Monday, September 30, 2013

Counselling, Spiritual Mentoring, Spiritual Direction, and Offering Advice

As just about anybody who has done any kind of "Public Paganism" will attest to, if you do it long enough  someone will come to you looking for advice. It may be a question about ritual design, appropriate offerings, or spell casting; but solitary practitioners also often come to "public Pagans" when they're in spiritual or personal crisis.

So if you're one of those "public Pagans", and especially if you run a coven or circle, or do any kind of one-on-one or small group teaching,  it's a good idea to pick up a few basic listening and counselling skills. It's also a good idea to have a short list of Pagan-friendly professional counselors, therapists, or life coaches for referrals when someone's needs are beyond your own expertise.

So how does one go about picking up these mysterious skills? In an ideal world, we would be able to take a class or a series of classes on basic counselling. However classes are not always accessible to us. So we turn to books.

I posted this book list a while ago on a Facebook discussion group that I belong to. All are worth reading, in my opinion. And some of them have been required reading for me at various points in my training. If you can't afford to buy them, check your local library.

"Meeting the Shadow" by Zweig and Abrams,
"Leadership Coaching" by Tony Stoltzfus (ironically a Guide to Being a Christian Coach),
"Spiritual Emergency" by Grof and Grof,
"Nonviolent Communication" by Rosenberg,
"On Becoming. A Counsellor" by Kennedy and Charles,
"Spiritual Mentoring" by Judy Harrow.

Another option is Cherry Hill Seminary. They have a basic online course that looks at different counselling theories, which is then followed by the more practicum-orientated Counseling Skills and Therapeutic Interventions. Cherry Hill has an excellent reputation and have academic standards which mean that their teachers have to have experience/credentials in what they're teaching.

A different approach is to get experience through volunteering your time with a help line. There are a variety of phone lines or online help services that all offer a certain amount of training before they let you loose on folks needing help. (They can also be great resources to refer people to.)

Whatever option you explore, it's important to know your limits. Sometimes a bit of knowledge can be more dangerous than no knowledge at all. It's flattering when someone comes to us for advice or spiritual mentoring, and we want to help. We've read a few books, taken a class, and maybe even done some role-play with other students. We can do this right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Before diving in, check-in on your motivations for wanting to help and whether you feel in your gut that your knowledge and experience are up to the task. Be honest. There is no shame in telling someone that you're not the right person to help them out. Sometimes help comes in the form of a referral or helping someone find the right person to talk to.

Do you have go-to books or resources for spiritual mentoring, direction or counseling? I'd love to hear about them! Leave me a comment below.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Recommendations for The Well-Read Pagan

At the Pagan Canon panel at Gaia Gathering, I promised to put the list of my own recommendations for the well-read Pagan onto my blog. Well, here it is. Obviously, it's not comprehensive. Also, from a book perspective I didn't include any of the "usual suspects" that often come up. For more of my musings on books, check out the posts categorized/tagged under "books" on this blog.

Amanda's Picks for Gaia Gathering Book Panel
There were a few ways I could approach the question, “What books should be occupying the bookshelves and minds of well-read, thoughtful Pagans of the 21st century?” In putting together my “picks” for this panel, I considered writings that would be of interest to most thoughtful Pagans regardless of their path or tradition; and I paid particular attention to where I perceive knowledge-gaps. I also took into account that this was a panel, so that other panelists were likely to mention some of the “usual suspects”. Finally, I find that some of the most exciting and thought-provoking writing on or about contemporary Paganism is currently happening in blogs, not in books. This is where all those “201” and “301” discussions are taking place. I’ve listed only ones with a broad appeal, but dig around: thoughtful, well-written, tradition-specific ones abound as well.

Gosh picking just 3 was hard. 

Top 10 Blogs 
Selection was based on their thought-provoking nature, quality of information, frequency of posting, and pertinence to a wide-spectrum of Pagan paths. I also sorta cheated by lumping the Patheos blogs and other blogs together.

Canadian Blogs 
Since only one Canadian blog made my top 10, I thought I’d list the Canadian blogs that I know about which seem to have some substance to them. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

