Behaviour and Ethics for Pagan Healers
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Article ID: 8818
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,504
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Author: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: December 20th. 2004
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Behaviour and Ethics for Pagan Healers
by Rev. Gavin Bone (RGN) (Aqu.Tab.Ch)
When I wrote The Healing Craft (see Book profile below) in co-operation with Janet and Stewart Farrar in 1999, it was because all three of us felt that there was a large gap within the Neo-Pagan movement regarding the practise of healing. One of the main reasons was that alternative, complementary and holistic healing practises had become so associated with New Age "fluffyness" that many Neo-Pagans had decided to stay clear of the whole subject. It was for this reason we included a chapter on ethics in the book, because that seemed to be the major difference in thinking between New Age and Neo-Pagan healers. I was lucky, in many respects, in that I was trained as a registered nurse at a school of nursing where holistic theory was part of the curriculum; in fact, the badge of my school of nursing was a pentagram inside an equal armed cross! It was from my training and experience on the frontlines as a nurse that I drew much of my inspiration for the material that I put into The Healing Craft.
Nearly all Neo-Pagans are familiar with the Wiccan Rede - "Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill: An it harm none, do what thou will." Although Gardnerian Wiccan in origin, it has become engraved on the heart of almost all Neo-Pagans as The Golden Rule; that is, that it is fine to do anything you like as long as it does not cause harm. Unfortunately this rule is, when it comes to art of healing, simplistic. It does not in anyway explain the harm that can be caused by those with the most altruistic of motivations, and in healing "the road to Hell" really is paved with good intentions. Even our ancient ancestors were aware of the complexities of healing ethics and the basic guidelines that were set in stone by Hippocrates are still the basis of modern medical ethical practise as The Hippocratic Oath. This basically reads as, "The healer shall do no harm;" that he or she will not abuse their position of trust, that they will not betray confidence and that they will do their best to be as proficient as possible in their art. Clearly the Rede is not enough to base healing ethics on. It was for this reason we included a Code of Ethics and Conduct for Healers in The Healing Craft.
So why are ethics so important for the healer? Someone who is being healed is in a vulnerable place. As a healer, you find yourself in a position of utmost trust; able to touch the person physically, psychologically and spiritually in places normally unacceptable in everyday life. By the very definition of the word, then, a healer has the potential to be in a position of control, and to wield the power that this position brings. In many cases - something I witnessed regularly as a nurse - those being healed will implicitly trust the healer without a thought about whether this trust is deserved, and in worst case scenarios they may even give up responsibility for their health completely to the healer, allowing a parent/child relationship to occur. As a healer you are potentially in a "power over" position. This can unwittingly allow a potentially abusive relationship to develop, sometimes regardless of good intentions. Ethics are important, as they are there to prevent this sort of relationship from developing. A complete and appropriate code of ethics encourages a "we're going to heal you together" approach. This focus is far more holistically sound, and you are less likely to find yourself in a difficult situation ethically. Having a clear code of ethics is about protecting you as much as it is about protecting the person being healed.
It doesn't matter whether you are a seasoned healer who has an ongoing practise or a Witch who is an "alternative first aid" practitioner. It also doesn't matter whether you are a spiritual healer, a Reiki practitioner, an herbalist or just do Tarot counselling, the ethics are the same for all. In fact, the ethics for the alternative/complementary practitioner should be no different from your family doctor's or your local brain surgeon's, just as the ethics for magic should really be no different from your everyday ethics (a point that Isaac Bonewits labours to exhaustion).
