Witchcraft is a cellular religion. Contrary to propaganda spread during the Witch Craze in Europe, we don’t have an inverse hierarchy going all the way down to the Devil. What we have are small groups. This is a blessing in that we are all independent and don’t have to kowtow to any Grand High Witch, for lack of a better term. However, this can also be a problem in that sometimes, small group dynamics can tear apart a group or cause it to implode on itself.
Covens are run in a variety of way. The joy of Reclaiming is that it is set up to run as an anarchy, namely with the cooperation of its members. Duties are assigned based on who volunteers to do particular tasks. Other covens often run this way as well, however, there are several covens that start out this way and end up being the complete opposite of this. They end up as authoritarian, cliquish nightmares where only a small cadre of people run them, and while an illusion is promoted of every one having a voice, they really don’t. This is a real danger, particularly to witches looking for a tribe or a place to belong, or to new witches who don’t know how to recognize troubled groups. I’ve seen my share of covens implode, so here are some warning signs to watch out for.
Signs Your Coven Is Going the Wrong Way
- Lack of notification or insufficient notice about planning meetings. If a planning meeting is to occur, there should be total transparency about when it is and where it is. While sometimes, coordinating people’s schedules can be challenging, there is usually enough of a consensus to arrange it so that it coincides with other people’s schedule. This is the age of social media, and everyone has a smart phone. There is no excuse for anyone who wishes to attend a planning meeting to be denied the opportunity. Well, no excuse except for a coven’s slide into authoritarianism and denying other voices.
- There is a feeling of cliquishness or exclusion. This one is sometimes harder to spot. It usually takes a few circles. Ask yourself some questions. Do you feel welcome there, or do you feel you’re merely tolerated? Do people congregate in the same small groups and don’t include others? To be fair, sometimes people have friendships that transcend circle boundaries, but when people try to join the smaller group, and within a couple of minutes of sitting down, the other participants make excuses to leave, it can indicate a larger problem of exclusion. Another way to tell that this atmosphere is present is more subtle. While group membership can change over time, it is telling when you see regulars who used to come all the time stop coming. A coven leader who doesn’t ask why the coven is fading is probably either unaware of the problem, or more troubling, is aware of the problem and doesn’t care.
- Unresolved interpersonal conflicts. In an ideal world, people will get along perfectly. There would be no fights, no arguments, and no drama. That’s not the world we live in. If a coven does not have channels of communication to resolve conflicts, or addresses interpersonal conflicts, then conflicts will stack up and will always be seething under the surface.
- Taking the coven in a vastly different direction than it’s original form, without group consensus. For example, I was affiliated with a coven a few years ago that started out being completely inclusive but then two or three people wanted to make it Dianic. Me and three other people were expunged and why? Because we were men. Interestingly enough, the sons of one of the people who decided on the change were allowed to stay because they supposedly had “the touch of the Goddess on them.” Sorry, but to me it smacked of nepotism.
- Lies and deceit. A funny thing about lies. They have a tendency to grow out of control. While Reclaiming has evolved from it’s Wiccan roots, there should always be something that should be ever present. You should always think that you can trust your coven mates and enter into sacred space with perfect love and perfect trust. Where lies spread, trust dies. And regardless of the motivation behind it, a lie kills the perfection of love. Deceitful practices such as trying to stop someone from coming to an event or a meeting without a straightforward reason why is a sure sign of a toxic atmosphere.
- Arbitrary decisions and deferring to authority. If someone makes a decision for the group whatever it is, and the group doesn’t want to “cause trouble” or make waves with that person then it is no longer a cooperative effort. It is a budding power struggle and a coven nearing implosion.
- Valuing some members far over other members. While contributions should always be recognized and praised, sometimes, some members make contributions that are roundly ignored, whether that be a suggestion, providing a safe space, or offering logistical services. This is most decidedly not right. People are funny. If they give and give and the group takes and takes and doesn’t offer anything in return, unless that person is a doormat or a masochist, after awhile, they’ll clam up and stop contributing, or even worse stop coming.
So if you are new, and seeking a coven, or if you are someone who’s been around a while, be aware of your environment. A ritual event should make you feel good, and have positive energy that touches every part of your life. A coven should make you feel welcome and valued. If you find the opposite is true, then it might be time to pack up your cauldron and fly to a better place, or if you can’t find one create it yourself. But know how to spot a group going bad and don’t get caught in the blast radius of a drama bomb.