meetings

The Sober Pagan

July, 2018

A Home Group, Finally

I have finally found a home group! I knew as soon as I walked into the room that this was going to be the group for me. The time is perfect – 7:15 a.m. – it meets Tuesdays and Thursdays – it’s easy for me to get to – the meeting room itself is lovely – very Zen, although it’s a room in a Presbyterian Church. But it has large windows that look out on a courtyard with flowering trees and well-tended gardens and places to sit and meditate – much like any Buddhist Temple might offer. I felt at home immediately.

This spring I have struggled through one of the worst depressions of my life – at least, in last ten years. I had trouble getting to the store for basic groceries, let alone getting to an AA meeting or anywhere else. My entire spirituality suffered. I was amazed to find that I didn’t want to live anymore – and I was sober.

There were many dark days and many long sleepless nights.

Even though I thought I had lost my faith, yet I sat in meditation. Sometimes I sat for hours. It seemed like my brain had stopped to utter stillness but it was simmering like a sober stew. I needed that time of quietude. No sound except the chirping of the birds, vehicles driving past the house and children laughing as they walked to the corner to wait for the school bus. I didn’t dwell on any of this – I just noted each sound and let them go.

My son’s father came to town on route to somewhere else. He has over ten years in AA and is a social worker – he works with the homeless in Florida. He is Buddhist and has many years of practice. We spent the afternoon together, talking and meditating.

The next day, I started going to meetings again. The next week, I found this particular meeting – my new home group.

Soon after this, my son – who has six months sobriety – moved back in with me. I am so grateful for his sober support.

It is still a daily struggle. I have to admit that. At least once a day, I have a wicked bad jones. Something always triggers me. It can be almost anything. The weather – the time of day – a certain smell. I white-knuckle it hour by hour. Then – it passes – and I am so grateful that I didn’t give in.

I know that I have complained about AA for years and found every excuse under the sun not to go to meetings. But now I actually look forward to going to the meetings on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I haven’t felt like this about a meeting in over ten years.

Now I wonder – will the Goddess come back to me?

***

About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

The Sober Pagan

October, 2017

The Issue of Powerlessness

It’s a beautiful fall day and I am on my way to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting. It’s not easy for me to get to meetings, because I don’t have a car and public transportation in the Western New York area leaves a lot to be desired. To attend a one-hour meeting means traveling at least forty-five minutes to an hour each way on the bus. For years, this dead time on the bus kept me from attending meetings at all and of course, I invariably ended up drinking again. I had to get real with myself – what’s the difference between wasting time with public transportation or wasting time in a bar?

My name is Polly and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict.

I once had eight years of sobriety but I went “back out”, as they say in AA, and I’ve been “in and out” ever since. I’ve been trying very hard since I moved back to Buffalo, mostly for health reasons. I have to admit, I really like drinking. It’s really – drinking doesn’t like me. That’s the truth of it. It’s like being in love with an abusive man. I always thought domestic violence was a lot like addiction.

Like all non-Abrahamic religious people – Pagan, Wiccans, Buddhists, and all the non-believers – I have many issues with AA. Unfortunately, in Buffalo – like many cities – it’s really the only game in town. There are a few SOS (Save Ourselves, or Secural Organization for Sobriety) meetings but nothing that I would be able to attend, given my disability. Rational Recovery stopped meeting in Buffalo back in the 1990’s. Women for Sobriety, the recovery group founded in 1975 by Jean Kirkpatrick as a women’s alternative to AA, also has no meetings in the Buffalo area, but I do subscribe to their weekly newsletter. I have tried to stay sober on my own – doing sobriety spells, daily meditation, working out, white knuckling it. Invariably I drink and drug again.

I once had a sponsor who told me, “Meeting makers make it.” So I am getting on the bus and going to a meeting. Even if it takes up my entire morning. Again, what else am I doing? If I drink, then I’m drinking for the entire day. I’m a daytime drinker – I start around 11 in morning and stop around dinner time – that’s how I do it. And then I’m going to be sick for my entire tomorrow. So why am I bitching about a meeting taking up my entire morning? I can go home after the meeting and have the afternoon to write and create art. And I’ll feel good tomorrow. Hello? I have a problem with that?

I think what most of us Pagans and Wiccans have an issue with – first thing – is the idea of being powerless over alcohol and drugs and everything else in the world – an idea that is stressed over and over again in AA and all the “anonymous” groups. After all, the whole idea of being a witch – I consider myself to be a witch, I don’t if you do – is to own your own power. So the idea of admitting powerlessness goes against the grain of everything we have been working toward as Pagans and Wiccans.

However – when we are wasted on alcohol – when we are hungover and puking and have headache that would split the atom – that’s not powerful. Be honest. How many times has someone taken advantage of you when you’ve been wasted on drugs? For me, it’s too many times to count. Too many terrible things have happened to me and I bet, to you, too. That’s what powerlessness is about.

I was on the bus the other day and it flashed to me – one of those lightbulb moments – instead of thinking about being powerless over alcohol, I would think of it as “Sobriety is powerful”. My power is in being sober. I can make better magic, stronger spells, have more meaningful meditation sessions when I am sober. And I mean sober on a daily basis.

