Conscious Approach to Religious Environments (CARE)


Once upon the time, there was a web document called the CASHI (the Coven Abuse Self-Help Index) that was designed to help people evaluate Pagan and magical groups for problematic behaviors. While my own experiences with groups have generally been very good, I feel the loss of something like the CASHI, and so wanted to create something that provided the same kind of in-depth discussion and commentary of relevant issues.

The word CARE is chosen to emphasize the importance of making conscious choices about where we spend our time and energy. There are three versions (described below) to allow you to pick the degree of detail you’d like to consider.

how this works

1) Engage your brain and your observation. Work from balance.

No one else can make these choices for you. You are also the one observing the group – you know best what you see, feel and experience when you’re around them. You may wish to take notes after each event while you’re getting to know a group and periodically afterwards.

Make sure that when you make these evaluations, you are coming from a place of healthy balance. Exhaustion, strong emotions, or even poor eating habits can make minor problems seem far more serious, so make sure that you make decisions when these things are not involved. Communication takes two – if you have concerns, have you talked to the group leaders about them? Storing up grudges rarely works well!

2) Be realistic. Use these questions to help you explore possible concerns.

Wonderful, healthy, productive groups won’t meet the ideal in all areas. This list also can’t take individual circumstances into account: there may be good reasons for a particular choice or decision. And, of course, not all issues are equally serious: threats and direct pressure to do something are much more of a concern than a group that has trouble getting started on time.

Make a list of any questions asked below that concern you. If you have significant questions in 3 or more broad topics, be cautious. If you have questions in 6 or more areas, you should be very careful – this suggests there may be serious concerns with the group.

3) Learn over time.

Many of the questions asked in this essay will come up naturally as you spend time with a group and hear individuals talk about their lives. You’ll learn many of these things through your first3-5 visits with a group but you may also need a more focused conversation.

It’s also easy to behave well when things are going well. It’s harder to behave well when things are harder. You may find that a group is great for a long time. Then, a crisis comes up, the membership shifts suddenly, or something else may happen, and you find that problems start coming up. This is a good time to re-evaluate – and to speak up if you see things that concern you.

4) Practical details:

Not all questions will apply to all kinds of groups. Ignore the stuff that’s not relevant. For example, I refer to “groups” and “leaders” – you’ll need to adjust this for groups that are consensus run. And, of course, groups change and develop over time. Come back and revisit this list periodically. It’s worth checking in every 6 to 12 months to make sure a group is both still healthy and functional – and that it’s doing the things you want and need.

I also expect this combined document will grow and change over time. I will start a changelog once they’re up (so people can track general changes), but I see this as a dynamic (not a static) resource. As people ask for clarification, suggest other examples, or add resources, I’ll add them to the pages. I also hope to add good resources as I get the time.

Finally, in the commentary examples, I’ve used common herb and stone names to help make them clearer – I pick them at random, so any association between the name and the herb’s qualities is accidental. Examples are drawn from many stories I’ve heard over the years (in conversations with people who were somehow involved), and I’ve taken steps to help make the stories anonymous. They’re intended as examples of things to look at – not a way to single out individuals or specific groups.

three versions

Since people have different needs and want different levels of detail, we have three different options. You may also wish to use them at different stages – for example, the simple questions when you first meet a group or teacher, and then the deeper questions and commentary if you are seriously considering a commitment to the group.

1) A simple list of basic questions:
This page has a list of general questions. Easy, simple, a good place to start and review.

2) Deeper questions:
Specific focused questions on a number of topics – everything from “How does this person treat others” to ritual practices. It also includes links to even deeper information in the commentary.

3) Commentary: (in progress)
For those who learn best by story and example, I’m working on a commentary on each set of specific questions. Each commentary page will repeat the topic information and red flags from the deeper questions page, but then add commentary and example situations. In some cases, there are links to specific resources and other tools. You can navigate from page to page within the commentary, or you can use the index below to read a topic of particular interest.