So you want to run an open development group?

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.

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14 responses to “So you want to run an open development group?

  1. Jim is shocked by the idea of such varied spirit guides but doesn’t offer his guide to what or what is not acceptable under his belief system.
    Rather than shock and mock he needs to come down on one side or the other – either guides are some information system which Spiritualists humanise into archetypal images, it’s all baloney, or Jesus, angels or Native Americans really are hanging around spirit circles giving members their wisdom.

  2. i want to join an open or closed circle in or around london pref days i am already a medium but need to get it more developed/organised i am reliable and compassionate any offers? female 60 ish

  3. wow i felt shocked by the blinkered view this person has with spirit guides etc. Sounds like we will need to sit an entrance exam before we can show an interest in Spiritualism.
    I fear that the elitist attitude I have witnessed in such centres/churches does nothing but harm individuals who may not fit in the neat box that is getting more and more evident in centres.
    I know we need to be aware how fine the line can be between spirit communication and mental health problems, but this does not give us the right to say your guides are not the usual ones so you are not coming in!!!
    I know of lots of people/healers who work with Angelic energy and is it not so that we all have jesus energy in us as we are all connected on some level? This was given to me when sitting in a trance circle of a very well regarded individual!
    Remember spirit works through and uses our minds, our personal experiences, so what I use as symbolism is completely different to someone else. I remember one of the first messages I gave in open circle which I was later told off for! It was “I have a dragon here and the name Pete.” I understand that it sounds weird but it was not for me to understand. It made perfect sense to the lady who received the message, in fact it was an agreed word for the deceased to use to prove life after death. Please don’t judge others as we all know people are so very differnt and a little tolerance and encouragement can go a long way. Namaste.

  4. Hi David and Ayse,

    It appears that my comments have in some ways shocked you. It also seems that as a result you have judged the way I act and relate to group members as being in some way inadequate or inappropriate. I did point out that I never interfere in the beliefs those individuals hold. My article was really to let people, who are Spiritualists, know what to expect when taking on an open group.

    However, running a group I do explain the basic philosophical beliefs of Spiritualism and the traditional view of Spirit Guides within the movement. They do not have to accept or take that on board to keep coming either to the group or to our centre. Indeed we are very open-minded about the belief systems of all others who attend our centre but in return expect them to respect our right to maintain a Spiritualist viewpoint.

    As a Spiritualist centre we will always try to explain the Spiritualist philosophy in a way that people can understand and in a way that may help them to simplify some of their life.

    In running an open group – if I did not explain Spiritualism and allow it to develop as a reflection of all the current views within the New Age, then I would be remiss in my duty both to Spiritualism and to the Spiritualist centre in which the group runs. The fact the group has run for seven years in various formats, attracting a healthy attendance, indicates that people find it to be a worthwhile exercise. I would also say that the fact that I maintain a Spiritualist content, explaining it and helping to illustrate, for example, the difference between psychic and mediumship has caused many to evaluate their own belief systems with greater discernment.

    I would also say that if I personally do not agree with archangels and angels it is also due to detailed research into the whole subject. I would say the same about my personal position on the ascended masters, the ascension movement, indigo children and the Mayan calendar. Spiritualism may be a belief because we accept the existence of God but it is also a philosophy, a science and a truth. The latter is a very important point because it explains why Spiritualism, as a body, needs to be particularly discerning about what it adds to its philosophy to maintain its integrity.

    I had never intended to go into issues such as my belief in guides or the philosophy of Spiritualism but given the criticisms made, and judgements formed, I believe it to be important to do so.

    Compared to many involved with writing for SPN I am a relative newcomer to Spiritualism being drawn into the movement back in 1984. However, at that time Angels were never mentioned. Indeed it is worth remembering that the original wording of the Third Principle was the Communion with Spirits as Ministering Angels. The revision to Communion with Spirits and the Ministry of Angels did not reflect a sudden addition of angels to Spiritualism because for years afterwards no one accepted angels would be guides. The traditional Spiritualist view is that guides are those who have passed through a physical life giving them the necessary experience to be able to help those on this physical path. They are Spirit that choose to help us along this journey, after they have made some progress as Spirit and as part of their own development.

