Paganism, Sobriety, and AA

I found an interesting take on AA today on CNN’s religion blog.  Click here to see it — it’s entitled My Faithlessness: The atheist way through AA.

The author talks about the difficulty of being an atheist in a room full of Jesus.  She acknowledges the reputation AA has for being kind of a cult in and of itself.  Towards the end she states:

“I believe that the most important spiritual principle of AA is humility. The recognition that we are flawed, that we can and must change and that our purpose not only in sobriety but in life is to be of service to others.”

So she has found a way to spiritually connect in the end — through humility and service and a recognition of flawed nature.  I’m glad for her.

I’m not sure this will work for many Pagan alcoholics.  My Pagan clients are especially annoyed with the emphasis on surrender of power. They tend to think that they need to take back personal power and personal responsibility in order to rebuild themselves. They feel oppressed by the assumptions of one male deity.  They DON’T want a nonspiritual alternative.


There are a number of alternative 12- and 13-step Pagan programs.  Here is one such system I like which was created by Circle Sanctuary priestess Selena Fox as part of her counseling master’s degree thesis at University of Wisconsin-Madison entitled “When Goddess is God: Pagans, Recovery, and Alcoholics Anonymous”(1995):


1. We recognize that we have given away personal power by addiction to substances, that this has resulted in dysfunctional living, that it’s time to reclaim our power and restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

2. Came to acknowledge that the Divine Power within can bring about healing change and harmony.

3. Chose to allow the Divine within of our own personal path to be the central guiding force in ourselves and our lives.

4. Examined ourselves deeply and honestly on all dimensions, physical, mental, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual.

5. Acknowledged to the Divine, to our egos, and to at least one ally, what is
unhealthy and unbalanced in our bodies, thoughts, emotions, behaviors & souls.

6. Were ready for the Divine within to work transformation to restore balance to ourselves and our lives.

7. Sincerely invited the Divine within to dispel barriers to change, and to facilitate transformation.

8. Made a lists of all beings we have harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such beings as much as possible, except when to do so would cause harm to them or others or make a difficult situation worse.

10. Continued our process of self-examination, acknowledging our strengths as well as our problems, promptly acknowledging our mistake & successes when they occurred.

11. Sought through spiritual activities such as rituals, meditations, chanting, dancing,
rhythm making, invocations, prayers, vigils, nature walks, journal writing, and other practices, to strengthen our relationship with the Divine within and to allow this dimension of ourselves to be the guiding force in our lives.

12 . Having had a spiritual rebirth as a result of this process of healing transformation, we continue to work with these principles and are willing to share our story with those who come to us in need.

There actually used to be a Pagan AA meeting in office space I rented on Saturdays before the local Pagan shop Mystickal Voyage shut-down.   I’d love to know if they managed to relocate somewhere nearby.

I will comment that vanilla AA is often effective. I’m frequently glad it exists.  I think most of the problems are as much a result of local failings and local members as of the AA system itself.  Few groups run perfectly as intended.

My occasional objections to it are along the lines of AA as its own religion, the 12-Steps and the program being  inviolate and those questioning are “in denial”, and of course the emphasis on surrender to higher power.  Again — much of this depends upon how the local meeting is run.

Here are a few of the other variants I hear from my clients (Pagan or not):

1) Frequent complaints by high IQ clients that it seems simplistic and not open to intelligent challenge.

2) Frequent complaints of hypocritical/relapsing sponsors.

I’m not sure there is a summary point to this posting — I guess maybe that some flexibility is needed in finding a path to sobriety and to the Divine.  Also that such flexibility is being created by Pagans and atheists and others who need the help while stuck in our mainstream culture.


  1. Judy Harrow said,

    February 28, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

    Hi, Michael and all

    My own direct experience is in Al-Anon, which is a somewhat different situation than being directly addicted myself. And the group I went to, on the Upper West Side of NYC, was certainly not heavily Christian. Still, I’d like to share two modifications that work very well for me.

