Your Magick Lies Within You- Walking the Solitary Path

“…Know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: For if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”

 -Charge of the Goddess adapted by Starhawk.

I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. Always wanting to understand more about human nature, the universe, how we’re all linked and what makes it all work. I love that life is truly an eternal mystery that one can never fully figure out and yet it’s so fun to try.

I’ve explored the traditions of many cultures and sought the wisdom of many spiritual teachers. Yet, my path keeps leading me- painfully and patiently, towards myself. Through many difficult experiences, I am repeatedly guided to my own inner compass to lead me down a path that is authentically my own and doesn’t look like anyone else’s or fit neatly into any one tradition. It has only been through following my instincts and doing my inner work that I have found the peace and acceptance I once sought outside of me.

Perhaps you are also on a solitary journey, or maybe you dream of being in a coven or communal situation. Each of us has our unique path and I am not here to say one is better than the other, only to share a bit about my experience and journey, knowing that yours will be unique to you.  

Issues in Spiritual Communities

I used to love the feeling of ‘belonging’ that being part of a spiritual community brought. It felt like I was part of something meaningful, and it somehow validated my spiritual beliefs in a world without churches for my pagan beliefs. I often felt that I needed to belong to a spiritual community to validate myself as a spiritual person. I thought belonging was the necessary foundation for my growth. That magick had greater power in a group. I learned over time that this was an illusion. My participation in groups often came with a price. Over time, I was gradually less willing to pay this price.

Always seeking to belong to a spiritual community came to a point where I was sacrificing important parts of myself to belong to the group. In order to stay in it, I would have to give up my own values or authentic soul needs for growth. I would struggle to find a compromise, to preserve the illusion that the group was supporting me spiritually, even when in reality, it wasn’t. I just longed to belong.

Many of us drawn to living a spiritual path have a strong sense of devotion, combined with wounding and trauma that makes us long to belong and feel loved- making it easy for us to give our power away to others. We often need to work on cultivating better boundaries.

My fave astrologer, Jessica Lanyadoo recently said- ‘devotion without boundaries is martyrdom’. This rang true for me, as my shadow work has shown me this is something I’ve had to work on. Catholicism runs strong in my lineage, which formed a tendency to put my personal power in the hands of the Divine or the middle-person who represents them. To place servitude and faith above all, to the point of sacrificing one’s own independence can cause resentment deep inside. This also runs through the fabric of society itself in many ways since these values are embedded within dominant culture due to colonization, which forced not only Christianity, but patriarchal, capitalistic structures on Indigenous peoples.

In the past, I have given some of my spiritual power away to those I felt must know better than I, must be more spiritual somehow or hold some mystical powers that I don’t have. Because that’s what I was conditioned to do.

Sabrina’s ‘dark baptism’ where she attempts to join the Church of Night on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Over time, I felt my integrity being compromised more and more in spiritual groups because they weren’t in alignment with my personal ethics and boundaries. I tried to keep better boundaries within myself and still participate in the group, but in certain settings, this was either impossible or a deal-breaker in being part of the group, because of the lack of boundaries and respect for individuality within the group itself. 

It doesn’t help when spiritual teachers fall into the common ego traps that humans tend to do when in a position of power. Some lead with the belief that they are spiritually superior to others and some wish to be treated as though they are deity rather than human. Some lead with over-confident bravado, but in my experience, its more common to find teachers expressing false modesty, using deception and manipulation to keep up a humble facade.

Spiritual bypassing is another very common issue in spiritual communities. Our idealized version of what it means to be spiritual is often non-human and pain-avoidant. Social inequities and individual realities are easily glossed over with platitudes, performative gestures and glamour to distract from a lack of accountability and willingness to do the deeper work.

I like when teachers remember that they are simply human and don’t have to become some idealised image of what they think a spiritual leader needs to be. I like when a teacher owns their own shit and does their deep shadow work. This is something I keep reminding myself to avoid falling into the same trap.

My challenging experiences with spiritual groups and leadership clarified the essence of my own core values, ethics and showed me that I needed to forge my own path.

Individuation & the Solitary Path

In many ways, choosing the solitary path mimics the healthy individualization process one undergoes when growing up and becoming a separate person from their family of origin.

Anyone who’s been in a spiritual community may notice patterns of family dynamics that are transferred onto the group. In Christian faith it is tradition to call the priest ‘Father’ and the congregation ‘brothers and sisters’. A similar familial structure is reflected in pagan groups as well. One example of which is calling our pagan coven-mates ‘sister’ or ‘brother’ and giving a parental role and name to the teacher, such as ‘Mother’ or ‘High Priestess’ or similar. This replication of a family dynamic can bring a sense of camaraderie and spiritual family, but it can also bring up all kinds of challenges.

