“…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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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!
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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 and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.