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Wicca and Body Image

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Crimson's Favorites

Wicca and Body Image

         One of the first books I read on Wicca, I believe it was "A Wiccan Bardo" by Paul Beyerl, mentioned that after practicing the Craft oftentimes the sex appeal of practitioners would begin to increase. I looked at it with interest, and personal denial. I was NOT sexy. I was fat. I was the person who was teased by my male friends about being cute with my pot-belly, knowing that the subtext was my pot-belly kept them from finding me sexually attractive. I was cute like a little sister, a 19 year old with baby fat. Yet, as I practiced, I found that the Goddess accepted me as I was. The Goddess was fat, and fertile, and sexy. I was a reflection of the Goddess, with a willful escape from the fertility part. I began drawing pentacles that were a little thick in the legs and the middle -- so the pentacle would look like my body at its healthiest. The psychological event occured: I felt good about myself, and I was sexy.  I realized the Goddess was thin and delicate, too --- or fat and sexy like me.

         My body image has always affected my spirituality, and continues to do so. When I have "I hate my body" days, I feel like I just can't connect with the Lord and Lady. I am imperfect, I am not worthy.  Perhaps it's a carry-over from my Christian days, when that Bible verse about "your body is your temple" would be quoted in every Sunday School class I took while the teachers or my pastor glared at me. I was offensive, I was sinning, because my metabolism could not keep up with societal demands. It sank into my being that I was always a step behind my potential because my size held me back. Although I have finally become comfortable with the idea of myself as sexy, I still have to work hard to maintain that recognition of myself. Thanks to those helpful quoters of the Bible.  The negative perception of my body came from my early spiritual life, and it tainted the pool I draw from for my adult spirituality. After years of self-cleansing, I still find occassional spots of that poison.

         When I came into paganism, I began to realize a few things. The first was that I was not alone in my body image troubles, and that they had been a subconscious factor in my attraction to paganism. A female deity is a deity who understands PMS, bad hair days and the need for freedom from the enslavement of beauty -- so that we can move into real beauty. When I found the Goddess, I began to find that freedom.  When I went to the Women and Sprituality Conference in Mankato, I noticed fat women and thin women celebrating themselves and each other. Gone was the tacit seperation or the condescending accompaniment of the thin to the fat. When I have attended pagan rituals and gatherings, I have noticed that men and women move about freely, not caring about their images as they all come from the Lord and Lady. But I have also heard a dichotomy, much reflective of the hateful way that Bible verse was used on me: "Shouldn't they take better care of themselves? I thought in paganism harm none means taking care of yourelf?"

         Perhaps this dichotomy reflects some of the internal bickerings between certain groups about "Barbie doll" Goddesses or "Dyke" Goddesses. Although ultimately we all do belong to the Ancients we have pledged ourselves to, as a result of sibling rivarly we all try to divide ourselves into groups and name ourselves as the favored ones. Body type, like skin color, can be one of the easiest ways to do this. There is still an overall ignorance about the reality of overweight people -- that we are not gluttonness, lazy or neccessarily out of shape. Although pagans as a whole attempt to enlighten themselves, the comments I've heard from older and younger members of the community suggest there remains serious ignorance regarding what is mostly a natural variation in body type. We may not be violating the Rede by wearing our bodies as is -- in fact, for some, staying overweight might mean adhering to it.

         I must emphasise here: health is important. It helps us function in our daily lives, it makes our bodies strong conduits for magickal energies and it helps us absorb the shocks that magickal life often brings us. I think the damaging error comes in that some people mistake "perfection" for health. The human body was not made to be perfect; it is a temporary vessel that needs maintenance. Part of our spiritual work involves living in and increasing our ability to maintain that body.  But, eventually, it will break down as it is meant to break down.  Weight may or may not be a factor in that breakdown, depending on the person.  No matter what we look like or how we pray, we are all equalized by death. Weight loss or gain - or any change in the body, whether from natural or manufactured cause - leads to a transformation of self from the outside to the inside. We change who we are in appearance to gain something usually intangible - better health, attention, strength - many of these reasons are also the reasons we engage in personal spells or rituals. To change the physical appearance of the body is to actively seek a form of death, as death is recognized as the ultimate form of transformation that occurs in many ways throughout a single lifetime.

         Knowing that the same critical eye has followed me and others in my situation  from my prior socio-religious world to my pagan religious world does upset me a bit: one of the most stifling aspects of my childhood was the people kindly taking me aside and telling me I needed to lose some weight. They were actually more insulting than the people who yelled comments about the shape and size of my derriere from pick-up trucks. Perhaps it would have made a difference if I had my elbow tugged on less frequently than once a day from a different person every time.  Evidently, since I was a nice girl, I didn't "deserve" to be fat, but since I was "fat" I "deserved" the insulting behavior. I know without asking I am not alone in this experience.

Although it upsets me, I can trace in part where this form of criticism re-appeared in modern paganism Gerald Gardner saw fit to create a Craft Law stating that a High Priestess should be physically beautiful, and young. Notably, no such requirement was made of a High Priest. Many groups, whether descended from Gardner or created seperately, have dropped these requirements. Placing demands on the body when the cause of those problems may well be outside of the control of the person is unfair, and fortunately more than a few pagan groups recognize this.  Aging is beyond the control of all the pagans I know, no matter how good their magick. Beauty can be created by many, but to create an illusion really cheats a group out of the unique qualities both visually and astrally that each person carries with him or herself.

         I contend that body image questions are one of the seperators among the pagan population, but, fortunately, not as much of a separator as it once was. Many women in particular have come to the pagan world to heal -- and many of those injuries come from the demands that our bodies look a certain way.  The pagan ideology I first encountered freed me from my own concepts of what the human body should look like, and re-focused me on how my body should feel. When we move our consciousness away from our own stereotypes of what is good and bad, and ask honest questions about the way we live, the question of body image is one more divider that can be removed from our community.

 Medea
 Elder, Shadowmoon Coven
 Mistress of the Coven Ezine

 

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Thanksgiving Prayer

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.

We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.

We return thanks to the sun, that has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of Her children.

 

Iroquois Prayer, adapted

 

(Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace)