“You hate Pagans working in groups, huh?”
“Being solo means that you aren’t understanding the correct way to do things.”
“You’re not a ‘good’ Pagan when you don’t have someone to mentor you along the way.”
“Working your Spirituality alone is the Path to doing things absolutely wrong.”
This is just some of the stuff I’ve heard over the last fifteen-plus years. When I run afoul of the Pagan-Groups-Mafia, some iteration of this gets thrown in my face. How I have no idea of how to be a Pagan because I don’t espouse group work is the only “correct” way to handle one’s Spirituality. I usually find this back-and-forth stuff to be unhelpful, at best. I will; however, reiterate one thing concerning all of this before I start scratching the surface a little harder: many of the group-oriented Pagans that I know are not in this category. Those that I have met that are a part of a Grove, Coven or what have you…they tend to be respectful, and sometimes inquisitive towards a non-group approach to a Spiritual path.
So why talk about this at all? If its such a minor derivative set of folks, why bring about this focus? Well, while folks like this are a minor sub-set, they are quite vocal, and can sometimes be quite aggressive towards solo Pagans. In a series of belief systems grouped together under a wide umbrella, that can be quite distressing to those that encounter those with such a strong zeal. What I offer here is not the quintessential “survival” manual for such moments. Instead, I am offering some of my own perspectives on what occurs, and a few tips on how I’ve dealt with these folks in the past.
HATING THOSE WORKING IN GROUPS
I have been accused of this numerous times, including in the very not-so-distant past. Truth be told…I have a hard time hating ANYBODY. It’s a super strong emotion that requires a lot of energy. I’m quite lazy by nature. So, I can’t work up the concept of hate towards anyone. You’re laughing, but I am quite serious. Its far easier for me (and more conducive to my own mental health) to just point myself to disagreeing with others’ perspectives and letting it sit there. If there’s a desire from across the way to escalate things further…I’ve found it easier to just walk away. Escalating the emotions involved is just not a direction I want to head. I disagree with group work – for me at this point in my own Spiritual path. However, I started by working in a coven. This was where I learned some of the basic basics that apply to Wicca, but also have a cross pollination into Druidry as well. None of that killed me, made me hate working in groups, or created a distrust of what others will say about Spiritual paths. In the past, I have counseled fledgling Pagans that finding a group dynamic that works for them will provide a more conducive environment to learning and understanding some of the basic fundamentals of what Paganism is about. If you have a desire to go the solo route later on, the material you learn in a group will be formative to designing elements of a solo practice. Groups are not something to hate or fear.
ON YOUR OWN
Well, there’s no real measure to say that you should spend [x] amount of time in a group. In fact, you don’t have to spend a single second in a group to achieve what you want. How hard doing it alone is depends on you and you alone. Looking back, I’m glad I got my basic foundation within the bounds of a group. However, I can understand if that doesn’t work for everyone. After all, we all process and understand information differently. What works for me will not necessarily work for someone else.
But what about the drama that goes with every group? The power struggles, the personality differences, the awkward dating issues within a group that ultimately arise? Well, I’ve been through all of that. Yes, a lot of that stuff sucks. And it’s a bad moment when it takes place. BUT…. That happens in any group. Even Christians go through these dynamics issues within their congregations. That’s a bad example…but its easiest to understand. I promise you, that shit takes place in military squadrons and commands. I’d even bet that you can find these dynamics playing out in a professional sports team, except that its kept behind the scenes to avoid bad publicity which generates even more drama with team management and ownership. Drama is going to happen no matter where you have people gathering together. I’m not going to offer advice how to get beyond the drama factor because…as I said…what works for one person does not necessarily work for another.
If you’re dedicated enough to work within a group, you will find ways to make the dynamic work. Trust me, a group dynamic is like a large polycule relationship. It takes just as much communication to make a group work as it does to make a polyamorous (or even a monogamous) relationship work.
GOING SOLO IS NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER (NOR EASY)
You can go solo to get away from the difficult dynamics or if you prefer to be the sole individual in charge. But being solo has its own difficulties as well. You have no one to really bounce ideas off of. There’s a tendency to not have other Pagans to just socialize. Humans are naturally social creatures. Sometimes you have no choice but to go solo. You’re in a small town and are apparently the only Pagan for miles around. But if you do have the choice, think carefully about what you are wanting to do.
I live in a small “city” (Hillsboro is not a city no matter what it wants to claim) between the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the city of Waco. I am a solo Pagan on my own. The nearest Pagans to me are over an hour of driving (one-way) away. And those are the ones that I know of. I do most things on my own. The only interaction I tend to have with other Pagans is at an OBOD retreat in Louisiana, which hasn’t been held for the last two years because of COVID-19. Being a solo Pagan has been very lonely, except for the internet. But even internet friendships can only hold back the lonely feelings for so long. As I said, human beings are social creatures. Researching topics is a solo effort, which might be better (and provide a lot more information) when tasks are broken up between others. Plus group discussions on research always yields many different perspectives since there are more than just two eyes on the situation. Everything you have within a group will fall on a singular pair of shoulders – yours. That’s a lot more work than you think.
I get excoriated a lot because of my championing individuality within a Spiritual practice. The are a lot of folks that come to the assumption that I hate group-work and loathe the people that do group-work. However, they do so because they do not know where my Spiritual path started or how much group-work has been essential to my laying down and creating my own foundational aspects to my own Spiritual practice (ugh, I dislike that term). Instead of responding back in angry tones, bringing back the same hardcore angry energy, I’ve found its better to ground, center, and remain true to myself. Group work is not bad. Its not evil. Its not being spoon-fed material. Like any repository of knowledge, you get out of it what you put into it. But its not for everyone. And the only way that you will know if it is or isn’t…is to try it for yourself. For me, it was a critical part of me foundation later on my Spiritual path – as a solo Pagan. Again, its not bad or evil. Its just not for everyone.