Pagans and Suicide

If you're suicidal, reach out for help. Photo Credit: Blend_Images/Blend Images/Getty

Please note that if you are someone with a history of suicidal thoughts and you find that reading about suicide is a trigger for you, you may wish to skip this article.

Because there is no Central Pagan Doctrine, or Big Book o’ Pagan Rules, it’s hard to say specifically what the “Pagan perspective” on suicide – or much of anything else – is. There’s not any sort of doctrinal perspective that is universal to all Pagans.

That having been said, there are a few things to think about, when we talk about suicidal feelings and/or actions.

The Cycle of Depression

A sociologist named Emile Durkheim completed a lengthy study on suicide and how it impacted not just individuals but society as a whole, and came up with an interesting theory linked to social structures. Based on his research, conducted in several European countries in the 19th century, Durkheim posited that the people most likely to commit suicide - by hanging, drowning, gunshot wounds, and other methods - were people who had more social freedom. Specifically, white men, Protestants, and unmarried single people were more likely to commit suicide than their Catholic and Jewish neighbors, women, or married individuals. In other words, according to Durkheim, societal groups that exercised more rigid control over their members seemed to have lower rates of suicide than groups in which more freedom and less responsibility was emphasized.

In Sable Aradia's brilliant and poignant article on Patheos, entitled The Downward Spiral – Depression and Suicide in Paganism, she says, "Statistically, Pagans are more likely to experience many of the risk factors than the average population. Most of us have suffered from feeling like black sheep; those who come from homes with opposing faiths, struggle with gender identity or practice alternate lifestyles are even more likely to experience this.

We tend to be working class people, whose education often outstrips our financial circumstances, leading to frustrated ambitions and debt. We are more likely than the average population to come from abusive backgrounds and suffer from neuroses or anxiety disorders. Pagan leaders are almost guaranteed to encounter someone who looks to them for guidance that struggles with this illness. And if you’ve got a diagnosis of a depressive disorder – at least you know you know you’re not alone!"

Personal Responsibility

In many Pagan paths, including but not limited to Wicca, there is the concept of personal responsibility. This means we make our choices – good or bad – and then we are responsible for the consequences of those actions. We are responsible for how our actions impact not only us, but those we might leave behind.

Some traditions of Wicca hold to the idea of “harm none,” so one might perhaps argue that the adage of harming none would preclude committing suicide – after all, the case could be made that killing oneself is a harmful act. It could also be viewed as harmful to the survivors, who must deal with the pain of their loved one’s death. Since many of us are Pagans who are non-Wiccans, the Harm None rule may be a moot point.

On the flip side of this, suicide is something that people do not typically choose lightly – it is usually an action of last resort, something which is done when the emotional or physical pain becomes too much to bear.

Keep in mind that self-harm or self-injury is not necessarily an indication of suicidal ideation. Self-injury is the term used in reference to deliberate acts that harm the self -- cutting, intentional bruising, infliction of burns - and these acts are often non-suicidal in nature.

What About the Afterlife?

Most Pagan religions disavow any notion of punishment in the afterlife. While there may be some Karmic lessons that hold true, it’s unlikely that someone who is a Pagan would believe someone will be punished for the act of committing suicide. Obviously, this depends on the belief systems of the individual.

Much like other controversial issues – abortion, the death penalty, etc. – there is no one Pagan perspective on this matter. The viewpoints are as varied as the people who follow Pagan traditions. It’s also possible that even an individual Pagan might have conflicting viewpoints on the subject – for instance, someone may be opposed to suicide in general but support it if chosen by a terminally ill individual.

How to Get Help

While most Wiccan and Pagan leaders are effective and compassionate spiritual counselors, the majority are not trained in treating someone who is considering suicidal actions. Please seek professional help in the appropriate venue. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide – Pagan or not – please take the time to call the Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.