It can be interesting to get curious about correlations between our spiritual community and our family of origin. Are we hoping for a childhood wound to be healed through this new ‘family’? Are we experiencing the same toxic behaviour from our spiritual ‘sister’ that we experienced with a sibling? Or the same patterns from our teacher or high priest/ess as we have with our parents or other authorities? Can we learn and grow through these relationships, or are they stifling our growth?

Spiritual community can be fertile ground for patterns from our childhood to arise and the roles we fall into to be repeated. This can make it a great place to heal and transform these dynamics. However, it can be rare to find a community that is actually capable of holding space for this or modelling healthy behaviour. It is for this reason that I’ve worked with my own therapist over the last decade to sort these issues out within myself and am learning that a solitary path is more conducive to my growth.

My experiences haven’t all been negative, however. Though sometimes painful, I have grown through unhealthy group dynamics and have also experienced the joy of spiritually growing in safe space and humble teaching.

In my experience, some of the best support I received was from my teacher Daniel, who empowered me to find my own direct connection with Spirit and to trust my own intuition. He modeled ways of being in community and leadership with personal integrity. He helped me connect to my innate wisdom, held space for all of who I am and listened intently to my concerns or issues. He was willing to be human, lead from the heart and learn from his mistakes, which is something I respect and admire.

Taking our Power Back with Self-Trust

You see, I’m a bit of an eternal student. I love the learning process, meeting new people and feel empowered by knowledge and skills. I also feel learning from others and gaining knowledge is an important part of our spiritual path.

However, my habit of constant learning came to a point where I realized it’s been a way for me to escape living my own truth and avoid trusting my own intuition.

It’s taken me decades to fully trust my innate wisdom, passed down through my DNA, my spirit guides and dreams, which proves to be very accurate. I have strong gut instincts about people, places and things, but for the longest time I would override those instincts and question everything too much. It can be hard to distinguish between healthy discernment and self-doubt sometimes.

The divine flows through all of us, and we can all have a direct relationship with the divine, without an intermediary. Sure, a teacher or facilitator can help us access our inner wisdom, and it is often necessary to connect with a guide at some point on our path.

But we don’t necessarily need a teacher, group, a priest/ess, a temple or church, or a coven to grow spiritually or make powerful magick or validate who we are or what we believe.

All we need is the willingness to discover and live our spiritual values. To walk our own path as it authentically unfolds. To become receptive to the wisdom within us and discover the magick that flows within our veins. To take our dreams and intuitive hunches more seriously. Connect with nature and remember that we are nature too. Pray and serve from the heart, with feet on the ground. Remember that we are surrounded by helpful beings in the spirit world and natural world that are simply waiting for us to tune in.

If you are thinking about a solitary path, I’d say:

  • Remember that you are never truly alone. We are surrounded by the divine all around us and it flows within us as well. There are other solitaries out there who may wish to connect. (Me!)
  • You don’t need to follow an established path to validate your spirituality. You can trailblaze, and create a path that feels authentic to you.
  • You don’t need to be part of an established group or spiritual community for validation, either.
  • Learn what you’re drawn to. Educate yourself on the traditions and wisdom you’re interested in and follow your inner compass towards your ethics and integrity.
  • Knowledge doesn’t equal wisdom. A balance of knowledge, deep inner work and experience creates wisdom, and this takes time.
  • Not all that glitters is gold. Use discernment when navigating spiritual offerings and remember there’s a lot of gloss, glamour and deception out there! Especially on social media.
  • I highly recommend therapy of some kind to compliment the spiritual path. It is good to have an objective, outside party to help keep us grounded in our emotional work and able to discern what is ours and what is not, someone to hold us accountable. Spiritual bypassing is all too easy and common, which encourages our shadow or inner child to run the show, instead of our integrated, healthy adult self.
A collective of rocks, each one’s uniqueness makes the whole more beautiful

If you’re part of a spiritual community or group that you feel happy in and are growing through, then that’s great! If you’ve found a teacher who you resonate with and enjoy- amazing! If you prefer a traditional route over trailblazing- that’s awesome! Do what works for you. It’s not about one path being better than the other, but finding our own way towards growth, whether that is alone, in a group or a combination of both.

Even though I am a solitary witch, I also have community I share my witchy lifestyle with, in small doses. At every sabbat, I hold Hearthfire Circles, which are open to the public and encompassing of diverse beliefs. I’m not part of a coven and my circles are open to all genders, paths and levels of witchy experience. They are a great way to connect with other magickally-inclined folks without a major investment of time or energy. We strive to hold safe and inclusive space and enjoy ourselves very much! You can learn more about them here.

You may also be interested in my Reclaim Your Magick Sessions. These are 1 on 1 Earth-Based Healing sessions to help you cultivate your intuition and spiritually resource you by connecting you with  animal, plant, crystal and tree allies. Learn more here.

Xo

Serena

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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices, addressing cultural appropriation in pagan communities and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.

