Protect yourself from predators masquerading as spiritual leaders

John Hainsworth, owner of a witch shop in Lititz Pennsylvania, was arrested for aggravated and indecent assault earlier this month. Apparently, he performed a “spiritual healing” on three different women that turned into something far more personal and totally inappropriate.

Sadly, as much as many Pagans would like to believe we’re above this sort of thing, such abuse is all too possible in our community. Truth be told, the lack of central authorities or systematic methods to identify less than honorable individuals who like to depict themselves as spiritual leaders and gurus makes Paganism a perfect outlet for this sort of thing. This is why it is so important that we as individuals need to be vigilant and careful in order to protect ourselves.

To that end, I would like to offer the following advice to people so that they might further protect themselves from incidents like the one that played out in Lancaster County on at least three separate occasions (and personally, I suspect there were more).

1. Be wary of anyone who’s quick to offer their services.
In this story, two of the women got into this situation not because they went looking for a “healing session,” but because Hainsworth suggested the idea to them. He saw that they had some deep needs and were vulnerable, so he presented himself as the solution to their problems. Unfortunately, this is all too common an approach for predators to take. Their “veil” of helpfulness is appealing and helps create the kind of confusion these women felt when things went wrong. Doubt created by thoughts like “he’s just trying to help” are an excellent tool that a predator can use to keep a victim in his clutches. It’s far safer to go to someone who waits for you to ask for help rather than someone who takes the initiative.

2. Check people out before you seek out or accept their services.
When seeking out spiritual help of any sort, take the time to make sure the person you’re considering going to is on the up-and-up. Whenever possible, ask other trustworthy people about them. Find those who have had experiences with this person and ask them to tell you about those experiences.

3. Interview the individual you are going to about themselves and what they plan on doing.
Eight years ago, when I went to a Reiki practitioner for the first time, we spent half an hour talking before I even got on the table. She was quite open about how long she had been practicing, as well as when and where she received her attunements. She then went on to tell me about Reiki and exactly what would be involved in working on me. This kind of discussion is vital, as it sets expectations and makes boundaries clear. Had that particular practitioner done anything beyond what we had discussed before she started working on me, I would have been gone instantly.

4. Trust your instincts.
One of the things that saddens me about this story is that the third woman felt things had gone wrong, but didn’t say anything because she was afraid she was “being stupid.” I hope that someone who cares about her has reassured her that she wasn’t being stupid. If something in a situation like that makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s time to put an end to it. If you feel a boundary has been crossed, it probably has. And you have not only a right to stand up for yourself in such a situation, but an ethical mandate to do so.

5. Always be wary when disrobing (either partially or fully) is involved.
Some may disagree with me on this point, but I feel quite strongly about it. While I have nothing against nudity, I do not feel it is appropriate in a private situation between people who are practically strangers, especially when spiritual healing is involved. Most spiritual healing practices (in fact, I can’t think of any where this doesn’t apply) do not require it to be effective. And if a particular practice does require it, I think it is important that a stronger bond between healer and client be formed first, preferrably over an extended period of time in which the character of both individuals can be better gauged by the other party.

These are just a few points that I can think of. I would encourage everyone to think about them and the topic in general. Perhaps others around you — or even you yourself — might be able to offer more advice on the matter. I can’t guarantee that this will keep you completely out of harm’s way, but I dare say that it certainly help a great deal.

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