    That is the position I take a explaining it regularly without seeking to make people change. I notice that as people revisit my circle at least 95% of the individuals become more comfortable with forming a relationship with a Spirit guide of this type. This is not because they have to but because they find the benefits of such a communication.

    I am aware of all the problems with Spirit guides – that they cannot be evidentially proven in normal terms. Silver Birch explained he was not Silver Birch but a conduit which a Spirit of a higher level of development used to lower the vibrational level of the messages so that they could be picked up by Maurice Barbanell in trance. Rarely does a Spirit give full name, date and place of birth and their occupation. With modern genealogical records it would be easy to establish this.

    Guides are the strength and potential weakness of the movement. They can be aspects of your own mind if you are not careful. The two most cogent pieces of research to disprove the multiple personality theory were upon Gladys Osbourne Leonard and Eileen Garret who were both concerned that their guides were not separate entities. So we have evidence of guides as independent personalities. They remain difficult to prove to anyone outside the movement but mine are real and each is with me for different elements of my work.

    I wish you well with whatever you believe are your guides but I would like you to remain open to the traditional Spiritualist view and the value it has, as proven by so many great mediums of the past.

    Is it just possible that the decline in standards of mediumship, which is being talked about worldwide, reflects the decline in the traditional linkages between guides and individuals.

  5. Thanks for your explanation Jim.
    You obviously feel it is your duty to teach the accepted beliefs of Spiritualism but at the same time admit that even within the movement there seems to be some debate about whether guides are individuals, conduits or whatever.
    That’s the trouble with stated beliefs and dogmas as demonstrated by most religions – they can seem inflexible and not able to change as new understandings come along. That’s probably why I am always reluctant to sign up to any particular named discipline because I feel it can tend to restrict growth and possible change – although to be fair Spiritualism is perhaps more flexible than most.
    Put it this way – we all might have friends who are born again Christians who do healing and probably get as good results as Spiritualists.
    They might say that ‘Jesus did it’, Spiritualists might say ‘psychic energy’ or ‘spirit guides’ did it. Witchdoctors might say ‘the spirits of their ancestors’ or ‘the plant devas’ did it.
    There was a hippy philosopher in the 60s called Alan Watts who used to say: “It’s not the word ‘water’ which makes you wet, it’s what it is, that makes you wet’.
    Labels and definitions often divide people and probably in the fullness of time and understanding we might find none of them really defines what is happening.
    Maybe better just to do what we feel works – and leave the definitions and labels to the philosophers?

  6. Sheelagh Wellman

    Jim speaks from the heart and true what he says. As a medium about to embark on a similar venture (new awareness group) I thank Jim for sharing his honest and frank views, for reminding me what to expect. His views earned and informed. If standards are to be maintained we need to take note not homage with emphasis upon the philosophy also ‘weeding out’ those in it for gain alone. Jim you certainly reminded me of what I should expect. Good for you!

  7. Julie Grist

    I had several little chuckles reading the article and at no time did I think or feel that Jim was being judgemental or condescending. Quite the opposite, in fact, for everything he mentions, and much more besides, can be experienced in the running of an Open, Awareness or Development Circle.
    I found his wording and descriptions to be both tactful and helpful – most especially how to go about things.
    He repeatedly encourages that sitters become more knowledgeable about Spiritualism, its Philosophy, understanding Psychism and Mediumship, and opening their minds to exploring broader thinking. It’s not his fault that angels, ascended masters, arch-angels, warlocks, Jesus et al are all man made myths and legends! They may be fashionable but they have no home in Spiritualism.
    The truths of Spiritualism are so supportive, uplifting, intelligent and progressive that they allow enormous freedom.
    If he is happy to teach and propound unadulterated and non-watered down Spiritualism in all its glory then I am a very happy bunny indeed.

  8. Richard Coates

    I’m a first time visitor to this website and this is the first article I’ve read. I must say that I’ve enjoyed both Jim Warwood’s article and the various comments that followed. If there’s a line in the sand on this one, I’m on Jim’s side.

    I’m very intrigued to read that the third principle was amended at some point in the past and I’d really like to know more. I got the impression that the principles have been laid down in concrete (if not tablets of stone) from at least the start of the SNU. Compare the seven principles with the American nine principles (www.nsac.org) which are revised from time to time and do not include any reference to Angels at all. Where is the true Spiritualism?

