Coping With Depression: Learning to Dance with the Sacred Twins
Article ID: 15397
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 7th. 2013
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Note: I am not a psychologist, a doctor, or a certified mental health counselor. Please see the end for some useful links on dealing with depression and suicide. The spiritual advice of this article can be used in conjunction with professional and medical assistance.
Depression is a disease, one that I am learning to cope with. It’s not easy, and sadly many find themselves unable to successfully overcome it. In these past few months I declined in many ways, and I had to wake myself out of it. While I can say I was able to shake off the shackles at that moment, the depths to which I wallowed made me face some very hard questions about my Pagan faith and the role of death. I had to find answers if I wanted to find a source of renewed strength in my spirituality, because this was one of the weaker points I was discovering. In much of the modern Pagan literature that is available I was reading too much about altars, tools, and directions and not enough on the practical aspects of the Craft. Very little was available, whereas in many other faiths literature was readily accessible to help people find a way to cope with various aspects of mental illness. This was a problem for me, because my faith was everything to me. I have a background as a Christian minister, and I knew that without proper resources to help I would begin to find dissatisfaction in the one thing that had helped me find peace in the first place.
Many times my depression has brought me to the edge of an emotional cliff. There were moments when even the precipice itself threatened to toss me over without my consent. At the time, I suppose I would have felt satisfied with the outcome. For Pagans, death is not something to be feared. Rather, it is a transitory moment to be welcomed. My own Witchcraft Tradition, the Ophic Strix, utilizes a lot from ancient Greek Myth and symbolism. In Greek imagery there is a reason that the butterfly was the symbol for the soul, namely because the transformation of larvae-pupae-butterfly seemed to be a perfect analogy of the soul leaving the cocoon of the body to be free. But as beautiful as this comparison is, it can also present a dilemma for suicidal persons. Not only is death transitory, but many Pagans also believe in reincarnation. I have found various interpretations of what reincarnation means: Naturalist Pagans who are atheist believe our energies become part of the Circle of Life, and many polytheistic Pagans adhere to a conscious aspect of the afterlife. But what we share in common is a notion that death is not a stopping point. So, for people like me, how do we cope with depression and suicidal tendencies? What is there to fear? Just what is the answer?
Paganism is a young faith. We don’t have much in the way of an existing theology (or thealogy) when it comes to handling aspects of mental illness. For the most part, there are some Pagan clergy and persons who are professional psychologists or mental health counselors that view depression as the disease that it is. Usually it is referred to as a “dis-ease” in which we are spiritually viewed to be out of balance with ourselves. People like myself are encouraged to use a wide modality of alternative healing techniques like Reiki and shamanic soul retrieval in conjunction with professional counseling and medical treatment. While this is imperative, it still doesn’t answer the question about death and how to view it in light of being depressive and suicidal when it comes to being Pagan. So I had to return to the source of my own faith: the nature of the Greek Mystery Cults. In doing so, I discovered things about myself and my spirituality that had previously gone unnoticed.
Let me start by affirming an uncomfortable truth for some when it comes to Pagan thought: there is nothing to fear with death. But for suicidal persons, we really don’t have a morbid fascination with death. It’s our preoccupation with our pain. It’s not so much that death is constantly on our minds – it’s escape. Escape from pain that we feel – that I feel – no one can fathom. It’s that I feel so broken that I can’t be fixed, and little did I realize within these feelings lay the key to coping. Unfortunately the only door my mind can think of when it comes to escape is to contemplate taking my own life, and I know the same can be said for many people who struggle with chronic depression and suicide.
But I slowly came to realize that by trying to escape, I was denying my place in the Cosmos here and now. Our lives are all reflections of a greater Truth: the Cosmos dances. In the Emerald Tablet of Hermes it states, “That which is above is from that which is below, and that which is below is from that which is above, working the miracles of one.” From the whirling of the atom to the spiral dance of the galaxy, we are all part of a greater Whole. We are parts of a grand Unity. For people like me who feel broken, things have happened to convince our minds that we are not part of this Cosmic Dance. That somehow we don’t have a right to wholly participate in this Dance.
I mentioned earlier that the butterfly was the symbol for the soul in Ancient Greece, and how fitting this analogy is. However, I also believe I may have discovered another meaning in the imagery. The first known trace of using the butterfly for the soul is credited to Aristotle in his Historia Animalium (History of Animals) . But the connection may be older than Aristotle. What we do know from ancient Greek art is that Thanatos, the Greek God of Death, was often symbolized holding a torch in his left hand along with a wreath and butterfly. For many who read Aristotle and other literature on the Greek concept of death and the afterlife, the comparison (as mentioned earlier) is that the larvae represents the living person, the pupae represents the person in the tomb, and the butterfly is the released soul. However, this symbology can clash with what we know when it comes to the Greek Mystery view of death. Do you know what I think? I think the symbol of the larvae-pupae-butterfly was meant to teach us to wake up.
