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Taste the Void: Pagans vs the 12-Step Movement

Separation of church in state is good in theory, but often doesn’t manifest as such in the real world. The 12-Step model of recovery that is often mandated by the courts claims to allow everyone to chose their own conception of a higher power, yet at the end of the day the group-think of the sheeple tends to win out. So what is it like to mix a “pagan path,” for lack of a better term, with a group spawned of mainstream western religion? That is what we are going to look at here.




By their own admission, the 12-Step movement came out of the Oxford Group. In 1921, missionary Frank Buchman in Akron, Ohio, founded the organization, which is also the birthplace of the 12 steps. Frank had some “interesting” ideas. The primary one being “god control”; he claimed “the only sane people in an insane world are those controlled by god.” Nothing is shocking about a Christian not fully grasping the contents of their Bible, but “free will” seems like an important part to miss out on. In fact, mental institutions are filled with people who are being controlled by “God.” He also said that “Denmark was a miracle among nations and could demonstrate spiritual power to be the first force in the world.” I tend to agree with him here, as Denmark was the birth place of the prophet King Diamond, whose falsetto I have been following most of my life.




With these roots taken into consideration, it makes you wonder, just what is your understanding of a higher power intended to be? The 12-Step Movement is very protective of organized religion. Their literature states you should not have contempt prior to investigating, so it makes sense the morals espoused are defined by the fundamental Christian perspective, and they even define defects of character as the seven deadly sins. For someone who doesn’t believe in shame-based measures, or good and evil, it seems to work better to look at what behavior is effective or ineffective, rather than trying to please an all-seeing Judge Judy in the sky. In the third step, you are told to turn your will and life over the care of a “god as you understand him.” This was written before World War II, so gender identification was rather limited; even when it came to deities, Americans thought of gods in a rather myopic scope. But thinking is not a virtue in 12-Step circles. Not only are you told to see where churchgoers are right, but also, common catch phrases in meetings are things like “dumb it down” and other negative self talk, like “my best thinking got me here.” On multiple occasions, you can hear someone admit they are brainwashed, and say their brain needed washing. With cult-like adherence, the gurus are always right. The two most canonized are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob, the founders who penned the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” that is often cited as being a collaboration of the first 100 men – since the organization is not supposed to have any leaders, only trusted servants. I have attended a meeting where the discussion leader said, ‘if your name is not Bill Wilson, then I don’t want to hear your thoughts.” I asked if his name was Bill Wilson, then I got up and left.




Bill Wilson, the founder of the modern 12-step model, was a salesman, thus the literature is written to hook you in with its pitch. This involves the classic sales tactic known as “the take away,” stating “perhaps you aren’t one of us, go try to have a few and see how that works out.” He never claimed his organization was the only way to get sober, but like with Jesus’ teachings, his followers are sometimes unclear on the original message. The 12-step model is not the only show in town, others include Lifering, SMART Recovery, SOS, Women for Sobriety and Moderation Management. Finding these meetings is harder than finding a Fight Club. I used Lifering’s search function and they gave me an A.A. clubhouse. SOS only has two meetings a week at opposite ends of the city. Smart Recovery has three, and Moderation Management doesn’t have a meeting list for my city, only two people you can meet with for coffee. These organizations struggle for visibility due to the fact that the 12-step model came out 40 years before them, treatment centers know 12-step meetings are easier to find and more abundant so continue to refer their clients to them, and thus the cycle spins.




Having a support network is an important element to lasting sobriety, but if you are like me and have been turned off by the heavy-handed religious side, it’s best to take what you need and discard the rest. It might be a good idea to start a “pagan group” of your own for this support. However, I will warn against doing so within the confines of 12-Step Clubhouses. My experience of doing so in one of the downstairs rooms of a local clubhouse, the tolerance of other schools of thought was brought into question. We were sharing a locker with one of the more open minded sub-groups I have been a part of, and had a member of that group steal our phone list and call members of the pagan group, telling them they needed to “take their devil worship elsewhere.” Oddly, this person somehow skipped over calling me, so when I went to confront him in person, he bolted out the door. I guess the courage he had to “change the things he could” did not apply to that situation.




