Way of the Sacred Fool: Disability Spirituality

Learn about ancestors, heroes and deities with different kinds of minds and bodies, how to adapt practices to different learning styles and physical needs, be inclusive of people with different kinds of mental wiring AD/HD, autism, dyslexia and even how particular mythic & historic roles and archetypes- like witch, seer, trickster/fool, bard can be incorporated into a personal path.

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Mariah Sheehy

Mariah Sheehy

Mariah Sheehy is an ADF Druid/Heathen and has a B.A. in political science from Augsburg College. She serves on the board of the Bisexual Organizing Project and lives in the Twin Cities (Paganistan) in an all-autistic adult household. She enjoys biking, camping, crafting and grappling with the Irish language.

A couple weekends ago I went to Paganicon 2017 in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. There were all kinds of amazing workshops, rituals and conversations with great people that I had which I will discuss in following posts. At the final panel discussion was about making space in the broader culture, which is especially important as many religious and other types of minorities are currently experiencing a resurgence of fear and pressure to choose blending into the background or being more assertive about who we are. One assumption that kept being made is one I want to challenge. The idea that Pagan conventions, festivals or other places in which we are more open, such as Burning Man, Renaissance festivals and so forth are not "the real world" that other people who don't get what it is that we are doing are mundanes, Muggles, cowans or whatever term. Now I understand that has a spiritual side to this, particularly with rituals in which sacred space is created, we are going into a gathering in which somewhat different social norms apply. However when we reinforce this dichotomy, we erase and negate our own experiences and identities as Pagans, Witches, polytheists and esoteric practitioners in the rest of lives. We may purify ourselves, put on special clothing or jewelry in preparation for holidays, prayers or ritual or set aside a piece of furniture, room, or even a building for spiritual use. We may not be as visible in our day to day lives as distinct minorities. But we are still Pagans the rest of the time. I know for myself, it's difficult to remember not so much due to the influence of Christianity per se, but consumerism and alienation of overall society. Conversely, around people sincerely practiced their religions, and folk customs I feel much more at home. This is one reason I feel much more comfortable in the very multicultural, multi-religious neighborhoods in which I live and work, in spite of many comments I get from others about how "scary" they perceive these places to be. I think their ignorant comments are much scarier. And yet I refuse to be intimidated. The ancestor shrines in Korean, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants remind me of how around much of the world, and most of human history animism is the rule, not the exception. In the very Mexican-American neighborhood in which I work, the Virgin of Guadalupe can be found everywhere from ornaments on cars to arm tattoos and yes, shrines in businesses and yards. While many of these neighbors identify as Buddhist or Catholic, or even secular rather than Pagan, I can see those commonalities. In small Midwestern towns you may hear tales in Lutheran church basements of nisse, tomten and trolls and in suburban malls teens spread rumors and Internet legends that are as recycled as many of the Hollywood movies that they come to watch!  My favorite way to discover "suspiciously pagan" things is from both atheists and conservative Christians complaining about superstitious things members of their flock do. It's like the modern version of learning about folk customs from missionary accounts.

 

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We may not be able to agree what "pagan" means, or even if that's really the label we prefer- Heathen, Witch, Polytheist, Occultist etc. But one experience many of us have in common is facing some degree of social prejudice and the question of how "out" to be.  At the end of day, regardless of your practices, theology or identity, Paganism can be That Religious Category By Which we are lumped and stigmatized.

Often when we speak or write to teenagers inquiring about religious and magical practice, we advice them to wait until they move out of their parents' house. For many young people with disabilities independent living is  out of reach. And for older Pagans who may lose some degree of independence, getting help from aides, relatives or moving into a senior home may mean going back into the broom closet. I have been quite fortunate- my parents were quite accepting both of me being bisexual and Pagan, and I've had to continue to rely on them or my partner to varying degrees financially without having to hide who I am. The mental health professionals that I work with, when I have broached the subject of my sexuality or religion, have also been accepting. (It doesn't hurt that two of them were also Unitarian Universalists!)

