Starting Over: Rebuilding a Solitary Practice

Starting Over: Rebuilding a Solitary Practice May 22, 2016

This is a shoebox full of some of my first tools.
This is a shoebox full of some of my first tools.

I’ve written pretty extensively about the level of work that goes into running a coven. People have this romantic idea that it’s all about embodying magical adepthood, swooping around spouting profundities, and dispensing sage advice earned through years of hardened experience. All we have to do is be our wise selves, or something.

Leadership doesn’t actually look like that from the inside.

I’m constantly negotiating schedules, worrying about how my decisions will impact both my own group and my upline, deciding how we should or shouldn’t interact with a wider Pagan community, rehearsing difficult conversations in my head, asking myself whether or not I’m just being egotistical when I assert “how it’s got to be” amongst my initiates, and imagining the future through a haze of low-grade anxiety like an awful Choose Your Own Adventure book (where everyone hates you and you spoil everything if you choose wrong).

And cleaning my house. Always cleaning my fucking house.

I don’t mean for this to sound like I’m not in love with my coven and my tradition. I think love and commitment pretty often go hand-in-hand with worry (this, coupled with my teaching job, has shown me that I could easily be one of those scary helicopter parents that school administrators hate).  But in the last couple of months, I’ve realized that practically my entire magical life has come to revolve around other people. I don’t do much for myself these days, beyond reading a book every now and then.

So I’m trying to go back in time a little and revisit those parts of a personal practice that were so important before I took on the roles that I play now. It’s a weird experience finding myself sort of at the beginning again, rebuilding.

I keep a personal altar in my bedroom, separate from anything Foxfire does. Yesterday I tore it down and set it back up slowly, one piece at a time. I reaffirmed the purpose of each item, each symbol. Altars have a way of accumulating things, and sometimes those things lose their meaning without us even realizing it. Those things had to go.

I also pulled out some of the books in my library that have been “game changers” for me. Books that altered my thinking significantly, for whatever reason, and shaped my witchcraft into what it is now. I’m going to be rereading them, and working through whatever activities they include. It’s clear that they won’t have the same impact now—and in some cases I will disagree with their content vehemently—but I think it’ll be useful to reevaluate them, just as I’ve done the items on my altar.

Two of those books are Silver RavenWolf’s To Ride a Silver Broomstick and Dianne Sylvan’s The Circle Within. I’m reading the former now, and it’s been great fun because I’ve been able to go back and read the journal I was keeping the first time I read it (it’s almost twenty years old!). Looking at how I’ve changed has been incredibly informative (which is just one reason why I think journaling is so critical).

One thing I discovered is this: I used to really, really care about the moon.

But coven meetings are dictated by the work schedules and family obligations of more than half a dozen people. The moon gets zero say. Over time, this has significantly altered the role that it plays as a symbol in my witchcraft, completely without intention. I’d like to recover that for myself.

I can remember how important certain tiny rituals and techniques used to be to me, before they got swallowed up in this big picture of training other people and Upholding Tradition. I used to have a personal devotion that I did in the mornings.  I used to make sacred art.  I used to do more exploring.

To be clear, this is my own failing. Not something inherent about group work or being part of any tradition. I wrote that blog about the false dichotomy between group practice and solitary work just as much for myself as anyone else.

It’s exciting, to feel like I can start over. It’s so easy to get so caught up in what other people are doing and forget about ourselves. For some people, that looks like running a coven or taking on students, and simply neglecting a practice beyond that. For others, it means obsessing over “the right way” and fighting about it on the Internet, at the expense of actually doing anything. For more, it means being too afraid of what others will think to ever even try something that may actually work for you.

I feel like a lot of what I’ll be doing is getting back to basics. Paying attention, building a sense of enchantment with the world, learning to listen more, talking to the gods.  I’m not going to start waking up early to do elaborate rituals before work (6 a.m. comes plenty early as it is, thanks).  I’m also not going to hold myself to yet one more schedule, one more fucking task list.  I’m building, after all.  Reevaluating.  Anyone who’s ever successfully cultivated an athletic routine can tell you that swearing to go to the gym five days a week from zero is the fastest way to fail.  In the same way, you don’t just instantly adopt a religious perspective or ritual practice.  Quality takes time.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to hit reset. Maybe it’s something we all have to do periodically in order to remember what’s important. I’ll be sure to report back.

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