Solitary Witches

In the majority of Witchcraft traditions there is no way that an 'individual' can operate — membership in a coven is mandatory. Most traditions have a system of degrees of advancement not unlike those found is Freemasonry and other secret societies. With such a system it is necessary for a Witch to advance, within the coven, to a particular degree before being able to even cast a Circle. In order to initiate others it is necessary to attain the highest degree. As a First Degree Witch they can join with the rest of the coven in worship and in the working of magick but can do nothing alone.

Such a system is all very well, and those involved seem quite content with it. But it seems to me that an important point is being overlooked. Back in the 'old days' of the Craft, there were many Witches who lived at a far distance from any village or even from any other people at all. Yet these 'were' still Witches. They still worshiped the old gods and still worked their own magick. That, I feel, was as it should have been and as it still should be. There are one or two traditions, today, that do subscribe more directly to the old ways. In the Seax-Wica, for example, there is not the dependence on the coven situation; there is the reality of the Witch alone.

The main point here is that you should not be 'excluded' from the Wicca for such a reason. Just because you don't live anywhere near a coven; just because you don't know of anyone else with similar interests; just because you are an individualist who doesn't care to join with others these are no reasons why you should not be a Witch. So lets look at Solitary Wicca.

What are the main differences between a coven Witch and being a Solitary?

1. With a covener, the rituals are performed by a group of people; several (principally the Priest and/or Priestess) playing the parts.
As a Solitary, you do everything yourself.

2. The Coven meets in a large (usually nine foot diameter) circle.
The Solitary has a small "compact" circle.

3. The Coven use a "full complement" of tools, depending on the tradition.
The Solitary uses only what s/he feels s/he needs.

4. Coven meetings must, to an extent, be held when most convenient for the majority.
The Solitary can hold a ritual whenever s/he feels like it.

5. A Coven draws on all its members to build a Cone of Power.
A Solitary has only her/his own power to draw on.

6. A Coven has a wide variety of knowledge and specialties.
A Solitary has only her/his own knowledge and specialty.

7. A Coven is usually fairly set in its ways.
A Solitary can change with her/his moods.

8. A Coven ritual can become almost a 'production' or pageant.
A Solitary ritual can be the barest minimum of words and actions.

9. A Coven must attune itself as one.
A Solitary is one.

There are many other differences, of course, but these are enough to illustrate the point that there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a Solitary. Generally speaking, there is much more flexibility to being a Solitary, but there is also a more limited store of knowledge and magickal power on which to draw. Let me elaborate on the above points.

As a Solitary, you do everything yourself.

You can write your own rituals, just for you. But you can also adopt and adapt coven ones. As an example of what can be done, here are some of the rituals from this book (Erecting the Temple; Esbat; Cakes and Ale; Clearing the Temple), suitably modified. You can do the same sort of thing with most of the others. Compare these with the originals as you go.

Erecting the Temple

Wiccan rings the bell three times, facing east. She then takes the Altar Candle and lights the East Candle from it, saying:
"Here do I bring light and air in at the East, to illuminate my temple and bring it the breath of life."

She moves around to the south to light that candle.
"Here do I bring light and fire in at the South, to illuminate my temple and bring it warmth."

To the west:
"Here do I bring light and water in at the West, to illuminate my temple and wash it clean."

To the north:
"Here do I bring light and earth in at the North, to illuminate my temple and build it in strength."

She moves on round to the east and then back to the altar. Replacing the Altar Candle, she takes up her athame and goes again to the east. With point of athame down, she traces the Circle, directing her power into it. Returning to the altar, she rings the bell three times then places the point of her athame into the Salt, saying:
"As Salt is Life, let it purify me in all ways I may use it. Let it cleanse my body and spirit as I dedicate myself in this rite, to the glory of the God and the Goddess."

She drops three portions of Salt into the Water, saying:
"Let the Sacred Salt drive out any impurities in the Water, that I may use it throughout these rites."

She takes up the Salted Water and, starting and finishing at the east, walks around sprinkling the Circle. She then goes around again with the thurible, censing the Circle.

Back at the altar, she drops a pinch of salt into the oil and stirs it with her finger. She then anoints herself with it, saying:
"I consecrate myself in the names of the God and of the Goddess, bidding them welcome to this, my Temple."

The Witch now moves to the east and, with her athame, draws an invoking pentagram.
"All hail to the element of Air, Watchtower of the East. May it stand in strength, ever watching over this Circle."

She kisses the blade of the athame, then moves to the south, where she draws an invoking pentagram.
"All hail to the element of Fire; Watchtower of the South. May it stand in strength ever watching over my Circle."

