Interview with Drake Spaeth, PsyD.: Pagan Minister, Psychologist, and Professor (Part 1)

Because of the Western world’s economic downturn or crisis as it is sometimes called, there is a debate going on in the United States and the United Kingdom over health care budget cuts. These proposed cuts are disheartening for disabled and impaired Pagans. The good news is citizens aren’t going to take it.

The other news is that important steps are being made toward better health care for the Pagan community. Cultural anthropologist Kimberly Hendrick, PhD conducted the Pagan Health Survey and in November 2011, she presented the results to the American Public Health Association. The results of her study also showed Pagans think health insurance doesn’t cover all of their needs or provide for holistic and alternative care. The results of a Staff of Asclepius poll showed that American Pagans want the Affordable Health Care Act to do more. Hendrick hopes the Pagan Health Survey results of over a thousand Pagans can be used to help medical professionals and Pagan patients communicate effectively about health concerns both physical and mental.

At the conference she said, “If a mental health professional does not have knowledge of how to separate mental illness from spiritual practice among Pagans, this can generate significant problems for the patient as s/he attempts to cure the patient of [his/her] religion.”

In January, there were two important conferences that included presentations on Pagan health: Conference on Current Pagan Studies and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology Cultural Impact Conference

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies was held. This year’s theme was building community. Hendricks presented along with Pagan professional psychologists and a Heathen practitioner with Asperger.

“Another way Pagans can become more inclusive as a community is by welcoming people with mental difficulties. Ragnarulf was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and felt left out growing up. When he found his Heathen path the people accepted him, they liked that he thought differently. He found being accepted and being treated normally was very healing. Now he stands up for people with all mental differences and calls upon us all to put these people in places in the community that nurtures and makes good use of their differences.” LA Paganism Examiner, Joanne Elliott

Drake Spaeth, PsyD presented “Magic as Psychotherapy: Honoring the Frameworks of Contemporary Pagans” at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology Cultural Impact Conference. Spaeth is a licensed clinical psychologist and faculty member of the MA Clinical Psychology Department, Counseling Specialization at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. He is an ordained Pagan minister. He’s worked in diverse settings such as the US Air Force, residential treatment centers, hospitals, counseling centers, and private clinical practices. He currently has a private practice that focuses on spiritual counseling.

When Drake taught at Cherry Hill Seminary, I took his class on ecopsychology which explained the deep psychological need humans have to participate in natural surroundings we all feel. Drake recently spoke with me through Facebook and email.

Drake Spaeth
Image: Drake Spaeth photo courtesy of

Masery There is a great profile picture of you on Facebook with your long white hair accentuating a green mask. What is the story behind that photo?

Drake Ha ha, just a little bit of whimsy–part of the photo is real and part is not. A few years ago, my wife (Angie Buchanan) took a photograph of me at a Pagan festival event wearing a green handcrafted leather face mask. The long hair and the mask are thus real elements in the picture. The elaborate, Saturnalia-style beard is pure photoshop magic.  It goes with the mask rather well, don’t you think?

Masery: When and how did you become interested in Paganism?

Drake: Like a great many of us, I truly believe that being a Pagan has been something as intrinsic to my being as my humanity!  For a long time, I did not have a name to put to this combination of an exquisite feeling of crazy euphoria, heightened awareness, spontaneous reverence, and longing that I felt in natural, wild places outdoors.  I have collected stones, feathers, leaves, and acorns and built small stone circles ever since I was very young.  I always felt sort of claustrophobic (and more than a little bored) in churches.

I came to accept mystical and odd occurrences as something “normal” in my life.  For instance, I also recall that at age seven I fell at least twenty feet out of a tree and landed in a sitting position, completely unharmed.  At age ten I remember finding a copy of the Welsh Mabinogion in a bookstore, sitting down in dark corner and paging through it, laughing because I realized that somehow I already knew all the stories (though I could not recall being told them earlier), and also feeling tearful because I could not afford to buy the book (though I finally did so when I was a college student). 

However, it was not until 1990 (when I was 24 years old) that I discovered that there was indeed a name that I could apply to feeling of never quite belonging to the faith tradition my family encouraged me toward.  My father came down to Atlanta to accompany me to a men’s mythology workshop being presented by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade.  For the first time in my life, I experienced large scale drumming as I entered into the auditorium.  I was entranced, and for just a moment I was not in that auditorium but standing in a forest clearing, seeing an antlered shadow on the ground.  Though I had no idea what that was at the time, my heart pounded with excitement.  Later in the workshop, James Hillman made an offhand comment that Robert Moore, a Jungian analyst, once said that the Neo-Pagans had the right idea in their creation of ritual.  I was so curious and intrigued about that term, and my search led me to Margot Adler’s book, Drawing Down the Moon.  THAT’s when I knew I had found my people, though for many reasons I ultimately came to prefer the term “Pagan” to “Neo-Pagan”.

Masery: Do you consider yourself to be part of a specific tradition?

In the early 1990s, in Atlanta, Georgia, Wicca seemed to be the most friendly and accessible to group practice.  I really wanted to learn form other like-minded people, and I discovered through an alternative entertainment newspaper that there were quite a few covens in the Atlanta area. I had not yet discovered how to find or contact Druids or other Pagans.  The internet was just beginning to be a concept at that time, and it was very difficult for Pagans to find each other–as strange as that might seem now.  I joined a Wiccan group that I ultimately disliked intensely, and joined a new coven founded by other disenchanted members of that other group. The new coven came to be known as DragonTree Grove.  We were advised by Oberon and Morning Glory, Nybor and Elspeth, and other Pagan luminaries as we were getting off the ground, and DTG was a source of deep satisfaction and spiritual growth for a brief period of my life. That coven has long been disbanded, but I have recently found some former members on Facebook and have been periodically corresponding with them.

