Forming a Real-Life Coven

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Forming a Real-Life Coven
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 1
At some point or other many of us are faced with the decision as to whether to venture forth in Her service to teach and/or to lead a group. Sometimes the job is thrust upon us by friends and acquaintances who want us to teach them the ways of the Craft. Sometimes it is just a group of solitaries who decide to formalize their relationship into a coven structure. And sometimes there is an internal calling to reach out to others and provide a space where they can learn and worship in the old ways. Whatever the reason, it is a step that should be approached with due care and after considerable thought and introspection, for it is a step that will change you and all with whom you come in contact.

Much though we would like to believe that our common spiritual path is sufficient incentive for a group to grow and prosper, the fact is that the life span of most Pagan groups is less than six years. Sometimes this is the result of normal attrition, sometimes it is the result of interpersonal conflicts, but more often than not it is the result of lack of prior planning that should have taken place long before a group held its first ritual.

There is no one right way to form a group. I am going to propose a series of questions that it has been my experience that individuals need to consider before they formalize their group identify. Each group needs to decide for itself what works best for them. And as long as it is the consensus of the group that this is the way they wish to work, then that way should be correct for them. But do look at the advantages and potential pitfalls carefully before deciding which alternative is best for you.

I. Define the Group's Purpose.

This may seem like a silly question at first, but think a moment. If some of those forming the group are looking for a serious place to worship and study and others are only looking for a social environment to be around other Pagans it isn't likely that the group will be able to stay together long before it isn't meeting someone's needs. Make sure that everyone agrees on the purpose of the group first, that way there will be less friction between members over some of the other questions we'll address here.

II. How will the group be structured?

Are you going to have a High Priestess or High Priest to lead the group? If so, how will they be chosen? What is their background and training that make them suited for this role? Will you then have Initiates and non-Initiates? Or will the group forego a degree structure and will everyone be on an equal footing in running the group?

III. How will decisions be made?

There are three basic ways in which any group approaches the decision making process.

A. Autocratic: Decisions are made by the group leader(s) and everyone is expected to follow their ruling.

B. Democratic: Everyone has a part in the decision making process, the options go to a vote, and the majority vote rules.

C. Consensus: Everyone has a part in the decision making process and a decision is not made until everyone in the group agrees on the outcome. One word of caution with this option. It works fairly well with small groups under 10 or so. But it becomes unwieldy in larger groups. It can also be hijacked by someone who refuses to negotiate.

1V: Setting rules for behavior, handling grievances/disciplinary actions .

Most of us would prefer to believe that we can all act as adults and play nicely together without having rules. But sooner or later something will come up and you will need grounds to show why it is not acceptable behavior within your group. Deciding in advance what behaviors are not acceptable within the group (ie: use of illegal substances) means that all of the group members are aware of the limits of behavior and the consequences if they chose to violate those limits.

There will also be occasions where members of the group are at odds with each other. Having a grievance procedure in place to help iron out these differences may mean the group survives and goes on. Many the group that has floundered and failed because some of the members couldn't get along and created warring factions that splintered the group. Have a means in place to keep this from happening.

V: Decide on the size and makeup of the group

Will your group be same gendered or open to those of both genders? Will you keep the group small or will you be willing to add more people as they hear of you and express and interest in joining?

VI: How will new members be added?

Will you be open to anyone who expresses an interest in your group? Will you have some sort of screening process? Will you have a probationary period? Will new members have access to all rituals and activities of the group, or will they be limited to open circles until they have completed training?

VII: Will you have a teaching program?

If so, you need to start thinking about what that program will consist of. What subjects do you consider vital for your members to know? Are there things you want to teach that will be specific to your group? Who will do the teaching? Will you teach in a class setting or in one-on-one preceptorship?

IX: When will the group meet to hold ritual?

There are pros and cons to the possibilities here. You can chose to hold ritual on the day of the actual event..on the Full Moon, or on the particular Sabbat. Magically speaking there is a certain power in doing this at the planetary hour. Butit can be difficult for people with jobs or going to school, or with daily commitments to manage late nights in the middle of the week.

An alternative is to hold ritual on the weekend closest to the event. This may well make it possible for more of the group to participate on a regular basis, even if it loses a bit of the magic associated with the precise moment of the event.

X: Will children be permitted in circle?

This is always a delicate issue and can be a cause of great friction in a group between parents who want to share their religion with their children and those without children who find little ones in circle detracts from their spiritual experience. There are several possibilities here for ways to handle the situation and hopefully satisfy both sides of the argument. One would be for the group to start having a separate circle for the smaller children, one which could include activities more suited to their age group. This could be led by parents or other coven members who volunteer to take turns doing this. Another would be for older children, those old enough to understand and participate to stand in circle if they wished, while younger children either remained at home or had separate activities planned for them.

