by Sylvana SilverWitch
I used to be a solitary many, many years ago now. After I moved to Seattle — away from my first priestess and coven — I looked for a new coven, thinking it would be easy to find one. In the early 70’s, there was not much pagan activity in Seattle. As I became familiar with the area and got settled, I ran into a number of people who claimed to be practicing the Craft but were not into anything like what I had been taught.
One guy I met ended up getting arrested a few years later for luring young girls into a “coven,” only to ply them with drugs and take advantage of them. I was very happy that I wasn’t taken in by his charm and promises of third degree initiation into his made-up tradition.
I read the submissions for this issue with interest because I always wonder why one would choose to be a solitary, foregoing the rich tapestry of learning and practicing with a group. I feel truly blessed to be a part of my coven, Sylvan Grove, and I wouldn’t trade the last 16 years with the evolving group for anything. As I read, I noticed a theme of misconceptions about working in a group and/or being part of a coven. Misconceptions, that is, from my point of view. Having been in a couple covens for a number of years each as well as having been a solitary for over 10 years, I feel well-equipped to address some of these issues.
Seemingly common misconceptions I have come across, and my perceptions about them are:
1. That you can just find and join a coven.
Finding covens is not easy. It’s not like we advertise in the phone book and you can simply call us up and come on over. In most cases, you cannot just join the coven the next day, week or month. It takes training, discipline and elementary knowledge to begin working with an existing group. Not to mention social skills, responsibility and basic compatibility with the tradition and the people.
2. That working alone is somehow better than working in a group.
There is a limit to how much you can learn and grow on your own. Whether it’s getting a new perspective or opinion or having support in times of need, We all need other people.
I have found value in working alone, but I can do that and still be part of a coven. We get together on the new and full moons and the Sabbats, and sometimes socially. But we don’t all live together. We have separate lives.
Also, I have found nothing to be as wonderfully challenging, stimulating and rewarding as working magick with a group of intelligent, inquisitive, bold and progressive people. The coven I am now HPS of has some of the brightest and most amazing people I have ever come across in the Craft. The energy we generate when we do magick is palpable. We are a focused and powerful entity and our magick works well because of that.
3. That groups follow some “Sacred Book of Shadows” that was passed down from Old Gerald, and that they duplicate the rituals absolutely religiously.
This is true in very few covens I have been exposed to. More often, when a written tradition hands down a book of shadows, it is passed from the HP or HPS to the initiate. Initiates then expand on or change what they do to suit themselves. Very few covens, in my experience, go by the letter of the book for every ritual. In fact, most of the people I have done ritual with are artistic, creative witches and have written and performed some remarkable rituals. Maybe that’s a comment on who I tend to gravitate to, but it can’t be only that after all these years.
4. That groups don’t allow for individual personal creativity.
If my coven is any indication, this cannot be true. Andy recently wrote a paper for the Sylvan Outer Grove class and in it he mentioned the Sylvan Grove Random Moon Generatorä in which we look at what astrological sign the sun and moon are in and what that means. With this information and group consensus about what we want or need at the time, we decide what magick to do. I know other covens invent rituals as they go — during several years as the New and Full Moon coordinator for a Northwest pagan organization, I watched it in action.
5. That they somehow won’t “fit in” to a group.
This is one of the most obvious fallacies I have heard expressed. Anyone can fit in if they find the right group or coven. It does take some social skills to work with others successfully, but a coven is a lot like a family. Everyone does not get along all the time, everyone does not always agree. There are conflicts from time to time, but we are committed to working things out.
It is important to find common ground in philosophies and styles of working, but you don’t have to agree with everything or like all things about someone to work magick successfully with them. If you find people you like and are compatible with, and you like the tradition, a year should be long enough to figure out whether you can commit to a long term working relationship.
Also, people come and go as part of the natural order of things. Everyone grows at their own rate. You don’t have to dedicate the rest of your life to a coven. If it doesn’t work for you in the long term, you can always ask to be released from your obligations.
6. That people are “solitaries” when they aren’t a formal part of a coven, even though they work with some group or even just one other person on a regular basis.
Solitary implies alone. My personal definition of a solitary is a person who does not work with, or belong to, a group. If you are working magick regularly with a coven or group, whether or not you are formally dedicated to the group, in my opinion you are not a solitary.
To find an appropriate coven or group, you must be persistent. Keep your eyes and ears open. Go to whatever public rituals you can attend. Take classes on different traditions if they are available in your area; if not, read books on different traditions to find what you most resonate with. My coven only advertises the Outer Grove class in one issue of the paper per year and there is a deadline to get into the class.
When you do find a group you are interested in, ask if you may attend something that might be appropriate. If you get invited to a ritual, ask what you can bring or contribute. Make yourself useful, help out where and when you can. Be on time. Be good listener. Keep an open mind. Remember, you are asking to become a student — don’t come across as if you already know it all. Be open to letting others get to know you and let your interest be known. If in doubt, ask!
In the Sylvan tradition, you must ask many times before you are invited to be part of the inner circle. This assures us that you are serious and committed; that’s what we are looking for.
Good luck finding a coven, if you want to be a part of one. If you do join one, you will find the group magickal experience to be profoundly rewarding, fascinating and an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth beyond compare. Blessed be.