History of Wicca in Canada - Timeline

This was the timeline that accompanied my articles published in 2008. I'd love to update it. If you have significant dates that you feel should be included, please leave me a comment with details.
  • 1959: It is believed that Wicca comes to Canada through a Gardner initiate (Dayonis)
  • 1960s: Roy Blunden, one of Gardner's Initiates (1960) emigrates to Canada and settles in southern BC
  • 1972: Alexandrian Coven in Vancouver, BC, goes public (Sion Davies)
  • 1972: Public coven in Victoria BC Mark Fedoruk (later Lion-Serpent Sun)
  • 1973: Public ‘flame war’ in Green Egg magazine among Toronto-area Wiccans and Pagans; as well as a public debate about homosexuals in Wicca with Toronto HP Roy Dymond as a leading opponent
  • 1979: Founding of Wiccan Church of Canada in Toronto
  • 1981: Wiccan Church of Canada receives pastoral rights from Corrections Canada
  • 1982: WiccanFest, Canada’s oldest Pagan festival, founded north of Toronto
  • 1986: Charles Arnold wins the right to take Beltaine as a paid religious holiday in the Ontario courts
  • 1987: Founding of BC Witchcamp
  • 1988: Kim M. of Winnipeg, MB, becomes the first declared Wiccan in the Canadian Military
  • 1988: Lion-Serpent Sun libel suit versus David Maines and 100 Huntley Street 1988 
  • 1988: Publication of Kate Sandilands study of Wicca and Neopaganism in Canada
  • 1989: Kaleidoscope Gathering, Canada’s largest Pagan festival, founded in Eastern Ontario
  • 1989: Publication of the Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca by Canadian police officer Kerr Cuhulain
  • 1992: Calgary court overturns decision to deny visiting rights to Wiccan George Gay because of his involvement in witchcraft.
  • Date?: Temple of the Lady in BC is the first Pagan organization to get “Marrying rights”
  • 1994: Human Right grievance, religious discrimination, against the BC NDP filed by Sam Wagar (settled out of court). 
  • 1997: First National Pagan Census administered by sociologist Sian Reid
  • Date?: Canadian Military Chaplaincy Handbook includes Wicca
  • 2000: First festival in Alberta (maybe prairies), Panfest, founded
  • 2000: Canada’s first Pagan Resource Centre, the Montreal Pagan Resource Centre, founded
  • 2005: Gaia Gathering, Canada’s National Pagan Conference holds its first annual gathering in Edmonton, AB
  • 2007: Wiccan ritual performed on the Canadian military base in Khandahar Afghanistan

Monday, April 22, 2013

Elements of Magic Intensive June 2nd-3rd in PEI

I love the elements. I also love Prince Edward Island, which is why I'm uber-excited to be co-teaching Elements of Magic at the beginning of June just outside of Charlottetown in PEI.

Elements of Magic
Weekend Intensive
June 2nd - 3rd, 2013
Prince Edward Island

With the art of magic, we deepen our vision and focus our will, empowering ourselves to act in the world. Working with the elements--Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit, we explore the ritual techniques and core practices of the Reclaiming tradition. In this class we will explore the practice of magic with others; to create sacred space and time, to explore our connections with the Divine/Goddess/God/Mysterious Ones, in whatever form we understand them. Some techniques that are typically touched on include breath, movement, drumming, song, trance, visualization, raising and projecting energy, and ritual.

Elements of Magic is one of the Reclaiming Witchcraft's core classes, an introduction to Reclaiming practices and philosophy, and a pre-requisite for all other Reclaiming classes. We welcome both beginners and experienced people who want to deepen their experience of the sacred with others.

Reclaiming is a community of people working to unify spirit and politics. Our vision is rooted in the religion and magic of the Goddess, the Immanent Life Force. We see our work as teaching and making magic: the art of empowering ourselves and each other. In our classes, workshops, and public rituals, we train our voices, bodies, energy, intuition, and minds. We use the skills we learn to deepen our strength, both as individuals and as community, to voice our concerns about the world in which we live, and bring to birth a vision of a new culture.

 Please bring something potluck to share for lunch on Saturday. Sunday lunch and healthy snack throughout the weekend are included in the registration fee. Please let us know of any food allergies, sensitivities, or any other special needs (food-related or not). 

Teaching Team 
Amanda is an ecstatic Witch following an initiatory mystery tradition of North American witchcraft. She has been active in the Montreal community since 2000, and involved in Reclaiming since 2003. She is currently a member of the Reclaiming Teachers in Training and Service (RTITS) guild in New England, and has offered workshops across Canada and in the United States. Until recently, Amanda was on the Board of Directors for Gaia Gathering, the Canadian National Pagan Conference. She was also the Managing Editor of Wyntergreene, a national Pagan magazine, for many years.

Amanda's personal practice celebrates life and places a strong emphasis on personal responsibility and relationship with Mystery, including deity, the ancestors, spirits, nature, and our selves. She believes strongly in having an extensive magical toolkit that complements real-world skills. She works as a freelance writer, blogger, and health coach. Visit her website at

Josie Baker is a community organizer and Pagan activist. She has organized many open workshops and rituals in the Reclaiming community in Montreal and the Maritime provinces. Her academic background includes Religious Studies, Women's Studies, Community Development, and Adult Education. Her experience with the Reclaiming community includes 10 years of Pagan activism, ritual (co)creation at Vermont Witch Camp and co/facilitating a class on Elements of Magic in 2008 and Ecology of Magic in 2007, and participation in Earth Activist Training in 2009. She values direct (inter)connection with the earth and the land in her home province of Prince Edward Island.

sliding scale: $130 to $70, You decide where you slide. No explanations needed. If the lower end of the scale is impossible for you, please contact us. We don't want to turn anyone away because of their financial situation, and are willing to provide work exchange opportunities.

