Howling Into the Wind: Group v. Solo

Over the past few months, I have read several bloggers talking about where our modern-day Spirituality is headed: individual practice. Seemingly, there are more Pagans that are striding into their Spirituality alone. Without groups. Alone. Exploring and developing their Spiritual practices (I still dislike this phrasing) on their own. There is a lot of dislike and skepticism being placed on this individual process by Pagans that have long championed the group concept. Now before everyone gets completely ramped up into the whole argument of Solitary v. Group perspective, let’s take a step back.

I have been in both camps. I started out in the Group perspective. I learned the basic concepts, processes, and ritual elements while I was there. I have a lot of thanks and gratitude towards the people who helped me learn material and concepts that were foreign to me at the time. However, after eight years, I found myself needed to strike out on my own. Now, I am a part of a larger group (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids), but my daily practice (::cringing:: There’s got to be a better term) is completely my own. Thankfully, OBOD understands that both aspects can be part of an individual’s Spiritual needs, and not be in conflict. So, there’s now hardcore friction between the points – at least not that I have encountered. However, I do have to acknowledge that my experiences may be the outlier.

Is it bad to be on your own with your own Spirituality? There are those that are in groups that will point out that self-propelled Spirituality can assist in building Pagans through “bad decisions” or “poor understanding of the basics.” There seems to be an even deeper concurrence that self-propelled Spirituality develops what is demeaningly referred to as “fluffy-bunny” Pagans. Essentially, these types of Pagans don’t add up to what others feel Pagans should be. These fluffy-bunny Pagans just don’t seem to be up to the required hardcore element that these others feel the lowest bar of Paganism should reach. Thus, these fluffy-bunny Pagans are met with an attitude of “children just playing at being Pagan.”

For many solo Pagans (::cringe:: an even more klutzy phrasing), striking out on your own removes you from what they feel is a “cloning process” that occurs within groups. Everyone does the same thing. Everyone dresses the same. Any step away from the ruling concept of processes, dress, etiquette, etc. etc. is met with disdain and risks perceived banishment. Be like everyone else or be removed. Thus, the solo Pagans strike out on their own, to feel more at ease with what they do. They are the “masters/mistresses” of their own Spiritual perspective. No one tells them what to do. Their battle cry is “freedom!” versus the constant chants of “conform!” from the other side.

Now, both of those descriptions are extreme perspectives. There is a lot of middle ground to be had, as well as a metric ton of overlap. But the two extremes are better at defining the major differences. As I’ve noted before, I have feet in both camps. So do a lot of other Pagan folk out there. So, trying to relay these differences gets very muddy unless you deal in extremes.

So, which is better? Where should the new Pagan stand for their starting point on their neophyte Path? Is this new Path of individualism within Pagan Spirituality going to fundamentally change Paganism as we know it? Are we standing on the precipice of a cliff that will potentially destroy the seriousness of Paganism?

Don’t shake your head and state that these questions seem silly. I’ve heard, and read, these very questions being set out for discussion. Which is better? Where should you start? Well, I can’t tell you that. I would encourage the neophyte Pagan to look into both camps and see which appeals to them. Neither is bad. All of it hinges on what works for the individual in question. So, I can’t really say I would have a definitive answer for you, the individual reading this. I know the answer for myself, but that’s not going to be helpful for anyone else. Your choice, your decision.

Now, I come to the more difficult aspect. Is this new rush towards solitary (ugh…another unhelpful descriptive) Spirituality going to water-down the Paganism we all know? Will this move destroy Paganism as we know it – essentially becoming a cocoon to a new Paganism that will evolve soon, and put all of our groups into a place of being unnecessary? Well, I would have to say no. This seemingly “new” move towards Solitary Spirituality isn’t new at all. I remember the 1980s, when I started into Paganism. Many of the people I encountered within Paganism were solo Pagans. Not of desire, but out of necessity. Groups of Pagans would tend to live closer together, thus making gathering easier. With not much available communication beyond one’s local area, the further you were from others, the more likely your Pagan practice was as a party of one. So I would posit that this “new” movement towards solo practice is more likely a cycle within Paganism itself. In the future, I would assume that there will be a push back towards being a part of a group rather than being on your own. Of course, I’m not a Sociologist, nor am I an expert on the Sociological aspects of the wider Pagan community. I’m merely making my own guess known publicly.

