Let me first say that there is no solid answer to this question, and much of this article is my own opinion.
Wicca was created by Gerald Gardner in the early 1950s. In its original form, coven membership was required simply because that was the only way to learn about it. Today, many traditionalists continue to feel this way. That the religion is designed to be practiced in a group. Coven membership is simply part of how the religion is defined.
It’s not about excluding people. Really, it’s not. It’s simply that some things cannot be learned nor experienced on your own. Let me put it another way: Would you want a doctor to operate on you who never went to medical school and only learned his skills from a book? Probably not.
The common argument “there are no covens in my town” is completely meaningless. What difference does that make? You can’t just change the definition of a religion simply because some part of it is out of your reach. I can’t afford to go to law school, so I guess I’ll just start to call myself a lawyer because I really want to be one.
Does any of this mean your spiritual beliefs are worthless? Not at all. Just means you may not be Wiccan. It’s a long-standing argument that gets rehashed in online forums almost daily. My personal conclusion is that traditional Wicca does indeed require coven membership. BUT the idea of Solitary Wicca is still a valid one, as long as people accept that it is not just an oxymoron.
Solitary Wicca isn’t simply Wicca-without-a-coven. There are subtle differences that arise from working alone versus working in a group.
I think we should accept this as a natural evolution of the religion.
Ok, it looks like I’m taking both sides of the argument here.
What I’m trying to get at is that the Traditionalists have a very valid point when they insist on coven membership as a requirement for being Wiccan. But at the same time, I think that Solitary Wicca has become a true path on its own. Perhaps Solitary Wicca needs a new name, to distance it from its Wiccan roots? I admit I’m not sure of the solution to this debate. If nothing else, I think that people on both sides need to see and understand the points made by the other without getting defensive and even hostile.