It comes up now and again, this issue of secrecy and of something being “oathbound”, usually to the frustration of seekers or those close to the members of such groups who just want to know what’s going on behind closed doors when a coven meets together. Why the need for secrecy? Is there something bad going on or something dangerous happening? Why can’t it be talked about? The truth is that it’s complex, and complicated, and simple.
Some groups use the shroud of secrecy to do some really bad things. Because some people don’t know any better, or because they want to get in on the good side of whatever group they are working with and stay there, they submit to a rule of secrecy that isn’t truly in their best interests. The best way to prevent such from happening is to be knowledgeable and confident. This is also why solitary practitioners should spend some time, some serious time, on their own learning about who they are, what they want, and what is to be reasonably expected if or when they seek to join a coven. Thankfully the bad groups aren’t as common, so in general, forewarned is forearmed and if you know what you’re looking for and what to watch out for, you can make a good decision about joining a group or leaving a group if it turns out to be unsavory.
The veil of secrecy in groups that are good and reputable, and who use secrecy and oaths for the proper purposes can best illustrate why this is a valued and respected practice among Witches.
I’m picky about what I consider a coven to be. My definition of a coven is a closed group where members are tightly-knit with one another and they don’t welcome just anyone into their confidence. A coven, once it has found its balance and cohesiveness, becomes very protective of itself and leery of outsiders and outside influences. This doesn’t mean they should become paranoid, but rather that the members all hold the same feeling that what they have is special, sacred, and not meant to be shared with those not in the coven. It’s a matter of feeling that some things are private and personal, and the idea of talking about them diminishes them because to those outside of the coven, there is a lack of connection and understanding. In this way, the coven truly becomes a group where secrets can be shared, and trust built among the members. The time when a coven gathers becomes a safe time where members are able to be their authentic selves, free of judgment and ridicule, and surrounded by those who care about them and support them. It’s in a place and time like this that magic can be worked at the highest level.
Personally, I enjoy teaching about The Craft. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had a blog going for many years as well as my side hobbies of haunting message boards and other sites and things where questions can be asked and answered. Witchcraft, religion, magic, and anything related to them are my favorite topics of discussion, which makes sense I suppose since they are all such a huge part of my life. Yet I shy away from opening up my coven to outsiders. In the years we’ve been together – since 2011, we’ve never held a purely open ritual, one where we are open to the public. We’ve held sabbat rituals for every holiday (eight per year) but only four sabbats in all that time where non-coveners were invited, and two of those who did come to these open-by-invitation sabbats joined as coven dedicants shortly afterward. This is because I don’t consider my coven’s rites and ceremonies to be for public consumption; they are for the benefit of the current members. I look to my coven’s growth and experiences as under my mantle of responsibility as the High Priestess and teacher and while I hope that seekers do find something to help them on their path, I don’t look at my coven as being the means for them to get there, unless everything lines up for that to happen… but that’s another topic for another article.
I tell this to explain that it’s not out of spite or because something bad is going on, or being plotted, that a coven is a selective, secretive, and private group, but because it is a delicate balance of personalities and experiences and something to be treasured, not just freely given away to outside people – and that’s what telling a coven’s secrets would be doing. So we don’t do that.
Those are some of the more poetic reasons why a coven has secrets. The practical reasons are even simpler.
Imagine you hear that a movie is going to be made starring your favorite actors, involving themes and a storyline that when you first read about it, made you giddy with anticipation. Then, a few months later, you’re in the theater and you see the teaser trailer for this film. Your excitement builds up even more because now you’ve had a taste of it. So you begin to look for information about it online, but not too much. You just want to know a bit more because you don’t want it to be ruined for you when you see it. You go to a second film, and see a longer trailer this time. Now you know the date when your highly-anticipated film will be released and you plan to call off work so that you can attend a midnight showing. Then, as you are waiting in line, tub of popcorn in one hand and large, over-priced soda in the other, someone else in line near you blurts out the ending because they looked up details on the way to the theater, or because they’ve read the book and you haven’t, or some other spoiler-inducing reason. You wish you could unhear it. You wish you could just ignore what was said, but in that one sentence, your entire experience has been deflated and the joy of seeing what would become of the characters for the first time is lost.
This is why covens don’t talk about what goes on in their practices. Not all members are at the same level. Some may be dedicants, some first degrees, some seconds, or even thirds. In public or by-invitation rituals, it could be that in the future, one of these guests may pursue membership with the group. Hearing an off-handed comment made about something that a member has experienced is just like spoiling a movie. Even if they don’t join for another year or two, they’ll have heard, and on some level they will remember what they heard. There is no way to re-purify the experience for them and since Wicca or Religious Witchcraft are experiential traditions, the mystery is lost, all because of carelessness.
Another reason that secrecy is vital and the teachings and practices are guarded is that magic should be kept pure. This means it’s not talked about. This rule should be observed before, during, and especially after a working is performed. Only when the results of the magic have come about or the issue the magic concerned is resolved, should anything be mentioned of it. Honestly, even then, that’s a stretch unless it’s for instruction for future workings.
If you happen to meet someone who is a member of a coven, and that coven operates along these or similar guidelines, try not to take it personally if you ask a question and are answered with something like, “I can’t talk about that.” In general, it’s not because they are trying to be rude, though there are always exceptions… and jerks, but because they really can’t tell you and hopefully now you can understand why.