This week I am continuing the witchcraft A to Z with Covens. Specifically – why you might like to join a coven, how to join a coven, and what to watch out for if you decide that joining a coven is right for you.
First question – What is a Coven?
Well that’s actually quite a difficult question! But a simple answer, which I think works quite well is that it is a gathering of witches who come together to do magic and witchy things.
The term coven can cover a wide range of groups and approaches. Every tradition does things a little differently. And one blog post can never hope to be a definitive guide to what modern a coven is. Or is not.
In a short article its simply not possible to do justice to such BIG topics.
So in this blog I’m taking a broad brush approach and I am including any magical group of witches. They might call themselves a hearth, or a study group, or a circle, or a sanctuary or even a temple. I include anything which is a group of people, getting together and practicing witchcraft.
Why Should you Join a Coven?
Hey – don’t look at me! I never said you should join a coven!!
I’m not going to tell you if its better to join a coven or be a solitary witch. Only you can decide that. It’s different for every witch – and you may change you mind. Sometimes more than once.
Arguing about whether being in a coven is better than not being in a coven is like arguing about whether chocolate is better than brie cheese.
Actually, that’s an argument I often have with myself………
Let’s dig into some of the things you need to think about before deciding to join a coven.
When starting out on your magical journey as a witch its natural to want to look for a mentor, a teacher or a guide to help you through the maze of information that is out there.
It is entirely possible to piece a practice together yourself from the rich sources of information available, but its not easy. We live in an information rich world. You can find almost anything on the internet or in a book.
But there is something about the magical path you can never learn from a book.
If you want to truly learn the secrets of witchcraft and magic, you have two broad options:
- Learn by experience. By trial and error. There will be many errors. Many trials. But you can learn everything you need by DOING and by communicating with the spirits around you. Occasionally you will get a kick from higher powers (however you perceive them). Mostly you’ll get ignored in the beginning. And it will take you a lifetime of practice.
- Learn from someone who has walked a path before. Note I say ‘a’ path. Not ‘the’ path. There is no single valid path. This has the benefit of being a BIT easier, because it filters out some of the initial dross. It gives you clear direction. You are walking a path where the overgrown brambles have been stomped down for you. You will initially get results more quickly. BUT…..but….. you will still have to learn by doing. Experience is Everything in witchcraft. And it will still take a lifetime of practice.
It comes down in large part to your personal style.
Let’s say you decide to go down the path of learning from someone else. It’s a small hop, skip and a keyboard jump and you are googling ‘How to Join a Coven in [insert nearest big town]’.
But before you do, you need to do some serious thinking about what you want to get from joining a Coven.
The Benefits of Joining a Coven
1. The Company.
The biggest benefit of joining a coven in my view is the company. The family of witches you join. Having other people learning alongside you, and people who are further on their journeys can be wonderful.
When done right group ritual and worship can really pack a punch.
Importantly, the dynamic in a small, tight knit group during ritual is entirely different from an open group ritual. A coven which works together regularly builds a power and magic which sets them aside, which transforms its people by being part of it. And you can be more open, more yourself, less restricted in a small intimate working group. More real if you like.
Conversely – just like a family – the company can be the hardest part! Families see you at your best and at your worst, and they offer advice whether you want to hear it or not. Covens are not just there for the good times. They are there for the bad. To stretch you and develop you. To tell you the uncomfortable truths. Don’t go into this expecting Love and Light at every corner. A family is a family – warts and all.
2. The Training
A coven often has a set training programme, following a tradition or a path already battle tested. The material can be very good quality and not available publicly in that format. Its unlikely in the early days to contain information that cannot be pieced together for yourself – but the information and techniques will have been curated for you.
A coven also comes with a face to face teacher – the coven leader – who guides you, mentors you, watches you and tweaks the training to meet your needs. Gently corrects your meditation posture. And not too gently deals with the spirits you accidently conjured and can’t deal with!
In a coven you learn from your teacher. From your fellow coven mates. From the experiences you share together.
3. The Motivation
Being a member of a coven pushes you to do the work. Its harder to skate along convincing yourself you are progressing and developing when you are in a coven!
If you don’t do the work and master the skills its not just you that will know – its all your coven mates!
You will also be pushed out of your comfort one and take on things you might avoid if practicing alone. There are lots of reasons we don’t study certain topics when left to our own devices – lack of interest, lack of confidence you are capable of it, maybe even a lack of knowledge that this subject exists. In a coven you cannot avoid these things, and that has a habit of pushing you along quicker and making sure your training covers all the bases not just your strengths!
Of course, all of these benefits only come if you find a GOOD coven. And sadly, not all covens are good ones.
How to Find a Good Coven – and the 5 Big Red Flags to avoid the Bad Ones
Even in the age where Facebook is King and Instagram is queen, the best source for finding covens is still Witchvox!
The other big way to find a coven is to get involved in the local pagan scene and get to know people. Attend moots, go to open rituals, attend workshops. Then once you know and trust people you can ask for recommendations.
Think carefully about what you are looking for in a coven – don’t just join the first coven you find that is accepting members.
Ask yourself some key questions:
Are you looking for a specific tradition of witchcraft? Are you looking for Initiation? If yes to either of these then you need to find a coven which offers that. If you don’t know the answer to those questions then you need to do more research before you start looking for a coven. That might be your old friend google, or just chatting to people in your area.
Does the coven have an ethos and purpose that aligns with your beliefs? That’s not to say you need to agree with 100% of what they are about – you want to be stretched and challenged for example – but you don’t want to join a coven that is diametrically opposed to your fundamental values.
