My solitary experiment for the month of December has evolved in unexpected ways. It began as a way for me to focus on personal issues I was dealing with: the realization I have Asperger’s syndrome, some changes I was making in my professional life, and the need to take stock of my life and get my bearings again.
One of the unexpected outcomes of my quiet month was the realization that the people I circle with have a calling that I don’t have. We don’t talk about callings and vocations very much in Paganism. I know Pagans with a calling to midwife birth, and those with a calling to midwife death. I know Pagans whose vocation is to make soaring, melodic music. I know Pagans whose vocation is to care for children. There are Pagans whose calling is to teach. There are Pagans whose calling is to serve in the unglamorous service positions every organization, festival and conference needs.
I do not have the calling to teach. I suppose it could be argued that I do so indirectly here at Patheos, but in truth I’m exploring concepts, ideas and issues that I find fascinating, with my readers along for the ride. If I teach, it is by accident and not design.
I wish I did have a calling to teach. One of my sisters always said I would make a good history teacher. Maybe because I’m a decent story-teller. But the truth is I don’t have the patience or interest. It is simply not my vocation, not my calling and not what I was put here on earth to do.
An unfortunate by-product of that is I don’t have a lot of patience for students and teachers going through the teaching process. I’m fine with being taught by someone, but other students don’t merely annoy me, they grate on my nerves. Being part of a teaching coven means being in contact on a regular basis with people who have little to no understanding of Paganism, and varying degrees of interest, commitment and ability to learn. If you have a teaching vocation, that’s an exciting prospect. For someone like me, that’s hell on earth.
It’s not the job of any coven to change based on the needs of a single member. It’s also true that you can absolutely love a coven, it’s leaders, the tradition and practice and still not be able to commit to the vision of a coven. In such an intimate setting, that’s not something that can be avoided. While in a Christian church you can pay your tithe, sit in the back pew and avoid Sunday School, in a coven you are much more tightly bound and interconnected. There are rituals that really do require Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, and trying to create such spiritual experiences with students and elders alike can be a daunting, and sometimes uncomfortable thing.
There is this idea in Paganism that this sort of conflict needs drama. Leaving a coven is usually either done in a huff or in disdainful silence. Maybe this is partly because the ties created between coven members are strong and it’s hard to part with people with whom you have been through so much, and you dearly love. It’s one of the reasons Wiccan laws are written to minimize dispute, and there’s the old axiom that “Witches vote with their feet.”
My leaving my coven to return to solitary practice isn’t terribly dramatic. I love and appreciate them. The individual members are amazing people that I still want in my life. I’m simply not capable of participating in their calling, so rather than create conflict or be the sour Witch in the corner, I’m stepping away.
My leaving my coven for solitary practice isn’t a judgement against my tradition, or traditional Witchcraft in general. I am admittedly biased in my belief that my tradition is cream of the crop and a great resource for those seeking a traditional Witchcraft teacher. I still think traditional Witchcraft has much more to offer than most Pagans think.
I think one of the most fascinating things about returning to solitary practice is the realization that although I am, and always will be, an initiated Witch, there seems to be some small truth in the saying that you cannot be a Witch alone. Traditional Witchcraft is a mystery religion that is optimal for group practice, not solitary practice. I can’t see myself casting a circle in my tradition’s form without someone acting as Other to activate polarity.
I won’t be looking for another coven. It’s hard enough to find an active coven, much less one that is a good fit for your needs and gifts. It’s possible that at some point in the future I may talk to my teachers about returning, but for now I’m content to return to solitary practice. Perhaps I will re-ground myself in Hellenic worship and focus on creating sacred living space. Perhaps I will revisit the early days of my Pagan path and rediscover what originally drew me into this religious community.
Wherever my path leads me, I am profoundly grateful for the coven experience I have had, for the rites and lore I have been privy to, and for being part of this community. My initiation was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and I still hold those oaths as sacred and inviolate.
Paganism is often a cyclical path, and you end up finding yourself back at the place you began. As the initiation season of Imbolc is upon us, perhaps it’s only fitting I find myself back where I started: on a solitary path.