Pros and Cons of Solitary Practice

Being solitary has its merits.

I’m more or less a solitary practitioner. For the first two years after I became a Heathen, I kept my religion strictly under the lid. The only interaction I had with other Pagans was on an online forum where I learned about various paths. A year after that, I became more public with my religion and actively sought out a group of Heathens in meatworld. We get together every month or so for discussions and blót. I haven’t found a more active group and even if I did, I don’t think I’d join up. Basically I’m solitary. With a couple Heathen buddies. So, here are the

PROs of being solitary:
1. You don’t have to deal with people’s bullshit. This is a HUGE one for Heathens. But also very important for Pagans of other stripes. Humans are very often petty. Humans can be judgmental and nasty and lash out at other humans because their practice is stupid or it looks stupid, or soandso people can’t do suchandsuch. You, dear solitary, don’t have to deal with any of this. You don’t have to deal with any other people. That is a blessing. You get to avoid the racists and sexists and bigots and people who criticise others’ practices for dumb reasons. Or at the very least you don’t have to deal with them in real life.

2. You don’t have anyone influencing your spiritual path. This might or might not be a good thing depending on how you look at it, but from my perspective it’s mostly good. Your spiritual life is allowed to stand on its own two feet and walk whichever way it wants. It might stumble, and fall, and get turned around in circles, but it also won’t be forced in some negative way by someone who thinks they know better (or worse, someone who is deliberately abusive). It gets to grow on its own. You can feel your way around and choose where you want it to go. You’ll have fewer influences to sift out.

3. You are protected. Whether you are out of the closet with your religion aside, there is a buffer between you and the Pagan community in general because you don’t socialise with them. You’re protected from the drama, first of all, but you’re also more in control of your religion and the way people can see you. You have more control over your public image, is what I’m saying. This can be valuable if you’re not in a place that is Pagan-friendly.

1. Not having anyone to discuss your religion with. Of course you might have friends and family you can talk about it with, if you’re lucky, whether it’s about religion in general or your religion specifically.  But if you don’t know any other Pagans in meatworld, and chances are you probably don’t because we tend to be a secretive bunch, you might feel very lost and adrift without anyone to share your concerns. Maybe you’re in a quandary about whether gods are even real or not, or in what way they’re real. It’ll be harder for you to figure it out on your own than if you have help or advice. That’s not to say it’s impossible. You also won’t have anyone to share your joys and revelations with.

2. Having no bloody clue what to do or what’s normal. Related to #1, but this can be so uncomfortable it gets its own entry. How do you do offerings? Do you even do offerings? How are you supposed to pray? Are you supposed to do something before meditating? Is it bad etiquette to do suchandsuch, or don’t They care? Am I supposed to hear gods and spirits in my head? Again, you might feel very lost, and these sorts of questions can make it very hard to even sort out a day-to-day practice.

3. Just feeling alone. You’re not the only Pagan in the world. You’re probably not the only Pagan in your area. You’re not the only person going through the troubles of the solitary. But you might feel like it. And having other people around who share the religion will remind you of that.

4. Missing out on the cultural nuances and the news. You can keep up with the religious politics and news pretty well online, I find. More about that later. But if you’ve never been in a meatworld community, you might not know how exactly, for example, a blót goes. You might not know the big names in your tradition. You might not know the people to avoid. You might not know how to pronounce a deity’s name because you’ve only ever read it.
Now that I’ve said all that, I’d also like to say that if you are solitary, and you find you need a hand, I recommend joining an online community if you haven’t already. This can alleviate a lot of your problems: needing to ask someone for advice, having questions about an experience, keeping up with the news, knowing the lay of the political land, &c.

If that’s not enough, you might try joining a group for your tradition or for more general Paganisms. Go there, meet people, ask questions, see if you like it. Get over the initial speedbumps you have and get your questions answered. At the end you can decide if it’s worth coming again, or if you’ve got all you need to feel comfortable being solitary.

As for deciding whether to be solitary or not, there are a lot of factors in choosing. Are you comfortable being on your own? Are you comfortable in a group, for that matter? Are you feeling stifled where you live because you can’t be open with your religion? Do you want more interaction? Is it safe for you to be more public with your identity? There may be other things for you to factor in, as well.