What is an Animal Ally? Relating to Our Animal Kin…

I remember being a little girl, at my grandparents’ trailer home in rural Manitoba, obsessed with the deer head mounted on the wall. I would stare at it, look into its eyes, and swear it was alive, that it still held a spirit of some kind.

I would ask to be lifted up so I could pet the deer. I could feel its power, grace and nobility. Admiring this amazing creature, I wondered how or why it had to be killed. I felt that maybe it was watching over me.

Years later, when my grandparents moved into a house, I remember they had a large tapestry of deer in the snow in the basement where I would sleep. It brought me so much peace and comfort, to stare at the tapestry, watching the deer, imagining I was with them in the snow. It helped me fall asleep, as I would lay on a mattress right across from the tapestry.  

I don’t know if these memories were the beginnings of my long-time connection with Deer as an animal ally, but I think they stick with me for a reason.

The Circle of Life

My grandparents on their farm in Manitoba in the 1940s & 1950s. Upper left photo is of my grandma hand-feeding a deer.

My grandpa was a hunter, butcher and farmer, yet he loved animals more than anyone I knew. He would always take the time to teach me about the animals around us, getting me to slow down and take the time to really observe the behaviour of a bird or squirrel, in a way I never did on my own.

My grandparents relied on the land to survive, and in rural Manitoba that isn’t an easy feat. Their relationship with nature was much more intimate than mine. They understood the cycles of life and death. They simultaneously loved and adored animals, while having no qualms about taking their lives if needed.

This is an ability I was spared from learning in my life, having grown up in the city of Winnipeg, I never relied on hunting or farming to survive. I had the privilege to eat according to my ideals and sentiments, choosing to be a vegetarian and vegan for over 14 years. Now, I’m a flexitarian, as my chronic health issues have shown me that my body requires me to eat a certain amount of meat. I do so in humility and gratitude.

I think about my grandparents and my mother growing up on the farm and I feel lucky to have been given the chance to live a different life. But I also feel maybe I missed out on some important wisdom their lifestyle carried.  I am not sure how I would handle a lifestyle of raising and killing animals so we and others could eat. I am so grateful for those who do this so I can survive and be healthy.  

Me and my grandpa (pepere), 1982.

I don’t judge anyone for their dietary choices or lifestyle, as I feel there’s no room for that in this world of inequities, diverse religious and cultural traditions and health complexities. I’ve done all the diets, for all the reasons. I’ve been in a lot of different shoes. I see all the sides.

 I do, however, feel there is much to learn from our animal kin. Cultivating a relationship with them is something special and sacred and reminds us that we too are part of the same family.

When we are strongly drawn to an animal, or if one keeps showing up in our lives, it can be worth getting curious about them. Research their eating habits, survival instincts, how they approach relating and family, and see if they perhaps carry qualities we need to cultivate within ourselves or learn to access or express in our lives. Getting to know them can help us get to know ourselves better. They can help us embody our animal self and deepen our connection to the natural world.

Deer in my Life

Deer are very common here in Canada, especially white-tailed deer. Yet, despite how common they are, it always feels like such a blessing to actually see one.

As the quiet, gentle spirits of the forest, seeing a deer always brings me a sense of humility and honour. I feel one of deer’s messages to me is to embrace my sensitivity. Deer are always keenly aware- able to sense even the slightest movement or faintest smell of predators.

I also feel the symbolism of the antlers reaching up and out are like antennae to the spirit world, giving deer a special attunement to frequencies that we are not aware of in our usual daily consciousness. When deer shows up, I take it as a reminder to attune to the subtle realms more consciously. Take the time to be silent, still and listen. Pay attention to my surroundings.

Pretty much every time we venture up north to camp or stay at a cottage, we see deer. Often, we see 3 at a time, which makes sense as my husband and daughter and I all feel a special connection to them and travel together. We have often felt an intuitive sense of where and when they are nearby, and then they show up!

I remember a beautiful workshop where my daughter and I made our own deerskin drums. Myself and a few others were struggling to cut the hide. My daughter was a natural, however. The teacher mentioned that cutting the hide required a special gentleness and attunement to the deer spirit in order for it to be cut properly. I was gripping too tight, applying too much force, so it wouldn’t cut. One of deer’s messages to me is always to be gentle, lighten up. I eventually got it.

My daughter cutting the deer hide with ease.

The drum making process overall was a good experience in aligning with deer energy. Now every time I drum, I honor the deer spirit. I see her in pretty much all of my journeys, songs and meditations, guiding me between the worlds.

Deer Goddess- Elen of the Ways

One aspect of deer that I’ve experienced in my journeys is myself as a woman with deer antlers, like some sort of deer priestess or deer lady of the woods, spending time with a herd of deer. I also often see a female deer with antlers showing me where to go.

