The Adventures of a Wiccan Prison Chaplain

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Doing Dangerous Magick

I must admit that I've been avoiding this post for quite some time now, but the circumstances have synchronized thereby producing the perfect storm. So buckle up, I'm about to go off.

In my defense, "going off" is not something I normally do. My preferred mode of persuasion has always been a heartfelt appeal to emotion, complemented with a modest and very casual stimulation of reason. And while my prevailing demeanor has always been one of unceasing happiness; I do have my "up-to-here" moments.

So it's new moon, and as with my tradition, I am internalizing the lunar phase and focusing on my shadow, in the Jungian sense. I'm reading a pretty good Jungian-ish book on shadow work and utilizing what I consider the most effective system of magick there is.

I'm processing all the negative and conflicting emotions which have piled up because they were not exactly socially acceptable to express at the time of their inception. So I am applying Introspective Divination, seeking out those unexpressed feelings, acknowledging them, analyzing them and expressing them.

I am a member of a new Pagan pastoral care forum, and have been discussing some of those feeling there as they apply to that area. I have been seeing the issues that cause these emotions occurring more and more in my community, and I'm processing these feelings and the issues that produce them for my New Moon Craftwork. These are the synchronized circumstances, and here is my storm.

Let's start with small gust of wind.

One of the first things Patrick McCollum ever told me about Pagan prison chaplaincy was how dangerous it was. Not dangerous in the immanent physical harm "I'm gonna cut you" sense, but in the political minefield "give them a chance to screw it up" sense.

He told me that one of the first things prison staff is going to ask me when I go to a new prison is to write them a list of all the religious items Pagans need and use for their religious practices. He told me that many have written such a list, in attempt to help the inmates. In an attempt to do good.

The problem with this list is it gets applied to all Pagans. And I'd wager that not a single reader is cool with the idea of other Pagan writing a list of what their allowed to have, and only what their allowed to have. And that's what happens. If you give them a list, they use it. If someone requests an item that is not on the list you wrote, their request is denied. Because you, in an effort to help, overstepped your limit.

Within the first 15 minutes, of my first conversation, on my first visit, to my first prison, guess what they asked me for? (psst, a list) Thank you Patrick. You were right; I could've done more harm than good.

Now let's add some rain, thunder and lightning.

For those who don't know my life, I own and operate a residential care facility for developmentally disabled. I have a state license. And I'm a certified administrator. This certification requires 40 hours of continuing education in this field in order to re-certify, and I've been doing this for eight years.

So, while I'm not a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or even a counselor I do have constant regular training in certain areas of mental health such as developmental disability, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and the like. I also have an intimate knowledge of and experience with these disorders, their symptoms, their effects, their medications and their side effects; because I've been living with the six clients who I provide care for, for those same eight years. I don't know how hours that all amounts to, but that, plus the continuing education, must be worth something, right?

So shouldn't this make me an expert?

No. Not even close. But because if this experience, I do know enough to realize, that I don't know nearly enough. And I am humbly aware of my limitations. To overstep my limit, to pretend to be something I'm not, could be a very bad thing. I could do more harm than good.

But, I have learned enough to know that when I'm teaching certain classes, or leading certain rituals it's important to be aware and/or ask if anyone is receiving any mental health treatment and/or on any psychotropic medication. Because for some of those aforementioned disorders, grounding and centering, creative visualizations and meditation is not a very good thing to do. I have a responsibility to know my field, and we as Pagan clergy have a responsibility to know who is in our field.

In the new pastoral care forum the moderators' first posts focused on the difference between "pastoral care" and "pastoral counseling." And I just ate that up, licked the bowl and took the pot somewhere we could be alone. I loved it! It was exactly what I needed to hear, coming from someone else, with the training and education to know what she's talking about.

