Archive for Experiences & Musings

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.

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Paganism as a Religion

The debate on whether or not the terms “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” represent all of us and whether or not they should be capitalized and considered as a religion has been raging for sometime across the blogsphere.

There are plenty of excellent places to go for more on this topic, but of course the Wild Hunt blog has two recent entries (with lots of additional links) located here and here.

My viewpoint is likely an older one but still rings true to me — I believe it is mostly that of Michael York who has a whole book entitled Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion.  In it he argues that the basic tenets of our religions and spiritualities are similar enough that the whole umbrella term “Pagan” ought to be considered as a religion itself.

While I do firmly believe the above, there is a more important political reason (at least in the USA).  The easiest way for the right-wing evangelicals to deny us civil rights is to simply label our movement/s “not a religion”.  They side-step the whole issue of religious rights and put us outside the religious tent altogether.

Wicca MIGHT be able to fight its way into the religious tent of civil rights.  Asatru and Druidism might eventually manage it also.  But frankly our religions are small enough and disorganized enough that we don’t want to be doing this one small group at a time.  If you happen to be a member of one of the many tiny religious groups (4 people?, 12 people?, etc.) who don’t quite subscribe to the tenets of the “larger” groups like Wicca, you can forget being treated equally in the eyes of the law if Paganism in general is not regarded as a religion.

I’m told that Hinduism is/was a British colonial construction.  That each small village throughout India had its own local gods and goddesses and spirits and its own take on doing things.  They were all vaguely related of course.  In that case the British IMHO did them a favor in the sense of considering Hinduism all one religion — today that religion is able to speak as one very large entity when comes to asserting religious rights in the USA.

We need to fight for the term Pagan to be a religion and to represent all of us.  We can figure out later amongst ourselves how to tolerate internal differences, how much generic Wiccan practices are the default at festival rituals, etc.

— Michael


Wonderful Sacred Space Conference

Just finished a wonderful weekend at the 2011 Sacred Space Conference.   I’d like to thank Caroline Kenner for asking me to submit classes as well as the whole host of other event planners.

I presented a class on healer ethics — which was a very broad class concerning common ethical considerations across a wide variety of healing professions from the more medical (professional counseling, acupuncture) to the alternative (Tarot readers, energy healers, etc.).  We had a small but very enthusiastic group and the class about ran itself with all the examples and questions.  I was very pleased with how it went.

I also presented a very well attended class on trauma spectrum disorders with the goal of educating group leaders about what different disorders entail, how to spot them, and possible effects on their spiritual groups.  Another good discussion.

The conference was fantastic — I got to go to several sessions from other presenters I really enjoyed.

I missed Jonathan White’s class on “Ceremonial and Counseling Work with Anger” which combined Pagan ceremonial methods for working on anger with counseling.  Likely was a good class — his always are.

I’m happy to see several classes on mental health popping up at Pagan spiritual conferences and even happier at being invited to help teach them.

— Michael


I just launched a new version of my private practice website!

As part of the redesign, I added a number of photos of my various offices to the site.

Here’s one that DID NOT make it onto the site.  I’ll give you one guess why.  Have you ever seen so many orbs in a photo?  I’m not quite sure what to think about it.

You can click on the picture to enlarge it.



PCP Episode #108 is Online!

Pagan Centered Podcast (PCP) episode #108 is now online.  As I discussed in earlier posts here and here, we discuss several topics related to therapy and Paganism for a bit over an hour.  It’s been online for 3 days and already has 424 downloads — I’m psyched! (Bad pun intended.)

Amber and Dave at PCP also posted a nice outline of the show online so that if you are interested in a specific topic you can jump right to the portion of the show that it’s discussed.

The outline of the show is here.

The actual .mp3 file is available for download here.

This show is also available through iTunes.


Further Work on the Hypnos Painting

Brian is continuing work on a painting of Hypnos for me, as I reported on in an earlier segment.  He seems very excited by the progress and so am I.

Here are pictures of a study version of the painting, and the initial drawing on wood for the final painting.  Click on the picture to see the larger version:


Pagans in Deep in the Mental Health System

I got to visit the grand re-opening of a drop-in center on Friday.  A drop-in center (sort of like the name implies) is a facility, usually run by other mental health clients, for the benefit of mental health consumers.  They play games, watch movies, generally hang out, and frequently get involved in educational and job-related activities as well.

Anyway, I walked into this drop-in center and shortly noticed 4-5 clients all wearing pentacles, dragons, tattoos, and all the usual status stuff that marks Pagans as Pagans.

This was interesting as I don’t generally encounter lots of Pagans in the more serious mental health settings.  (While not always true, people who choose to hang out with other mental health clients on their free time are often among the more seriously mentally ill.)

Well, apparently several of these Pagan folk attend the psychiatric rehab program (PRP) across town (ironically they don’t attend mine — where the management is Pagan).  Pretty soon I was hearing stories of astral battles, shamanic banishment of astral nasties, and the ways in which their PRP was now cleansed, warded, and protected courtesy of the Pagan clients.

