Wednesday, 29 April 2009


Beltaine seems a good time to consider the Pagan hospital chaplains approach to not ignoring sex.

Needless to say, sexuality in hospitals is outlawed and at the same time absolutely everywhere. An entire genre of pornography is devoted to hospitals; male professionals are chaperoned so that they can’t perpetrate or be accused of impropriety; touching and altering the physical body is what general hospitals are all about; abusive responses to gender, sexual preference and sexuality bring many people into a psychiatric unit. People who enter hospitals are sexual beings whatever their diagnosis, prognosis or job description. Sex, like the Mysteries, is hidden in plain view, and because there is so much filth and abuse associated with sex, gender and sexuality no one dare say a word about it and all non-clinical touch is taboo.

Which is a very miserable and cowardly state of affairs with far-reaching effects.

The World Health Organization defines sexuality as a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. (18) Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles, and relationships. Although sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, and religious and spiritual factors.

In the literature, it is described as a dynamic process that has a psychosocial element. (5,11) Hospital admission may affect an individual's concept of his or her sexuality as it impinges on the individual's self-concept, self-esteem, and social relationships . . . Furthermore, it is clear from the literature that addressing clients' sexuality requires a multidisciplinary approach and is not the responsibility of a single professional, (4,13) yet the health care professions are ambiguous about the issue of addressing client sexuality.

Subhajit Sengupta, Dikaios Sakellariou

So how do Pagan chaplains address, without fear or bravura, the sexual nature of Pagan patients and our own? I’d suggest that we have at least two aims: to simply acknowledge that sexuality is part of wholeness, and not to make a fuss about it.

As part of the Imbolc ritual patients and I share includes some of Z Budapest’s inspiration. We dip two fingers in a bowl of milk and then touch our own forehead saying, “Lady, you bless my thoughts.” Then our lips, saying “Lady, you bless my speech.” Then our hearts, saying “Lady, you bless my feelings.” Then our genitals, saying “Lady, you bless my desires.” Then the ground, saying “Lady, you bless my life.” Our sex is as important as our speech or our feelings.

At Beltaine a drop of fragrant oil is massaged into the palm of the person next to us saying, “You are Goddess” to a woman and “You are God” to a man. The sensuality - the scent, the tactile experience, what we hear, what we say - of this small act can be profound and moving and we don’t talk about it it’s just something to think about, just as making eye contact, saying “May you never thirst,” and being passed a chalice of water is something to think about.

My way of dealing with it is to not initiate a conversation about it which is a fairly natural way of being, and to treat it as entirely unremarkable when someone else wants to talk about it, to remain grounded and to make the speaker the focus of attention rather than saying anything about myself or my views. So far, these conversations have been rare as hens’ teeth, partly a testing of what my response will be, partly a self-testing of their own response, to see if they can even allude to sexuality without something out of control occurring.

The great unspoken is rape and abuse. I’ll leave other, better-qualified people to discuss the incidence of rape and abuse and their effects, but there it is, shrieking and convulsing in the room with far too many people, men and women. It’s such a monster and requires such specialist attention that I never, ever even allude to it in a non-mythological manner. But I’ve found the myth of Persephone to have some potential.

Myths speak to and interact with our deep unconscious. There are so many layers of understanding in this myth that our unconscious can engage with, some of them potentially disturbing: if Hades is a God in charge of such a huge kingdom and has such power, and if Persephone seems eventually content to remain half the year with him, with her own power and dominion, then . . .

But to hear an archetypal story, perhaps to begin to feel less isolated, to see that rape occurs even to Goddesses, this is the very beginning, a potential foundation for positive growth. Is it any use to men? I don’t know. Men, being better placed than women to know what myths are healing for them, will know better than I.

Beltaine is here, everything is in blossom, we’re wearing fewer clothes and bearing some skin to the blessed Sun, wandering off from the confines of hearth and home. It affects us all no matter how ill or even disembodied we are: communication with the Otherworld is particularly possible now. We bring Beltaine with us, trailing the scent of hawthorn and the song of the blackbird into the ward along with our good, solid, sensual bodies. Simply by thinking about the Shadow of Beltaine, in naming some demons, we diminish some of their power and in doing so, we clear the path of the Goddess and the God so that they can perform their Mysteries with even greater joy and love.

Sengupta, S. Sakellariou, D. Sexuality and health care: are we training physical therapy professionals to address their clients' sexuality needs? Physical Therapy: Jan 2009

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