I am reading Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World, her account of her encounter with cancer. She is terrified of chemo. But a talk with her therapist shifts her entire perspective:
“The chemo is not for you. It is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father [who incested her], it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capacities of your body and soul for healing. Your job is to welcome the chemo as an empathetic warrior, who is coming in to rescue your innocence by killing the perpetrator who got inside you. You have many bodies; new ones will be born out of this transformational time of love and care. When you feel nauseous or terrible, just imagine how hard the chemo is fighting on your behalf and on behalf of all women’s bodies, restoring wholeness, innocence, peace. Welcome the chemo as empathetic warrior.”
I love this paradigm shift.
My good friend Margot was suddenly diagnosed with cancer which has metastasized. She just finished a round of chemotherapy but says she may be on chemo for the rest of her life. She asked the Pagan community to work magic for her because she saw how Patricia Monaghan had died quietly and in pain, not availing herself of the resources of the Tribe.
When I do magic for Margot, I call on the chemo to kill the cancer. This is a serious Call—the Threefold Law says that anything you do comes back to you three times over. I have only outright cursed someone once and that initiated one of the worst years of my life. I had to keep checking in with myself about this Call. Is it the right thing to do?
Yes. In the mystery of lifeanddeath, we are permitted to fight for our lives. We are permitted to resist death. We are also encouraged to embrace death on our own terms, in our own way, according to our own lights. But if we want to live, we can struggle to keep on living—not rejecting death but engaging with life. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. And when the time for fighting is over, we can death in the way that seems best. If we are so fortunate to have the power to do so.
Modern medicine is obsessed with staving off death. It prolongs suffering because it views death as defeat, death as enemy. Witches and other Pagans have a more nuanced view, where death is as sacred as life. It is another rite of passage, as sacred as birth or menarche or marriage. It is part of the Whole.
When we embrace things like chemo, which causes temporary suffering for the sake of the greater health of the body, we engage in the powerful mystery of lifeanddeath. We partake of the goddess Kali—destruction so that creation may begin anew. It is not suffering for the sake of suffering, as is so often the case in Christianity, but a means to an end.
In the initiation of a Witch, we are asked, “Art thou willing to suffer to learn?” I always mentally amend that with the disclaimer that we can learn just as well from love and positive experiences, but the question is really about discipline. Are you willing to get down and dirty? Follow the path wherever it leads, no matter what light gets shined on your shadow self? Fully embrace all aspects of your being? Undergo constant and sometimes painful transformation?
“To dare, to will, to know, to keep silent.” These are the watchwords of the Witch. In this case, the challenge is “to dare.” Embrace the chemo. Let it purge you of the violations, all those experiences which stand of the way of your being truly alive. Embrace the empathetic warrior.