Twelve Steps as Initiation

We will experience many kinds of initiations in our lives, and if you are a person in recovery working the Twelve Steps will be one of the most powerful ones you can experience.  I wrote a new post about this on my blog at Witches and Pagans.  Let me know what you think!


Edit:  I no longer have a blog at Witches and Pagans so I am putting this blog post here.

At the time of writing, several friends of mine are engaged in formal initiation proceedings, leading me to consider my own experiences with initiations.  It was easy to pinpoint those formal initiations such as being initiated into the National Honor Society, or being initiated into a co-ed social group at my college that I can only explain as being modeled on the Merry Pranksters.  But the experience that first came to mind when thinking of initiatory experiences was working the Twelve Steps.

Anyone who has a desire to stop using can become a member of a Twelve Step group.  You do not have to work the Twelve Steps.  However, the process of working the Twelve Steps is the manner in which one draws closer to the program or becomes truly initiated.  It is how we begin to view fellowship as family.  Since we work the Twelve Steps with a sponsor, we are forced to reach our hand out and ask for help.  No longer are we able to sit in the back of the room, not talking to anyone.  We must make connections in order to move forward.  As we reveal ourselves to our sponsor, we learn how to become open and more vulnerable.  We become open to taking suggestions, and learn about humility.  These are essential elements for being part of a society instead of being a party of one.  Not only does the process of the Twelve Steps change us into better people, but we also learn how to be with people as we work the steps.

The many tales of underworld descents provide a poetic structure through which to understand a program of recovery. Much of what we do is painful, and involves spelunking around in some of the darker neighborhoods of our psyche.  If we persist, at the end of the experience we are reborn.  As in the Sumerian tale of Inanna’s descent, there are seven gates (steps) we must pass through in the Recovery version of the Underworld, and at each of them we must turn over some part of ourselves just as Inanna was required to turn over a symbol of her power and wealth.  In Step One, we hand over our attachment to the idea that we shall ever be able to exercise any power over our drinking or drugging.  In Step Two, we give up the specter of self-sufficiency.  In step Three, we turn over our will and our lives.  We hand over denial and self-delusion in Step Four, and in Step Five we part ways with our pride.  In Step six we relinquish our attachment to our character defects, and then in Step Seven we actually ask for them to be removed. As Inanna became stripped of the symbols of her holy priestesshood, so too do we become more naked and vulnerable as we go along.  When we question, as Inanna did, why we have to do this or that, our sponsors or old-timer’s might snap at us as the Chief Gatekeeper, Neti, snapped at Inanna, “Quiet Inanna, the ways of the Underworld are perfect.  They may not be questioned.” We’ve all met the Big Book thumpers who talk like this!

Those familiar with the tale of Inanna might think I am about to say that Steps 8 and 9 (where we make a list of all persons we have harmed, become willing to make amends to them, and then do so wherever possible) are like the part in the story where Inanna turns into a corpse and hangs from a meat hook for several days.  Luckily, we get to skip the whole meat hook experience. Having done the difficult work of Steps 1-7, we are at a point where the worst of our addictive selves have been stripped away and a new being has emerged.  We have done significant healing, and we are ready to leave the underworld and ascend. We are safe to mix with humans and do the work of repairing the relationships we damaged during our active addiction. While making amends can be quite painful sometimes, it can also be a gorgeous experience where we have the wonderful opportunity to see new life come into relationships that we once thought dead. Steps 10-12 are the maintenance steps, designed to make sure that with careful attention we won’t have to revisit this particular underworld ever again.

Many people say after doing their 5th step that they finally feel like they are truly a member of the Twelve Step fellowship.  The process of exposing yourself in front of your Gods and a trusted person opens a gate.  When you walk through it, you change significantly. The 5th step, which almost always involves another member of the fellowship who has done the step before, is a significant moment in every recovering person’s story.  I look forward to writing more about that in a future blog post, but for now I will just note its importance as a gate in the initiatory experience.

I believe that looking at the Twelve Steps as an initiatory process, and understanding the ways in which it can be framed partially as an Underworld descent, can help us to poeticize and ritualize the experience in ways that are helpful for Pagans. There is so much room for exciting magic and ritual here.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

I’ve started a group on Facebook for Clean & Sober Pagans.  It is a “closed” group, which means that people can see who the members are but cannot see anything that is posted in the group.  If you want to join, just click this here.

