ECG Leftovers — Solo Practice Thoughts

I have been back from OBOD’s East Coast Gathering in Pennsylvania for a little under a week now. I cannot get the sights, sounds, and conversations that I encountered throughout that weekend out of my mind. I was not really involved with too many of the conversations, as I had chosen to be in the background of most things, such is my nature as a solo practitioner. But there was a single moment that still sticks in my mind.

Yes, that moment in time was Cerri Lee’s talk as I had mentioned previously. There was a lot that she talked about where ritual was concerned – the logistics, the mannerisms towards making ritual a much more robust experience. But then, she started discussing how public rituals – as well as gatherings like ECG – served another purpose for those solo practitioners: providing the experience of being in a group.

Now, I am a solo practitioner – I am really beginning to detest the term “solitairy” – by choice. I have several Pagan and Druidry groups around me. I could easily join one and get the “group experience” that many Pagans enjoy. But I enjoy being a solo practitioner – able to choose my direction from a moment’s thought, and explore. And not have to be tied at the ankle with someone else, who may not be wanting this same direction of exploration at the time. My rituals for the Wheel of the Year are done by myself with no one else involved. These are impromptu as well — utilizing the OBOD ritual schematic as a framework, but weaving in what seems and feels right at that moment. Sometimes spoken, sometimes not — its a manner and style that works best for me.
But these public gatherings provide a different element for me. I am able to watch and observe others in ritual. See how they encompass the roles they are provided. During the Alban Elfed ritual, the Queen of the Harvest strode into the center of the circle, shrugging her cloak off with an effortless motion, and strode forward with a bearing that suggested she was the Queen. Her bearing was incredible — and she had me envisioning her as the Queen. She sold me on her part in that role. And I watched and observed, seeing how she not only played her part – she channeled it. She was the Queen, the physical embodiment of that role. I watched others as well – the fluid, easy-going manner that some had. As if ritual was a natural part of who they were – whether they were in the circle or not. Their bearing was the same inside the ritual circle as it was outside. In a way, I could observe them anywhere and see their Druidry in action. Sitting at a table discussing something as mundane as a Science Fiction television show, or something as deep and personal as their observation on what the Gods and Goddesses mean to them.

Cerri Lee also made the comment that “lone wolves were few and far between.” At first, I disagreed with this comment – after all, I am that Lone Wolf that she was discussing. However, in thinking further and deeper on that – she has a valid and important point. I can definitely remain in my aspect as a solo practitioner. However, at some point in time, I need to rejoin with people that are like me:  Pagans and Druids – and not necessarily those that are also solo practitioners. After all, OBOD has become my family. My tribe. My brothers and sisters. At Gulf Coast Gathering, we all cautiously sniffed at one another – trying to get a feel for one another. At East Coast Gathering, it was like a family reunion. My tribe.

My tribe. As a solo practitioner, the idea feels a little strange to me. As someone who has been on my Bardic grade for a while, I had never really noticed that before. And it showed in the way I went about my studies. I kept looking at some of the lessons in terms of solo work, and never added in the elements of working with others or others figured into what I was doing. Now, my studies have changed somewhat – I look at both aspects, and a lot of what I was not “getting” is starting to feel natural to me. But again, as a solo Pagan, it can sometimes be a little odd feeling for me.

In a manner of speaking, its a lot like living in a third-floor apartment of a forty-floor building — and being the only person living there. Once other people start moving, you start to understand the needs of being in a community. There’s the degree of protection, but there’s more in the spirit of fellowship as well. Of knowing that if you get stuck somewhere – you need only ask for help. And as I start to truly understand all of this, as I start to realize that respect, compassion, and truly loving and caring about others in a group can be possible — my ability to respect others, to have compassion for those in need – and even those who have no respect for me — I can feel my Path changing. Expanding. Growing. And all of that brings so much more meaning into every single moment in life for me. Each moment is unique. Everything around me is changing in each moment. Some at more rapid rates than others. All of them affecting and exchanging energy with others to varying degrees. And the depth of that thought is amazingly deep for me to contemplate.

Such deep, deep waters indeed.

waterripples

Flying Solo

This weekend has definitely had a plethora of Beltane celebrations – a few of which I was invited to – none of which I accepted. I have previously discussed why I prefer my Solo Path during this time of year. Quite a few times I have heard the statements of “But you’ve not experienced a good Beltane celebration before, so you need to come join ours.” Which typically winds up with me trying to smile nicely and politely decline the offer a second time. Its this scenario that I have found is particularly maddening for an individual following a solo path. Group ritual, celebration, and study can be a wonderful thing, but…for me, at least…its not nearly as fulfilling as working solo.

