Does the religion of Paganism encourage people to kill themselves?
Here's a classic example of how foolish but well-meaning people can help destroy their own Temples and Churches by unwisely presenting an unfact in a climate of superstition and hysteria.
In 2003 Helen Berger and Evan Leach published 'Voices from the Pagan Census' a supposedly insightful socio-economic analysis of the new religion of Neo-Paganism. https://www.amazon.com/Voices-Pagan-Census-National-Neo-Pagans/dp/1570034885
They billed it as a first-ever and the jacket blurb offers much. Except that it wasn't the 'first', the SAFF published the FIRST Occult Census, a ground-breaking work in 1989 which is still available for download here: http://www.sorcerers-apprentice.co.uk/census.htm Berger and Leach's 2003 book is an almost copy-cat format in profile and scope but appears to have muted some important differences.
In most areas the conclusions of their 2003 book concur with the 1989 Occult Census as you might expect, except for one crucial difference.. 'Voices from the Pagan Census' has been held to conclude that Neo-Pagans are more likely to commit suicide because of their beliefs! This is a dangerous and untrue assertion yet has been accepted without question by some within Paganism in the U.S. in particular Dianne Morrison who writing under the pseudonym of Sable Aradia has written an extensive three part article in Patheos.com offered as a 'Seeker's Guide' to alert newcomers, titled:
The Downward Spiral – Depression and Suicide in Paganism,and goes on to flesh out the idea that Magical and ritual involvement somehow exposes Pagan practitioners to depression and leads to suicide!
Yet SAFF statistics prove that Pagans are not more likely to commit suicide than anyone else.
In the 32 years which the SAFF has been functioning and collecting data there has been only one incidence of suicide related to the occult in our files and that was the death of Nick Gargani from Lewes, a city in Sussex, UK, in 1997. Although Gargani did have a serious interest in the occult his suicide was motivated by other things as the SAFF expose of the story explains here; http://saff.nfshost.com/lewesrep.htm
General suicide rates in Britain are so high in comparison with any known Pagan suicides that Pagan deaths pale into insignificance.
Indeed this is now a scientific fact because in 2021 academic research by Awaad El Gabalawy, Jackson-Shaheed https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2782161 showed that: . Across religious groups, 7.9% of Muslims, 5.1% of Protestants, 6.1% of Catholics, and 3.6% of Jewish respondents reported a lifetime suicide attempt. Thus it is unfact to suggest that people involved in Paganism have a higher than normal incidence of suicide.
Why would Voices from The Pagan Census make any claims otherwise? Maybe they were reporting the 'ideation' of suicide, that is, asking its respondents whether they ever felt like taking their own lives, not whether they had actually tried to commit suicide. But again is nonsense because this study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7310534/ concluded that:
Two studies in the United States suggest persons with a religious affiliation have less suicidal ideation than unaffiliated persons. Dervic et al. interviewed 371 depressed inpatients in the United States, and found that unaffiliated persons had higher scores on the Scale of Suicidal Ideation compared to religiously affiliated persons (Dervic, Oquendo et al. 2004).
In short people who have a religion to hang on to avoid suicide more than those who don't.
This is a completely opposite finding to the statistics produced by Voices From The Pagan Census!
Important Definitions:Then we have the problem of analysing exactly what Berger and Leach and Morrison actually mean by the idea that Pagans are more susceptible to suicide.
Why would Pagans be more susceptible to suicide than, say, Catholics whose ceremonies and rituals are very similar to Neo-Pagan liturgy, or Hindus (whose religion is an ancient form of Paganism)?
What is it about Neo-Pagan liturgy or ceremonies which make Berger, Leach and Morrison think it engenders more suicides than, say, Baptist Christians who regularly employ harmful exorcisms in their rites and in some instances actually kill people in those ceremonies? ( See: http://saff.nfshost.com/stobart.htm and http://saff.nfshost.com/everyman1.htm )
Having been a practicing Neo Pagan for 40 years and being very well connected in the British occult scene I am personally aware of several major strains of Paganism which are:
i Hereditary Paganism,The vast majority of Pagans adhere to one or the other of these.
None of these employ any ceremonies, liturgy or teachings which could be said to encourage suicide. So where do Berger Leach and Morrison think the harm comes from?
Are Berger, Leach and Morrison implying that psychic development exercises, which may include self-hypnosis, regression-hypnosis (hypnosis to reach past-lives), Vitalised Imagination (path-working), Divination, Trance, Scrying with a crystal and Meditation techniques are 'dangerous' and can produce depression which may lead to suicide?
If so then that would also apply to most of the many thousands of people now undergoing standard psychotherapy treatment from orthodox medical practitioners who now use methods very similar to those I've just mentioned, and I don't see any evidence to suggest that people being treated by psychotherapists are killing themselves because of the methods being used to heal them.
Another anomaly in Morrison's article is that she appears to confuse experienced occultists and Pagans with those who have just turned up to join Paganism, bringing with them their existing mental baggage. In her article she writes;
'Most of us have suffered from feeling like black sheep; those who come from homes with opposing faiths, struggle with gender identity or practice alternate lifestyles are even more likely to experience this. We tend to be working class people, whose education often outstrips our financial circumstances, leading to frustrated ambitions and debt. We are more likely than the average population to come from abusive backgrounds and suffer from neuroses or anxiety disorders. Pagan leaders are almost guaranteed to encounter someone who looks to them for guidance that struggles with this illness. And if you’ve got a diagnosis of a depressive disorder – at least you know you know you’re not alone! 'But the 1989 Occult Census repudiates that character profile instantly.