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I neglected to tell you about a post I wrote on addicts and our relationship to pleasure.  Paganism is often celebrated as a container in which members are invited to embrace pleasure in a way that is not permitted in other religious bodies, or that is vilified in the larger cultural context.  So what then, for those of us who have complicated and uneasy relationships with pleasure, sex, our bodies, and all that goes along with it?

Check it out!  And let me know what you think!

Edit: As my blog is no longer hosted at Witches and Pagans, I am placing it here.

One of the main signifiers of many Pagan traditions are the way in which they seek to reframe the material and specifically the body as holy and sacred.  Unlike other religions which might cast the affairs of the flesh as sinful or of a base nature, Pagan traditions seek to break up these associations and honor things like sex, desire, and pleasure. Many traditions today still do their rites naked, as a way of proclaiming their freedom from the slavery of shame modern society places on the body.

I will just put this out there:  I struggle with this embrace of the body, and I suspect my history as an addict and an alcoholic play no little part in this.  Addicts and Alcoholics historically have problematic relationships with our bodies.  Our addictions are embodied obsessions.  We experience them as physical cravings that crawl through our nervous system, scrambling our brains ability to think clearly or cogently.  The fierce need to experience pleasure becomes a thirst that drowns out all other concerns, a strong steady drumbeat that gets louder and more insistent until you finally feed it.  I’ve often experienced my body as a prison, a needy demanding egocentric organism that keeps my spirit-which in my ignorance I think is my TRUE self– from being truly free.

It is difficult for me to trust my body.  My body seems designed to deceive me.  Its way of reacting to sugar, sleep, caffeine, or anything else that can even slightly alter my mood or mind is quite startling.  Pretty much immediately upon experiencing it, my body will flood me with hormones and chemicals demanding more, more MORE!!! I wonder where this leaves me when it comes to that famous in the Charge of the Goddess, “All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are My Rituals.” What does that mean for someone who has a sex and love addiction?  For whom the experience of love and sex is dangerous and pathological?  What does that mean for someone that has a complicated relationship with pleasure, a person for whom pleasure can cause a series of binges and non-sober behavior?

Another line that gives me pause in the Charge is the line “I am that which is attained at the End of Desire.”  I don’t know what Doreen Valiente meant when she wrote this line, but this line makes me smile wryly in the same way that the Michael Jackson song “Don’t Stop Till you Get Enough” makes me smile.  I’d never stop if I didn’t stop until I got enough because for an addict, there is no such thing as getting enough.  And if the Goddess is what is attained at the End of Desire, then I will never attain it, because for an addict Desire never ends.  We have the disease of more, and there is always more to want, more to crave.

So what can be done?  I’ve found some success in working to align my “spirit” with my body so that I don’t feel so antagonistic towards my blessed embodiment. I’ve found some success in doing this with meditations that are all about achieving a felt sense of your body.  The techniques and concepts outlined in Wendy Palmer’s book The Intuitive Body: Akido and the Art of Conscious Embodiment were very helpful to me.  Another thing to be done is to expand our understanding of what “love” and “pleasure” mean and to begin to engage with these words in a wider way.  Love can be working in a soup kitchen, or volunteering at an animal shelter or spending time with your nieces or nephews.  Pleasure can be the feeling of the warm sand on your hands on the beach, or the feeling of the breeze through your hair as you treat yourself to five minutes sitting in the park.  The idea is that we are generous with our hearts, and that we find a way to engage with the world in a sensual way.  As addicts, we have to find ways to do that which are safe for us, but it is entirely possible.

And while the attainment of the end of desire is not possible, what is possible is the attainment of the end of the tyranny of desire.  And I do believe She waits there. And at every step along the way besides.

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Abstaining, Absenting, Attending: Simplifying to Deepen

I have a friend who gives her years titles in order to direct her work for the year, and I invited the Universe to send me a similar direction. Pretty quickly, it sent back the word “Deepen”. Okay, I thought, quite please, envisioning diving even more deeply into spiritual work and building my new business and get deeply into some shadowy stuff. I was sent a vision of a Greco-Roman temple which inside had no floor, only a dark hole into the earth, and I found myself curious about what was lurking down there.

And then December happened, and really walloped me. I got hit with exhaustion, the kind that makes you romanticize rubber rooms and wondering whether a relapse would be worth the 28 days it might get you somewhere quiet. No matter how much I slept, I was tired. My 9-5 became increasingly stressful as the month wore on, and the requirements for the certification course I am taking piled up. I had to travel for Christmas, and I felt resentful about that. I felt increasingly helpless to find room in my life for quiet, communion with my Gods, and soul-filling experiences. I felt more disconnected from my 12 Step Program as I struggled to find time and energy to attend meetings. I was so tired that even when I had some time free, I could collapse on the couch and mindlessly watch TV instead of going into my temple and going my work. Which just left me feeling emptier.