She kisses the blade and moves to the west and draws an invoking pentagram.
"All hail to the element of Water, Watchtower of the West. May it stand in strength, ever watching over my Circle."

She kisses the blade and moves to the north, where she draws an invoking pentagram.
"All hail to the element of Earth, Watchtower of the North. May it stand in strength, ever watching over my Circle."

Kissing the blade, she returns to the altar, where she raises her athame high.
"All hail the four Quarters and all hail the Gods! I bid the Lord and Lady welcome and invite that they join with me, witnessing these rites I hold in their honor. All hail!"

She takes the goblet and pours a little wine onto the ground (or into the libation dish), then drinks, saying the names of the gods.
"Now is the Temple erected. So Mote It Be!"

Esbat

Witch: "Once more do I come to show my joy of life and re-affirm my feelings for the gods. The Lord and the Lady have been good to me. It is meet that I give thanks for all that I have. They know that I have needs and they listen to me when I call upon them. So do I thank the God and the Goddess for those favors they have bestowed upon me."

Then, in her own way, she gives her thanks and/or requests help. She then rings the bell three times and says:
"An it harm none, do what thou wilt. Thus runs the Wiccan Rede. Whatever I desire; whatever I would ask of the gods; whatever I would do; I must be assured that it will harm no one — not even myself. And as I give, so shall it return threefold. I give of myself — my life; my love — and it will be thrice rewarded. But should I send forth harm, then that too will return thrice over."

Here the Witch may sing a favorite song or chant, or play an instrument.

Witch: "Beauty and Strength are in the Lord and the Lady both. Patience and Love; Wisdom and Knowledge."

If the Esbat is taking place at either the Full or the New Moon, then the appropriate segment is inserted at this point. Otherwise go directly into the Cakes and Ale ceremony.

Cakes and Ale

Witch: "Now is it time for me to give thanks to the gods for that which sustains me. May I ever be aware of all that I owe to the gods."

She takes the goblet in her left hand and her athame in her right and slowly lowers the point of the knife into the wine, saying:
"In like fashion may male join with female, for the happiness of both. Let the fruits of union promote life. Let all be fruitful and let wealth be spread throughout all lands."

She lays down the athame and drinks from the goblet. Replacing it on the altar, she then touches the cake with the point of the athame, saying:
"This food is the blessing of the gods to my body. I partake of it freely. Let me remember always to see to it that aught that I have I share with those who have nothing."

She eats the cake, pausing to say:
"As I enjoy these gifts of the gods, let me remember that without the gods I would have nothing. So Mote It Be!"

Clearing the Temple

Witch: "As I came into my Temple in love and friendship, let me leave it the same way. Let me spread the love outward to all; sharing it with those I meet."

She raises her athame high, in salute, and says:
"Lord and Lady, my thanks to you for sharing this time with me. My thanks for watching over me; guarding and guiding my in all things. Love is the Law and Love is the Bond. Merry did I come here and Merry do I part, to merry come again. The Temple is now cleared. So Mote It Be!"

She kisses the blade of her athame.

1. The Solitary has a small, "compact" Circle.
There is no need for the large, coven-size Circle when you are working alone. One just large enough for you and the altar is all you need probably five feet in diameter would be sufficient. When 'Erecting the Temple', you would still walk all around this Circle to 'draw' it with your athame, and to sprinkle and cense it, but for addressing the four Quarters you need only turn and face the directions from your place behind the altar. When working magick, it is easier to build up power in a smaller Circle and it is generally a "cozier" feeling.

2. The Solitary uses only what s/he feel s/he needs.
You probably won't need as many tools as a coven uses. You may decide to use no more than you athame and censer. It is up to you; you have only yourself to please. Don't forget that you don't have to follow all the rituals exactly.

Examine as many traditions as you are able. See what tools they use and 'why' (it seems some groups use some items without really knowing why they do!), then decide on which ones you need. You will find traditions that use broomsticks, ankhs, wands, tridents, etc. You may even decide to add something that no one else uses — the Pecti-Wita, for example (a Solitary tradition, as it happens) use a ritual Staff which is not found elsewhere. Don't add something just for the sake of having it, or just to be different. Use something because you need to use it, because you feel more comfortable with that particular tool then with another or then without it at all.

3. The Solitary can hold a ritual whenever s/he feels like it.
A coven meets for the Sabbats and Esbats. The dates for the Esbats are fixed at the most convenient times for the majority of members. As a Solitary, you can have an Esbat whenever you feel like it. You can have Esbats three or four days in a row, or go from New Moon to Full Moon without one at all. It's up to you and how you feel. If there is a sudden emergency — perhaps a healing that needs to be done — you can get into it right away. You don't have to desperately try to contact others before you can get to work.

