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Patti Wigington

Reader Mail: Pagans and Suicide

By November 21, 2013

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This is a post from a while back, but I've been asked to run it again, so I'm going to:

Reader Jolene writes in and says, "Recently, a woman in our local Pagan community tried to kill herself. Thankfully, she was unsuccessful, and is now getting the help that she needs. What has me wondering is that I've heard a few people saying that her attempted suicide is against Pagan beliefs. I don't want to believe this, but I'm not sure what to think. Is there a Pagan rule or law relating to suicide?"

First of all, I'm happy to hear that this woman is okay -- and even more so to hear that she's getting the assistance that she clearly needs.

Second - and this is important - there are very few things in the Pagan community that everyone reaches a consensus on. Just like in the non-Pagan world, people are going to have different opinions on issues like this. There's no official Pagan doctrine regarding suicide, but then again, there's no official Pagan doctrine on much of anything else, either. While some people might find a spiritual opposition to it, others might be more accepting. It really all depends on the individual, and what experiences and background they bring to the table. For more on this, read Pagans and Suicide.

Please note that if you are someone with a history of suicidal thoughts and you find that reading about suicide is a trigger for you, you may wish to skip reading this article.

Meanwhile, the important thing is to remember that suicide attempts are typically representative of a larger problem, and anyone who is considering it is urged to get professional help. If you're a reader who is thinking about harming yourself -- or if you know someone who is -- please call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.

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February 10, 2011 at 1:24 pm
(1) L says:

The big problem with talking about the morality of suicide is that, in the vast vast vast majority of people who consider or attempt it, it’s not the person themselves doing the talking, it’s a mental illness talking. And if the person isn’t in control of themselves when they make this decision, the question of morality is moot.

The good news is that mental illnesses, like clinical depression for example, have physical roots. They are treatable. They can be fought. And there is a whole profession of people whose life’s work is to help people who have these problems. No, they don’t have anything better to do. No, they don’t have any super-secret agenda to divulge everything you tell them to some nefarious organization who probably doesn’t have the resources to be interested in you anyway. These people just want to help pull you out of your hole. Don’t worry about understanding their motivations; just accept help as it’s offered.

If the above paragraph sounded silly or made no sense to you, count yourself lucky.

February 10, 2011 at 2:22 pm
(2) Nicky says:

I suppose where I come down on the issue from a Pagan perspective is “An’ it harm none….” Suicide certainly harms the individual attempting the act and also harms the loved ones around the individual. As a survivor of suicide (my brother’s best friend took his own life almost three years ago), I can tell you the act violates the Harm None directive of Paganism.

That being said, I have nothing but empathy and sorrow for those who decide they wish to pursue this path. I have been fortunate in my life to never have experienced that depth of hurt. My hope is that all who feel it is the only way are told otherwise.

Blessed Be.

February 17, 2011 at 2:50 am
(3) Kathryn says:

I absolutely agree with “An it harm none” being the major tenant of our wiccan/pagan ways…it intuitively and in (ceremony/ritual) closings gives direction to the 2nd verse ‘do what thy will.” Will is to be directed in presence of loving, non-violent divinations…though the actual divinations are many, the goddesses,gods, spirits et al. reflect the cycles of the natural and super-natural worlds.
It is sad the humans have some unnatural, misguided thoughts in which we cannot truly “see” ourselves meaningfully and our relation to life.

Nicky, thank you for sharing your direct explanation and experience.

As Patti and others help remove the age-old, deep stigmas to help reveal the beauty of pagan/wiccan living perhaps we may see increases in supportive communities and practitioners can find places where they can find courage and safety to openly be themselves beyond the psychological professionals.

February 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm
(4) Becky says:

While it’s true that most Pagans abide by the “harm none” tenet, and it’s also true that suicide harms the person along with their friends and family, what if continued existence would cause more harm to the person than the sum of the harm to the friends and family? What if the person has nothing but pain and heartache to look forward to for decades to come?

