Healing Community: Pagan Cultural Models and Experiences in Seeking Well-Being


  • Kimberly D. Kirner California State University Northridge




Health, healing, Pagan culture, prejudice


The Pagan Health Survey Project originated in 2010 in response to an American Public Health Association call for papers on minority religions and health. 1,598 respondents from all regions of the United States provided insight into the ways Pagans think about health and healing, their care-seeking patterns, and their experiences as they navigate the biomedical health care system. This treatment of the data weaves a practice-oriented story of one important aspect of Pagan culture – healing – describing the commonalities found throughout Pagan traditions as they are instantiated in individual journeys toward well-being and wholeness. The author critically examines the biomedical health care model from the perspective of the survey respondents, and then turns the same lens on Paganism itself, providing suggestions for new ways to address prejudice and to organize to meet people’s health needs.

Author Biography

Kimberly D. Kirner, California State University Northridge

Kimberly Kirner is an assistant professor of anthropology at California State University-Northridge, specializing in environmental anthropology, applied cognitive anthropology, and medical anthropology.


Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Barnes, Patricia, Barbara Bloom, and Richard Nahin. “CDC National Health Statistics Report (12): Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use among Adults and Children,” http://nccam.nih.gov/sites/nccam.nih.gov/files/news/nhsr12.pdf (accessed September 1, 2012).

Berger, Helen A. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Berger, Helen A., E.A. Leach and L.S. Shaffer. Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

Bhugra Dinesh, and Kamaldeep Bhui. “Psychotherapy for Ethnic Minorities: Issues, Context, and Practice.” British Journal of Psychotherapy 14, no. 3 (1998): 310–26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0118.1998.tb00385.x.

Blain, Jenny, Douglas Ezzy and Graham Harvey, eds. Researching Paganisms. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004.

Colby, Benjamin N. “Culture Grammars.” Science 187, no. 4180 (1975): 913–18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.187.4180.913.

Crowley, Vivianne. “Healing in Wicca.” In Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Healing, Identity, and Empowerment, edited by Wendy Griffin, 151–64. (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2000).

D’Andrade, Roy. The Development of Cognitive Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139166645.

D’Andrade, Roy, and Claudia Strauss, eds. Human Motives and Cultural Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139166515.

Durkheim, Emile. The Rules of Sociological Method. New York: The Free Press, 1936.

Elliott, Charles. Be Patient with Me: I’m Trapped in the American Sickness System. N.p.: 2010.

Frake, Charles O. Language and Cultural Description. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1980.

Fuller, Bruce, Susan D. Holloway, Maryless Rambaud and Constanza Eggers-Pierola. “How Do Mothers Choose Child Care: Alternative Cultural Models in Poor Neighborhoods.” Sociology of Education 69, no. 2 (1986): 83–104. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2112800.

Grof, Stanislov, and Christina Grof. Spiritual Emergency. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1989.

——. The Stormy Search for Self. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1991.

Hamilton, Jennifer L., and Jeffrey P. Levine. “Neo-Pagan Patients’ Preferences Regarding Physician Discussion of Spirituality.” Family Medicine 38, no. 2 (2006): 83–84.

Harper, Susan. “All Cool Women Should Be Bisexual: Female Bisexual Identity in an American NeoPagan Community.” Journal of Bisexuality 10 (2010): 79–107. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15299711003609724.

Hathaway, William L. “Religious Diversity in the Military Clinic: Four Cases.” Military Psychology 18, no. 3 (2006): 247–57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15327876mp1803_5.

Holland Dorothy, and Naomi Quinn, eds. Cultural Models in Language and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Hutton, Ronald. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Kessler, Ronald C., D.B. Davis, D.F. Foster, M.I. Van Rompay, E.E. Walters, S.A. Wilkey, T.J. Kaptchuk and D.M. Eisenberg. “Long Term Trends in the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies in the United States.” Annals of Internal Medicine 135 (2001): 262–68. http://dx.doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-135-4-200108210-00011.

Klitzman, Robert L., and Jason D. Greenberg. “Patterns of Communication Between Gay and Lesbian Patients and Their Health Care Providers.” Journal of Homosexuality 42, no. 4 (2002): 66–75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J082v42n04_04.

Koss-Chioino, Joan D. “Spiritual Transformation, Relation and Radical Empathy: Core Components of the Ritual Healing Process.” Transcultural Psychiatry 43, no. 4 (2006): 652–70. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1363461506070789.

Kronenfeld, David B. Culture, Society, and Cognition: Collective Goals, Values, Action, and Knowledge. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2008. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/9783110211481.

Lo, Hung-Tat, and Kenneth P. Fung. “Culturally Competent Psychotherapy.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 48, no. 3 (2003): 161–70.