This other, second word came to stand beside the word Deepen. Simplify. Clear things out. I got the image of loving hands clearing away space in a garden bed for a fragile bloom to grow. How could I make enough space so that I can Deepen? I fall in love with the world, and I want to taste everything. I could sign up for trainings and workshops and classes all day. But there would never be enough time to actually do them all, not to mention all the other stuff (eating properly, exercising, my spiritual work, spending time nurturing my relationships) that needs to happen.

I think sometimes I flit from thing to thing in order to escape the pain of doing things properly and doing things with mastery. It is easy to stay in the early place of childish wonder, where the technique is new, shiny and delightful. But then it gets difficult, causes me suffering, and I don’t want to stay anymore. But who am I, if that is my way of operating? I am just a collection of shallow, superficial pools of knowledge. That way of being does not offer me the kind of grounding for the way I really want to feel and experience the world.

So, this year I am Simplifying to Deepen. I am abstaining from adding all the things. I am absenting myself. I am attending to what is really important and to what I already signed up for.

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Step III

Made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step Three of Alcoholics Anonymous

 “We now honor our connection with the divine, as we understand it, and we accept the process of change.” Step Three of The Spiral Steps

 “Made a decision to align our Will and our lives to that of True Will and place the care of our lives into the hands of the God/dess as we understand Him, Her, It, or Them.” Step Three of The Twelve Steps for Pagans by Khoury

 “Made a decision to connect the powers within and without and see them as One.” Step Three by Anodea Judith

 As I mentioned in a previous post, independence is a hallmark of Pagans and Witches. We like to do things our own way, and we relish marching to the beat of our own drum. It is not easy, then, to confront this third step that tells us that surrendering our will is the way forward. For many of us, the fear that leaps into our mind is perfectly explained within the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

 “Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep and turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.” P 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

 I’m so fascinated by this fear of being a nonentity because I think it speaks very deeply to the fear that the reality of interconnection and interdependence bring up in modern man and woman. To admit that we are deeply connected, on a spiritual and physical level, is to dismantle the idea of individuality itself. We’ve all heard about how we are made of stardust, and this can feel inspiring. But it also reminds us that we are not our own; that the very physical material of our bodies is borrowed and communal. it was once one thing, and it one will day be another. Many Pagans have worked hard to dismantle ontological dualism and Cartesianism (the philosophy perfected by René Descartes that the world is divided into three different areas of existence-that inhabited by physical matter, that inhabited by the mind, and that inhabited by God) and have placed enormous emphasis upon the sacredness of our bodies. Thus there is not one set of laws governing our material self and our spiritual self; the one is embodied in the other (they are the same). Thus, our whole selves dip from a common well, and if these energies can be said to belong to us in any way it can only be for a brief wink of the cosmic span of time. I breathe, but at what point can my breath be said to be my own? In those moments when it is held like a cup by the material of my lungs which is made from organic material that I am only borrowing? It feeds me and sustains me, but it is not mine. I can only dance with it.

 Making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand him, is to embrace this idea that even things as seemingly all-consuming and steady as a desire or a want is washed away in the sea of all-beings. Surrendering our will is shorthand for behaving as if things are more deeply connected than ontological dualism asserts and that there might then be a higher purpose for us than what our desires dictate. This can be very frightening. This fear that our autonomy and sovereignty will be lost is described later in the 12 and 12 as “a fear of losing something we already possessed or failing to get something we demanded.” When we work the third step, we turn directly into that fear. What would happen if we didn’t get what we wanted? What would happen if we lost something we thought we needed? If we turn into these fears having surrendered to the idea that we exist less uniquely than we thought, the fear fizzles and, according to the Big Book, “we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.”

The discussion until now has gone along spiritual terms, but what does this look like in practical application? A chief indicator of our existential fretting in active addiction is the amount of energy and time we would devote towards trying to manage people, events and outcomes so that we would get what we want or avoid losing what we had. We also tried to manage our drinking or drugging like this, trying to imbibe the correct amount, or in the correct order, so that we could get to just the right place that would provide relief from pain but also avoidance of harsh consequences. Trying to manage is a deeply existential activity. it is built on the idea that we need certain things to happen in order to be happy or comfortable, and that being happy or comfortable is the chief aim of our lives. It supposes that we, in our infinite wisdom, are the best determinants of what is best for us, and that we should not cease to struggle until we make those things a reality.

