Pagan Views on Self-Injury
All religions have basically two ways of viewing self-injury: either as a maladaptive coping medhanism or as a sin. When they call it a sin they mean an offense against the Gods, something actively wrong. Paganism, like all religions, has a concept of sin - though that tends not to be the term used because of its Christian connotations. Different traditions have different ethical codes, and because of my own background this section is probably most applicable to Wiccans and eclectic Pagans than to reconstructionists and other traditions. I would very much like to include other traditions, so if anyone can interpret their ethics for me I would be grateful.
It is possible - and some people do - see self-injury as a sin rather than a coping device which should be replaced with something more positive. There is a difference between the two views, as one is condemnatory and the other is not. Below are a few of the interpretations which view SI as a sin:
- To injure the self is to injure the divine. The divine is in everything that exists (or in every living thing depending on your viewpoint). The reason we are charged not to harm the earth is because when we do so we harm the Mother, and we cannot harm another because the Goddess is in them. We too are a part of the Goddess and particularly Pagans, who are aware of the Goddess within, and who worship Her, should not harm themselves. When we harm ourselves we are harming the Goddess as surely as if we dumped a load of nuclear waste into a stream.
- The Wiccan Rede can be viewed as condemning self-injury too. The Rede states: "Do your will, but harm none" which includes ourselves as much as other people. To abuse ourselves is morally wrong.
- As the creations of the Gods we have our bodies as well as everything that is "on loan" from the divine and to injure anything is to insult the Gods.
I don't agree with these views, and I do not see self-injury as morally wrong or sinful. There are many ways in which people harm themselves - drinking too much, smoking etc - which are not considered morally wrong - seen as highly inadvisable, yes, but not something to condemn another for. I see self-injury as a more obvious way of harming the body, which is used as a method of coping with internal problems.
Even more than smokers or heavy drinkers, condemning self-injurers is counter-productive. Many people already feel a sense of shame about self-injuring, and that shame and guilt feeds into and encourages their self-injury. Adding to it - and particularly suggesting the Gods are angered by SI can only have bad effects.
I believe that self-injury grieves the Gods because they do not wish to see any of their children in pain. They will help self-injurers to defeat their problem - but not by saying they have committed a moral sin or that they have offended the divine. They will not do that any more than they would view a smoker as sinful.
I would never recommend or promote self-injury; I do believe it is a bad way of coping with other problems and something that we should leave behind. It is bad, but not evil, and I will not condemn a self-injurer but instead try to help.