Solitary Religious Practice vs. Religous Community

April 22nd, 2007

Sojourner wrote an interesting article, entitled Allport and Solitary Practice, about Gordon Allport’s idea that religion as a solitary journey within the context of a religious community. Mr. Allport proposed that everyone is responsible for coming to their personal religious reality on their own. He then stated that this journey is done within a religious community.

I agree with Allport’s view. It relates somewhat to the difference between Spirituality and Religion, in that a person is best when they have a balance between both. It is very important for your spiritual development to create and nurture a personal connection with the Divine. This is what is done when you do solitary rituals, daily devotions and prayer.

Your solitary and personal connection to the Divine is something that is common to all religions, as even the Bible states in Matthew 6:5-6, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go to your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

In the modern Pagan traditions, the Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente states, “And thou who thinkest to seek for Me, know thy seeking and yearning will avail thee not, unless thou knowest the mystery; that if that which thou seekest, thee findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.”

People who do not do personal development on their own will tend to lack a strong direct connection to the Divine, which will make them tend to an overabundance of religion and a lack of spirituality.

However, there is danger in the common practice among Pagans and Wiccans. Many think that organized religious communities only serve to bind their personal practices and beliefs and force them to relate to the Gods in the way prescribed by the group. As a result, they shun any group and practice their religion alone. Though this may work well for people walking the path of the Hermit, I think it causes many problems and confusion.

A religious community can provide many valuable things for people. These include a group of like-minded people to talk with, a way to gain new religious perspectives and insight, religious training, and a re-charge of energy when one is feeling down.

Balance between your group and the individual practices is vital. The best way I’ve found to do this is to have a group that has enough in common with you that you can relate to them religiously. They may not follow your personal beliefs 100% of the time, but it should be enough similarity that you can connect. Then, you and everyone else in the group would practice the group tradition while in group ritual. This tradition may be different in some ways from your personal practice or tradition, though. The important thing is to decide that you are willing to make some compromises for the sake of making the group work together.

For example, maybe the local group in your area practices a British Traditionalist tradition and you prefer to practice an eclectic tradition. One way to balance this for yourself would be to attend the group rituals and practice in their manner while being there. Working with the group tradition gives everyone a common ground to meet so they can work and grow together. While practicing your personal devotions and rituals, you would feel free to practice your eclectic tradition as you like. This would give you balance in your personal spiritual development and your connection to a larger religious community.

The overall question in the Wiccan and Pagan community about whether to choose a solitary path vs. a group path is overly dramatic and springs from an idea that there is One Right Way to worship and connect to the Divine. There is One Right Tradition and therefore, all others are false or wrong. This is, unfortunately, the product of thousands of years of the dominant cultures clashing over whose religion is the One Right Way. As Pagans and Wiccans, though, we have a large theological advantage over the Abrahamic religions. We have many Gods and Goddesses, not just One True God. We all need to remember this and not fall into the trap that there is One True Tradition.

Some modify the One Right Way idea into One Right Way For Me. This is better, as it allows them to tolerate people’s different beliefs, but it still locks them into a narrow and rigid path by denying that there could be other Right Ways for them. This denies the possibility that there could be a number of ways that will work for them. Sometimes a certain tradition might work better for a certain type of magic than another and vice versa.

If we all see ourselves and each other as fellow Pagans and Wiccans seeking the Gods in all of Their forms and realize there are many right ways for all of us, then it will make balancing group religion with our personal spiritual journey much easier.

Mr. Allport wrote that religion is a solitary journey in the context of a religious community. If we learned to balance personal spiritual practices with that of a religious community, remembering that we are a polytheistic religion and believe there is no One Right Way to the Divine, we would grow immensely in all respects.

Got any comments or arguments in this controversial area? Please post them.

2 Responses to “Solitary Religious Practice vs. Religous Community”

  1. Kaetie Says:

    Hi, I’m right in the middle of a solitary religious practice/journey. I didn’t ask for it, but it came. I don’t want to define it or restrict it by explaining it, it’s just happening. It’s truly amazing. Lots of love, Kaetie

  2. Morninghawk Says:

    Working solitary is sometimes the path one must walk, even if it is not what they choose. One thing we have learned in South Dakota is that where we are, there are so few Wiccans that we are mostly working solitary. I have come to accept this period as being a time of the Hermit for me. It has helped me develop myself more spiritually since I moved out of the city. Good luck to you.

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