We are not 'all the same' and serious practitioners of the occult have been proved to be high-achievers and able to master complex professions precisely because of their mastering of occult and pagan skills and teachings. Here in the rightmost column is a socio-economic breakdown of the 2,000 people who contributed to the 1989 Occult Census: (nearly half, 42%, of these people declared themselves to be Pagans)
Clearly such people may have long-standing problems and see witchcraft as a quick solution. They are precisely the type of people who would be rejected by a genuine Coven and redirected to professional help. Such people should not be accepted into a coven 'to heal them'. The coven may work healing ceremonies to help orthodox medicine along but should not interfere with treatment in any way and such people certainly must not be exorcised or otherwise ritualised.
Traditionally each applicant for coven membership should be made to wait 13 moons ('a year and a day') before being initiated. During that year they will learn the history of Paganism and study the liturgy of Paganism. They will be given a long list of source-works to read and be questioned on their ability to understand them afterwards. They will be screened for personality faults and background issues to ensure that their sincerity in joining the coven is true. They should not be pushed into doing any mental exercises or ritual work until their potential has been gauged.
Thus, in Britain at least, vulnerable applicants will be spotted quickly and gently moved on elsewhere to get psychiatric help if they need it. This is why there are no pagan suicides in Britain. Paganism does not encourage people to commit suicide. Its rituals and ceremonies teach adherents to be self-reliant and show them how to come to terms with fears and problems in the physical world. Paganism makes their life more sensible not less, and why Morrison thinks otherwise is a worrying thing.
In the 1989 Occult Census respondents indicated their opinions on how Paganism and Occultism helped them in their daily life, here in the panel below is what they said:
The panel below shows why they thought Occultism helps in one's Job and chosen Career.
Furthermore the sample also indicated how Paganism/Occultism could help in society generally so:
Now, just to be sure, we also included a question about what our 1989 sample thought were the harms that Paganism and Occultism could possibly cause and the result was:
Nowhere did anyone say that Paganism is harmful because it makes people commit suicide. Why? Because that kind of thing has never happened.
Dungeons and Dragons: The 36 year old false allegation that Witchcraft and Paganism results in people taking their own life.The insistence that adherents of Paganism will be more prone to committing suicide is a lie, but this 'guide' by Morrison is unfortunately not the first time that such nonsense has been floated. In the US in the 1980s Pat Pulling, a mother whose son committed suicide, blamed the then newly invented fantasy board game Dungeons and Dragons for introducing her son to Witchcraft and Occultism and his resulting suicide. As this is more or less what Morrison is now claiming today 36 years later we need to look more closely.
Pulling was a fundamentalist Christian and worked together with other fundamentalist Christians to ban Dungeons and Dragons on the basis that it encouraged young players to kill themselves. She developed a complete 'demonology' of how this happened, none of which had any basis in fact. In the leftmost column you can see and read one of her early lectures (1986) and you will see that it is replete with Pagan connotations and implications.
Thus it is abundantly clear that Pulling and her fundamentalist activist mates were attacking Pagans and Witchcraft by using false claims of suicidal tendencies in Paganism for sectarian gain.
It is therefore absolutely horrendous to find Morrison falling in with the fundies gameplan to disenfranchise Paganism again today 36 years after Pulling had planted the seed of this unfact by CONFIRMING in her recent article the untrue assertion that people in Paganism were predisposed to commit suicide.
By 1989, at the start of the Satanic Panic in the UK Pulling was working closely with the English fundie group; Reachout Trust, which instrumentally corrupted and manipulated UK public opinion against Witches and Pagans using age-old lies. You can read just how influential Reachout Trust was here: http://saff.nfshost.com/reachout.htm
The illustration, right, is a section from Reachout's winter 1989 Newsletter, clearly proving a link between Pulling's claims and further manic untrue allegations of child-abuse and murder made by Reachout during the same year.
It took the SAFF years to quash the false idea that Pagan and Occult beliefs caused people to commit suicide. As the lecture from Pat Pulling (shown in the leftmost column on this page) makes clear Dungeons and Dragons was played by millions of people in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite Pulling's fundie protestations and claims of danger there are no more recorded suicides than that of her son and and Rosemary Loyacan's son, both of which can be explained away by other causes. It was all a hysteria which contributed to the 1990 Satanic Panic but which, like the panic itself, turned out to be utterly false. However be aware that 1000s, of innocent people were incarcerated for life based on these lies (see: http://saff.nfshost.com/usasracases.htm )
Now literally millions more young kids and adults play electronic Dungeons and Dragons type games involving pantheistic characters and if these games really did cause suicides there would be THOUSANDS upon thousands of them; but there are none. Here: https://www.mmobomb.com/games/fantasy you can choose from a short-list of no less than 195 free computer fantasy games played right across the world by young and old without any problem or involvement in suicide whatsoever.
The original claims by Pat Pulling and others that occult involvement caused people to commit suicide was a lie. It is just as much of a lie to say that anyone studying Paganism today will be more likely to commit suicide than those who are not involved in Paganism.
To imply that Paganism has some inherent harmfulness to it which can exacerbate suicides over and above other religious beliefs is dangerous rehashed mediaeval hogwash which trades on the lives of those who were tortured and went to the stake during the Burning Times. It is an insult to their memory and an insult to all initiated Pagans today.
Dianne Morrison and Helen Berger and Evan Leach should apologise for giving that impression and withdraw the idea instantly lest it is seized upon by the enemies of freedom of thought and religion again to use as a hammer to deprive other free-thinkers of the access to the Ancient Wisdom which they have benefitted from and obviously do not appreciate.
Ludi Magni 2022.