In modern Paganism and Wicca, there are far more people who practice as solitaries than there are people who have joined covens or established traditions. Why is this? It's partly because most people who want to learn about Paganism develop the interest long before they meet a coven or trad that they're interested in joining. It's also because even if you decide you want to be part of a coven or group, it's not always easy to find one. Wiccan covens and Pagan groups don't exactly have a listing in the Yellow Pages, so you may have five covens right up the street from you, and you'd never know it.
Certainly, practicing as a solitary can have its rewards. After all, you can make your own guidelines and follow your own set of ethics. Worship can be done at your convenience, rather than according to a schedule dictated by others. As a solitary, you're really under no obligation to anyone but yourself and your gods. Many people spend their entire lives practicing as solitaries, and never feel a need to join a coven or group.
Occasionally, you may find some drawbacks to practicing as a solitary Pagan or Wiccan. You might sometimes feel alone, like you have no one to network with or share ideas with. You may at some point feel like you've stagnated -- it's hard to figure out what the next step is if you don't have someone to compare notes. Sometimes, it's nice to just get feedback from like-minded people -- someone who can help you when you're wondering about what to do.
If you've decided to practice as a solitary -- either temporarily, or in the long-term -- here are some tips on how to have a successful experience:
•Try to establish a daily routine. It's easy to let your studies go by the wayside if you're all by yourself, so establishing a daily routine will help you keep on task. Whether your routine includes meditation, reading, ritual work, or whatever, try to do something each day that helps you work towards achieving your spiritual studies.
•Write things down. Many people choose to keep a Book of Shadows, or BOS, to chronicle their magical studies. This is important for a variety of reasons. First, it allows you to document what you've tried and done, as well as what works and doesn't work for you. Secondly, by writing down your rituals, prayers, or spellwork, you're laying the foundation for your tradition. You can go back and repeat things that you find to be useful later one. Finally, it's important to keep track of what you do magically and spiritually because as people, we evolve. The person you are now is not the same person you were ten years ago, and it's healthy for us to be able to look back and see where we were, and how far we've come.
•Get out and meet people. Just because you've chosen to practice as a solitary doesn't mean you should never come into contact with other Pagans or Wiccans. Most metropolitan areas -- and a lot of smaller communities -- have informal Pagan groups that get together regularly. This offers solitaries a chance to network and chat with each other, without having to form specific organized groups. Take advantage of resources like Witchvox and Meetup to see what's in your area. If there's nothing around you, consider starting a study group of your own for like-minded folks.
•Ask questions. Let's face it, we all need to start somewhere. If your read or hear something and you want to know more about it, ask. If something isn't clear, or contradicts something you've already read, ask. Don't accept everything at face value, and remember that just because one person had a particular experience doesn't mean that you'll have an identical experience. Also, keep in mind that just because you read something in a book doesn't necessarily mean it's valid -- learn to ask whether a resource is worth using or not. Don't be afraid to be a skeptic sometimes.
•Don't ever stop learning. Ask other people in the Pagan community -- either online, or in real life -- for recommendations about books and other resources. If you read a book that you enjoy, check the back for a bibliography and see what other books that author suggests. Remember that learning can take place by reading, but it can also develop from personal experience, and from speaking with other people involved in Paganism.
Covens Vs. Solitary Practice
It's an argument that comes up frequently in the Wiccan and Pagan community. There's one school of thought that says "only a witch can make a witch," which means you must be initiated and part of a coven -- typically a lineaged one -- before you can claim to be Wiccan, Pagan, or any other variety thereof. There's another camp that says anyone can be a witch or Pagan, and what matters more than initiation and coven connections is what's in your heart and soul. Will people ever agree on these things?
It's pretty unlikely.
However, as you begin your studies of Wicca and Paganism, you may at some point be offered the opportunity to join a group. You may also find that you really prefer working alone. Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of covens vs. solitary practice, so that when the time comes for you to make a decision, you can do so with some knowledge under your belt.
Working as a Solitary
Many people begin their Pagan or Wiccan studies by working as a solitary. This happens for a number of reasons, but the most common one is that quite simply, most people develop an interest in Paganism long before they meet a coven they're interested in joining. There are benefits to working alone, to be sure, but it also has its drawbacks.
• You can make your own rules, and follow your own set of ethics
• You can worship at your convenience, rather than following a schedule involving several people
• You're free to work with anyone you like, even if they're a member of another tradition
• You're not under any obligation to anyone but yourself and your deities
• You may find yourself eventually limited in the type and quantity of knowledge you obtain
• It's often hard for solitaries to network with other Pagans and Wiccans
• Sometimes, it's just nice to hang out with other people that believe as you do
• If you're looking to grow and learn spiritually, you may feel at some point you'd like a mentor or teacher, which you don't have as a solitary
Working In a Group
Many Pagans and Wiccans find that they enjoy group practice. There is a certain energy that can be experienced in a group that you just don’t experience as a solitary practitioner, and there are plenty of benefits to being in a coven. On the other hand, when you work with a coven or group, there's a whole new set of dynamics involved, which can create its own set of problems.
• Working in a group gives you the benefit of learning from people who may have more experience and knowledge than you
• When you're part of a group, you have more opportunities to network and meet others in the greater Pagan community
• Coven work typically is more structured and formal, and rituals are usually more elaborate, which some people find beneficial to their studies
• A coven usually has a pre-determined course of study, so rather than just randomly reading books, you'll find yourself following specific lesson plans as you move towards various degrees of initiation
• Coven work typically has to be scheduled ahead of time, making sure everyone is available
• If someone is on a power trip, a coven has the potential to be a miserable experience for everyone else involved
• When you're part of a coven, there are numerous relationships going on, so there can be issues if one person decides to cause problems
• If you join an existing coven, chances are good that they're already set in their ways, and may not be willing to make accommodations to meet your needs
Whether or not you decide to practice as a solitary or as part of a coven is a personal decision. Covens can be hard to find in some areas, but it is possible to do - just be aware that you may have to make some effort and put some work into the process. If you choose instead to be a solitary practitioner, there is nothing wrong with that either. Regardless, choose the path that is the right one for you.