Incense Magick: Art & Ritual of Incense

Incense fanatic Carl Neal walks you through the joys, wonders, and science of making and using natural incense. From making your first basic cone to creation and use of elaborate incense rituals, Incense Magick is your guide to the sometimes secretive world of incense and incense making. Every article explores different facets of incense, incense making, ingredients, rituals, tools, or techniques.

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"Solitary” does not mean “isolated"

I have always viewed the Solitary (Solitary By Choice) as one who walks alone on her spiritual path, not one isolated from other Pagans. I have known many who, while not walking my path, walked paths parallel to mine for a time. There are others who are walking very different paths but with whom I still enjoy a deep, powerful magickal relationship. There is another category that is often called “Solitary” and, while they face many of the same issues as the Solitary By Choice, they also have their own unique set of challenges. These are the folks who are looking for a coven or other formal group or tradition, but have not yet found their home. We do have a lot of the same challenges and I include them when I talk about Solitaries as much as I possibly can. I am neither proud nor ashamed of the fact that I am Solitary BY Choice – it is simply the path that has called me. I do not think that formal training with a coven is less or more legitimate than the Solitary path – they are just different ways to reach truth.

Those of us who choose a Solitary path can be a difficult group with which to work. When we speak of the trouble in organizing Pagans as “herding cats” it’s never truer than when dealing with the dedicated Solitary. Many of us are proud of our independence and may stubbornly cling to it beyond the bounds of logic. Those who are forced to be Solitary by geography (or other factors) may not always possess the same type of fierce independence. They may be seeking out the companionship, guidance, and structure of a coven or group – things studiously avoided by some who are Solitary By Choice.

There are a few rare individuals who straddle this line and both belong to a coven and walk a Solitary path at the same time. For most of us, the Solitary nature of our practices simply demands that we walk our paths alone. Those of us who practice this way see it as a type of freedom, although we have to recognize that there are things that can be easily accomplished with group practice that are difficult or impossible for the Circle of One. This doesn’t mean that we never work with others. Like all Pagans, we tend to share and learn from one another. Sometimes we gather, stand in circle together, and may work very intimate magick. At other times, some Solitaries may participate in public rituals with dozens of people they barely know. Being “Solitary”doesn’t mean being “alone” or “isolated”. It’s the path that is Solitary, not the person. In fact, some Solitaries tend to do all ritual work with others, although they are not all on the same path. Until they find a coven or other appropriate group, many who are Solitary By Circumstance will use this same approach.

“Solitary” does not equate to “anti-social” either. Many Solitaries are outgoing, highly social people. While some of us might be more comfortable alone on our paths, that doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the Pagan Community or enjoy spending time with others. For that matter, even those among us who truly are anti-social can still see many advantages of a strong Community, even if that doesn’t appeal to their core nature. A strong Pagan Community opens possibilities for Solitaries that we could never forge alone.Many Solitaries, definitely including me, appreciate the advice and knowledge that their fellow Pagans can impart. Solitary and Traditional Pagans (sometimes called “Coveners”) can always learn from one another, so spending time in the Pagan Community does not stand in opposition to the Solitary path.

Working from this clearer perspective, I have to tell my fellow Solitaries that we too can play a major role in building Community, if we so desire, but many times we have not stood up and made ourselves known. This is a multifaceted issue where in part Solitaries have been victims of our own reputations and in part we have genuinely failed the Pagan Community. Let me explain what I mean.

It’s probably obvious at this point that Solitaries and Traditional Pagans may approach many things from different perspectives. If you look over the broad collection of Pagan festivals, gatherings, and organizations, you are likely to find that the bulk of them are centered on a Traditional Pagan’s perspective and approach. The Solitary approach to ritual planning, workshops,and various events are often completely missing. Should we blame the Traditional Pagans for dominating our culture and focusing on their needs over the needs of the Solitaries who might be participating? No, we shouldn’t.Instead we should thank those people for their hard work that benefits our Community. I also think it’s important to note that while most festivals are organized around group practice, and often focus on approaches that may not be widely used among Solitaries, virtually all festivals work with an assortment of traditions or covens to create their programming. Groups working together helps bring diversity to our Community, similar to the inclusion of Solitaries.It also strengthens the fabric of the Pagan Community.

I want to point out that there are events and organizations that reach out to Solitaries, so my statement above does not apply in every case. Second, I have to ask how we can complain when we do not make our needs or desires known?Many Solitaries find themselves stuck in something of rut in this regard. We attend events sponsored by Traditional Pagans, who often outstrip their Solitary counterparts with organizational efforts and might complain that things were all geared to the Traditional view. Isn’t it pretty logical to expect that Traditional Pagans with a wealth of organizational experience would create events that follow Traditional paths? In fact, I think we should tip our hats to all of the amazing people on Traditional paths who create these events and rituals that we are able to attend. In that same light, I imagine there are very few festival organizers who turn away people who volunteer to help(although, as you will see, it does happen). We Solitaries can step up and offer to plan activities that reflect the Solitary perspective and most event organizers would love us for it. We only have ourselves to blame in this regard.

