Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This is my body

One of the hot topics around the Pagan blogosphere right now is health in the Pagan community, obesity in particular. The Wild Hunt links these and a few more in last Saturday's link roundup, so feel free to sift through these if you like. I've read through some of these... okay, so I skimmed them and I've decided that I'm not going to talk about obesity at all. Well, maybe a little, but in neither an "OBESITY IS EPIDEMIC, AHMAHGAARRD!!" nor a "NOOOOO, STOP DA FAT SHAMING!" way. This is much more than a binary thing.

I'm a small person. I've always been a small person. When I was in utero, the doc thought I was going to be a late September baby, but no. I was and still am just smallish. Even with the expanding tummy and the chest jugs that have upgraded to more than their usual half-gallon size, I'm still pretty small. I've been slender my whole life and, for the most part, it's not from diet or exercise. I don't even try. I'm just that way.

Me at my 30th birthday. I always wanted a Logan's Run party.

But there is a thing that happens to some of the women in our family. As the decades pass, we get chunky and heart and blood pressure problems start making themselves more obviously known. I'm not saying there's any causality there, just that those things happen concurrently. My mom is very similar in body type to me and these days she's wearing larger pants and taking blood pressure medication. This is partly genetic. Having native blood ain't always pow-wows and great cheekbones. It's also extra wisdom teeth and a tendency toward diabetes and heart problems. (I didn't have the extra teeth, but my brother did.)

As my mother would say, I want to live long enough to be a burden on my children. A heart attack or other major health problems are not whatchacall gonna help me get to that goal. Additionally, I'm a priestess of Apollo. His descendants include Asklepios, Hygeia, Panacea and the entire medical profession. The Hippocratic Oath mentions each one of these deities in its original form and taking this oath has marked the beginning of a physicians career since the late 5th century BCE. The modern version doesn't include these gods and is not required by most medical schools, but I don't think they could remove the spirit of Apollo from it.

Here's a little bit of a tangent, but we'll come back around, I promise.
Hippocrates of Kos was probably trained at the asklepeion there, the asklepeion being a healing house and temple to Asklepios, son of Apollo and Koronis. He is credited with the idea that illness and disease are naturally caused rather than caused by the gods. I'd wager that the theory is a little more layered and nuanced than that, given that Hippocrates seems to have been a believing man. Prayers to the gods are prescribed in certain particular cases in the Hippocratic Corpus and even though it's an exception to a rule, it's a notable exception. I can't tell you much about what Hippocrates himself believed, but as a woman of science, I think I kind of understand this mode of thinking. Everything does have a natural cause, including disease. We understand that natural cause to be everything from bacteria and viruses to environmental factors, to genetics, and so on. So, when someone is sick or injured we can either trace the illness or injury to its source or assume that there is a physical source of some kind, even if we don't know what that is. That said, I also believe that the gods are connected to the natural world, often in ways we don't understand. If a flu epidemic comes through, I know that the source is a virus that came from somewhere, but I'm also not going to say that Apollo isn't involved.

Hakuna Fritatta... actually, I suppose that's a quiche, isn't it?
So, coming back around, this post is about excellence. Devotion to my god means getting the most out of this life that I can and doing my best to be skilled at having this body. I've seen members of my local and regional community make poor health choices and I've made poor health choices myself. As a priestess, I feel that it's my responsibility to help others make better choices either by example or by direct teaching. This idea is an integral part of our Midsummer celebration when we have backyard games to honor Apollo. Being a worthy vessel for my god is why I try to eat really really healthy and exercise as appropriate. We try to serve healthy foods at our gatherings and hootenannies. My skinny ass needs that as much as anybody.

It's not really enough to say "How very sad so many of us are fat" and to give statistics on obesity and health problems. In fact, don't. It's not helpful. We who are leaders in our communities need to both examine our own health choices, make positive changes where we can in our own lives, and make positive changes where we can in things like feast preparation and by offering classes on healthy choices. Not because some of our fellows are fat, but to help all those who want to be healthier whatever their size and medical history may be.
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