For a decade, I guided at and professionally managed a major Irish spiritual/sacred site; a vast archaeological complex of sites actually, with a ceremonial history stretching back as long as there have been people on this island. I started as a part time tour guide there, many moons ago, and I’m still requested to guide many of the ‘Spiritual Tourism’ groups and individuals who visit Rathcroghan.
There’s two sides to the ethical issue around all this.
First: my own boundaries and guidelines. Spiritual guardianship of these sites is very much a part of the ‘work’ I do for my matron deity here (that would be the Mórrígan), right along with the instruction to “get real information out there”. I have a very personal deep down connection to this place, to these energies, stories, and gods… so it’d be very tough for me to coldly take cash and pimp out my paganism to gullible groups. On the other hand, there are so many genuine seekers coming here, more each year, and if I’m not helping them find a genuine experience, somebody else will.
So, I have to walk a very careful line between giving too much of my personal spiritual self to strangers, and supporting them in their journey, as is my job (both everyday mundane, and in a priestess capacity).
Second: there’s the community I work in. The Visitor Centre I managed there is a local community initiative, with a voluntary board of directors, and it’s often tough for them to understand all the facets of the spiritual side of our business. ‘Spiritual tourism’ is still a fast growing sector, with the highest spend per visitor of any other special interest group, so they can see the practical side to marketing this aspect carefully and responsibly. However, when I ever held spiritual events there, or featured in the media for this market, there was – every time – a local kerfuffle in the community with regard to the “witch that runs the centre”, or for example after our international ‘Goddess Gathering’ on year, I had to deal with open hostility from a particularly short sighted, narrow minded, ignorant fool of a local politician – because I “brought witches to the village”. The fact that the available accommodation was booked out 3 towns over, and the pubs did a roaring trade all weekend, was apparently less important to him than that.
Petty politics aside – there’s a balance to be kept there too, this is after all their place more than mine, and without community support and involvement we’re at nothing. Money talks, as they say, so it’s been up to me during my professional career to make the case for commercial and economic benefit in supporting the spiritual tourism market.
It’s not been easy, I must admit, but my attitude – both personally and professionally – has always been to make the case openly that Paganism is not wrong, or indeed even very different to the Ireland of not so long ago, and to be an open door as far as people’s questions or concerns need to be addressed. We’re not doing anything wrong here, quite the opposite in fact… and slowly, slowly, the Irish communities are changing.
All of that shifts and changes dramatically when you introduce spiritual tourism which does not consider the native community or landscape, does not support or integrate the local thoughts and experience, and in fact is merely there to add an air of false authenticity to their cultural appropriation and commercialised, shallow nonsense.
This stuff is complicated, and sensitivity to the indigenous climate and community concerns is essential. If you’re coming on a tour to Ireland, please choose your operator carefully. Question them before you give them your money, on how much is going to support the native guides, resources and communities from which they are profiting.
Don’t be involved in the pillaging of native energies or resources.
That’s not very fucking spiritual now is it?!