Here, five years on from when we wrote The Healing Craft, we review what those ethics really mean in practise. I have used the term client for the person being healed, regardless of whether there is a short term or long term healing relationship:
Code of Ethics and Conduct for Healers
So what about those things we didn't cover - like money, the filthy lucre! To quote Isaac Bonewits: "The difference between New Age and Neo-Pagan is one decimal point." We believe that it is okay to charge for healing based on the doctrine, "The workman is worthy of his hire." While we charge for our time and not the healing itself, others charge for the skills they have acquired. Both are valid. Karmically we believe that it is important to "clear the karmic account" between client and healer, and charging is one of the best ways of doing this rather than risk having a bond between the healer and the healed which may continue on from lifetime to lifetime. But having said that, we also believe you should do your best not to overcharge, for the same reason. Our personal solution is to ask for a "donation" (by the way, some of this goes to an animal sanctuary). Others believe that you should not charge at all and would no doubt produce valid arguments for their reason. This is a personal decision based on belief, and all that is really important regarding charging (or not) is that your decision is based on an ethical reason rather than a financial one.
- Healers must recognize that their primary obligation is towards those they are healing. At all times they must practice their skills to the best of their ability for the benefit of those they are treating. The comfort, welfare and safety of their "client" must take priority over any other consideration: An it harm none, do what thou wilt.
In other words, while you are healing, your client comes first, and your needs second, particularly financial and interpersonal needs. If you have agreed to heal someone, and a form of payment has been agreed upon, don't say, "Sorry you've run out of credit," halfway through and ask for more payment. Certainly, don't use healing as an opportunity to get into bed with a person (it happens). This is a blatant exploitation of trust, as well as legally dangerous (see Point 10).
- Any knowledge gained by healers during treatment about the individual they are working for must be considered confidential. It must not be divulged to anyone without the consent of the client concerned.
You may find out very personal things about them - particularly in their physical, psychological and social lives. Do not tell anyone else, unless it is to seek advice and even then it must be someone who is in the field of healing in some form and that you know is able to keep a confidence. By divulging information, apart from the obvious breach of trust, you risk alienating your client if they find out and they will think twice about seeking help from other healers. By your action you are therefore potentially risking their future health and well being.
- At all times, be self-critical, and acknowledge any limitation of competence when appropriate to the needs of the individual who is being healed. Do not be afraid of saying, "I don't know," and referring the individual to a qualified medical practitioner or other healer.
A healer with an overblown ego about his or her abilities is likely to cause more harm than good. Use the healing which is appropriate, and this can mean basic good old first aid (every healer should get their certificate). Just don't stand there putting crystals on the chakras of someone with third degree burns hoping this will prevent them from going into shock because you want to impress the crowd gathering around them. Do something useful like put your cloak over them or get out of the way so someone who is qualified can deal with the situation. There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't know." Nurses and medical doctors are taught to "refer people on" all the time, for this reason.
- The healer should work in co-operation with other health care professionals, including the client's doctor. In serious cases, they should not treat individuals without first referring them to their own doctor.
This is common sense and good manners. Okay, so the doctor may not understand what chakra balancing is and may think you're a fruitcake, but he will respect your ethical approach. Remember that your job is to heal and if you can't do that, you should refer the client on to someone who can (Point 3). Working in co-operation means not questioning the conventional medical practitioner's judgment by doing something like telling your client to come off the medication they have just been put on. If you or your client has a query, get your client to refer back to their doctor or get a second opinion from another. Your job is not to trash other practitioners, be they conventional or complementary/alternative in nature, but to work with them for the benefit of your client.
- Take into account the customs, values, and spiritual beliefs of your client.
This means that you need to be aware of these factors in the first place. Make sure you know the beliefs of the person you are healing before you start, and put theirs before yours; e.g. if the person is a Christian invoke "Guardian Angels" not "Lords of the Watchtowers" and "the Power of The Holy Spirit" rather than Isis. Okay, so it may stick in your gullet because you had bad experiences at Sunday school, but this is not about your prejudices; it is a matter of respect for another's beliefs, which as healers we all should have.
- In healing practices such as herbalism, and other areas where there are potential dangers, the healer should seek professional training and recognition as soon as possible.