What an anti-social perspective!

How elitist of you!

You have no idea what being a Pagan is all about!

::sigh:: If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard these statements hurled back at me during conversations about being a solo Pagan, I’d be able to pay my taxes from somewhere other than my work salary. However, I think its worth looking at each statement in turn – and seeing what we can glean from it. Learning about things does not always have to be rose-water and glitter. Most of the rational behind the “explanations” are going to be coming from my own personal perspective…after all, I’m a spokes-person for no one beyond myself. Essentially, I’m a kingdom of one. So when trying to apply this to other solo Pagans — be careful. You may have to make adjustments to what I say…and some may be 180-degree perspectives from my own.

Solo Pagans are Anti-Social

This is sort of an unfair statement, but it does get made about the solo Pagan from time to time. Essentially, if the solo Pagan would just be nice and talk with other Pagans – they would find no need to be solo followers of their respective Paths. You know, the old “birds of a feather…” analogy (sort of). I can seriously be anti-social with the best of them – ask anyone at work. My preference is to stay in my office, where I can get my job done. However, I am part of a community too – so I also attend little gatherings for things such as co-worker birthdays, celebrations of work anniversaries, and the occasional coffee-clutch at the gazebo out by the little pond near the parking lot. if my preference is to stay in my office, why attend these celebrations and events?  As I said before, I am part of a community. Now, that doesn’t mean I attend EVERY SINGLE EVENT that comes down the pike. If I did that, I would never get my job done. I select those times that work for me, and attend those events. The same holds true for Pagan events.

If I attended every single Pagan event that I could within the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex (and beyond), I would spend all my free-time traveling to these events, And as wonderful as that time, spent with people I know and people I don’t know yet, can be it is time that gets removed from my own personal spiritual work. So I do what I can about being in the public eye and spending time with others, while trying to insure that I can still handle my own Spiritual needs as a solo adherent. As I have stated before, I have been nudged to be far more out in the public arena, so I am learning to handle a new balance in that mixture.

You Elitist, You

This is, in my estimation, more a personal insult than anything else. Seemingly, it is provided with trajectory and air-cushioning when the hurler finds a problem with my inability to see things from their perspective or to agree with their point of view 100%. I have found the best response to statements like these is that of silence. Arguing with the individual over the correctness or incorrectness of the statement is not likely to change their mind. It creates a charged atmosphere, where insults become the bullets and artillery of mindless warfare.

However, not responding also allows the control of the perspective to be handled in only one direction. For decades, we have heard Christians splatter Pagans with claims of “Satanism”, “ritual sex with minors”, and other slanderous statements. Its far more productive, in my mind, to make a singular statement in a calm manner – and then leave the “battlefield”. So here goes…

I am far from being an elitist. As an individual who practices my beliefs, I fall under no definition where I believe a system is to be governed by an elite class or group of individuals. In fact, I believe that an individual is responsible for their own spiritual growth, and those that follow their spiritual growth through a group of individuals do so under the same mandate. Your spiritual growth is your responsibility, even when learning from others. How that classifies me as an ‘elitist’ I am unsure, and frankly am not even concerned with beyond this statement.

No Idea What Paganism is All About

Typically, once one insult does not work, the next is to go deeper. Instead of striking at who I am, the blow comes against what I know or understand. To be completely honest, this is the point where I typically tune folks out on things like this. I am far more interested in learning what I can in my own studies, than trying to tell people that they are doing it all wrong. I am a lot more receptive to people who will state:

Here’s what I learned on the topic, and the teacher/book/column/blog-post/podcast/television-show/movie/documentary/whatever that opened my mind in that way of thinking.

After all, when stated this way, someone is not condemning you for not following their particular path. Instead, they are merely sharing what worked for them, and they are not stating that it will most definitely work for you too. They are only asking that you give it a look. And there’s nothing wrong with that…

Flying Solo

I like the perspective of flying solo. Occasionally, its nice to meet others that follow a similar path – as I did during Hearthstone Grove’s Imbolc Retreat, and the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering, both earlier this year. I am looking forward to doing the same at this year’s OBOD East Coast Gathering as well. Its always wonderful to be among fellow folks on various points in their own Druidry studies – as well as those folks not on a Path of Druidry. The conversations are always fun, fascinating, and sometimes even provocative. However, none of that is going to change the fact that my little bi-plane has a cockpit for one. We can, occasionally, fly together in formation though…