Sure, many mental and physical illnesses can be fought, but some can’t. There are incurable illnesses that cause constant pain, and there are situations where many would say the cure is worse than the disease. Also, there are plenty of people who have tried every medication under the sun for mental illnesses to no avail.

I speak from experience. I have been in constant pain since age 5 due to an incurable disease, and also suffer from depression, PTSD, and other emotional problems, none of which has been helped by the many different medications doctors have tried.

For me, the bottom line is that as Pagans, we take on responsibility for our own morality. We claim to weigh all decisions carefully in order to harm none wherever possible. If a fellow Pagan decides on an action, who am I to say whether that decision was right or wrong? I have to trust that the person weighed their decision as carefully as I would and that they chose what they felt was necessary.

February 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm
(5) dorian says:

well said. a balanced viewpoint. people need to understand suicide isnt always cut and dried a simple situation.

February 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm
(6) Haakon says:

An ultimate tenet of paganism is that we coexist with, and are not subservient to, the gods and that we are their spiritual equals. What one does then with his or her spirit is a supreme choice granted by that tenant as well as alignment with one’s corresponding pantheon symbolized as the Norns. Further, “falling on one’s sword” has been held as honorable throughout pagan history when all else corporeal fails.

That said, Harm None is a modern (relative to all of history) construct devised to placate xian moral bigotry with equivalence to their “meek shall inherit” and “turn the other cheek” philosophy. And we all know what a resounding success that is! As a universal pagan quality it’s elitist and I find its representation as a “directive” as abhorrent as anything a pagan “violates” in the eyes of the xian clergy/church. That is however the unfortunate path modern pagans walk to find peace in a society viewing us as without any inherent morality. Or worse yet, as patently anti-moral and in need of eradication.

May the gods see you!

February 10, 2011 at 8:37 pm
(7) Safaraz says:

The “harm none” law says to fully quote “an it harm none, do what you will”. It means that if it doesn’t cause harm then it is perficly permisable, it has nothing to do with any action that causes harm, actions that cause harm are covered by the three fold law (or law of return, depending on your belief).

Saying that, you should always try and help someone who is considering suicide, but you should never judge someone (espeically not in a “your going to hell” kind of way) of someone who does comit suicide. You just have to cope with your own pain and loss and hope that their next life is less painfull.

February 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm
(8) Catriona says:

As someone who has attempted suicide in the past I can tell you for a fact that suicide is NOT self inflicted or a choice.
It is a symptom of an illness that very few people (pagan or not) have any understanding of.
At the time of my attempts I was SEVERELY depressed & according to my brain, I was doing the right thing.
Now that I’m well, the idea of suicide is totally alien to me. It’s hard to get my head round the fact that I was SO convinced that suicide was what was best for my friends & family.
We need to get past the whole suicide/self harming is a choice…..are ecliptics fits a choice? Are tourettes swearing etc a choice?
The brain is a weird, complex thing that we know VERY little about. We need to remember that fact!

February 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm
(9) Graywalker says:

“Harm None” is a Wiccan tenant, not a Pagan one. My own similar tenant would be “Do that which is Right” – if doing what is right brings harm to someone, so be it.

In most situations, suicide is not a good solution. I’m not sold on the “Mental Illness” deal either – maybe some situations, but not as often as it is bantered about these days.

I’ve contemplated suicide a few times – was I mentally ill? No. I was in extremely crappy situations that I really saw no way out of or no end to. For me to claim mental illness would be a cop-out – I let frustration and despair get the better of me and I made poor decisions. Thankfully, I’m stubborn and unwilling to concede.

These days where you can just turn the video game off and start over if you fail or might fail to win the objective, People are just too quick to take that option in real life.

