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Paganism, Disability, and Me

Louisa Chisholm-Kelly

Every facet of our lives as human beings influences us and changes our personalities, needs and our belief structures. What you have been through, your education, your hobbies, your passions, your family and your friends add new facets and change you as a person. As a result of every change, every facet, different aspects of our faith are emphasised and different theories become more prominent.

Our experiences of disability are as different as our fingerprints, so it stands to reason that our experiences of disability would effect our religious beliefs in highly individual ways. My path and my beliefs are my own, but in sharing my story here I hope to maybe help others to find their own way.

A white woman with brown eyes looks towards the right of the frame. She has long brown hair with a red braid swept to one side, a nose piercing, multiple ear piercings, and visible tattoos of red lilies and green ivy on her shoulder. She is wearing a black off-shoulder top, and a silver necklace.
Author Louisa

I live with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, EDS. It is a genetic condition that causes the collagen in my body to be made badly. Collagen is a major ingredient in our bodies, so when it doesn't work the way it should it means that many parts of my body don't work the way they should either. My heart, digestive system, skin and joints are all affected, amongst others, and I live with severe pain and fatigue. From the outside it goes mostly unnoticed, until a joint dislocates and I land on the floor in a heap and have to find my way to A&E, or I'm seen using mobility aids and various supports and straps.

I was born with my disability, but while there were signs and problems from the beginning, it didn't really affect me until I was in my late 20's. My life was full. I had a day job I loved, I was a platform medium and a very active member of my local, and the wider, Pagan community. On top of that I spent every spare moment I had immersed in the live music scene. A difficult and unexpected chain of events meant that I went from full steam ahead to spending 22 hours a day in bed. It took me years, and many harsh learning curves, to build my life back up to where I am today. I live on a tightrope, with everything planned and timed down to the last minute. Every activity has to be paid back with double the amount of rest time, and every injury or heath event knocks me back to my bed for weeks on end.

When you have to rest a lot, you give yourself an inordinate amount of time to think. At first I was very angry, I spent a lot of time stuck questioning why this was happening to me. I turned to my religion for answers, and found a mess of loud confusing voices, really bad advice and all sorts of weird alternative medical practitioners vying for my money. The noise meant that I retreated away from my Pagan community, and by default away from Paganism itself. I found myself alone in the wilderness, trying to come to terms with a new way of life and wondering what the future held for me, or if I had a future at all.

The thing is, Paganism wasn't going to go quietly.

It started with signs. A feather, a song on the radio, things going missing, and books being open on certain pages. Things that can be ignored in isolation, but all together feel like you're being pushed. Then the dreams began. Encounters with talking animals lead to conversations with ancestors. As my health stabilised, I was able to meditate again and the dream encounters became more detailed conversations had through journeying.

Piece by piece I had rebuilt my faith and uncovered a distinctly Norse slant. The mists of my future began to clear, and a new path had shown itself. I joined with my Mother, a well established healer, rune reader and teacher, and used my psychic gifts to help others gain access to their own gifts, their ancestors and their past lives.

My own beliefs on life, and why things play out as they do, are fully centred around fate. I believe that everything is determined and agreed to before we are born. There are set points on our paths that can't be changed, and that includes the people we will meet and the things that will happen. It all creates the experiences and understandings that we will take with us into our next life. How we get there is in a constant state of flux, and sometimes the fates need to intervene when we stray too far from our path.

Photograph looking up towards a triangle of blue sky amongst green, leafy trees. The sun can be seen off-centre towards the right, shining through the branches. There are some white clouds in the sky.
Photo by Louisa Chisholm-Kelly

I believe I strayed too far from my path. My life had become chaotic, it was moving too fast and I was going in circles instead of forging ahead, so a road block, a few road blocks, were put in place by the fates. My disability caused life to slow down enough to create the time and space that was needed to set me back on my path. It has created the understanding and empathy that I feel I need for my future. My path may not be as easy as I would have liked, but it has gifted me with the most supportive husband I could ever ask for, and created the circumstances that brought me to the North East. Something that was impossible with the way I was going before. Without that I wouldn't be writing for Pagans Of The North Magazine, or in a position to work with the Pagan Federation and speak to a wider audience than I could ever have thought possible. Hopefully this will all allow my words and experience to reach the people that need to hear them the most.

Disability can cause huge distress and disruption. Both my physical and my spiritual needs are very different now than they were before, but I am proof that with accommodations and patience we can find our paths again and we can keep moving forward.

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