Ethics in Divination: Health

In John Michael Greer’s The Art and Practice of Geomancy one of the topics is something that has deeply concerned me in the Neopagan community for quite some time.

Many diviners get asked to do divinations for health. Raven Kaldera indicates that it is one of the top questions that he gets asked, and anecdotally several other diviners have said that it is one of their more common situations. Spirit Workers of all sorts also get asked these questions as a matter of course.

This means that diviners–and spirit workers–are under frequent pressure to answer questions that fall firmly outside of their domain of expertise. They are asked questions such as when will I die or about someone’s cancer. Possibly not even the health situation of the party that is asking the question.

This is a serious–and nontrivial–issue. There are a few things that we need–as ethical spirit workers need to do:

  • Recognize things that are outside of your ability.
  • Know when you can give a qualified yes… and know when to say no.
  • Be able to provide referrals.

Dealing with Limitations

Limitations on Ability

Your abilities as a geomancer, in addition, don’t qualify you to practice medicine, psychotherapy, or any other professional discipline. (Greer, The Art and Practice of Geomancy)

A serious issue in the psychology community are the ethical limits on one’s domain of expertise. If you aren’t familiar with the treatment of PTSD it is probably best not to learn it by experimenting on your clients. The same is true of massage therapy: Using massage to treat muscle tension is one thing, using it as a primary treatment for cancer is quite another. You might be able to help, you might be able to provide some relief, but you cannot be their primary source of information or treatment, and you should not be doing anything that interferes with that treatment.

Most of us are not qualified health professionals. Those that are have a set of professional prescribed methods for diagnosing problems that do not involve pendulums, astrological charts, tarot cards, or geomancy.

So if someone comes to you with a health problem, I believe the first words asked should be have you seen a qualified professional for this problem? For mental health (e.g., divination in preparation for a soul retrieval) that should be a mental health professional of some stripe. For physical health, that should be a qualified doctor of the appropriate type(s), and possibly a mental health professional as well.

This doesn’t mean I can’t do anything or that I am immediately forbidden from doing a divination. It does mean, however, that I should recognize that I am walking on shaky ground. I neither want to be practicing medicine without a license, nor giving people advice with regards to their state where I lack the expertise to do the analysis.

When you can give a qualified yes

So you have established that they are seeing the appropriate care providers. This doesn’t mean that our hands are completely free, but now we can take a step back and see how we can help and what our divination might actually do.

For example, there might be something energetically off with them in addition to anything else going on. Divination may help provide some insight into how they can better cope with the illness or injury, or may help them with spiritual direction in the uncertainty of the situation. They may simply be looking for which professionals might be best to contact, having exhausted their available avenues for such. It may indicate what approaches a spirit worker might take in addition to (and, preferably, coordinating with) their other treatments.

Sometimes they refuse to see a medical professional for other reasons, but are willing to look anywhere else for help.

There is a lot in this that each individual has to work out for themselves, and exactly where your boundaries of comfort are here are one of them. The question–and the trick–is being entirely upfront and honest about your limitations, knowing how to qualify your answers, and knowing when to provide a referral.

When to say no

You cannot help someone who cannot help themselves. So as a basic guideline, if they aren’t willing to work on their issues, your divination will go in one ear and out the other.

Past that it is a judgement call and depends on the nature of the question. I refuse to do readings for third-parties if the third party is not aware of and consenting to the reading: Their health is their business, and if they choose to share it is up to them.

I refuse to answer questions on when someone will die, duration of an illness, or anything else that might sow the ground with false hope or unfounded despair. No matter how good I am, I am not perfect (and even if I can read the message, the water tastes of the pipes).

Providing Referrals

It is generally a good idea for anyone who acts in a professional capacity with respect to the public cultivate a list of references. Get to know a couple of therapists in your area (one of which can be yours), learn your local crisis center hotlines along with any local clinics. Be able to get the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Number if you need it.

It is always better to have the knowledge and never use it than to need it and not have it.

Conclusion

This is not meant to be comprehensive, but just a few general guidelines scratching the surface of the much deeper issue of professional ethics in spirit work. Everyone needs to determine their own boundaries here, but what those boundaries should be is a conversation that we as a group should be having.

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2 Responses to Ethics in Divination: Health

  1. Meirya says:

    This is very good to read. I agree that there needs to be more discussion of ethics in spirit work, magical practice, occultism, etc – not just the stuff you hear all the time like “don’t mess with free will” and “an’ it harm none” or whatever else in whichever path – but stuff like what you’ve written about just now: practicing within and without your areas of competence, referrals, ethics in regards to divination, ethics in regards to providing services.

  2. Soli says:

    In Kemetic Orthodoxy, there is a divination system known as fedw. Among the rules of what is and is not OK to ask about with the system is questions of health. It makes total sense to me, especially considering the mind-body split in our cultures.

    There are some divination systems set up to handle some health questions, like Ifa. But also, in those cases I believe it’s more a case of “you need to be focusing on your health now” rather than specific questions of illness.

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