The Recovery Spiral: A Pagan Path to Healing

The Recovery Spiral: A Pagan Path to Healing is not written for Tarot readers, but is of interest to those who take the psychological approach to interpretation.

By Cynthia Jane Collins · Book - 200 pages · Published by Citadel Press

Review by Joan Taillon

The Recovery Spiral, while not written specifically for Tarot readers, has a lot of Tarot in it.

This book will interest those who employ a psychological approach to Tarot interpretation, and it will interest psychologists and addiction counsellors who are intrigued, as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung was, by tarot cards, and who are pondering some use to which Tarot may be put in their professional practices. It will certainly interest addicts in recovery who are open to metaphysical ideas, including people who are not entirely comfortable with what they perceive as Christian overtones in standard 12-step recovery programs.

The Recovery Spiral has immense potential for Tarot readers or their clients who recognize they are substance or process abusers, and who want to see whether Tarot’s meandering byways and a non-traditional 12-step program intersect with the straight and narrow Recovery Road.

The Recovery Spiral does not bring an entirely unique approach to card reading in the way a book such as Tarot and Dream Interpretation does, for example. The latter book, by Julie Gillentine, consists entirely of analysis, tips and spreads for exploring relationships between dreams and card symbols in aid of self-healing and personal growth; whereas, Collins’ book exists to deliver her “Pagan perspective on twelve-step recovery,” and accessorizes that perspective with Tarot spreads. Tarot is presented as just one of the tools addicts can use to work a 12-step program, but the topic is interwoven substantially throughout this book.

Collins, a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and herself a recovering drug addict, says she revised the well-known 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous “to reflect the truths of the Wiccan Rede and the Rule of Three” as she experienced them.

She wrote the book because “Many of the challenges for today’s Pagan stem from trying to connect the spiritual, physical, and emotional worlds. . . . Pagans, whatever their specific practice, seek to be part of the natural rhythms. Addictions hold our awareness of these rhythms away from our consciousness. We use the addiction to stand between ourselves and the reality of change, life, and death.” (pp. 4-5)

About two-thirds of the book explains Collins’ pagan orientation to healing, her experience and understanding of addiction, some terms used in counselling and addictions fields, and encounters with the 12 steps by Collins and characters she identifies by first name only. Accompanying each person’s story is an example of how she or he used a Tarot spread to work through a step.

A section of the book called The Recovery Spiral Tarot Manual includes practical advice for engaging with Tarot cards, followed by two general-purpose readings. No memorization or previous Tarot knowledge is required.

The heart of this section, and the most important part of the book from a Tarot reader’s point of view, is the Tarot spread templates that Collins created for each of the 12 recovery steps. Step 11 has two templates,

Following the Tarot manual section is a Recovery Spiral Book of Shadows, which Collins created in part as a guide for Pagans wanting to journal their healing process. It contains questions and Wiccan-syle rituals to enhance working the 12 steps, but none of these are Tarot-specific.

This book will interest anyone who believes there is a role for Tarot in healing and personal growth and in exploring their own psychological issues. It’s clearly and intelligently written, contains lots of applications for Tarot cards, and it remains true to the original principles of the 12 steps. It only varies from a traditional 12-step program in spiritual approach; the practical portions mirror the original model.

Using Tarot cards to work the 12 steps will not suit everyone, however, even if they have no philosophical objection. A secondary school level of literacy is presumed. In addition, because of the focus required to absorb the principles, acquire and become familiar with a Tarot deck, and practise and interpret card layouts, we assume any 12-stepper using this plan is well past Detox.

A 12-step program, Pagan or otherwise, with or without Tarot cards, does not substitute for professional help and a strong support system, nor does Collins claim it does. But she knows the cards will be familiar enough to fellow Pagans they will not seem an unnatural adjunct to therapy. Her system, furthermore, fills a void in both recovery literature and in meeting the needs of a substantial minority of people who are not entirely comfortable with the standard model.

I don’t believe the Recovery Spiral’s usefulness is limited to those with full-blown addictions; many living in today’s fast-paced world admit to having “issues” of some kind, and it’s possible that one or another of Collins’ Tarot templates can help target and treat them.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and addiction counsellors who are open to a wide range of spiritual traditions will likely find the book interesting. Although the Recovery Spiral will not turn a general Tarot reader into a qualified recovery counselor, nor a counselor into a Tarot Grandmaster, this book will enhance an understanding of people in recovery.

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