Solitary or Coven?
Solitary or Coven?
One of the key choices facing pagans is the decision to be a solitary or to join a coven. Obviously a third option is to do both: you can have a practice on your own and still work with most Covens, but for many the practical answer is one of the other.
As Pagans, we generally enjoy a great deal of freedom in the development of our own particular path, and one of the decisions we all face is whether we want to or even feel we need to work with others in our path.
A solitary path brings complete personal freedom and the ability to truly work on a path that fits with your own beliefs. On the other hand, a coven can bring collective knowledge and experience that you may never obtain on your own, as well as the energy that a group can tap into.
The nice thing about Paganism, however, is that most will agree that there is no right or wrong answer for us. If a Coven works for you, so be it. If the path of a solitary works for you, so be it. Of course, you cannot call yourself a member of an initiatory tradition if you are a solitary, but that’s o.k.
Part 1: “Alone but not lonely” – by Silverwolf
Why do people stay solitary Pagan practitioners? Of course it you wish to join one of the initiatory traditions then you have to join a coven. There are other traditions that do not require direct initiation, and you can be a solitary and still practice that path. Of course, most solitaries simply create their own path, which is why they decided to remain solitaries in the first place.
As a matter of terminology, some people refer to solitary practitioners as “solitaries” and some as “solitaires”. I use the former here, but there is nothing wrong with either.
The vast majority of Pagans do start out as a solitary of course. At what point to do you realize you are Pagan? This usually comes on slowly and often as an act of discovery.
You may have had some leanings towards Paganism, but you were not familiar with what exactly it was. Then you read a book, or talked to someone, or ran across a web site that described being Pagan and you realized that that was what you had been feeling already, but didn’t have a name for it. A coven member introduced some people directly to Paganism, but even there these people usually were Pagans in their beliefs already, they just didn’t realize it.
What level of commitment?
The decision to not join a coven usually comes from simply not having the opportunity to join a like-minded coven. Just because you want to join one doesn’t mean there is one nearby with similar beliefs or that they are interested in new members. In fact, it is really incorrect to say that some people decide *not* to join a coven – most simply never decide *to* join one.
Some people practicing solitary would prefer to join covens but simply have no opportunity. Some are simply not involved enough in their practice to want the regularity of coven life. Just like a Christian who only goes to church on Christmas, or even not at all, but still considers him/herself a Christian.
Many people hold Pagan beliefs, but not everyone feels the need to actually “practice” anything and of course there is nothing wrong with that. As part of deciding on a Pagan path that is right for us, the level of activity and involvement that we pick is also a personal decision we need to make. A coven may simply require more activity and involvement than some Pagans are willing to invest.
A variety of traditions to draw on
Being a solitary has both pros and cons. The benefit of being able to construct a tailored path that fits you also means that you do, in fact, have to create this path yourself. You will undoubtedly take inspiration from other works, but you will create the path yourself. Now that is not to say that you can’t get help. Instead of learning about one tradition, you will probably need to research and learn about many traditions in order to find the parts that you wish to incorporate. Of course, you can also simply create your practice by following your own instincts without basing your practice on any previous works. Personally, I enjoy learning about different religions and beliefs, so I view this as part of the growing process as opposed to a chore. But it is work, no mistake.
Community for Solitaries
Being a solitary does not mean that you are without others to help you. You can discuss history, philosophy, ritual, and other aspects with other pagans – solitaries and coven members alike. Their views may match your on some issues, and diverge on others. You ultimately need to pick the pieces you will incorporate into your own beliefs, but you can still discuss ideas and solicit comments and opinions. This is part of the key attraction of a solitary path for me – the ability to take the best of all worlds to construct a path that fits me perfectly, and one that can grow and evolve as I grow and evolve.
A solitary is, by definition, alone and this potentially means on missing out on the benefits of community. However, there are several options to get the benefits of community that come automatically with a coven. There are on-line communities where you can meet on neutral ground, the Unitarian Universalist church is quite Pagan-friendly and I am actively involved in the one near me. Of course, a UU church welcomes Pagans, and many of the practices are purely Pagan, but it stops short of the more religious aspects of Paganism. Still, it provides a great place to explore beliefs and to put social and ecological beliefs into action.
The Solitary Path
Would I ever join a coven? Perhaps – I have nothing against covens and I believe that covens are absolutely the right path for some. If I ever found one that I felt matched my own path closely enough, and that seemed supportive and still flexible, I would certainly consider it. I enjoy attending public rituals on occasion and wouldn’t mind having a group to participate with regularly in rituals more closely aligned with my own path.
