On Having No Baggage

I have no baggage.
Jesus was never thrust on me, unwilling. In fact, we had a great experience together, once, at a youth group skiing trip for over-privileged private school kids. He was totally buddy Christ, hippie Jesus, Socialist Jesus, Ragamuffin Gospel Jesus. I was there because my best friend was there; she was there because a guy she had a crush on was there. She ignored me the whole time, so I paid attention during the nightly sermon and singing. I had already begun to identify as a Witch by this time, but there was nothing about my claiming of this title that was about a rejection of anything else. It was simply an affirmation. And so getting swept up in the romance and energy of the story of Jesus’s sacrifice was very easy for me, that week at an isolated ski lodge. I felt something dawn inside of me that was natural and so I reached out and accepted it.

I think I identified as a Christian for a few months after that. I remember sitting in front of what had been my altar, making the sign of the cross in the air trying to banish the sign of the pentacle that a coven-sister had traced there with words indicating it would hang there forever. But slowly I returned to my Pagan ways, called by a deep connection to the land on which I lived, the many bays that surrounded me….Isle of Wight, Assawoman, Sinepuxent, and of course, the Great Chesapeake. Growing up in the Coastal Bays Watershed, what chance did I have to not be a witch? I grew up on 40 acres on the Bay. Nature’s glory at my doorstep. Of course this happened. Blame my parents.

Leaving Jesus behind (on friendly terms) was no struggle. My parents were not ardent Christians. I barely remember going to Church except for Easter and Christmas. My parents split when I was 9, so regular Sunday church-going where we met my paternal grandparents ceased after that. I have some fuzzy memories of Sunday School but not many. So, like I said, no baggage. When my mom found out I was practicing witchcraft, she wasn’t upset about me going to hell. She was more worried about me embarrassing her (because the snooty school I went to knew all about it and we were in trouble!) and getting involved with dangerous people. So I had to hide it, but not for long.

I tell all this to reveal that I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into Paganism. And furthermore, I am unprepared to understand the baggage that many Pagans bring with them when they step into 12 step recovery. I was about to be in ritual last night with several people, and I jokingly said something about being inspired by “the Holy Spirit”. Several people in the room recoiled visibly. They explicitly reject that language as it is so strongly tied to something they were forced to endure. Whereas for me, it is a concept that can be owned by a Witch just as much as it can be owned by a Christian.

The same disconnect exists for me in 12 Step Recovery. When I discovered that some Pagans used rewritten versions of the Twelve Steps, I was disconcerted. It really bothered me. “Just another example of an alcoholic thinking they are unique precious snowflakes who can’t do it the way everyone else did it,” I thought. But I have to look beyond that initial response and question where my blind spots are. I have no trouble in a meeting where people say “He” when referencing their higher power. Damn, I first joined 12 step recovery in Ohio where people said “Jesus” and I was ok with it. I guess I fundamentally took the whole “God as you understand it” part to heart. I’ve never felt like anyone judged me for speaking my truth about my own conception of a higher power, and no one has ever challenged me or told me mine was wrong. But other people are coming to these meetings with years of struggle, years of being treated as different, years of being told, “What you believe is wrong.” Does that fall firmly under the heading, ”Their shit”? Sure it does. But if it gets in the way of their recovery, then it is a problem. And maybe then, it makes sense for someone to have written alternative steps.

When I look at the “Spiral Steps”, the issues that Pagans seem to struggle with become clear. There is no admission of powerlessness. The reliance on a higher power to restore the addict to insanity is replaced by a vague belief in “hope for healing”. The decision to turn the will and life over to the care of God is supplanted by an honoring of the connection with the divine and an acceptance of the process of change. The sixth and seventh step, where traditionally the addict and alcoholic prepares and then asks their higher power to remove their character defects is replaced by a willingness to seek a higher good, and a letting go of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

Where my Twelve Step alarm bells start ringing is that the complete and total removal of a reliance on a higher power. This is Twelve Step Recovery 101. You tried to do it on your own, you failed. Now, do it God’s way. I understand why this is problematic with Witches, who have learned to do deep inner work, move energy, and be frankly powerful agents of change. To suddenly surrender so much agency, will, and sovereignty seems to go against everything they have been working towards. Why would they ask their Higher Power to remove their defects when they can do it themselves through ritual or kala? Why would they surrender their will when their will is holy?

I can sympathize with this because I am coming at it from the other direction. After not being active in Witchcraft for several years, and very active in Recovery, I have struggled with being more assertive, more willful, and more proud. I am currently working the Iron Pentacle through Thorn Coyle’s Fiat Lux program and each point seems to be a real struggle as I break down my initial, recovery oriented reaction to it. Pride? Power? Self? Oh my.

I know there is somewhere in between these things. I know, because I am finding it. I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft. I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity. The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

I know there is somewhere in between these things.  I know, because I am finding it.  I have found fulfillment in the Pride point on the Iron Pentacle and I am still working my third step. I am beginning to use words like claim, own, birthright and will and am understanding them in a way that is informed by my recovery and by my witchcraft.  I am finding the alchemy that happens when these worlds are brought together in a place of love and curiosity.  The authors of the Big Book spoke of a “Broad Highway” and I think this is where I am currently walking. In future posts I hope to explore some of these particular sticking points-like will- more closely.

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One Response to On Having No Baggage

  1. Joel Herbert says:

    I like you, 12 Step Witch. You seem to have a really good head on your shoulders. Keep searching, girl. Methinks you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. ;)

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