This is an unusual anthology in which Pagans of all sorts discuss their journeys with disabilities, chronic illness, trauma and addiction. For the authors of the individual articles, Paganism is a tool and an aid in dealing with the challenges of everyday life and working toward healing. The stories are deeply personal and moving; I feel that many of the authors have been quite brave to share their journeys with the world. Each of us has challenges, traumas and issues we need to work through. Even if you haven’t experienced the more severe end of the spectrum in terms of physical or mental/emotional issues, I think you’ll find this book fills a need we all have, to be assured that healing is possible, and to recognize that many aspects of Pagan tradition are perfectly suited to help us along that journey to wholeness.
I was particularly interested in this title because of my experience as the parent of a profoundly disabled child, whose short life was both a challenge and a blessing to me. I found the Pagan community to be remarkably supportive of me and my daughter and the trials we faced in dealing with everyday life, and then dealing with my grief after her death. I also discovered the strength and support that the Pagan mythos offers to those who follow that path, and I identified strongly with a number of the points the authors made in this book.
Rooted in the Body is organized into sections based on the particular subject each article addresses: grief, self-image, practitioners with disabilities, addiction, mental health, raising disabled children. Though the individual pieces tell the stories of specific challenges and life situations, throughout the collection what really shines through is the hope and strength the authors gain by leaning into their Pagan spirituality and letting it support them. The authors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and practice a number of different types of Paganism, but the connecting thread of journeying toward healing and wholeness is truly uplifting.
A few highlights: In facing the everyday challenges of sudden or chronic illness or disability, we often overlook the very profound sense of loss that pervades our lives. Tara Miller’s article about dealing with the grief brought on by disability or illness is moving and contains lots of practical methods for approaching this aspect of life. I was touched by Erick DuPree’s brave, revelatory tale of healing from sexual trauma; his deep understanding of Hecate can, I think, be helpful to a great many people who need to face darkness of all sorts in order to move forward. Literata’s article about victim-blaming based on the New Age version of the Law of Attraction, as popularized in The Secret, addresses a serious issue that has hurt a lot of people who are already struggling with heavy life challenges. Bravo.
Breyonne Blackthorn’s description of her journey toward healing from mental illness is not just touching; its honesty is powerful. Lady Cedar Nightsong’s advice regarding ways for people with vision loss to safely create altars and rituals reminds me that there are many ways to ‘see’ the world, none better than the others, but simply different. The poem that Lisa “Spiral” Besnett wrote while sitting in the NICU after her infant son had surgery really touched me. Those kinds of life events leave us wide open and raw, and sometimes what comes in through that gash is beautiful. And Janet Callahan’s tale of keeping her Pagan spirituality hidden in order to avoid having clashes with medical personnel really hit home. Been there, done that, as they say. It’s hard enough dealing with serious health issues, but having to conceal your beliefs rather than being able to lean on them publicly during such stressful times makes life even more difficult.
Though I found the content of Rooted in the Body valuable, I did find a few aspects that diminished my enjoyment of it. The book begins with an interview about a large-scale health and wellness survey of Pagans. Though the information was interesting, it kept me at a distance. I almost skimmed that section, eager to hear individuals’ stories and ‘get personal’ with them. I think the organization of the book would have worked better by plunging directly into the personal stories, then ending with the interviews with healthcare and mental health professionals as a kind of larger-focus reflection on the individual stories. I found the rhythm of the book to be uncomfortable and uneven as it started at arm’s length with the survey information, then moved into the personal stories, then back out to arm’s length again with practitioner interviews, then back to personal stories. In addition, the text was poorly edited, with an unusually large number of typos and errors in grammar.
I recommend this book mainly because its content is unusual and valuable, because people need to hear what the authors have to say. But I do wish the editorial team that put this volume together had done a more professional job, so I could give a more glowing recommendation.
~review by Laura Perry
Editor: Tara Miller
Megalithica Books, 2014
pp. 220, $20.99