Tips for the Solitary Practitioner
There are many more self-initiated Wiccans and Witches out there than practically any other variety of Pagan. While a valid and legitimate spiritual path, self-initiation and working solitary pose a few unique challenges to those who would follow this particular path to the Old Gods. By its very nature, the solitary path doesn’t have a lot of guidance available–usually you strike out on your own to discover it all for yourself.
So why self-initiate? Why be a solitary practitioner? These are questions you have to answer for yourself. No one has a monopoly upon wisdom, nor on the Mysteries–these are not things that you can own, only experience on your own terms, and even then they keep moving, changing and growing. Anyone who approaches the Gods with sincerity, respect, and integrity can and will discover their own way to commune with these essential forces of Nature. It means hard work, requires creativity, persistence and determination–it is a challenging path to take.
If you decide to pursue self-initiation and build your own version of spiritual practice based upon the Wiccan model, here are some tips to help make the process go a bit more smoothly:
1) Clarify your intent. Ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” Examine your motivations–pursuing any particular spiritual path is a serious commitment. Setting out to explore things on your own as a solitary practitioner is not something to do on a whim, nor is it a “fun” hobby. It’s work, and plenty of it. It can also be worth it.
2) Gather your resources. You need to establish a set of ground rules for what you want to do. This will require reading everything you can get. Try to read a variety of authors, and don’t read just about Witchcraft. You’re not going to learn very much from restricting your reading to pop-Wicca books that gleefully extol the virtues of playing at mediocre, misinterpreted folk traditions of dubious vintage. You’re setting out to acquire some wisdom, not superstitious twaddle and bogus hokum. Take classes and get calluses–go out and learn something, then put it to use in your life and the community around you. If it dies on the vine unused, it’s a waste.
3) If you find something that you like, adapt it; don’t just lift it out of its context. Once you have a basic framework within/upon which to work, rewrite everything to fit your emerging vision, after you’ve tried it out, tested it, and given it a chance to teach you what it has to reveal on its own terms.
4) Draft a statement of your core beliefs. Sign it, date it, and place it in your journal or Book of Shadows. Forget about it for a while and just work on doing it. Choose a time each year to re- examine it and amend it if desired. Sometimes this is a good thing to do during the winter months, perhaps Candlemas/Imbolc? You decide. When you do check it out, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve gone off in a completely other direction. Spend some time contemplating what you meant when you wrote that piece and look at what you’ve learned in the time since then. What would you change about it, or yourself, now that you know what you know now?
5) If you do happen to fall prey to the social disease of writing, please be sure to make every reasonable attempt to document your sources. Give credit where credit is due. You have nothing to gain by trying to pretend that you invented Gardner’s or Crowley’s books. Keep yourself honest. Given time, and effort, you will develop your own rites. When you do, you don’t want to dilute the meaningfulness of the moment by that nagging little voice that reminds you that you didn’t really do it. Respect your creativity, maintain personal integrity, and let things develop naturally.
6) Remember that within most established traditions of the Craft, the term ‘degree’ generally refers to experience, not rank. As a solitary you don’t have any rank to worry about. If you do, well, then I hope you’re enjoying yourself. As a solitary you get the opportunity to focus upon the personal experience and to drop the distractions. It’s similar to the monastic approach to mysticism, only less ascetic and more fun.
If you do wind up creating or adapting some sort of degree system for your personal Work be sure to take your time working through those degrees. Learn all you can and work with the Gods and Mighty Ones–as you progress, the doors of perception will open, the way will be found. Besides, if you’re going to pursue an experiential approach to an already experiential path, why deny yourself the benefit of having those very experiences that are part and parcel of the whole darn thing in the first place? It’s absolutely about quality, not quantity.
7) Do it for the right reasons. Why are you doing whatever you’re doing, and why alone? If you’re solitary because of some sort of insecurity or negative reaction to past happenstance…be prepared for circumstances to change as you grow and mature. If you’ve withdrawn to focus upon certain aspects of your personal spiritual development, don’t lose track of that, even if you do decide to take a break and go hang out with a group for a while. Your solitary practice should serve as a firm foundation for your day-to-day life. A viable, healthy spiritual practice will offer you a way to recharge your batteries, cope with stress, resolve crises and guide you as you grow. If your solitary path doesn’t offer you these things, what are you doing?
8) Solitary work can be ideal for self-transformation and personal healing. As you progress, as healing occurs, as changes take place, you will find your practice likewise changing. Consider this a form of sympathetic magick. As you become more fully integrated and whole, your rituals will become more balanced and holistic as well. The Craft is a healing path, so why not approach it as such?
9) Keep in mind that the only way to gauge progress is to challenge it in some manner. How you decide to challenge yourself is one thing. How the universe around you, let alone the Gods & Ancestors, will test your progress is another matter. There will come a point where your focus upon the self-chosen, self-directed things will be intruded upon. You are a human being, not an oyster. If you’re going to heal, then heal and get on with life. If you’re going to deal with something, deal with it and move on. Life is in motion. Whatever tries to remain static will encounter friction and eventually will be torn loose by the tides of change or the teeth of the trickster.
10) We all learn at different rates and in different styles. Working alone makes it possible to modify everything to suit your needs. Creativity and sincerity can guide you in making your Craft practice a viable and vital part of your life. Don’t waste time measuring your progress against other people. They do not approach things from your perspective or background, nor do they share your personal circumstances.
11) No matter what disabilities, hindrances, or restrictions you may have in your life, you can practice Wicca–if you honestly desire to do so. Indeed, the only thing holding anyone back from the Craft of the wise is their own sense of self. Sure, you may not be able to jump around a circle waving a letter-opener or perhaps you can’t mumble out a mournful dirge of dubious ecstasy like some of the other folks on the path. So what? As you will and you harm none. Get it?
12) Even solitaries aren’t alone anymore. With all of the resources available on the Internet–go check out http://www.witchvox.com or http://www.circle.org or http://www.avatarsearch.com or http://www.twpt.com or just do a search on Wiccan, Pagan or whatever your heart desires. There’s an incredible amount of information and opportunities to connect with a vast array of fellow seekers out there.
13) Consider sharing the fruits of your labors, but don’t be in a hurry to share the secrets of your success. Solitary work is very personal and what worked for you may not work for another. Respect the freedom of others to pursue their own path into the Silence as you yourself did. If you find that others come to you, or that you are asked to share more details, then you are being confronted by the task of becoming a teacher or guide or mentor.
Congratulations. Hopefully your time spent in solitary practice has garnered you some measure of wisdom that can help you to meet this new challenge with grace and dignity. Or at least with a good head start as you run away.
by James Garrison