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A couple weeks ago I wrote about creating the Solitary Druid Fellowship, an extension of ADF designed to serve the broader community of solitary Pagans and Druids by providing them with a shared liturgical practice. I’m currently in discussion with the Clergy Council of ADF to work out the final details of the site launch (sign up here to be notified), and I’m spending a lot of time mulling over what it means to practice in solitude.

At the same time I’m also preparing to take part in an ADF grove ritual here in Denver. I’ve been asked to be the Bard, so I’m learning new songs, rearranging old chants, and trying to envision how to best use my musicality in the context of a group ritual.

The truth is, I find comfort in solitary work. When you do ritual alone, you are working with the agreements you have made in your own heart; agreements that you’ve made with yourself, perhaps with your gods, spirits or ancestors. These agreements cover what you believe about who you are, about who or what the gods are, and about your role in the cosmos. You make these agreements to believe, to suspend belief, or to practice your devotion. The agreements made by the solitary practitioner need never be put up for a vote, judged by a governing body, or scrutinized by committee.

With group work, though, agreements are a different beast.

Consensus must be reached in group, and there are politics to contend with. The needs of the many must be considered, as should be the overall welfare of the group. The agreements one makes in her heart are still her own, but they cannot be treated as law, doctrine, or as “the way it must be.” They have to be held up against the agreements everyone else has made.

Discerning how to do that can be difficult, especially when the agreements other people have made seem to be so different from your own.

You think,

But they’re talking about the gods like the gods are their best friends…

Or,

They’re talking about the gods like the gods are complete strangers…

Or,

They’re talking about the gods like the gods are judges, overseers, politicians, warriors, or any other purely human thing.

Or even,

When are they going to talk about something that’s relevant to me?

No matter what agreement you’ve made, what decision you’ve reached about what religion means to you, when you participate in a ritual led by others you will have to to examine those agreements, perhaps even question their validity. Questioning your agreements can be a good thing, though. If you’ve made the agreement that your truth is The Truth, for example, or that your way is The Way, it might be time to do a little questioning.

Photo by Alexander Henning Drachmann

When I wrote the first Solitary Druid Fellowship liturgy (which should be made public on the week of the Solstice), I made a point of keeping certain aspects of the ritual neutral. I indicated places in the ritual where one could substitute the names of their gods, or the language specific to their hearth culture. I wrote in sections that encourage people to use their creativity in order to create a meaningful solitary rite.

But one person’s neutrality is another’s loaded gun.

We do the best we can, I guess. We write the rituals or prepare the songs in accordance with the agreements we’ve made in our heart, and we try to remember the shared agreements we’ve made with one another.

Shared agreements! Yes — that’s key, I think. What are the shared agreements we’ve made with one another? One has to ask that of herself before participating in a group ritual, or even a non-religious group gathering. What are things we’ve decided to collectively hold up as true, relevant, meaningful, appropriate, necessary? These agreements we make should be — no, they are — at the core of what we do. The question is, are we having open dialogue about what those agreements look like?

Please take a moment to think about the work you’ve done in groups — whether that be in a grove, a coven, a church or a community group. Think about your shared agreements. How did you reach them? Were they a point of contention, or did they bring the group together?

How much of our shared agreements are assumed, passed down, unexamined? When do our shared agreements need to be mended, or amended? When do they need to be re-written altogether? How often are we, in group, holding up these agreements to the light? Are we looking for cracks, beauty marks, frayed edges, or are we seeing only a projection of the agreements made in our own heart?

What are some of your shared agreements?