Twelve Step Paganism (uh... WHUT? And other exclamations of confusion)
Let's get the disclaimer out of the way, as we are dealing directly with any Twelve Step Anonymous Program that exists: I'm not getting paid for this, this isn't endorsed, and the only interaction with any Twelve Step executive I have ever had has never been for such ventures – only to heal, as the programs promote. I DO NOT WISH TO OFFEND OR VIOLATE THE TRADITIONS OR PRINCIPLES OF ANY TWELVE STEP PROGRAM. These are my OPINIONS, and in no way represent ANY program of such a nature.
Okay, let's get started for real.
It's a Thursday night at 7pm. The smell of brewed coffee and stale doughnuts fill the room as people of varying misery shuffle in and take their seats around a stained plastic table in the basement of some local church. Regulars greet each other, while relatively new members sort of stand around awkwardly, ruminating various insecurities in their heads.
Welcome to the average Twelve Step Program, be it for alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling or any impulsive, overindulgent behavior. The first thing a Pagan will notice with perhaps a bit of apprehension or unease would be that there is a 90% chance that he or she is standing in a church of Jesus Christ, and almost every member will make that fact very clear with statements of “God bless you for coming here!” and “Jesus loves you very much to have brought you to the right help!”
To which I smile stiffly and say, “I appreciate the sentiment, ma'am/sir...” not about to broadcast my blasphemous stance on the Divine in their eyes (just yet anyway). And I do appreciate it… but by the Lady I'm uncomfortable!! Very few even see my pentacle under my scarf and those that do probably think it's a cool little Celtic knot or something.
The benefits of such a program are very mixed to those of us in the Pagan community. Some find it very helpful to see others with similar problems and being able to express them in a safe and mature environment does wonders for recovery. All one has to do is trust one's Higher Power –
Higher Power. That's a very, very loaded word. When one is a Christian, there is very little doubt about who or what that is (be it God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary or any Saint recognized by a Catholic community). Okay. Sooo... and if you're not Christian? Blank stares, usually. Sometimes even a desperate attempt to Witness to me right on the spot. As if to say, “What do you mean you're not a Christian? Surely you're at least an agnostic who acknowledges a monotheistic paradigm in some vague way?!”
Hate to categorize so radically here, but this is the attitude I've received at 99% of meetings across the state, and from discussions with others, similar attitudes are held across the country with few (blissfully wonderful) exceptions. I've got no problem with the Serenity Prayer – its a very useful little mantra. But when I replace the word “God” with “Goddess” or “All-That-Is,” I can expect to make others uncomfortable at best, death glares at the worse end of the spectrum. I've yet been asked to leave, but I can feel the sentiment oozing from just about everyone there. The same thing occurs with the reading of the steps and traditions – I often replace the word “God” with something I feel more akin to all the while trying not to blatantly offend (less likely to say “Loki” or “Kali” for example, more likely to say something like “We-She-He-It” or “The Source”).
And all this angst is just the social aspect.
When one subscribes to a polytheistic paradigm, or a paradigm that assigns no solid “Higher Power” to an external force, many of these techniques crumble under pressure. What if my Higher Power is my non-middle self? (For example: the Fetch, the Shadow Selves, the HGA, several power totems/animals or even my ancestors?) Some fit, some really, really don't. What then? For a Pagan, to not only admit loss of control, but to willingly give our control up to another entity is for most a ridiculous concept! Most of us pride ourselves on taking a driver's seat in our own lives; to not whine about how “this or that” got us in this predicament. We did! So we solve it ourselves (or acknowledge the need for help from others after we initiate such change), using traditional mundane combined with metaphysical and spiritual mediums. Turning over our lives to a Higher Power is an alien concept with varying consequences.
My father is a drug and alcohol counselor, and having been sober for over a decade himself, he does a damn good job at this. He is also a Methodist, and we enjoy many a theological debate on occasion. When I asked him about this predicament, he just replied, “Your head is the one that landed you in those meetings. Follow your heart, not your head. When has that ever steered your wrong? Smart addicts are the worst kind, they think way too much.”
Well said, Dad!
Another solution a more open-minded member of a meeting once suggested that one's Higher Power doesn't have to be anything transcendent at all. It could be your cat or your goldfish. Chat at that. Turn your problems over to the animal and let it go. Some might have qualms about directing such negativity at our animal friends, so you might feel better smudging the fishbowl when you're done or putting some grounding stones in the tank, but I find this very effective as well.
Our Higher Power is where our Hearts are. Wherever that may be – with your favorite pet, within your other selves who might “know better,” the Oversoul Monad, your Guardian Angel, Jesus Christ or even Buddha (one doesn't have to objectify him in order to use him as a “Higher Power”) – I think its safe to say that your Heart's intentions are pure, and can be followed safely. An Alchemist once told a boy to speak the language of his Heart. He worked miracles, not only within himself, but within others.
Coelho, Paulo; Clark, Alan R. (1993) . The Alchemist. English Edition. New York: HarperOne/ HarperCollins Publishers.