In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I am a big advocate of finding others who a) are further along the path than you and learning all you can from them and b) are folks your gut seems to trust (more on this in a future article, I promise) . Why? Let me give you an example.
At one time my group’s holiday rituals were open to any Pagans in the area who chose to attend (if they told us they were coming in advance) . Since our group was the only one and the first one in the area for some time, we attracted a lot of people who hadn’t ever been in ritual with other Pagans, even though they’d been solitaries for years.
A solitary came to one of our rituals, speaking to anyone who would listen about her “astral fiancé.” Apparently she’d met a man on the astral plane – but never in real life – and they planned to marry just as soon as she moved to Ireland and figured out which one of several million Irishmen he was. To further hinder her search, she didn’t know what his name was. At some point in the ritual they apparently got “married” (it was Beltane, after all!) because by the end of the evening she was referring to her “astral husband.” As an occasional writer of fiction, I wish I could make up stuff this good!
Does the idea of an anonymous “astral fiancé” sound a little farfetched? It sure did to us – especially when she quit her job, moved to Ireland, and (no surprise) never found him. Last we heard she was back in the States, flat broke, and living out of her car. If this woman had had some basic non-book training and/or regular contact with a group at the beginning of her Pagan studies, she’d have known better than to delude herself to the point of homelessness.
I’m not saying that every solitary Pagan is going to end up doing something profoundly stupid, spiritually-speaking, and end up living in a car, but just as you turn to a more experienced roadster when you’re learning how to drive that car, it makes just as much sense to find someone – preferably several someones – when you’re learning the Pagan basics. The book you study in order to pass the written driver’s test is good for learning the rules of the road, but you’re not going to get your license without a lot of supervised, hands-on experience. So it is with Paganism.
On the other hand, there are times and places and personalities that are better suited for solitary work. Perhaps you live too far away from the nearest group to make regular travel for rituals and classes impossible. Or maybe the local coven or grove sets off your “icky alarm” and you’d prefer to never be in their presence again, thank you very much. Or maybe your work life is too hectic and home life is too full of the needs of small children to be able to make a commitment to a group’s calendar.
Or maybe, just maybe, you are more suited to a spiritual life of quiet, private observance and contemplation and will, in fact, go farther on your Pagan path if you travel alone. I’ve met some fine people in my life for whom this is the case; I admire their personal dedication even though I can’t emulate it.
If it’s just my husband, my child and I in the house on a holiday or full moon, we’re not likely to have a formal ritual – much like my widowed mother-in-law who will cook up a storm if a few of her children or grandchildren are expected for dinner but “just can’t be bothered” to cook if she’s just feeding herself.
So how do you know if you’re more suited for a group or a solitary practice? Ask yourself the following questions. Your answers should tell you what decision you need to make to better your chances of a satisfying spiritual future.
Is there a group nearby that I like and trust? If the answers are “yes” (Yes there is a group, yes it is nearby, yes I like them, and yes I trust them) , and they have space for you, by all means petition to join. However, if there is even one “no” (There’s a group nearby but I don’t like them and wouldn’t trust them to teach me how to walk my dog, much less take an active role in my spiritual development) , you’re much better off on your own.
Do I have the personal discipline to actively practice on my own? I freely admit that I do not. I need to commit to a group and the group calendar to actively, integrally observe even the basic holidays and moon phases. And that’s okay – I’m not the only one!
However, if you can – or would even prefer to – make a personal commitment to make small observances to the Gods at this time every day (or week, or holiday) and know you’ll keep that commitment, then I say good for you! You have at least some of what it takes to be a solitary.
Am I willing to ask for help or a reality check from time to time? I don’t think it ever occurred to our above-mentioned Beltane guest to ask anyone online or in person if she was deluding herself or if her astral experiences were real. When my husband was first starting to study Paganism, he made a point of seeking out community elders and experienced practitioners at local Pagan festivals and asking them questions. Even though these good folk weren’t his formal teachers, they were more than happy to answer him.
If you join a group, your High Priest or High Priestess will provide help and reality checks – that’s their job. If you choose to go solitary, you should consider attending a nearby gathering, Pagan Pride Day, or workshop at a Pagan store once in a while just to touch base with the rest of the community. I’d hate for you to drop everything and move to Ireland if it’s all in your head.
Ultimately, only you can choose whether to join a group or strike out on your own at the beginning of your Pagan life. Only you know your geographical, work, family, and personal circumstances that will all factor into the decision.
Whichever way you choose, I wish you all the best. In some ways, we are all alone – the Path is different for each person who walks it; in other ways we are all part of this wonderful, awe-inspiring, sprawling Pagan community.