So, is our collective, modern-day Paganism going to change? Well, I can tell you that today’s Paganism is far different than the Paganism I started with in the 1980s. So, my answer would be “yes” – things will change. And it will change enough that I will likely not be able to recognize it if I could jump into a time machine and move forward a few decades. Our collective society changes. Our Paganism will change with it. For better or worse, it will happen. Knowing that, I find the “debate” of Solo Paganism v. Group Paganism to not have much relevance. Arguments can be made about which style is better, which style is “more appropriate.” In the end, it all falls to an individual choice. For me, I prefer my feet in both camps. My personal daily Paganism is Solo because it fits my approach to my Gods. My wider Paganism includes the Group element because I am still a part of my wider Pagan community. I am not always in synchronous agreement with my fellow Druids or Pagans. But that doesn’t exclude me from either respective grouping. It merely means that there is a difference of opinion and/or perspective.

Others will have a difference of opinion over all of this. Their difference is not wrong. Nor is mine. We merely see the world from a different vantage point around the fire. To place that concept into proper perspective, I offer this. Have four people sit directly opposite from one another on the line of a circle. Give them pen and paper. Then set a coke can directly in the middle. Ask them each to provide a description of what they see. They can only describe what they see. You will find that those diametrically across from one another will provide wildly different descriptions. Those next to one another will have many similarities in what they see. However, none of the descriptions will be the same. Yet they see the same coke can. Differences in perspective come from one’s vantage point. This is why I see validity in groups and in solo Spirituality. I’m not sure that this helps to explain where I am in this entire Group V. Solo argument, debate, difference…whatever you want to call it.

I cannot and will not tell people which option is better for them. You are your own individual. What appeals to you is what appeals to you. “Just be yourself” is about the best advice that I can give. Be true to you. For some, that can be frustrating to hear. I completely understand. But I am no Oracle. The only person that I truly have answers for is myself. I can offer advice, if asked. The weight of that advice…is up to you. But I would caution you against seeing me as some kind of “expert” with the “absolute” truth. I’m just me.

–Tommy /|\

2 thoughts on “Howling Into the Wind: Group v. Solo

  1. It’s taken me a couple of days to comment, lol. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but I’m glad I did because what you’re saying is relevant in an oblique way to a book I just finished, which was Elaine Pagel’s The Gnostic Gospels. Interestingly enough, early Christianity had these same questions…the gnostic Christians contended that the faith necessitates more individual, personal study and devotion, and so they had little use or desire for authorities. The orthodox Christians (which became the RCC as we came to know it) railed against the idea, asserting devotees must all practice the same, affirm the same viewpoint, practice in groups, led by authority figures.

    It was really a fascinating book and I learned a great deal.

    Perhaps these debates about solo vs. group practice are simply growing pains, a sign that paganism (in all it’s many forms and flavors) is healthy and growing?

    Anyway, those are my thoughts in this moment. 🤗


  2. I love this topic. I can’t think of a good term to use, but I do think there can be another category to describe a form of practice other than a binary I:0 (on:off for non-techies) alone:group practice? I could see a space for those that may practice alone, but rely on friends, mentors, and experiences from any variety of practices for input and sharing; or for those that would normally consider themselves to be group practitioners, but again, occasionally reach outside of the standard circle. I’d go as far as to say that simply reading this blog pulls one out of the I:0 model. I was in a practice at one time where we were not allowed to read materials from anyone other than the Guru and I’ve had periods of practice that I didn’t listen to anyone other than myself. So, I may identify as a group practitioner for a period of time and a solo practitioner for another period. Great thread, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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