The Dance of Pagan Recovery: Welcome to the Dance

Addicts are dancers in the darkness: staggering & stumbling, gracelessly moving through our lives.  Sometimes, our dance is constricted, arms held tight to our bodies, fearful of touching or being touched.  Other times, we flail wildly, not caring what we break, or who we knock down in the process.  The rhythm of our addiction beats at us; it drives us on to places we never would want to go if we had our wits about us.  And yet, we find ourselves in those places, not making sense to ourselves or others.  And if we’re very lucky, we actually, really, find ourselves, or someone else finds us, and offers us the hand we need, to begin to navigate our way back to sanity.

There are many paths that could lead to our wellness; some take 12 Steps, others 9, or 16.  Sometimes the steps aren’t that clear-cut, or we are encouraged to stop counting and just walk.  What these ways have in common is:  we figure out that something’s not working.  We take responsibility for our actions.  We forgive ourselves.

If you are a program* person you’ve no doubt heard people in the rooms** express gratitude for their disease of addiction:  “There are lots of asses in the world, and I’m one too, but at least I have a program that helps me learn to not act like one…”

As creatures on a spiritual path, addict or not, hopefully we all have some sort of program we are working. Daily prayers, commitment to right action, seeking the wholeness of all beings; these can all be an important part of how we hope to heal ourselves and the world of our ills.  Drunks or perverts or druggies or gamblers or whatever our ‘drug’ of choice, the consequences of our disease are brutal, but with focus and intention (aka magick), we can offer our gifts in a positive way.

As active addicts, we destroy things:  our work, our family, ourselves.  Most of us have tried many times to change our behavior and been unsuccessful.  Having a tried and true support structure, with a history of success and clear requirements enables us to let go of the false control we’ve held, and to fall back with trust into something larger than ourselves.

However, a big problem that many of us face when we do finally seek a program is that many 12 Step groups are Christian-centric.  Sometimes, that doesn’t stop us.  We are so far down in the gutter that any light is welcome.  But, when we get a little healthier, it starts to rankle.  The “He”s and “Him”s and Lord’s Prayers feel exclusive and off-putting.  And that’s all we need to convince ourselves that this sobriety thing really isn’t for us.

So.  How can we manage that?  How can we get clean while holding our own spiritual practices intact?

That’s the purpose of this humble column:  to delve into the many issues facing addicts of all sorts, and approach those from a pagan perspective.  We’re going to talk about specific rituals to help with recovery, what deities might support or detract from our resolve (because, dang, some of them really like to party), existing groups for pagans, prayers that help when we’re digging in our darkness, and all sorts of other subjects to help you and me find joy and creativity and truth and beauty on our path.

We’re going to help each other to learn the steps of all the dances that keep us healthy and sane.

Find the two sober people in this picture

Find the two sober people in this picture

Here’s why I think I can help guide this process (aka “Jenya’s Abridged Drunk-a-logue”):

I came from a loving family. Mistakes were made, but they always are.  I had “new-kid syndrome” a lot, as we moved several times before I was in high school.  But when I was in 9th grade, I found the magic key to happiness:  alcohol.  When I drank, I felt unworried and relaxed for the first time I could remember.  I started hanging out with people who partied all the time.  We all got completely sh*t-faced every weekend (or weekday, if we could swing it).   I smoked weed, took speed and mushrooms and LSD, and drank like a fish, but in 1984, I made it to graduation (2.54 GPA, thanks for asking) and went off to college on the strength of my SAT scores (I was never nervous on tests!).  Living on my own did not help me to curb my appetite for intoxicants; quelle surprise.  After my first year, the school sent my parents a letter suggesting that perhaps I would like to take some time off to think about my goals.  AKA — I got the boot.  I got a job, even got promoted to manager of my little shop, until I expanded my druggie repertoire to include smoking PCP and snorting cocaine.  Suffice it to say that my job didn’t last much beyond that.