All in all a rather normal Pagan conversation.  Except for the setting.

Which put me in both a state of cognitive dissonance and a thoughtful mood.

Cognitive dissonance because half of me approved and the other half of me was evaluating for possible delusions.  Thoughtful because of all the ideas and questions that came to me.  A sampling:

  • How exactly would the typical psychiatric center staff react if they caught a banishment ritual going on?  How should they react?  Do they dare even consider allowing it?
  • In a traditional culture (or a Pagan discussion environment) this problem would not even arise.  The shaman (or Pagan) would of course be allowed to proceed with the banishment.  It would not matter if he/she was really banishing nasties or just hallucinating it — the community support would make it no big deal and possibly be healing to the individual.
  • But in a serious mental health center, when do you let clients run free with their paranormal experiences — especially if they are involving other clients?
  • Hmmm… maybe I should ward and cleanse my PRP better too…

I’m intrigued how this all fits together.  I suspect these Pagan folks just quietly do their thing, with the psychiatric staff none the wiser.  Perhaps the staff overlook a certain amount of odd behavior.  I think there would need to be a treatment team ethic in place something to the effect that its healthy to allow clients to work through their own delusions if no one is being hurt.  (And of course, maybe its not delusion and the center is the safer for it…)

I’d be real curious to know how this balancing act plays out at their PRP — but of course if I ask I might upset the apple cart.

Comments (1)

Psychosis and Paganism

I’m frustrated.  A friend (not patient) of mine has apparently been in and out of the hospital lately.  From her writings, she does not sound too well — likely a bit psychotic right now, jumping from topic to topic too much, and half-lost in references and delusions all her own.  But even more disturbing is that she may be right about something at least in part — that her fundamentalist parents and hospital views of her religion are combining to make this far worse for her than it actually has to be.

She complains about hospital questionnaires that she knows are designed to test for psychosis — but that Pagans answering truthfully would trigger.  I have not seen her questionnaires, but I have seen similar.  I can only hope the professionals handling her case have some compassion and insight on matters of religion and spirituality.

The possibility that parents or hospital staff might persecute her may be enough to make the delusions and psychosis all the worse since there could be a grain of truth to them.  I’ve observed on many occasions that upset people tend to become more unbalanced.

I’d really love to consult with that hospital on Paganism and handling Pagan patients.

Blessings to her recovery.

— Michael


Hypnos Painting in Progress

I’ve been steadily working on my hypnosis skillset over the past few years, although I mainly use it for age regression, guided meditations, and establishment of resource states at this point.  I’ve also trained in NLP.  It finally dawned on me that maybe I should, oh I don’t know, do something PAGAN and thank Hypnos for helping me master this skillset!  Anyway, I’ve asked Brian MacGregor — the really great artist who did my logo — to work on a painting of Hypnos.  His website of finished work can be found here.

I’ve attached below a very, very rough color sketch of what he is starting to work on.  I’m excited.  I’m also busy gathering notes about Hypnos and writing down any dreams so I can have them incorporated in the background and add some of my energy to the work.

Hypnos Rough Sketch


Religion Tightrope Walk

I sent the following memo out to my staff at a psychiatric rehabilitation day program today.   What are your thoughts on the proper role of religion and/or spirituality in a state-funded psychiatric environment?  When does it help with recovery?  When does it hurt?  Does the presence of ANY religion pressure nonbelievers?  Does its absence leave believers with a hole in their heart?  What if they don’t have the means to get out to their religious or spiritual community?


Religion and spirituality has always been a touchy subject in mental health.  I’ve been sending strong signals lately that some religion and spirituality in the program is fine. Here’s why:

  • Our institutional population is often not able to get to church or other religious activities and so are missing out on the spiritual/religious aspects of their lives.
  • I believe in a holistic program approach encompassing mind, body, and spirit.  We bring in everything else the clients need.
  • There are now several studies in the psych literature that show a link between spirituality and recovery – especially for depression and for drug/alcohol issues. (See Keating & Fretz, 1990; Propst et al., 1992; Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough, & Sandage, 1996).

 However, at the same time this is a secular, state-funded program which provides equal services to all clients – religious or not. 

 So a balance is needed – a way to provide spiritual and religious programming but in a totally optional way that pressures and evangelizes no one.

Here are the rules I’m flying by for spiritual and religious classes and activities:

  • They are appropriate only if there is absolutely no pressure whatsoever on clients to attend.
  • They are appropriate only when there are other attractive activities in the same timeslot of a secular nature.
  • Spiritual/religious activities will usually be held in a side classroom rather than the community room in order to further emphasize that attendance is optional and so it does not by default grab up folks who just sit in the community room.
  • There must be enough client interest to justify the programming strictly on client need (not evangelism).   This is pretty clear for Christianity right now.  For other religions like Buddhism, etc. I’d theoretically be just as happy to have classes if there was a need.  I suspect given smaller numbers of interested clients, such could be accommodated by client-run clubs.

 This is verbose, but I hope clear – please feel free to hit me with questions individually or at staff meeting.


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