4. A Solitary has only her/his own power to draw on.
When working magick, a coven generates a lot of power. Working together, the total power of the whole far exceeds the sum of the parts. The Solitary can do no more then use the power s/he has. This is a fact and should be accepted. It is one of the few drawbacks to being a Solitary. But this does not mean that 'nothing' can be done! Far from it. Many Solitaries do a great deal of excellent work, drawing only on their own resources. A good parallel night be seen in boat-racing or sculling, where you have teams of eight oarsmen, four, two or single rowers. All propel their craft equally well. The only difference is the greater speeds attained by the boats with the increased numbers of oarsmen.

5. A Solitary has only her/his own knowledge and specialty.
In a coven there is an accumulation of talents. One Witch might specialize in healing, another in astrology, one in Herbalism, another in tarot reading. Once might be an excellent tool-maker, another a great calligraphist; one a winemaker and/or seamstress and another a psychic and psychometrist.

As stated, the Solitary has only her/his own knowledge available. This, then, is another disadvantage but again, one that must be accepted. There is certainly no reason why, as a Solitary, you should not be in touch with others (Wiccans and non-Wiccans) who are astrologers, tarot readers, herbalists, etc. and to call upon them for help and advice when needed. It is just that you don't have them readily to hand there in the Circle with you, available at all times.

6. A Solitary can change with her/his moods.
A Gardnerian coven rigidly follows the Gardnerian rites. A Welsh-Kelic coven rigidly follows the Welsh-Celtic rites. A Dianic coven rigidly follows the Dianic rites. This all goes without saying. Even an eclectic coven will generally settle into rites, from whatever sources, with which it feels comfortable and will stay with them. But the Solitary is free (freer even than most eclectics, if only by virtue of having only her/himself to please) to do whatever s/he likes to experiment, to change, to adopt and adapt. S/he can do elaborate, ceremonial rites on day and simple, plain, ingenuous rites the next. S/he can do Gardnerian oriented rituals one time, Welsh-Celic the next and Dianic the next. There is tremendous freedom for the Solitary, which I urge you to enjoy to the utmost. Experiment. Try different types and styles of rituals. Find those that are exactly right for you.

7. A Solitary ritual can be the barest minimum of words and actions.
This follows on from (6) above. You can enjoy a true economy of ritual if you so desire. Let me give you an example:

Erecting the Temple (Alternate)

The Witch lights the four Circle Candles from the Altar Candle and, with the athame, "draws" the Circle, directing power into it. She then sits, or kneels, before the altar and proceeds with a meditation on the elements:
(This should be familiarized — not necessarily word for word — so that it can be followed through without effort)

"You are sitting in the middle of a field. There is lush green grass all about you, with a generous scattering of bright yellow buttercups. Some distance behind you, and continuing way off to your left, a wooded rail fence, with other fields beyond it, stretches off to another distant fence, beyond which are more fields leading to the foothills of the mountains which you can see in the far distance.

A very light breeze ruffles the top of the grass and you can feel the wind's gentleness as it brushes your face. Crickets chirrup in the grass and, from the trees beyond the hedgerow, you can hear the occasional song of a bird, You feel contented, you feel at peace.

A swallow swoops down and soars low across the field not twenty feet in front of you. He wings up and away over the trees towards the distant mountains. A grasshopper lands on your knee, then almost immediately is gone again.

You get to your feet and stroll leisurely through the grass, parallel to the hedgerow. Your feet are bare and the grass lightly tickles them as you move along. You walk over to your right till you are close beside the hedge, then advance along it. Reaching out your hand as you walk, you gently brush the leaves; just catching them with your fingertips as you move along. There is a slight rise in the ground ahead of you and off to the left. You leave the hedgerow and move lightly up the hillock to stand where you can gaze about you at all the beauty that surrounds you.

Seemingly coming all the way from the distant mountains, the breeze you felt earlier is now more steady and you feel it on your face and arms. It gently ruffles the tops of the grass and causes buttercups to nod their golden heads. You stand on the hillock with your legs spread wide and slowly raise up your arms towards the sky. As you raise them, you breathe in deeply. You hold the breath for a moment, then gradually release it, bringing your arms back down to shoulder level. As you release the breath you sing out the sound "Ah" "A-a-a-a-a-a-a-h!"

