Over the years I’ve heard much debate (and even argument) over the up and down sides of being a solitary practitioner as opposed to working in some sort of group, whether it’s defined as a coven or not. Of course, some paths tend to be made more for group work than for someone practicing alone, a state which then is often considered just a stop-gap until you find another group to hook up with. While other paths are more conductive to solitary practice, falling into alignment with the thought that the villages witches and cunning folk of old were loners, outsiders even. Still, a few paths seem to fall somewhere between the two, with those who tend to practice on their lonesome occasionally getting together with birds of a like solitary feather for special occasions.
I’ve known those who fall into all of the these categories and, after hearing their tales of triumph and woe, have come to consider that all have their good and bad points.
A person who is primarily solitary has no one else to rely on magickally speaking and no one to sound a warning bell should they be in danger of falling over the edge of sanity or good sense. However, they also can be made stronger by having just themselves to count on. They can avoid the in-fighting and politics that often plague group work, but it may take them longer to get where they are going because there is less of a power base to build with. The only knowledge they have is their own–and any spirits or Gods they connect to–but they also don’t have to fight to get themselves heard and the knowledge that they work with can be as personal as they like it to be. The symbols and rituals don’t have to work with anyone else’s worldview.
A person who operates out of a group has more folks they can rely upon, both to aid in magickal spells and in advice and support in all aspects of their lives. Of course, that can also be bad if they start to use that group as a crutch or if the group–or the Priest or Priestess–begin demanding undue amounts of control over their lives. Also, in a tight-knit group, everyone else’s problems can become their problem. But they also have more of a resource of potential problem-solvers because of the wide background and talents that each person can bring to the mix. When a group works well and is focused on a singular goal it can work wonders. Conversely, when it is broken it can become a hell on earth for those involved.
But what about the idea of solitaries who sometimes come together for a specific goal or event? Personally, that’s what I feel the village witch or cunning folk were all about. For the most part, they practiced alone and in service to their local community. I mean, how many witches can a really tiny village support anyway? Yet, as needed and when the call went out, these outsiders gathered in the wild lands beyond the boundaries of the villages, in the land beyond the boundaries of the Seen world, and did what work as was required of them. As a group. Probably not always easily, for each was used to being their own boss, but knowing it needed to be done and that they were the ones to do it.
I’ve heard the comment more than once that getting Pagans or Witches together to do something is akin to “herding cats.” Yet, it must be pointed out, that cats do gather into working groups with a structure. They’re called “prides” and even domestic cats will form them under certain circumstances. The purpose of a pride is to protect the group as a whole. Yet, when such prides do form, a hierarchy tends to come with it–alpha males and alpha females and so on down. It’s not just the behavior of certain felines either for primates are even more known to create strong social hierarchies and structures.
Considering that human beings are as much social creatures as other primates as a rule and, in groups, the jostling for position is entirely natural and so pretty damn inevitable, perhaps the real issue is not that some Witches crave being solitary and some do not, but that in any group made up of Witches, Pagans, and Cunning Folk the issues that arise do so because there are just too many Alphas in the cauldron. After all, part of being a Witch is having a strong sense of self, will, and opinions galore, and not being afraid to express them.
Maybe, the problem then–if problem it is–is that too many of us want to be King or Queen of the castle. That, being natural outsiders in what might be termed “ordinary society,” we find it hard to work and play nice with others. Most especially others of our kind. We’re all used to getting our own way, or putting our will and strength behind trying very hard to do so. Yet, if we can find something we believe in enough (more than getting our own way) we can still come together to work for a greater good. If we can come anywhere close to agreeing on what that is.
Sometimes. When the moon is just right. Or Mercury isn’t retrograde. Or the runes or tarot cards aren’t telling you to stay in tonight. Sometimes. When the pride needs taking care of…us cats all together, making a big noise and trying to get things right, even if we hiss and spit at each other a lot in the process.
© 2009, Veronica Cummer