Thank you, friends!
In my previous post I talked about how I was contacted by the director of pastoral services at Duke University Hospital. Once a month, the chapel invites speakers from various faith traditions to talk to doctors, nurses, social workers, and other hospital staff. The director had contacted me almost a year ago, asking me to give a short presentation focusing on a Pagan perspective on health, healing, life, and death.
I prepared a power point, nervous about forgetting relevant information but worried about overwhelming my audience with words and concepts they had never heard before. But seeing one of my favorite witchy friends at a local coffee shop that morning gave me the boost I needed and I felt pretty special when I picked up my ticket for valet parking. The director greeted me warmly with a huge smile, friendly words, and a warm handshake. The chapel was lovely, with lots of windows and stained glass, and prayer rugs lined up on one side of the room, facing Mecca.
We set up my power point, and the first people to arrive were a social worker and her student intern. It was a little amusing to speak to the student since it wasn’t too long ago that I was also a nervous, excited student, too. I also felt incredibly supported and boosted up when a local Pagan colleague and her husband showed up and offered me words of encouragement and support. (Thank you, friend!) In no time at all, the room was filled with lab coats and stethoscopes. I got lost in my lecture – history, plants, herbs, altars, fears, hopes, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, health, healing, and rituals and rites of life and death. I had been a tiny bit worried about how my words would be received, but people seemed excited, engaged, and interested in what I had to share.
I had been hoping for a lot of questions, but there was only one. In my talk I had discussed a few places where I personally feel the Pagan community is at a deficiency, at least when compared to other faith communities. In my opinion, this would include a lack of Pagan infrastructure, connected communities, or professionally trained and legally recognized clergy.
I also talked about other deficiencies that come from the larger community, such as healthcare professionals making assumptions about their patient’s religious affiliations, discriminatory practices in mental health care in regards to the Pagan experience, and hospice workers and funeral directors who are untrained in Pagan end-of-life practices. A doctor with a critical but concerned countenance asked “you pointed out all of these weaknesses in the Pagan community. What can we, as professionals, do to fill these gaps?”
As clergy, as a social worker, and as someone who is relatively plugged into my Pagan community, I didn’t know what to tell this doctor who was reaching out to me from a place of genuine concern. The fact of the matter is, I’m personally pretty well connected to my community, but I know well enough that many aren’t. I meet Pagans every single day who feel isolated, scared, and alone, and who are at risk of finding themselves in a hospital one day with no organized faith community to turn to.
I gave the doctor a half-assed answer, saying that Pagans needed to outreach to hospitals, clinics, and hospice centers and make themselves available. Similarly, I explained that healthcare facilities needed to be accepting of clergy and other Pagan professionals working with their clients. I was relieved that the director agreed with me on these points, too.
“It needs to go both ways”, I explained. But this doctor seemed dissatisfied by my answer, and to be honest, I was, too. My response just seemed feeble. It addressed the needs but gave no clear, concrete solution to the problems. I went home feeling energized by my time at the hospital, but troubled, too. I wish I had been able to offer a real answer to that doctor but at the time I just didn’t know what to tell her.
So, that got me to thinking…
Back when I was still coming up with ideas for my talk, I realized I needed to get some real feedback from the Pagan community before I proceeded. I had come up with a set of topics and created a short survey which included demographic questions, as well as some more specific questions about Pagan perspectives on health, self-care, healing, life, and death. I had been looking for just a few general thoughts and comments, but much to my surprise, the survey brought in over 700 thoughtful, helpful, and informative responses from Pagans, Polytheists, and others who may or may not fall under our myriad, beautiful umbrella.
The survey respondents were kind, supportive, engaging, and incredibly helpful. Many shared personal stories, and others offered contact information, offering to answer further questions and give more feedback if I was interested in it. I was truly humbled and inspired by my results, and I can’t even begin to thank you guys enough! I used this survey as a guide while preparing my power point slides, but the amount and depth of the responses were far beyond the scope of a 45-minute presentation. I would hate to waste so much great data, so it got me to thinking again…
I could very easily turn the results of my survey into a book.
I would just like to state that I couldn’t have made it this far without you, my Pagan community. And I couldn’t write a book without you, either. So, I’m curious to hear – do you think a handbook on Pagan health perspectives would be useful? Something for Pagans, for clergy, and for healthcare professionals to use? Something to use as a quick overview about Paganism and Pagan beliefs, as well as diving deeper into Pagan practices on health, healing, pregnancy, childbirth, end-of-life rituals, and other related topics? I’d love to hear from many perspectives, too, and from social workers, therapists, nurses, doctors, doulas, and other healers, and especially from Pagans who have been patients or who are family members to patients.
One major aspect of my survey that touched me deeply was all of the respondent interest in sharing and learning more. Dozens of people inquired about the results, and others shared their emails with me, opening themselves up to help more. If you are one of these people, believe me, I’m going to take you up on your offer!
This is a major project, and I won’t make a decision about it until I get some feedback about the viability about such an undertaking. So if you have an opinion about my book proposal, Pagan health, or any of the topics addressed in this post, please don’t hesitate to contact me! I’d love to hear from you!
Again, thank you SO MUCH to all who participated in my survey. I am truly, truly humbled. For those of you who reached out with your contact information, know that I will get in touch with you some time this year. For those of you who shared your deeply personal stories, thank you opening up about your experiences.
I thank you all so much. Being asked to offer the talk at Duke was exciting and humbling, the survey was overwhelming, and the idea of a future project and future collaborations is inspiring and exhilarating!
Thank you all!
Post Script – If you missed my survey the first time and you would like to fill it out, you can find it at this link. Please feel free to share it with others, too. Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart and soul!
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