At first I thought, how can a female deer have antlers? I later found out that female elk/reindeer have antlers. But it felt like something more than elk. It felt like it was something bigger. This curiosity led me to discovering an ancient European/British antlered goddess named in modern times as Elen of the Ways.

My Deer/Elen of the Ways altar. Statue by Philippa Bowers.

Apparently countless women have seen this female antlered deer/ female deer goddess show up in their meditations and journeys too. Elen is still quite enigmatic, her history found in bits and pieces here and there. However despite the lack of strong documented history, she remains in the consciousness of many. She is often seen as representing the Earth Mother and is a guide of pathways and ley lines. I have been slowly connecting more to her and understanding her role in my life.

Often seen as ‘fairy cattle’ in Scottish mythology, deer are often considered a connection to the Otherworld. The Celtic Lord of the Wild Hunt, Cernunnos is often depicted as a man with antlers, surrounded by animals. He is the spirit of the forest, of fertility and the wilderness, a guide between worlds.

Deer in many ways are a bridge for me. They are a connection to my family here and their history on these lands, as I mentioned in the beginning with my grandparents. They are also connected to the traditions of my British and Celtic ancestors across the ocean. They also bridge this world and the spirit world.

Deer, being a traveling animal, helps me to feel comfortable traveling– in spirit as well as in life to create these bridges in my spiritual practice, mind and body. Sometimes they are simply a reminder to get out and walk more often.

Deer is a long time friend who I feel is an ally- a spirit that helps me align with my soul’s growth, healing and renewal, who helps me to navigate life’s challenges.

‘Spirit Animals’, ‘Totems’ & Cultural Appropriation

From The Gentle Tarot- by Indigenous artist Mariza Ryce Aparicio-Trovar

I feel it is important to recognize that while animistic practices and animal reverence exists globally, beliefs vary from culture to culture and tradition to tradition.

Due to colonization on Turtle Island, Indigenous beliefs and practices were illegal until 1978 in the US and until 1951 in Canada, and therefore out of reach for many Indigenous folks. Many are only just beginning to reclaim these ways, which is necessary for healing.  

Sacred practices regarding animal medicine and family clan traditions managed to survive and still exist today in Indigenous communities. Unfortunately however, mainstream colonial culture has appropriated and distorted these traditions.

The word ‘totem’ is an anglicised word for ‘doodem’ in Annishinaabemowin, which speaks to the family clans symbolised by an animal and holding deep meaning and tradition. The term ‘spirit animal’ is often associated with Indigenous culture, however seems to have emerged as a modern term stemming from 1990’s Wicca and pagan circles.

Quizzes, memes and t-shirts in mainstream culture using the words ‘spirit animal’ and ‘totem’ are usually fluffy and disrespectful- saying ‘Justin Bieber is my spirit animal’ or ‘pizza is my spirit animal’ and nonsense that depicts a spirit animal as simply something you resonate with, identify with, think is cute or appealing. The use of the word ‘totem’ gets thrown around, meaning anything from an animal persona (I have heard of the term ‘fursona’ or even ‘Patronus’ as a replacement), to an animal you happen to really like or resonate with- but none of these are the same as a doodem.

You can learn more about this here and here.

It is important to be aware of your own relationship with animals- the symbolism and context of the traditions you follow, your own lineage and personal experience, and not co-opt or make light of  Indigenous sacred traditions!

It is also important that as we connect to these animals in our own environment, we are aware of the laws and customs where we reside. Carrying an eagle feather- and even keeping found feathers of most common bird species is actually illegal in the US and Canada if you are not Indigenous. Using feathers in ways that mimic Indigenous customs you know nothing about (like headdresses, smudge fans, prayer fans, dreamcatchers, etc) is disrespectful and appropriative.

As part of the natural world, we must recognise our place in the ecosystem, and be aware of our privilege, power and relation to others. This can be hard for us humans, because, well, we act more like animals than we like to admit most of the time! Yet, we have the capability to tap into empathy and compassion in a way animals don’t.

I feel that honouring our animal kin by becoming aware of our own ‘animal instincts’ can help us become more accepting of ourselves and each other, in a way that can prevent us from acting from a place of repressed or distorted instincts. It is up to us to find the balance between our inner animal and our human self.

What animals hold spiritual significance for you in your life?

What traditions or beliefs do you have regarding animal allies or messengers?

How do you honor animals in your practice?

If you are interested in exploring your connection to an animal ally more deeply, you may be interested in my Reclaim Your Magick sessions! These are 1 on 1 sessions to help you connect with healing allies in the plant, mineral and animal world to help spiritually resource you for stressful times.

Thank-you for reading,

xo

Serena

Receive first dibs on events, new products & my FREE ebook- The Witches’ Wheelby signing up for my newsletter below!

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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices, addressing cultural appropriation in pagan communities and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.