At some point in the seeker’s journey it might be that you decide you are ready to join a coven. This is a decision that needs to be taken seriously. The bonds between members of a coven are akin to the bonds of family, and you will be expected to embark on a path of study and learning that requires a certain amount of commitment. If you’re sure that a coven is for you, the next problem is- finding a coven! This can be SO HARD for a seeker, especially if you are new to the pagan community near you. So how should you go about finding the coven of your witchy dreams?
Where do I look?
First of all, tap into the local pagan community, and attend some of the public events that are open to coven members, general magical practitioners and solitaries alike. This is not always possible if you live in a remote area, but you might be surprised just what might be going on in your local town. Look online for email groups, social clubs or Facebook groups for local meetings. In Australia, social pagan circles host events such as Pagans in the Park, Pagans in the Pub, and there are open circles held in almost every state. You will find that pagans are very welcoming people and you will quickly make some friends that should be able to give you the heads up on any covens who are currently accepting seekers. Of course, if large social gatherings are not your forté, you could try asking at local new age or pagan supply stores if they have any knowledge. Real life contact is generally a good start- you might find that pagans are sometimes slippery to pin down using modern conveniences like email (we’re not all tech-savvy!)
The biggest obstacle will be finding a coven that fits. And if you do, hoping they are welcoming to new members! It is sometimes difficult to find groups as not all members will be out of the broom closet and it might be that their channels are fairly closed to the public. In addition, most groups only accept members into their ‘Outer Court’ at certain times. The Outer Court is a learning circle for uninitiated members of a circle who have committed to study but have not met requirements for the full commitment of ‘Inner Court’. Teaching resources (especially time) are limited and it is not always prudent for covens to be accepting new members all the time- most covens are tight-knit and the transience of having randoms popping in and out is not conducive to a well-functioning magical circle.
What to look for
Second of all, it is important to set your own personal standards in terms of what you want from the group. It is easy to be seduced by the aura of mystery a high priest or priestess can sometimes hold, but try to remember they are only human too and everyone has had to start somewhere. Do your research and have at least a few books and articles under your belt. The pagan path is not supposed to be a dogmatic religion, but at the same time try to be respectful as some covens can hold to particular traditions and ways of working which will need to be upheld. Keep in mind issues such as safety- Pagan Awareness Australia publishes a very useful pamphlet- and try to use some common sense when putting yourself in new situations. I’m not saying that there’s a bunch of kooky warlocks out there to steal your soul (or your money), but it’s important to keep in mind in any new social situation where trust is important. Speaking of money, you should not be asked to pay for your study, excepting a modest tithing fee or small donation to pay for tools that might be used- or tea, coffee & the like. Asking for money from seekers for study in a coven context is generally frowned upon in the pagan community. You have a right to ask questions and if you are stonewalled on issues you feel are important to you, remember you are free to walk away. Again, do your research and get a bit of a feel from the community at large on the group you are thinking of joining.
Some questions you should ask could include;
- What is the tradition of the coven, or what are the main influences on their way of working?
- What ethical or moral practices does the coven uphold?
- Is there a structure for teaching and learning?
- What would be expected of you as a seeker or member of their Outer Court?
- How often does the coven meet, do they work skyclad, will there be cupcakes, etc! (also, no cupcakes? Total dealbreaker for me.)
What to expect
Once you find a group, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind. It’s not all snowbunnies and frisky kittens in dew-drop land. On occasion, you will encounter personality clashes, your circumstances will change, or you will become time-poor and unable to commit. Or it might simply be that your spiritual path will change and the group will no longer be a fit for what you need, or want, in your life. It is a fact that pagan groups tend to be heavier on the female side of the gender binary ratio, however I strongly disagree gossip and drama goes hand-in-hand with gatherings of women. In social groups of ANY descript, you will encounter hierarchies, histories, and plots. If you discover these in your coven, try not to take anything personally, and again ask yourself: is this what you want? Is this conducive to your spiritual path? If it isn’t, get out.
Generally speaking, once a seeker has dedicated and has been accepted by their coven, many covens follow the traditional ‘year and a day’ precept for students of the Craft before they can be initiated. During that year you will hopefully learn many of the basics of witchcraft that are required for 1st degree initiation, via an assigned mentor or the leader of the group. It all sounds pretty prescribed and strict, but when you consider the trust and commitment that is implicit in a well-oiled magical circle (and we do like our oils), it makes sense that members have jumped the appropriate hoops to prove their ‘worth’. Keep in mind, not every coven follows this structure, although many do.
As part of a coven, you will possibly be expected to attend events and workshops as per the coven’s usual routine. This could include esbats (lunar rituals) or sabbats (solar festivals), workshops, healing circles, study groups… the list goes on. Some covens meet a handful of times a year, and others every week.
The path of the witch is supposed to be one of personal responsibility and ownership. To be a member of a coven is not to be a lackey who does someone else’s bidding, but rather a member of a group that facilitates workings that are for the good of all.
On the other side
Working in a coven is an amazing experience that can add ten-fold to your spiritual journey. Being a solitary witch has it’s charms, but working in a circle offers many opportunities. They do say the teacher will appear when the student is ready, and as clichéd as it is, it does ring true. If all else fails, a little spell to help ease the flow of networks and connections can’t go astray!