The Pagan Community Isn't Ready to Aid Members In Health Care Facilities

There are around a million Pagans in the US and only a handful of Pagans who have experience or training for counseling in hospitals or hospice.

As a person with chronic health issues, I’ve been to the emergency room many times. I’m grateful that only once I had to be admitted overnight and that turned out to be a week long stay in a stress unit. While I struggled with my inner turmoil, surrounded by free bibles and unable to go outside, I wished there was a Pagan clergy member or priest/priestess who could have visited me. It got me thinking about what would happen if I ended up in a life threatening situation? Who would be there to help me move on from this life? I’m in a small town of around three thousand people. As far as I know, the closest clergy is a couple of hours away. I haven’t even met them. Even if I knew a Pagan clergy member, would they be allowed to visit me and perform rites?

New US Health and Human Services Department guidelines started in January. Any hospital that accepts Medicare or Medicaid must protect ALL patient’s rights to include anyone they wish on their visitation list. Hospitals may not “restrict, limit, or otherwise deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”

In the Staff of Asclepius post “Are You Prepared for a Medical Emergency?” I emphasized the importance of having an Advanced Medical Directive and choosing a spiritual advisor. However, does the Pagan community have members who are prepared to advise and console others during a crisis? Our circles large and small have people willing to share ideas and swap books, maybe even dedicate themselves to long term serious teaching. However, there are around a million Pagans in the US and only a handful of Pagans who have experience or training for counseling in hospitals or hospice. There are many coven, grove, or circle members who would show up at any time of day or night to be with a fellow member. But are they prepared to speak with hospital staff, understand regulations, or can they prepare a soul for their final journey or conduct a funeral? This is one of the main reasons we need trained Pagan leadership.

The Pagan Federation in the UK hopes to put together a bank or list of qualified professionals for such a need. Until then, they offer an article and printable leaflet with advice for Pagan ministers and Pagans in health or long term care facilities.

I did an extensive online search for similar resources to assist US Pagans. I found two resources by the Washington-Baltimore Pagan Clergy Association and I applaud their work. Unfortunately, the organization is currently inactive and I’m grateful that someone is keeping the site up. At the site there is a Hospital Chaplaincy Education Slideshow “Pagans & Hospitals: Meeting the Growing Need” and a Psycho-Spiritual Profile for Wicca. Michael Reeder wrote the profile for pagans to give to their personal therapists. Clergy can share the information with professionals on their health care referral list. Michael writes the Pagan Therapy and Counseling for a Pagan World blog. These resources can still be used, especially if they are updated. The slide show needs newer statistics and the community needs a Pagan profile and maybe even profiles for other traditions.

I emailed Cherry Hill Seminary, which offers a masters program for Pagan clergy, about hospital, long term care, and hospice resources and got a quick response from Holli S. Emore, Executive Director. At this time, Cherry Hill doesn’t have a chaplain list but they would like me to put together a brief notice for their newsletter asking for resources. I’m woefully behind in writing that notice.

If any of you know of resources for Pagans in the hospital, long term care, or hospice please post them in the comments. If you know of a list of professional Pagan or Pagan friendly clergy, please share it. Do you have a story to share about needing a Pagan priest or priestess or member of the clergy while hospitalized? Please share it in the comments or email me.

In the mean time, I’ll be writing that notice.

Resources or Articles of Interest:

“Pagan Leadership/Clergy” section in the Patheos online library

Reclaiming Quarterly “The Changing Face of Priestessing” by M. Macha NightMare

Earth Traditions provides spiritual counseling, hospital and prison chaplaincies and training for Pagan Clergy interested in becoming involved in these types of ministries.

Wiccan/Pagan Times “Pagan Clergy: What Qualifications and Credentials Should They Possess?” by Morgan Ravenwood

American Hospital Association “A Patient’s Bill of Rights”
A Patient’s Bill of Rights was first adopted by the American Hospital Association in 1973. This revision was approved by the AHA Board of Trustees on October 21, 1992.

