Saturday 6 June 2009

International Pagan Values Blogging Month!

Over at Crysalis Pax put out the following challenge:

Let us write of the virtues and ethics and morals and values we have found in our Pagan paths, let us share how we carry these precious things forward in our own lives and out into the world.

Join me, in the month of June 2009 in writing about Pagan values.

Go over there to see how it's getting on.

More On Boundaries

The subject of boundaries between divination and chaplaincy is complex and so I sought the opinions of some wise and experienced people.

Holli Emore is the Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary.

Isaac Bonewits is a Druid, priest, writer, teacher and the Headmaster of the Real Magic School, psychic, ne'er-do-well and trouble-maker.

Seldiy Bate is a Pagan Priestess and a dangerous old lady.

CS: Hello All, I'm writing a piece about the boundaries between psychotherapy, chaplaincy and divinatory work. Personally I avoid divination on wards like the plague, it feels as wrong as it can get. But you may feel differently. Thoughts?

IB: I don't do health readings much and probably wouldn't in a hospital setting.

I've never been asked to do a reading during a prison visit (have only done a few). It would seem somewhat pointless except for strictly spiritual questions, since the futures of people in prison are pretty frozen until they get out.

HE: I don't always see divination as telling the future or advising a decision. Most of the people I read with gain clarity on their lives, see themselves reflected in the cards, and thus receive value.

SB: I would agree with that.

When I do a "real" Tarot reading, it is exactly that. When I do a commercial Tarot reading (in which we would never discuss health issues anyway, on a regulated service), people just want to know "What's going to happen?" I try my best to explain about Free Will and that the Tarot can point out options, give guidance and show possible outcomes - and that decisions and actions people take affects A future (as opposed to THE future), but most times they will still revert to "What's going to happen?"

CS: Seldiy, you describe perfectly what I've experienced, that despite the theoretical understanding of divination a great many people expect to be told what to do. In these interactions I've found it impossible to get the subtleties of divination across.

SB: It can be a wonderful tool but I think it is best used when the person has some kind of insight themselves. The sort of punters I have on the regulated service are mostly people who don't care what tools you use as long as they can be told "What's going to happen" and because they are paying, they think they own you. They would rather ask ME what someone else feels, thinks or intends to do rather than interact with the person and find out.

But the people who come to it from a different angle - and who possibly have some understanding of divinatory systems, because it is their path, or because they are interested etc - tend to work with me. They don't want to read for themselves, quite rightly, but they need the reader as the catalyst to unlock what's already there. Then it's a good process for both people.

I disagree with Isaac about prisoners being "frozen" though (or their future being frozen). I know what you mean, but their spirit isn't frozen, nor is what they are capable of doing frozen, although of course it is very restricted. I've had a bit of experience with the Jail Guitar Doors project and if anything can bring out motivation, spirit, creativity and ambition, that can. Wow! If the brief had been to do a reading for any of those gals, it would have sparkled.

CS: Seldiy, what's a regulated service? Is this the Fraudulent Medium thing?(!!!)

SB: It's just a phone line thing. All premium rate phone lines (chat, psychic readings etc) in UK are regulated by ICSTIS (now known as PhonePayPlus) and they have a whole stack of rules as to what can or cannot be discussed, as well as regulating the financial implications of such a service. (Which is why these hoaxes about your being unknowingly connected to a twenty six million pounds a minute premium line are a load of rubbish!) All the rules are for everybody's protection and on such a line, I am not allowed to make predictions regarding health, pregnancy and of course, death.

IB: I'm reading a novel called "Houston, We Have a Problema." It's what Phae calls "chick-lit" romance, but I'm reading it because the main character has a psychic she goes to regularly. 2/3 through the story, the psychic, Madam Hortensia, explains to the protagonist that the major thing readers do is give people permission to go with their true feelings.

Naturally, it's when the protagonist stops looking for signs (and stops ignoring the ones she doesn't like) that she makes progress.

Very amusing book and perfect to read between customers. :)

So there it is, some more clarity and understanding. Thanks Holli, Isaac and Seldiy for your help and for permission to share your insights.