February 15, 2011 at 9:20 am
(10) mommiemarine says:

I have to agree with Graywalker. I’m not a turn the other cheek kind of person, so I’ve never totally embraced the “harm none law” and calling it a “directive” totally offended me. That smacks too much of cult christianity for me. I have the same philosophy as Graywalker, “do what is right”, sometimes that will be hard on someone, but really help someone else that needs it. I’m not against suicide, I’m not for it, depends on the situation and the person. I’m a survivor and probably wouldn’t commit suicide, but not everyone is as strong as I am. I know a teenaged girl that has tried 2x to hang herself, and very nearly succeeded the first time. She was lucky that first time and 2 years later there she is again, all because it’s easier than doing the right thing, which is walk away from the crappy boyfriend and so called friends that are psychic vampires sucking her dry.
It’s all I can do not smack her parents for turning a blind eye to the situation their daughter was in, that’s where the “doing the right thing” comes in to play. BE HER PARENTS AND NOT HER BUDDIES. Yes she’ll be mad at them for awhile, but she’ll be alive and hopefully have a long life. By not doing the right thing, they’re not going to have her in their lives for much longer. I’ve found that “doing the right thing” is actually very difficult.

February 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm
(11) wyomingearth says:

I agree with mommiemarine’s comments; it is a bit offensive to treat the ‘harm none’ as gospel. There have been times when in trying to embrace that and repeatedly turning the other cheek the Goddess and God have made it abundantly clear that it isn’t a commandment of any kind. I follow the path I evolve into, the path touched by the hands of the divine, and sometimes in doing what is required of me, I may affect the hand of fate in another’s life. Steadfastly following the Rede would have caused nothing but stagnation, spiritually and in the mundane if followed blindly.
I also don’t have any positive or negative feelings about suicide, maybe a little sadness but no reproach, I haven’t walked in their shoes– but have known the weariness of battle that begged for rest at any cost, like I said no reproach.

May 8, 2011 at 10:49 pm
(12) Kathy says:

My mother was a Pagan who committed suicide when I was a young teenager. I appreciate your comments and thoughts on the matter above and beyond what the others have posted. I never like hearing the “mental illness” deal. It has never clicked with me or with what my mother taught me. She was in pain and totally misunderstood and miserable. I wish she hadn’t killed herself but I’ve never blamed her. I do believe that if she could have truly seen what would become of her friends and daughter’s lives without her I believe she would have tried to endure. Many in our Pagan community today don’t know what it was like for a miserable 34 year old Pagan in 1973. Thank you for writing something that resonated with me. Never concede!

February 15, 2011 at 10:12 am
(13) formerjewnowwiccan says:

First off, “An it harm none, do what you wilt” is not a directive, it is a rede (which means advice). That means if someone was to harm me or mine I will really, really think about what I do before actually doing it. There are other ways around it as well, but it is not a law, but a piece of advice.

As for the suicide, both of my parents made attempts, but they didn’t do it seriously but just for attention. I do think atttempts like this are because this person is crying out for help and no one has been listening to them.

February 15, 2011 at 2:09 pm
(14) Haakon says:

Keeping things in perspective:
True, “harm none” is a rede. But it was Nicky’s 2/10 2:22 pm posting above “…the act violates the Harm None directive of Paganism” within which the discussions of “violation” and “directive” and “Paganism” is woven within these commentaries.

February 15, 2011 at 10:19 am
(15) Guilherme7530 says:

I already considered killing myself once. Sometimes, problems are so overwhelming.
But then, I heard a song called “Dreaming”, from one of my favorite bands, called Níobeth. In the end, the lyrics and the beauty of the song itself made me see that giving up wasn’t the right thing to be done. When you kill yourself, you are gone. But your problems aren’t.
Nowadays, I’m being really positive. I discovered beauty in the small things, I found strength in the presence of my friends, and now I can carry on and live. Through happy and sad moments, ’cause we cannot choose. And everyone face both in their lives.
I’m glad I didn’t even try to kill myself. ‘Cause now I know I would be missed, and that overwhelming dispair is gone. The song gave me strength to breath in and hold on… I can only wish that others can find their “Dreaming” to make them see.