Training... Training... Training... It's everything in healing! I think I mentioned that "the road to Hell" is paved with good intentions earlier. Ignorance is no defence for making your client's condition worse because "I didn't know" or because "The book said it was alright!" Make sure that you really do know what you know; not that you think that you know. If not, "refer on" or get education, which leads nicely on to the next point.
- Healers should try to continue their own education and update their knowledge of their own field of interest and practice within healing, as well as other relevant areas including conventional medicine, whenever possible. They must also seek to understand the workings of the human body on all levels, and have a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology before performing any form of healing.
It has never ceased to amaze me how little people know about the human body. It's no good trying to heal specific organs if you don't know where they are. You would never dream of taking your car to a mechanic who doesn't know how the engine works, so why should you expect someone to come to you if you don't know how the human organism functions? Nearly all genuinely certificated complementary therapy programs now have anatomy and physiology classes as part of their course work. Speaking of complementary/alternative therapy courses, make sure the one you're signing up for is bona fide. Check out the credentials of the teacher and the organisation supporting the course. Just because you can pay someone $100 to get a certificate after a two-hour course doesn't make you necessarily competent as a healer.
- They must not act in a way to bring Wicca (or whichever path they follow) and the wider Pagan community into disrepute.
Bring one of us into disrepute and you bring all of our ethics into question, particularly with those who are not Neo-Pagan. Just look at the modern medical profession and how, when just one doctor is pilloried in the media for misconduct, it destroys the public's faith in all of them. Which is a shame, as 99.9% of all medical doctors are ethical and competent. A Neo-Pagan healer therefore has to be impeccable in his or her behaviour.
- It is the responsibility of healers to look after their own health and well-being. They should do whatever is necessary to protect their own physical soundness when caring for those they heal. They should not heal an individual unless they are able to do this.
"Physician heal thyself" - you are no use to anyone as a healer if you're ill all the time. Make sure you do nothing which endangers yourself, and take appropriate action to protect yourself, be it ensuring that you are cleared and grounded after any form of aura cleansing or wearing protective gloves when in physical contact with hepatitis or HIV sufferers. Put your physical needs first in these situations.
- Always remember that you have the right to refuse to give healing if you feel uncomfortable with the situation, and are obliged to do so if you feel ethically or morally compromised.
If it feels wrong, it probably is! Be aware of the sexual dynamics of a situation. If you are healing someone in a personal way, which could be misinterpreted, make sure there is a chaperone present. We live in a society which encourages litigation, and the number of aromatherapists and massage therapists who find themselves accused of sexual misconduct is on the increase. Donât heal someone without first asking their permission particularly if that means touching them or going into their personal body space (one of my personal pet hates, by the way), particularly in practises like Reiki. The same applies to a lesser degree with distance healing; wherever possible try to get the advice of a close friend or relative if not the person themselves before deciding to heal them. Of course "the Samaritan principle" can apply here particularly in first aid situations - in case of doubt heal the person, but always think about what their wishes in the matter might be. Do they actually want (or need) healing? Strange as it may seem, sometimes they may not. In case of doubt put your healing energy through "spirit" (your personal god or goddess), so that they can sort out the ethical quagmire for you.
One thing I have discovered over the years as a registered nurse, a spiritual healer and a Witch is that if your ethics are right everything else will follow. You will become more educated in healing, more confident in your approach, and feel more secure in what you are doing. The result is that your clients will become more confident in your abilities, which will assist them in their own healing process. You will find that by having a good set of ethical standards you will in fact become a better and more effective healer.
Rev. Gavin Bone (RGN) (Aqu.Tab.Ch)
Bio: Gavin Bone trained as a registered nurse in 1986 and is a member of The Red Pentacle (if it still exists). A Priest of Freya, he is a natural empathic spiritual healer, as well as a reflexologist. He has studied the field of complementary/alternative therapies, including chakra healing and balancing, since his days as a student nurse. Occasionally, while no one's looking, he writes books and does workshops on meaningful things, with his wife Janet Farrar. At one point he called himself Wiccan, but now refuses to confirm or deny this.
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