Solitaries are the Glue which Hold Paganism Together

I’ve spent nearly the entire week working on new ways to make ADF Druidism an accessible tradition to solitary Pagans. The work is still in its early stages, and I’m piecing together ideas which I hope to share once the leaves have fallen. My backyard maple is only hinting at new color, so it will be a few months yet.

Crafting religious practice gets me really excited, though. As perplexed as I was last week about the Gods (and I’ve been on the fence about capitalizing “god,” by the way — please share your thoughts about that grammatical choice in the comments), I’m having no problem with putting together new models for sharing my religion that might better serve people.

Religion, as I’m learning to practice it, allows each of us to be our own priestess or priest, our own empowered solitary practitioner. When we do religion in this way we become better equipped to serve our community, and we cultivate an intimate relationship with the Kindred.

Isaac Bonewits wrote in The Vision of ADF:

“Everyone is expected to communicate with Goddesses and Gods in her or his own way — spiritual growth is not a monopoly of the clergy. Every human being needs to learn how to contact the divine fire within, how to talk with trees, and how to unleash the power of magic to save the Earth. If there is such a thing as ‘spiritual excellence,’ we need to be striving to express that as well.”

Isaac placed great emphasis on terrestrial religious gathering (i.e. Grove rituals being held in physical locations), but I think the underlying message of the above quote speaks quite clearly to the path of the Solitary Druid. It is what a Druid does on her own — her devotionals, her studies, the development of her personal piety — that informs how she participates in community.

And I believe it is important to note that the work of the Solitary is the work of the community, because the Solitary who never participates in a terrestrial gathering is nonetheless a part of the greater religious body.

Perhaps this idea of a unified religious body is easy for me to conceive of, having been brought up in a tradition which understood the Church — capital C — to be the “Body of Christ.” All salvation doctrine aside, this concept of a unified body of believers was empowering, and created a sense of deep, spiritual belonging.

I think there is a Pagan analog, perhaps conceiving of ourselves as the “Body of the Mother,” or the “Children of Earth” (feel free to offer up any phrases in the comments that you think might be clearer, or more appropriate to Pagans).

We are less a “body of believers” than we are a “body of practitioners,” and in the case of ADF — a Pagan tradition which already emphasizes unity through practice — we have good cause to embrace this idea of a unified religious body.

See — I think Solitaries are the glue which holds a religion together. They (we) are not the cast-offs who simply can’t make it to the party. We are our own party.

We are, through the nature of our solitary circumstance, sometimes better equipped to engage in deep contemplation about the ambiguities, the paradoxes, and subtext which often goes unnoticed in group settings. In silence and solitude we hone our skills at cultivating the “divine fire within,” we uncover the language of the trees, and we connect in an intimate, personal way to the Earth Mother.

We have that available to us, that is.

I asked on Facebook, “Do you consider yourself a ‘Solitary Practitioner’ of a Pagan tradition?”:

Click photo to share your answer

There are a good number of people who are practicing their religious traditions alone, or mostly alone, and I think those of us who find ourselves in that position might do well to start exploring ways in which we can become united with one another in our solitude. That’s the work I’m busy crafting right now, and I’m at a point in the process where I could use some feedback from you.

Do you consider yourself a Solitary? If so, have you ever felt a sense of unity with other Solitaries? If you are an ADF member, what has been your experience of our community’s service to solitaries? Where have we succeeded, and were could our perspective use a little adjustment?



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56 responses to “Solitaries are the Glue which Hold Paganism Together”

  1. Nemain Avatar

    I was a member of ADF for several years (recently, too, I might add). Unfortunately my experience with ADF has been pretty much what I would expect from an organized religion, and not too different from Christianity. There’s the “inner circle” elite, who are generally charismatic people and who tend to determine the “dogma” of the day; the “groupies” of those charismatic elite (usually aspiring to be future leaders), and the rest. Now, granted, not everyone who is a leader in ADF fits into the inner circle generalization, but a significant number do. Even though the priests received their office/”power” from the folk (and I was there for the ritual for this, which occurred at Wellspring when Isaac was alive), I don’t see much to keep the priests in check. The folk gave them the power, they certainly deserve to have a good knowledge of what their priests are up to. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

    I found that the virtue of “ghosti” is wonderful talk but if you don’t fit in the cool crowd, good luck. And yes, I WAS an active participant and did quite a bit for my grove.

    There was a time when I was told by a high ranking ADF’er that you couldn’t be Wiccan and ADF, but this seems to have mellowed a bit. (I’m Wiccan, BTW.)

    i was once told by the Senior Druid of a grove, “Well this is the way we have ALWAYS done it!” No flexibility, no willingness to look at anything differently, no openness to the needs of the folk. Uhhhhh… ADF is a 3,000 year old religion? We know it’s not…no more than Wicca is.

    I came to ADF with an open mind and heart. I met quite a few good people. I’ve had many thought provoking conversations with grove mates and other ADF’ers. I think ADF was started with good intentions and some good ideas.

