I am not good with solitary rituals. I’m not a bad solitary Witch per say; even during group-less periods I maintain a relationship with the gods, interact with the natural world, and sometimes even engage in a bit of spell-work. What I’m not good with are rituals when acting as a Witch alone. I’ve celebrated all of one sabbat by my lonesome, and I began my Pagan journey as a solitary, and practiced that way for over two years.
The dictionary over at Merriam-Webster defines ritual as:
1: the established form for a ceremony; specifically : the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2 a : ritual observance; specifically : a system of rites
b : a ceremonial act or action
c : an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner
In coven situations I’m good with rituals. The rites of both my tradition and my house-coven have very specific ways of doing things; in both groups I’m very much following a specific “system of rites.” When alone I certainly perform “ceremonial actions,” but I tend not to think of spontaneous one-off events as ritual. They feel more like prayer, or perhaps observances. For instance I have a garden in my back yard and when I’m out there I often find myself talking to the gods or the Earth herself. (Thankfully none of my neighbors are too close to me, if someone actually heard me talking to the gods they’d most likely question my sanity.) It’s all so quick and nonchalant that I’d never think of those moments as ritual.
During my years as a solitary I engaged in a lot of those solitary observances, and they were the core of my spirituality. “Ritual” meant going outside for a walk under the full moon and wrapping myself in the breeze. It was about quiet moments lost in thought near the Mississippi River wondering about this world and the next. It never involved casting a circle or lighting a candle, or even petitioning the gods. I certainly felt the presence of deity during some of those moments, but my relationships with the gods were different back then. In some ways we were still “feeling each other out,” me trying to make sense of Paganism, and them trying to make sense of a perhaps too earnest former Young Republican.
Some of my issues with solitary ritual comes from how its written about in books and online. There are certain things I just don’t feel comfortable doing while I’m by myself, and speaking out-loud is one of those things. I also feel goofy ringing a bell or raising a chalice for a toast. A few mutterings under my breath to the gods are one thing, reading from a script by myself is another. The idea of calling the quarters and casting a circle while in my empty office nearly feels absurd to me. That space is already so full of energy, both personal and divine, there’s no need to add to it.
While I may have an aversion to formal ritual all by my lonesome I’ve recently decided to try and get back in touch with my early practice of observances. One of the things I feel most out of touch with are local deities, the goddesses and gods of place. Pan is certainly capable of going anywhere and being everywhere if he so chooses, but there are other entities out there not a part of mythology. At a recent Norse-flavored ritual I listened to a friend call to the Landvættir or land wights, the gods of the small (and sometimes not so small) places. I’ve always believed that building Pagan community should start in my (or your) own backyard; perhaps a renewed commitment to smaller acts of devotion should involve the entities and energies in my own backyard.
Yesterday I visited Pinnacles National Park, a beautiful, scrubby patch of hills that contain the remnants of an old volcano. With my brother busy taking pictures, and leaving me alone, the time seemed right to try and get in touch with the world around me. I had originally imagined attempting to perform some sort of Wiccan Ritual in miniature, but the old mental-blocks didn’t allow that happen. Besides, it was all pretty sacred to begin with. The four elements were all around me . . . the sun, the breeze, the earth beneath my feet . . . . . water was mostly absent but the park signs assured me that there was groundwater underneath the empty creek beds. I didn’t dig down to check, but I could feel it near by. Calling to those energies didn’t seem necessary, they were calling to me!
After a particularly rough stretch of trail I stopped to rest in a small patch of shade. I closed my eyes for just a second and reached out with all my senses, trying to touch anything and everything around me. When I opened my eyes a few moments later I could feel a presence looking down on me. Scanning the rock formations in front of me I saw something that looked very much like the face of a Green Man peeking through the stone. Eyes, a nose, a mouth, it was all very clear to me and after my small moment with “Father” I felt reinvigorated and completely safe. Around the next bend I was stopped by another cluster of rocks . . . . this time I gasped “Mother” perhaps even out-loud. What I perceived as a giant Venus of Willendorf welcomed me into her hills with a cosmic embrace. A little further down the trail I stopped to watch them look at each other, separated only by the bluest of blue skies.
I will never be successful with formal ritual on my own, but if yesterday was any sort of indication, I’m off to a good start observing things by myself. When the sacred surrounds you all it takes is that one right moment to feel the divine. We often talk about the “veil being thin” at Samhain, but the veil is always thin where the gods dwell.
All of these photos are from my journey to Pinnacles yesterday. The first is the rock formation I’ve equated with the Venus of Willendorf. Pinnacles has some gorgeous caves. Here I was in the womb of the Mother with the light of the Sky-Father filling some of her space. Also, there were bats screeching in the background and one flew about a foot from my face. The third is “Father” with a doodle below showing where I perceive his eyes, nose, and mouth to be. The last one is obviously of them staring at one another.