When we work Step Three, we walk away from this idea. We cease our love affair with managing people, places, things, drugs, drinking and other behaviors. This might mean that Susan stops engaging in being a people pleaser all the time because she realizes that trying to make everyone like her is really just an effort to manage her own reality. Joey might cease trying to make Mom and Dad get along and accept that they hate each other. Rebecca might work Step Three by letting go of the idea that she has to be the one to play Devil’s Advocate in her office. For me, it looked like ceasing my efforts to play the victim so that others would feel sorry for me and take it easy on me.

 From those examples above you might have gotten the secret about Step Three. This is a Step about responding in a different way we don’t get what we want or lose something we had. In this way, this is an alchemical step. We are turning dross into gold. Turning dross, or base metals, into gold was just one of the many aspirations of the alchemists. This is the alchemy we perform when we work Step 3. We take the dross of life- all the things and people that didn’t turn out or act the way we wanted them to- and we turn our experience of them into gold by showing up in that situation in a fresh new way. What fresh new ways are possible? It could be an attitude of acceptance. It might be a focus on service (i.e. how can I make myself of use to others in this situation?). Gratitude is a very powerful attitude to show up with in the face of something disappointing or difficult. These are just some examples; there are many options. “Okay,” some of you might be saying at this point. “That makes sense, but why does ‘God’ with a capital G have to be involved with this? Now that I have a new understanding about my unmanageability and powerlessness from Step 1, why can’t I just begin to behave in a different way?” I welcome you to try, but I offer this wisdom from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

 “If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could wish these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn’t there. Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.” P 44, Alcoholics Anonymous

 What does that mean, exactly? Logistically, it means we plug ourselves in so the current can flow from this power to ourselves. That can look very different to different people within different traditions. Some people might begin spending more time contemplating in nature. Others may take up a serious meditation practice, or engage in regular devotional work. You could begin to engage in trance work, or ecstatic dance, or simply praying. Probably we need to find a way to incorporate some service work into our lives, and take up a gratitude practice. These simple actions can have the effect of radically shifting our perspectives so that we can do what was discussed above-showing up in fresh new ways to challenging situations.

 The Third Step, when understood and activated in your life, actually puts you into a very “Pagan” mindset. This is a world in which you are not the center of the Universe. Your needs and wants are not more or less important than those of your neighbor. You are neither queen or victim. You are part of a vast web, and you hold a responsibility to other beings in that web. You are willing to work with what shows up and flow with the energies present, not demanding that reality reshape itself to your preferences. As you encounter difficult people and situations, you hold a sense that there is a sacredness and a usefulness immanent in all things, and that possibility lurks behind every corner. I see this as in keeping with the life-affirming, interconnected conception of divine immanence that many people identifying as Pagan share. I believe this is a very holy and sacred way to live our lives, and in ceasing to struggle with the world I have actually had the freedom to be more myself as I actually am: an expression of energies in a unique configuration for a moment in time.

 As always I look forward to what you think. What do you think about the Third Step? How do you work with it in your tradition? In what ways does the traditional wording create tension for you, and how do you resolve that-or not?

 Coffee’s on!



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Step II

Step Two- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

The First Step leaves us in a terrible position.  We are utterly beyond human assistance. Our lives are unmanageable no matter what we do.  We will never be able to control our drinking.  Certainly this is a stance of hopelessness.

Many alcoholics or addicts will say “I worked the First Step long before I came into the program.”  This means that they spent many years well aware of the hopelessness of their situations while still in active addiction. This was my experience as well.  I was in terrible pain, and knew my lifestyle was unbearable and untenable, but I could not envision a way to live that did not include alcohol and drugs to numb the anxiety and panic that swelled up to swallow me whenever I was sober.  I had to stop, but how?

The second step is the “how” in “how am I possibly going to do this?”  The key was that I wasn’t going to do it-I was going to rely on a power greater than myself to do it.  I had been trying to envision my escape from addiction as propelled by my own human will and power.  Things changed only after a divine source became involved.

This is what happened to me; I was young, a college student.  I had spent a summer hitting bottom, a summer I had intended to spend getting myself dried up and cleaned up before heading back to school.  It was now late August and all my well intentioned plans had failed to come to fruition, forgotten in one lost night after another.  I was confronted, not unfairly, by my mother with the fact that I was going back to school in just a week and that I hadn’t done any of the things I said I was going to do.  Angrily, I screamed at her and then rushed out of the house, intending to drive to my apartment to get drunk, to forget my feelings of shame and panic in the ease that pours from the bottle.