    And Julie Grist, nice to read your name again. You did much to help me at the AFC 3 or 4 years ago. Pushed me hard when I needed it and made me achieve so much more.

  9. Hi Richard & Julie,

    Thanks for the comments I hope we never quite get to a line in the sand but at times it can get very close to it. With so many circles about us that have no Spiritualism in them I think it is important to ensure people know what we represent in the traditional sense.

    I agree we have to be open to change but on a very discerning basis.

    Richard the various Principles of Spiritualism and the way they have appeared is one of my fascination. I have put a lot about this on my forum. Your comment about the Angels is well made, not in any early Principles, never in the NSAC’s set and originally in the 7 Principles as spirit as ministering angels so in actual fact Angels were not in our first version either.

    Amgels have flown into Spiritualism, they were never a part of it in any of the original materials, unless mentioned in Biblical references. However its another pet area of mine, interestingly many of the worlds religions, (even those which are lumped under paganism the Celtic and Druid traditions), never had Angels. They seem to me to be only a tradition of the Abrahamic religions indeed only in the Kabbaleh do we see a definition of ranks and names. This seems to have spread into the Theosophical movement. It appears likely this has affected both the New Age Movement and Spiritualism.

    I believe our pioneers accepted the Bible version of Angels as Messengers of God and not part of our development.

    You can imagine I have to be exceptionally tactful with this view running an open circle because to a very large number angels have become a part of Spiritualism. Anyway it is only my opinion even if formed from a detailed research of the relative histories so they may be right. However, occasionally Spirit show themselves in the glory of light which they really are so its no wonder people can think its an angel

  10. Our helpers, or guides – whatever one wishes to call them is up to you. But the way I look at it is that our friends wish to be of service for whatever the reason they have, so why o why do people put them on a pedestal? May i suggest EGO? LOOK AT ME – my guide this my guide that…

  11. So very true Alan – “a fear of failure” should never be a reason to stretch the truth.

  12. I have just found this site while browsing for something else. What an excellent and informative site Susan. I hope you and the team go from strength to strength. Its brilliant.
    I enjoyed your article Jim and as someone who is about to embark on such a development group I found it very timely.
    I agree with you that if you are facilitating a development group in a Spiritualist Church or Centre it is very important to help people to understand that Spiritualism is a religion based upon evidence not conjecture or faith. The issue of spirit guides of course does not always fit smoothly with this as we cannot in most instances prove their existance and I think it is an issue where people can be very defensive if their understanding of their spirit guide is challenged.
    I do find that Spiritualism is being diluted by people who claim to be working with angelic guides and ascended masters ( the latter concept which I think came from theosophy). There is no evidence of the existance of angels and in fact I could point you to a few sites out there where it is taken as gospel that the references in the bible to angels are references to ancient aliens. I do wonder what Archangel Michael et al have been doing in the last 2000 years and how they are coping with the increased workload that they have experienced since the 1980s. Michael in particular seems to be very busy, working with thousands of people at the same time.
    I am not trying to undermine people who claim to work with angelic energies my point is really that there cant be any concrete proof of this which for me is important. We can only accept what our reason allows and at the end of the day I dont think it matters to our spirit guides who we think they are just that we know they are there working with us.
    It is worth perhaps however reflecting upon the evidence of the seance room in relation to spirit guides . Although I may stand to be corrected I cannot think of any report of a physical seance where a guide has appeared as an angel or has claimed to be an ascended master.
    I think it is very important to stick to the evidence so if you are trying to help people develop their psychic and mediumistic ability I feel it is important to state quite clearly the truth of Spiritualism based on the evidence that has been accrued over the past 150 years or so. If we do not stress the importance of the evidential facts upon which Spiritualism is based the quality of mediumship will continue to decline because the mediums of tomorrow will forget that the aim of mediumship is to provide evidence of our survival after death.

  13. Alex, I wish you well with your Group. However, I think you are being too polite in your comments about the increasingly outlandish claims being made by self-proclaimed mediums.
    These people are damaging Spiritualism. Too often I see intelligent enquirers, after witnessing such performances,raise their eyebrows, bite their tongue and vote with their feet.
    It is I fear, only a matter of time, before I see a “medium” offering up the Teletubbies as Guides, together with the Sun Baby as an Ascended Master. “He-oh!”, Watch this space.

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