The Nation “The Best Healthcare News You Didn’t Hear This Week” by Nancy Goldstein

“PART 482—CONDITIONS OF PARTICIPATION FOR HOSPITALS“ Changes made to the Medicare and Medicaid conditions of participation for hospitals by the Department of Health and Human Services final rule.pdf

Public Health in Sacred Space #health
13 Aspects of the Ouch Life
New Year’s Ritual
Sixteen Things Mentally Ill Pagans Have To Put Up With
About Tara "Masery" Miller

Tara "Masery" Miller is a Neo-Pagan panentheist Gaian mage living in the Ozarks with her husband and pets. She's also a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She is the editor of Rooted in the Body, Seeking the Soul which you can find at Immanion press. She has a minor is religion from Southeast Missouri State Missouri State University with an emphasis in mysticism. Masery has lead various groups over the years and organized Pagan Pride Day events. Her magic and author page is at

  • kadiera

    About a decade ago, we were part of a project (which fell through) to take some information to local hospitals, including local people they could contact if asked. The project got started because of a friend’s life-threatening illness; the chaplain at her hospital asked if there was someone they could call, and when she explained her faith, the chaplains were unhappy that they had no one in their files to call for her.

    Our goal was not necessarily people with training, but Priests & Priestesses willing to show up and learn what they needed to know on the fly. In the aftermath of that experience, I acquired a number of books written for Christian ministers on how to handle hospital situations. They were informative, but I think I need to go back and read again, with our own hospital experience in mind.

    One of the only hospitals to get info from that failed project is actually my son’s “home” hospital. We had limited contact with the chaplains during our various stays, though they all knew him during his extended stay, largely because we knew that if we asked….my name was the name they’d find as someone to call for us. And that’s not terribly helpful, you know?

    A Pagan friend is one of the volunteers that holds babies in the NICU there, and she talks with the chaplains regularly. She says they’re very nice, and at least open to discussion. Most at this private hospital appear to be Catholic nuns, and at least one of them is familiar with Reiki.

    I’ve been contemplating that during our next stay (a planned 2-day admissing to the PICU in late April for trach removal) that maybe I’ll ask for one of the chaplains to come chat for a while, because I’d like to write about our experiences with them, but mostly we’ve brushed them off. Too much of our longest stay was a balancing act between following our faith and not pushing away staff that we needed to keep our son alive and it’s one of the few things about that situation that I wish we’d handled differently.

  • MaryBeth

    This happened to me, and I had contacted the local clergy and asked for visitation or even a phone call… I got NOTHING not even an email back.

    VERY sad statement of lack of caring?

    It was the COG in Minneapolis I contacted…. I was in the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Mn

  • Willow Darkwater

    I have over 20yrs in the Wiccan religion. By Gardnerian rule, that gives High Priesthood ( at 20 yr. mark). As Wiccans we have more than a religion, we also recognize budding talents after a few years of practice and worship, that continue to grow as we do in the religion and the lifestyle. There was cluster of things going on with me as a Wiccan Priest: my sixth sense was developing in an empathic, clairsentient way and i was studying the Tarot in depth. i was also developing as a very soothing spirit; more and more friends were calling me in the night looking for a shoulder to cry on and an understanding ear. Maybe a reading, or something standing out significantly to me as an empath and sensative, usually something more intuitive than from an oracle. Then as i hit the twenty year mark and gained my high priest status i shrugged it off and was humble, then I realized, “No, i have earned this title and i will embrace it”–since then i have transitioned two human spirits and one other. I offer spiritual advising and cleansings, ridding of attachments (exorcisms), tarot readings for a flat rat not by the minute, and any other service i would feel comfortable doing. The point is this: any beginner is going to be probably willing to help, but not far enough into the religion, elements, correspondences, and the life and the gifts that come with devoted servitude to be able to help a hospital or hospice patient with anything spiritual, they are babes, and we dont send out or children to do the big jobs we let them get comfortable with budding talents, the circle, the formalities and the work their way into priests, high Priests, shaman,healers, psychics, alchemists, therapists, advisors, apothecarists and whatever else their pantheon bestowes upon them. Is the pagan community asa whole ready for this work, no, but not complete religious group is, thats like saying are all Jews ready for thin of work or any religion, come now , lets play realistically and stop putting the witches under the proverbial microscope.