  2. Eric Devries Avatar

    Gods. I’m solo or I suppose more accurately part of a familial practice as my wife and son and myself share traditions and practices. I don’t like groups, seek groups or accept the authority or wisdom of any committee, council, or ‘trusted elder’. I don’t care who has done what to advance our cause as I have no cause and I keep politics and social issues away from my spirituality, they screw with my serenity. Outside of authority issues the other major problem with the community is the utter lack of any standards for a person tor easonably call themselves Pagan. After reading an article about athiest Pagans last week I dropped the Pagan title i’ve proudly worn my whole adult life. If everything is Pagan, nothing is Pagan. I’m going with Polytheistic now as it better reflects my faith based approach anyway. The community frustrates me, it seems shapeless and filled with bickering and ‘trusted leaders’ spewing hate, abusing power, loading up their own egos and basically acting like people. I think my mistake was that for a second I actually thought we were better than that. The community I want doesn’t exist, Utopia cannot precede the Utopian I suppose. In the end I don’t really want any buffers between me and Brighid anyway and I can’t stand all the crap that comes along with dealing with other practitioners and my risk/reward assessment tells me it just isn’t worth it for me and I don’t play well with others anyway.

  3. Soli Avatar

    Disclaimer that I am writing this comment without reading a lot of the comments so apologies if I repeat a sentiment.
    Solitary work is also how we develop our spiritual and magical skills. Coming together in a group for ritual is great, but if that’s the only time we commune with the gods or do any sort of magical work, it will not be very effective. If you’re not cultivating the skills on a regular basis whatever you do with the group is not going to carry the level of potency which someone who does that work more often.

  4. The Real Jersey Girl Avatar
    The Real Jersey Girl

    I consider myself to be a solitary practitioner ( well, not completely solitary, I am raising my daughter as a pagan). I live in a small agricultural community in the midwest…… a situation that has advantages and disadvantages for a pagan….the community is mostly christian, but farmers are earthy people and have many of the same values regarding the health of the earth, the cycles of the crops and the health and fertility of their livestock.

    I am active in my community, I serve on my library board, I attend our Downtown Development Authority meetings, I do community volunteer work. Often I am lending a hand with a project initiated by local churches or a non-denominational group called Christians Caring for Community. They are aware of my religious affiliation, and I have never experienced any negativity about my non-christian status, I am just trying to help gain acceptance by setting a good example for paganism.

    I don’t mind being a solitary; there are so many drawbacks with organized religion. Having an extended community here with other members of my faith is wonderful! I am truly appreciative of the support and information I receive here and the ability to communicate with others and exchange thoughts and ideas. Thank you, Teo

  5. juneberry Avatar

    Thanks for a positive article about solitarys. I’ve been in a group when I have had access to one, but living where I do, and at the age I am at now, I am solitary. Not that I wouldn’t often like to have some form of community, but the few groups now in my area are of the play pagan/vampire types (they wear fake fangs!) or they are college students who don’t want a 64 yr old woman around (though one young lady told me I gave her hope because she had never seen an older witch before! She thought you had to quit Paganism once you hit “oh about forty”.)

  6. L Avatar

    I will never in my lifetime know a group of individuals that worship the same gods that I do, in even remotely the same ways that I do. Coming to terms with this was hard, seeing as how the nature of my reconstruction revolves around community worship, but I came to terms with it.

    I’m done trying to fit in with neopagan, Wiccish, gatherings as they bear so little resemblance to the tradition I’m trying to reconstruct on an individual scale. “Wheel of the year” stuff and the more popular tenets of Indo-European practice just depress me, to be frank. And that doesn’t even cover the disgusting co-option of the term “pagan” by neopagans and witches and magic-workers who try to shoehorn into it a standardized set of symbols, deities, rituals, etc. I am neither clergy nor magic-worker, thanks.

    So I am not solitary by choice, but by circumstance. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have pagan friends I respect, even though they run the gamut of paths and traditions. Perhaps I actually -prefer- that they’re all over the place?

  7. Kiya Nicoll Avatar
    Kiya Nicoll

    I have a kind of sideways perspective on this, in some ways.

    It used to be the case that I would have loved to have a community, a temple, something where I could simply share in the worship of the gods. But – in rapid succession – several such groups betrayed my trust, and I was left on my own. So I started doing the work.

    And now I am in the position where I don’t get to not do the work. If I wind up with a group of co-religionists, it will because someone else will take what I have done and raise a temple of it, and I will get to see other people having the place of peace that I sought for and was denied. It is easy to feel very emotionally complicated about that, to say the least.

    At the same time, though, I often feel that some people’s models of “community” are at best insular and at worst solipsistic. When some people speak of religious community, they mean people who share their holidays, their beliefs, their practices, their gods, right? And yet. One of the people who is closest to me theologically is, yes, another pagan, but operating in a completely different pagan religion. Another person with a similar perspective on religion? My Methodist ex. Another one is an areligious atheist.

    And this is my religious community. I may not share rites with these people, but they support me, help me on my path; their wisdom and insight is part of what places me in context.

    And … when I need a community, rites to go to where I do not have to do the research or assemble the tools myself, I go to my other religious community, which is a little white church established in (something like) 1729 and rebuilt in 1815 when the original building was storm-damaged. And while there are other pagans attending that UU church – I’ve met several, and a ceremonial magician – and while I can count on the senior minister delivering a sermon speaking to the heart of my religious values – that is not a community of the same sort of co-religionists that people talking about pagan community and co-religionists are thinking of at all!

    Do I practice alone?

    Honestly, the answer is genuinely “Fucked if I know.” Or maybe “… I’ll need you to define your terms more precisely than that….”