Now I was free!  My parents tried to help by encouraging me to move back home, but that would have put a damper on my activities, so I stayed free-floating out in the world.  I had always had an interest in magick and the occult, and I started exploring that interest more.  I did tarot readings, read The Spiral Dance, and believed in things I couldn’t see.  Some of those may have actually been real.

In 1989, I moved to California.  I was excited because I thought:  a) I’ll find some real Witches! And b) I’m going to be the girlfriend of a drug dealer and get my drugs for free!  Luckily, only one of those came to be.

I stumbled into a hotbed of Witchery in the Santa Cruz mountains:  Gardnerian and Feri and NROOGD, oh my!  We began a ritual group.  By this time, I’d stopped doing drugs, but alcohol was my constant companion.  Those around me didn’t have the same issues I had, but oh!  Wine/s in ritual!  Beer/s at the party!  Nightcap/s of Scotch!  There were so many new opportunities to drink in this community where ecstasy was so highly prized.  “All acts of love and pleasure” indeed!

I tried to get sober on my own several times with no success.  I had lots of “bottoming out” experiences:  waking up in the wrong house with the wrong people, making bad choices about my family, and so on.  I finally got clarity in an unexpected moment:  I denied my beloved brother a drink out of my pint of brandy (because, dammit, I had this down to a science and I knew exactly how much brandy I needed to make it through the night!).  Suddenly, the pattern shifted and I knew what I had to do.  The next day I went to AA for the first time:  September 18, 1995.  And I haven’t had a drink since.

And yet, this still happens...

And yet, this still happens…

I would love to hear about your experiences as a Pagan in recovery from any addiction, working a 12 Step or Other Step or No Step!

* ‘program’ = a 12 Step or other recovery program
** ‘in the rooms’ = ‘in a 12 Step meeting’

The Dance of Pagan Recovery is published monthly. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

About Jenya T. Beachy

Jenya T. Beachy has been walking the Twisted Path of spiritual seeking for most of her life.  She is the originator of the Shapeshifter line of Anderson Feri tradition Witchcraft and for many years, she’s led classes, retreats, and workshops locally and across the country on Tarot, Practical Magick, Ritual Skills, Personal Empowerment, Shadow Work, Ancestor Connection and much more.  Now the core principles of self-sufficiency, curiosity and creativity so long present in her magick have found expression in homemade chutney and hand-killed meat. She makes her home in the mountains above the ocean in California with her beloved husband, a passel of animals and many, many jars. Find out more at her website: or join the conversation on FB at the Urban Pagan Homestead group. 

  • Lasara_Firefox_Allen

    You are brilliant and beautiful, and I’m blessed to have you in my life.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Thanks, Lasara! I’m hoping to generate some good conversation here and support all those drunks and addicts who might be feeling very alone at the Big Tent Party…

  • Penelope Flores

    Nicely shared. 12 steps sometimes are too many or not enough for some. I enjoyed your openness about your experience and how you have made AA work for you instead of using the ‘Christian-centric’ feel of the 12 steps turn you away. Your story gave me some things to think about personally. Blessings.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Glad you got some food for thought here!

  • Christopher Dwyer

    Had a priestess once tell me that there was nothing terribly un-Pagan about the Lord’s Prayer, and that she didn’t give two shits what prayer I said at meetings, just that I went. I’ve had sponsors who are confirmed atheists, evangelical Christians, vague spritualists, and some in-between (I bounced between sponsors a bit early on). Never had a problem with the idea of Gods and Goddesses of my understanding. Reconciling “turning my will and my life over to…” while practicing a religion that involves specifically willful practice is quite another thing, however.

    Thank you so, so much for writing this.

