As sober Pagans, we face some unique challenges. In other faiths, there’s no question about which God you’re talking about; there’s only one and everybody knows His name. For us, there are many options, many deities that might be offering themselves into relationship with us in one way or another. Part of our work is to decide whether or how to make that connection.
If we’ve been Pagan longer than we’ve been sober, we probably early on attracted the attention of those spirits who like spirits: Bacchus, Dionysus, Pan. These guys love to party like nobody’s business (though that’s not all they’re good for!). But when we get clean, we’re not sure who’s on our side on the other side.
It is possible to continue to work with the Gods of pleasure, ecstasy and inebriation; the trick is to let them know that if they want us free and happy, we need a different road than that of drink or drug. Or we might just lose interest in those kinds of relationships.
There aren’t many deities that are specifically clean and sober. In Orisha traditions, Obatala will only drink water, and his children swear off alcohol for life. In my experience, the Orisha are not offended by sincere and humble expressions of respect and interest. Make a small altar to Obatala and give him gratitude for your clarity when you drink water. Then there is the Greek Sophrosyne, the spirit of moderation and temperance, qualities which are often lacking in the addict-brain. In her honor, spend time considering other ways that your energy is hyperbolic and think about how you can reel it in. Bathe in the beauty of simplicity.
Many spirits might be willing to work with us to keep us on the wagon. Just because they aren’t known for their sobriety doesn’t mean that they can’t help us to keep our own heads on straight.
In my own practice, I am mostly in contact with small gods, the spirits of the San Lorenzo River and the Wild Plum and the Earthworm. And when I am hearing them well, they sing to me of strength and perseverance and great wild joy. I’ve learned to be still and know my place and feel safe through my connections with the land.
For 25 years, I’ve worked and played with Brigid, who requires that I be clear enough to 1) receive her inspirations, 2) handle dangerous tasks carefully, and 3) be ready to serve when I am needed. The tricksy interaction of Fire and Water needs thoughtful attention. Because I choose to be her hands in this world, and her voice, I want to make sure I’m not muddying the messages and the creations with my own compulsions.
Freya is another who’s given me strength to keep my head up and moving forward. She appeared in my life suddenly; in a random (ha!) google search, I found an old image of her. I immediately fell to my knees in great wracking sobs. Her voice in my head said, “My name is tattooed on your bones… do you see it now?” And I did and I was crazy-blessed with an ecstasy of remembering. My substances would have paled in comparison to that moment.
You might be surprised by who you find calling you and how they may offer to help. I wasn’t expecting Oshun or Oya to make themselves known to me at different times in my life. At first, I approached carefully, making a simple altar with 5 yellow roses for Oshun, finding a painted mask for Oya. There were no grand declarations, but simple gestures. Now they’ve each become an important part of my Family, and their gifts of magick and strength have supported me through many crises.
Who is calling your name? Whoever it is, you have to choose to answer. In Feri trad, we say that the first of our Gods is our own Godself, and that is our primary allegiance. It is in the trust of the God that is Us that our destiny is shaped. So first we listen to our own deepest wisdom (pro tip: if it’s telling you to indulge, it’s not your deepest wisdom) to know what is right for us. Then we extend our listening out to who else might be there. Victor Anderson was known to say, “Don’t just open the door! Turn on the porch light and see who’s there!” Know who you’re dealing with.
If we want to work with powerful gods, we have to recognize the power inherent in our choice to step away from our addictions. There’s a big difference between the weakness of “I can’t drink” and the courage of “I choose not to feed the monster.” Our health, safety and sanity is our gift to the gods, to all beings, and to our own sweet selves.