Because pastoral care is a somewhat loose term, I would know, I use it. I provide it. To paraphrase, it's a helping act to intended to heal, sustain, guide and reconcile a spiritually trouble individual using a religious framework. The moderator made the point that while we as Pagans may not use the term, we do in fact practice the art. From Tarot Readers to Samhain rituals, Paganism is full of informal pastoral care, that's what we do.

But "counselors" are certified or licensed mental health professionals, and that's something completely different. We have a responsibility to know our fields. And we have a responsibility to know our limits, the limits of our field and differences between "related" fields.

Let's turn the wind up full blast and tear the knob off.

It has been my observation that Pagan pastoral care, while ever present in our culture and community at the "Tarot Card Reader" level, has not professionally developed much outside of that realm, as a whole. I feel we are really just starting to understand the necessity of this discipline within the Pagan community.

I feel that the absence of this professional development is a gaping hole in the spirituality of our culture, and that hole has been obscured by the smoke of incense. Mystique is being misused as a substitute for training, education and professional development. 

Please do not misunderstand me, I do not mean to diminish the role of the "Card Reader." I truly respect the field, respect the work and I hold them in very high regard. Because like many of you, I used to be one, for a time.

However I am seeing an unsettling trend in the community where Card Readers are overstepping their limits, their training and their experience. Their doing more harm than good. I've been seeing Card Readers peddling potentially dangerous magick; waving "magick wands" and claiming to "heal" and "treat" things like alcoholism and serious mental health disorders like aspergers syndrome. And "more harm than good" does not even begin to describe the ethical failure and inherent danger of these magickal practices.

Okay, let's just add one little tidal wave.

Let's say you're a Card Reader, and you are waving your magick wand over someone to heal or treat a mental health disorder. The patient wants to be "cured", and you are perpetuating and validating that delusion with your magick. Perhaps your magick wand waving actually tips the scale of that delusion and they begin to believe you're healing treatments are working and you are, or have cured them! 

But wait! If they're cured, they don't need to take those icky pills anymore, right?

No, they don't think they do, because you have made them all better, and a few days later when the half-life of the medication has worn down and we end up seeing another school shooting rampage on the news. You might think that's a stretch, but I have direct personal experience of what happens when someone goes off their meds, and it still haunts me to this day.

And as a final thought to those would be Card Reading Healing Therapists, some of those people you're offering to heal might have homes full of firearms. I would ask that you consider your own safety, and consider for a moment, the possible events which might unfold, should you tip the scale in the "other direction."

You might do more harm than good.

I have made it my business to know the limits of my ability and to seek training within the limits of my field. I have a degree in religion, I graduated from a chaplain's academy and I'm all prayed up in my religion. I remain humbly aware of my limitations, and I limit myself to providing only Pastoral Care, within the range of my training, experience and qualifications.

My pastoral care begins with an assessment. That assessment includes mental facilities such as perception, memory, the ability to reason and I directly ask about medication. When providing pastoral care you should be a vigilant lookout for words and signs of trauma, abuse, violence and critical incident stress.

If you're proving pastoral care or waving magick wands around and don't know what critical indecent stress is, or what some of the signs might be, then you're doing dangerous magick.

Which begs the question, why?

Thank you Lord and Lady for keeping me on such a short leash. Blessed Be.

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Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.

Comments

  • Constance Tippett Chandler
    Constance Tippett Chandler Tuesday, 12 March 2013

    My dear Joseph,
    I hear you and understand your what your saying. My immediate reaction was: who is doing this? But then I have run into just such readers. However, I am a sceptical old witch, and don't listen to may people, pagans or otherwise. So here is my two cents for what it is worth. You must gently sit down with the specific reader and disscuss. It is good to bring it out in a public pagan forum. But if you, personally, see specifitc events and consequences, you must act and bring it to the attention of the particular parties. You must do it with an open mind, be prepared for things to be different then you precieve, and also be prepared for things to not go as you wish. You may not be in controll. It is ok to preach to pagans as well as prisoners.
    Constance

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