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

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Witchcraft and the Twelve Steps: An Introduction

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.

In these blog posts, I am going to go through the Twelve Steps and come at them from both the perspective of a Witch and the perspective of a recovering person.  I will ask, how do these two perspectives complement each other?  How do these two perspectives complicate each other? Where are the conflicts?  Where are the solutions?  We will also take a look at the issue of Christian language in meetings and in the literature, and other topics as suggested and considered.

I hope you will join me on this examination.  Mine is but one perspective and I would love to hear yours. I am no more qualified to talk on this topic than any other Witch in recovery.  Do you think Twelve Step recovery is compatible with Witchcraft spiritualties?  Can someone recover without fellowship? What else would you like me to write about? What about the wider issue of Pagans in recovery? Please just think of me as your meeting secretary!  Did anyone remember to make the bad coffee this week?

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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.


  • Greybeard
    Greybeard Tuesday, 23 April 2013

    Over many years of witnessing witches and pagans participating in 13 step programs, i have seen that most have succeeded in substituting a new addiction for an old, and probably more harmful addiction. The biggest problem with the 13 step program is that it constantly feeds energy into being an addict, or "recovering" addict. When the beast is fed, it never goes away. I won't criticize those who have gotten "clean" by changing addictions to a "recovery" program, nobody but he or she knows how they have struggled. And "clean" is a lot better than active addiction. But "recovery" can become a new "drug" of dependence and a new self identity. All of the powerlessness and surrender works for many, but eventually a 13 step witch needs to grab power and magic over his or her own life again. What you put energy into grows and becomes strong. I do wish you well.

  • Hope M.
    Hope M. Wednesday, 24 April 2013

    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 damaged that their fear is so great that they choose to remain mostly in a community of recovery? Sure. But you cannot understand the fellowship that pervades this atmosphere. The sense of being known and understood that an alcoholic or addict feels in 12 step communities is unlike anything experienced elsewhere. I can go deeper with a fellow addict in twenty minutes than I can with someone else in months. We have faced a common enemy, found a common solution. Like the Big Book says, it is like we are survivors of the sinking of a great ocean liner, and we stand on the shore, a great camaraderie rising among us from steerage to first class. Interaction with “civilians” can feel superficial after this. Some of us are able to get past it. Some aren’t. Most of my friends are in recovery. I do not think this is odd. Who isn’t friends with people who share the same interests and spend their time doing the same things?

    There is another reason that alcoholics and addicts continue to return to 12 step programs well after their lives have stabilized, and this is perhaps the most important reason of all. We have a sacred duty to be there to hold out our hands to lift up those who are just newly rising from the madness. This was done for us, and we must remain to do this for others. We must witness to these people that recovery is possible, that the madness will part like the clouds and that the silver shining healing light of the moon will come gleaming down. To walk away once we have received what we need? What an affront to the Universe.

    You say a witch needs to grab power and magic over his or her own life again. I agree. That is actually what the concept of powerlessness and surrender allow you to do. It leads you to a place of TRUE empowerment, where you can exercise TRUE WILL. A simple reading of the concepts of powerlessness and surrender do not allow you to understand this, but when you go deeper (as I explain above) it becomes clear. I hope you will continue to read these posts and open your mind to consider these concepts.

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