Magliocco, Sabina. Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. http://dx.doi.org/10.9783/9780812202700.

Makadon, Harvey J. “Ending LGBT Invisibility in Health Care: The First Step in Ensuring Equitable Care.” Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine 78, no. 4 (2011): 220–24. http://dx.doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.78gr.10006.

Meyer, Ian H. “Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence.” Psychological Bulletin 129, no. 5. (2003): 674–97. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674.

Mijares, “Sharon G. “Tales of the Goddess: Healing Metaphors for Women.” In Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom: Psychological Healing Practices from the World’s Religious Traditions, edited by Sharon G. Mijares, 71–95. New York: Haworth, 2003.

Moodley, Roy, and Stephen Palmer. Race, Culture, and Psychotherapy. London: Routledge, 2006.

Moodley, Roy, and Patsy Sutherland. “Psychic Retreats in Other Places: Clients Who Seek Healing with Traditional Healers and Psychotherapists.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly 23, no. 3 (2010): 267–82. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2010.505748.

Mukhopadhyay, Carol C. “Testing a Decision Process Model of the Sexual Division of Labor in the Family.” Human Organization 43, no. 3 (1984): 227–42.

Neville, Stephen, and Mark Henrickson. “Perceptions of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People of Primary Healthcare Services.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 55, no. 4 (2006):407–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.03944.x.

Noble, Vicki. “Letting Nature Take Its Course.” Women and Therapy 24 (2001): 193–208. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J015v24n03_12.

O’Hare-Lavin, Mary E. “Finding a ‘Lower, Deeper Power’ for Women in Recovery.” Counseling and Values 44 (2000): 198–212. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-007X.2000.tb00172.x.

Orion, Loretta. Never Again the Burning Times: Paganism Revived. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1995.

Pacquiao, Dula F. “Nursing Care of Vulnerable Populations Using a Framework of Cultural Competence, Social Justice, and Human Rights.” Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession 28(1-2) (2008): 189–197.

——. “The Relationship Between Cultural Competence Education and Increasing Diversity in Nursing Schools and Practice Settings.” Journal of Transcultural Nursing 18, no. 1 (2007): 28S–37S. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1043659606295679.

Perlstein, Marcia. “A Spiritual Coming Out: The Use of Ritual in A Psychology Practice.” Women and Therapy 24 (2001): 175–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J015v24n03_11.

Pike, Sarah. Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

——. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Poulin, Patricia A., and William West. “Holistic Healing, Paradigm Shift, and the New Age.” In Integrating Traditional Healing Practices into Counseling and Psychotherapy, edited by Roy Moodley and William West, 257–68. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE, 2005. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452231648.n22.

Seymour, Estelle. “Pagan Approaches to Healing.” In Integrating Traditional Healing Practices into Counseling and Psychotherapy, edited by Roy Moodley and William West, 233–45. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE, 2005. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452231648.n20.

Sheffy, Rakefet. “Models and Habituses: Problems in the Idea of Cultural Repertoires.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 24, no. 1 (1997): 35–47.

Smith, Brandy, and Sharon Home. “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) Experiences with Earth-Spirited Faith.” Journal of Homosexuality 52, nos. 3–4 (2007): 235–48. http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J082v52n03_11.

Spiegel, Stanley.”The Utilization and Investigation of ‘Luck’ in Psychotherapy.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 29, no. 1 (1993): 173–80. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00107530.1993.10746803.

Vontress, Clemmont E. “Cross-Cultural Counseling in the 21st Century.” International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling 23, no. 2 (2001): 83–97. http://dx.doi.org/10.1023/A:1010677807232.

——. “Traditional Healing in Africa: Implications for Cross-Cultural Counseling.” Journal of Counseling and Development 70, no. 1 (1991): 242–49. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1991.tb01590.x.

Waldram, James B. “The Efficacy of Traditional Medicine: Current Theoretical and Methodological Issues.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14, no. 4 (2000): 603–25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/maq.2000.14.4.603.

Ward, Colleen A. Altered States of Consciousness and Mental Health: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Newbury Park, Calif.: SAGE, 1989.

Watson, Kristin W. “Spiritual Emergency: Concepts and Implications for Psychotherapy.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 34 (1994): 22–45. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/00221678940342003.

Wilkerson, J. Michael, Sarah Rybicki, Cheryl A. Barber and Derek J. Smolenski. “Creating a Culturally Competent Clinical Environment for LGBT Patients.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services 23 (2011): 376–94. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10538720.2011.589254.

Young, James C., and Linda C. Garro. Medical Choice in a Mexican Village. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1994.




How to Cite

Kirner, K. D. (2015). Healing Community: Pagan Cultural Models and Experiences in Seeking Well-Being. Pomegranate, 16(1), 80–108. https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.v16i1.17934