There’s a larger question here as well. Is this even something that Solitaries want? Plenty of Solitaries volunteer to work at events and even to help plan them in some cases. We have the ability to speak up and ask for these things, but we rarely do. If we don’t speak up, then I truly believe, in the end, it is our own loss. Sharing our perspective and beliefs with others will also help to strengthen the fabric of Pagan Community and let our Traditional sisters and brothers understand the Solitary perspective a little better.

With all of that being said, there is another alternative that I think will be more appealing to many but will still serve to build our Community through direct contributions from our Solitary members. There is power in the Circle of One, if we choose to utilize it. I myself was inspired by this approach when I was recently entangled in an unpleasant situation with a local Pagan organization. For years I have tried to work within the established traditional(with a lower case “t”) organizational structures that so often attempt to unite our Community. As I once again relived past dysfunctions, I decided to meditate on this subject and ask for divine inspiration and guidance. The revelation was stunning in both its simplicity and obviousness. Solitary Pagan scan help build Community all by themselves. I’m not talking about forming an international organization of Solitaries so we can put on festivals. I’m talking about leveraging our innate tendencies as Solitaries in order to strengthen the Pagan Community as a whole. It’s so simple.

Why not do things unilaterally? We walk our spiritual paths alone, so why can’t we do Community building projects alone? I know, it sounds oxymoronic– building “Community” by yourself – but it is not only possible but wonderful. I think the first time I did this was for a Beltane gathering I attended in Oklahoma. I had offered my time, energy, and money to the organizers of the event but they were very strict Traditional Pagans and did not want help from outside their coven stead. While I understood their desire for control, I also felt compelled to add to the event myself. So I started the Goddess Bee Hunt. The theme of that festival was “The Hiving” (perhaps you can see why help from a Solitary was not desirable to the organizers), so I gathered up a collection of wooden bee figures and labeled each one with the name of a different Goddess. I then proceeded to hide them on the large network of trails all around our lodge. I posted a list of the Goddesses and clues to the location of each. When someone found one of the Goddess Bees, they return edit to me in exchange for a button that said “I found…” and the name of the Goddess (for example “I found Bast at Beltane 2007”). Each Goddess Bee returned to me also entered the finder into a drawing for a great prize. I did it all by myself, but yet it drew a diverse group of people together to form a more tightly-knit Community. And it was simple. And the event organizers were very happy to have an additional, free event at their festival that required no work on their part.

I am hardly the first person to come to this realization. Many Solitary Pagans toil away quietly in the background taking care of one task or another to the benefit of us all. That’s not to say that all of those activities are focused on Community building, but many of them are to the Community’s benefit. Solitaries often contribute to Community through building of websites and online groups, blogging or writing for Pagan publications, offering of special services, and other often anonymous contributions. I simply want to bring these concepts out in the open in hopes of showing other Solitaries how we can make a, frankly, massive impact on our Community if we are willing.

Building off of this idea has led me to other adventures as well, but it wasn’t until this Spring that I was given a clear vision that this is my path for Community for the rest of my life. It took that inspiration to show me that I can not only make little differences, but major ones as well. In May I launched my first new effort to build Community without an organization or support structure. I call it “Magick Moment” and it is a television show for the Pagan Community. While it is primarily targeted at audiences in my home state (Oregon), it touches on topics of importance to all Pagans worldwide. Each episode is only 8 minutes long, but focuses attention on a specific topic,event, or person of importance to our Community. So far, I have done every aspect of every episode. I am definitely open to help from others, but I will never count on it. That frees me completely. I can indulge my Solitary nature while bringing our Community closer. “Magick Moment” is only the beginning of this project. I conceived several other phases from the start and will launch something new in the near future. I also created this project with the idea of involving others – yet each of us acting independently – by encouraging more Pagans to follow suit. If there were a dozen people independently producing video segments we could easily assemble a national broadcast. That’s somewhere in the future. If you are interested in learning details of what I’ve done, please reach out to me. I’d love to help others start their own programs.

Being a Solitary does not mean being alone or being isolated. Solitaries can be just as involved in our Community as anyone else and that involvement doesn’t have to mean joining a big organization and attending lots of committee meetings. I wouldn’t discourage that, but I hope that when more Solitaries see how much power we can actually have in bringing our Community together, without having to sacrifice aspects of our basic natures, we will see a lot more “solo projects”. If you find others who will work with you,that’s better yet, but you do not have to sacrifice your vision or goals to“rule by committee” if you do not want to. You can stand up alone and create something special to you and the entire Community. You only have to make the decision and then do it. Solitaries have a lot of power to unite…I thin kit’s time we joined our Traditional sisters and brothers in that effort. We shouldn’t sit back and expect the Traditional Pagans to do all of the heavy lifting. Together we can overcome so much.


Here is the link for my You Tube channel if you would like to check out “Magick Moment” or keep an eye out for the launch of the next phase of this project coming soon!

