On my altar, I have a wooden token that reads, “The fire on my hearth kindles the fire in my heart.”

This phrase, so common in ADF prayer and ritual, sums up the solitary core of my practice: If I do not regularly tend my hearthfire, I find myself stumbling in the dark, cold and unsure of my path. But when my hearthfire shines brightly, I have a warm, constant certainty that even when I am lost, I can find my way home again.

Solitary practice is the heart of my druidry.

Even as a grove participant, the practice I perform alone is the core, the true hearth of my religion. To my grove, I am so many things. I am liturgist, I am seer, I am dancer, I am performer. It’s easy to get caught up in the roles, to want to top myself and impress the others. The ritual can become less about worship and more about performance.

But when I am alone before my small, quiet altar, there is no one to impress but the Kindred. I am all of those roles, but I am none of them. In solitude, I am simply myself, come in a spirit of humble worship to offer praise and sacrifice to the Beings.

Yet even as the solitude cuts away things that may not matter, it ties me to a greater awareness of those I worship and those who worship with me.

In solitude, I can see. The crystal clarity that comes from letting go all the facade, all the encrustations of expectation allows me to see myself and the Kindred with as close to perfect vision as I can ever hope to have. I can cast my gaze into the fire and let the light burn away the things I hope and fear to see. The vision given me when I am centered and comfortable in my aloneness shows me that I am part of a larger family than I ever realized.

In solitude, I can listen. Stillness grows and silence falls, and only my words to Kindred and their words to me break the surface of my awareness. There is music, but a sour note does not offend a Being who takes the offering in the spirit it was intended. And in the solitude of my grove-of-one, the music of a single voice becomes the music of a thousand generations lending their song to mine.

In solitude, I sit before a fire that never grows cold. At the end of a group ritual, we must all go home, but at the end of a solitary ritual, I can sit before my fire until I drift into dreams. Even then, the fire continues to illuminate my heart, burning a still place there to which I can always return. In that stillness, I can see and speak to the Kindred anytime I choose.

We build the foundation for all our practice when we worship alone. Only by sitting in contemplative quiet can we explore our own needs and desires, our capacity to touch the Divine. And when we sit alone, we open the door to all of the ancestors who worshipped long before we did, and we invite the deities to join us at the hearth fire.

For me, my solitary practice is the truth of my spirituality. Most paganism asks for orthopraxy, not orthodoxy: what we do matters. And when I light my candles and fill the bowl that is my well, I am living my religion, my truth. Without those tethers, I lose my way.

I tend the fire on my hearth in solitude. Only I can keep it lit.

Kristin McFarland has been an ADF member since 2010. She completed her Dedicant Path training in August, 2012 and is currently enrolled in the Pre-Clergy Training Program. She serves a scribe for Black Bear Grove and the Brighid’s Hearth SIG, and is a member of Clann na nGael, the ADF Gaelic Kin.