  8. Kristin McFarland Avatar
    Kristin McFarland

    TEO! I want to grab your hands and dance around the room in joy. I just had an interesting experience at the Summerland festival, and I came home with the bit in my teeth to make the ADF community friendlier and more welcoming to solitaries. I came away from the gathering wondering just how many solitaries are slipping through the cracks because the loneliness and the difficulty of breaking into the “in-crowd” overcome their desire to be a part of the organization.

    This comment could easily stray into the sharing of my own personal desires and plans, so I’ll probably email or call you soon. I’m so very eager to discuss this issue with you.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar


      Please reach out. I’d love to share some ideas with you.

    2. Jason Hatter Avatar
      Jason Hatter

      Kristin, I’m sorry that you felt that way. If you ever want to meet someone, say hi to any of the kitchen staff, aka CedarSong Grove (or at least last year and this year; could always change next year!). We’re always friendly, and we do some mean pickle shots. 🙂

      I can say that even after going for four years, there are still people I only know as faces, so I understand what you mean by breaking-in.

  9. Indigo Celeste Avatar

    the word “god” is a job title, so if you’re referring to a specific one, you capitalize it as “God,” just like “Judge Judy.” But if you’re talking about “the gods,” it’s lowercase, because you’re referring to a collection, but not a specific one.

    I’m a “solitary” in that Hellenists (especially Graeco-Egyptian syncretists) are so few and far between that it’s kind of hard to get together in meat-space. But I get together with pagans of a large variety of traditions on a regular basis, so we can discuss paths & traditions & practices. Also, most of what I do in my daily life is part of “cultus,” which are religious acts. My drag is based on Dionysus, so when I’m out in drag, that’s a whole set of religious acts for me that I’m doing over the course of the night. So while I don’t get together with people of my own tradition outside of the Internet, I still perform my religion with a large group of people.

  10. Simon Tailor Avatar

    the grammar usage of “G” or “g” when refering to any gods/goddesses for me is simple the “G” is used and an honorific or title (we don’t have a “president” we have a “President”). the use of the “G” in christian “God” is simply because they honor no god but him, his proper name being Yahweh, Allah, or Jehovah. the proper use of course being they worship The God Yahweh, Allah, or Jehovah. i’m sure most of you have noted so far that i rarely use caps when typing, but as far as the written use for me (or in a document) i worship many gods but when naming comes i always name my Gods…
    as to the point of the article, i would agree with some of the others. the solitary practitioner “is part of the work” a large part, yes a lot of the time, but never the whole. the title says it nicely “solitaries are the glue which hole paganism together” “Glue”. that i can agree with…
    for myself solitude in worship is my core. many faiths it’s the same, we are called to pray and seek counsel with our gods in private, gather for ceremony and celebrations and sometimes even grieving. we can even seek clarity from our group of peers when the way before us is cloudy.

  11. Deborah Spencer Avatar

    A quick note on “God” vs. “god” – I’ve been turned on to the term “GUS” = Great Universal Spirit(s). Seems to encompass all and all letters are capital.

  12. Nicolle Haines Avatar

    First i too do not capitalize god or goddess i think for me the capitol represents the Christian God. i would capitalize the individual god’s name, but not god in general. Second, i enjoyed this blog. i consider myself a solitary, but also i belong to a group of solitaries. i agree they(we) Are the glue. Each of us as a single unit brings a different thought to the group and through that individualism we function so well as a whole.

  13. kenneth Avatar

    I find most people who spend any real length of time on a pagan path will walk some of that as a solitary. We should prepare for that and embrace it, and recognize it as a mode of engagement that has its own challenges and rewards. I’ve spent time in a traditional coven, time as a solitary, and currently, time in what might be considered a hybrid sort of arrangement.

  14. Cosette Paneque Avatar

    In my community, I don’t know a single solitary. I know people who are not in covens, but every solitary I know belongs to something such as ADF, CUUPS, COG, an internet community, or just a small friendly circle of magickal friends. And it is covens and other groups – including collectives of solitaries – that are the glue of my community. These are the ones organizing our Meetups, our Pagan Pride days, and our festivals, and who are pursuing clergy training and providing handfastings and other rites of passage.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      What a valuable insight, @jupiterfirelyte:disqus — thank you for sharing it here. As a blogger I sometimes make statements that can’t possibly true in every case, and I appreciate you showing us an example of how covens (or collectives of solitaries — I really like that term) hold things together.

      Again, thank you for this!

  15. Daniel SnowKestral Avatar
    Daniel SnowKestral

    I think that each of us, in our own way as a Solitary Practitioner, is a preserver of the Path we walk—whether it is Wicca, Druidry, Reconstructionism, Heatheny, Kemeticism, etc.
    Given time, effort, practice, and dedication, when our Path(s) are walked, it becomes a truth in the world via personal experience, invested with time and energy all our own.
    I am, for the most part, a solitary practitioner, but have, through the years, gathered with those for celebrating the seasonal festivals, etc. There are, most times, about three of us who gather and share a cohesive soul friendship. I write my own ceremonial material, meditate, and live my Way (The Fairy Faith/Druidry) as best I can at any given moment.
    The Fey Way’s embracing of diversity and difference, and the realization of it, has opened my eyes to the mysteries and wonders of my own heart of being. Not just by myself, but with those aforementioned. And solitary need not ever be confused with a sense of loneliness. Although, there are times when fellowship has just as much to offer as does being solirary
    I have felt a grand sense of unity not just with other solitary practitioners, but also with the tides of the earth, cosmos, and Otherworld. And through it all, I have found, too, that simplicity in practice, for me, has its own elegance.

