There are things one might miss by not being trained by a mentor. There is training that is not found in books - at least - not yet. Like a physical trainer - one might reach one's ideal physique faster with someone pushing them - especially for those whose research-discipline is a little dodgy or those who simply don't know what to ask for or where to look. But who is qualified to decide when one has "arrived" at adepthood on a life long magickal journey?
I am a great believer in the power of one. I am a great believer in the seekers who although they may not know where to look or what to ask - keep looking - keep asking. There is this miracle - that everyone should be allowed to discover on their own - it is the flash point of epiphany. That moment when one connects the dots of the universe and a star explodes in the mind and makes them say -
Gods! It's so simple.
It’s so obvious.
I'm so stupid.
The merits of solitary work cannot be overstated.
First, take the lesson of the poet. Often wise, often beautiful, the poet cannot write by consensus. It is a solitary craft, to which many hands spoil the stew. The same can be said of any genius. Mozart heard the music in his head, Michelangelo saw the image in the block of marble. Having meetings and planning strategies do not evoke originality but hemogeny.
Second, how many times have you been typing at thousand words a second and your mother walks in and you can’t type a complete word without mistakes. Can you sing in the shower better than you can sing in front of a thousand people? Taking the stress of performance panic off your shoulders puts you in a place of relaxed awareness, a place of epiphany, and a place of creativity. Why would the ancients think to mix soft copper and even softer tin to create hard bronze? Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, studied peas and combined mathematics with biology to create the science of genetics. Johannes Gutenberg combined a wine press and a coin punch to create the printing press. Xerox combined a telephone and a copier to make a fax machine. What elements might you put together against the magickal rules, against the overseer’s cautions, that might bring new light to a subject? Sister Kenny successfully treated polio because she was NOT a doctor. She was isolated, away from anyone who could diagnose the disease as polio. So, the only thing she knew to do was to treat the symptoms – which she did. More of her patients walked than those of the papered priests of medicine, who scoffed at her achievements because she was a woman and only a nurse.
Third, failing in private is easier to take than failing in public. Failing only oneself allows a greater chance of one trying again if one only has to apologize once. The only courage you need is to be honest with yourself. That is a greater courage than you can imagine and a serious topic for self-exploration. We often lie to ourselves without our consent. Beyond that, recording your successes and failures can be a huge tool of instruction in solitary work.
Forth, and most important – before you have a ton of pollution poured into your head about all things witchly – some experiential practice over several years can allow you to develop a clear vision as to what interests you and get your “bunkum” detector geared up. You will find that you are not confused about your path by the influence of the flashy, pseudo-profound, or the hip study de jour. When you are secure in your own clarity, even if you only decided to take a philosophical, educational, or mystical side trip for the fun of it - nothing can sway you off the path that enriches you, fulfills you, centers you, balances you or otherwise leads you to your greater self, and perhaps even to the divine.
No amount of "credentialed" training - no lineaged wisdom - can replace self-knowledge and personal epiphany. (And guess what - some of these epiphanies are new and can't be found in wisdom books or from sage practitioners.) By trusting your own soul and your own intellect - without someone telling you how it is supposed to be - you may be inventing a new level of insight - a deeper understanding of an old truth. (That is how the initiated paths were started – the founders gathered aged information, built on older systems of study and epiphany pushed those outwards.) In some ways it is harder. We would rather have it fed to us on a platter. Read this book, take a test, you're a witch. We are so much more willing to trust the quality of the teacher, if the teacher isn't ourselves. What one misses distrusting the solitary path is the ability to measure the distance one will travel from not knowing to knowing. It is truly a hero's quest where one becomes one's own hero.
Yet it is, some days, hard to be one's own hero. It can be uncertain. It can be lonely. It can be painful. (But so is going to a ritual where the beautiful High Priestess with the fake breasts channels “the goddess” and speaks for “her” in poor English saying words than sound redundantly like those of every other religion you have rejected.)
If one is lucky enough to find a generous loving coven, which celebrates open rituals on High Holidays, community can be a remarkable experience. Working group magick in small rituals on Esbats can also be remarkable experiences. However, there is a sociological change that happens in solitary work that does not happen in groups no matter how trusting – when the spirit, unhindered by self-consciousness, is free to communicate unfettered - with the universe.
© 2004 Ardriana Cahill