Space is limited. To register or for more information, contact: A $40 deposit is required to hold your space (Cash, cheque, PayPal, Interac transfer accepted. Please contact us prior to sending Paypal or Interac transfer). The balance is payable at the workshop. Or you can pay the whole shot when you register.

Facebook Event page is here

Friday, April 12, 2013

History of Wicca in Canada - Rights

It is fairly easy for us to learn about the history of the Wicca and contemporary Paganism in the United Kingdom and the United States through books and scholarly articles originally published in those countries. It requires a bit more digging to discover the history in Canada. Only one book, Witches and Pagans and Magic in the New Age, written by a non-Pagan journalist (Kevin Marron) really exists; and it is out of print. This article, the second in a series that traces some of the roots of Wicca in Canada, was originally published in the magazine WynterGreene in 2008. It relies primarily on interviews and newspaper clippings. The first part of this article looked at some of the early figures of Wicca in Canada. This second segment looks at Wicca in the Canadian courts and public opinion.

Part II – Rights

Marie Jos├ęphine Corriveau. In 1763 she was the first woman to be tried and found guilty of Witchcraft in Canada by the military courts after New France fell to the British. She was suspected of at least one other murder, before being convicted for the death of her husband. After her execution her body was left to rot in a cage at the crossroads to the city. It is believed that her trial was as much political as it was about la sorcellerie. This was not the only witchcraft conviction in early Canada, but it is believed to be the first.

But Wicca is not the witchcraft of La Nouvelle France. When Wicca started to arrive and be openly practiced in Canada in the 1960s through to the early 1980s, there was very little distinction between the different kinds of Wicca. Craft was simply Craft. Initiates recognised each other through shared ritual ‘markers,’ and it was not uncommon for an Alexandrian, Gardnerian or other High Priest or Priestess to borrow a partner to perform ritual or initiations if no one else was available. Wicca was also much less distinguished from Satanism and other form of witchcraft that it is these days. This is quite evident from a couple of highly publicised court cases of the time.

Perhaps the best-known court case is the libel charge that Lion-Serpent Sun brought against David Maines and the evangelical television program 100 Huntley Street in 1988. Four years earlier, the show had aired an interview in which Pentecostal minister Len Olson told the tale of how he found Jesus: He claimed that in 1972, Mark Fedoruk (now Lion-Serpent Sun) had tried to kill him and his wife during a satanic ritual in Victoria, BC. Sun sued. His version of events was that in 1972 he was practicing Wicca, not Satanism, and that on the night in question Olson had smoked a significant amount of pot following a ritual and simply had a ‘bad trip.’

The case offered Canadians a fascinating, if somewhat slanted, look into the beliefs and practices of witchcraft in BC in 1972, as well as at the time of the trial. Among the evidence presented was Sun’s own Book of Shadows. As well, during the testimony of Gary Gage-Cole, a coven-mate of Sun’s, a photograph of the ritual room on the night in question was brought into evidence. The room had a pentacle with symbols around it painted onto the floor. During his testimony, Cole explained that the symbols in the darker shaded ring between the inner and outer circles were Hebrew letters that stand for names of God, but also are symbols of fire, water, wind and earth. He also said that some of the symbols were for angels and bats, or devils. “It's a balance, or a blending of opposites. As with everything in life, there is a duality,” he testified.

Several prominent BC witches also testified at the case, including Jean Kozocari and Robin Skelton, a professor of English at the University of Victoria. Skelton was the first witness in the trial to refuse to take his court oath on a bible, suggesting it would be inappropriate. After 15 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury decided that Sun did not attempt a human sacrifice, but that it was also substantially true that Sun was a Satanist. With their verdict, hey awarded Sun $10,000 in damages, plus court costs to be paid by the 100 Huntley Street. The verdict was both a victory and defeat for Sun, who said after the trial, “I do resent being called a Satanist in the sense that it's been explained in so many ways as being such a negative thing. […] I find that difficult.'' Later, a judge over-ruled the jury’s awarding of damages and ordered that since there was “divided success” on the allegations of libel, that the costs be split between to two parties. This was a decision that ultimately left Sun out-of-pocket financially.

