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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Twin Cities Pagan Pride will host Paganicon 2018 in the Minneapolis area from Mar.16 -18. This indoor Pagan conference will have workshops, rituals, and music. Becky Munson, its programming director, emphasized its community aspects. “It’s the community coming together, teaching, and sharing.” This year will differ from past Paganicons; conference organizers will introduce a training program, “Healthy Boundaries.” This training will provide tools to navigate the power dynamics of clergy-to-laity relationships.

At Paganicon 2018, the guests of honor will include the following: author and Pagan elder Dianna Paxson; author Patty Lafayllve; and Sancista Brujo Luis from the Puerto Rican Espiritismo Criollo folkloric tradition. Musician S.J. Tucker will be performing a Mar. 16 concert. Special guests will include cult expert Chris Shelton and First Nation (Nakota-Cree) traditional teacher Daphie Pooyak.

Munson said that about 650 people attended Paganicon 2017. About an equal number of women and men attended. She did not have data about the racial composition of previous attendees. Munson did say, “We’re actively working on our cultural diversity.” According to Munson, Paganicon has attracted a good mix of Pagan traditions.

Healthy Boundaries

Members of he Faith Trust Institute have developed the training, “Healthy Boundaries.” According to Munson, the training will “teach clergy and other leaders how to recognize healthy boundaries.” It will also provide tools to create and maintain those boundaries.

Clergy, teachers, and leaders are “front of the room” people. Power dynamics permeate relationships between “front of the room” people and “other parts of the room” people. Some of these dynamics are readily visible. Others remain invisible. Munson said that, despite their best intentions, “front of the room” people could have unhealthy boundaries. They may lack awareness of how much influence they have over “other parts of the room” people. She hopes that this training would make them more aware of those dynamics.

When aware of those dynamics, “front of the room” people can use their power in a beneficial way. Munson stressed that this training would provide structured training and tools. These tools provide a way to understand power dynamics before trouble arises.

This training could benefit lay leaders and those without credentials. Munson noted, “There’s a lot of unstructured ‘structure’ in the Pagan community.” Some Pagan “front of the room” people may have no titles or appear to be just one more person in the circle. They still may have “clout,” but be unaware of their clout. For that reason, this training could benefit people besides those with formal titles and credentials.

Munson emphasized the importance of understanding the complex and different levels of harm. The training will distinguish between criminal acts and inappropriate behavior. Violations of trust may not be criminal behavior, but can still leave people damaged. In a similar way, crossing a boundary causes less damage than violating a boundary.

The training will also explore “dual relationships.” When two or more people have relationships in more than one area of life, a dual relationship occurs. For example, dating partners could also be counselor and client. Munson continued, “If you are clergy, or a teacher in a religious setting, you have a greater responsibility” to understand the risks. Confusion between the roles in dual relationships can lead to major boundary violations. That confusion can also wreck relationships.

Munson thinks most people know this intellectually, but feel that they can manage it. Many “front of the room” people overestimate their ability to navigate the complexities of dual relationships. She feels that Pagans tend to think that Pagans differ greatly from people from other spiritual traditions. She said, “We’re not that different than a lot of other spiritual communities. We face many of the same challenges and a lot of the solutions can be universal.“

The training, “Healthy boundaries,” has two levels, basic and advanced. Munson said that the organizers plan to offer only the basic version at Paganicon 2018. She will be leading the training this year. Munson would like to give both the basic and advanced levels at Paganicon 2019.

Proactive work to create awareness

According to Munson, Paganicon and Twin Cities Pagan Pride organizers have worked proactively to prevent boundary violations. She mentioned that organizers had established their safety policy in 2015 for Paganicon and Twin Cities Pagan Pride. The “Healthy Boundaries” training continues that tradition.

Munson stressed that the organizers do not want “to blame the victim, or underestimate the trauma that comes when someone you trust violates your trust,” yet organizations have a responsibility to investigate and weigh the information.

Paganicon organizers had found that many Pagan organizations were ill-prepared to deal with these types of issues. They lacked safety policies. They lacked a standard complaint process. No investigatory practice existed.

In 2017, the Wiccan Church of Minnesota found itself dealing with boundary issues. The situation left many people feeling unresolved and hurt. The Wild Hunt has previously reported on that incident.

Munson summed up the “Healthy Boundaries” training: “Our organization really believes in being at the forefront of these kinds of difficult conversations. We’ve had a safety policy since 2015. We enforce that. We host difficult conversations on a lot of different topics. We don’t shy away from that. This is an excellent step for us. “