  16. Celeste Somethingsomething Avatar

    I became a solitary practitioner/pagan/wiccan over 26 years ago. There wasn’t much choice then, as groups were hard find in my small town, and the internet was not around. Now, I am an ADF member, living in an area where there is a tight and well organized Pagan, Heathen, polytheist community. I’m very fortunate, and I love my new community. I hope always to have this experience, but if I had to be solitary again, I would take with me something from all of these people, and cherish how they’ve all touched my life. 🙂

  17. Rory Avatar

    “God” as capitalized is a proper noun, referring in English pretty exclusively to the monotheistic Judeo-Christian deity. I’ve seen many Wiccan duo-theists who will capitalize Goddess or The God or The Horned God or The Great Goddess or whatnot, but even there I have rarely seen the male deity referred to without an article and/or qualifying adjective.

    Onto the other, one can be a practitioner of a tradition alone or by oneself, but one cannot be the only member of a group or congregation. I only see words like “priest” or “priestess” making sense within a group or congregation, and eclectic solo practitioners are more like witches or wizards or shamans or somesuch.

    The idea of an elect which exists and may or may not congregate on the physical plane was explored fairly extensively by George Watson MacGregor-Reid with the Church of the Universal Bond and the Ancient Druid Order, but the formation of physical, terrestrial groups such as Golden Dawn, AOD, OBOD and ADF are a very different thing. Bylaws and membership dues exist for a reason, but the idea of any “unified religious body” is wishful thinking, “more aspirational than operational.”

    Most pagans are by choice or disposition unsuited to stable, large-group worship of the sort valorized by the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly there is little evidence in the lore for such groupthink or lockstep unity of purpose. Specific cults and observances existed, but were hardly standardized and constantly in flux.

    As Isaac or Oberon or someone else once said: “We worship in the manner of our ancient ancestors, making it up as we go along.”

  18. Kilmrnock Avatar

    Well i started out solitary , was that way for the first 8 to ten yrs of my pagan journey. then was part of a mixed coven until it imploded , the normal stuff. Then solitary again for aprox 3 yrs at that time i was a solitary CR[finding my way] , then found and jioned ADF , also now deeper on my CR journey have jioned a CR based faith , but maintain ADF membership to have commerodery and fellowship w/ fellow Celtic pagans .At this point i belong to a local ADF grove . I enjoy the power and fellowship of group ritual over a solitary practice , holds more for me personaly . i now consider myself Sinnsreachd/ADF druid Warrior .Having spent my pagan journey as a solitary and as a coven/grove member,about half and half , for me atleast i prefer being a grove/group member . We are all individuals and must must find what works best for each of us.i personaly am not a loner ……….the group experience is what works best for me , the closeness and freindships w/ my grovemates , the power of a group ritual .in essence to some extent i still practice as a solitary in many ways w/ my daily practice as a CR based pagan .Me being CR based my Wife is an eclectic Witch , but our practices are close enough so we can celibrate together . She is solitary , works for her ……..likes it that way. Kilm

    1. Kilmrnock Avatar

      I just want to clearify my points a wee bit . For me my ancestry is quite important . i have always concidered myself a Celtic pagan as is my ancestry Celtic. My path naturaly morphed to a CR based faith . As paganism is a very indivualist religion we are allowed to find our own place within it .Being in a Grove /Coven based faith doesnot make me of anyone else less individualistic , we have just found the path or place for us , just as others find that being solitary is best for them .Just being pagan and out of the broom closet in itself takes alot of guts , a willingness to be different from the social norms .

  19. WhiteBirch Avatar

    Well for starters, I usually do not capitalize “gods” or “goddesses”. “God” tends to mean the Abrahamic-One-God, and “God and Goddess” tends to mean the duotheistic Wiccan deities. I’m a harder polytheist than that, and I like to use that style choice to make the distinction: I’m referring to distinct individual entities not a big-G God of which my small-g gods are subordinates, counterfeits, or aspects.

    As for being solitary… I’m solitary by circumstance, and not by choice. I live in rural Maine where community is somewhat hard to come by and I’m semi-broom-closeted out of familial necessity, so I’m glad there’s place in Pagandom for solitaries like me… but… I often don’t feel supported or taken seriously because of it. There’s a general sense that solitaries are not serious, lack commitment, or are too ashamed to show our faces, or that we’re too lazy to do the work of training with a group, so we dally forever on the 101 level and never learn beyond that. There’s an element of truth to that, perhaps, but I hope it doesn’t apply to me, and I know that it certainly isn’t universal.

    Admittedly, finding my path has been an interesting ride and I’m not sure I’m typical among solitaries, but being solitary is not what I would choose given the option. I like to feel like I’m something larger than myself. I like structure, I like liturgy and I’m not actually opposed to set doctrine or practice, provided there’s some room for individuation within it… I actually really prefer that to the eclecticism that’s the “stereotypical” solitary path.

    I actually joined ADF myself about two months ago, and I’m not entirely sure it’s going to be the place I land forever, but I am so far absorbing the structure and study, and the connection I feel — for the first time in a long time — to an organization beyond myself, and a shared system of worship. It’s something I’ve missed a lot.

