Choosing a Coven
There are many ways to honor Nature in our lives. Some of us
Pagan rites because there we find nurturance, guidance, and community
like-minded others. An artist, a doctor, a teacher, a technician - the
do is real, and very necessary, but our religion is not its primary
worship helps them stay attuned with Sacred Source, with the rhythms of
and Moon, with the life-affirming values of polytheistic,
religion. These are the Pagan laity, gathering again as our faith
emerges from its
Others of us find in Witchcraft (or Asatru, Druidry, or
several other Pagan
orders) our authentic life's work, our art form. Although Witches, by
earn our livings elsewhere, we dedicate much of our free time and
our Craft. We are not better, holier, or even necessarily more devoted
Gods; but here is where our talents, and our delight, seem to lie. This
way of making a difference in the world: Witches heal.
In my observation, people often spend some time exploring
community, reading, attending public rituals or festivals. For some,
exploration fosters a hunger. They wish to study more formally, explore
deeply, prepare for Initiation into the priesthood of the Goddess. You
one of them.
Perhaps you've followed the Old Ways for some time now, and
want to go
further along this Path, to deepen your experience of Pagan nature
You may believe you have the necessary talents and temperaments, and
to use those endowments to serve the people and the Gods as a Witch and
priest/ess. What next? Most of us seek formal coven training, hoping to
guidance from experienced elders and companions along the Path.
What covens can and cannot do for their students
Be mindful, though, that power, skill, and credentials are three
separate things. No one of them can substitute for either of the
prove that either of the others is also present.
- Magical and spiritual power comes only from the Gods.
- The knowledge and skill you need to use that power
from your own hard work. Coven training is the easiest and safest
way to learn
and to practice in a supportive context. Alternatively, you might seek
training from an elder you respect. Be aware that the best training
accomplishes nothing unless you actually do the work. And there
skilled and empowered Witches who are solitary and completely
- Credentials come from other people. If community
important to you, you should join a coven that is part of a lineage,
elders have traditional religious authority to bring others into that
legal clergy status matters, look for a group that is affiliated with
one of the duly
incorporated organizations like Covenant of the Goddess. Of course, one
coven can convey both types of credential -- as Proteus Coven does.
Coven Shopping: finding a place to root yourself and grow
If you choose to seek formal training, look for competent training from
experienced elders who are authentically spiritual in the context of a
coven. Remember that you have a choice. Ours is one of the fastest
religions on this continent. There are many more covens than there
ten years ago. Most of these covens make themselves accessible to
seekers. As a result, potential students can "shop around," for the
coven, the best possible match.
As always, people who have options are responsible for the
make. Be thoughtful and careful. Ask for the guidance of the Gods and
for the still small voice that carries Their response. The quality of
experience depends on the choices you make now.
Here are some things to look for:
- People you can respect, trust and love.
- Good people. How could anyone be spiritual without being at
honest and kind?
- Authentic people - people who seem to live in accordance
values they espouse. If they claim to be able to teach you Nature
they live lightly on the Earth? If they claim to be able to teach you
they seem to be grounded, centered and empowered?
- Competent people - people who seem knowledgeable and
people who are organized, who keep their appointments and are
for their classes.
- People who listen. People who ask the kinds of questions
encourage you to explore your own spirituality and your own ideas and
feelings about traditional lore. People who are genuinely open to
their students, as well as teaching them.
- People who will respect your confidences. People who will
gossip nor use information you share to manipulate or hurt you.
and some things to avoid:
- Authoritarians - stay away from anyone who tries to
your reading or to isolate you from family or friends. Beware of those
irritated when you ask challenging questions. Be even more wary of
who, when you ask a difficult question, either ridicules you or
("let your elders worry about that one, dear, your job right now is
just to learn
what we teach."). If anybody tries to forbid you to express your
opinions in the
presence of your elders, run screaming out the door. (all these things
- Sexual predators - unfortunately a few of these
every religion. If somebody tells you that your magical or spiritual
depends on your giving them what they want, first spit in their eye,
- Hypocrites - those who say they love Mother Earth,
carelessly and wastefully, those who say they love the Goddess and
or abuse human women, those who claim to be Spirit-led while their
- Exploiters - but they're not instantly identifiable.
might ask students to take a turn bringing consumable supplies like
cookies. Teaching covens may have monetary expenses, such as
or rental for a meeting room -- and it's entirely reasonable for them
dues and cover their costs from the common purse thus created. There is
debate in our community about whether a Craft teacher should accept
payment for their time and work. This is a matter of opinion, but you
sure that a teacher who takes payment is not practicing Traditional
It's also fair for a teacher or coven to ask
you to do your share of
clean-up, or of ongoing coven projects. But if some coven leader
expects you to work free in their profit-
making business, or act as their domestic servant, run screaming out
- People who order you to go against your values.
involves some subtle issues. One of the major goals of spiritual
to learn to hear the still, small inner voice. But some of our inner
actually cultural or familial programming. These prescriptions and
may also be wise, or they may be limiting, or actually evil (consider
prejudice). They often drown out the voice of authentic Spirit.
The best teachers will gently challenge their students to override
programming, but never to go against core values. The issue of
readiness is also
important. If you try to override even the nastiest old programming
are ready, you might cause a painful backlash. This psychological
actually retard your progress. Beware of insensitive autocrats who try
all their students into the same Procrustean bed.
Don't ever let anybody pressure into doing anything - in or out of
that you believe is wrong. In ritual, we speak to our deepest minds,
the moods and motivations that shape our lives. Don't ever do in
what you would not do in truth.
As polytheists, we celebrate diversity. Sacred diversity also shows
itself in a
wide range of variation among those covens that are ethical, competent
Spirit-led. You don't just want a good coven, you want one that is a
good fit for
your own talents, temperaments, inclinations and style. Here are some
compatibility issues to consider:
- Mixed gender or all female or male?
- Size - the traditional maximum is thirteen, but quieter
people may feel
more comfortable in smaller groups. The average size of a coven is more
five or six.
- Ritual style - ranges from highly formal and ceremonial to
- Teaching style - they may have a highly structured
curriculum or they
may let their teaching be directed by student interest. If there is a
curriculum, does it cover your particular interests?
- Decision-making style - this can range from full consensus
through majority vote to parent-like benevolent dictatorship.
- Time demands - good training requires the student's time
and work. As
the Craft matures, our notion of what a priest/ess needs to know has
accordingly. Pacing makes a big difference -- we can either pack it in
it out. Find out what a coven's typical time demands are, both for
and for homework. Figure out whether you can meet those demands while
continuing to have a job, a family and a life.
- Thealogical emphasis or focus: Goddess only, Goddess and
balance, or full-blown polytheism? Any particular pantheon or
- Social contact - do you want your coven to also be a large
part of your
social life, or would you rather keep social and coven life mostly
your mate is not involved with the coven, you'll almost certainly
Coven-shopping is healthy for both covens and coveners. Meet as many
covens and coven leaders as possible. Visit as many covens as you can
you commit to one. Remember as you weigh your choice that they are
themselves remarkably similar questions about you -- and this is
exactly as it
should be. We all benefit when the best possible matches are made, for
coven process forms the leaders of the future -- and our Craft must
Get to know the coven. Get to know the leaders. Coven
participation is not
just a simple transfer of knowledge or skill -- it is socialization
into a small,
closely-bonded community of priest/esses. So one final question sums up
the issues we've looked at so far. Do you want to become more like
people? If so, ask them if they will have you as their student. And may
Gods guide your Path to Their service.