There’s a persistent idea rolling around magical communities that people who are ill or taking certain medications cannot practice magic. Particularly for anyone suffering from a mental illness or chronic illness. I have had so many students come to me worried that their medical situation would prevent them from ever being able to practice witchcraft, and their frustration and unhappiness with this perceived limitation is visceral. People who suffer from medical problems already have enough limitations without people putting even more limitations on their ability to use magic!
I cannot tell you the relief that these people express when I tell them that it’s possible for someone in their shoes to practice magic. I know that common knowledge tells us that practicing magic in these situations is dangerous, but this kind of cut and dry generalization doesn’t take into account the incredible scope of variety that occurs from one situation to the next. If you have ever wondered if your diagnosis or medical treatment should stop you from practicing magic, this blog post is for you. Even if you aren’t in this situation, this blog post is for you. It’s time that we remove the stigma and ableism around practicing magic with a less than perfect bill of health.
Why This Causes Concern
Before we can refute the arguments made against practicing magic while ill or on medications, we have to understand these arguments and where they are coming from. In some cases the arguments are made from a place of well-meaning concern, but not always. It’s important to recognize that any argument made within this discussion can be used either from a place of genuine concern or from a place of ableist prejudice, whether consciously or unconsciously. Often, the people making these arguments have no hands-on experience with the illnesses or medications that they are taking issue with. This is important to keep in mind! Knowing the background of the people in the discussion and where they are getting their information from is vital to understanding the nuances behind each side’s opinions.
So why do so many people think that you cannot practice magic while dealing with mental and physical health problems? In some cases, the concern is well-founded. I would not suggest that someone with untreated schizophrenia involve themselves in any form of magic. The line between spiritual input and hallucination can be non existent for someone in this situation. In other cases, there’s no good reason to tell someone to avoid the practice of magic. For example, a person who has anxiety or depression and is seeking treatment and or taking medications for their condition should have no problem practicing magic.
Usually, the first argument that comes up when discussing this subject is that taking on magical forces of any variety while in an “impaired state” is dangerous to the person’s well-being. Often proponents of this idea believe that if a person practices magic while low on energy or under the influence of pharmaceutical drugs that they will not be able to handle the rigors of magical practice. Again, the major problem I see with this argument is that it is so generalized as to be completely worthless on an individual basis.
What is too much for someone on the spectrum who has trouble with high stimulus situations may be ideal for a person with ADHD who needs extra stimulus. What is too much energy expenditure for a person with fibromyalgia might be the exact right amount of effort for a person with bipolar 2 who needs to feel like they are putting hard work into something. The generalization that happens when we throw all mental and physical disorders into one giant category makes these arguments no more than a simple exclusionary clause because it’s too much work to teach and help people figure out how to adapt their magical practice to their capabilities.
In many situations, we can blame this persistent myth on covens and group-based occult practices. Many of these groups have a specific, standardized way of functioning. Rituals happen at a certain time, in a certain way, and they don’t deviate much. There’s not a lot of room to adjust the mode and method of ritual and spell work to make room for a person with mental or physical limitations. In some cases, it’s simply that the particular type of magic being practiced is incompatible with certain mental and physical health problems. In other situations, it may be outright ableism from the members of the group who could make adjustments within their motive working quite easily but who decide not to.
While these ideas may have begun in group and coven style magical communities, they certainly haven’t stayed in those communities. Over the last couple of decades, magic has gone from being something that is learned and performed in small, fairly secretive groups to being widely available to learn and practice as an individual without ever needing to seek out in-person contact with other witches. As this change has happened, many of the beliefs that come out of the small group style setting have simply translated one to one into our current solitary witchcraft environment. What may have been unworkable in a group setting is now considered unworkable at the individual level, even when there is no direct correlation between these two situations.
Yes, You CAN Practice Magic!
The solution to this is simply to take each argument and shine a light on it and see if it holds up to scrutiny within this new context. So, can you practice witchcraft even if you have chronically low energy because of your health problems? Probably so! You may have to adjust the kinds of magic that you can do on a regular basis or find ways to source energy from outside of yourself. You may need to practice much smaller simpler forms of magic or you may need to practice more infrequently than someone else perhaps would. Low energy is a very real limitation, but it’s one that we can work around within the craft. You may have to focus more on protective magics since the energy expenditure of having to banish a malicious spirit might be too much for you. Or you might choose to focus on methods of magic that can help to boost your energy on a daily basis.
I’ve known witches who struggle with low energy, who focused a huge amount of their practice on storing energy for when they needed it. This particular witch would use crystals and jewelry to stash away bits of energy when she had excess energy or she would stash away bits of energy when she found something that was generating a type of energy that she found usable in her magic, maybe from a waterfall or from a tree that was particularly willing to work with her in this way. When she needed a boost in energy, she could simply grab one of her crystals and draw on it to help her get through whatever it was that was draining her at that time.