    1. Kilmrnock Avatar

      white Burch …………i too was a solitary Druid , you may want to look into ADF groves nearby your home . Most ADF groves follow a specific Indo European faith or more clearly ethnicity as thier center. As a Celt i found a Celtic Centered grove about an hour from where i live . The ADF website has a Grove locator , that will show you groves that are nearby and what their cultural center is . I live in Northern De ………….my grove is in Baltimore Md a little over an hour away , not a hard commute at all and a great group of people . Gathering with a like minded group of people to do ritual is wonderful . Kilm

      1. WhiteBirch Avatar

        I wish I could… the nearest ADF grove to me is multiple hours away. I’m in central Maine, and I believe the closest is in NH, which is a good 3 hour trek at best. That’s a little farther than I can go, regularly, though I might be able to get down there once in a while.

    2. Eran Rathan Avatar

      Hello to another solitary Mainer (I’m in the Bangor area).

      For me, I get my ‘community fix’ from going with my wife to her church (laid-back, LGBQA-friendly Methodists), and doing community-service stuff – I have no use for the sermons, but the people are nice, and Pastor Joan is very cool – everyone there knows I’m not christian, and its not a big deal. When their religious stuff is happening, I work in the kitchen, or watch the children in the nursery: Hospitality and Service are requirements for following the Aesir.

      My other issue with being part of the pagan ‘community’ is that far too many of them that I’ve met have been, well, really flaky. If you cannot get your own life together, what is there to make me think you can organize a meaningful ritual? I run into the same thing with a lot of SCAdians as well (and there is a fair amount of overlap there). I don’t want to dress up when I do ritual (beyond ‘dressing nicely’), because the medieval (and terrible pseudo-medieval) garb belongs to the SCA – my religion I live all the time. (On a side note, if you are going to do medieval garb, at least do it right – there are LOTS of websites out there, and lots of books, on actual medieval garb – there is no reason to be dressed like an extra from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ or ‘Xena’.)

      as far as the ‘capitalization’ issue, I capitalize individual gods, but not general ‘gods’. I do capitalize personal pronouns of those gods, as a sign of respect. “‘God’ isn’t a name, its a job description.”

      1. WhiteBirch Avatar

        Hello from Waldo County! 😉

        I’m tempted to try the UUs but I don’t know, my mother’s boss goes to one of the local UU churches and I don’t know which one. Since keeping the peace in my family is one thing that’s not negotiable right now I’d rather not run into her there. Methodists aren’t a bad option though! I wonder if there’s a progressive congregation around? .

        1. Eran Rathan Avatar

          It REALLY depends on the congregation and pastor, though – I’m lucky in that being very close to the University of Maine, they are rather progressive and open – but I’ve heard a number of horror stories from other areas, including some from Pastor Joan. When she came back from the National Convocation, she was spitting mad because of the BS some of the more regressive groups within the Methodists (like the church in St. Louis that refused to let a black couple get married in there).

          Depending on what part of Waldo County you are in, you might want to check out the Unity Union Church in Unity – they are Methodists (and pretty cool people: a lot of them help out at the Common Ground Fair).

        2. ErynneRose Avatar

          Hello from Kennebec County!

  20. Shadow Avatar

    I am a Solitary, mostly by choice but also partly due to circumstance. I do feel some sense of unity with other Solitaries in my area, we have a strong core group who attends both a monthly moot and a monthly study group. These people are also my friends, we support each other and respect each others differences. I also feel some sense of distance as well. Many of the people I interact with follow some kind of Wiccan based path, which is completely different from my own, and this can often make it hard for me to relate to the things they say/do/believe in.

    I am currently working on becoming more involved with the online community but so far it seems united in some places, fractured in others. This is probably normal with any big community with many, many, many differences of opinion however.

  21. Dáire Hobbs Avatar

    Jumping ahead before I even read the rest. My take on the grammatical conundrum: God is a proper name, the name of the god of Abraham, and so is capitalized. Without the capital, god refers to a god or goddess in the generic. I don’t think we should ever see Gods. Unless Yahweh/Allah/Jehovah gets multiple personality disorder…

  22. AnantaAndroscoggin Avatar

    I’m pretty much doomed to being a solitary, not by preference, but more by having an undesirable personality, and a physical presence which leaves me feeling (as the villagers run away screaming — so to speak) that people take one look at me and begin to wonder just “Why would anybody put clothing on a cave bear?”

    As I typed elsewhere recently, trying out the advice from “how to win friends” types, to pretend to be someone I’m not, took only a few short weeks to bring me near a homicidal state.

    Having set out on these pathways around 1970-71, I didn’t meet another Pagan until about 1978, a sort-of Kemetic themed group with a sociopath for a High Priestess. After finally getting shut of them (about 1981) it wasn’t until 1998 that I met any other Pagans.

    Although I can type on websites, foræ, blogs, etc., and have had no trouble speaking up in my part-time attendance at the local Community College, I recently found I could not recall the last time I had an actual conversation with anybody.

    Regardless of my studies, my praxis, or my occasional epiphanies and other realizations, I’m pretty sure I have little to no effect on anything outside my house.

  23. C.S. MacCath Avatar
    C.S. MacCath

    Ironically (or perhaps synchronistically) I’ve been thinking about the Wasteland experience this afternoon as it’s often described by OBODies. I’ve been Pagan for twenty-seven years, and in that time I’ve been part of groups and led groups, but more often than not, I’ve been a solitary practitioner. And while I do think that my solitary experience has led me down paths to deeper spiritual understanding, I’ve also found it isolating.