Many of the “pagan” organizations I am affiliated with have members who use mind-altering substances as sacrament. I did the same back in the day, but personally feel uncomfortable doing so now, given my track record; everyone must follow their own path in this regard. When I do interact with “muggles,” I keep the specifics of my personal beliefs to myself in hopes they will do the same. After all, the word “occult” means hidden, and the more secure I’ve become over the years in my own beliefs, the less I feel the need to convert or explain myself. Sure, I have platforms like this to explain the facts regarding varied schools of thought, but they are not for everyone. After 14 years, I attend meetings once a week to show there is not just one path to recovery, and that it is possible without the traditional forms of organized religion. As I have remained sober, I have seen many people who swore by the more conventional forms of organized religion relapse or even kill themselves. At the end of the day, just like anything else in life, whatever you put into recovery is what you get out of it.





  1. Sean Ohboy

    May 4, 2016 at 12:54 am

    It works for some, not for others. They encourage you to fill in and adapt it to whatever power you believe, at least the ones I went to. If they are only words, what do you fear?

  2. Jesse Leamon

    May 4, 2016 at 12:35 am

    I dunno an all seeing Judge Judy sounds kind of interesting.

  3. Audrey Laffitte

    May 3, 2016 at 11:59 pm

    Ben Dean

  4. Ayahna Kumarroy

    May 3, 2016 at 8:01 pm


  5. Kelly Loew

    May 3, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I am a Pagan. Openly Pagan in a small Northern California Mountain town. I began sobriety almost 13 years ago in the SF bay area, traveled to several different areas including Mexico, Spain and Portugal. I have never had a problem in AA, never had an issue turning what was taught into something that made sense to me. I have never been confronted about it anywhere. It is still working for me.

  6. Jeremy Kitchen

    May 3, 2016 at 11:21 am

    You can be a pagan in AA. There are Satanists in AA,

  7. Jason Bunch

    May 3, 2016 at 10:54 am

    When I got sober and went to AA, it felt like another form of addiction and slavery to something other than myself, the same way alcohol had been. I reread The Satanic Bible and I swear, it saved my life at the time, with it’s focus on the individual as god and being one’s own higher power. I started doing ritual work as well again (something I hadn’t done for years) and that allowed me a place to vent my emotions safely. Flash forward to 2 and half years later, and I’ve found a spiritual home in Left Hand Path occultism that keeps me sober. I’m a practicing pagan and member of the Greater Church of Lucifer, where we are, at this very moment, having a discussion about creating an alternative to 12 step groups for our members who wish to draw upon Luciferianism to aid in their recovery, since clearly AA is at odds with the Left Hand Path and Luciferianism. You can go to our outer circle FB page to see that discussion unfolding.

  8. Chris Javitz

    May 3, 2016 at 7:58 am

    TG Pullen I think you could appreciate this

  9. Clay Allred

    May 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

    Know yourself.
    Know your craft. Learn.
    Apply knowledge with wisdom.

  10. yanu

    May 3, 2016 at 3:14 am

  11. Aram Schwartz

    May 3, 2016 at 2:29 am

    fuck 12 step

  12. Jack McMahon

    May 3, 2016 at 2:21 am

    My mom discovered paganism when she entered AA and they encouraged her to find her own personal higher power. She’s had to occasionally push back against the Christian status quo within the organization but for her the 12 Step Program and Witchcraft are thoroughly intertwined. 15 years sober and she credits AA for completely changing her life. I get people’s criticism of the program, but that’s her story.

    • Pete Brizzolara

      May 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      I applaud her sobriety, and fully encourage anyone to get involved in them if that works for them. For me, i cant get behind the higher power structure. I have my convictions, she has hers. Fuck ya for your mom man. Keep going mama…

  13. Colin Gardner

    May 3, 2016 at 12:10 am

    I was so disgusted by the reality of AA and NA meetings that I was forced to recover on my own and I feel it made me more grounded in reality. I became aware that it was not A disease and was not my faith that compelled me, but that I substituted getting help for my mental health with silencing it with liquor.

    AA and NA doesn’t help anyone and you realize quickly it is one scary fucking experience whether you’re sober or not.

    • Jenna Raindog

      May 3, 2016 at 1:07 am

      To add to your comment, the people who substitute liquor and drugs with an AA or NA addiction are fucking pathetic one minute and terrifying in another.

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