You see in the ancient Greek Mystery Cults the purpose was to teach aspiring Initiates how to experience death before you physically died. Techniques such as incubation were designed to transform and elevate an Initiates’ consciousness to be aware of greater mystical Truths. Death (Thanatos) wasn’t to be feared, but that is due to the fact that it was expected that an Initiate would have already experienced a similar transitory state to “wake them up” and recognize the beauty of the Spiral Dance. This ecstatic state of near-Death was called katabasis, meaning “descent.” It involved journeying to the Underworld and coming face-to-face with the darkest aspects of our human psyche and the things that we fear. From those depths to the darkest parts of our soul, we would come to see the beauty of achieving Harmony within our Selves, ultimately realizing that the awe struck wonder of the stars is contained also within us.
Have you ever stopped to see a butterfly? It flits from flower to flower, being part of something greater. It is part of a vital link in the Great Chain, ensuring pollination and the spread of diverse life forms. Sometimes their flight patterns mimic a spiral as they gently rest, their colors captivating our eyes and our imagination.
The purpose of spirituality is to help us recognize our inner butterfly. The key to coping and escaping the prison of our mental and emotional pupae is to find our worth in others. The meaning is not for when we die: it’s for us to see with new eyes who we are. It’s about inner transformation and learning to find our place in the Dance again. It is about turning our focus from ourselves and realize that our pain is what is transitory. Thanatos will come for us when the Fates cut our string, not us. That isn’t my place to be my own judge and jury. I wake up every morning, and that means I have an inherent worth that it’s not yet time. It means healing is possible. It means coping is possible. It means I can and I will survive. The pain that we who battle depression experience is a catalyst for us to find beauty, to dance, to laugh, and to shine. It means each day is a Gift, and I should not waste it.
My recovery is about me finding the strength to take off. It’s about dancing with Thanatos in conjunction with Eros: Death and Love in harmonious balance. In our Ophic Strix Tradition, Thanatos and Death are the sacred twins born of Nyx. They were born in sexual embrace, in harmony. When They are separated from one another they are blinding forces that can be unbridled and uncontrolled within us. When our souls try to live with unbridled Eros without proper respect to Thanatos, the result is dangerous living and unrestrained indulgence, addictions, and the illusion of invulnerability. When our souls are enthralled with Thanatos without Eros, we find ourselves caught in the grips of depression and despair because Desire is robbed from us. I lost my Desire – like Eros was taken from me. I know many can share and relate similar tales about how the haze over us clouds our motivation and our perception to live. When the Twins conflict within ourselves, we find that we are caught in self-preservation dilemmas. We can be riddled with shame and guilt, unnecessarily blaming ourselves for situations that are not inevitably our fault. But when we learn to embrace ourselves and embrace others, we are embracing the Twins. We are rediscovering our lost Desire, our balanced and healthy respect for Thanatos. For although the Sacred Twins are separate, this is merely an illusion because They are part of Nyx.
Nyx, First Mother, is the Unified Dancer – the very embodiment of All That Exists. This was the Unity that many ancient Greek Initiates sought, including Pythagoras. Pythagoras taught that we are Stars incarnate, finding our way back to our home on the Way of Return. The key to finding our way begins by living our lives in harmony with ourselves, which can be accomplished when we turn to others. In doing so, we will rekindle Desire and Awaken Eros.
The first few moments in a newly freed butterfly’s life are critical. If you try to help it, you can kill it. The butterfly must find its own strength. I must, I will, and I am finding my own strength, and so can you. We are all learning to find how to turn our pain into a catalyst for hope: for yourself and for others. You are a beautiful butterfly, meant to bring great vision and diversity to the world, and there is no greater honor than that.
Eirene kai Hugieia!
(Peace and Health!)
Rev. Luis A. Valadez
Resources for Depression:
PLEASE REMEMBER TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP FOR DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE. IN CASE OF ANY EMERGENCY, PLEASE DIAL 9-1-1.
Hayyan, Jabir ibn. “The Emerald Tablet of Hermes.” Retrieved from: http://www.sacred-texts.com/alc/emerald.htm
Fishbane, M., Collins, J.J. (1995) . “Death, Ecstasy, and Otherworldly Journeys.” NY: State University of New York Press.
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