    • 12StepWitch

      Yes, I think that is where most of the difficulties lie. I think that the difficulties resolve themselves, however, once the concept of will (on both sides_) is rightly understood. In the Big Book there is discussion not of abandonment of will but of Alignment with the Will of your Higher Power. In Paganism, we discuss the concept of “true Will”, which according to Wikipedia was introduced to us by the Thelemites who defined it as ” a person’s grand destiny in life, and at other times as a moment to moment path of action that operates in perfect harmony with Nature. This Will does not spring from conscious intent, but from the interplay between the deepest Self and the entire Universe. Thelemites in touch with their True Will are said to have eliminated or bypassed their false desires, conflicts, and habits, and accessed their connection with the divine.”

      So really we turn our False Will over, and in turn we receive alignment with True Will, which is a Pagan concept that dates back to at least 1904 and has been adopted by other Pagan groups including Feri tradition. The term “alignment” might be an easier pill to swallow for some who feel alienated by the idea of submission or surrender.

      • Christopher Dwyer

        And the alignment of my will is pretty much where I got with that. I can use Magic wisely or stupidly. As long as I’m in fit spiritual condition, and as long as my will is aligned with the Gods’, then all is well :)

        I’ve not heard of the concept of True Will, but it’s certainly something, as a Pagan in recovery, that I should familiarize myself with. Yesterday, in fact. So thanks for that!

      • Jenya T. Beachy

        Yes, in Feri Trad, we talk about the alignment of (simply): our animal soul, our human soul and the soul of our divinity. We strive to become aware of and heal our complexes so we can recognize our true path.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      You are most welcome. I agree that it’s less crucial what prayers you speak than the intent behind them. I also agree with 12StepWitch below that we really are looking for the alignment of our souls with our Higher Power/Purpose. BUT, how do we learn to trust that Voice, when the voices in our heads have been leading us astray for so long? How do we recognize Truth when we hear it? That, of course, is where the community comes in and helps deliver some clarity. Also, learning to sit in silence for a while and see what awakens as the dust settles.

    • Brian Bowman

      Buckminster Fuller took the Lord’s Prayer and revised it with science. It’s fun! He actually made several versions and called it “Ever Rethinking the Lord’s Prayer.”

      Oh god, our father —
      our furtherer
      our evolutionary integrity unfolder
      who are in heaven —
      who art in he-even
      who is in everyone
      hallowed (halo-ed)
      be thy name
      (be thine identity)
      halo-ed –

      the circumferential radiance
      the omnidirectional aura of
      our awareness of being
      ever in the presence
      of that which is greater,
      more exquisite
      and more enduring
      than self —

      haloed be thine identification
      which is to say
      the omnidirectional
      vision and total awareness
      is a manifest of your identity
      which name or identity is
      most economically stated as:
      truth is your identity —

      by truth we mean
      the ever more
      inclusive and incisive
      which never reaches
      but always approaches
      closer to
      perfection of understanding
      and our awareness is ever
      a challenge by truth —

      truth is embraced by and permeates
      the omnidirectionally witnessible integrity
      of omni-intertransforming events
      which ever transpire — radiationally
      which means, entropically in the physical;
      and contractively — gravitationally —
      which means, syntropically in the metaphysical
      both of which — are characterised by either
      the physical expansions
      toward ever-increasing disorder,
      of the entropic physical;
      or the metaphysical contractions
      toward ever-increasing order
      of the syntropic metaphysical;
      and these pulsating
      altogether propagate
      the wave and counterwave oscillations
      of the electromagnetic spectrum’s
      complex integration —
      of the omnienvironment’s
      evolutionary reality
      and its concomitant
      thought regeneration
      which altogether constitute
      what we mean by total being.

      or haloed
      “be thy name,” which means
      your identification to us,
      Your kingdom come! —
      your mastery of both
      the physical and metaphysical Universe
      emerges as the total reality
      your will be done —
      your will of orderly
      consideration and mastery
      of the disorderly be done
      on our specialised case planet
      and in our specialised case beings
      and in our special-case consciousness
      and in our special-case intellectual integrities
      and in our special-case teleologic integrities
      as it is in your generalised case he-even (heaven).

