Since beginning my journey a few years ago into the world of (Neo)Paganism I’ve often wondered about the seemingly disproportionate number of Pagans I’ve met (both in the “real” world and online) who either have a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (A.S.), or are self proclaimed Aspies based on their own observations and knowledge of the condition; knowledge and understanding gained often because their own children have been diagnosed with A.S. or related conditions on the Autism Spectrum. I also include here Pagans who have “quirky” behaviour and also have siblings or other family members with the condition (a strong indicator that they too may have A.S. or some other Autism Spectrum Disorder [A.S.D.]) and those Pagan individuals who have soooo many of the traits of A.S. that are obvious to others “in the know” but they themselves haven’t got a clue and continue through life wondering why they don’t quite fit in, sometimes expressing the view that they feel very alone, like they’re on the wrong planet. Yeah, I know “wrong planet” is an Aspie cliché but I really do know a person who said this about themself (if only they knew how apt their choice of words was!). This pagan person has a zillion traits of A.S., some quite severe, yet they haven’t got a clue. I feel that this person could be helped a lot if they knew, but how do you tell a grown forty-something adult, “Hey, I think you’re an Aspie”? In many ways having the knowledge and an understanding of the condition comes as a relief – you no longer feel so alone and you can build on the gifts and strengths of A.S. to turn it into a positive. However, telling someone that you think they might have A.S., if not presented the right way and with the right information, could do more harm than good. So for now, I remain silent. Perhaps in Paganism people with this different “way of being” find companionship and acceptance with more like-minded individuals than in mainstream society …and by like-minded I don’t just mean an interest in Witchcraft etc.
But, of course not all Pagans are Aspies and vice versa, and as in any “community” (and I use that term very loosely) there are always those ignorant morons who will bully and harrass anybody they see as different or vulnerable, even when they are made aware of why that person might be “different”. Unfortunately far too many Pagans are not the kind, tolerant and spiritual people, or the healers you would expect them to be given the path they have chosen, and they can descend into an orgy of name-calling, vicious gossip, false accusations and character assassination of people they barely know, and in some cases have never even met. Group hysteria and the pack hunting mentality seems to urge them onwards as they go in for the kill. It’s all so damned hypocritical! …and totally in violation of the Wiccan Rede or any other credo of good behaviour or civility that has been adopted by the many Pagan paths. I’ve witnessed this both online and in “real life” as friendships have been destroyed and people on both sides hurt, all because of miscommunication and misunderstandings that in one way or another centred around a person with A.S. who was being victimised. Anyway, I digress (just needed to vent a little)…
While looking for info specifically on this topic I came across an article written in 1989 by Rosemary Guiley (and updated in 2008) called “A Brief Biography of Isaac Bonewits” at http://www.neopagan.net/IB_Bio.html …
Around 1985 Bonewits began regularly discussing the need to provide social services for domestic and personal problems and drug dependencies. Neopagans, he points out, represent a cross section of the population, and such problems cut across religious lines. Bonewits estimates that as many as 80 percent of Neopagans come from “non[‘dys-‘]functional family” backgrounds. Neopagans, he observes, are brighter and more artistic than average, but also, therefore, “more neurotic.” [He now thinks much of it may be related to “Aspergers Syndrome”] The community has been quick to address these social issues with programs [such as various “Pagan 12-Step Programs”].
Following a link re the “Pagan 12-Step Programs” led to an article written by Isaac Bonewits in 1996 and updated in 2006 called “Pagans in Recovery” at http://www.neopagan.net/PIR.html …
“I suspect that most of us in our overlapping subcultures — Neopagans, science fiction fans, renn-faire roadies, medievalists, computer techies, Mensa members, etc. — suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome (“A.S.”). This is a multi-syndrome subtype of mild autism, characterized by:
- high intelligence and creativity,
- mild to severe Attention Deficit Disorder (which I prefer to think of as “Attention Dynamic Difference”),
- usually with “Hyperactivity,”
- often with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ( “O.C.D.”), and
- perhaps most importantly, “dysthemia,” which is a difficulty in understanding the non-literal content of human communication, such as facial expressions, body language, voice tonalities and other social cues.
When you combine all those characteristics, A.S. seems to equal I.N.S. (or “Incipient Nerd Syndrome”) and much of the bizarre personal behavior and miscommunication that plagues our communities suddenly becomes understandable — not to mention the oh-so-common “cluelessness” that characterizes many of our best known members!”
Hee hee – I.N.S. – love it! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a nerd, LOL. For a good definition and description of the evolution of the term “nerd” go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerd
Another interesting connection with A.S.D., not directly to Paganism but with spirituality and sensitivity to the paranormal, has been made by William Stillman in his books “Autism and the God Connection” and “The Soul of Autism”. Some quotes about Stillman (who has A.S.), his work and his books from his website http://www.williamstillman.com …
As an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild “cousin” of autism, Stillman’s message of reverence and respect has touched thousands nationally through his acclaimed autism workshops and private consultations. In his work to support those who love and care for individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, Stillman sets a tone for our collective understanding of the autistic experience in ways that are unprecedented. Autism should not be defined as an “affliction endured by sufferers,” but as a truly unique and individual experience to be respected and appreciated by all. In so doing, Stillman highlights the exquisite sensitivities of our most valuable, wise and loving “teachers”.”
Autism and the God Connection is a formidable challenge to simplistic explanations of autism. The clinical stories in this book raise significant questions about the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain. This book is about more than neurological issues; it is about our nature, our origin and destiny—in short, our connection with the Absolute, however named.”
“An intensely rare and innovative book! William Stillman has opened the door to a most intriguing partnership between the treatment of autism and metaphysical studies. The personal stories of autistics as narrated in this book parallel the ‘multisensory’ experiences described by intuitives, mystics and psychics, and call to mind the abilities of shaman who are able to traverse between the world of spirit and this physical plane. What an amazing realization that those long considered mentally challenged may actually be far more advanced in terms of spiritual perception, and it is we who must strive to advance to their level of understanding.”
In Autism and the God Connection, William Stillman chartered new territory by documenting extraordinary accounts of spiritual giftedness in those with autism—persons often deemed intellectually inferior. But more remains to be told. For those of us not privy to the ease with which many autistics tap their divine resources, we may ask, “How does it work?” Stillman’s new book, The Soul of Autism, responds by exploring the following:
- Why the unaccountable and dramatic rise in autism—with no single known cause—is a necessary part of our spiritual evolution.
- What is the secret component that makes autistic telepathy possible for us all if we only avail ourselves of it?
- If certain autistics communicate with animals, what are the animals saying, and how might that hold relevance for the rest of us?
- Perceiving deceased grandparents in Spirit is not an uncommon experience for many autistics, but what implies reciprocation in these highly unusual relationships that, curiously enough, center upon grandfathers?
- How might we tap our multisensory giftedness like those with autism have? The author shares seven steps he developed to undergo a spiritual transformation (from which he escaped a brush with suicidal thoughts), and demonstrates how he applies it with glowing affirmations.
In pursuing answers, The Soul of Autism explores these aspects of spirituality through an autistic prism. We all hold the capacity for unlimited possibilities, but how we do it is what we may come to know from those who do it naturally. We have much to be learning from our autistic friends about transcendence rising, a new humanity accessible for all. The Soul of Autism illuminates the way.”
It seems there could be some sort of correlation between A.S. and Paganism and others have noticed it too, and although Stillman speaks of spirituality in general, many of the spiritual gifts he speaks of are more acceptable within the many Pagan belief systems than most other “mainstream” religions. So, maybe I’m not imagining this connection afterall, LOL.