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Sustaining Growth: for solitary (and all other) seekers

Very few of us grew up in Pagan families. We mostly came to this Path as adults, and followed it a while before we decided to seek Wiccan training and Initiation. Even then, it may have taken more months -- even years -- to find the right teacher or group. While we searched, we certainly continued to study, to practice the religion as best we could, and to reflect on what that study and practice were bringing to our lives. Our spiritual development could not wait for us to connect with others. In short, just about every Witch started out as a solitary.

 Here's a more radical way of saying it: covens support our personal growth along this Path, making it easier and safer, but that's all they can do. They cannot do the work to us or for us. If you aren't actively cultivating your own spirituality, coven participation is just a pleasant social activity. Personal psycho-spiritual growth is of necessity a personal responsibility. So coveners and Initiates, as long as they are alive and growing, are always seekers too.

 Solitary or covener, here are some things we all can do to keep growing:

Take care of your secular life first:

Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology, described a hierarchy of human needs. According to his theory, higher needs emerge only after the more basic ones are satisfied. So, the person who is homeless or hungry does not have a lot of energy to spare for creating intimate relationships; nor the lonely person for opening to the Spirit.

 This is not an absolute. Extraordinary people have achieved amazing things under desperately harsh conditions. Still it's far easier, when possible, to explore from a safe, stable base. Take care of yourself.

Survival, safety and affiliation are the first three items on Maslow's hierarchy.

Next, learn the techniques of spirituality:

People learning to cook soon discover that certain basic tools and techniques are useful for any cuisine. Similarly, some introspective practices will be useful to your growth in any religion. All seekers, everywhere, must learn to hear that still, small voice within. Three good, widely-applicable methods are meditation, dreamwork, and journal keeping.

 Divination, in contrast, is far more frequently used by Witches and Pagans than it is by other folk. Most Witches are fluent with at least one form of divination. We use divinatory methods to understand the trends and influences in our lives and the lives of those who seek our help. Learning some form of divination is excellent preparation for coven participation.

Take another good look at your birth tradition:

Try approaching your birth tradition as a serious spiritual Path, not just a family obligation or social convention. Revisit the stories and symbols you were raised with, using all the spiritual practices you've learned more recently. You may be surprised to find more juice there than you ever would have expected.

 If there was something that particularly irritated you about the religion of your birth, it's likely that others were equally annoyed. By now, people are probably working for reform from within. Look for these brave and committed people, and see whether joining with them will satisfy you. If you still choose to practice Witchcraft, do so as an affirmative and joyous choice, not just an act of rebellion.

 Stay with your birth tradition if you possibly can. Changing your religion may cause you serious psychological dislocation. You imprinted on those stories, symbols and ritual forms as a child. They carry the power of habit and the comfort of familiarity. Also, if you leave your birth tradition, you may find yourself painfully estranged from family or old friends.

 Worse, if you become a Pagan or Witch, some people will think you are a "cultist" or a devil worshipper. Others may consider you superstitious or mentally unbalanced. You may suffer religious discrimination on your job. In some areas, you may even face physical danger. Before you take these risks, consider them deeply.

 Unless both need and love draw you to the Old Ways, unless the call comes from deep within your heart, best stay where you began.

Form a relationship with the Moon

This is the simplest and most powerful of Wiccan practices: every evening, when you see the Moon for the first time, stand still for just a bit. Gaze at the Moon. Take one long, deep, slow breath. Kiss your hand to Her in loving greeting. Silent acknowledgement is fine, or you can say a few simple words, such as "Good Evening, Lady Moon." Take no more than fifteen seconds for this.

 Do this small thing consistently and, over time, it will transform your life.

 As the months pass, you will gradually become aware of Her rhythms of waxing and waning. You may want to do something to bring your life into entrainment with that living pulse. Here are two suggestions:

 The Full Moon is the time of high tide. By tradition, inspiration is also at the height of its flow. Open to this inspirational flow by using the Full Moon as a visual focus for your meditation. A particularly Witchy practice is to meditate on the Moon's reflection, caught in a shallow bowl of water. Drink the water afterward to take the Moon's wisdom into yourself.

 Dark of the Moon is the time for cleaning out, letting go, preparing for new beginnings. As within, so without. For cleansing, try a ritual bath. Soak in a hot tub, in a dark or candlelit room. (hint: bubblebath insulates the water, so it stays warm longer.) Think about dissolving and scrubbing away the blockages or clutter in your life. Finish with a shower that rinses any clinging remainder right down the drain.

 Do both of these practices right before bed, then pay particular attention to your dreams on those nights.