Elsewhere in Canada, courts were busy trying to decide if Wicca was a religion. In 1986 Charles Arnold, with the support of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, filed a grievance against the Ontario Labour Relations Board. Active in the Wiccan Chuch of Canada, and an initiate of several traditions, Arnold was employed as a secretary at Humber College in Toronto. In April 1986 he put in a request to take Beltaine off work as a paid religious holiday. The request was denied on the grounds that Wicca was merely an excuse for “frivolous and morally-questionable acts.” The case went to arbitration in 1987 and Arnold won his case. In its ruling, the court stated that “Wicca is obviously a religion,” and in so doing set the first tangible precedent of a government body in Canada recognising Wicca as a legitimate religion.

A similar challenge in Calgary in 1992 involving visiting rights in a custody battle also put Wicca on the centre pedestal. In a court hearing, George Gay was denied visiting rights with his son because he was “involved in black magic”. In his appeal, Gay admitted to practicing Wicca, which he described as a religion involving worship of nature and pagan deities. Testifying on behalf of the defence, Rev. Paul W. Newman of the Toronto office of the United Church of Canada's Division of World Outreach, said in a letter of support, "I wish to testify the Wiccan religion is an authentic, respectable religion that works for the health and well-being of its followers." Gay won the appeal his visitation rights were restored. In their ruling, the Alberta Supreme Court said that religion could not be considered a factor in deciding custody of a child. This ruling is one of many that solidifies that ultimately it is behaviour rather than belief that is important to the Canadian courts.1

A couple of years later in BC, Wicca was once again publicly challenged. In 1994, Sam Wagar had won the nomination as the provincial New Democratic Party candidate for Abbotsford, in BC’s ‘bible belt.’ His nomination was later challenged on the basis that he was a witch and that he failed to declare this during the nomination process. Wagar had been quite visible as a public witch for over 15 years and felt that his religion was irrelevant to the nomination. He agreed to a second nomination race, but lost. Wagar filed a human rights complaint against the BC NDP on the grounds of religious discrimination. The case was settled out of court. It also appears to be last time that Wicca has been publicly challenged I the court or in the media.

While some Wiccans and witches were busy defending their rights and freedoms in the courts, other individuals were using the power of networking and the written word to take a more pro-active approach to securing acceptance for their religion.

Not long after the Lion-Serpent Sun and Charles Arnold trials, the The Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca by Canadian Wiccan policeman, Kerr Cuhulain was published in 1989. This book was “an important Canadian first step towards normalising relationships between Pagans and the police,” according to Professor Lucie Dufresne of the University of Ottawa. It has also become a classic text and widely distributed around the world in many languages. Cuhulain also founded the Wiccan Information Network (WIN) in 1989 to help counter the negative public perception of witchcraft, after having become involved a few years’ earlier with the Witches’ League for Public Awareness. It is believed that he is the first police officer to come out of the broom closet.

In 1994 the Pagan Federation Paienne Canada was founded as a multitraditional organization to “protect and promote the reputation of Pagans and Paganism in Canada.” It later incorporated in 1997 as federal nonprofit organization. Over the years the PFPC has provided Federal and Provincial governments with an understanding of contemporary Pagan religions, and been instrumental in getting Wicca and other Pagan paths included in the Canadian Military Chaplaincy handbook, as well as initiating chaplaincy programs in a variety prisons and hospitals. They have also been advocating for a repeal of the witchcraft law, which still exists in the Criminal Code of Canada (section 365).

These cases, as well as the efforts of many others too numerous to mention in this brief article, have opened the doors to the acceptance of Wicca as an almost mainstream religion in Canada. Wicca is currently one of the religions listed in the Canadian Military Chaplaincy Handbook, and indeed, earlier this year a Canadian military chaplain gave permission for a Wiccan Ostara celebration to be held outside the Christian Fellowship Centre at the NATO base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. One Canadian and six American Wiccans participated. Wiccan clergy have been allowed to visit Canadian prisons since 1981 to offer pastoral care to inmates, and several Wiccan or Neo-Pagan temples in BC have managed to meet the requirements for religious establishments, complete with ‘marrying rights;’ although attempts in other provinces have met with much less success.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am also enormously grateful to everyone who took the time to answer my questions and share their stories. I am especially indebted to Castalia, Hawk, Richard James, Shelley Rabinovitch, and Sam Wagar for their help with this article series. These articles would not have been possible without their patience and time spent with me in person or online, or the valuable resources and contacts they provided.

Endnotes: 1. In Canada, religion is a freedom and cannot be contested in court. However, religion cannot be an excuse for behaviour that is excessive, dangerous or contrary to Canadian laws. (Lucie DuFresne. Lecture on Religious Rights in Canada, Gaia Gathering, 2007.)