The Sober Pagan

The Recovery Spiral and the Spiral Steps

If you hang around AA for any amount of time, you will no doubt hear that you have to acquire a “Big Book” – the text of Alcoholics Anonymous – and read no other book – unless it’s the “Twelve and Twelve” – the AA book about the Twelve Steps and Twelve traditions – or one of the other “approved” literature that Alcoholics Anonymous World Services puts out. I myself own a Big Book and a Twelve and Twelve. Like everything associated with AA, there’s a lot to love about these books and a lot that honestly pisses me off about them. My own personal copies have color-coded tabs stuck on the edges of the pages so I know where to look for help and I’m not wasting my time with stories that I don’t need. And many times, reading something in the “Big Book” or the “Twelve and Twelve” has kept me sober for one more day.

But I own many other recovery-based books. Not for one minute have I ever believed that “The Big Book” was the only reading material for an alcoholic or an addict any more than I ever believed that the Bible was the only reading material for a Jew or a Christian. There are many places in which you may find wisdom and enlightenment – some are not even within the covers of a book! By all means, read “The Big Book” but read everything else as well!

One of my favorite recovery books is The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash. This book talks about recovery in Buddhist terms. You don’t have to be Buddhist to identify with the issues Ash brings up or his path to recovery. He covers the Twelve Steps and how to deal with them in a non-theistic way. It was an important book in my early recovery and one that I go back to again and again.

Another favorite is Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps by Charlotte David Kasl. (All her books rock). I especially like how she discusses faith development, links patriarchy and addiction, and looks at various recovery groups. She lists various “steps” – the Twelve Steps of AA, the Thirteen Steps of Women for Sobriety, and the Sixteen Steps she herself came up with. She also talks about toxic groups and sexual abuse within groups – it’s an incredible book. It was published in 1992 and it would be great if she came out with an update – things have changed in twenty-five years.

I came across The Spiral Steps quite by accident. I was looking for tarot readings that corresponded to the Twelve Steps and somehow I found a page out of The Recovery Spiral: A Pagan Path to Healing by Cynthia Jane Collins – I think it was on Google Reads or maybe Amazon. I can’t really remember. But I was instantly intrigued. As soon as I could, I bought the book.

It has become one of my very favorite recovery books. It addresses all kinds of problems – not just drugs and alcohol – but overeating, shopping, gaming, sex, working out – whatever it is. The First Step of the Pagan Twelve Steps reads, “We admitted we were harming ourselves and others and our lives had become overwhelming.” (Collins, 3) I don’t know about you but I find this much more appealing that AA’s First Step with its insistence on powerless and unmanageability. And whereas Step Two in AA is a plea to a “Power” greater than any of us peons on earth to “restore” our “sanity”, the Pagan Step Two reads, “Came to believe that a power within ourselves and our world could restore us to balance.” Not sanity – balance.

Here are the complete Pagan Twelve Steps:

  1. We admitted that we were harming ourselves and other and that our lives had become overwhelming.

  2. Came to believe that a power within ourselves and our world could restore us to balance.

  3. Made a decision to move our wills and our lives toward that Divine Presence.

  4. Made a searching and fearless ethical inventory of ourselves.

  5. Admitted to ourselves, to the Divine Presence, and to others the exact nature of our harm.

  6. Were entirely ready to have our harmful patterns replaced by ethical coping skills.

  7. Asked the Divine to transform us, giving us rebirth in our lives.

  8. Made a list of all beings we had harmed, beginning with ourselves and including our world, and became willing to make amends to them all.

  9. Made direct amends to all whenever possible, except when to do so would violate the Rede.

  10. Continued to take personal ethical inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it and corrected it.

  11. Sought through action and meditation to improve our conscious knowledge and contact with the Divine Presence, seeking only to choose in harmony with the greatest good.

  12. Having had spiritual awakenings as results of these steps, we offered this opportunity to others and practiced these principles in our lives.

As you can see, these steps keep the hard-hitting self-development that the original steps had but they remove the Christian flavor that leave a bad taste in our pagan mouths. If you want, you could easily remove “Divine Presence” and put in the name of whatever deity that you personally work with. Certainly – some deities are more conducive to sobriety than others!

The book is filled with stories of people in recovery and people using the steps and the Tarot readings in various ways. Although the Tarot readings are designed to be used with a sponsor, you can do them on your own. The back of the book had Tarot readings and how to use them. There is also a Recovery Spiral Book of Shadows. This has step rituals, a workbook for each of the steps, chants, and spells. There’s also an awesome bibliography. It’s worth checking out some of the books she lists, if you haven’t read them yet and reacquainting yourself with the ones you’ve read years ago. I know that’s what I plan to do.

If you live in a place like I do – where the sober pagans are few and far between – it might be a good idea to invite the few sober pagans that you do know over to your home for a sober evening. Do a ritual from The Recovery Spiral – chant the Pagan Twelve Steps – raise some sober power. Perhaps this could be the start of the one and only Pagan meeting in your area.

But until that happens – I’m continuing to be the solitary sober Dianic Wiccan that I am.

Brightest Blessings!


Alcoholics World Services. Alcoholics Anonymous. NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001

Alcoholics World Services. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. NY: Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1981

Ash, Mel. The Zen of Recovery. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Perigee, 1993.

For Amazon information, click image below.

Collins, Cynthia Jane. The Recovery Spiral: A Pagan Path to Healing. NY: Citadel Press, 2004

For Amazon information, click image below.

Kasl, Charlotte Davis. Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps. NY: HarperCollins, 1992

For Amazon information, click image below.



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.