    1. The Serenity Prayer. I translated this to “May the Lord and Lady help me to find within myself …” Actually, I find this to be much more than just a prayer. It is a template that helps me figure out any challenging situation that comes up in my life.

    2. The personal inventory (step 4). I invite people to inventory their successes strengths as well as their failures and deficiencies. This is not only more in keeping with Pagan theology, as you point out, but also more applicable to all Al-Anon people of any religion. The problem with Al-Anons is more that they cop out and give away power to the addict in their lives. (By the way, working through such an inventory is one of the requirements for all Second Degrees in my coven, whether or not addiction plays any role in their lives.

    warmly / Judy Harrow

  2. admin said,

    February 28, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

    Judy — Thank you so much! I think these are some excellent modifications to the Steps. I remember from the class you used to do at Cherry Hill Seminary that you have a knack for finding simple and useful tools for the community.


  3. Pascale said,

    July 25, 2012 @ 11:37 am

    These 12 steps are so healing for me. Thank you so much! I am going to be re-locating to Wisconsin from Texas and need to find a pagan group. I once had 18 years sobriety and was wanting to go back to meetings here in Texas, but after two attempts, I left the meetings. As a Wiccan priestess, the strong emphasis on the Christian faith was very off-putting and the dogmatic repetition of all the AA “truisms” was just tiresome and boring and didn’t reach me anymore. I will carry these Pagan 12 steps with me as I make my way there and hopefully can establish a pagan meeting in the future somewhere there after I get settled. Bright Blessings and looking forward to making connections and friends in the Lord and Lady when I get there.

  4. Lesley Domnu said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 10:40 am

    Though these steps help some, I actually sobered up with the original ones. There is a group of us that are writing a book about using the original steps and being pagan. Hopefully soon it will be out.

    And I am in the Houston area and my home group has been very supportive and acceptive to me being pagan and gay.

  5. Michael_Reeder said,

    March 10, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

    Thanks for your comment and glad the original steps help too. Would love to know about the book when it comes out. Thanks Michael

  6. sean said,

    April 24, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

    can anyone recommend a pagan prayer book, for sobreity
    preferabley something to do with nature an not supernatural things
    spiritual is ok though

  7. Bruce said,

    October 11, 2015 @ 3:06 am

    I have struggled with this “god of your understanding” stuff and when I chose it was THOR! In talking with my sponsor he found out, his response was to call over another AA and cohorts me into a confession, they both chuckled an laughed at me, the one called over said” isn’t that a comic book hero” and thats when it hit me, I was dealing with a simpleton, my sponsor scrambled to make up for the lost ground by offering up his higher power(jesus Christ) till I could find one more realistic to my needs, I declined with tact, this lead me to recall a quote in the big book ” some are sicker than others”

  8. Destiny said,

    October 8, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

    I got sober for the first time with. AA as it is, but my beliefs didn’t keep me there after more than a decade are of sobriety because as a pagan witch I could not turn over my will.

    Having read these steps, after 10 years of trying to reconcile, unsuccessfully, the ability to bend my will with AA’s requirement that I turn it over to their god, has given me a starting point to do the work I need to walk my true spiritual path.

    Thank you. Blessed Be.

  9. Gina Lopina said,

    October 12, 2017 @ 9:20 pm

    Has a pagan sobriety book been published yet? I feel uncomfortable in AA meetings because they “pass a basket to collect money” like in a church and they say the Lord’s Prayer after the meeting. Even though the Big Book says they accept Buddhists, Muslims, and other non-Christians. I’ve been in and out of AA and was actually rejected by my sponsor because I said my higher power was the Goddess because, I found out too late, she was a fundamentalist Christian.
    I love Selena Fox’s steps. I don’t know if I can keep going to meetings or not.

  10. Michael_Reeder said,

    October 10, 2019 @ 5:18 pm


    I have not checked these books out myself, but you could try:

    The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery

    The New Light: A Heathen’s Guide to Drug Addiction and Recovery

    You may also want to take a look at SMART Recovery:


  11. Jeudie said,

    April 5, 2021 @ 7:19 pm

    This option is wonderful

    Looking for an online group and a sponsor.

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