If you want true freedom – and that’s what being Pagan is all about – you have to be sober, too. I truly believe that. It took me years to get here, but I’m here now. If you want what I have, well, be here next month and I’ll have something else to share with you.

Brightest Blessings!

***

About the Author:

Polly MacDavid lives in Buffalo, New York at the moment but that could easily change, since she is a gypsy at heart. Like a gypsy, she is attracted to the divinatory arts, as well as camp fires and dancing barefoot. She has three cats who all help her with her magic.

Her philosophy about religion and magic is that it must be thoroughly based in science and logic. She is Dianic Wiccan and she is solitary.

She blogs at silverapplequeen.wordpress.com. She writes about general life, politics and poetry. She is writing a novel about sex, drugs and recovery.

MagickalArts

December, 2015

To Join (or Not to Join) A Magickal Group

This is an article I wrote many years ago and I’ve decided to share it in this month’s column. As the community and spiritual paths of pagan practice become increasingly more available, so too are the opportunities to become intimately a part of that expanding community. What that participation looks like and how in depth are multi-faceted. It is particularly timely for me since I have been in process of Hiving and forming a new coven within our Tradition, The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. And, so in this spirit I pose the question that should be explored before committing to any one path of spiritual community.

The choice to remain a solitary practitioner or join a magickal group, coven or lodge is a very personal matter. Both offer benefits and detriments. Even if you consider yourself to be a solitary practitioner, there will be celebrations and stages in your development that will generate a desire to share, commune and connect. Similarly, those who choose to join a group will have specific times in their path of journey where they may wish to celebrate and/or practice in private; leaving group work behind.
Solitary Practice

Many pagans choose to walk a Solitary path. In former years this could be a very lonely, albeit a fulfilling one. We are fortunate to be on the Path at this particular time as there are many festivals and open events that both solitary and group affiliated members can attend. Meet-up Groups that have a pagan flavor are in abundance throughout the United States and the opportunity to interact without the deeper commitment of joining any organization has never been more accessible.
For some, group work and the structure needed to have things run smoothly is too restricting and limiting. For others, jobs, lifestyles or family obligations prevent the individual from attending group functions (there is usually a minimum requirement of events throughout the year that a group member would be expected to attend, unless there are emergencies), and this creates stress for both the group and the member. If a ritual at 2:00am is all you can easily fit into your schedule, most groups will not be accommodating to that and the pressures of having to fulfill attendance obligations can often sour the group experience.
Those who work as solitary practitioners often develop a very creative outlook that is largely self-directed. This is primarily because everything they do ritually or devotionally is generally self-generated and created and therefore they become quite adept at improvising. Working alone also guarantees that everything will be done at your own pace, in your own way and ultimately makes you solely responsible for your own experience, success and failures. Many prefer this freedom to connect to their spirituality by creating their own traditions and ways of offering up devotion to those deity and spiritual beings they commune with.
Group Work

Depending on the Tradition you are interested in joining there will generally be a specific length of time and protocol specified to facilitate the orientation process. Within our coven and Tradition we require at minimum a six-month “getting to know you” period where the prospective dedicant (newly dedicated member) attends open events and interacts with the other members of the coven and Tradition. Other groups accept members immediately and are less structured in their process of fully integrating you into the group and/or specific Tradition and still others have a lengthy process of education and training and when and if you are felt to be an acceptable candidate you are then invited to join as a member of the group.
Working within a group provides opportunity for direct sharing, access to those who are more experienced than you and the feeling of an energetic community and bonds to those who are your spiritual family. You will also have greater opportunity to network and meet others if the group you select holds open or sister events in collaboration with others in the Tradition, Coven or Lodge. Ritual work becomes a group effort in which you are able to be simply the participant and are able to open yourself in a deeper way since you are not the sole person responsible for the workings at hand. It provides the ability to see how others structure their practice and exchange ideas and suggestions about different approaches and subtleties. Now, of course, these are all things a solitary practitioner can experience in an open ritual; but the depth and openness that is shared between those within a group often occurs at those times when you are setting up or preparing for ritual before guests arrive or sitting in a group- only social event.
Some considerations you should have as you decide on what group is the best fit:
The group you select to petition for membership should offer a stable and fair structure of spiritual progress with resources to further and enhance your personal growth. Working within the group should feel like a spiritual family and these should be people that you trust to see you at your best and your worst. The energetic connection that you weave with this group of people will strengthen and build as you continue to work together and it is a very intimate relationship that requires respect between all of membership.
You should never feel pressured to do anything that you do not consider to be safe or is coercive in nature. Unfortunately, not all groups are ethical in their actions and offer up empty promises of the gifting of great powers and knowledge of the mysteries in exchange for sexual, monetary or other favors. Some traditions do work skyclad (naked) and perform sex magick as part of their magickal rites, but do so with the consent of all concerned and are up front from the very beginning, ensuring that everyone is on board. Bottom line is- if it doesn’t feel right to you and is not in accord with your beliefs you will probably not make much spiritual headway.
The leadership of the group should be people who live by example those teachings that they have been entrusted to pass along. There should be a comfortable exchange between leadership and membership such that any discord, or misunderstandings can be discussed and resolved in an ethical, intelligent and mature manner. Respect is key here, on both sides.  Respect that leadership has the best interest of the group, Tradition and its members always in sight. And, respect that membership will be supportive and helpful in maintaining a positive working environment and good intent for those they work with.
There should be encouragement of all members within the group to excel and progress in their magickal studies at a pace that will provide challenge but also allow for life events to take priority as needed. And, although healthy and constructive criticism is a great motivator there should never be an ill-intended push or encouragement towards unhealthy competition for recognition, roles or initiations among members. There will be many times when you will feel challenged unjustly and perhaps even feel as though you are not progressing in the way or at the speed at which you feel you should. A good barometer is to step back from the situation for a moment and ask yourself if you are just annoyed at the inconvenience or is there something truly and viably wrong.
It has been my experience that frequently the people who are meant to become members of our group, find their way to us through a synchronistic moment. They happen to be in the right place at the right time, find our website and decide to come to an open event or become interested through a friend who is already a member. Don’t be afraid to be selective. Take the time that you need to make an informed decision and never allow yourself to be pressured into joining a group. If a group is that desperate for new members, there are most likely other areas in which they will exert or force their will on the existing members- the number one “no-no” in pagan philosophy and ethics.