This is one reason why I find the argument against working with magic while ill insane! There are so many ways that we can go about utilizing magic to improve our lives, especially in situations where we are struggling. Magic can be incredibly useful in helping a person with mental or physical illnesses cope with and function in their life. It makes no sense to say that magic is off-limits for them! The very limitations that are being touted as reasons why these people should avoid magic can actually be improved upon with magic!
What about medications? Especially in the case of psychiatric medications, things like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, Adderall, and other medications specifically aimed at altering the functioning of our minds? Is it okay to perform magic while taking these drugs? The answer, much like our previous answers, depends on the individual. It depends on the person in question. It depends on the specific drug that they’re taking. It depends on how this person feels on a day-to-day basis while using this medication. This is not something that I can give a one-off answer for because every situation is going to be different.
Some people believe that any type of psychiatric drug disconnects you from your ability to feel the spiritual and magical realms that we work with as witches. In some cases, this may be true! Some drugs can numb the emotions, which can make it very difficult to access emotional sources of magical power. Some drugs create a kind of mental fog that can make it very difficult to focus. But while these drugs may do that for some individuals, they will not have that effect on others. Psychiatric drugs as a whole are well known for affecting individuals in incredibly varied ways. There’s a reason why it often takes a lot of trial and error to find a drug that works for one specific person. It’s because every single drug affects people differently! What cures one person’s depression may make another person’s depression a million times worse.
Essentially, we cannot say one way or another whether psychiatric drugs do or don’t impact a person’s ability to work magic. However, I find it particularly hypocritical that the use of mind-altering substances is well known and widely accepted within the magical community as long as those substances are recreational. We have no problems with people using alcohol or marijuana or psychedelic mushrooms or ayahuasca or flying ointments to alter their mental state and to remove the inhibitions of the logical, rational mind within a ritual setting. The argument that a person needs to be 100% sober and unaltered mentally to perform magic is simply not true in any magical practice. We utilize drugs for altering our mental state all the time in magic. For many magicians, the altered state of mind is where all the magic happens! There is no reason outside of plain and simple prejudice to draw a line between these recreational mind-altering substances and medical mind-altering substances.
Finally, these psychiatric drugs are not just used for the hell of it. These medications come with a lot of side effects, most people don’t take them for fun. In many situations, these drugs are not simply making life easier for people, they are making life possible for people. These drugs can be lifesaving if you are struggling with a mental problem that threatens your ability to continue functioning and living your day-to-day life. I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that any drug that keeps you alive and able to live your life in a semi-stable way is going to make you a better magician if your alternative is having your life spiral out of control or death. I don’t know many people who can work effective magic while their entire life is in chaos or while their brain is trying to tell them that it’s not worth staying alive. There is no good reason to suggest that a person subject themselves to these sorts of conditions to be able to practice magic.
If you are taking a medication that makes you more able to function in your life, to take part in the everyday activities that make up a healthy happy life, and keeps you from giving in to the destructive impulses that may come with a serious mental illness, then that medication is improving your ability to do magic. Hands down. There’s no contest here. If your medication allows you to function in your life normally where you would not otherwise be able to do so, that medication makes you a better magician. Yes, even if that medication might make it harder to feel your magical workings. Yes, even if that medication makes it harder to feel your emotions. Yes, even if that medication interferes with your extrasensory capabilities. It is still possible to work magic, even when your normal ways of sensing magic are impaired in some way. If the medications you are taking are working for you in the context of your health and your life, then there’s a way to make it work for you in the context of your magical practice. You do not have to give up a medication that is working well for you simply because it means you need to change the way you practice magic.
How Do You Feel?
For people who are living this reality on a day-to-day basis, the question of “can you practice magic?” has a simple answer. The answer is yes! The questions of whether you should practice magic and how to go about adjusting that magic are more complex. These are questions that you will have to consider on an individual basis and nobody can answer these questions except for you and, potentially, a therapist or medical professional who you trust.
As I said earlier, some illnesses can be a reason to stay away from magic unless you are getting adequate treatment and have the go-ahead from your medical team to do so. This would be anyone who suffers from hallucinations, psychosis, paranoia, and delusional thinking. These conditions can make it difficult to ground yourself in reality, and it can be very easy to mistake something that is mentally fabricated for a magical or spiritual event. In these situations, get treatment and discuss your magical practice with a trusted and open-minded mental health professional.
For everyone else, it’s important to be able to take stock of your physical and mental state and judge how comfortable and safe you feel practicing magic on a day-to-day basis. There will very likely be aspects of your magical practice that need to change to accommodate your ebbs and flows. You will need to find ways to practice magic that fits your reality and your life as it is right now. Below are a few questions that can help you determine whether you are in a good place to practice magic currently and what kind of magic you are capable of right now. As many people who struggle with mental and physical illness know, your condition can fluctuate hugely from day to day so It’s a good idea to make a practice of checking in with yourself and reevaluating regularly so that you can create a sustainable magical practice for yourself.
