C – Circles within Circles – working with Covens

Here we go for the third post for the Pagan Blog Project 2012. letter C and I’ve chosen ‘Coven’ as my word.


The chant rises up to a crescendo, the High Priestess calls ‘Down!’ and we drop like stones, holding the energy until it can be fixed into place defining the circle, the words of the chant resonate in the space between the worlds and we are reminded of the line of Ancestors of our tradition standing, ghost like, behind the current incarnation of our circle. The candles gutter in an unseen breeze and then burn stronger than before. The concentration is palpable – each member focusing on the work needing to be done,  the rite to be performed – like some intricate dance, those leading and those following, those tasked with ensuring the smooth running, and those who’s mere presence empowers the circle and the work.

I’m in the incredibly lucky position of being in a Coven, it wasn’t really a defined choice but more a set of circumstances that led me to it. I’d been on a couple of courses organised by someone who had a Coven and had also broken off – called ‘hiving’ – from her original Coven so in the course of the teaching I learned a lot about how Covens work, and I must admit I was drawn to that kind of working. Being with like minded people on a regular basis, for celebrations, magic working, just being with those who understood my outlook and ethos was worth a lot to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just walk into the right one from the get go. There was the original teaching group which was very good and gave us a good grounding, but the lady running it said her coven was ‘closed’ ie not taking any new members. I can see her point, the dynamic of a coven can change so dramatically with the arrival of a new member or the departure of someone, and hers was fairly new, being comprised of the people who were in her first teaching group. At the time me and a good friend I’d met during the meetings were a tad upset that a door we’d not really considered other than a vague ‘I think I’d like to be in a coven’ was so soundly being slammed in our metaphorical faces.

We finished the course and since we lived further apart than was very easy to organise we went our separate ways, her to a Coven that her sister had found (her sister was a long standing member of a Coven – something my friend didn’t find out until she was on the course and tentatively talking to her sister about it) and me to what turned out to be a big mistake.

As a Lesbian I’m sometimes – if not actively discriminated against certainly ‘forgotten’ Much as I hold the lady who did my original teaching in high regard I do rather feel she hung me out to dry somewhat when I finished the course. The gentle hint behind her thoughts was perhaps I wasn’t cut out to be Wiccan since it revolves around a duality of Diety. Surely – you could hear the cogs turning – I would be better off with a Dianic group? a Women’s group? something more ‘suited’ this last was not said out loud but I could hear the victorian echoes in what she was saying lol – looking back I think the truth of the matter was more a case of she was uncomfortable with me and that was the end of it.

So I was duly pointed at a Women Only group – or rather ‘womyn’ whatever that was! and yes I thought well maybe I am suited to this path. I contacted them, attended the moot and had a chat with those in charge. All was well. I was duly accepted into the forum and since it was a national group but in reality most of it’s members were local to me so I could attend the meetings and moots. All seemed fine. There were a mix of ‘womyn’ in the group, the housewife with two girls and a boy, the lesbians both in couples and not, the initiated one, the hedgewitch, the shaman, one woman I swear was only there for the social,  and the hopeful seeker (that was me) it seemed fine, on paper an all womyn group dedicated to the support, understanding and celebration of women’s mysteries did seem very appealing. In reality it turned out to be anything but. The chinks appeared, the power struggles, the political wrangling, the ‘support’ that was meant to be offered to ‘all womyn’ which mysteriously dissipated when anyone was struggling, only to reappear  and twist to  ‘we’re not a teaching group’ when it was pointed out (by me – that was my first mistake) that there is no point complaining about how there is no energy in a ritual if you don’t show or explain to those you’ve asked to run the thing *how* to raise it in the first place. Things got worse – tempers got frayed and in an episode I’m not going to go into here the final nail came during a long drawn out battle where I nearly lost both my life partner and my wits – I very nearly had to involve the local police authories.

That was that group and I left it vowing and declaring never to so much as go near a coven or working group again. I would stick to solitary with the occasional open ritual and not get too close to anybody whatsoever thank you!

Of course in the way of these things that lasted all of a month. I heard of a reputable moot that was held locally at the full moon each month, they met at a stone circle and each month a different member of the informal group volunteered to run it, so you could get anything from shamanic to wiccan to stregeria. I attended and I shall never forget the moment when I met the lady who is now my High Priestess, she looked for all the world like a sweet elderly lady, she’d brought along a toy bear to be charged with healing energy for a child facing a long and difficult cancer treatment, it was passed, with due reverence and concentration, around the circle as each person put their own healing energies into it. I’d never been present at anything so beautiful in my life, and I’d got relatives in Glastonbury!

It turned out she ran a Coven, and after meeting a couple of the members I thought ‘if you fall get back on the horse’ and asked to be considered. Cutting a long story short that was six years ago and I am now initiated into a Wiccan coven and am very happy thank you 🙂

 I’m willing to bet that a lot of you are reading this (or my one dear reader is reading this…)  and thinking ‘see that right there is why I could never join a coven’ I hear a lot about people who would ‘never fit’ into a Coven environment, I hear a lot about how Covens tell you how to think, you can’t do anything within them’ ‘you have to do what the High Priest and Priestess say – or else’ and many other things.

The Coven I am a member of is both long standing (by Coven standards) and run by several very competent and kind people who also have something that is of far more value than both the above – integrity.