Cultivate a relationship with the Earth:

We call what we do Earth Religion or Nature Religion. If it's to be real, it should be based on genuine knowledge of Mother Nature. There are many ways to get to know Her, some more accessible than others:

Explore the imaginal world

That still, small voice within is sometimes our own deepest personal wisdom. At other times, it comes from an even deeper place: the collective unconscious, the Otherworld, the realm of the Gods. Either way, these gifts of insight are often expressed in images, symbols, parables and myths. We do not take these literally, rather we ponder them deeply, meditate and dream on them, for what they teach us of meaning and value is far more important than objective fact.

 The myths and symbols that have come down through generations of indigenous faithkeepers gather the collective wisdom of a culture, distilled though generations of experience, enriched through ongoing inspiration (but also distorted sometimes by cultural prejudice and personal ulteriority). Traditional Wiccans draw primarily on the heritage of Celtic and Norse Europe. Although what we have is fragmentary, long disrupted by invading forces and often recorded only by the conquerors, it's a beginning.

 From other indigenous traditions, elsewhere in the world, in areas invaded much later, some even with unbroken continuity from tribal times to this day, we can sometimes find what seem to be the missing pieces. Other gaps, we must fill in with the work of our own creativity. We would have had to adapt our heritage anyhow, since we live in such different material and cultural circumstances.

 Where you can, go to the primary sources. Read the actual stories and poems in good, poetic translations. These will be vaguer and far more inconsistent than scholarly summaries, confusing and disturbing, but those gaps give space for your own imagination. Read them slowly. Ruminate and dream over them. Use your journal to record the images and insights that come up for you.

 A thread of myth and fantasy has always run through the literature of the West. The romantic revival of the nineteenth century was one of the direct antecedents of the neo-Pagan renascence we now enjoy. Contemporary adult fantasy literature has been called the mythology of our own time. You will find stuff to dream on in all of these.

 In addition to our heritage of cultural mythology, each of us has a stock of personal mythology: stories we were told in childhood, some of them handed down through our families. Much of this material lies deep in the unconscious mind, rarely consciously remembered. Still, these tales formed and now sustain our understanding of the world. Some still serve us well, others limit or impede our growth. A few actually hurt us. You will find a useful series of exercises for understanding and revisioning personal mythology in the book The Mythic Path by David Feinstein and Stanley Krippner (NY: Putnam, 1997). There's a tape sold along with the book, which contains the guided fantasy exercises, etc., and makes the book much more useful.

Establish or cultivate a means of creative self-expression.

An "art practice," by completing the circuit, frees the flow of Spirit. Those who persistently ignore and neglect the gifts of insight and wisdom will soon find the wellspring drying up. Instead, when we make Spirit manifest in the world of form, we show our deep selves and the Gods that we appreciate what we are given, that we take it seriously and intend to use it in Their service. Personal creativity is one of the most important -- and most accessible -- bridges between the Sacred and the secular.

 Intuition is ephemeral. It comes as images and symbols, not as plain facts. Not being literal, it cannot be well expressed in straightforward prose. Like a dream, it quickly sinks back into the unconscious mind through which it arose. If we can represent and record it, however partially, through works of art, we can ponder it longer, maybe perceive how it unfolds itself in our lives. We can share it with those we love and trust.

 To do this, you will need to learn a craft. Any craft will do: drawing, music, cooking, poetry, dance ... Even if you never thought of yourself as an artist before, put some time and work into learning the skills. As your fluency increases, so will your accuracy and freedom of expression. The book Freeing the Creative Spirit: Drawing on the Power of Art to Tap the Magic & Wisdom Within by Adriana Diaz (SanFrancisco: HarperCollins, 1992) contains a good series of exercises for releasing your creativity mostly through visual arts. There are other good books that are specific to other art forms.

 Don't worry if you never become a famous artist. The point is not to gain an adoring audience or build a professional career. What matters is that you place your personal creativity in the service of the Gods, the people and the Earth.

 If you later join a coven, the skills you learn will be one of the important gifts you bring the group. A good coven brews a richly diversified cauldron of ritual and spiritual stone soup. One member creates beautiful quarter-altars. Another leads the chants. A third is a skilled story-teller, and so it goes. By cultivating an art practice now, you make yourself ready to be a valued, contributing covener.

If you truly feel called to serve the Gods, the people and the Earth as priest/ess and Witch, nothing prevents your beginning your preparation right now. In time, you may find others to work with, elders to guide you. Remember: whether you are covener or solitary, the ultimate responsibility for your training always remains with you. And may the Gods guide your growth in Their service.

by Judy Harrow
updated: January 15, 2002; © 2002, by Judy Harrow
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