Yes, I spend a lot of time reading - even when I go to the beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

I Am a Survivor – Solo Ritual vs. Group Ritual

Over the past few months, I have been stepping outside of my own bubble. Its a bit daunting, at least for me, as I have noted before in this blog. But I have also been subjected to some experiences I had never had before. Such as my first encounter with someone who has been a “fan” of my podcasting work for a few years now. A moment of sheer, inner terror for a momentary flash…but I survived, at least I think I did. ::grins:: But there are other experiences I have had that were far different. Here’s one that had me a little bemused, befuddled, and feeling somewhat awkward – from the same Brigid retreat held by Hearthstone Grove.

As a solo practitioner of my Path, its very rare that I attend group rituals. Typically when I do, the format has rarely called for an individual moment within the ritual. However, during the rituals held during the Brigid Retreat I attended earlier this year, I found myself confronted by just that, and more than once. And before I continue, let me note that I am not placing blame or anything like it on anyone other than myself — and even than its not really blame, just a “critical” observation.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 - photo by Amanda Godwin
Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin
The first time, a chalice cup was passed around, from which all were offered the chance to drink. I had watched the preparation of the cup, and knew that there was alcohol in the chalice. Being a diabetic, I knew I had to pass on drinking from it – alcohol is not a friendly thing for a diabetic. However, I was unsure if this was to be some sort of affront to my hosts. When the Chalice reached me, I held it in silence, raised it to the skies, and then handed the chalice to the next individual within the Circle. As I watched the Chalice make the rounds through the Circle, every individual drank from the Chalice, and every single individual offered up some words to Brigid or the God or Goddess of their choice. Damn I felt out of place! Worse still, I felt that I may have committed a faux pas of some sort.

At the second of the three rituals I was a part of, I knew that the Chalice would be passed again. I wondered what I should do. This time, however, there were quite a few more people who had made it into camp since the previous ritual. Even before the Chalice reached me, there were others who had made the same silent gesture I had made before. Relief! I had not committed some social error. But then, there was a curve-ball thrown my way: an offering. Oh damn! What in the Nine Hells was I going to do now??

I actually take offerings very, very serious. When I am doing a working where I encounter Crow, I take the time afterwards to offer fresh water and fresh bird seed outside in the shade of my backyard tree. As I pour fresh, cold water into the bird-bath, and as I spread seed with nine throws from my hand, I silently give thanks to Crow and hope that what I offer helps to nourish the bellies of the flock.

But that’s at home. Here I am in a Circle in ritual with a large group of folks – some of who I know, others that I don’t. No birdseed in my hand, none in my pocket, no water bottle with me. When it comes my turn, I will be offered some incense to toss into the fire, or some alcohol to pour into it. Neither offering feels “right” to me. So, I quietly shake my head when my turn is offered. I watch individual after individual step up to the fire, make a statement, and provide their offering. I stayed silent. Oh shit, certainly I have done the wrong thing here…

IMG_0199After the ritual, I waited for someone to come and pull me aside and tell me what I had done wrong. Essentially I was waiting to be scolded like a child. It never came. No one looked cross-eyed at me. No one treated me any differently than before. I breathed a sigh of relief, and made my way back to my bunk in the cabin, where I had a small baggie of birdseed sequestered within my giant plastic tub that was doing double-duty as a footlocker and a suitcase. I pulled a small handful from it, grabbed one of my last bottles of water and made my way up the hill towards a tall wind-vane. As the darkness started to come down around me, I scattered the handful of seed, and poured out some water. I took a long pull from the bottle for myself, and silently gave my thanks to my patron God for the finish of the day. The next morning, I would get up before dawn and repeat the process in a little grove of trees on the other side of the community fire.

By the time the third ritual had come around – I knew that my previous actions were perfectly fine and acceptable, so I was at a much greater ease continuing my silent acknowledgement of the moment.

Now, my purpose with this is not to put shame on the folks who put on the Retreat…I know full well, if I had brought my concerns to them, they would have put me at ease. The purpose behind this is to showcase how different ritual can be for a person who is a solo practitioner and someone who is used to doing group work. Those first moments in a ritual that one is not familiar with can (and typically is) filled with moments of trepidation and inner terror. What if I do something wrong? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I be looked upon with derision because I don’t know the “basics”? Will I be an embarrassment to my hosts?

While some of may not remember those moments – we have all been there before. And we have all survived those moments. I can say that I am a survivor…many times over…