The Ethics of Healing
Magical ethics is a chronically hot topic in the Pagan community, and the ethics of doing healing spellwork is high up on the list. Is it all right to do healing magic for someone without asking them first? What if the person in question is a child? What if they’re in a coma and you can’t ask them in so many words?
I have an unusual perspective on this issue since, in addition to being a Pagan who practices magic, I have a background as a natural healthcare professional: I’m an herbalist and a naturopath. I’ve earned an M.S. in Natural Health and an N.D. degree and spent many years giving natural health consultations to clients in my private practice. Even though I’ve retired from that practice in order to devote my time to writing, I still turn to those years of experience to help me sort out various issues I’m confronted with.
I’d like to share with you some insights I gleaned during my time as a natural healthcare practitioner and how those insights can be applied to the ethics of doing healing magic.
There’s one particular lesson that the Powers-that-Be repeated for me over and over as I met with clients and worked with them to help them overcome their health issues: Until a person is ready to heal, no power in the world can make them do so. Once they’re ready, nothing can stop them.
Something else I discovered along the way is that people will ask for all sorts of help even though they’re not actually ready to heal yet. Maybe they’re not being honest with themselves; we all face that issue from time to time. Or maybe they’re being pressured by friends or family to seek assistance. Or maybe – and this one really stung when I realized it had happened to me with a few clients – maybe they have no intention at all of healing because they’re getting too much mileage out of their health issues, but they make a big show of asking for help from every possible source in order to cover up the fact that, underneath it all, they’re perfectly happy being sick. There’s an awful lot that goes on in terms of people’s health and wellbeing beyond what they actually say and do in broad daylight.
I’m telling you all this because one of the big ‘rules of doing healing magic’ that many Pagans insist on is that you ask the person for permission before doing anything for them. What I’m saying is, asking may not get to the truth. In fact, the person you ask may not even be aware of their own truth in the matter. And unless you’re some sort of omnipotent deity, you simply can’t look into a person’s psyche and figure it out yourself.
What about those other examples I listed: a child or a person in a coma? A child may not really understand the situation if asked, and their parent or guardian may have their own agenda (well-intentioned or otherwise) that conflicts with the child’s. Yes, it happens, and we can’t look into other people’s hearts and magically (ha!) know what’s really going on. And obviously, you can’t ask a person in a coma whether they want to get better or whether they’re ready to move on out of this life.
So what’s an ethically responsible Pagan to do?
I can’t tell you what you should do (ethics is a deeply personal matter) but I can share what I do, and to me, it’s mostly a matter of respect and careful wording of intention. In a sense, it’s the magical version of holding out a tray of food to the person and letting them take whatever they like, as much or as little or nothing at all.
Whenever I offer healing to anyone, whether it’s an in-person Reiki session or a long-distance healing spell, I frame it with the intent that the energy will go toward whatever they need it for most at the moment. That may be a miraculous cure or a swift and painless death. As Pagans, it behooves us to understand that death is a part of the natural cycle and is not a failure, as much as the mainstream medical community might like us to view it that way. And yes, I consider that if an easy death is what the person needs and wants, that counts as healing. I can’t know what the person needs most, but on some level they do (or their higher self, guardians, guides, and so on).
I also add a second condition to all the healing work I do: The person may accept or reject as much of it as they please. They make take it all, for whatever they need it for at the time, or choose to receive some of it, or say no to every last bit. Any healing energy they don’t want will simply return to Source; I always make sure to specify that in any healing work I do. It’s not my place to insist that anyone accept whatever energy I’m sending to them, even if they’ve said that’s what they want. (See the section above about where a person’s truth lies.)
What if the person rejects it all? Have I wasted my time and energy? Why bother in the first place?
For me, I continue to offer healing because I can and because the possibility remains that the person to whom I am sending it may choose to accept it. It’s kind of like smiling at a stranger: They may accept my friendly gesture and allow it to add a tiny bit of positivity to their day, or they may not. But I’m not going to quit smiling at people simply because some of them scowl and turn away from me, because the little bit of good that smile does for the people who choose to accept it makes the world a better place. And to me, that’s ultimately what magic is all about: making the world a better place.
In the name of the Bee - And of the Butterfly - And of the Breeze - Amen!