Two contrasting events happened in the same week, many years ago.
1) I went to a Pagan meet where I knew no one, except by reputation. Afterwards, some of us ended up at one person’s home. Most of the people there knew each other prior to that – I was the odd one out. At the end of that afternoon, everyone was hugging. I felt weird about hugging any of them (and no wonder, in the light of subsequent events!), so when I left, I just said goodbye to each of them and touched them lightly on the shoulders or arms as I did so. Later over the net (which in those days, prior to the popularity of the Internet, was PODSnet – the Pagan/Occult distribution System net) half a dozen of them verbally bashed me for being “so arrogant as to presume to actually bless them, High Priestesses and coven leaders, when I was a nobody”! It went on for many bitter days.
2) While the furore was still raging, I was walking down a street one day. A homeless indigenous woman who was obviously having a hard life, covered in parasite-caused skin conditions and looking totally miserable, was sitting quite literally in the gutter, with a look of defeat around her. We looked at each other and I gave her the warmest smile I was capable of, and it was genuinely warm – I suddenly felt an upwelling of love for her. She smiled back, obviously astonished that I’d even admit to noticing her. I walked on a few steps, then turned around and asked her if there was anything I could do for her – maybe get her some lunch, or something a bit warmer to wear. Given her situation and her particular culture she couldn’t have said yes, so she declined, but she beamed at me and said: “Bless you, Auntie, nobody’s been that kind to me for ages.” I was so chuffed. “Auntie” (or Uncle) is a mark of respect, honour and acceptance. And when she said “bless you” she really meant it – I could feel the charge of warmth and energy that came off from her to me. It wasn’t just a form of words – it was a real blessing. And I spent the next several hours glowing with her blessing.
Now, if the coven-leaders I’d been socialising with were somehow “higher” in status to me, then I probably could be considered somehow “higher” in status to her (how, I don’t know: luckier, I would have thought). And yet the fact that I could have seen her as “lower” than I am didn’t alter the fact that she blessed me, she blessed me genuinely, and it really, really improved my day, in part because I was utterly unconcerned with status.
At that time and even now, I feel enormous sorrow for the coven-leaders who missed out on the simple pleasure they could have had from interpreting my gesture of affection and farewell as a blessing because they were so concerned with status.
This was one of a string of experiences between 1982 and 1989 that really, really turned me off public Pagan meets in Australia. In 1989, with PODSnet getting busier, the Internet starting to emerge as a force amongst the university-educated and more highly technological population, and my own writing and other commitments, I decided that the Solitary path was the path for me, and that has turned out to be a blessing in itself. My magic is not pure Wiccan, and I sometimes feel weird about people who do things by the book, so to speak.
Lately I’ve been working on day-to-day friendships on both sides of the continent with like-minded individuals, and I’m prepared to work for or with people magically and to join and even help run groups such as regular esoteric meditation groups working towards higher magico-spiritual goals than most meditation classes can even imagine…
But still I am a solitary practitioner by choice, one who merely has spiritually based friendships and does spiritual work with others as well as alone. So really, when I think on it, I probably owe those particular individuals a debt of gratitude, a genuine and very warm thank-you, for sending me on a path towards solitary workings when I could so easily have been absorbed into a conventional coven where I may not have worked as long or as deeply as I have.