Wednesday 3 June 2009


What boundaries might we draw between spirituality, counselling and chaplaincy? I ask because I’ve just come across a series of leaflets offering ‘Tarot and Counselling’ ‘Spiritual Counselling’ ‘Voicework and Counselling’ and ‘Reiki and Counselling’. I was reminded of one of my teachers on a (post grad) counselling course who was tediously all too eager to talk about out of body experiences or the colour of our auras. She used new age nonsense to make herself feel uniquely qualified in the intangible and would become insufferably smug if anyone questioned the validity of what she was talking about, as if we were all too primitive to appreciate her special knowledge. As a bona fide, old fashioned, not new age Witch I found her abuse of power repellent and wasn’t inauthentic enough to schmooze or massage her ego. Our relationship was not good.

From that experience I learned to keep disciplines separate. When I’m a psychotherapist I’m a psychotherapist and overtly Pagan thoughts don’t really come into it. When I’m doing ritual then I’m not being a psychotherapist. When I’m being a Pagan chaplain I find myself flowing between states; patients need to find their own answers and they also need guidance and debate around Pagan beliefs and behaviours. When we’re in spiritual crisis we don’t need debate we need answers but those answers need to reflect our own way of being in the world. Knowing when to be more one way or the other is a subtle art in which I am by no means expert.

People desire direction, there’s a part of us all that longs to be told what to do and this is where things like tarot come in, they can offer guidance and structure. There’s nothing wrong with doing tarot or reiki or voicework but to attempt to combine it with counselling is unethical. The only thing that goes with counselling is counselling, and the only people who are competent to call themselves counsellors are qualified counsellors. UK trained and qualified counsellors find themselves in an invidious position and it’s why I favour the term psychotherapist for my own work, to distance myself from the very many people with no qualifications or even training who are free to call themselves (and believe themselves to be) counsellors.

The mystery of spirituality confers power on those who say they understand it. Shamanism needs a bit of showmanism but we have to be very clear about why we might choose to use it in our work. It’s one thing to put on a robe for ritual work, quite another to pretend (or actually believe) that we are having a clairvoyant moment which we must share with a vulnerable person who has come to us in need. Whose needs are actually met? Who has the power? As any Pagan knows, names confer power and the names ‘counsellor’ or ‘chaplain’ or ‘clairvoyant’ have enormous power. People respond to these names with trust and a lowering of their daily defenses. When we visit chaplains, counsellors and clairvoyants we do so because we are vulnerable.

I have moments of clairaudience and it’s never been useful to pass on a message from The Beyond ™. Something similar to clairaudience or clairvoyance might be called autheticity. I would propose that being consciously authentic is more important than learning esoteric skills. We don’t have to act on our authentic feelings – it’s seldom productive to scream and run away from a gathering of inauthentic people – but we can acknowledge those feelings and learn from them. The same is true for our work with patients, we can be aware of what we’re feeling, take honest ownership of our feelings rather than attribute them to anything supernatural, and weigh up the pros and cons of sharing the feelings with the patient. If in doubt, don't. Once the relationship is strong and trusting it’s more possible to risk being openly authentic but in a short-term relationship that involves no major crisis there’s little call for it. The relationship is about the needs of the patient over anything else.

It may be tempting, not least because a patient requests it, to do some kind of divination especially when someone is in crisis. Personally, I avoid it like the plague. People can become easily and unnecessarily upset and can hear things that aren’t said. It feels wrong on every level, not least tampering with an individuals power to decide for themselves. In PR terms, in my opinion, it belittles the professional nature of the role of Chaplain, something that is very hard won for Pagans. We are the instrument through which a relationship is made; cards, crystals and pendulums get in the way and act as a distraction. We need to be able to withstand the full force of anxiety, unanswerable questions and fear without diversion.

When a patient wants to do divination for themselves, however, I feel less strongly about it. Personally, I dislike the overt use of paraphernalia, it feels inauthentic to me, but if a person can't make an important decision that must be made urgently, and if they wish to use divination, that's their choice and one that I will witness and, if necessary, help bring a positive interpretation to. We all need something like that distraction when things get intense, but we still must take personal responsibility for the actions that may result from our understanding of it. To say "The cards told me to donate/not donate a kidney," is not taking responsibility.