  • Jenny Sill-Holeman

    Although I read this blog and its comments when it was first drawn to my attention soon after it was posted, I’m just now getting a chance to reply. I am Pagan with 25 years in my tradition. But for additional reasons I think I may be one of the few who is qualified to minister to Pagans in hospital or hospice.

    I have had a year of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as a Chaplain Resident at my local hospital (which is Catholic owned, by Catholic Healthcare West – CHW) and spent 5+ years as a hospice chaplain before leaving to develop my holistic healing practice (among other things I’m a Certified Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master/Teacher, with a focus on clients with chronic and life-threatening illnesses). I have not gone through the process to become a certified chaplain (although I’m qualified to do so) because, frankly, the certification program from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE), the primary certifying body, is quite biased towards followers of religions with accredited seminaries, and obviously there aren’t many of those in the Pagan world.

    The best training someone can possibly get to be a chaplain is to take 4 units of CPE. Most programs are a year in length for full-time residency, although there are some that are considered extended programs and are half-time. Most of them pay a little bit. It takes time and commitment, but anyone who is seriously interested in doing Pagan clergy work should take the time for a CPE program.

    In my experience chaplains in both hospitals and hospices are very open to learning more about what it means to be Pagan and how to minister to Pagans. I have given talks to both the chaplain residents at the hospital where I did my CPE training and to the CHW chaplains in the Northern California area about ministering to Pagans. All have been quite receptive, so if any Pagan would like spiritual support they should not hesitate to contact their hospital or hospice chaplain.

    Regarding the question as to whether someone who is not trained can come into a hospital to minister to someone there, at least in California any patient can invite anyone to visit them (within the rules of the hospital, of course — there are sometimes time limitations for visits with patients in ICU, for example, and special precautions need to be followed when visiting anyone with a communicable disease like TB).

    It’s rare that you can just drop in to a hospital and ask to see any Pagan patients, and that’s for the protection of the patients. There was a case in San Francisco a few years ago of someone wandering around the units telling patients that if they didn’t believe in that person’s particular brand of Christianity they were going to go to Hell — which apparently was described to the patients in excruciating detail.

    I hope that gives some more background on Pagan clinical chaplaincy. I’m open to answering any questions anyone might have. I live in California, in the middle of the San Francisco Peninsula, half-way between San Francisco and San Jose, so I can support virtually any Pagan in the central Bay Area, or anyone who would like to visit a Pagan patient.

  • Khalila RedBird

    I, too, am a Pagan priestess with a year of Clinical Pastoral Education under my belt, followed by a year on staff as chaplain. I am working on a Master of Divinity at Cherry Hill Seminary, on my way to applying to the Association of Professional Chaplains for board certification. I serve in our local hospital as a volunteer and on-call interfaith chaplain. Jenny Sill-Holeman is correct in asserting CPE is the best training for hospital ministry and chaplaincy. It is demanding and rigorous — and the full year (full time) or equivalent commitment is a lot more than most of our clergy can undertake. One unit of CPE would be an excellent basic qualification, and many divinity schools require just that.
    Any hospital that lets random clergy of any faith come in to visit just any old patient of that faith is opening itself up to major violations of patient confidentiality and sanctions under HIPAA. What I have seen work is when a clergy of a particular minority religion — such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Muslims — work with the hospital’s chaplaincy director and establish both their ability to serve in hospital situations among patients of their own faith and their willingness to appear at the hospital on a regular basis (i.e., weekly) to visit such patients, then the chaplaincy may provide a list of patients known to be of that faith.
    On a less regular but working basis, Pagan clergy should take it upon themselves to learn how to minister to people in crisis and, at the same time, become acquainted with the chaplaincy at their local hospitals. Ask to be put on “the list” to be called if a patient requests Pagan clergy. Acquire whatever ID (and possibly parking privileges) that clergy of any other religion can acquire. Find out the needs. Make friends. Play by the hospital rules.
    And those clergy who are interested in chaplaincy, please check out our new FaceBook page, Pagan Chaplains of the USA.
    Blessed Be