When I was 14 years old, my parents had a party. I remember one of the guests coming up and telling me I should go for a walk because I have too much energy to just sit around. Her name was Buff, and that night began my informal training in the Art of the Wise, or Wicca.
I say informal because it was a hodgepodge of “kitchen witch” topics and techniques. I learned how to read tarot cards, salute the four corners, and practice a form of guided meditation. She introduced me to the writings of Scott Cunningham and supported my inevitable foray into Ceremonial Magic. No, I never actually performed Ceremonial Magic. But I did read my fair share of Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, and almost everything I could get my hands on concerning the Golden Dawn. Most of it was just a dalliance, and my attention fleeted from one thing to another in adolescence. Like we’re supposed to…in adolescence.
Regardless of how serious I was, everything changed the day I smoked weed for the first time. Marijuana gave me the “wow” “pow” “ZAP” I was looking for, and it took over any spiritual-seeking I was doing. By the time I got to college, I was quoting Carlos Castaneda, Timothy Leary, and Aldous Huxley. All of the magic I knew involved drugs: everything else became a parlor trick to impress people who were stoned out of their minds. With the nickname “Merlin”, I became a parody of what I’d been taught.
1987 completed my separation from my spiritual life. I expanded my addiction from pot to a more comprehensive selection of alcohol, crack, and methamphetamine. This also marks the point at which I began my “Substance-induced Amnestic Disorder.” I systematically wiped-out any natural connection with my past in an intensely self-destructive pattern of drug use. By the time I got clean in August of 1992, I had only a bare recollection of my prior life. Whether by organic damage to emotional memory systems or psychological repression of painful memories, I excised the details, context and meaning behind my memory, and consequently, my sense of self.
(For the record, I have undergone extensive treatment and therapy over these issues, but that’s another story. I’m pretty much okay now)
My early recovery wasn’t easy or pleasant. Panic and anxiety escalated more in my recovery than in my active use, and by 1995 it hit a peak. The Universe tapped me on the shoulder when I attended a Narcotics Anonymous Men’s Retreat in Northern California. The theme was Native American, and the host fellowship was a local tribe (sorry, I can’t remember the name of the tribe). A man claiming to be a Shaman saw me sitting by a campfire, fighting back tears and panic. I’d been crying virtually daily all year: some sort of deep cleansing that was confusing and disorienting. On that August night, he invited me to take a walk up a hill overlooking the campsite, where he ‘placed hands’ upon me. He got a strange look on his face and told me he couldn’t help me. “You need to find your own tribe.”
That was it. We walked back down to camp, and I never saw him again. Regardless, his words stuck with me. It was a little over a year later when I discovered what he was talking about. I was watching a mediocre movie (cliché alert cliché alert cliché alert) called The Craft. It’s not that the movie inspired me or anything. In fact, it pissed me off. I mean, I knew how much of the movie was bullshit. That’s when I remembered my time with Buff, 18 years prior. Looking at it as I write, it’s probably my first tangible clue that I had a distorted memory. At any rate, I realized who my tribes were: Celts and Norse.
I rushed to the nearest New Age-type store I could find, beginning my second excursion into modern Paganism. A lot had changed, with pre-Christian ideas and rituals going mainstream. This time around, I took it a lot more seriously, and devoted significant time to research and study.
I was consistent from ’96 until ’06, when I moved in with my girlfriend before she deployed to Iraq for the first time. To accommodate living together, my spiritual practice took a back seat. I got rid of most of the books and ritual tools I’d acquired over the past decade. Bit by bit, my connection faded again to the point that I lost awareness of the Moon cycles, quit meditating, and even locked my Tarot deck in a chest.
I had a third awakening in 2014, when a voice from 1986 called me out of the blue. The interaction with her ultimately resulted in the full return of my memory, which was an indescribably painful experience. But what I had learned during the preceding decades served me quite well, and today I enjoy a rich, Solitary practice that seems to improve my connection with the world, the people around me, and my personal sense of self.
Today I feel a drive to share what I’ve experienced and learned from a lifetime of on-again, off-again spiritual experience. I’ve been trying to research Pagan perspectives on psychology and recovery. Um, I’m coming up with virtually nothing. I don’t mean self-help books, blogs, and websites. I mean I’m finding no academic or theoretical work outside of Sociology and Anthropology. Which means that the contemporary Neo-Pagan in need of mental health or substance abuse services must either repress their spirituality or trust un-trained but well-intentioned amateurs for services. No disrespect to High Priestesses or Priests, and I’m not minimizing the power of working in Circle with a group. But when it comes to actual Treatment, one should seek help from a qualified pro.
I’m just putting this out there to explore possibilities. I can envision a day when I can come fully out of the ‘broom closet’ and offer services. But first, I need to see if there’s interest in the community, or of there are already existing services I don’t know about. I see signs that something is forming, especially surrounding the Black Yoga group in Pittsburgh (RESPECT!). In the meantime, I’d like to develop and share my ideas here, as part of Stoner Doom Recovery.
In short, here are some of the ways I define my Paganism, or Wicca. This is not comprehensive, and since it’s my first time codifying these thoughts, they’re bound to change.
- I’m a Solitary. I’ve done Coven work and been Initiated, but that’s not the path for me.
- The sole purposes of my ritual or spell-casting are growth and healing. Period.
- I don’t approach spell-work from the point of view that spirits, faerie, or Deity hear my need and provide for it. I view Magic as a psychological tool. Take for instance casting a spell for money: the Universe may or may not provide- it’s none of my business. The purpose of a money spell, for me, is to attune my awareness and actions to the act of EARNING the money I need. Besides, I’m not aware of any faerie doing anything on command.
- As such, I follow the definition of Magic as the “ability to alter consciousness at will.” Therefore, the Magic changes me, not anyone or anything else.
- Regarding Recovery, my approach to Wicca (as well as my clinical and academic experience) makes it impossible to accept the AA/NA concept of ‘powerlessness’ they way they define it. I am not ‘powerless’ over my addiction, and I never was. I was and am powerless over the fact the I was/am an addict. That is something I cannot change, anymore than I can change the day of the week or the current phase of the Moon. However, I exercised free will and choice every single time I took a drug. Even in the grips of withdrawal, it was my choice to relieve the symptom by using, get to a hospital or rehab, or go cold turkey.
- As a Wiccan, I don’t tolerate other Religions. ‘Tolerance’ is a weak word and connotes putting up with something. It’s condescending and patronizing.
- Nope: I EMBRACE other religions! I went to a Christian service this year that blew me away and renewed my confidence towards humankind. The preacher had it DOWN, and I’ve rarely heard a more heartfelt appeal to the spirit! The Bhagavad Gita is one of the greatest works ever written, even if it is ultimately dark as heck. I absolutely love the religions of the world, and I relish every moment, every word, every idea I come across.
- Except anything that even remotely smacks of racism. Neo-Paganism has an unfortunate side that’s racist, nationalist, and at times misanthropic. I have nothing to do with that crap. Asatru is a gift to the world, and it breaks my heart to have the stark beauty of it soiled by Aryan supremacists.
- Science is real. The world is real. “As above, so below” to me means that we are spiritual/material beings living in a spiritual/material reality. Let’s treat the world as if it’s Heaven, Valhalla, or the Summerlands. Because it is…
- Stoner/Doom is the voice the Divine in its many forms!
If you have any experience with what I’m writing about, please leave a comment. If you’re looking for or are in need of professional help, please contact a licensed clinician where you live. It’s unethical for me to diagnose, treat, or even offer advice on this platform. But I can write about things as a member of the greater Neo-Pagan community.
Thanks for reading.