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Pagans and Self-Injury

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Self-injury is intentional, but should not be confused with suicidal behavior.

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Please note that if you are someone with a history of self-injury and you find that reading about self-harm is a trigger for you, you may wish to skip reading this article.

 

There has been occasional discussion in the Wiccan and Pagan community as to whether self-harm, sometimes referred to as self-injury, is counter-intuitive to Wiccan and Pagan belief and practice.

Self-injury is the term used in reference to deliberate acts that harm the self -- cutting, intentional bruising, infliction of burns, etc. These acts are often non-suicidal in nature. For more on the specific nature of self-injury, please be sure to read Self-Injury Facts. It's important to realize that self-injury is an actual psychological problem, and very different from ritual cutting or scarification.

Ritual cutting or scarification is when the body is cut or burned in a ritual setting as part of a spiritual ceremony. In some tribes in Africa, facial scarification is done to mark a tribe member's journey into adulthood. According to National Geographic, some high priests in Benin may go into a trancelike state and cut themselves with knives, as a sign that deity has entered their body.

Let's get back to self-injury. If someone has a history of self-injury, such as cutting or burning themselves, is this addiction incompatible with Wicca and Pagan belief?

Like many other issues of interest to Pagans and Wiccans, the answer isn't a black and white one. If your spiritual path follows the concept of "harm none," as laid out in the Wiccan Rede, then self-injury addiction might be counter-intuitive -- after all, harming none includes not harming oneself. However, not all Pagans follow the Wiccan Rede, and even among Wiccans there is a lot of room for interpretation. Certainly, obsessive self-harm is not encouraged by the tenets of Wicca or other Pagan paths.

Regardless, the Wiccan Rede should never be interpreted as a blanket condemnation of those who self-harm. After all, the word "rede" means guideline, but it's not a hard and fast rule.

A caveat to this is that for people who self-injure, sometimes this behavior is a coping mechanism that prevents them from causing themselves larger harm. Many Pagan leaders might concede that a small injury is an acceptable sacrifice if it prevents a larger one.

So, if someone has a tendency towards self-harm does it mean they can't be Pagan or Wiccan? Not at all. However, those who are in a position of leadership should make sure that if a member of their group is predisposed towards self-harm, they should be as supportive as possible, and provide help when needed. Sometimes that help includes referral to a trained mental health professional.

If you are someone who has a self-injury compulsion, it's important to seek out professional help. Most Wiccan and Pagan leaders are spiritual counselors but are not trained in treating specific medical issues such as compulsive self-harming.

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