February 15, 2011 at 11:09 am
(16) Suzy says:

My best friend’s bf committed suicide, while he was in jail (for supposedly a misdeamenor that got out of hand) and right after
the birth of their baby, a few years ago. To support my friend, I
went with her to “Suicide Survivor” support groups. These groups were the most sad thing I ever had to sit through. The family and friends that are left behind from a suicide are in shock, disbelief and are grief-stricken. I wouldn’t want to put any of my friends or family through this kind of pain especially to my three boys -20, 22 and 25. It would kill them inside!

February 15, 2011 at 11:16 am
(17) Jim Creasy says:

To tell a suicide survivor that s/he has committed a sinner is tantamount to blaming the victim. Such a statement would in my mind decrease the attempter’s self-esteem. It certainly does not contribute to their mental health and recovery.

February 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm
(18) Amerel says:

I contemplate suicide at least once a month. I have Multiple Sclerosis. I know what is going to happen to my body and my family. I have had to watch my father deal with this devastating disease until his death from complications.
Every time I reevaluate my condition, and the effects the decease has on my family.
I am presently not at a point were suicide is a viable option. BUT IT IS AN OPTION THAT I HAVE A RIGHT TO!
I will not die from this decease, I will end it first. BUT until I feel I am ready I will fight will all I have, through embarrassment, humiliation, and pain.
As a pagan I believe this is my decision and I must weigh the consequences to my self and my family and make a choice that I want.

February 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm
(19) Meg says:

As a believer in reincarnation I have always felt that if you commit suicide you are evading the lessons you are meant to learn in this lifetime and will have to relearn them again. That said I can see the ethics of suicide in the case of terminal illnesses and other such situations….

February 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm
(20) LazyWitch says:

Not all acts to end ones life can or should be attributed to mental illness. Also, for the individual who wishes to commet the act, death may be far less painful for them than life. Suicide was a very common and respected way to end ones life pre-christian. Are you placing christian values to an act that should be a private decision?

My point is, do not judge an individual who wishes/wished to end this lifetime. If they survive, help if you can BUT don’t push the issue. If someone truely wishes to end their life, they will, regardless of their mental or physical health. Is it really your business to have them live up/down to your standards?

February 16, 2011 at 2:13 am
(21) Cannucklehead says:

I take great exception to the statement that people only try suicide because they want attention. That is the FARTHEST thing from what’s on your mind. I tried to commit suicide last week, and had a brother do it some 20 years ago too. I know for a fact my brother was in such emotional pain, that he decided people would be better off without him, and I know for me, it was along the same lines. I don’t want to burden anyone any more with my physical and mental health issues, and lack of finances because of me. I felt totally alone and a huge burden. I didn’t want to make a fuss, or kick up my heels, I just went off to hopefully od on insulin to go into a coma and die. You see I saw that people got over my brothers death, and got along without him anyways, and I knew people would do the same with me. I didn’t and don’t want attention. I wanted to be gone from the overwhelming pain and really still do. But I’ve found out i’m even a failure at this!
As for my faith, well who knows if this isn’t the way I am supposed to go out in this lifetime. And I felt I was doing the least amount of harm out of all the situations there were, so I was obeying the rede.

February 16, 2011 at 4:51 am
(22) Shay says:

As a pagan of over 30 years, I will say I suffered a bout of deep depression last year, that nearly took my life. When it hits there is no reasoning, it certainly isnt a pre meditative feeling to want to die. I dont care who you are, yes you need help, but sometimes these things virtually explode overnight. Anyone can sucumb to depression, I am so very glad my attempt was unsuccessful & I was left in deep shock when the reality hit me of what I tried to do.
Compassion, doesnt matter who or what you are depression hits all social levels, all beliefs, we should encourge, that is what we are about surely, not even dwelling on if this is an issue against our belief.

February 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm
(23) Ailora says:

I just wish that more people were aware of the fact that suicidal thoughts and depression are a physical manifestation of an underlying problem. Chemical imbalances are commonly brought on by use of psychotropic drugs and man made chemicals in general. Or, it a lack of something your body needs.

A lot of people who feel depressed are chronically deficient in Vitamin D, and sometimes fixing the underlying issue is as simple as getting yourself healthy.