The bottom line is that if the group is a viable and healthy one, they will want to take their time in getting to know more about the potential members who come knocking on their door, and if the fit is right there is no need to hurry matters.  Neither your nor their interest in having you join them will diminish or lessen. If it does, perhaps it was not the place for you after all. The commitment to a group should be entered with the thought that this will be a place of working and growing for several years. There is no short track to magickal mastery and those who frequently leave and join groups, as well as groups who have a fast moving revolving door usually do not stand the test of time and longevity.

A Timely Choice

Just as all of life’s experiences change and flow as you change and grow in years and time, the decision to remain solitary or join a group will follow its own meandering course as well. Many start as Solitary workers; come to a crossroads where the progress they require includes working with others in a committed way, and when the lessons are integrated go back to Solitary practice. This is the nature of all spiritual growth regardless of tradition.
The start of your journey is begun of your own accord and decisions about how and in which direction it moves are formulated by you and you alone. As you move along the path of your making there will come a point in the road where the need to offer the mysteries learned in a broader and more communal sense rises to the surface. The yearning to share and exchange this wisdom with like-minded people and the security of feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself is the gentle rise of the hill ahead that offers no glimpse of what lay on the other side. You reach the summit of this path and begin the process of gathering to yourself all of the outer influences, interactions, joys and sorrows you have experienced. You take in new sights from this higher vantage point. These spread out before you in panoramic view. And, as the choices blur and thin in detail in the vastness of what can be, you look around and see that you have returned to the space of standing alone and quiet in your inner sanctum; new choices ahead and new paths to walk. And, so the cycle begins anew.
It doesn’t really matter whether you choose to join a group or remain a solitary practitioner. The important thing is that you continue your practice. That you seek out the resources you are guided to when and where you are led. And, when the time is right, you gather with like- minded individuals as one in celebration of the Pagan Path.
Blessings on your journey!

Signposts

August, 2013

Pagan Communities

I met my first Pagan group at a local coffee shop.  After reading books and participating online I realized I was missing something – an in-person community that shared my beliefs.  I wanted to be part of a community that I could learn and grow with.
 
I found the group on meetup.com and went to their next public meeting.  I honestly didn’t know what to expect or what they would be like.  I was extremely nervous.

I ended up meeting a wonderful group of welcoming people who were ready to help a new Pagan find his way around.  Since that initial meeting I’ve been to several other meetups with them, including participating in a Litha festival over the summer.
 
Meeting people online can be great.  It really is possible to develop strong relationships over the Internet that help bridge the gap between those looking for others like them.  However, a signpost for me was how rewarding it can also be for Pagans to meet and know other Pagans in person, especially when new to the path.
 
Being part of a good local community adds a richness to our experiences that is hard to replicate online.  I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve met in person, from simple things like how to pronounce Samhain to visualization techniques to use when casting circles.   They’ve provided direction and pointers to other resources, such as good local shops, other groups to meet and work with in the area, and a book library for members of the community to use.
 
I’ve also met other groups since then.  I’m fortunate to live in an area with several active and open Pagan communities, each with its own unique character.  As different as they are, they’ve all been extremely welcoming.

I do know some, however, that have had negative experiences with the groups they’ve met.  This can be hard for someone new to the path.  What I’ve learned, though, is we have to keep looking.  There are other groups out there.  Finding the right group of people can make a huge difference in how we experience being Pagan.
In a time where so many are still “in the broom closet”, it’s also encouraging to know some who aren’t.   The people that host these groups put themselves in a public position to help and develop their Pagan community.  They take time out of their schedules to plan events which opens their lives and sometimes their homes to strangers.  Our community grows stronger because of them.


What was you first experience meeting other Pagans in person like?  What made you finally log off and look for them?  Any words of encouragement for those nervous about meeting people face-to-face, or those that had a bad experience with a group?