FOR SOLITARIES ONLY
by Brandy Williams
ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN BEING ALONE
"Working alone is not ideal. Opening up the starlight
vision is much more difficult without the support of a group.
Those who travel the uncharted pathways of the mind alone run
more risk of being caught in subjectivity."
Starhawk, Spiral Dance.
"Anything is learned better by apprenticeship than lone
study... We strongly recommend that the self-initiate should
start on the path with a working partner or as one of a small
Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches Way.
These are particularly clear examples of the muths and
assumptions surrounding solitaries. I might summarize them like
--A solitary tends to live in a fantasy world, unchecked by
other, possibly wiser, heads.
--A solitary can't do genuine, working rituals, since that
skill must be learned from an experienced practitioner.
--A solitary is lonely, handicapped by loneliness, waiting
and longing for the right group to join.
These aren't things we say about ourselves, and they are so
far from my experience I'm beginning to believe they're what
others imagine we are.
Some solitaries I know are beginners, and some of them do
want to find a group to learn from. Some don't, few are desparate,
and none self-identify as handicapped.
I'm a book person. I've learned cooking, writing, gardening
and ritual by reading manuals on the subject and then experimenting.
Solitaries tend toward the self-educuated, though most
of us have participated in at least some open circle rituals. A
ceremonial magician recently demonstrated to me the limitations
of book learning: dance, chant, and physical poses are difficult
to learn from the printed page. He allowed me to witness one of
his rituals, and I'd given myself the background to pick up on
what I'd been missing.
There are alternatives to formal teacher-student and working
circle relationships. There is a continuum between solitary
practitioner and closed group member. The pagan community stages
festivals, open circles and workshops, all of which expose the
beginner and the lone worker to ritual techniques and provide a
social network. We have a lot of options--and that's something
our writers haven't noticed much yet.
I don't honestly know why people keep telling me solitaries
live in fantasies. I think their image of us is one soul alone
on a mountaintop. I do know some pretty isolated people--physically
isolated, and cut off from pagan contacts--but they do have
spouses, friends, children, pets, co-workers and neighbors, all
of whom would notice if they began speaking aloud to spirits of
the seventh level.
The people I see getting carried away with starlight visions
are those who spend a lot, or most, of their time with other
pagans. Their behavior is a lot less inhibited than solitaries,
who are quieter and more secretive, since we generally have to
hide our religion from almost everyone. More than once I've
caught a newcomer or a solitary looking a little bewildered at a
group of people dancing around the house in robes and three tons
of jewelry, saying "BB" to each other, talking to their cars,
discussing the colors of energy fields in the circle, encouraging
one another to believe a little more deeply in whatever otherworldly
metaphor is current. Fantasy seems to require group
reinforcement. I draw the newcomer aside, smile, and say "Welcome
to the pagan worldview."
Group people's attitudes toward us seem to boil down to
this: we can't be trusted to run our own education and our own
religion. Working alone isn't HEALTHY.
I have met and corresponded with a number of solitaries.
Living at the Aquarian Tabernacle, attending open circles and
Festivals, I've also met a lot of group members. The two approaches to our religious practice seem to be qualitatively different. Some of us want or need a lot of people around us, to support and encourage us. Others prefer to work things out at our
own pace with our own tools, books and experiments, picking up
the occasional pointer and encouraging word. Neither outlook is
superior, and working alone may not be the ideal--what is, in
real life?--but it is not a handicap.
Many solitaries have very rich inner lives. In our silence
we can hear and explore facets of our religion and ourselves that
otherwise would be buried in the bustle and noise of a group. We
do need people, but we have also learned to center on ourselves.
And we find, in working alone, in our own companionship, a
strength and joy that is impossible to describe.
We can only recommend it. -Brandy