Seances, Spirits, and 12 Steps |

TBC Staff

“Do not seek out mediums and spiritists; do not seek out and be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus:19:31).

Examined over several decades, it is clear A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson repeatedly and willingly gave himself over to familiar spirits.A.A. historian Ernest Kurtz notes, “So profound was Bill’s immersion in this area that he at times confused the terms ‘spiritualism’ and ‘spirituality.'”[3]

“As for the person who turns to mediums and spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My Face against that person and will cut him off from his people.” (Leviticus:20:6)

In Pass it On,A.A.’s official biography of Bill Wilson, Lois Wilson recounts some of her husband’s experiences of 1941. Saturday was generally the scheduled day for these psychic adventures. “Bill would lie down on the couch. He would ‘get’ these things. He kept doing it every week or so. Each time, certain people would ‘come in.’ Sometimes, it would be new ones, and they’d carry on some story.”[4]

So, “every week or so,” Wilson would open himself to this entity (or entities), and “certain people would ‘come in.'” Today this is known as channeling. Author andA.A. apologist Dick B. has written of Wilson’s spiritualism, but gives it no emphasis as a factor in the origin of either A.A. or the 12 Steps.

Writer Matthew J. Raphael is far less coy. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous himself, Raphael observes, “it might be said for the co-founders at least, A.A. was entangled with spiritualism from the very beginning.”[5]

Raphael explains, “Wilson himself seems to have been an‘adept,’ that is, ‘gifted’ in the psychic sense; and he served as a medium fora variety of ‘controls,’ some of them recurrent. ‘Controls,’ in the lingo of spiritualism, are the discarnate entities who seem to usurp a medium’s identity and literally speak through him or (far more usually) her. Sometimes a control answers questions; sometimes a spirit seems to materialize.”[6]

One of the most beloved pieces of 12 Step literature is the collection of essays, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written by Wilson in the 1950s. This popular book is often called, simply, the “12X12.” While working on it, Wilson exchanged letters with Father Ed Dowling, a Catholic priest Bill often looked to for advice. In his letter of July 17, 1952, the A.A. co-founder informs Dowling he is receiving help with the book from the spirit world.

Wilson writes, “One turned up the other day calling himself Boniface. Said he was a Benedictine missionary and English. Had been man of learning, knew missionary work and a lot about structures. I think he said this all the more modestly but that was the gist of it. I’d never heard of this gentleman but he checked out pretty well in the Encyclopedia. If this one is who he says he is-and of course there is no way of knowing-would this belicit contact in your book?”[7]

According to Pass it On, Bill Wilson considered that “spiritistic matters were no mere parlor game. It’s not clear when he first became interested in extrasensory phenomena;the field was something that Dr. Bob and Anne Smith were also deeply involved with. Whether or not Bill initially became interested through them, there are references to séances and other psychic events in the letters Bill wrote to[wife] Lois during that first Akron summer with the Smiths, in 1935.”[12]

For those who have not read Dick B.’s books portraying the 12 Steps as Christian, Dick B. works very hard to show Bill Wilson’s Biblical influences, his reliance on Since Wilson was not a Christian himself, Dick B. pretty much presents a “12-Steps-are-Christian-by-osmosis” approach.*

3. Ernest Kurtz,Not-God, pg. 136 
4. PASS IT ON, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pg. 278-79 
5. Matthew J. Raphael, Bill W. and Mr. Wilson, pg. 159 
6. Ibid., pg. 159 
7. Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship, pg. 59 
8. Ibid., pg. 59 
9. Robert Fitzgerald, S.J., The Soul of Sponsorship, pg. 61 
10. Ibid., pg. 61 
11. Henrietta Seiberling, 7/31/52 letter, 
12. PASS IT ON, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pg. 275