      We welcome each day our daily evolution
      and we forgive, post give, and give
      all those who seemingly
      trespass against us
      for we have learned retrospectively
      and repeatedly
      that the seeming trespasses
      are in fact the feedback of our own negatives,
      realistic recognition of which
      may eliminate those negatives.

      For yours, dear god —
      oh truthful thought
      is our expression proven manifest
      of your complete knowledge,
      your complete understanding,
      your complete love and compassion,
      your complete forgiveness —
      subjective and objective,
      your complete inspiration and vision giving,
      and your complete evolutionary volition,
      capability, will, power, initiative
      timing and realisation —
      for yours is the glory —
      because you are the integrity
      and forever

  • happydog

    Sister Jenya, you know I adore you, right? This is awesome.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Thanks, brother Dawg!

  • 12StepWitch

    This is so great! Thrilled to have another voice discussing these crucial topics. I’ve been blogging about the issue of Pagans in recovery at PaganSquare and my own personal blog I look forwarding to hearing what you have to say!

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Thanks, 12! I’ll check out your blog too! It seems to be a topic on folks’ minds lately, so the more the merrier, I say!

      • 12StepWitch

        Oh absolutely the more the merrier!

  • lilithdorsey

    It was very hard for me to get past the “God” in the rooms, but the longer I stayed the easier I found it to openly express my religion and educate people to different options about “higher power” than they were used to. In a way, after I began to understand the recovery process, I found it a welcome change to be in a group of people who would respect my religious beliefs. And quite frankly I wish someone had handed me a big book as a child instead of a Bible, it’s much more useful to me on a daily basis.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      I was lucky enough to find a fellowship here in the hills of California where people would openly talk about Great Spirit as their HP, though some folks would end a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer. It is interesting that in the rooms there is FAR MORE conversation about spirit than in any other area of life, if you’re not a church goer.

  • patrick t. rost

    Thank you for writing this! i attend two AA meetings known as Godless Heathens here in the SF Bay Area & am an Initiate in the Wildflower tradition of Come As You Are (CAYA) Coven. It’s definitely great to be a sober pagan!

    • Christopher Dwyer

      Goodness, but I miss California. A meeting called “Godless Heathens?” That’s beautiful.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Thank YOU for reading it! It’s great to know that you’ve found a good home up there! We are very lucky here in the Bay Area of CA, where there are so many pagans of all stripes.

  • Constant Reader

    Although alcohol was my drug of choice, I go to NA meetings in part because they are less Jesus-y than AA meetings (at least, here in New England). That said, it’s still clear even in my home group — which is very laid back — that it’s okay to be some kind of Judeo-Christian or an atheist, but people looking for more inclusiveness are just whiners suffering from terminal uniqueness. So I shut up and ignore what doesn’t work for me and embrace what does. I know for many people the 12-step program *is* their spiritual program; for me it’s one part of my path.

    I’m really looking forward to reading more on the topic of Pagans in recovery.

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Thanks, Constant! That whole ‘terminal uniqueness’ thing is a real bugaboo. A lot of us have felt different from others because we see or feel things that others can’t and often don’t want to! So we have the extra burden of trying to stay on that line between “No, really, I am different; you’ve told me that my whole life” and “No, really, we are the same in the most important ways”.

    • Jenelle Peckham

      I live in boston and I agree completely with you I cannot stomach AA meetings I go to NA or Buddhist meditation meetings for recovery I love those they are my fav.

  • Y. A. Warren

    The best thing about being Pagan, in my non-affiliated opinion is the acceptance that each is connected to all. you loved your brother, and that gave you the epiphany you sought to break your centering on self narcissism. Bravo for you and your brother!

    • Jenya T. Beachy

      Yes, a powerful experience! It’s very interesting to me to see exactly what it is that creates the perfect condition for sobriety to really take hold. I had hurt a lot of people that I loved by that point, but for whatever reason, this was my moment of clarity.

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