    In the beginning, I wasn’t a solitary practitioner by choice. In my early twenties, I had many Pagan friends and was either part of a group or part of a community. But I’ve moved around quite a bit since then, and I’ve either lived in places where there were few Pagans or I haven’t found the community as welcoming as I would have hoped. As someone who was Pagan before the Internet, I sometimes wonder if our cyber-communities are substituting for local communities in unhealthy ways, leaving us content to be together online but unwilling to do the hard work of taking sabbats and meals together. I’m certainly guilty of that. In the last two years that I’ve lived in Atlantic Canada, I’ve been heavily involved in the Scottish Gaelic community here and working on writing projects. So though I know there’s a community locally, and I’ve exchanged an email or two with a few of its members, I haven’t had the time to attend public rituals or annual gatherings. But I sometimes think the truth is that I haven’t *made* the time the way I might have when I was a younger Pagan.

    Anyway, after so many years, my solitude has worn me down. In the beginning, I grew tremendously on my spiritual path. I’ve passed through the OBOD Grades, explored Heathenry and Buddhism, learned to see my animal activism as a spiritual calling and been gifted with the opportunity to live in and protect one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. But the other side of that is entropy. My understanding of the Pagan community is sometimes dated. I no longer feel sense of wonder about my spiritual path. I don’t keep a regular sabbat schedule the way I used to. I feel like a clock winding down, and I really think the answer is re-engagement (which I plan to begin doing at the next Pagan faire or public ritual opportunity).

    So yes, I believe solitary practice is crucial for the individual and for Paganism in general. But engagement is the antidote for the calcification that comes of too much solitary practice, I think, and I deeply believe that we need each other’s mindful, meaningful company.

  24. Anne Newkirk Niven Avatar
    Anne Newkirk Niven

    Here, here, Teo: Although I started in a coven, and had my formative experiences as a Pagan in a group setting, I’ve been a solitary for over 25 years. Thanks for noting our contribution to the whole.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Anne, for showing the wider community how one person can create a great and lasting impact on the whole.

      1. Anne Newkirk Niven Avatar
        Anne Newkirk Niven

        A gracious response, my dear, and highly appreciated. But I would be extremely remiss not to mention my Partner-in-Publishing, my husband (and web guru at PaganSquare, et al) Alan Niven, and to say that literally hundreds, if not thousands of contributors that have made our projects possible. (Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of supportive readers over the past quarter-century.)

  25. Helen Avatar

    “Earth mother, star mother,

    You who are called by a thousand names,

    May all remember we are cells in your body and dance

    You are the grain and the loaf that sustains us each day,

    And as you are patient with our struggles to learn

    So shall we be patient with ourselves and each other.

    We are radiant light and sacred dark -the balance-

    You are the embrace that heartens

    And the freedom beyond fear.

    Within you we are born, we grow, live, and die –

    You bring us around the circle to rebirth,

    Within us you dance

    Singing the Living Tradition (UUA Hymnal) #524,

  26. Skye Avatar

    Being disabled, quite honestly my community is the internet – it would be nice if I could go out into the forest whenever I wanted to and camp and all that sort of thing but hm, wheelchairs, and sleeping on the ground when every joint aches. Not so possible! Being I live in the UK, my own version of paganism since it’s not Druidic is extremely rare – loads o’ druids here, but not many Heathen/Yoruba/Native American folks! So I have to more or less be a force of one.

    Being able to check with other folk online and enter into dialogue is great – but I do find that pagan folks (well, people in general, really) think that folks can get to gatherings and that physical gatherings are “real” work and everything else is just not as real because it’s not in the middle of a forest. But – and I speak for myself and a few others I know – there are pagans who are chronically ill, disabled, or otherwise unable to Go Out Into The World regularly which is exactly why they are solitary – not so much by choice, but by circumstance. Some of the most gifted people I know and who have taught me much rarely get to interact and share with others as they quite literally are unable to do all the “proper” pagan things like go out into nature, find groups, or attend gatherings even to bounce ideas off one another; and I think that’s a big shame and a big failing especially when some pagans claim to be all about community and so on, but they can’t find the time to arrange more accessible gatherings or even go out of their way to help people get to them.

    I would stress this with any collection of pagans (and, people in general) is to make more effort to connect with people who may be less able to do more physical get togethers or meetings – to make an effort to not state that the only TRUE pagan is the type who goes out into Nature regularly; for some of us that just isn’t possible. Sometimes the internet is all we have, and it’s worth remembering that and making more of an effort to use that technology. It may not seem as “woo” as standing in a candle-lit forest chanting, but I’ve done perfectly good trancework over chat programmes on my computer!

    For me as an animist and shamany/pagany-wozzit, my church is where I’m standing (or sitting, or lying down). Making any sort of practice more accessible for all is often a huge step (like this blog, huzzah for it!) – and I’d like to see it more implemented. It’s not a lesser form of Work just because there’s less mud and leaves involved.

    1. Tara "Masery" Miller Avatar

      Skye, this is a very important topic you’ve brought up. I am also disabled and a solitaire. Teo’s post made me think about how much solitaires impact our friends, families, and local community or online community. Just by talking about our values, such as the importance of healthy ecosystems, sustainability, and human civility, we are influencing society. We may not be gathering with groups out in the woods but our attitudes toward others, online and off, is part of the interconnection of everything.

      Teo, thanks for acknowledging the solitaries. Please allow me to let your readers know about my blog, The Staff of Asclepius, which is in the Pagan Channel her on Patheos. It’s for Pagans with disabilities and developmental differences.

