12-Step Witch: Examining Witchcraft & Recovery

A Witch examines the unique intersections between her Witchcraft spirituality and Twelve Step teachings.

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Hope M.

Hope M.

Hope M. celebrated her seventh anniversary of being clean & sober in January. She has a sponsor and has the privilege of sponsoring other women, and has worked the Twelve Steps. She also has a homegroup and holds a job there. She has been a practicing witch since she was 12 years old.  After many years as a solitary witch, she recently began learning in the Reclaiming tradition. She writes this blog anonymously out of respect for the anonymity tradition of Twelve Step recovery groups.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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!

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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?

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Alay'nya
    Alay'nya says #
    You've written an amazing and thought-provoking blogpost, Hope, and I'm so glad you've given this topic so much depth - and have s
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for your wise words.
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Good article. I find that this rings true and that its something not overtly addressed in general.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 “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

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  • Patrick Califia
    Patrick Califia says #
    I wanted to thank you for this whole series. I have been struggling in a 12-step program in the Deep South. I am the only pagan. M
  • Melanie Swaim
    Melanie Swaim says #
    Thank you. You said a lot of great things here and in your column. I really appreciate the insight that this is about there bein
  • Melanie Swaim
    Melanie Swaim says #
    This is where I am with this process. I am struggling to know how much of my will, choices, etc. is given over to a Higher Power.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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?

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  • Hope M.
    Hope M. says #
    What a beautiful story, Brian, and I thank you for sharing it. Your experience in understanding a Higher Power as a non-divine en
  • Brian Nelsen
    Brian Nelsen says #
    I have come to really identify with the term "Higher Power". When I found out my son was a drug addict I was first shocked and co
  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    hi again and again, let me say the 12 step program in not a silver bullet (not that you were saying that), and it is not for ever

There has been a lot of very heated discussion lately about Paganism and Polytheism, with some people suggestion that there are certain practices or beliefs that one should hold in order to be able to call themselves a polytheist or pagan. Modern paganism being as diverse as it is, this has taken a lot of people by surprise, and accusations and name calling is happening from all corners.

I know this, and this only: I am a member of an organization that acknowledges "We are people who normally would not mix." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 17) But here we are--representing all sections of this country, all political, economic, and social backgrounds.  And-here's where I want you to pay attention--all religious backgrounds.

Twelve Step Programs are  spiritual programs.  It is demanded of us that we live a spiritual way of life.  It is also a WE program.  If you look at the Twelve Steps, you will see that "I" do not do the steps.  "We" do the steps.  So here we are, people of all religious backgrounds, beliefs and practices, being told we are meant to live a spiritual way of life, and that we are supposed to do it together, and that "love and tolerance of others is our code"? (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 84)

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  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus says #
    I think it's important for people to know that there are 12-step groups where you don't have to recite the Lord's Prayer or in any
  • Hope M.
    Hope M. says #
    No 12 Step program requires you to conform to Christian religious beliefs and practices. Even groups that make us of Christian pra
  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    It has never been my impression that serving as a role model had anything to do with 12-step programs. My understanding is that yo

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

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

-The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous

 

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  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    re: "Powerlessness" - may i share some thoughts? when we think of "Powerlessness", we usually think of impotence or ineffectiven
  • Hope M.
    Hope M. says #
    Hi Gary! Thanks for sharing that. What a great, unique way of looking at it. I totally agree with the statement " Powerlessness
  • gary c. e.
    gary c. e. says #
    thanks for the post- there are probably many ways out of addiction and finding healing - for some there is the 12 steps - for oth

We live in an over-culture that tries on a daily basis to annihilate the sovereignty of the individual.  So many of us are carrying wounds from a childhood and adolescence where we suffered humiliating and confusing experiences in the religion of our birth.  No wonder then, that at least initially, many of us were attracted to Witchcraft because it celebrated an independent, rebellious spirit. We found Gods and Goddesses here that did not demand that we act servile or scraping or deny ourselves pleasure.    We found deities who invited us to empower ourselves through tools that were brought to our communities through many brilliant teachers.  Witchcraft is not a collection of traditions that denigrate humanity and humanness. Rather, by acknowledging the divinity immanent within our own selves, we work with our innate powers to affect great change in ourselves, and through ourselves, in the world.

Witches thus adopt a way of viewing the world that understands humans as being fundamentally powerful beings. So what then, of helplessness? Of powerlessness? What then, of submission and surrender in the face of defeat?  What then, of the addict or alcoholic Witch who awakens one morning, hangover piercing their brain, withdrawals fogging their thoughts, who finally understands that life cannot go on this way any longer but who has utterly failed in every attempt to exercise autonomy over themselves and address their addiction problem ?  Whether they go to rehab or enroll in an intensive out-patient program, or look for recovery support on their own, they will likely at some point be directed towards Twelve Step recovery where they will learn that the program revolves around the following concepts; Powerlessness, Surrender, Submission, Dependence, Humility, Willingness, Open-mindedness and Honesty.

Without a doubt there are going to be spiritual concepts and practices in recovery that are going to feel uncomfortable and wrong to many Witches. For a witch, who understands empowerment as a sort of sacred act, the act of admitting powerlessness might feel like turning her back on the very concept of an immanent Divine that dwells within.   The concept of “Thy will, not mine, be done” might feel like a defeated return to that cringing deference that they cast off as adults.   Does this mean that Twelve Step recovery is fundamentally incompatible with Witchcraft traditions?  I think the many happily recovering Witches in the rooms today would heartily say “No!”  But what is required is open-mindedness and a willingness to look at these concepts passed the initial reaction.  Twelve Step recovery is like an animated kids movie; there is the initial level, that is simple and easy on the surface and is exactly what it says. Then, there is the more sophisticated second level. The one that makes the parents in the audience laugh and glance at each other over their kids heads, gaping at the slightly risqué reference. This is where we have to go to find a place where Witches in recovery can enter the literature, the program, and be comfortable.

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  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Over many years of witnessing witches and pagans participating in 13 step programs, i have seen that most have succeeded in substi
  • Hope M.
    Hope M. says #
    I've heard this argument many times before and it always makes me smile. Have some people been so sick, suffered so much, been so

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