By Jim Warwood.
You want to help your Spiritualist church or centre develop, so you offer to run an open circle. You hope that people will find out more about their own potential whilst being exposed to the philosophy of Spiritualism. You have a good knowledge of Spiritualism, an understanding of psychic development and maybe even some mediumistic abilities.
The committee accepts your kind offer and you arrange your first circle meeting. As the group starts, you talk about its objectives and the way it will be run. I imagine that, as I did, you introduce the idea of psychic ability and contrast it with what true mediumship is. You almost certainly bring up the theory of spirit guides. Asking about people’s knowledge of their spirit helpers, you may find you get a shock or two.
Working around the circle, the first says, “Yes, I have my guides here: Rock, Totem and Bear.” The next says, “Mine is the Archangel Michael,” and the next indicates they are aware of their guide but he is a warlock practising black magic. Maintaining a look of interested indifference and placing your eyebrows back in correct alignment, you continue round the group. The next person has their mother who passed away two years ago, and then you come to the first of two who have Jesus Christ as a guide.
By now you will probably think I am testing your credulity with such a ridiculous level of overstatement. Unfortunately, I am not. What I describe occurred on the very first day I flew solo as a group leader.
Some of you may think that your churches have rules which stop people attending until they have completed an induction programme. Possibly, to join a group, they also have to become church/centre members. Even so, I doubt that these steps will actively prevent you from getting some shocks about the way the knowledge given to the individual has been interpreted by them.
However, in many cases the open group forms the front line for newcomers to move beyond the passive experience of a Sunday service and explore their own abilities. Equally, it will attract those who will not attend a service, for a variety of reasons. This was the experience I had six years ago, and it highlighted the challenges any new group leader should be prepared for.
I suspect it does not matter which approach you use to run your group, the challenges will still be there. The method I use involves a guided meditation to link with guides, some discussion, and exercises to help people understand their psychic abilities. The exercises are structured so that the most experienced can still improve their psychic skills. I use these exercises in a way that is intended to help people understand the difference between psychic work and mediumship. Specific exercises give an opportunity for people to attempt the step of making contact with loved ones in spirit.
There will be other challenges to face. For instance, you may well find that you are facilitating a group which contains psychics who are already earning a living from their readings. Often, people receive they describe as being “from spirit” and you have to lead the group gently to an understanding that psychic contact is from the energy field of the individual being read and is very different from the energy contact with spirit.
You will probably find that, if you are doing a decent job, more members of your group will start to do psychic readings on a semi-professional basis, using a variety of the methods they have learned, or perhaps using tarot cards. This may not be mediumship, but at least, if the teaching is good, they will know what they are doing and have an awareness of the ethics behind their work.
People will come into the group and then move on, some quickly and some to your absolute relief. Others will depart at a time when you are beginning to see their potential develop to the point of moving on for platform training. Conversely, you will lose others because they decide that they have learned all they can from you. Often these individuals will think they should already be regarded as mediums, even though you remain unconvinced that they have reached that level or are suitable to work on the platform.
Many will never become Spiritualists, but then it is part of our philosophy not to seek converts. However, in a well-run open group the experience should be beneficial, whatever spiritual path each person is moving along.
By now you may be wondering why you would tackle the project of leading an open group. It requires your time, considerable dedication and continuous planning to ensure that it helps everyone who attends. You need a broad knowledge base – and tact – to explain the difference between Spiritualism and the many ideas you may meet with each new arrival. Many of these people will hold their positions strongly and will readily challenge the principles you uphold.
There is no guarantee that the group will achieve anything for the church or centre; indeed, unless it is well integrated within the organisation, it can develop into a cult of personality in which the leader becomes the group ‘owner’, to the eventual detriment of all parties.
Be that as it may, I am commencing my seventh year of running an open group and my experiences suggest that such groups are a vital part of any healthy organisation. Running a group is very rewarding, not least in seeing the enjoyment people get from each meeting. You also see people grow and develop, not just from the teaching they receive but also through their personal life experiences. As things progress, you will see many of the group members deciding to use their skills to help others, perhaps choosing also to train as spiritual healers.
Then, as a real bonus, you will find dedicated people who can and will take the next challenge. They become active helpers, maybe joining your committee. More importantly, some may have the ability and desire to take the next steps towards working for spirit on the platform. Such rare gifted ones, in the end, make the effort even more worthwhile.