We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders. (Dr. Maya Angelou)
I went to hear a lecture from the great Dr. Maya Angelou last month. The theme of that evening’s talk was to urge each of us to be “a rainbow in the clouds.” This quote was taken from a 19th century spiritual that referred to the rainbow that Yahweh (the Abrahamic God) put in the sky after the great flood. She used this version of that lyric because it was changed from “a rainbow in the sky” to “a rainbow in the clouds” for a specific reason. After all, it is not when the sky is clear that we need rainbows, but when we can no longer see the sky for the clouds.
Angelou’s message was clear, “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us—in the dreariest and most dreaded moments—can see a possibility of hope.” Everyone can make a difference for the better, no matter what the circumstances. (aka: ”Even the smallest person can change the course of the future“ as Galadriel said to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.)
It may have been slightly off-topic of me, but this message made me think of being alone. Specifically, the effect you can have on others, and their effect on you, when you’re separated from a community of peers. What can you do when you’re all by your pagan lonesome?
Many people need desperately to receive this message: ‘I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.’ (Kurt Vonnegut)
In this internet generation, we have this illusion of community and communication with the whole world. It is all at our fingertips we are told. It has even been hinted that the internet alone may be responsible for the steady and continued growth of the pagan community (in our generation). Many of us are reliant on the internet for ALL of our links to the pagan community, myself included. Without it, we would have no way of reaching out to other like-minded people and resources.
Now, this is all starting to sound as though I live in a cave or something. Close, but no. I live out in the boonies of California’s bay-area coast with my family…under a rock. <|;) I have no witchy friends, mentors, or teachers—at least in real-life. Online, I have a few pagan friends and teachers, but not many, and my exposure to the community is basically limited to this screen.
Much of my loneliness can be attributed to being a recluse by nature, despite my desires for connection. But the internet is not the great catalyst for true connections as we are lead to believe by such services as Match.com and Facebook. “Friending” someone online is the real-life equivalent of…well, that just it, it doesn’t have a real-life equivalent. In real-life, we would either have to make a true connection, or tip our proverbial hats and be on our merry way. There is a lot of false intimacy online; false intimacy that can leave you feeling more alone than ever when you’re seeking a true connection.
At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one’s lost self. (Brendan Francis)
I thought that my lone pagan days were numbered when I transfered to my current university. One of the first things I did was scope out the club board and social scene for pagan meet-ups and groups. To my disappointment, no such groups existed. To date, there are around twelve different Christian clubs, a couple Jewish clubs, a smattering of Islamic clubs, a combined Abrahamic-faith club, and one philosophy club. From the look of it, at least based on the lack of resources and predominantly Christian presence, you would think there were no pagans on campus.
It did cross my mind of starting my own club, but as a baby pagan in a sea of Crusaders for Christ, I wasn’t so sure it was the best move, nor I the best choice of leader. My opinion on this first part has changed, but not the second. If I were in a more local and independent situation I may have stepped up, but, at the moment, I live in a Christian household and suffer a 2-hour commute to school. This option just isn’t the right move.
I’m all for taking action and not waiting for the community to come to me, but I am gonna have to break out my “starving college student” card on this one. I cannot afford to travel, shop at witchy stores often, nor pay ticket prices for gatherings, events, and concerts. Instead, I rely on books, pagan podcasts (thank the spirits for you podcasters!), blogs, and youtube videos of events, lectures, and music. This is fine, but limited. I do get lonely. Plus it is difficult to learn pagan practices purely from books and osmosis.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be. (Anne Frank)
I can, however, say that I am getting used to it. The initial compulsion to find other like-minded individuals is definitely a symptom of baby paganism. We get so excited about our new knowledge that we immediately want to show someone what we have found. We want to find more resources, more teachers, and ask more questions. Finding no one with that kind of enthusiasm can be devastating.
It may also be a condition of my spiritual upbringing that I initially sought out a congregation of peers. I came from a Christian background where we worshiped together, sang together, read the same book, prayed the same prayers, and believed the same truths. There was a real sense of unity that I had to let go of when I broke with those limitations. I always felt alone with my beliefs, as I was always a little rebellious and “alternative” in my spiritual understanding, but I was still a part of a group, a community, a whole. Now I am completely alone with my gods (as I always was, I believe, but now without the comforts of a group), and as exciting as that is, it can be scary and cause inertia.
The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready. (Henry David Thoreau)
I have come to understand that this lone state can be an asset in the sense that I can move forward as I please. It is often said that you must look within to find what you are really looking for anyway. In pagan culture, we have the well-known (Wiccan) Charge of the Goddess that reads “You who desire to know Her, know your seeking and yearning shall avail you not unless you know the mystery; that if that which you seek you find not within, then you will never find it without” (Doreen Valiente).
What this reminds me to, well, remember, is that the need for community is an important part of being human, but so is self-knowledge and individual wholeness. I am who I am whether alone or in a group; and I am whole within myself whether or not part of a greater whole (at least in the sense that I am an individual and my relationship with the universe is mine alone to seek and nurture).
That being said, we are communal creatures. There is no doubt in my mind that I am missing something, possibly something major, by being apart from other pagans. There are many witchy experiences that cannot be had alone, or at least, they’re not the same when performed alone. On the flip side, there are many witchy experiences that benefit from solitary practice. (I hear a balance theme coming on…)
Balance is needed, and until I can fulfill that balance, I must find alternative ways to engage with others. I have to be careful that my isolation does not keep my studies and beliefs stagnated and one-sided. Because of this, being a “solitary practitioner” can mean a lot more work. I will have to reach out more and find more sources, and alternate view points to counter my own view and challenge my thinking. At the same time, too many cooks in the kitchen can lead to some major metaphorical culinary disasters. Balance, balance, balance. (Witchy whining ensues…)
“When it looked like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God made a rainbow in the clouds.”
All in all, my own beliefs, and the positive attitudes of my distance pagan peers, have have kept me strong and hopeful. I know that I can’t possibly be the only lone pagan out there who feels this way. What I need to remember are all the amazing moments of my spiritual path, so far, that were influenced by other pagans…usually remotely.
I like to think of all the pagan teachers that I learned from online; pagan bloggers that reported pagan-based news, interviews, and opinions; pagan podcasters that make me laugh and send me running to my computer to look-up the latest book they reviewed, the term they used, the podkin they referenced, or the event they covered. My life was forever changed by such lone voices in the paganverse. Many of those pagans began just like me, with no readers, no fame, no outside interest, and seemingly no influence. If their voice could reach my little ears, let alone build a following, spark community-wide controversy, impart knowledge, and gain national recognition, then that means we all make a difference.
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. (Albert Pike)
A blanket love letter dedicated to all my amazing teachers, blessed blogkin, beloved podcasters, and dear friends: you are a rainbow in the clouds.
Love and Art,