Pagan Spiritual Counseling in a Tribe-of-choice, part 2

There is a network of polyamorous relationships that threads through my tribe-of-choice, a vibrant one that has its good and bad sides.  Polyamory of the sort that is now becoming more common in the West is an almost entirely new and unique social development, much like modern Paganism.  As such, it has many aspects that are being learned and worked out, if not actually invented; there will be conflicts because of this, if for no other reason that polyamory is in many ways more complicated than monogamy (not to mention the monogamous bias of modern culture).

I’m not polyamorous; my wife and I have a committed and solid monogamous relationship.  This can be an advantage- I don’t have to worry about an even more complex level of role separation, and I can be clearly seen as a neutral party in disputes.  On the other hand, although I’m sympathetic to polyamory and support those who practice it, I have no experiential knowledge of it.  I’m necessarily kind of limited in how I deal with this limitation- I can educate myself and learn by observation, but that only goes so far.  Fortunately, I know several other ministers within the community who are polyamorous, and I can refer… assuming that they aren’t involved in the part of the network that is having problems in the first place.

My tribe-of-choice is, to put it mildly, religiously diverse.  There are Pagans and Heathens of many different varieties- Wiccans of various traditions and training, followers of various Norse paths, shamanic practitioners, and many more.  There are some members who I’ve dealt with as a minister who don’t even identify as Pagan at all- Thelemites, spiritual Christians, and people with strong but nearly unclassifiable spirituality.  Even my tradition has a wide range of belief and theological viewpoints.

Therefore, it behooves me to have at least some familiarity with a wide variety of traditions and spiritual paths.  I have to admit that I’ve been remiss about this in the past- I’m an introvert, and it is far too easy for me to stay in my own safe little world and not step out of it.  Some of this can be remedied by reading and education, of course, but that only goes so far.  I’ve been seeking to “get out more”; to experience different spiritual modes and paths.  Not only does this broaden my horizons, but it also forges bonds with others.  I try to give as much as I receive.

Given the diversity and maze-like connections inherent to my tribe-of-choice, it’s natural that there are several others in or attached to the community who have ministerial or priestly roles.  Some serve portions of the community, smaller and more well-defined groups; some serve larger and more complicated groups that strongly overlap this one; and one or two have a role equivalent to mine in the tribe-of-choice itself.  So far, this has been an advantage- if nothing else, it divides up the work load and it’s easier to consult a colleague.  However, it’s also necessary to avoid treading on someone else’s toes; I have to make sure to find out who else a (potential) counselee has been dealing with in the matter at hand, and make sure that I’m not overstepping any boundaries… including when I need counseling myself.

My tribe-of-choice is also geographically diverse.  Members are scattered up and down the Eastern seaboard, and even further.  True, a majority (or at least more than half) are concentrated in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, but that’s deceptive; with the nature of roads and traffic in that area, and the terrible public transport system, distances between people are better expressed in terms of time rather than mileage- and in many cases, the times are much longer than you might think.

The Internet has become a vital artery of connection in our community, even between those who live relatively close to one another.  Although electronic communication isn’t a perfect tool for counseling, it’s still important- if as a preface to face-to-face communication (if that turns out to be required).  I’ve also had cases where someone has approached me via email to ask for counseling, and in reply to my “what do you want to talk about?” answer, sends me a thorough and detailed description that is very revealing- the act of writing the email becomes a way of self-discovery and expression, in the way that a journal can work.

There’s also this blog (and in the past, my LiveJournal), where I can offer more generalized musings, essays, and poetry that (I humbly hope) may help those who read them.  So far, I’ve avoided Facebook (even though I get a bit of razzing about that), and will probably continue to do so.  It seems to be part of the gossip network, and I simply don’t have the time or inclination to fit it into my life.  Members of my tribe know how to find me when they need me.

The wide geographical range of my tribe, and the complex schedules that almost everyone in it has, means that much if not most of my counseling will be adjunct– conversations at pagan events, circle meetings, even parties.  I do a lot of my adjunct counseling via phone or email, even though those channels have their limitations.  But it’s very important for me to be aware of the possibility that a social situation may have the potential to change into a ministerial one, sometimes with very little warning.  I may not always be able to “put on my minister hat” in such cases, but I need to be able at least to find the right path to take- whether that takes me out of a fun party or a powerful ritual, or is simply making a commitment to talk to a person later.

This doesn’t exhaust the topic of pastoral counseling in my tribe-of-choice.  I have so much to learn- I feel I’ve barely begun, and I’m certain there are many other aspects, wrinkles and quirks that lie ahead of me, as yet undiscovered.  I know this process will continue over the rest of my life- that’s what marks true learning.

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