But the Great Spirit did not let me.  Something about that time was different.  Was it just that I was finally desperate enough?  Halfway down the street, I stopped my car and wailed like a lost child.  “Help me help me help me help me,” I sobbed.  “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.”

The Great Spirit put my hands on the wheel, and instead of driving me back to my apartment, it had me drive to a place that had always been very sacred to me.  There, I lay in the cool sand of a dark beach and, gazing at the stars above me, I cast a circle around me for the first time in a long time.  I asked Hir to help me not drink.  I lay there and cried and was soothed by the crashing waves. That night I fell asleep without drinking.

The next day, the anxiety and shame remained, but I was able, suddenly, to keep from a drink.  And the next day, and the next.  And so on.  Suddenly something that had been impossible for me was possible.  I could stare into oblivion, at the wasteland that had become my life, and not drink.  Nights yawned before me and I felt full of fear but still, I did not drink.  I did not understand how this was possible, but it was. And I have not felt the need to take another drink for over ten years.

Before this had happened, I had stood on the shore of sickness, desperate to get to the other side to reclaim something approaching a human life.  But in-between had been this raging river of doubt and fear.  I had been delivered across that river, with no effort upon my part other than simple asking.  It wasn’t that everything was perfect on the other side.  But things were possible there that had not been possible before.  Had I been insane before? It’s a loaded word, to be sure.  We’ve all heard the maxim that to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the definition of insanity.  Well, we had certainly drank and drank again, expecting that this time, finally, we would be able to drink without consequence.  Each time, we had been shown to be wrong, yet we tried again.   Or perhaps we knew our drinking was hopeless, but we were so in its grips that we kept at it.  That was its own kind of insanity.

As I did in my last post, I’d like to take a look at what some of the versions of the 12 Steps that have been rewritten for a pagan perspective have to say about the second step.

We came to believe that there was hope for healing, health and balance. The Spiral Steps

Came to believe we could realign the power within and the power without such that each served to enhance the other. Anodea Judith, A Pagan Approach to the 12 Step programs

We can see that these rewritten steps have greatly changed the entire concept of the step.  In the original second step is an acceptance of the fact that while we, with our own human power, cannot solve this problem, a power greater than ourselves can and will do so.  What was once an acknowledgement of the need to look to sacred or divine places for our solution has turned into the idea that somehow the very same human powers that were not enough before will now start being enough.  For me, this does not provide the necessary transformative agent that is required for the propulsion into amended behaviors.  *

As in step one, I understand the desire to excise some of the concepts inherent in the Second Step from these rewritten versions.  First and foremost, there is the issue of “A Power Greater than Myself.”  Many Witches do not hold with an image of a sentient God or Goddess figure that is positioned higher or more superior, and they might resent the idea that suddenly they are being asked to come to believe in this figure that they are supposed to go beg for sanity from. That can seem like way too much like old ideologies that many of us left behind in the past.  I share this concern.  This is why I understand the word “greater” not to mean higher or superior, but larger. I do not personally resonate with the concept of deity, but I experience the Universe as having a Divine nature, of which I am but a small part, and alignment with the raw power of this Divine Nature enables me to pursue right living (or, obtain sanity). One of my sponsees sees her Higher Power as her best self, a sort of  Platonic ideal that encourages and inspires her.  Or maybe you aren’t convinced that your idea of deity or divinity is necessarily so concerned with humanity and our needs.  What about land spirits, or ancestors, archetypes, thought forms?  If you are a classic hard polytheist most likely you already believe in a deity that has the power to restore sanity, and you will know the proper devotions and practices along those lines.  Maybe your concept of a higher power can as simple as that sacred feeling you get when you sit in Nature and the sense of reverence it inspires in you.  If all else fails, just go with what old-timers like to snark; “There is a higher power, and it isn’t YOU.”

The authors of the Twelve Steps believed that “the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God.  This applies, to, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book.  Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you. ”   Do I expect that the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous would have understood Witchcraft or Pagan spirituality?  No.  But I steadfastly believe that the steps as they were originally written were done so in a way that can accommodate all manner of belief or spiritual practices.