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There's a cycle in the Pagan blogosphere that needs to be interrupted. This or that public figure of Paganism stumbles, mildly or majorly, anything from making an offensive statement to doing something seriously unethical and even illegal. More than half the time, I think to myself "Who is this person, and why should I care?" But one by one, many take it upon themselves to step up and denounce or defend to demonstrate their upholding of ethics, Real Paganism(tm) or Loyalty and Respect for Our Elders (tm) Then we get upset about which "sides" our favorite bloggers, authors, festival presenters have taken, or not taken and there's another wave of backlash. I admit to taking part in this, but this last couple times I hesitated. What impact does my speaking or writing on this have? Is this person accountable to me? Do they follow the same value system as me? Do they represent my tradition or organization? Can I have a face to face conversation with them? 

I often put more thought into my writing than my speech. I try to talk quickly to get in all the words I want to and end up sounder more foolish as a result. The Druidic virtue of eloquence is certainly one I need to work on! I know my Wiccan compatriots have a saying about "Speak ye little, listen much" and the title of this blog post refers to the Witches' Pyramid, To Know, To Will, and To Keep Silent. I guess To Speak falls under To Will- it's not my pyramid, so y'all might have to explain it to me.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • John Reder
    John Reder says #
    Maybe "cliquishness" is a word that is grossly underused as though seemingly an undramatic little word it does cut to the heart of
  • Mariah Sheehy
    Mariah Sheehy says #
    I agree we need to call people out for bigoted comments and behavior. Since I don't know any of the people involved in this partic
  • Lizzy Hood
    Lizzy Hood says #
    I agree with your approach, especially the "I statements" method. That said, I would like to see more voices raise up, not in judg
  • John Reder
    John Reder says #
    The main problem Lizzy is the matter of "elders" in the Pagan communities. In almost every community (or coven) one is subservien
  • John Reder
    John Reder says #
    Mariah is addressing confrontations that are directly hostile, such as most of the political discourse that appears on the interne

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I often see the words “label” and “identity” used interchangeably, but to me they have rather different connotations. A label is something society thrusts on you, to organize information- keep track of possible discrimination, to access services and accommodations or medical treatment in the case of disabilities and medical conditions. It’s something that you don’t have a lot of choice over.

An identity by contrast may be chosen, or it is a choice to make a label one’s own. It is a way to connect with other people in a community. There are also some that I find are kind of in the middle- as in “I identify as X, but it’s easier to access community and explain things if I use label Y”

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs

 

My non-Pagan partner, though he has generally supported me in my path, has also challenged me. At one point, he sat down and had a talk with me. The Pagan community hasn't been supporting you emotionally, socially or spiritually- in fact dealing with Pagans just makes you crazier! You're not really practicing the religion. If it can help you be a better person, help bring you hope and inspiration, and connect you with a supportive and healthy community then, great. I'd totally support you in that. But if it's not, then what are you searching for? He was right. While all kinds of lofty ideals that other Pagans dedicate themselves to- devotionalism, social justice and so forth are well and good, to begin with at least, I needed to base my practice on self-care, on simply getting myself in a healthy and steady place.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Opening the Way of the Sacred Fool

When I first became interested in Paganism, one of the things that drew me in was the idea of women's spirituality and bringing the unique experiences of being a woman (often left out of Christianity and Judaism) into my path. As I further explored though, many of the concepts mainstream feminism focused on, like how to juggle career and motherhood, didn't seem to resonate with me. The way I think, and how I communicate is shaped through my perspective as an autistic woman. Along with the growing, mostly online neurodiversity community, I came to see autism not as a set of deficits, but as a different way of thinking and being. I found further inspiration in the GLBT community, as I saw folks like P. Sufenas Virius Lupus honor queer ancestors, heroes and deities. As a bisexual, I drew on that heritage, while also looking to eccentric inventors, artists and mystics throughout history and disabled gods like Hephaestus. I felt a calling to share this understanding of disability as a part of human experience, rather than something to only be pitied, "fixed" or medicalized.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Jan Johnson
    Jan Johnson says #
    I'm looking at the Way of the Sacred Fool much as you are, Mariah. I'm ADD, CFS/FM, a former Christian chaplain (now a retired Pag

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