Help isn’t always helpful is a lesson I learned from Annie Lomax of blessed memory back in the 70s when she was training me to work on a hotline. Sometimes, help is offered as a sedative when someone else is having strong emotions that make you uncomfortable. Sometimes, help undermines another person’s sense of autonomy or sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, help makes it more comfortable for someone to stay stuck in a situation that is slowly but surely diminishing them. And yet despite all the potential pitfalls involved in the offering of help and support, Annie taught me that when help is offered with a clear mind and an open heart it has the potential to encourage not just comfort or healing but true growth. Let me reiterate the part about the criterion of having a clear mind and an open heart. The mind and the heart don’t always agree, but if both are in agreement you might be doing the right thing. My time on the hotline at the Wellspring program taught me many things that I still use to this day.


Many of the core principles that I learned there, have had a shaping influence on my work within organizations and covens. Please note that there is a large difference between being inspired by principles and using the same techniques. I will warn you that there is nothing more troublesome than being on the receiving end of psychobabble, pseudo-active listening, and therapeutic tech in a group. Especially, since this often occurs without consent, and without the context, and the container of a chosen therapeutic setting with clearly defined roles and goals. In community and organizational settings, it is also important to take into consideration how well you know the people. It is easier to know how, when, and if to offer help and support when you know more about people and their history. It is also easier to accept help when you know something about the who and the why of the help that is being offered.


Not that long ago, I was attending an open ritual that was being offered by one of our covens. The person who had volunteered to cast the circle, to create sacred space, had chosen to use one of the many sung invocations that we use in our tradition. This was a bold move for this person, because singing was not one of their strengths. This was also an open ritual which meant that in addition to their coven mates, guests were present. To take it up a notch more, they had chosen the form of the calls that used four songs each with a different melody. We had all gathered in a circle surrounded by trees in the latest part of the afternoon. The air was crisp and sweet and the light was a rich gold as the Sun slanted to the West. We were past the preliminaries for the ritual, and our courageous volunteer went to the East to begin. They raised their arms and sang with conviction and emotional presence, seemingly undaunted by the imperfections of their voice.


Around me I could see some people smiling because they felt the beauty of seeing someone push themselves out of their comfort zone. I could also see that some of the musicians in the group were smiling and making an effort to ignore the wavers in pitch and skips in rhythm. Then, the wind kicked up, the leaves rustled, there was a rush of energy, and we could feel the spirits and the powers gathering. You could feel anticipation for the ritual to come building, and a recognition of returning to a place of magic that we had all been to before. The caster moved to the South, and began to sing again. Their voice was a bit less certain, there was a stumble on a word or two, but once again the magic worked.


Then they were in the West, and they paused before beginning for longer than their norm. They started and lost their way. They were facing the West so we could not see their face, but we could see the change in their stance and the tension in their shoulders. They started again, but the words and the notes hung just beyond their reach. We waited and watched. A line of the song sprang forth from their lips, and then silence fell again. We waited and watched. The coven members looked on, many of them remembering times that the very same thing had happened to them. Unease and tension was slowly beginning to grow, and the caster’s upraised arms were beginning to sag slightly. They tried to sing the invocation again, repeating the first line twice hoping that more would come. It did not. Then, one of us began to sing softly with them. You could see their posture lift up, and their voice grow stronger.  The song continued, two more voices eased their way in, and together the song was completed. The caster made the appropriate signs and the gate opened. They walked confidently to the North, and when they began to sing several more voices joined in singing the harmonies. They made the choice to repeat the song, and some voices broke off to sing it as a round as we sometimes do.


When they declared us to be in sacred space, and we all joined hands, there were radiant smiles. The look upon their face was not the look of relief, it was the look of knowing that they were supported. The rest of the ritual went smoothly, and they had no difficulty in their part in closing the ritual down. Afterwards when we were feasting, they confirmed what we had felt. When help is offered in a good way everyone is enriched.


Beatles- With A Little Help From My Friends