There is much room for creativity, and we have every freedom to construct the “”power greater than ourselves” that makes sense to us.  We should remember that when we share our experiences in the rooms to share generally so that as many people as possible can relate.  If someone else does choose to share more specifically, and uses language that makes us feel marginalized, we have to ask “Is this really about me?”  We need to examine our own attachment to labels and definitions and if we can be open to constructing a new understanding of these words.

Why do I think it is important that we all follow the same steps as they were originally written?  I believe that one of the most harmful character defects found in almost every alcoholic or addict is the belief that their individuality is so pronounced that they are separated from the human condition to a degree that the tools other alcoholics and addicts use to recover cannot possibly work for them.  This is such a grand excuse for not going to meetings, not finding a sponsor, and not working any steps at all.   We call this being “terminally unique”, as in, you are so different from everyone else that it might just kill you.  No doubt, Witches have a unique spirituality.  But is it so pronounced that what works for millions of others will not work for them?  Is it so acute that the generous language of the Twelve Steps cannot accommodate these beliefs and practices?  My inclination is to doubt it.

* This is just my opinion.  Your mileage may vary.  Share below!


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Love and Tolerance of Others is our Code

I have a new post on my blog at Witches and Pagans.

It is about the latest epic drama to engulf the Pagan blogosphere.

Love and Tolerance of Others is Our Code

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Shadow Work

Things have been quiet around here but it hasn’t been for a lack of action and development in my spiritual program. Since the last time I wrote I have been to no less than four magical workshops. Two were full weekends, one was two days, and the final was a short half-day. Three of them were expressly Reclaiming-based, and the fourth was taught by a former Reclaiming/Feri priestess who now has her own mystery school.

These experiences have taken me deep into the realms of my own shadows. The painful realization is this; I have never once done an honest sex inventory on my Fourth step. Not because I haven’t tried, or wanted to do so. Simply because I haven’t been ABLE to. I have not had enough comfort and integration with my shadows.

I’ve walked through these shadows before, in therapy and through the Twelve Steps. But never have I walked through them with magic, through the use of ritual, trance, somatic work, divination, art, meditation, and chanting. It has lifted the veil into a whole new level of wounding that had not been touched by my previous efforts at healing. Starhawk and so many others talk about the three-part soul. I think my Talking Self was mostly healed by many years in therapy and through the Twelve Steps, but I am uncovering this whole area of hurt at the level of Younger Self that is still raw and desperate and powering me from a place I wasn’t even aware of. And the Younger Self is the connection to the God-Self, so what does that say?

There is much to do but one of the challenges is also to stop drilling through my pain like it is an obstacle on the path to Nirvana. I have to sit with it and honor it, listen to what it whispers, be open to the lessons and mystery it has for it. This is all HAPPENING because I refused to integrate this and shoved it aside. I cannot heal it while taking the same approach that it is too dangerous to even look at or touch.

I wish for myself a slow healing. So mote it be!

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Step I

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.

-The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous

It is remarkable how easily outsiders misunderstand the concept of powerlessness within Twelve Step Recovery. A simple moment spent Googling will bring up page after page of anti-AA rhetoric accusing Bill W (one of AA’s founders) of having created an entire organization that teaches learned helplessness. Many Twelve Step detractors will say that this concept of powerlessness allows the addict to shrug off any responsibility for the things she has done.

In the disease model of alcoholism and addiction, which Twelve Step recovery subscribes too, it is believed that the alcoholic or addict will never be able to regain control over their drinking or drugging. It said that upon ingesting alcohol or drugs, an allergy is set into effect that acts upon the alcoholic or addict as a tremendous craving. In addition to that, this person also suffers from a mental obsession that constantly tells them the lie that this time it will be different, that this time they will be able to pull it off and drink or drug normally or without consequence. When the first A.A.’s wrote the word “powerless”, they were saying that no addict or alcoholic would be able to circumvent either the mental obsession or physical addiction. No matter what they do, what clever tricks or management plans they come up with (and we can be quite creative!), they will never be able to drink or use without terrible consequence.

Is this a learned helplessness? Does it allow the Twelve stepper to shrug off responsibility for their actions? A reading of the 11 steps that follow should make it clear that the answer is no. It demands abstinence as the only sane reaction to the news that we cannot drink or use as other people can. The process that follows is a thorough and quite humbling experience that requires the 12 Stepper to come to terms with their worst actions and be willing to accept the consequences of their actions, even if it causes financial or legal hardship.

