Pain and Faith in the Wiccan World by Crystal Blanton

Pain and Faith in the Wiccan World: Spirituality, Ethics, and Transformation
Crystal Blanton
Megalithica Books, 2013
188 pages

Reviewed by Hilde

There are a lot of self-help books on how to work through and recover from grief, trauma, and pain for both secular and Christian audiences. While some people are able to utilize these resources despite the conflicts with their own faith, others may feel the need for a book that resonates with their own beliefs.

Blanton combines modern therapy techniques with the tradition of Wicca to provide a resource that is easily accessible for those who are in the midst of their struggle and those who wish to support them.

While the author gives accurate definitions and explanations on the topics of pain, growth, grief, and forgiveness, she gives these topics life by including the experiences of herself and others throughout the narrative. The additional use of quotes by other authors gives extra insight and additional valuable resources for the reader to pursue.

Each chapter is accurately titled and includes a quote at the beginning to enhance the topic. One of the things I especially liked about this book is the number of techniques the author makes available for the reader in her TIAT (Tips, Insights, Action, and Tools) section at the end of each chapter. General suggestions like journaling, questionnaires, self-care, and cognitive-behavioral techniques comfortably sit alongside candle-lighting, prayer, object burials, and other rituals.

The main portion of the book is devoted to helping the injured person, but at the end there is a section specifically tailored for the supporters. It discusses the many ways to support the person, including the importance of being objective. It also stresses the importance of self-care when assisting somebody through such a difficult time.

If a reader has read self-help books about grief, trauma, and pain this will be old territory; however, it does an excellent job in reframing these topics within the Wiccan faith.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown

Coming Back to Life: Practice to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World
Joanna Lacy and Molly Young Brown
New Society Publishers, 1998
224 pages

I first encountered Joanna Macy’s work when I began to learn about ecopsychology. While she is not expressly a psychologist, her work in systems theory and deep ecology in particular tie in very nicely with ecopsychology, and her writings are considered foundational to that field. Her work with exploring and working through grief, as well as broader ritual practices, give her a solid place in the study and practice of modern rites of passage.

Pagans ought to be very aware of her works, especially those who enact group rituals. This text, cowritten by Molly Young Brown, herself a practitioner of ecopsychology among other disciplines, is a great starting point for those unfamiliar. It is a book for leading and guiding group rituals, without specific spiritual or religious trappings, that are designed to facilitate connection with the self, with others, and with the world around us. The context for the rituals is explained in great detail, from the feelings of grief, loss, and other emotions that often go unspoken in polite society, to the importance of caring for the emotions of ritual participants and how to help them through difficult catharses. Much of this may already be known to seasoned priest/esses and other pagan clergy, but there are some useful guidelines nonetheless.

The rituals themselves are fantastic. There’s the classic Council of All Beings, in which participants speak as various nonhuman entities. There are also exercises like Tape Recording to the Future and Letters From the Future which help us to place ourselves in context of the enormity of Time As a Whole, but also bring us into immediate awareness of the effects our actions have on those who will come after us. Narrative, art, and other forms of expression feature prominently, and there is much to utilize in working with pagan groups.

I highly recommend this as a guide to ritual practices, not only for eco-centric or politically minded pagans, but those wishing for inspiration for more emotionally involved rituals. There’s plenty to think about and even more to do, and I am nothing less than amazed by the creativity and effectiveness of what is presented here.

Five pawprints out of five.

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The Pagan Clergy’s Guide by Reverend Kevin Gardner

The Pagan Clergy’s Guide For Counseling, Crisis Intervention, and Otherworld Transitions
Reverend Kevin Gardner
Waning Moon Publications, 2009
212 pages

As both a pagan and as a student working on a Master’s in counseling psychology, this book interested me greatly. The number of books on counseling for minority groups is on the rise, and to my knowledge this is the first one to specifically address counseling neopagans. However, rather than being strictly psychological counseling, it is instead a text on spiritual counseling–a distinction that is incredibly important to note, as I’ll explain shortly.

Pagan spiritual counselors don’t have nearly the resources available that spiritual counselors in some other faiths, such as Christianity, do. Gardner does an admirable job of delineating some of the common issues that clients may bring to the table, from relationship woes to the need for facilitation of rites of passage. A large portion of the book is dedicated to grief counseling of various sorts. There’s also a good selection of basic ritual scripts for funerals and other rites of passage, including a few specific to individual neopagan traditions. This makes the book invaluable to pagan spiritual counselors.

Psychologically speaking, however, the book is on shaky ground for a couple of reasons. First of all, there’s no indication that the author has a license for psychological counseling, something that’s a grey area when it comes to spiritual counseling. He does make it clear that there are times when referrals to licensed psychological practitioners are necessary, and that this book should in no way be seen as a sole reference for the psychological elements of spiritual counseling. However, he also has had much more experience–counted in decades–of experience, something most readers will not have, and so I hesitate to recommend this to a newer spiritual counselor who may not have learned through trial and error how to counsel for deeper psychological issues. Additionally, in perusing the bibliography, many of his resources on psychological counseling are outdated; while, for example, the works of Carl Rogers are classics, there are newer approaches to client-centered counseling available.

As a text for spiritual counseling and being clergy in the sense of ritual facilitation, I think this is an excellent guide, and I recommend it highly. My misgivings about the psychological aspects of counseling should be noted, but not to the point of not buying the book. Supplement with other works or, better yet, get formal training in psychological counseling (particularly since there’s very little formal training available for pagan spiritual counselors).

Three and three quarters pawprints out of five.

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