  27. Simon Bransby Avatar

    I am a solitary. I have no set Tradition, I have no coven. What I do have is a diverse library, a well-stocked workspace, and strong instincts. Practical Sorcery is my main Talent, along with Sigil work and Divination.

    Strangely, there are many in my town who identify as Pagan, yet precious few who actually practice magick at all (and when they do, fewer still have any idea what they’re doing). My sense of connection doesn’t come from people, it comes from something else: the scratch of a fresh quill pen on hand-made paper, the smell of bones and fur and spices, the sizzle and heavy scent of blood on a hot coal mixing with strange powders and resins…these things are older than Man. These things are my solace and pride.

    For love of candle light, I forsook the sun. For love of secrets, I left the schoolrooms and pulpits of the ignorant, where knowledge is made vulgar.
    For the joy of Being, I left the security of Seeming.
    I tore out the fearful civilized heart, and replaced it with flame and shadow, blood and bones and the barbarian chants of our shaggy ancestors.
    I finally have peace.

  28. Sophia Catherine Avatar
    Sophia Catherine

    I’m not solitary in an OBOD sense, but I’m thinking of joining ADF, and then I’d have to be. I’m fine with that. Paganism is a solitary faith for many people for many reasons. What about people who’d like to be part of ADF grove but live outside America? Or disabled people? Lots of reasons people are solitary.

  29. George McGeorge Avatar
    George McGeorge

    Well, to start out, I do believe that it should be “gods” not “Gods”. “God” is a proper noun, the most common modern name for the Christian creator deity. In the lowercase “god” is just a descriptive noun. So, moving on =)

    I believe it is important to note that the work of the Solitary is the work of the community”

    Two things here. One, I think it’s only fair and realistic to say “is part of the work”. Two, and more importantly for me, I guess I’m not as sold on the spiritual reality of “pagan community” as you seem to be in this post. When I go to a larger pagan event, it’s often hard for me to find any one thing that binds our community together philosophically, spiritually, or cosmologically. You’re talking about a unified religious body and compare us as such to Christianity, but even with all of the major differences in Christian opinion, they still have the Bible and they still have Jesus.

    You mention a “body of practitioners” and that we all could be the Body of the Mother, which sounds beautiful in theory. But I never feel more disconnected to other Pagans than when I go to a Pagan ritual and for cakes and ale I’m served dollar store apple juice in styrofoam cups with vanilla wafers from Wal-Mart. In my religion, the one I practice, I don’t think it’s right to pay lip service to a worship of the planet while killing her at the same time. That’s not my faith. It’s not my practice.

    That’s not to say that other faiths and communities don’t have similiar disagreements and issues. But I know for me that when I look at the almost overwhelmingly diverse group of people that call themselves Pagan, or some variant therein, I end up having trouble seeing what brought all of these people together in the first place. I agree that there’s a community, I’m just not so certain that it’s religion or spirit that binds this community together.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for the comment, George. I’m glad to see you a part of this conversation.

      I understand the exact grammar around keeping “god” lowercase, but there are some who argue that capitalizing the word when referring to deities you worship is a sign of respect. They might say that the Gods, in Their power, grant us favor (rather than “gods” and “their” — you see what I mean?). Do you see any value in such a practice?

      I would suggest that we are all solitaries, to a degree. The work of the heart is always a solitary act, is it not? Some take the knowledge gained through their solitary practice and bring it to their group, and others do not. But we each experience some aspect of our religious lives in solitude.

      I can understand your dilema around Pagan gatherins. I dont think you’re alone in that. Perhaps the idea of a “Body” is easier to grasp when you’re thinking about individual traditions. That might be a better place to start. ADF, for example, might do well to think of itself as a spiritual body, for example.

      Are there any groups with whom you feel you have that kind of spiritual connection?

      1. George McGeorge Avatar
        George McGeorge

        Thanks for having us! I imagine I came out a big shorter and curmudgeonly than I meant to in those first couple lines, sorry. I can certainly understand why people do it, and I honestly don’t begrudge people their capital G gods. However, in my own writing and practice, that capital letter is still typically reserved for proper names and any pronouns that follow a name. If ever referring to the collective deities that I worship as, I would still say “gods” as I would in reference to gods that I don’t actively worship or even when speaking of mythology, as I believe that the word “god” as a noun, when not used as a proper name, should retain some sense of objectivity, meaning that I don’t believe it’s necessarily right for me to capitalize “gods” when referring to my worship and not capitalize it when referring to yours. If that makes any sense. Overall though, I admit, it’s not something I think about very often.

        And I certainly agree with the rest of your points. All of my deepest, most heartfelt work to date has always been by myself, or perhaps with a couple very close-minded friends. In no way was my comment meant to debase or devalue solitary practitioners, their practice, or their contributions. I just have to raise the question about what it is that they’re possibly contributing *to*. I admit I always get a little crease in my forehead whenever people start talking about the spirituality of the larger pagan community, because as I mentioned I just don’t see the binding similarities the way that some people do.

        Regarding individual traditions, I’ve certainly felt it before. I’ve felt enormous connection with smaller groups of like-minded folks who don’t adhere to any particular tradition, and of course I’m a member of the Brotherhood of the Phoenix, whose cosmology and mythology are incredibly close to me. I have very little doubt that I could feel it with others, too, but I think they’d be separate feelings. It’s rare that I feel like I’m a part of that greater spiritual body when I’m in a larger group of varied pagan traditions.