I see accepting my powerlessness as one of the most, strangely enough, empowering actions I have ever taken in my entire life. Before I accepted my powerlessness, I was a girl who spent years throwing herself against the wall. I was convinced that eventually, through the force of my own stubborn resentments and anger, I would somehow break through. What was I trying to break through? An endless list of things, including my own startling inability to drink like a normal person, other peoples unreasonable (so I thought) expectations of me and their resistance to my efforts to control them. I believed that if I could only manage things correctly, I would gain power over my situation, my feelings, and other people. I could somehow manage to have a normal amount of drinks or drugs and then stop. My dad would drop to his knees in sorrow for all the mistakes he had made and beg me to forgive him.

The result of these years of constantly throwing myself against the wall in this effort to exert my power? A bruised, battered body and spirit. More tragically, lost opportunities to embrace reality as it was, limitations and all. It was only when I accepted that I was powerless over certain things – my family, what other people thought of me, my drinking – that I could stop spending my time beating my body against the wall of denial and instead become engaged in those choices that WERE under my power.

It is only when I fully accept what I am powerless over that I can take my rightful place of power in the center of the pentacle and access the powers of spirit, earth, air, fire and water. At that moment, I finally understand myself in right perspective to the things that are around me. A witch cannot shape reality until she understands it. Admitting that there are things in the world, in nature, that she is powerless over is acknowledging that she is part of the tremendous web of life in which all things are connected. Humans, no matter how impressive our cognition, cannot set ourselves above or apart from the forces of nature. We are all bound by the laws of physics. We are all touched by death. To admit we are powerless over things is to claim our birthright as people of this Earth. It is to lay our heart out open and say “Yes, I am vulnerable. See how strong my heart beats”

And yet, In their efforts to rewrite the Twelve steps for a more Pagan-friendly model, many authors have written the concept of powerless out of the first step. Let’s take a look:*

“We admitted that we had a problem and made the decision to reclaim our lives.” The Spiral Steps

“We admitted that we have given our power and wills to (alcohol, drugs, food, anger, people, places, things, situations, the past – whatever you are having issues with…) and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The 12 Steps for Pagans by Khoury 

“We admitted we had a problem and that we were squandering our power. “ Anodea Judith, A Pagan Approach to the 12 Step programs

I understand the motivation for writing the word “powerless” out of the steps. Many people come to Witchcraft bearing scars from monotheistic religions were they were browbeaten into subservient and powerless relationships with their religions and their God. While the Twelve Steps were written expressly to be used by people of ANY spiritual beliefs, they were written by Christians in the 1930’s. Though the language they used was extremely inclusive for their time, it can read as alienating today. This concept of powerlessness can seem like a painful relinquishment of the sovereignty of the personal power that one reclaims when practicing Witchcraft traditions.

As discussed above, I believe that acknowledging our powerlessness is the exact opposite. I believe that for recovering addicts and alcoholics, it is the essential first step to reclaiming our true personal power that our addictions stole from us. Furthermore, it complements the worldview of the Witch by emphasizing the interconnectedness we share with all things.

Blessed be Powerlessness! Blessed be the First Step! Blessed be all recovering Witches, and blessed be all those still out there struggling.

*I have great respect for these steps and for anyone who got clean & sober working them. I am not arguing that they are bad or wrong.


Please click over to Witches and Pagans and read my new blog post on Powerlessness and the First Step!

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The push and pull of Home


What a loaded word, for so many people. Especially for those of us whose home lives were shot through with the pains and tragedies caused by alcoholism and drug addiction or other compulsive behaviors. My concept of home was a dangerous one through the fault of three alcoholics. The first was my father, who brought violence into my life as a child. The second was my mother, who filled my nights with uncertainty as she drank glass after glass during my adolescence. And the third was me, who hit my bottom one summer in my hometown, filling that place with anxiety and bad memories that required many years of forgetting.

Newly sober, I would creep into my hometown on occasions I could not avoid with my head ducked down and my eyes warily scanning the landscape. I was terrified of running into someone who had been part of my meltdown that summer. Someone who would claim to know a “me” that I was desperately rejecting and trying to cast off. What was most terrifying were the things I didn’t know I had done—I was a blackout drinker, and so never really knew who I had met, what I told them, and where we had gone.

So, even though I have grown more comfortable with it over the years, and the fact that it is considered a “destination” by manner, I still resist the pleas to come visit. My husband suggests we spend more time down there and I wrinkle my nose and dither. I might make it down there three or four times a year-kind of ridiculous considering it is a beach town, only three hours away, and a place many people would be thrilled to have a free place to stay!