I moved to Valparaiso, Indiana in 1993, when I became a student at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (where I now teach).  I became a member of Circle Sanctuary at that time and attended my first Pagan Spirit Gathering in 1996.  I became an Air Force staff psychologist in 1997, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  I joined and ultimately became a Deacon of Sacred Well Congregation, which practices the Greencraft Tradition of Wicca.  I also became more active with Circle Sanctuary based in Barneveld, Wisconsin, and became their first ordained minister to be a realistic chaplain’s candidate for the Air Force.  Even though the Armed Forces Chaplains Board at the Pentagon approved Circle’s and my application as a chaplain, Donald Rumsfeld did not sign the paperwork and we were unfortunately left with no proof. I occasionally wonder how different my life might look right now if I had become a Pagan Air Force chaplain!

It was in Texas that I really started to define my own spiritual path that is inspired by indigenous shamanism and Celtic spirituality. I have undergone a series of private initiatory experiences and am currently finishing advanced training in a shamanic context.

To bring this account fully into the present: After completing a four year commission, I moved briefly to Missouri and spent some time at Wolvenwold (a Pagan sanctuary in the Ozark mountains) and St. Louis. I moved to Chicago in June 2001.  I fell in love with Angie Buchanan (a family tradition Pagan, founder of Gaia’s Womb, member of the Board of Trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and co-founder Earth Traditions) in August 2001, and we have been together ever since.  Last year, we established our own Pagan Church and ministry training program, known as Earth Traditions. A mystery school is also in our future plans.

Masery: You are ordained as a minister in a Pagan context. Why did you decide to take on a formal role in Paganism?

Drake: I have been blessed with many opportunities in my life that others have simply not had.  I have tried to make the most of them, and as a consequence find myself in a position with the potential to help many people through what I do.  I feel like becoming a minister simply formalized the path I was taking naturally and organically.  I have also been very concerned about the increasing number of individuals seeking easy paths to ordination who are finding themselves quickly overwhelmed and confused about how to respond when called upon not only to facilitate rites of passage for other Pagans but also to provide crisis intervention and substantive spiritual counseling to those to whom they are ministering.  Moreover, they are navigating dual and multiple roles as minister, coven member, or even lover–with the potential for grievous, if unintended, harm. I feel like I can provide support and education to such individuals–particularly about the counseling aspects of ministry–and it seems almost remiss not to do so.

Ultimately, the answer to this question for me is deceptively simple: I felt and answered the call to ministry.  This call seems to be a common phenomenon across many religious and spiritual contexts.

Masery: How long have you been a minister with Earth Traditions and Circle Sanctuary?

Drake: I was ordained at the Pagan Spirit Gathering in 1999 as  Circle Minister specializing in military issues and support.  I was also, as mentioned above, Circle’s chaplain candidate at the time.  Earth Traditions obtained its 501C3 status last year.

Masery: Why did you decide to pursue a career in psychology?

Drake: I’ve known I wanted to be a psychologist since reading The Portable Jung, edited by Joseph Campbell, at age 11. I think I understood maybe one third of the content of that book at the time, but what I did comprehend set my soul on fire. Sadly once I got to graduate school I discovered that Jung was not a popular topic of conversation or study. Fortunately, I have found other avenues in which to pursue interests in Jung’s approach, and I found that I was even more intrigued by Humanistic-Existential and Transpersonal Psychology, both of which are open to spirituality as a meaningful and important dimension of human existence.

Masery: How did you end up in Chicago as an assistant professor at the MA Clinical Psychology Department, Counseling Specialization Program?

Drake: I tried my hand at teaching a couple courses at Elmhurst College and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2004. I had a friend who taught at the former who put in a good word for me.  My former student status at the latter allowed me access to the latter.  I initially thought that teaching might be something mildly interesting that I could do on the side to support counseling and psychotherapy practice in various contexts.  I was not prepared to love it so much and to be much better at it than I expected to be!  In 2006, I secured a department faculty position at The Chicago School.  Synchronistically, there are two other Pagans who are on the faculty and “out” about it.

The interview continues tomorrow (March 1) in Part 2. We talk about the Cultural Impact Conference, spiritual and mental health crisis, and Drake shares advice for Pagans seeking mental health services.

If you are a Pagan with a health concern or a health care professional, please share your story with the Staff of Asclepius as a guest author or by interview. Please email me.

Other Sites and Articles of Interest:

Interview with Angie Buchanan of Gaia’s Womb

Staff of Asclepius posts
“American Pagans Want to Change Health Care Legislation to Do More”

“Interview with Kimberly Hendrick, PhD about the groundbreaking Pagan Health Survey”

“Interview with Charlton Hall, therapist and Chief Druid of the UOD”
Part 1

Part 2

Pagan Centered Podcast episode 178: Pagan Health Survey interview with Kimberly Hendrick
They also interviewed Charlton Hall but I can’t find the darn thing.

Series of articles at the LA Paganism Examiner by Joanne Elliott
“Pagan Conference 2011 theme is ‘Building Community’”

“Pagan Studies Conference a success Part 1”

“Pagan Studies Conference a success Part 2”

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