I’ve worked with everything from large ad hoc groups right the way down to small, formal covens, and as a solitary as well. There are advantages and disadvantages to all sized groups – in the end it is up to you what works best, and how you’re happiest.
At present, I’m working primarily as a solitary. I do most of my work outside, a lot of it in the local wild places, and I use my ritual time to reconnect and ground with the forces of nature that I sense around me.
That’s one thing I’ve noticed about my path, actually – as time has gone on, I’ve become less attached to the tools and formal, stylised ritual of paganism, and more likely to work with free thought forms, exploring where my consciousness takes me, in an almost meditative style when I work.
When I get together with others, things tend to be more formal. I have other peoples’ needs and desires to consider, and the work we are doing has to be satisfying to them as well as to me. So ritual work tends to involve more stuff, more theatrics, more words and poetry, and generally more visible movement and flow of energy.
Of course, not everyone has access to a group of like-minded individuals. And, even when you find a group of local Pagans, sometimes the way they want to work and the path they’re treading may not suit you. Or it may suit you for a time, but then the members of the group find they need to move in different directions and the group disbands.
There’s nothing wrong with casual groupings either. Pagan culture tells us, in some places quite strongly, that the “correct” way to work is in a formal coven that meets regularly, is hierarchical with both High Priest and High Priestess, that the group must work skyclad (naked) etc. etc.
There are no rules. You don’t have to do anything. To be an effective Pagan, all you have to do is feel the magic and the power of the earth inside you. That’s it. That’s all it ever is. You don’t have to wear robes, or a cape, or use a wand or a blade. It’s entirely up to you. There is no Boss of Paganism. None except you, that is.
Large groups tend to work well for celebration of the greater Sabbats. At the big festivals of the year, it can be great for local pagans to get together and share knowledge, and work together in ritual. In other words, for the community to come together. That doesn’t mean that you have to stay together afterwards, or make it a regular thing at all. But for rituals like dancing the Maypole, yes, large groups can make it more fun and help give a sense of connectedness with the past.
Smaller groups tend to work really well with meditative ritual. So anything involving chanting, drumming, moving into trance space, that sort of thing – all of it works well in smallish groups. Add a musician or two to the mix, and the results can be profound and life-changing.
And for me, solitary work is best for grounding and connecting with the earth, nature, and the natural world. I feel a deep sense of peace when I work alone, a sense that I don’t quite reach when working in groups. Solitary work is the work I do at my core, when my needs are highest.
In the end, there is nothing to say that you can’t be a member of a Coven (or Covens) and a Solitary and an organiser of large group rituals. Do what works for you. Do what makes you happy, and gives you satisfaction.
Remember: As you will, so it will be.