Article ID: 8658
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,898
Times Read: 5,516
Author: RuneWolf [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: August 21st. 2004
Times Viewed: 5,516
Even when I was a Covener, I was mostly Solitary.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking: "Geez, Wolfie's been in the unguentum Sabbati again..."
But for the entire period that I was officially a member of a living, breathing Coven on the West Coast, I lived where I still live, on the East. With the exception of, I believe, seven whole days, during my tenure as a Seeker, my year and a day of Dedication, and after my First Degree Initiation, I practiced by "remote control."
I don't know if my experience is all that unique, but I have yet to hear a similar story. And some people might contend that, because of the physical separation, I wasn't "really" a member of that Coven. I won't argue with that - I don't need to. My Teacher, my High Priest and my Covenmates said I was a member, and I will not dispute the words of those good people.
What that experience gave me, in the formative years of my Pagan journey, was really the best of both worlds. I had the energy, wisdom, experience and love of the group to educate, nurture and support me, but I was also free to take my own risks, make my own mistakes and draw my own conclusions. I was, in effect, "working with a net."
Having a Coven and a Teacher to "answer to" gave me the disciplinary framework that I needed at that time, and, apparently, still do. This essay is a bit of a confession on my part: I have to admit - if I am to be honest with myself, the Gods and you, gentle reader - that my Solitary practice has gotten a little sloppy lately. Oh, I'm still working hard...but mostly just on the stuff that appeals to me, like venturing into the unexplored (by me) hinterlands of Traditional Craft, bootstrapping my own "Tradition," reading, writing, and whatnot. But some of the - ahem! - fundamentals seem to have fallen by the wayside...
Lammas blew right past me, and I never raised an eyebrow, let alone an athame. Thank all the Gods there are that I didn't turn to one of my Pagan friends and say, "What's up with all the Lughnasadh reviews on Witchvox, anyway?"
For me, this is where the danger lies in Solitary practice. I don't really believe that I'm going to accidentally conjure up some "long-legged beastie" from the Nether Regions while working alone. What is far more likely is that I will simply become lazy and lax, and my spiritual life as a whole will suffer because of it.
On her excellent website, in an article entitle The Seeker's Triangle, Wiccan author Dianne Sylvan says, "It takes time, work, and persistence to create and maintain a spiritual life in the face of all of that." (That being the exigencies of mundane life.) I couldn't agree more. And it takes self-discipline to set aside the time, do the work and remain persistent when the "only" one I am accountable to is me. Because I know The Big Secret of Paganism: The Lady and the Lord simply aren't going to thwack me on the head with a meteorite if I don't do what I'm "supposed to." Period. So I can, in fact, let Lammas blow by me like a crack-addled power-walker, and no harm will come to me. I can let my daily meditation slide, and I won't be struck down. I can forget a morning prayer or an evening prayer or - gasp! - both, and I will be just jim-dandy.
Well, physically, anyway.
Emotionally and spiritually? I'm not so certain.
Solitary practice really brings home that lesson that dear old Mother tried to teach me so many times: If I cheat, and no one ever finds out, I've still cheated myself. As a Solitary, I can cut all the corners I want, and there will be no "divine retribution." On the contrary, the Universe will continue to hum right along with nary a hiccup. But I will have deprived myself of something, perhaps something precious.
The good news is that there's no one watching over my shoulder that's going to say, "Oh my Goddess! I can't believe you FORGOT EFF-ING LAMMAS! You're outta here, pal!" The only one who can kick me out is me. (Well, THEY could, but remember what I said about The Big Secret...) So the only way I can really screw this up is if I simply throw my hands up and quit. And believe me, there have been - and will be - plenty of times when I've felt like doing that. That's when I really miss being part of a Coven, when my own inadequacies - real or imagined - get the best of me, and I begin to lose faith, not in the Gods, but in myself, and my fundamental right to be here. When those little "dark nights of the soul" come along, it's great to have Covenmates to help you through, and it's Hel to not have Covenmates to help you through.
That's why my network is one of the most important parts of my Solitary practice. As with so many other things on the Pagan Path, it's a bit of a contradiction: Depending on other people in my Solitary practice. But that's the reality of it for me, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I believe that the Lady and the Lord put certain people into my life on purpose, as gifts, and who am I to reject the gifts of the Gods? I may work my new ritual alone, physically, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I've talked that ritual over with my fellow travelers, and their insights and energies are with me when I work it. And when I begin to flounder, when I begin to doubt all this and myself as well, I have people I can turn to who know me, where I've been, where I want to end up (today, at least), and generally which direction I'm going in. They have no authority or power over me, save that which I give them by way of my respect, admiration and friendship. So I listen when these people ask, in their gentle, unassuming way, "Say, Slick - do you really think it's a good idea to invoke Loki, Balor and Cthulhu all at once at midnight on Samhain?"
I have always maintained that, if at all possible, Pagans should work within a group structure at some point along their paths. My personal prejudice is that this is best done at the beginning, but I think it can be educational and transformative at any stage. I consider myself lucky - despite the obstacles of physical distance, I fell in with a strong, teaching-oriented Coven within a few weeks of my Self-Dedication. (I got Dedicated all over again to the Coven a few months later. It didn't invalidate my original Self-Dedication, it was simply part of the "package deal.") And, some time later, I found a local open Circle that has helped to fill some of the gaps. Studying within the Coven wasn't easy, but I think - for me - it was easier than it would have been, trying to achieve the same goals by myself as a newcomer.
Looking back over my path since the Coven, I would have to say that self-discipline and a good network have been indispensable to my Solitary practice. Self-discipline helps to ensure that I do all my homework, not just the bits I like, and that lays the foundations for the really cool stuff, the hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moments in ritual - and elsewhere - that let us know we are on the right path. The network helps to keep me from doing things that are too outlandish - or too trivial - and also helps me to realize that, while Solitary, I am by no means alone.
I would like to close by sharing an observation on Solitary practice that came from - for me - a rather unexpected source. In Light from the Shadows: A Mythos of Modern Traditional Witchcraft, Gwyn says:
"More and more modern witches...are actively seeking the solitary path of the wise woman, wizard and hedgewitch. In this respect they should not be condemned or criticised, for they are simply reviving the practices of the past when the majority of the Craft were solo practitioners of the Art." Flags, Flax and Fodder,
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