Now that I’ve started a new witches meetup group, for socialization and education, I encounter a number of pagans who just started on this path. One member asked about covens, while another mentioned she has no interest in joining any covens. This makes for an intriguing topic to cover in this blog.
What is a coven? The word coven comes from covenant, or ‘assembly’. A coven is often a group of pagans (wiccans, witches, other) who follow a tradition, sometimes evolving into their own tradition of practices and beliefs. The aim is to educate members in that tradition, often providing education on how to run their own groups later on. It can also provide a social network, very much like a spiritual family.
Members join and go through a period of time, or mandatory list of duties, they need to perform to reach the next level to their group. These levels are often called ‘degree’, and can take a specific time to achieve. It depends on the tradition of course.
Our coven had no degree system. We didn’t offer training outside of the basics, and had no priest/esshood in which members could move up the ranks for. Our focus centered on each person’s individual spirituality and their goals they set for themselves. This is definitely unorthodox, and we knew that. Our belief was that religion- any religion- falls between you and your personal relationship with the Divine, however you define that.
Your first question to ask when considering joining a coven is ‘why?’. Why do you need to join a coven, what are your goals, and how to expect the coven to help you accomplish those goals? Could you accomplish those goals as a solitary pagan? Do you need someone to teach you? Do you learn better on your own or in groups?
Once you join, then you need to consider the dynamics within the group. Are you comfortable with the coven leaders? Do you feel they listen as well as they teach? Do you get along with everyone else in the group?
What is a solitary? Solitaries are just that- on their own with their spiritual learning. No only is this considered a type of pagan, its often embraced as the preferred style of spiritual learning. They read and perform ritual on their own, letting the gods themselves guide them through their education.
Solitaries enjoy the freedom to learn as they want and how they want. There are no time schedules or demands on personal education. You don’t need to master Tarot reading, or how to make your own wand, as some covens demand. You can also follow whatever deity/deities that call to you, as opposed to the coven’s view on what the gods appear.
Being Solitary provides the freedoms, but some solitary pagans voice how an interest in a group if not to socialize or even partake in circle now and then.
Coven and Solitary are not the only options open for pagans.
Study groups often allow the social network and learning without the strict bylaws of a formal coven to abide by. Finding a study group can be tough. Many solitaries still enjoy being anonymous and don’t want just anyone to join. Sometimes you have to form your own group.
Open circles provide any pagan to join a group for that specific circle/ritual for celebration or magical working. Most offer the Sabbat (holidays) that occur eight times throughout the year, while others hold workshops open to the public. Check occult stores, or even Google your area for pagan groups that hold open circles.
www.witchvox.com provides a database for events and groups you might consider joining.
I’ve been in both covens, solitary, and even formed two study groups over the years. You can find pluses and setback for any of the choices. The best thing to do when deciding is to ask yourself what your needs are, and be particular to the groups you join. If it doesn’t feel right, get out. Its not for you. You might also want to consider forming your own group, which is another blog entry all its own.