Integrity was something that was sadly missing from the womyn’s group. Within covens you are indeed expected to work ‘as they do’ because they have a tradition to pass on and this is how it’s done. It isn’t meant to stifle you or clip your magical wings, it’s to make sure you’re doing the same thing the rest of the group are in order to  hone your skills and let the coven work ‘as one’. Inspiration is a big part of it but only after you master the basics and show your dedication by learning that which you are asked to do. It’s very true that not everyone is cut out to be in a Coven – and reputable ones are very picky about who they accept and who they don’t – this is in no way meant to be an insult to the seeker, it’s only the fact that coven dynamics is important to their success, if a new member joins the whole thing suffers a shake up and has to settle down again, like leaves falling from a tree and then taking time to settle into something that will mulch down to compost and nourish the tree. Equally someone leaving causes a similar sort of upset and all of this disrupts the work of the group.

If you feel you want to be a coven member at some distant point in time, take the time to consider some questions – such as ‘why’ do you want to join a coven. ‘what’ can you bring to the coven and equally what do you expect to get out of it? ‘how much time can you dedicate to it? ours meets once a week every week, others meet once a month or for the sabbats.

The three most important bits of advice I’d give to would be Coven members are this

A) do your research and trust your instincts, someone can *say* they are the great high poobar of the upper regions coven but what does that actually mean? get involved in the local community so you know the kooks from the genuine ones (hint the genuine ones are not generally those informing a circle of admirers that they’re a High Priest/Priestess – they’re probably the ones running the moot you’re at)

B) Ask yourself honestly what draws you to work within a coven or group dynamic and why. Examine your motives and your needs, be brutally honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you do meet someone who’s with a Coven.

C) remember that you may be part of a group but you’re also a unit, one bead in a whole chain that is only as strong as the weakest link. Being in a Coven is a lot of work, but there can also be a lot of reward.

With luck I’ll get to write more about Coven life as part of this series, it’s something that’s often misrepresented within the pagan community and I’d like to redress the balance on that from time to time.

Blessed Be to all 🙂


About okarnill

Just another british Witch who follows the path of the wise. Like millions of others I live my life the best I can within my Wiccan beliefs. I am also a horse rider, a dog trainer and an artist. My home is a sleepy village in the UK where I share my life with my partner and all manner of creatures, cats, dogs, horses, hens, rabbits, and much treasured wildlife.
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9 Responses to C – Circles within Circles – working with Covens

  1. What an inspiring and emotional story! I am one of those people who, after witnessing some not-so-welcoming exchanges in online Pagan communities, has never sought to be “part of a group”…but sometimes I ache for the support and guidance of one.

    I enjoy your writing style and your honesty. I’m pleased that you’ve joined the PBP 🙂

    Bright Blessings

    • okarnill says:

      Hi Polly, sorry it took a couple of days to get back to you, I’m still so novice at this lol. Thank you for your lovely comments, I’m so happy I’ve able to make a difference to someone who’s read it. The trouble with pagans is we all have quite strong veiws, and a pretty strong will to back ’em up. I hope one day you will be able to find a group you are comfortable in.


  2. Carol says:

    Lovely post 🙂 I’m glad you were able to find a group to work with! You give terrific advice, simple and straightforward.

  3. I like that you got back up on that horse… I tend to forget that lesson from my horsey youth…
    I am going to be willing to get back on that horse… in many respects… thanks for the reminder…

    • okarnill says:

      Hi Molly, thanks for commenting. Lol it’s easy to forget the lesson though, one the one hand we have ‘get back on the horse’ on the other there’s ‘once bitten twice shy’ all the very best to you if you do decide to get back on 🙂 let me know how it goes!

  4. cherytree says:

    I dipped into this specific post as the title called to me and simply had to read it all the way through. I had metaphoric ‘chills’ run down my body when you described when you first met your High Priestess. Thank the Goddess you climbed back onto that horse!

  5. moonchosen says:

    I read your post feeling quite sad, women who set up groups to meet and share in the name of the Goddess, should not be expected to provide free counselling support or teach others how to work with the Goddess/God. Many women in groups learn from each other and share their experience, but I suppose some find it difficutl to function without a hierarchy, and so maybe are attracted to the organised paths where someone teaches you and tells you what to do. As someone who has run a women’s group, I can say that it was done to connect with other women and to share spirituality, I never for one moment had expected so many women to join who were so emotionally needy and who never gave one seconds thought about how I or my co founder might need some support! Maybe the word “support” was the wrong one to use as rather than attracting people like minded women, it attracted women who had emotional situations to resolve and who used the group to play out these dramas. In my experience, women running these groups often have a lot going on in their lives other than a job and a partner and often are expected to provide entertainment and rituals for people to come along to, whilst also providing the venue and paying for it all !!
    I have not given up hope however, and spend a lot of time with Goddess folk, I just make sure I gravitate towards women who are interested in me, and keen to have a reciprocal friendship, rather than taking me and mine for granted and then criticising when they are not the centre of attention.

    • okarnill says:

      I think that happens with more or less every group that is set up for like minded people, what some clarify as a meeting of equal minds and hearts others will see as an opportunity to learn, an expectation of learning or a way of gaining ‘status’ – that also happens wherever groups of humans meet!

      I am sorry your experience left you with that feeling, for me the experience I had did have many lasting effects but ultimately I learned from it and moved on. I am very happy with where I am now on my path and very much consider that to have remained on my original choice of path would ultimately have been detrimental to my spirituality.

      This group was not healthy – the one I am in now most definitely is 🙂 I hope you too can find that.

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