Conflict comes in many shapes and sizes when it comes to group work. Covens and other magico-spiritually-oriented groups are no exception to this rule. It seems like the same stuff happens over and over again in a small group such as a Coven. But that’s okay – if it’s happened before, maybe experience has taught you how to deal with it. Some of the most common issues I’ve dealt with in the past as a Coven leader are here – along with some ideas about how I’ve handled them.
Witches are generally strong-willed, independent people who think for themselves. We don’t often fall in line with group-think. Plus, we have this inner alarm clock that automatically goes nuts if we’re starting to slip into some sort of cult-like mindset (hopefully). Unfortunately, this also means that there can be some tension between folks. The kind of tension I’m referring to is usually caused by the individual agenda vs. the group agenda. What I mean is: people may start going outside the Tradition for some additional magical study.
Whether or not a group survives this kind of conflict depends largely upon how rigid the group structure was set up to be. The leader might feel like his/her authority is being threatened, or that the agenda is more of a coups situation. Often, the High Priest/ess will put down their foot and issue edicts about what type of practice is acceptable.
To combat that kind of paranoia, the easiest thing to do is to allow the outside study to happen. Recognize that this issue is probably your own, and that any sort of coups-like situation is probably a figment of your imagination. At least, this is the case after you’ve known the same four or five people for a year or more and are practicing with them regularly. People get bored with the same-old, same-old. If these are First or Second Degrees that are sitting in on beginner classes, maybe they shouldn’t. Ask them to write up a couple of papers on their outside studies and maybe introduce new concepts to the group through that method. Or have them teach a class on what they’ve been learning. The point is to make them feel validated and let them know, at least subconsciously, that you aren’t going to kick them to the curb for taking an interest in developing their skillset.
One key point I’d like to mention: a truly successful group (I feel) should be open enough with each other to discuss arising problems without the future of the group being threatened by a dissolution. Granted, not everyone is that spiritually, magically or emotionally mature, but if you’re a group leader, you should be able to identify those who are that mature. To me, a really successful Coven is one where Coveners learn something of benefit to themselves from practicing with the group and then contribute something of benefit back.
How long the Coven has practiced together is a giant piece of this pie, of course. The longer a Coven is together, the stronger the egregore becomes. The stronger the egregore, the better able to weather any interpersonal conflicts a Coven should be. As a leader, in any conflict you should be able to observe and determine whether a situation is best handled by pulling a person aside and talking, or by having a full group discussion, or by outright discipline of the offending member. This goes back to that maturity factor I mentioned, which you should be able to gauge.
Leaders should also be capable of – through general observation – catching problems before they arise (hopefully). And most definitely, you should be able to figure out how to handle it before the shit hits the proverbial fan. People who have major problems with other Members are generally not keen on calling them out, especially in groups as small as Covens tend to be. And they tend to leave the group themselves, as a result. If a Member does suddenly jump up and make a quick exit, stage left, try to find out why. Don’t just let it fester. I would do this as kindly as possible in the hopes of fixing the situation and heading off any further ship-jumpers at the pass.
Handling the “Dark Night of the Soul” and personal magico-spiritual trials of members is another issue, and it’s a task best left to experienced group members. If you’ve never had one, don’t try to help anyone who is going through one. Don’t throw out cute little quips and clichés because it will only make it worse. The best approach is one of realism, here. Bullshit about “cosmic illumination” and “experiencing a shift” is just garbage. People who say that are more interested in keeping you around as an ego-stroker. But, anyone who dismisses this trauma is missing the point that the practice you’re using can and does trigger such big bangs in your awareness. They’re also dismissing the benefits that such an experience can bring to your long-term development as a Witch. If this person is someone with whom you’ve built a close working relationship, you owe it to them to help – but make sure you understand what’s happening first.
Cycles of megalomania (what I call PHPD – Psycho High Priest/ess Disorder) and paranoia are almost inevitable in the close quarters of a Coven. There are actually groups who cannot stick together unless there is some pretend enemy who is constantly attempting to psychically or magically attack them. (Ahem – Christianity.) A very big measure of the egregore’s self-esteem (if you want to call it that) is spent finding enemies and maintaining defenses. It’s pretty much the same thing as when the government starts rumors of economic collapse to distract us from the fact that they’re bombing innocent children in a foreign country. It’s a gigantic sign of weakness in a Coven. Pretty much the only way to deal with it is to discuss it, kick the person out, or let it play itself out. In the latter, you run the risk of having to manage an actual coups.
Is short, I’d say a successful Coven meets these criterion (for me):
- it continues meeting for at least a year after everyone in it has completed the Dedicant training and is practicing together regularly;
- the leader may or may not encourage outside study by new students, but doesn’t hold back those who have completed the usual basics in the Tradition;
- the leader is able to handle interpersonal conflict and, hopefully, can observe them ahead of time and nip them in the bud;
- there are experienced people who are realistic about issues the group is having and they’re able to be mature enough to weather the storms together;
- personal magico-spiritual crises of faith are handled with maturity, realism and pragmatic activity and suggestions; and
- the leaders aren’t in some sort of PHPD scenario.
What say you, group leaders who read my blog? What do you think are some other characteristics of a successful working Coven?