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FOR SOLITARIES ONLY by Brandy Williams NUMBER THREE 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 group..." Janet and Stewart Farrar, The Witches Way. These are particularly clear examples of the muths and assumptions surrounding solitaries. I might summarize them like this: --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 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


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