Not many people want to believe this, but as Pagans who are close to Mother Earth should be aware, our beloved, sacred planet always provides for us the solutions. We just need to see the problems for what they really are.

February 17, 2011 at 12:04 am
(24) WTF says:

So now depression, bipolar and all these other things are e person’s fault again? They’re not being good to the earth or eating the right things, so that brings on organic brain disease? Give your head a shake! Not everyone who has a mental illness has vitamin D deficiency! That comment doesn’t help anything. I take my supplements, and I take extra vitamin D! I still have bipolar type 2! Hypothyroidism can cause depression symptoms, but I take my thyroid pill every day, and I still have bipolar type 2. Telling everyone that you get everything you need from the earth is ridiculous. What next are you going to say, a diabetic shouldn’t be using their insulin??
There are organic diseases out there and they are not the patient’s fault for having them. I guess i’m just nit as good a Pagan as you.

February 17, 2011 at 12:27 am
(25) Tisha says:

They never said every single person. They just said a lot. I keep seeing this happen throughout this short list of comments. People are giving an example of one of many reasons and others are getting emotional and thinking they are saying that is the one and only reason. Just read and analyze the comment before you jump to conclusions. Yes, there are people that are depressed from a lack of vitamin D, not opinion, fact. I don’t know the exact statistics to be able to tell you if it is in fact a lot, but there are cases. And yes, there are those that need medication. And there are those who just need therapy. And there are those who’s problems are caused by medication. There are so many reasons, your experience is not the only one (and that is for everyone here, not just the person I’m replying to). You would hope to see Pagans staying out of the black vs. white areas, but I guess that’s just human.

March 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm
(26) Ever says:

For more thoughts on Paganism and suicide, go to this URL: http://hubpages.com/hub/my_journey_to_the_otherworld (It’s in the Comments section).

December 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm
(27) Silver Rainwolf says:

I have personally attempted suicide before. My reason for beginning my response by saying that is so that I can explain what my view regarding this is. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are referencing “and it harm none, do what thy will,” and I agree with that, but define harm. For me, it was a matter of choosing which harm was worse for me. The emotional harm that came with living, or the physical harm that would be relatively brief when I actually killed myself. In the end, I chose to live because I cared more that the people around me remained unharmed than whether or not I myself was harmed by living. That’s not exactly the best reason to stay alive, but that is why I’m alive today.

A way of looking at suicide, my way of looking at suicide, is that it is a choice between two types of harm. You are going to harm others and yourself if you die, and you will probably harm others and certainly harm yourself if you live. I have no moral problem with suicide, because I know that my life would have been less painful and would still be less painful if I had chosen to die. I could never begrudge someone for trying to gain release from a painful life, but I would hope that they would live to see their lives get better.

I apologize if I have brought up unhappy memories for anyone, but I feel like this was something that needed to be said. On another note, I no longer have any desire to kill myself and I am glad now that I am alive, but I cannot say that it would have been a mistake if I had died then. I made a choice then, and both options ended well enough for me. I resolved or got over the major problems in my life, but if I had died I would have simply moved on to my next life and another chance at happiness. That may be a strange thought, but it is how I feel about all of it.

Blessed Be.

February 12, 2012 at 11:29 am
(28) Jo Anne says:

My father committed sucide by gun in 1999. My father had been depressed for a very long time. At 74 he started to get sick. But most of it was in his mind. I think this time he thought I would find him and that was OK for him. I was the eldest daughter. I was the responible one.
I am still so angry with him for doing this but I do understand why.
People become so down, do depressed that life holds nothing for them. They are in such pain. Emotional pain, loneliness, they just have had enough.
I can undersand why they do it. Its those of us who are left behind that have to live with it. What could we have done to stop this to make the person better. The answer is nothing if their decision is made.
I think it comes down to personal chose and the feelings of hopelessness. Some people can be helped but the clinically depressed, sometimes we lose that battle no matter how much we try to help.
I used to think it was such a selfish act and in its way, it is. But the person feels such relief knowing that soon this life, that hurts so much will be over.
Suicide is a personal choice and if the person is going to do that then religion does not play a big part in their thoughts. If it does then there is always suicide by cop, or driving to fast, a so called accident.
Its a personal choice just like ending your life when you are terminally ill.
Who wants to suffer? None of us do. There are people who will fight to the very end to live and then the people who embrace death.
You know, my Dad would have been 75 that year,and would have celebrated 50 years of marriage.
Thank you for allowing me to write about this, I hope it helps.