Are the coven leaders people who you respect and like? Do they have their lives together? Are they people you can look up to and would like to emulate magically? Ask questions about their experience – and ask them to back up any claims. If they say they studied for a decade with another local coven then they won’t have a problem putting you in contact with that coven to check it out.
Does the coven have a good reputation locally? Or are there a lot of bad stories from people you generally trust?
But what about the not so good Covens?
There are many reasons why a coven may not be right for you.
Some covens are just not good covens for you –a different ethos, a different path, a different fit. Remember that every coven is different – not all covens are wiccan for a start! They are not all run by a High Priestess or offer 3 different levels of initiation. Or any initiation. They don’t even all meet for Full Moon rituals (I KNOW!! Shocking). But this doesn’t make them bad covens! Learn about the tradition or style of coven you are considering before judging it. Most likely they are great covens, but they are wrong for you.
Other Covens are not well run covens. The leaders may not be particularly well trained or are in the early stages of learning themselves for example. Or perhaps there is just a lack of organisation.
Some are just a bit dysfunctional – personality clashes not dealt with, or excessive in fighting and cliques. Generally best avoided.
But some are dangerous. Some have very unhealthy habits. Some should be avoided like the plague.
The problem is that when you are a beginner it can be very, very difficult to know the difference. Some of the worst covens are run by the most charismatic of personalities. Some have cult like followings which seem like positive endorsements.
And some of the very best covens are hidden in the shadows, run by slightly socially awkward people better suited to talking to spirits than humans! Many very good covens will have a long list of people they had to reject who might be feeling bitter and talk them down.
So, the hard truth is you have to use your own discernment. Which is good because you need to develop this to be a witch anyway!
To help you get started here are 5 Big Red Flags to help you know what to avoid.
1. Overly Secretive.
You should expect some level of secrecy with covens. You may be asked to never publicly name the coven you are in. You will probably be told to never name other members of the coven without their express permission. You will likely be asked not to share the training. That is all normal – and comes from a place of protecting privacy of members.
What is not acceptable is insisting that you hide membership from your family/spouse/closest friends. You should never be asked to lie about where you are or what you are doing. In my coven we have the exact opposite rule – we insist you tell them! You don’t need to share all the details. But you cannot pretend you have joined a dance class. I refuse to be complicit in you lying to people you love and live with. And we will always meet with family in a non-witchy setting if asked. We know families worry and we will do what we can to put minds at rest that we are not raving crazies. Just minor level crazy!
If a coven demands complete secrecy, ask why. And if the answer is lacking, walk away.
2 Probing questions are not well answered
You should always be allowed to ask questions in a coven. And you deserve good answers. Leaders who don’t like questions often have something to hide.
You are entitled to disagree with anything you are taught. As a witch you have a responsibility to develop discrimination and to challenge everything before accepting it as fact, just because its what you are told.
If you don’t get good answers to questions when you are enquiring about a coven, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t get good answers to questions once you join.
Of course, the flip side to this is that if you disagree with everything you are being taught then the coven might not be a good fit for you anyway! And you might be politely released if your views are totally at odds with the coven teachings. But the point is you should have an opportunity – and be encouraged – to explore the topic. To understand it. And to make informed choices.
3. Sex is a requirement of training or initiation
Sex should never be a requirement. Full Stop.
You should never feel pressured to have sex. Full Stop.
Sex has a place in witchcraft. A very consensual place.
If you feel uncomfortable walk away. And speak to someone in the community you trust. You never have to deal with it alone.
4. Very High Prices are demanded
Just because its witchcraft and magic doesn’t mean its free. I don’t buy into any of the modern new age ‘never charge for magic’ stuff. But, that said, covens are not businesses (some covens do run businesses though….).
You may well be asked to contribute to the running costs of a coven. A small monthly contribution is entirely normal. You would be surprised how quickly costs add up! You should not expect to be given everything for free (and if the coven leaders do run a business you absolutely should not expect them to provide those services for free).
But, demands for very high prices are not usual. Only you can judge how much is too much and what value you are getting back in return. Ask yourself – is it costs or profit? If you feel your main purpose as a coven member is to make the coven leader rich then you have probably spotted a red flag!
5. Your GUT tells you something is off.
If you are looking to join a coven then the chances are you’ve been doing a little bit of witchcraft. Your senses are starting to prick up. And if something feels off, or wrong, it probably is.
If a coven asks anything of you that makes you feel uncomfortable, listen to that voice. Trust your instincts.
Its impossible to write a comprehensive list of things which are not acceptable in a coven – because different things are acceptable to different people.
But the general rules of living safely in society apply to covens as much as they do to knitting groups.
Witchcraft is in the shadows, but not so much so that you are not capable of judging what’s right and wrong. Sometimes it can all feel very mysterious – and sometimes that veil of mystery can be used to trick or mislead. But remember you are an intelligent adult that manages to get through life every single day and you shouldn’t go too far wrong!
Alternatives to Joining a Coven
Once people decide they want to learn witchcraft from another person, joining a coven seems to be the default first option.
Why? Because the idea of covens and witchcraft go hand in hand.
These days we tend to think that to learn from someone else you have to join a coven.
There are a million different options. [Yes that’s an exaggeration, there are probably 10-20 options.]
Off the top of my head you could attend a local moot. You could find a witch locally to chat with regularly. You could find a witch mentor online. You could join one of the better Facebooks groups and hang out and listen.
You could take a good online course. Something like this
NOT something which claims to be a degree, or a diploma or any other grand claims. Remember witchcraft is about DOING not about certificates and exams…….
You could attend workshops and conferences. You could do all of the above.
Or you could just keep reading my blog!!
(Actually don’t just do that!! Do other things too. Diversity is key)