      2. WhiteBirch Avatar

        If I can jump in, I frequently will use capitalization like that when I’m addressing a specific god. I looked back at your Imbolc post, and saw that the small prayer/poem I left for Brigid that day included references to “Her” forge rather than “her” forge. I definitely see it as a mark of respect or even an act of worship in that situation directed to a goddess I’m actively honoring and in relationship with. I might even refer to “Gods” in a ritual or devotional context, but in general conversation, and when I’m referring to “gods” en masse rather than a specific god, I don’t. It’s not a mark of disrespect, it’s simply not a context of respect or worship when I talk about them in the abstract or academically.

        That said, I don’t think I respect ALL gods in the abstract either. There are many that I do respect, and there are others that I simply don’t know or have anything to do with. And a few I actively avoid. So I don’t want to offer them respect as a blanket act, because I don’t respect every god.

    2. C.S. MacCath Avatar
      C.S. MacCath

      “…I never feel more disconnected to other Pagans than when I go to a Pagan ritual and for cakes and ale I’m served dollar store apple juice in styrofoam cups with vanilla wafers from Wal-Mart.”

      Sin thu fhein! I completely agree. I’ve witnessed this phenomena, and it’s not my practice either. Thank you for making this point.

  30. Sarah Eccles Avatar

    I’ve been a solitary since I found paganism. While I’m not a member of ADF, I started studying Feri recently. Even then, my teacher is on the other side of an ocean. She’s got a few solitary students and she set us up with a way to contact each other and talk, which even though the contact is sporadic, is still more community than I’ve ever had. It’s pleasant, unexpectedly so. I don’t feel any less Feri for not having a coven or not being an initiate.

    Compare this to my few experiences of Heathenry, where I got the impression that a person without a Kindred was worthless. (Sometimes literally, depending on the sect.)It does seem that most people, if they do have an in-person group, still have an individual practice, which is, to all intents and purposes, solitary.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you for the comment, Sarah. I’m glad you’re a part of the dialogue here.

      If you don’t mind me asking, what is the method of communication with your fellow students? What is the medium you use (Twitter, chat-room, threaded message board, video conference, etc.)?

    2. Skye Avatar

      Ah yes, the folkish Heathens really LOVE it when I show up with my multi-racial features…being able to recite back to my seventh generation of Norwegian ancestry on the mum’s side only confuses them, bless ’em. Not all are that borderline-racist, but the few one meets can put a bad taste in the mouth.

  31. Sisterlisa Avatar

    I feel the same way about Christianity as you are describing about the pagan community. Many times, Christian groups won’t fellowship with people who don’t go to church. I gather with believers in non traditional ways, and occasionally attend a church environment, but my personal spiritual practices are what you would describe as solitary. I rarely invite someone to participate or even witness my personal spiritual practices.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      It’s great to hear from you, Lisa. Thanks for the comment.

      When you experience fellowship at church, are you sharing a common practice *in that place*, or are you gathering with people who share a common practice *outside of that place*? It’s a distinction we may not often consider.

      1. Sisterlisa Avatar

        Yes, we do share a common practice of the Lord’s Supper, which is similar to the ADF drink at the end of a ritual. I wrote about the similarities here: Also, in churches there is the worship time of music. Outside of a traditional environment, I have a practice where we invite people to our home to cook together, dine together, and develop bonds through fellowship. We also walk over to the beach to have a bonfire and usually have a guitarist there to play music. It’s a much more relaxed practice, but it has emotional and spiritual depth that we, many times, miss in a traditional service due to the buildings being closed right after church.

  32. Michael Putnam Avatar

    Hey look! I’m on the blog!But seriously, I have noticed that the Dedicant’s Path of ADF is very focused on a person with a large pagan community around them. Being from the South Georgia heart of the bible belt, I don’t have that opportunity as much as others.I enjoy what little bit of group work I get to do but the majority of my practice is centered around my wife and myself and I prefer it that way. We are kinda working our own tradition out of it and it allows for the differences in our faiths and backgrounds. I fear that a world without solitaries would be a world without non-dogmatic paganism.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Michael. I’m curious if you might expand a little what you mean by that last statement — “a world without solitaries would be a world without non-dogmatic paganism.”

      Do you think that groups encourage, by their nature, some sort of dogmatism?

      1. Michael Putnam Avatar

        To some degree, yes and no. I think that some groups breed dogmatism, even unintentionally, just because too many like-minded people run the group for too long and people stop questioning. It could easily happen in a group that follows a certain tradition, with strict order and rules, one with a closed pantheon or one that is duotheistic. But that why the solitaries and independents are important, we help larger groups by providing eyes from the outside. To my knowledge no group has yet tread that thin dogmatic ice and for all I know no group will but I do know that as soon as a group answers the question “why?” with “Because that’s how we do it, don’t question.” We’ll be there.

        1. Rob Henderson Avatar

          Having been a Senior Druid of an ADF Grove for not quite thirteen years now, I assure you that people still question why we do things, and I still answer them. The minute I stop answering is the minute they need to throw me out, far as I’m concerned.

          I’m very sorry to hear that you think the DP is tailored to people with large communities to support them. We’ve tried our best to make it possible for solitaries to do the work. I hope that whatever Teo comes up with will address whatever needs we couldn’t manage to.