February 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm
(29) Hicca says:

I have been living with a terminal illness for over three years.
I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but thanks to a very
good response to a new drug I have been given a reprieve,
but it is only a reprieve, of unknown duration. I battle with the
urge to kill myself on a regular basis, that is, to take the easy
way out. The main reason I don’t, and hopefully can’t is that
it is the worst thing I could do to my children. It would make it
very hard at the best, and impossible at the worst for them to talk about my death with their friends when the time comes. The other reason is that as a believer in karma, I bought this particular ticket due to past actions and/or it is a learning
experience that I have to see it out to the end.

February 19, 2012 at 9:41 am
(30) Kim says:

I am a Pagan who has tried suicide multiple times. Thankfully it has been a long time since my last attempt.

I don’t agree you can know not killing yourself was better for the people who would have been left behind in the long run. I say this especially if you have mental, emotional or physical issues that effect those in your life in horrible ways. No. I am not saying you should have died. I am just saying that you will never know if the burdens you have placed on others by living is less than the burdens you would have placed on them by dying. You may have seen how the lives of suicide attempt survivors or the loved ones of suicide victims have played out. Be the results good or bad, you can’t know how things would have gone otherwise. You can’t prove a negative.

Also, I believe choosing to live and choosing to die are both selfish choices. Humans are selfish creatures. You are burdening someone else in some way be it intentional or not.

Some people go on living only for other people’s sake when really, I feel, the main reason for choosing to live should be for one’s self. They’ve found reasons but no true light to aim towards. And sometimes there simply is no light. It is what it is. There’s no getting herbs, plants or prescription drugs to neutralize or cleanse it. There’s no talking it out with someone qualified. There is no “Making peace with it.”

February 8, 2013 at 10:03 am
(31) Katte says:

This was my mom. At the age of 84 she developed a brain tumor. It took away her power to express herself vocally, and affected her vison. She had surgery, they got the tumor, but not all the tentacles it had sent out. Then she had radiation, it shrunk some of them, but not all. Then she had laser treatments. Two days after she died we learned they were successful. Yet she would never recover her power of speech or her sight..
After reading all the comments on here, I realized she willed herself to die. She was an artist, and a comfort to all who came to her with problems. I just realized that she knew she could never be these again, and did not, at her age, want to go on.
Was she wrong to take her life? I cannot say she was.
It is in the hands of the “Powers, what ever you concieve them to be” to judge.
I can only learn from this instance and others that I have experienced, and apply them to my life..
At this time in my life, suicide is not for me, though I have thought about it. Yet I know that this could change at any time.
There is no rhyme nor reason to suicide. If you must place a reason on it; be it mental, physical, selfish or not, then do so. It is what it is, the end of life as we know it.
We all have to accept that it will come to us, by our own hand, or because it is just time for us to pass over.

November 21, 2013 at 11:08 am
(32) Janet says:

Suicide Anonymous is a 12 step program people might be interested in. Can be found on line. Started in Memphis TN

November 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm
(33) Justine says:

My comment is simple. I lost my son to suicide almost two years ago. I am unable to heal. I will never heal. I found his body. I have no understanding as to why he felt he couldn’t come to me he had always been able to talk to me before. Therefore, I will forever punish myself for not being the mother he needed. We were the best of friends and I lost my soul when I lost him. In my heart I believe he is at peace. For anyone thinking of harming themselves, think of your loved ones, grab onto them. They will go beyond the world to help you because without you they don’t have a world anymore. Blessed be. Love to all of you.

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