The choice to remain a solitary practitioner or join a magickal group, coven or lodge is a very personal matter. Both offer benefits and detriments. Even if you consider yourself to be a solitary practitioner, there will be celebrations and stages in your development that will generate a desire to share, commune and connect. Similarly, those who choose to join a group will have specific times in their path of journey where they may wish to celebrate and/or practice in private; leaving group work behind.
Many pagans choose to walk a Solitary path. In former years this could be a very lonely, albeit a fulfilling one. We are fortunate to be on the Path at this particular time as there are many festivals and open events that both solitary and group affiliated members can attend. Meet-up Groups that have a pagan flavor are in abundance throughout the United States and the opportunity to interact without the deeper commitment of joining any organization has never been more accessible.
For some, group work and the structure needed to have things run smoothly is too restricting and limiting. For others, jobs, lifestyles or family obligations prevent the individual from attending group functions (there is usually a minimum requirement of events throughout the year that a group member would be expected to attend, unless there are emergencies), and this creates stress for both the group and the member. If a ritual at 2:00am is all you can easily fit into your schedule, most groups will not be accommodating to that and the pressures of having to fulfill attendance obligations can often sour the group experience.
Those who work as solitary practitioners often develop a very creative outlook that is largely self-directed. This is primarily because everything they do ritually or devotionally is generally self-generated and created and therefore they become quite adept at improvising. Working alone also guarantees that everything will be done at your own pace, in your own way and ultimately makes you solely responsible for your own experience, success and failures. Many prefer this freedom to connect to their spirituality by creating their own traditions and ways of offering up devotion to those deity and spiritual beings they commune with.
Depending on the Tradition you are interested in joining there will generally be a specific length of time and protocol specified to facilitate the orientation process. Within our coven and Tradition we require at minimum a six-month “getting to know you” period where the prospective dedicant (newly dedicated member) attends open events and interacts with the other members of the coven and Tradition. Other groups accept members immediately and are less structured in their process of fully integrating you into the group and/or specific Tradition and still others have a lengthy process of education and training and when and if you are felt to be an acceptable candidate you are then invited to join as a member of the group.
Working within a group provides opportunity for direct sharing, access to those who are more experienced than you and the feeling of an energetic community and bonds to those who are your spiritual family. You will also have greater opportunity to network and meet others if the group you select holds open or sister events in collaboration with others in the Tradition, Coven or Lodge. Ritual work becomes a group effort in which you are able to be simply the participant and are able to open yourself in a deeper way since you are not the sole person responsible for the workings at hand. It provides the ability to see how others structure their practice and exchange ideas and suggestions about different approaches and subtleties. Now, of course, these are all things a solitary practitioner can experience in an open ritual; but the depth and openness that is shared between those within a group often occurs at those times when you are setting up or preparing for ritual before guests arrive or sitting in a group- only social event.
Some considerations you should have as you decide on what group is the best fit:
The group you select to petition for membership should offer a stable and fair structure of spiritual progress with resources to further and enhance your personal growth. Working within the group should feel like a spiritual family and these should be people that you trust to see you at your best and your worst. The energetic connection that you weave with this group of people will strengthen and build as you continue to work together and it is a very intimate relationship, that requires respect between all of membership.
You should never feel pressured to do anything that you do not consider to be safe or is coercive in nature. Unfortunately, not all groups are ethical in their actions and offer up empty promises of the gifting of great powers and knowledge of the mysteries in exchange for sexual, monetary or other favors. Some traditions do work skyclad (naked) and perform sex magick as part of their magickal rites, but do so with the consent of all concerned and are up front from the very beginning, ensuring that everyone is on board. Bottom line is- if it doesn’t feel right to you and is not in accord with your beliefs you will probably not make much spiritual headway.
The leadership of the group should be people who live by example those teachings that they have been entrusted to pass along. There should be a comfortable exchange between leadership and membership such that any discord, or misunderstandings can be discussed and resolved in an ethical, intelligent and mature manner. Respect is key here, on both sides. Respect that leadership has the best interest of the group, Tradition and its members always in sight. And, respect that membership will be supportive and helpful in maintaining a positive working environment and good intent for those they work with.
There should be encouragement of all members within the group to excel and progress in their magickal studies at a pace that will provide challenge but also allow for life events to take priority as needed. And, although healthy and constructive criticism are great motivators there should never be an ill-intended push or encouragement towards unhealthy competition for recognition, roles or initiations among members. There will be many times when you will feel challenged unjustly and perhaps even feel as though you are not progressing in the way or at the speed at which you feel you should. A good barometer is to step back from the situation for a moment and ask yourself if you are just annoyed at the inconvenience or is there something truly and viably wrong.
It has been my experience that frequently the people who are meant to become members of our group, find their way to us through a synchronistic moment. They happen to be in the right place at the right time, find our website and decide to come to an open event or become interested through a friend who is already a member. Don’t be afraid to be selective. Take the time that you need to make an informed decision and never allow yourself to be pressured into joining a group. If a group is that desperate for new members, there are most likely other areas in which they will exert or force their will on the existing members- the number one “no-no” in pagan philosophy and ethics.
The bottom line is that if the group is a viable and healthy one, they will want to take their time in getting to know more about the potential members who come knocking on their door, and if the fit is right there is no need to hurry matters. Neither your nor their interest in having you join them will diminish or lessen. If it does, perhaps it was not the place for you after all. The commitment to a group should be entered with the thought that this will be a place of working and growing for several years. There is no short track to magickal mastery and those who frequently leave and join groups, as well as groups who have a fast moving revolving door usually do not stand the test of time and longevity.
A Timely Choice
Just as all of life’s experiences change and flow as you change and grow in years and time, the decision to remain solitary or join a group will follow its own meandering course as well. Many start as Solitary workers; come to a crossroads where the progress they require includes working with others in a committed way, and when the lessons are integrated go back to Solitary practice. This is the nature of all spiritual growth regardless of tradition.
The start of your journey is begun of your own accord and decisions about how and in which direction it moves are formulated by you and you alone. As you move along the path of your making there will come a point in the road where the need to offer the mysteries learned in a broader and more communal sense rises to the surface. The yearning to share and exchange this wisdom with like-minded people and the security of feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself is the gentle rise of the hill ahead that offers no glimpse of what lay on the other side. You reach the summit of this path and begin the process of gathering to yourself all of the outer influences, interactions, joys and sorrows you have experienced. You take in new sights from this higher vantage point. These spread out before you in panoramic view. And, as the choices blur and thin in detail in the vastness of what can be, you look around and see that you have returned to the space of standing alone and quiet in your inner sanctum; new choices ahead and new paths to walk. And, so the cycle begins anew.
It doesn’t really matter whether you choose to join a group or remain a solitary practitioner. The important thing is that you continue your practice. That you seek out the resources you are guided to when and where you are led. And, when the time is right, you gather with like- minded individuals as one in celebration of the Pagan Path.
Blessings on your journey!