1. Do you feel “all there”?
Some drugs can create a sense of disconnection, brain fog, confusion, or other mental lapses that can make magic difficult. There are physical conditions that can also create symptoms like brain fog, confusion, memory problems, etc. It’s important to be able to gauge your mental state accurately and to know how comfortable you are working in a magical space while you are in that condition. Notice that I have not said that these symptoms and side effects would inherently prevent you from doing magic. On the contrary! Something like having lapses in memory or forgetfulness can actually enhance the effectiveness of some forms of magic. Sigils are an excellent example of this. When working sigils, the magician ideally forgets the point and purpose of the sigil thus relegating the magical process to the subconscious mind. A person who struggles to remember things would very likely find sigil magic to be easier and more powerful than a person with a very strong memory.
In other cases, you may find that these changes in your mental state do cause some level of disruption to your magical working. Brain fog can make it difficult to do even very simple tasks, so on a day where you are struggling with brain fog it may be better to put off magical practice until another day. Conversely, you may simply decide that an appropriate magical practice for a brain fog day is something like a ritual for accepting the present moment and showing yourself compassion despite the frustrations that come along with brain fog. It’s up to you to determine what feels good to incorporate into your practice and what doesn’t.
I would suggest writing down a list of all the mental symptoms that you experience from brain fog to memory problems to anxiety or depression. For each symptom consider the severity that you typically experience it at and decide whether you can or would like to be able to do magic while experiencing that symptom or if it’s a deal-breaker. If you have decided that you would still like to practice magic then put some thought into what kind of magic would best suit that state of mind. Consider both the strengths and weaknesses of that particular state of being and also what would help with your sense of well-being while experiencing those symptoms. It’s good to have both the ability to practice magic normally and also to have the option to practice magic specifically to improve your well-being in the moment.
2. Do you have the energy?
Another important thing to consider is your physical state of being. Low energy is something that affects many people with mental and chronic illnesses both because of physical struggles and because of things like anxiety or depression which can cause lethargy and exhaustion. It’s important to be able to judge your level of energy for the day and to moderate your magical practice to match.
For some people, this means that when you’re having a particularly low energy day, you simply do less energy-intensive forms of magic. For other people, this is going to mean building your practice around consistently bottom-of-the-barrel levels of energy. Either way, know that it is entirely possible for you to practice magic comfortably at whatever level of energy you have. Whether you want to expend that energy, however, is another matter entirely. If you only have a very small amount of energy to manage your daily life, then it may not make sense for you to expend that energy on practicing magic when simply showering and feeding yourself that day is going to be a struggle. On the flip side, some people find that their magical practice actually feeds into their energy. It’s something that they can do for themselves that makes them feel better and raises their energy level. You will have to judge for yourself whether magic drains you or feeds into you, and you may find that different kinds of magical practice affect you in different ways. Again, this is all highly individual so it is up to you to figure out how to create a practice that fits your reality as it is currently.
There are many other physical symptoms that might disrupt your magical practice, and I would encourage you to go through the same process that we did in the previous step with these physical symptoms. Write down the symptoms that you experience regularly and consider the severity of each one and whether it will prevent you from practicing magic or not and then decide what kinds of magic would be most suited to that particular state of being for you. For example, chronic migraine suffers will very likely not want to practice magic during a migraine! On the other hand, someone who suffers from migraines might be able to create a magical migraine kit ahead of time that includes things like charged peppermint oil, stones that are particularly calming, or sigils to ward away loud noises and disruptions that they can pull out and use as soon as a migraine starts to hit them.
3. Are your coordination or motor functions impaired?
Lastly, some illnesses and medications can create difficulties in a person’s coordination and motor function. In situations like these, the most important consideration is whether you can perform the magic you are interested in performing without causing damage to yourself or other. It may not be the best idea to try carving a candle when your arthritis is flaring up and making it hard to hold on to the knife. Likewise, if your hands shake, you might struggle to draw a sigil and would be better off using verbal incantations or something similar.
At all points in this deliberation process, your safety and comfort should be the top priority. Figuring out how to moderate a magical practice to allow you to continue with witchcraft safely and comfortably despite mental or physical problems is the goal. People who struggle with mental and physical illnesses have to push themselves way too hard to keep up with day-to-day life already. There’s no reason to push yourself beyond your limits in your witchcraft.
Your craft should be something safe, usable, and perfectly tailored to your own needs. Don’t let other people’s ideas of what you can and can’t do in your craft stop you. Your diagnosis does not mean that you cannot be a witch. It simply means that you have to design a magical practice that suits you and your life and that supports you in improving your life and well-being in real and tangible ways. That’s what magic is for, after all!