Monday 1 June 2009

Pagan Generosity

Holy Moly! There’s a Pagan group that’s tithing! And they call it tithing! Not 'Gyfu' or the ‘Rainbow Exchange of Love’ but tithing! Is this just another Christo-Pagan group wanting the best of both worlds? A naive bunch of amateurs getting woefully confused?

Actually, it’s Z Budapest in her beautiful magazine ‘Goddess’.

Z has been eclipsed in recent years by the blossoming of Paganism but she is one of the founding Mothers of Paganism and has remained honourably true to the Goddess rather than watering Her down to suit a post modern, psychobabbling world. And yet she uses the term ‘Tithing’.

The yearly tithing of the membership fees from the Susan B. Anthony Coven Number One go directly into the WSF. Those funds are then used for everything from goddess festivals to websites.

I remember an afternoon dreaming with a friend about where we saw Paganism being in 10 years time. She nearly leaped out of her skin when I suggested tithing such was her indignation, and I’ve learned to never mention it unless I wanted to deal with a barrage of hooting. It’s the word that triggers people. Tithing is associated with Christianity and far too many of us have come into Paganism because we perceive it to be the antithesis of Christianity. In fact, it’s just a form of supporting the things we say we hold dear, whether that’s a magasine or the National Health Service.

As Z acknowledges, we already pay a sort of tithe in membership fees. But membership fees are a flawed concept in spirituality and simply feeds the paradigm of inequality, unfairness, un-earned privilege and the abuse of power. The more money you have the more access to ideas, community, support, shared experience, information and in some groups, Deity, you have. Access to newsletters, magazines, camps, training, experience, participation is increasingly dependent on income and frankly it’s easier to be dedicated as a person on a decent income when much of the dedication depends on shopping. It’s a self-perpetuating system, where those who can afford the ideas and experiences then contribute further words and create further experiences. A very small group indeed will hear about the experience of a Pagan who can’t afford a computer.

Tithing is a way of addressing this head on. 10% of £3,300 (what a single person on Job Seekers Allowance receives per year) is proportionately the same as 10% of someone who’s on £25,000 or £250,000. Each demonstrates their commitment proportionately. As it is, someone on £30,000 a year contributes proportionately a minute fraction of what the person on a low income pays out in membership fees.

The average British annual income is around £20,000 which would result in a 10% tithe of £2,000. If you were to give £2,000 a year to a Pagan group you might be responsible for the sudden maturity of Paganism. Such sums would allow Pagan groups to achieve meaningful goals; you would be empowering people to be employed as professional Pagans, able finally to end unsatisfactory voluntary work in their spare time to devote themselves professionally to a cause; you would make sure that such causes were worthy, meaningful and grounded in reality because £2,000 is not a little money to waste; already successful organisations would be able to build on their work; whereas now Pagans who are unable to pay can work their way and Pagans on a low income who can’t work because of age or infirmity are sidelined, a proper sliding scale of fees for camps and so on would become possible(and camp workers would not all be expected to be poor, and the poor all expected to work in a way that the well off are not); and you would be right in expecting transparent financial and annual reports.

What has this got to do with Pagan chaplaincy? If Pagans believe that we want a specialist group of Pagans (to do anything that the majority won't or can't do, but feel is valuable) then we have to find money to manifest it. Properly funded Pagan organisations can in turn contribute a tithe to support such specialists. A Pagan organisation with 100 members will have an annual income of around £200,000 and could contribute £20,000pa to any group it felt worthy.

Imagine that!

Some of us, imagining such things, will feel fearful about where the demon of money will lead us. Having spent most of my working life in the voluntary sector I’ve learned that money is clean and the ultimate enabler, it’s people that mess it up. Bad work practices occur routinely in the voluntary sector that would not be tolerated in the private sector where money rules. The more money-focused an organisation is the better it tends to function. Where shareholders demand a return private companies keep control of their practices – in everything from bullying and equal ops to capital investment and expansion - or it loses its shareholders. Those groups that contribute to a dedicated Pagan chaplaincy organization would be shareholders.

Are we ready for such heady accomplishments? The fact that someone as radical and old school as Z Budapest will use the word ‘Tithe’ suggests that we might be.

Image by Elena Ray, with generous permission