But this place, though absent from my life, is everywhere in my magic. I can’t get away from it. It is where I find myself entering the underworld in Shamanic journeys. It is where I am taken in dream trances. When someone asks me how I became a witch, I know it is on this land that I found my Gods. I grew up on a large tract of land on a Bay. As a young child this is where I searched everywhere for the hidden portal into the “Other” world. This is the specific marsh where I dragged an empty brass pot into a hidden spot in the reeds and began to do well magic. This is the lake where I once buried a box containing a photograph, a letter, and salt in my first banishing/binding spell. This lawn is where I would stand under the bright light of the mood and first raise my arms to the sky and feel that sense of holy power and love descend upon me.

I was taken to this place in a trance last week. I had shape shifted into a crow and felt drawn to eat of the crabs, worms and other creatures that dwelt in the mud. Again I shape shifted, this time into a younger version of myself, a fierce, worldless child that existed before I began abusing substances but after the great shattering that would lead me to them. Not speaking, she slowly covered her body in the dark, smelly and tarlike mud from the marsh, until her entire body was black, and you could only see the whites of her eyes staring out from the darkness. It felt like a baptism, or a call to baptism, it felt like a fierce assertion of my fetch that this place, this land is holy and needs my attention, needs my power. As I need it.

What place do you need? Do you feel called Home? Is there a push/pull?

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Galactic Energy

The first time I was led in a grounding and centered by a Reclaiming Witch, the top of my head felt like it blew wide open.

I had done many of these exercises on my own-and struggled. I had struggled to send my roots deep down into the earth. I had struggled to feel truly, deeply connected. I felt like I could easily float away. It was a very frustrating feeling for me. I wanted to feel bonded and connected to the earth, but I struggled to make connections “downward”.

The first time I was led, she took us downwards. She ran us through the traditional litany I was familiar with-sink into the earth, through the soles of your feet. Feel those roots go into the earth, through the soil, through the bedrock. Around obstacles like rocks, through where the earth is hard, through where the earth is soft. Down to where the Earth begins to feel warm, down to where the earth is liquid and molten. And draw that energy up, breathe it up with each breath, through those roots, until it reaches your feet. And then breathe it up into your calves, into your knees, into your thighs. With a deep breath bring it into your belly, let that warm earth energy meet the fire that burns in your belly always, let it rekindle that fire, and breathe it up still further, into your chest, into your throat, and into your head, let it touch your third eye, and feel the energy of the warm earth flowing through you, connecting you to the center of the warm earth.

This is where I stop.

But she kept going.

Now let that energy burst out of the crown of your head.
Let it stream into the sky and begin to reach towards the distant light of the stars.
Reach towards the stars, towards the far reaches of the solar system.
Begin to drawn down that cool cosmic energy. Bring down the cold, star energy. Draw it down, draw it down into the crown of your head, into your body, feel it fill your head and touch your third eye. Breathe it into your throat, into your chest. Feel that cool energy fill you with the dark lushness night set against the ferocious glow of the stars. Breathe it into your belly, and feel that cool energy of the galaxy meet the warm energy of the earth, feel it coil together at your center, and know that this power is always here, waiting for you.

Holy shit.

I am a channel between earth and sky. I am a conduit for energy between the two. This is why I felt so uncomfortable before—I was only opening one valve.

When this witch showed me to open the second, the feeling was extremely powerful.  My head buzzed with a clear, fine high vibration. A tight band I hadn’t realized was there had been removed from around my forehead. My mind no longer felt like it was confined to the space of my brain, but was instead able to expand and extend several inches up and around my head.

I feel very connected to cosmic, galactic energy. I feel very drawn to the stars, and the idea of immense space and infinite possibility. The creator goddess in Feri Witchcraft, from which Reclaiming was born, is the Star Goddess. She is not Mother Earth, she is not Gaia. I spoke with a Reclaiming Witch a few weekends ago who told me that she sometimes struggles with even considering Reclaiming and Feri as “nature” or “earth” religions, because she feels so strongly they are linked to the energy of space and the cosmos as much as and maybe even more than they are of Earth.

I’ll reserve my judgment on that, as five months spent studying and celebrating in the Reclaiming tradition doesn’t really give me a solid foundation on which to make a statement like that, but I certainly relate to her feelings.

This experience is evidence to me of how important working with others can be. I don’t know that I’d have made this connection and understood that there can be a powerful connection to be made with the energy of the cosmos all on my own. I doubt I would have.

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