A second time the wind returns, this time blowing strongly; bending the grass and stirring the hedgerow off to your side. It blows back your hair and feels warm against your cheeks. For the third time you raise your arms to the sky and cry out to the air. "A-a-a-a-a-a-a=h!" And for the third time the air replies by sending the strong, rushing wind across the fields, bending the grass before it and swirling up and around your body; tugging your hair back from your face and fluttering the robes that you wear.

As the wind dies you allow your arms to fall to you sides and stand, with head bowed, in the warmth of the sun. Breathing regularly, but deeply, you feel the strength of the sun as it shines down upon you from out of the cloudless blue sky. Slowly you life your face, with eyes closed, and bask in the radiance that encompasses you. You breathe in deeply, sensing the cleansing and purifying. As you breathe, you feel the vitality building within you, fed by those timeless flames.

You bring your hands up, together, to your chest, cupping them as though holding the very orb of the sun. You continue raising them, up to your face then on up high above your head. With palms open and upward, you spread your arms and reach up, absorbing the sun's rays into your body, this time through your hands and down through your arms. Feel the energies rippling down through your body, down through your legs, all the way to your toes. Feel the fire within you. Feel the fire.

Now you lower your arms and, turning back towards the hedgerow, you leave the hillock and continue on along the side of the field. As you walk you become aware of a new sound — the sound of a running stream a tinkling of the waters rushing over and around pebbles and small stones reaches your ears and draws you forward. You reach the end of the hedgerow and see a small wood set back behind it. From out between the trees runs the stream, bubbling and bustling on its way to it knows not where. It curves out and around, to rush off and disappear from view on the far side of the hedgerow you followed.

You drop down to your knees and reach forward a hand to feel the water. It is cold, yet not so cold as to turn you away. The rushing water murmurs protest at the new obstacle and bubbles around and between your fingers, eager to be on its way. You smile and slip the other hand in beside the first. You wriggle your fingers and rejoice in the invigorating coolness of the water. You splash your face and feel the cold droplets trickle down your neck. It is refreshing and energizing. You cup your hands and raise a human grail of divine essence from the stream you bend and plunge your face into it, to celebrate a catharsis of the flesh of the spirit. The water refreshes, cleanses and purifies. It is a gift; a freely given pleasure. You sigh a long sigh of contentment.

Rising to your feet again, you move on along the edge of the trees until you reach the corner of a large, plowed field that opens out to the left. The soil is newly turned and the scent of it heavy in the air. You walk out towards the center of the field, breathing deeply and feeling the good clean dirt of the earth between your toes as you walk.

When you finally reach the middle of the plowed field, you stoop down and sweep up two handfuls of the rich, dark brown earth. It feels good; in communicates a kinship of nature. You feel a 'grounding and centering' of your body, through your feet, into the earth. It is a sense of coming home, or reaching that which you have long sought.

You lie down on the earth, between the furrows, eyes closed and face towards the sky. You feel the gentle breeze blowing over you and luxuriate in the warmth of the sun. away in the distance you can just make out the tinkling of the stream as you absorb the energies of the earth. Your spirit soars and rejoices. And, in so doing, you have touched all of the elements."

You can see that the "things said" and "things done" are all in the mind. You may well feel comfortable doing all your rites in this way, though I do urge you to 'at least' cast your Circle physically.

As a preliminary to the meditation above, you might want to read up on meditations. Also, I would suggest incorporating the breathing exercises given in most lessons, including the imagery of the white light.

For such a guided meditation, you might like to record it on tape, ahead of time, and then play it back to yourself in the Circle.

9. The Solitary is one.
This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. An example of the latter: if a Witch happens to have a very short temper and has been badly used by someone, s/he might possibly be driven by thoughts of revenge. S/he might be tempted to overlook the Wiccan Rede, rationalizing her/his thoughts and feelings in some way. However, unless s/he can get all of the other coven members, including the Priest/ess to feel the same way that s/he does, s/he can do nothing s/he might later regret. Far more likely is that the coven would calm her/him and bring the problem into perspective. The Solitary, on the other hand, does not have this "safety catch". S/he must, therefore, be constantly on guard and always carefully and closely examine the situation before working any magick, giving special thought to the Wiccan Rede.

But on the other side of the coin, the Solitary does not have to make any compromises in anything s/he does. The Solitary is one with her/himself and is automatically attuned, with no disharmony or distraction.

So the Solitary Witch is indeed a reality. Don't let anyone tell you that, because you don't belong to a coven and because you were not initiated by someone (who was initiated by someone who was in turn, initiated by someone and so on, ad nauseum), you are not a true Witch. Tell them to read their history (and ask them who initiated the very first Witch?). You are a Witch and you are so in the fine tradition of Witchcraft. May the Gods be with you.

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