Having others to help craft new directions and explore new aspects of my faith could be fun. Joining a coven is also not permanent, and if my coven and I moved in different directions later I could simply leave the coven. With the tight community that a Coven forms, however, this would not be a step taken lightly. But I feel no need to join a coven today, or even to try to seek one out. For now, I continue to explore my faith and my direct relationship with the deity.
Part 2: “Hold Me As I Spiral And Spin” – by Chicoryflower
There are so many solitary versus coven arguments available, so pointing out something novel is challenging. However, it’s the language we’re looking for. An opinion that seems hip in a way that we value.
So with that in mind, I’ll explain that I wasn’t looking to join a coven when I stumbled upon one that I adore.
I had two brushes with covens that left me feeling that coven life was not for me. I wanted to hone and caress my own sense of divinity, explore my own boundless spirituality and not be hemmed in by the conceptual spirituality of others at different stages in life, from different backgrounds, with different (not lesser or greater) emotional and intellectual needs.
I don’t want to sound like I felt it would be an inferior experience, far from it. But I worried that others might feel the need to explore avenues, which I was less interested in, and I might be attracted to areas that they didn’t wish to learn about.
When you “sign-up”, it may seem that the 101 classes are beneath you. You might feel like you’ve been forced off the 10-speed and back on to the tricycle, but this is another benefit of being in a coven. There are precious gems of information about the coven within those classes. Take your time, go to as many as have been assigned, or more, you won’t be sorry. By the end of a year, you’ll realize it was beneficial and a great value of time, effort and expense. You can ask questions, and they will be answered. You can’t get that out of a book!
Covens can meet a lot of needs, and the first one is that perfect love and perfect trust doesn’t exist within the larger community of witches, it can only exist in covens where that is part of the vows you take. Otherwise, it’s just down to you and your divinity to have 100% certainty that all is done with the best you have to offer.
When we meet in perfect love and perfect trust, this has a lot to do with recognizing the intrinsic divine in others. It’s an exercise that makes us better people, better witches, and better friends, everywhere else in our lives. When we love and trust in this way to recognize the divine within others, and we also stretch our own understanding of divinity.
While we don’t necessarily agree with others, often some thought or idea is planted in the back of our mind that later might bloom and we find that it has made our consciousness expand effortlessly.
Community is something that “churches got and pagans ain’t”, in many quarters. When pagans go out looking for a safe, secure, intelligent way to grow as Wiccans, there aren’t a lot of options. As Silverwolf pointed out, there are a limited number of fully hived High Priestesses willing to take on new dedicants. So it follows that of that small number, it’s just not likely that the perfect coven is necessarily going to be one of them.
To me, this seems the greatest reason for witches to drive that extra mile to be a part of a tradition with degrees. There might be a day when the world has plenty of good covens with excellent High Priestesses, but until then you will need to be willing to make a little extra effort.
However, a group doesn’t need a degreed High Priestess from an established tradition to create a culture of love, trust, and sharing among other witches. It is possible to take vows, create new traditions, share knowledge and become tomorrow’s elders in a new tradition.
Coveners can hold each other somewhat accountable to learn the ways completely, and in a way that is generally agreed upon by others. Almost every tradition recognizes that you may have a personal pagan path that doesn’t match everything perfectly, and when we hive, this becomes a part of the heritage of the tradition. This is the same way that your High Priestess’ personality, knowledge, and idiosyncrasies helped form and guide your learning experience.
Being a part of these rites of passage enriches the experience of a witch. We know what we’ve mastered, but it certainly helps to have a group of elders second the notion and reassure us. Having the benefit of being seen by others and having the reality reflected back to us helps us grow, embrace ourselves, confront our shadows, and ultimately be enriched.
To be perfectly honest, I’m a very new dedicant, but these were the points and counterpoints that helped to form my decision to join a coven. I met the High Priestess several months ago, and it took a few stops and starts to be sure that this was the path I wanted to take. At each return, when I pulled back to be sure this was what I wanted to do (and for other more personal reasons), I was greeted with warmth and welcoming. It was easy to follow my instincts as they all uniformly voiced approval.
Solitary or coven, solitary plus coven, solitary and later coven, coven and later solitary…how you pursue your spiritual path as a Pagan is a decision that you and you alone can make. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad, only what is right and good for you specifically.
One of the truly special things about being Pagan is that we do have this freedom to choose. This is s fundamental given and part of what distinguishes us from most other religions: we do not believe that someone else is wrong because they follow a different path.
We have not received any commandment from our Gods to convert others, and eternal pits of fire do not await those who decide on a different way. So make your choice based on where your heart leads you.
Look inside yourself to make these choices, and make sure that you are making them for all the right reasons. Others can help provide advice or insight, but only you can make the final decision. And if you change your mind later, that’s o.k.
— by Silverwolf and Chicoryflower