Solitary witches and covens
Walking the Path: Going it alone vs. practicing with a group
As a fresh, newbie pagan you’re soon going to have the delightful choice of deciding whether to be solitary in your beliefs or flirt with joining a coven. Luthaneal helps you look at the ins-and-outs of pagan solitary and group work…
Once a young Pagan or witch has established what they believe and the path that they wish to follow, they will sooner or later be presented with the choice of walking that path alone or joining a group with similar beliefs.
Both methods have advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when deciding whether or not to join others. Are their goals the same as yours? Do they allow you to adequately explore your new beliefs? What do you have to do in order to join?
These and many other questions will need to be answered while you determine whether you are better suited to solitary practice or group practice.
The first thing that you should determine about any potential group is whether or not their beliefs are compatible with your own. If the answer is no, then they obviously aren’t right for you. Talk to members of the group and find out what they believe to see if they see things in the same way that you do and more importantly, whether or not they will allow you to express your beliefs in a way that you feel is right for you.
Each group will have their own way of practicing, whether they are more of a religious group or just a coven of witches following a magical path. This means that they will undoubtedly have certain rituals and practices that they use to express their beliefs and honour any Gods that they may have. Find out as much as you can about these practices to see if you would be comfortable doing them and if you feel that they are a good way for you to come to your Gods.
A person’s relationship with their deities is very much at the core of their practices and so it is important for you to understand how it is that you relate to your Gods and how you may wish to develop that relationship. Say to yourself “will joining this group benefit the relationship I have with my Gods?”
When you join a group such as a Coven, you are not just taking a step in developing your beliefs, you are also taking a step into the lives of other people and they also move into your life.
In many ways this can be like gaining an extended family. You will be sharing some very intimate moments with these people, allowing their ideas to help shape your own and teaching each other as you go. In a more mundane sense, you will most likely eat alongside them at times, drink together and maybe even go away to places with them. So obviously it is very important that you actually like these people!
It doesn’t really matter whether or not they share your beliefs and you like their practices, if you can’t stand being around them. A religious or ritual group can be just like any other. It has good times and bad. The people are like a family that can support and guide each other, but they can also disagree and gossip amongst themselves as much as anyone else. Each group will be as different and unique as its members and the dynamic between them. You need to take into account how you would fit into that dynamic and indeed, they need to know that they will get along with you too.
. Coming together for the sake of worshiping the Gods and performing magic is an ancient practice that has been performed across many cultures for thousands of years. By joining a group you are following in the footsteps this tradition.
. There is a common belief that working in a group, especially in rituals and magic, raises more energy to put into those rituals, making a group stronger than a solitary practitioner.
. Some paths emphasize the importance of honouring family and the community. Working in a group helps to keep one mindful to this ideal.
. Being part of a group often gives you access to personal teachers and guides to help you on your path.
. In religions such as Wicca, there are specific teachings that can only be obtained through initiating into a Coven.
. As you become more experienced in a group you will gain the opportunity to become a teacher in that group yourself.
. Working in a group provides close friends and family that you can share your beliefs with.
“I prefer to work as part of a group rather than alone because it gives me a sense of “family” and of a group mind and energy. We have shared experiences, which have occurred as a group, and also individual experiences that others within the group have also experienced at one time or other and we are able to discuss these things and explore them as a group. Above all, it is a connection to the wider Wiccan family and the support that this brings, which makes group work preferable to solitary work for me.” (Coven Wiccan Priestess)
Unlike many religions in our culture which put an emphasis on coming together as a group, Pagan religions generally don’t require this. In fact, due to the scattered spread of Pagans it is often just the easier option for an individual to practice alone and in many cases this is the preferred way for them to do things.
Being solitary can make things difficult in a lot of ways, but it can also have its own unique benefits. You can do things exactly how you want and only need worry about yourself. On the downside, though, you don’t have the benefit of learning from other people, other than what you may read in books or maybe on the internet. This in itself can be a problem, as you won’t necessarily know which websites are respectable, which books are good and where their authors are coming from.
But of course, being solitary doesn’t mean that you suddenly can’t talk to other Pagans at all. You’re just as welcome to attend Pagan events and join certain organisations.
Ultimately the solitary path is about freedom! It leaves a person free to find their own way, find their own truths and make their own mistakes. To be solitary is to learn the hard way, but also to reap all the benefits of doing all the work yourself.
As a solitaire, you may lack the support and guidance of other people, but you take the direct path to inner strength and individuality.
. Following a solitary Pagan path gives you the freedom to find your own way without having to follow a structured method of progressing.
. A lot of solitaries are Eclectic, meaning that they take bits and pieces from a lot of different paths in order to build their own. This is a lot harder to do in a group.
. Some people choose the solitary path simply as a matter of privacy. To them, their spirituality is their business and they don’t feel comfortable sharing it.
. When you work alone you don’t need to worry about attending group functions, meaning that you can essentially set your own time-table and do things wherever you like.
. Rituals performed by the solitaire are like a reflection of that person. As there is no one else to influence their workings, they are free to give all their rituals a personal touch.
. Coming before the Gods alone, the solitaire is solely responsible for how they present themselves.
. Some people just don’t work well with others.
“I’ve practiced alone for many years now and enjoy the freedom it gives me to explore my spirituality. I’ve enjoyed doing some rituals with close friends occasionally, but this also helps me realise that everyone is moving at their own rate and so practicing alone most of the time has allowed me to move at my own rate without worrying about those around me who may be either playing catch-up or perhaps just have interests that steer them away from the direction that I want to go in.” (Solitary Witch)
Despite the differences between these two styles of spirituality, it is important to note that choosing one does not necessarily negate the use of the other. A member of a group or coven can still practice things alone in their own time and in their own way, and a solitaire may choose to work with others from time to time, assuming she can find people interested in doing so.
The greatest problem faced by any solitary practitioner is the need for information. Ultimately how you experience magic and the Gods will be entirely unique to you, but there are methods and techniques already in place that most will want to use in order to follow their chosen path. After all, that is a lot easier than trying to invent your entire religious path from scratch (though there is nothing to stop you from doing so) and chances are that it is the already established ideas of your chosen path that attracted you to it in the first place.
The problem after that point is in finding information that allows you to move beyond the basics and into a detailed, accurate practice.
So the best thing to do is read as many books as you can get your hands on and talk to other practitioners to share information and ideas. Find out who the most reputable authors are in your area of interest and the ones to stay away from.
Sooner or later though, you may just have to realise that there is some information and experiences that you just can’t get if you work alone. In fact, some paths (Wicca, for example) have oath-bound information which is held in secret and can only be released to people who are initiated into an official group. But that doesn’t invalidate the solo path. Indeed, as a solitary practitioner you may also have experiences that are entirely unique to you and maybe even gain your own private practices and insights.
Likewise, you are free to just disregard any traditional teachings and practices that don’t agree with you. A group may insist on certain things in their rituals, but a solitaire can use whatever they like and just throw out the rest. In other words, your practices can be made entirely unique to you.
The main guidance for a solitaire comes from two sources: Written material such as books and websites, and personal experience. Don’t underestimate the value of either of these things, because you will have to use them to the fullest in order to progress.
When joining a group there are generally four stages to building this relationship: Meeting, Learning, Initiation and Advancement.
The first step to joining a group is the initial stage of seeking them out, getting in contact with them and communicating with them.
The best way to find a group these days is probably online or by attending Pagan events.
Good websites to use are: