One of the most common questions that people have when coming into the magical religions is “How do I find a group to practice with?” Well, the first thing is to figure out what type of a group you are looking for, because there are many different ones. Do you want a group that teaches classes? Are you looking for a group that gathers on the holidays or moons to have ritual with, but otherwise would like to go it alone? Do you want training or education in a specific tradition or system? Are you looking for people with similar political/ethical leanings and motivations? Do you want to circle with only those of your gender, delving deeply into Men’s or Women’s Mysteries?
I would also like to specify what I define a coven to be, since that’s a really popular term that people might have different ideas about. Now, not all Witches define their covens the same way I define mine, but in my experience, the vast majority of them do, at least to some extent. So, take this as my word, but not necessarily as law. A coven is a group of Witches that gather together to work magic; study and learn; celebrate together on sabbats, esbats, or other times appointed to them; and honor and worship Deity, however they may see Her/Him/Them/It. A coven is a close-knit group, selective of members and not a ‘come whenever you feel like it’ sort of open circle. A coven is often led by a High Priestess and/or High Priest, though the way such is chosen can vary from inherited from prior leaders, appointed by another coven’s leadership within the same tradition (also known as hiving), or elected by the members to serve for a specific term. A coven is usually small in number, with the traditional limit being thirteen members, but most covens have fewer than that. Currently, my own coven has a total of six (including me) and sometimes it feels a bit unwieldy. It is important to note that a coven is not the only acceptable model of group worship or practice and each witch must decide for themselves if it is right for them.
How do you know if coven practice is right for you? Each witch should be totally honest with themselves and figure out why they are interested in seeking a coven. Then, in addition to that, they should be honest with themselves about what sort of coven they are interested in seeking to join.
I suggest first writing in a notebook or journal all of the things you feel compel you towards seeking out a group to work with. Some of the questions I asked at the beginning of this blog post are possibilities, but dig deeper into your own psyche to find out what your reasons are. Then, once you have finished that, write out what qualities your ideal coven would have. I like to encourage this to be made as a list with different columns where you can identify whether that item is necessary, desired, or if it is something that would be nice but not needed. For example:
My ideal coven would:
Work with the Celtic gods and goddesses — Desired, but not needed
Members elect the leaders — Necessary
Focus on environmental concerns — Nice, but not needed
Encourage learning outside of the group — Necessary
Not charge for things beyond reasonable membership dues — Necessary
Discuss books or have a book club type program — Nice, but not needed
Respect vegetarian/vegan lifestyle — Desired, but not needed
Be peaceful/anti-war — Necessary
Meet regularly for group fellowship other than just working/sabbats/esbats/lessons — Necessary
No under-age members — Desired, but depends on who they are
All women/men — Desired, but not necessary
Can work with young children — Desired, but not necessary
*Just for clarification, this list doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal requirements.
Be as specific as you can be, this is part of figuring out what you want from a group and will be helpful in seeking one out so that you have a plan to go by. After you create your list of desired elements for the group you want to join, write out what you are able to contribute to a group, both in talent and personality. Are you skilled in sewing? Can you make candles? Do you know how to garden? Do you have experience with divination or astrology? Are you a good mediator and get along well with different personality types? Are you a good teacher? Are you a good student? Do you accept constructive criticism well? Are you creative? Do you have books you would be willing to loan to people once you get to know and trust them?
These lists, all of them, are good to have not only for yourself in terms of clarifying what it is you are looking for and what you would like to offer a prospective group, but will prepare you for some of the questions you are likely to be asked either in a meeting/interview or on the application to join a coven. Yes, most covens require one, if not both of these, before you will be considered for membership.
You should also have some questions of your own to ask about the group. Sometimes, the coven member (often the group’s High Priest or High Priestess) will try to remember what to tell you in an interview or meeting about the group, but sometimes things are forgotten. You should ask about anything you feel is important and you should leave the meeting feeling comfortable that if you have more questions in the future, you can ask them without being reprimanded in any way. When I interview possible members, I try to remember to tell them key elements, but I always appreciate when they ask questions because it shows they are genuinely curious and interested in what my group is about and what it has to offer. I’m instinctively leery of someone who never has any questions.
It is also important to note that if you are looking for potential membership in a coven, but are turned away, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong, or that they are. A coven is a special balance of people and not everyone will fit within a prospective group. You could be an excellent witch and fantastic person, but just not ‘click’ with that particular coven’s energies. It’s natural to feel some disappointment at being rejected, but don’t take it personally, and don’t give up your search for an ideal group.
So, what if you don’t really want to go through all of this hassle and just would like a group of like-minded people to get together with for fun and celebration? Well, there usually are groups available for that as well, but they typically aren’t ‘covens’. They may be called: Groves, Circles, Churches, Gatherings, Moots, etc. The membership requirements, if there are any, typically hinge on being mature and respectful, contributing when asked (time, donations, supplies, food for potluck, childcare, etc.), and generally just being a good person to have fellowship with for ritual. These are groups that are more focused on community, and they serve a wonderful purpose by doing so.
Once you have a good idea of what type of group you are looking for — either a coven or something more open, what you want from the group — your requirements or desires and their level of importance for you, and what you could contribute in terms of talent and personality, you can start actively looking for others to work and practice with. The easiest places to meet Pagans are at Pagan/New Age shops or bookstores, but depending on where you live, that can be a long drive. Good places to start with are websites like witchvox and meetup, local stores that if they aren’t outwardly Pagan at least seem like the kinds of places that Pagans would be likely to frequent (whole foods, farmer’s markets, co-ops, yoga centers, community classes on things like weaving or handicrafts, animal care, gardening), sometimes there are listings put out in college campus newspapers or on websites looking for new people to come and check out what they’ve got going on. Also, around the sabbats, there is usually something to be found going on for the general public. Look for code words like “Alternative Spirituality”, “Divine Feminine”, “Earth-Centered/Nature-Based”, or things like tarot, astrology, herbalism/holistic healing/natural medicine, etc.
You can also do some work magically to try and open the ways for you to meet the right group. Take the lists you created that describe what you are seeking and meditate on them, lighting a candle to focus on as a beacon that will bring you and the right group together. I recommend yellow, white, or light blue because of its alignment with air and communication, but feel free to use your own color choice or preferences.
It is also important that you pay attention to safety and be careful when meeting people, even those who seem nice online or over the phone. I hate to say it, but not everyone you hope to meet is trustworthy, and until/unless you know otherwise, it’s best to be cautious.
1. Take a friend with you to the meeting
2. Meet in a public place like a coffee shop or bookstore. You might choose a park as long as it’s well-lit and not empty.
3. Don’t meet anywhere that you don’t know how to get to/from there if you need to call for a ride or give directions.
4. Tell someone who isn’t going with you where you will be and for about how long. I’ve met with people for interviews that were originally scheduled for about an hour but ended up going to about 90 minutes. After the hour, I always ask if they want to take a break to make a call, because I do. I call to check in and let the person I trusted with my meeting know that everything is alright, (provided that it is — gods willing).
5. Never give out your home address after a first meeting. Your first name or a magical name and email should always be sufficient until you and the group have decided you’re comfortable with more. You may or may not be comfortable with giving a phone number, if asked, use your best judgement.
6. Take a different route home after the meeting than you normally take. Do not leave the meeting in the other person’s vehicle.
As a final suggestion, when you have finished meeting the group, and feel like you’ve gotten a clear impression of them, go through the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame and use it to help judge whether the group is potentially good or bad for you. Be fair, but trust your instincts. It’s better to err on the side of caution than be taken in by a harmful group of people.