the possible from the unattainable?
- What is Ecotherapy? Ecosexuality? How’s it done? Can it make a difference?
- How do indigenous cultures view mental illness and why is that important?
- What to do as the world grapples with collective violence and hate speech that appears as madness visible? Is there reprieve in raising one’s voice to be heard? Can healing be found in the path of service?
What choice do we have but to serve? asks the Mad Priestess in me. It seems that my generation, baby boomers, have failed our world. But signs indicate that older women especially will be seen and heard at the ballot box, as women in general move to challenge the consensus-trap of despair.
Mad priestesses who’ve had enough, me-too minions with stories in tow, grandmothers who know that future generations are The Point Of It All… I may be crazy with optimism but I believe–yes, we can—that women will steer us back to reason and care as the gold standards, bringing us Home.
Home: we know it when we see it, smell it, touch it, care for it. Looking for a home that promotes sanity? Spend time in Nature. Whether it’s caring for meticulous gardens or hiking wild pathways, we take to the outdoors to ease heavy hearts, negative thoughts, and lonely self-importance.
No one, on any side of any political debate, believes the loss of our Big Home, the Earth, is allowable. We argue about the timeline or the signs of danger, but generally agree that this planet supports us with bounty and grace.
Sometimes I wonder if humans are worth the effort, although I keep reading their books, seeking out their thoughts, marveling at their feats of courageous resistance. Yes, there are many fine minds out there, fashioning truth to tell.
Many of them wonder if the path to environmental destruction we forge is the ultimate madness untreated.
But this globe on which we spin–that has me addicted to such beauty and the potential to nurture all beings back to paradise—hasn’t it ever captured you wholly when you slow down to note the clouds, push toes into grass blades, get mindful with water or stare transfixed into a bonfire? If you said yes, then you and I are united by a secret: Earth matters.
I’ll risk being called crazy to dance with an anger that can spark compassionate, sane outcomes for the many nations–not just human–that span this blue-green expanse.
A Home worth fighting for, and I’m mad for Her to stay healthy.