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Tagged in: Goddess Bees solitary
  Carl Neal has walked a Pagan path for 30 years. He is a self-avowed incense fanatic and has published 2 books through Llewellyn Worldwide on the topic. For many years (and even occasionally these days) he was a vendor of altar tools and supplies which led him to write The Magick Toolbox for Red Wheel/Weiser  


  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell Monday, 01 July 2013

    I understand exactly what you mean. I am a solitary but that does not stop me from taking part in the wider community.

    I am editor and main reporter for ACTION, the official newsletter for Alternative Religions Educational Network and I interview Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens and even ceremonial magicians in the United States and in various parts of the world and then publish on line. This despite living on a dead end state highway out in the boonies of the Southern New Mexico desert.

    I can do interviews by e-mail. In the process I ca help the various communities keep in touch with each other.

    Readers and friends on the internet give me suggestions of who to interview, so I am not limited to just who this old man knows.

    I have never understood the complaint of Pagan groups not being conveniently near by as an excuse for not taking part in the greater Pagan community. I have been keeping in touch since before computers, then by snail mail.

    All of this is part of the freedom of being solitary.

  • Carl Neal
    Carl Neal Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    Christopher, that is nothing short of awesome! This is precisely what I was talking about. I don't care if you are living on the International Space Station, you can still be an active, vital part of the Greater Community. Thank you for embodying this idea!! If you were within driving distance of me I would come and shoot an episode of Magick Moment about your work. I don't suppose you ever come to PantheaCon in San Jose? In any event, thank you for your kind words, thank you for reading, but most of all thank you for the work you do to unite our Community!!!

  • Christopher Blackwell
    Christopher Blackwell Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    Wish I was near by, rather fond of the old Winchester House. My Partner lived in the Berkeley Hills and remembers as a kid all that being farm land and small towns. Of course I remember it being almost the same around Los Angeles.

    In our various communities we have plenty of people who know nothing about the other communities, especially true in my Wiccan Community, but plenty of others see no reason to keep in contact with other communities. However there also those who think it is important to know what is going on and they are rarely going to learn about it in everyday media, one of the reasons pagan are creating their own media and some of it goes far beyond anything that I do.

    Right now I am interviewing a lady in South Africa that got her PhD in comparative religion and then began to focused of the modern Pagan religions and the indigenous ons, both being mostly ignored by Academia in South Africa. No only have her studies been taught i, the colleges and universities, she takes those studies out to do hands on work on the problems. An amazing lady that I learned about through some of my other friends there. I am involved on petitions and letters to the editor on the problem of Witch hunts.

    I know of some young pagans in Russian and some of the other Eastern Europeans, some of them see my articles as their window on the outside Pagan world. But it works in reverse when I report on what is happening there. Not to mention that I get to learn about Pagans in places I never formally thought on and in communities that I had known nothing about. Also I have a few Pagan groups that I take part in that now have the right to reprint any article that I have written if it would be of use. Just as the people I interview have the immediate right to repost their interviews anywhere. All of this is part of networking information.

    There is another aspect of this. While I have interviewed famous Pagans, sometimes the interview with people unknown and in the background have a greater effect, first because they won't overwhelm some of my readers, but also because what they are doing is simpler and easier to imagine. So sometimes there is that "Ah ha moment of gee I can do that!" And then we get another person hat discovers something simple that they can do in our communities. To me that may be the most important part. More people active might just mean fewer people overworking until they burn out. An active community if a more interesting community. How much to we hear the complaint well nothing is happening.

    I always ask my Goddess and God to either give me inspiration, or a kick in the butt, whichever would be most effective and so far they have not failed me yet. So even though I use a walker, have a few health issues live in the middle of nowhere, and no longer drive, there are still a few ways I can take art in the greater comity. Yet back when I was 38 and starting Wicca, ah the good ol' days of the Satanic Child Abuse scare, I couldn't even write one page letter worth reading, so I figure the Goddess and God wanted this to happen. Not even when I was asked to start ACTION on an eight issue per year did I know what I was getting into. Probably a good thing I did not and yes one can learn by the seat of his pants.

  • Cea Noyes
    Cea Noyes Monday, 01 July 2013

    Thanks Carl. Nicely put. I've been practicing on my own since 1978 and by my own choice. Of course, back then it was difficult to find a group if you lived in the midwest but my choice is still to practice on my own. I participate in communities around me but have never felt a need to be a part of a spiritual community.
    I would say that the biggest "problem" I run into is the assumption by some that a solitary Wiccan isn't really a Wiccan, ignoring that I've been practicing longer than some of my skeptics have been alive. But, that is their problem not mine. Personally, I love herding cats.

  • Carl Neal
    Carl Neal Tuesday, 02 July 2013

    That is indeed a huge problem faced by many Solitaries and one that will be the topic of more than one blog in the future! The perception of legitimacy of the Solitary is an issue that will have to be addressed if the gaps between Solitary and Traditional Pagan will every be bridged. Thanks for reading!

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