Another issue that bears mentioning here is that of minors attending rituals. Please be aware that in the United States it is illegal to interfere in the religious upbringing of a minor without the parent's consent. That means that, no matter how much we'd like to open our circles to young teens who are interested in the Craft, we could be putting ourselves at legal risk if their parents disapprove. Many group will allow minors to attend only if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Some will accept a written permission slip from a parent, but our legal resources have advised us that such permissions will not stand up in court if the parent states that they would not have granted permission had they known what we were really doing with their child.

XI: What happens when things don't work out?

Keeping a group together and running smoothly takes effort on everyone's part. And in the process there are both emotional and psychic bonds that are formed. But sometimes, no matter how much you want it to work and no matter how hard you try, things just don't work out. Perhaps there are fallings out amongst the members. Perhaps people find other interests or grow apart. People will sometimes leave the group in anger. Sometimes there will be betrayals of trust. It happens. And when it does there need to be methods in place to help the group heal and go on and to cut those psychic ties. And if it happens that the group itself is to end, then it is a good idea to have some idea of how to dismantle the group mind/heart that has formed without causing pain to those leaving.

As you see, forming a group that will succeed and prosper is much more than just a moment's decision that it might be a fun thing to do. There are no right or wrong answers here, only those that are right for your group. And the proof that you chose correctly will be in whether your group continues to meet the spiritual needs of its members over time.

And finally, here is a list of recommended books and websites that will help you in making your decisions and in keeping your group running smoothly.

Bibliography Books :

"Wicca Covens ", Judy Harrow, Citadel Press, 1999

"Antagonists in the Church ", Kenneth C. Haugk, Augsburg Publishing House, 1988

"Principle Centered Leadership ", Stephen R. Covey, Fireside Books, 1990

"Spiritual Mentoring ", Judy Harrow, ECW Press, 2002

"Deepening Witchcraft ", Grey Cat, 2002

"Inside a Witch's Coven ", Edain McCoy

"CoivenCraft" by Amber K


Resources for Coven Leaders:

Path of the High Priestess :

On Leaders and Coven Structures :

Tyranny of Structurelessness:

Starting a Grove-SLG's Story:

Tangled Moon Coven Bylaws :

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Re: Forming a Real-Life Coven
By: / Novice
Post # 2

Great article Lark! I know a lot of people who have tried to form covens only to have them seteriorate because of a lack of intention, content and direction. I think this would be a great read for anyone thinking of starting a coven.

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Re: Forming a Real-Life Coven
Post # 3
Fantastic Lark thank you for sharing. The Witches Coven by Edain McCoy was given to me by a friend a long time ago and I found extremely helpful and thought provoking. There is a lot of useful information here!
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Re: Forming a Real-Life Coven
Post # 4

Very insightful and thought provoking Lark I think it would help a lot of those who wish to start a coven, as well as the covens who want to restructure! i am new to being in a group/ coven and just reading this has really opened my eyes to problems that may occour! It had one item that made me think about, and that was the use of illegal drugs! Who would decide the illegality of said drug and would it be just a no drugs at all or if legal in your state it would be permissable? As I am a person who has suffered in severe at imes very severe pain for longer than I have lived so far, I have become allergic to all the synthetic drugs used for pain. However; my state has leagalized the use of medicinal marijuana, and that is the only reason I have used it, well since the 70's anyway! i think you can see a unique circumstance that would need to be adressed in that area for perhaps many different members? Just thought i would mention it!


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Re: Forming a Real-Life Coven
By: / Novice
Post # 5

My viewpoint on the "drugs" issue (Only my opinion based on my own experience.):

I am on a few different, perscribed drugs. Some of them, such as thyroid medications, would not have an impact on my magical practice. Some, such as the pain meds and muscle relaxers, can. I think the biggest issue with drugs, legal and illegal, is how it affects your mental state, capacities and your ability to focus and direct energy. In my honest opinion, anything that affects you in mentally should be refrained from. Now, that is not possible with everything. But, we should make an extra effort to attain a purity of mind and body when doing magical work. I make sure not to take pain meds or muscle relaxers for at least a day before magical work. I do the same with caffine, which I rarely consume anyway, alcohol and the like.

Now, do not take that to mean I am advising you to not take meds that are perscribed to you. By all means, do so. Just be aware of how that can affect your state of mind and your magical work.

As far as illegal drugs, what you do on your time is your own business. However, when you are standing in circle, mixing energies with others for a specific purpose, you should be aware of that and respectful of how you are affecting the energies of others. If you think that people can not feel the difference, you are wrong. If you think that it won't aggect a group working, you are also wrong. This is part of the reason that, at least in all the magical groups I have been in, there has been very strict screening processes. On top of the energetic standpoint, if somehow you were busted in the middle of ritual with an illegial substance and not only you but your coven members faced legal trouble for your actions, that would not be good.

For a brief time I worked with a Pueblo shaman. The training did, at one point, involve peyote. Once we were done with that part, he said "Now you know where you are going. Go get there." As he explained, things like that are like looking into the window of the higher, or deeper depending on your viewpoint, levels. It is not actually accessing it. You have to be able to do that without the drugs. In observing others who have done magical work while on illegal drugs I have found this to be true.

But, as I stated, this is just my advice. Take it or leave it.

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