Monday, March 23, 2015

The Pagan Experience - F is for Fasting

Wk 4 - Mar. 23 - Any writing for the letters E orF “I am keeping this familiar format on week 4 for those who have joined me from the Pagan Blog Project.”

F is for Fasting

I have mixed feelings about fasting.

I’m a fat girl who has always had blood sugar issues, so fasting isn’t easy for me.  (Though I understand it isn’t supposed to be “easy”…)  But the more I learn about the occult, the more exposure I get to the idea of fasting.  Back when I was a Baby Pagan I didn’t know anyone who ever fasted (unless it was for a fad diet.)  So while it’s not a completely foreign concept to me, fasting is not something I engage in very often.

I’ve been told that a light fast is good before a ritual, which would include eating simple foods like salads, brothy soups, fruits, veggies, and tea.  Sparse eating before a ritual ensures that your body isn’t too distracted by digesting your food.  It means you won’t get too sleepy or distracted that you can’t engage in higher processes, like chanting, charging an item, concentrating, serving as an oracle, or something similar.  I’ve also been told that fasting before sleep is really conducive for initiating active dreams.  A light-headed feeling allegedly helps you reach higher realms.

I know that I personally feel bogged down if I eat too much.  It makes me feel unwell, and if I don’t feel well I don’t want to engage in ritual.  But on the other hand, if you fast too much, you run the risk of getting too distracted from your hunger and bad feelings.  So, while too much food will bog you down and make you feel yucky, too little food may make you feel too light-headed and out of whack, which is also not conducive to magic and ritual.

from The Last Temptation of Christ
I’ve seen too many people get overly hungry in the middle of rituals.  They don’t eat beforehand, they don’t ground and center, they get loopy, their attention wanders, and they get whiney.  This isn’t just unpleasant to the person experiencing that moment, but it’s distracting for the whole group.  So what’s the point of fasting (a type of purity) if you just fill yourself with another type of impurity (negative and disruptive thoughts and actions)?

Certainly there is a historical precedence for fasting.  We’re all familiar with Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert before he decides to finally accept himself as a sacrifice.  Muslims also abstain from all food and water from sunup to sundown every day during Ramadan.  Certain groups of people rejected certain foods because of their supposed detraction from living a pure, religious life.  (Such as the Pythagoreans and beans, and Jews and pork).  So part of pre-ritual fasting may include abstaining from certain foods like coffee, tea, alcohol, red meat, processed foods, meat in general, or too much dairy.

Of course, while it’s advised to fast before ritual, it’s highly encouraged to eat after a ritual to make sure you get re-grounded.  I’ve seen people reach for the sweet (key lime pie), the salty (sacred Tostito chips), the carby (slice after slice of bread), the healthy (hummus and veggies) and everything in between.  I find that I personally feel better (post-ritual and in my life in general) with lots of protein, but with a fair amount of hearty carbs thrown in, too. 

There are examples of austere mystics and occultists who we admire because of their ability to fast and to reach higher realms, but this is something I rarely see modern people even attempting, let alone succeeding at.  All in all, it seems like fasting can be a useful tool, but that many of us don’t know our body’s strengths and limits enough to engage it effectively.  It’s all part of self-knowledge, I suppose, and of maintaining balance and health.

Please, chime in!  Do you fast?  How often, and for what reasons?  Do you cease the consumption of food and drink completely, or do you just cut back on certain items?  What are the pros for fasting, the cons for fasting?  What have been your successes or your failures?  I’d love to hear your thoughts?


  1. Great questions and a fine post! I've experimented quite a bit with fasting throughout my Pagan career. When I was a baby Pagan, I took this aspect of practice very seriously. I fasted for at least 24 hours before each and every ritual. For my initiation, I think we did 3 days. We allowed ourselves water and plain brioche. Not much brioche, just enough to keep us coherent. It was tough, and it was also my first attempt. I do think it put me in a different headspace, and it made transitioning to ritual consciousness easier.

    Since then, I have done spring cleanings of my person that included fasts. Several times I used the Master Cleanse (the maple lemonade). Sometimes it was successful, other times not. Like you, I struggle with low blood sugar. I still don't fully understand why I was able to complete the Master Cleanse some years and not others.

    I'm also familiar with fasting as a Yoga practitioner. The Yoga Sutras tell us to eat just enough - to fill our stomachs halfway with Sattvic foods, then a quarter more with water, and to leave the last quarter empty. Yoga practitioners are encouraged to fast as a means of getting closer to God, but not to the point that one becomes emaciated. Of course, Yoga practitioners are also heavily encouraged to become vegetarians, a practice that just doesn't suit all constitutions, including mine.

    At this point, my personal conclusion is that fasting does help. I know that it's much harder for me to have any type of peak experience when I am glutted with food, especially rich foods like fatty meat, dairy, sauces, etc. What works for me is to do short fasts when I want to abstain from food altogether, and an Ayurvedic monodiet when I want to do a longer fast. Also, any type of fast will work much better when I manage my energy demands. So no long days of massage while fasting, for example.

    I fast for ritual preparation, vision quests, and occasionally as a devotional practice. Those are the Pagan reasons. Health-wise, I sometimes will fast when I have over-indulged, say around Yule, or when I've been through an illness. But these days, with my busy workload, the fasting is pretty infrequent. I just can't get through a day of massage or teaching Yoga on a fast like I could when I had a sedentary job!

  2. I try to eat light and healthy before rituals I conduct. I'm not as strict if I'm simply attending a ritual, and I fast for Rites of Passage / Initiation rituals. But I do find that afterwards I am one of those reaching for the carby (slice after slice of bread). I believe the individual needs to do exactly what they need to do to stay healthy during ritual. There is a huge difference between depriving oneself as an offering vs. going into insulin shock. Each individual needs to make that call.

  3. wow, you guys left the best comments. Thank you so much! it gave me a lot to think about!