Finding the Right Coven
Author: Rowan of Oakmist
A coven is a group of people who join together to practice the Craft. They make a covenant to follow certain agreed-upon paths.
Traditionally, a coven has thirteen members, but covens often function with any number of people, from three to whatever is comfortable. In my experience, smaller is better than larger. The energy raised by too many people can be difficult to harness and direct. A small group used to working together often is much more powerful than a large group which only meets occasionally. Some covens work with equal numbers of male and female members; others may be more flexible. Still others consist of entirely one gender.
To become a member of a coven, you usually must prove yourself to be trustworthy and determined. Some groups have Rites of Dedication, which may be undertaken once one has been accepted as a prospective member of a coven. Some, after a specified time, traditionally a year and a day, offer initiation in order to become a full-fledged member of the coven.
During the required introductory period, it is common to undergo vigorous training. You must make a serious commitment to attend regular meetings. You must learn to concentrate on the lessons of life, which are going on around you every moment. You must begin to learn to control your mind and your will, and you must learn the first steps in “bending” nature. You must learn about perfect love and perfect trust. You must learn to be a little less independent and to work as a team during ritual.
If you are successfully matched you will feel a strong sense of belonging when meeting with your group. If you don’t feel this way, it does not mean you are not a witch or that you cannot be part of a coven; it simply means that this particular group of people may not be where you belong. Speak with the leaders of the coven and ask them if they can recommend another group where you might feel more comfortable. As a rule, coven leaders in contact with each other, and if you are an earnest student, they are usually happy to introduce you to leaders of more compatible covens in order to help you find your path. Above all else, continue searching.
When I first began studying the Craft, visiting other covens or participating in their rituals was discouraged. Coven secrets were jealously guarded and students were almost cloistered. But today, covens, groves, and circles often meet together for Sabbats and Esbats. They share information and rituals and often form strong bonds, creating the feel of a clan or tribe. This coin has two sides: although It is encouraging to see the result of this phenomenon (many small pieces of a larger puzzle slowly coming together for the good of all) , could we be making a mistake in sacrificing the safety and secrecy so highly prized by our ancestors? This is a decision each witch must make individually.
Supplies are needed to run a coven and members should make unsolicited contributions. The Priest or Priestess should not be expected to furnish the coven with materials. In Oakmist’s training covens, students pay a small materials fee at each meeting. This fee purchases most of the supplies needed to complete the student’s training.
Finding a coven to join can be difficult. One route is through personal contacts. If Wicca is your chosen path, sometimes, there are classes in Wicca available at community colleges. If you are earnestly seeking a coven to join you might consider speaking to the folks in metaphysical bookstores. Pagan and Wiccan festivals are advertised in periodicals or on bulletin boards in occult shops and bookstores. You also could try placing an advertisement in a free press newsletter or periodical. Another good resource is the Internet, and there are many wonderful web pages where contacts are listed. You might think about posting a note on a bulletin board in the bohemian part of town. Something like “NEOPHYTE SEEKING TRAINING IN WICCA.” Chances are, you will get a few responses. Witches are everywhere!
There is a difference between being cautious and being paranoid. If you choose to find a coven through advertising, whether you place the ad or answer the ad, it is good practice to be cautious. I would counsel you to open a post office box during your search and receive all mail there instead of at your home. No matter who’s in charge, it always seems somebody wants to feed the lions!
Do not invite a stranger into your house. Do not go to a stranger’s house. When you make a prospective contact, arrange the first two or three meetings in a public place, such as a coffee shop or the public library. Take a friend along for support. A legitimate priestess or priest will not discourage you from bringing a friend along to the meeting place, although the friend may not be invited to sit in on the meeting itself. Your friend should come prepared with something to read or to otherwise keep them busy while you speak confidentially with your contact person. It is acceptable to use a pseudonym when first meeting your contact. Later, however, your priestess or priest will probably expect you to give your legal name.
Be prepared to answer questions about your prior experience, your beliefs, and your ethics. The contact person needs to determine whether or not you will fit comfortably into their coven before they invite you to visit. It is quite permissible for you to question the contact person as well and they should encourage it. It is a good idea to sit down before the meeting and make a list of questions and concerns that you may have, both magical and practical.
If a group chooses not to accept you, don’t let it hurt your feelings. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean they don’t think you are good enough or that your answers to their questions were wrong. It simply means that for one reason or another, they don’t feel things will work well for you and their particular group. If this happens, you should feel free to ask if they know of anyone else who may be accepting students or coven members. A priest or priestess will often know what’s going on in the Craft community and can give you good leads.
After the interview, go home and do some sort of divinatory reading. More important than anything else, listen to your inner voice. If you feel uncomfortable or if it just doesn’t feel right — do not get involved. If you feel any sexual overtones at all, do not get involved. You will never be asked to exchange sexual favors for training by a legitimate teacher. You should never be asked to do anything that compromises your own ethics or morals. If this happens, hit the door as fast as you can and don’t look back.
Remember, the Craft itself is not for sale. There are no fees for initiation. If someone offers to teach you Wicca in exchange for a large sum of money, I would seriously recommend you contemplate looking elsewhere. However, there are those who make their living doing psychic counseling, teaching public classes, or managing correspondence courses These people are allowed to charge a fair fee for their time and labor. Materials required for learning should also be the responsibility of the student. Just bear in mind that if it seems too expensive . . . it is! Don’t haggle, keep looking, and you will find a teacher who will fit your needs.
AGE DOES MATTER!
Most teachers I know will not take students under the age of majority for legal and other magical reasons. Some teachers will take minor students with written parental permission. Never lie about your age to a teacher. You can get them in serious trouble! Laws exist to protect the parent-child relationship from those who would interfere from the outside. The legal system is very supportive of parents. Although I personally gave my children a choice in their religious belief, I would not have responded well to someone sneaking behind my back to indoctrinate my children when they were young. If you think about it carefully, you probably wouldn’t like it either!
If you are looking for a teacher on the Internet, be very cautious. Never give anyone your home address or phone number. Know who you are talking to. Ask for and check references. Never agree to meet anyone alone and never, ever be alone with an adult teacher.
If your parents absolutely refuse to let you search for a teacher or if you cannot find a teacher to take you until you are of age, study on your own until then. Honor your parents. Two of the first things to learn about being a witch are patience and honesty. Your parents’ religion may be the path you chose before coming to this plane of existence or the path the Goddess wishes you to take. There may be a reason; lessons to learn. Trust Her.
Read, study, watch nature, and wait patiently until you are of age.
At that time, you will be free to seek a teacher or coven to work with.
Working with a coven can be an enriching experience. Having others to learn from and to share with is wonderful! But it is certainly not the ideal or the only worthwhile experience. Much can be learned by being a solitary witch. While you work alone, the God/dess is just as accessible, if not more so.
Remember the words of the Charge, “If that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without…” Wisdom is found by looking within. One of the primary lessons a witch must learn is to be still… and listen.
May the Goddess lead you on your path to wisdom.
Rowan of Oakmist
From “The Secret Door; Oakmist Tradition Training Manual” by Rowan Carvalho