Many of us have seen and participated in requests for the spiritual healing of others. Individuals make decisions on how or whether to pray, send energy, or perform a ritual for ill people that we know. But when we have groups of people- in this case Druids- praying for people they don’t know, what are the concerns? Are there rules and ethics involved?
I say yes – there are ethical concerns and some basic rules to healing prayer. Because I believe healing prayer has an effect, and accordingly there are important issues we have to be aware of. Just as in medical disciplines, people have a right to generally approve or consent to your work or to refuse your healing. The ethics of everyday life apply to any healing work you do.
Obviously there are different healing prayer scenarios. When praying for someone you know intimately (such as family, good friends, or long time neighbors) you likely will have a good idea what is acceptable to that person’s belief system. So in that one-on-one situation you will know what god(s) to petition, may have asked the person for approval, or mentioned it to them for some feedback.
Then there are prayers from you as an individual or small group to large groups of people whom you don’t know personally. While seldom for personal healing, this sort of prayer can be common- such as responding to some disaster, asking for peace, wisdom, or larger ideals. It is not generally directed at individuals; and if it is you should very carefully examine the work you are doing. (Targeted prayer against individuals by groups, as in ‘spiritual warfare’ is an extreme example of prayer gone bad.)
It’s the middle ground with people or groups praying for individuals they don’t know that I believe can raise the most ethical issues. Questions include- do those in need of healing approve of your path or method of healing prayer? Would they deny it if they knew? Do you know what others in your healing group are doing? Is it clear that this work does not substitute for standard medical care? Is the ‘patient’s’ privacy being protected? (Especially important when prayer workers need information to focus their work.)
And there are ethical dimensions for members of the healing group also. Input from group members can range from general well wishes, to prayers, to rituals, or to group energy sessions. What level of ritual work might one member be doing, and could this conflict with that of others in the group? If energy or prayers are sent out en masse, are each of the participants properly shielded and experienced to do the work safely?
Wanting to send out healing is good, but realize that good and bad aspects are magnified when working in a group, as they are with the more involved energetic healing, magical healing, or ritualistic healing modes. Respecting and protecting the recipients is also important to the process. (And likewise the relationship many Pagans strive for in their interactions with society at large.) As Druids, I feel we aspire to more than to ‘do no harm’, but to do what is best for all. (An idea shared by the past Modron of OBOD, Thea Worthington.)
Here are some examples of types of healing prayer situations:
- I had a good friend undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and I sent off general prayers for her well-being. But then she nearly died from the chemo and her partner asked for any energy or work that could be done. They both knew I am a Druid, I knew the person involved and I was asked for the work, so at that point I did a full ritual. There was disclosure, personal knowledge of the ‘patient’, and permission.
- A long-time, close neighbor was looking at a difficult new surgery process after developing MRSA bacteria in a joint replacement. She said she was praying for one of my surgeries, and I likewise said I would pray for hers. But knowing she was a strict Christian, I prayed to Christ (her deity) for her healing. While I’m sure these neighbors knew something was different about me (saining the property and talking to plants were giveaways), they didn’t know I was a Druid. So in this instance, I had personal knowledge of the person in need of healing, had permission, and made sure my prayers fit within their belief system. [Praying to another’s deity is not a problem for me, but I recognize it might be for some Pagans. I have a pagan OBOD Druid friend who works with the Archangel Michael, so yes- there is a whole range of prayer out there.]
- For my brain surgery I asked for healing and prayer from Druid groups where I knew some of the members. We were all Druids, I gave permission, and I knew some of the people involved. I also had training in setting shields and wards, so I felt comfortable asking for their assistance.
- If my grandmother was still alive, I mentioned her illness to a pagan healing group, and they all started praying for her without her permission, would it be acceptable? In her case no- she would see it as a sin for pagans to pray for her. (If I asked her in the afterlife, she might accept just me praying for her as a pagan- after having us read parts of the Bible, but she would still be angry about a group of pagans praying for her. It’s the way she was raised and her belief system, and we respected it. I have confirmed this view in her family in some of my ancestor work.)
- Healing of individuals by a group in a physical setting (say in a Reiki or prayer circle) will have pretty clear guidelines, and participants can see for themselves what is going on. Participants may not know each other, but there’s an opportunity for the individual to scope out those involved in the circle, observe the process, and then decide if they will give permission for any healing work.
- If a disaster happens and I want to send out healing or prayers to a large group or area I still choose to honor the beliefs of those I am praying for. I think it’s respectful and more effective that I not pray to say Oya when there is a disaster in a Moslem part of Indonesia. I also don’t feel it is required to have deities intercede for us for our prayers to work. So in a situations like this I would tend to be very generic in my prayers or other healing.
So getting back to the more delicate situation where groups are healing or praying for individuals- are extremely generic group prayers for healing or love for an individual unknown to you or your group, and who hasn’t given permission acceptable? Probably. Are healing prayers invoking deities appropriate in the same situation? It may not be. And when a ritual is included? Then it might be a sin in the belief system of the individual you are trying to help (and if they are sensitive to it may actually impede their healing).
Other spiritual systems have actually published guidance for their healing groups, and certainly other pagans or Druids will have their opinions on this subject. But I feel as Druids our work is real, and ethics a large part of that work. So spread the love and healing, but I say do your best to respect and honor the beliefs of those it is directed at.
- Before attempting more than the most generic of simple group prayers be sure you know how to shield and ward yourself. This is important in any sort of group effort.
- If practicing in a group towards individuals, consider setting ground rules about how people are submitted for help, and what work will be done.
- Also consider what types of healing your group will employ, for instance energetic healing, magical healing, or ritualistic healing. (Examples might be using -stones; candles; shamanistic journeying; deity, or spirit, or guides intervention; prayer; energy work; sound (such as drumming, singing, chanting, etc.); symbols; visualization; and good old-fashioned “laying on of hands” for healing.)
Pagans as Healers: Fact vs. Fiction
Behaviour and Ethics for Pagan Healers, by Rev. Gavin Bone (RGN)
“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.”
The Healing Circle, Starting Your Own Healing Circle (meeting in the flesh)
Unwanted Ritual, and the Dark Side of Group Prayer
The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormons) have a policy of offering the dead ‘proxy’ baptisms into their church- a practice particularly offensive to the families of Jews and holocaust survivors that were given such baptisms. (And I doubt others would appreciate Mahatma Gandhi and Princess Diana’s post-mortem LDS baptisms either.)
There are whole networks of Christian intercessory prayer– where intercession is a prayer to God through and by Christ on behalf ‘others’. Sounds harmless until you see these networks linked to Spiritual Warfare groups that include prayer in their drive to end the ‘demonic possession’ of territories, the existence of other religions, and other aggressive agendas. Bishop Thomas Muthee is a prominent member of the Spiritual Warfare movement, and is notorious for starting his pastoral duties with the expulsion of a ‘witch’ from Kiambu, Kenya. Many in this and the related Dominion Theology movement decry the ‘Queen of Heaven’ as the worst territorial demon (a designation that has even been applied to Mother Teresa, and Princess Diana, or just about any female goddess). I agree with others that the ‘prayer’ activities of Spiritual Warfare associated groups is highly unethical, and actually the practice of black magic. (See Star Foster’s July 2011 article on this.)