Quite often, I see youngling Witches come into the Craft with a glimmer in their eyes and a spring in their step. They’re excited to get moving, to jump into the deep end and start bustling along with gumption and gusto. I see it so much because I open our Coven up to new Dedicants each year, and will until our space is full. I appreciate the new-student shininess. I remember my days of being a fledgling Pagan and Witch and being so super-excited to get on with the magic and mayhem.
And it does us well to warn them of the dangers of being so super-excited. Being in such a state where our emotions are running high with excitement and enthusiasm can make us quite vulnerable. I suppose the more proper term is “gullible.” When we’re new, and everything is so exciting and our adrenalin is pumping, we tend to forget some basic safety rules. The problem is that there are some basic safety rules being touted out there that really aren’t conducive to group-work at all. And, in fact, may violate some of the fundamental ideas behind Coven work.
Let’s talk a bit of truth here.
I recently read someone’s blog that made several points about finding a Coven with which to work, and I disagree with a few of those points. And for good reason. I won’t cite or link the blog here because I respect the author. She knows I’m writing this and she and I are friends – we’re not going to belabor these issues amongst ourselves because we tend to operate a bit differently. But these are my major disagreements with the post.
First: do you need Coven-based training at all? In my personal opinion, I believe that you could easily pick up a few good books, internalize their purported paradigm and start working magic with little problem. That’s how a lot of people start out. But, I think there comes a time when you feel you need community, and something more close-knit or family-like than attending public Pagan events provides. And a Coven, or some similar group of Pagans or Witches or Wiccans or Magicy-Whatevers, is the place you’re going to find that feeling.
The kicker is that many Covens – mine included – insist that you start at the beginning (in my case, as a Dedicant). This isn’t to negate everything you already know, or to force you into some arbitrary degree system. Where my Coven is concerned, it’s really about teaching you the basic foundations of what we call the Old Faith (the Tradition we practice as a group), which aren’t necessarily the same-old-same-old that you find repackaged into book after book by big occult publishers. There really are things unique to our Tradition that you learn to practice. So you’re asked to start over as a “Dedicant” until such time as you can Initiate and move through the degree system (should you choose to do so).
Second: telling someone who is brand new to the Craft, or still very young in the Craft, to “get the feel of a group and see if you find it comfortable,” is really kind of a cop-out. My own Coven doesn’t do a lot of public things as a group, mostly because our schedules are insanely different from one another. We do what we can as a group, but most people aren’t going to find us out and about together, walking around like a gang all dressed up in the same t-shirts with our logo on them. So how do we address the “see if you like it first” advice? Once you join in our Dedicant classes, you have a few months of basic stuff that is not Oathbound in our Tradition. If you feel comfortable with us at that point, you undergo Dedication, wherein you take an Oath to keep the secrets of our Tradition. Because after that Dedication, you’re learning hardcore stuff of our Tradition that is not meant for public consumption, and which is meant to train you to be a Priest/ess of our Craft for yourself. Your Initiation at the end of the training/classes solidifies and plants that Priesthood into your spirit (or aura, or soul, or energetic system, or ethereal bodies, or psyche, or subconscious, or whatever else you’d like to call it). Many groups, however, don’t take this step – to let you figure out whether you’re comfortable with them or not. Many aren’t going to, either – because either you want to learn or you don’t, and they aren’t putting up with your bullshit or begging you be their student.
Third: asking you to pay large amounts of money and then not training you. Personally, it’s completely anathema to my Tradition to ask for money at all in truly training someone for this work. If you give public workshops on basics of the Craft in general, it’s not a problem for me. If you write books and charge money for them, this is not an issue because you’re making a living. Giving divinatory readings of any kind to the public is a service not intended to lead to Initiation, so charging is just not even a thing. But charging any money at all for training anyone as a Witch (with the goal of Initiating into your Coven) is a major no-no. Charging money for training that leads to Initiation is an act that will (in my Tradition) cause the gods/spirits to look upon you with trepidation at best and outright hatred at worst – because you’re impeding the growth of the Tribe and the progress of Their potential children.
Fourth: being told to keep quiet about your coven work or training. If a Coven-member has concerns for his/her safety in my home, which is where our Covenstead is located, they are either very, very new, or they shouldn’t be here. There’s no way you can spend time with us and be concerned for your well-being, whether it be physical, spiritual, emotional, mental or anything else. Having said that, when a person is extra-new, they’re welcome to give my home address and my cell number to someone they trust wholeheartedly in order to maintain their feeling of safety. As long as that person knows that they cannot barge in unexpectedly, and are welcome to call me before they come, I have no problems with that. However, it is not permitted that a Dedicant tell someone about what they’re learning with us. Almost everything we teach to people who intend to Initiate with us is very Tradition-specific, and some of it is unique and not meant, by and large, for public consumption. This is why we have the Dedication Rite (with an Oath) after a few months of your sticking around.
Fifth: being asked to leave if you circle with others. I’m a little mixed on this one, to be honest. On the one hand, you’re free to attend all public Pagan events you want to and I wouldn’t dare tell you not to be involved in the community. However, for training purposes, you should really be learning how we do things as a Coven/group so that you can become part of the cohesive whole. Going to a bunch of other groups and working with them is just going to muddle and confuse what you’re learning about our ritual structure, the foundation of our faith, the energy practices we utilize regularly, etc. If you want to be a part of this path, you should be learning this path, not hopping from group to group to “see what’s up.”
Sixth: telling you that this way is the only way and everyone else is wrong. Yes and no. The Craft is extremely varied, so the way we do it is not the only way. However, for our Tradition, there is a correct way to do all the things. And if you vary it too much, in some ways, you will no longer be doing the things we do. And it will no longer be this Tradition. So if you’re looking for a group where you can do whatever the fuck you want and call it “Witchcraft,” then go find that. But if you’re coming to our Coven with the intent to Initiate into our Faith, into our flavor of the Craft, you’ll have to do the things the way we do them. Because for our Trad, there is a correct way, and anything else is not this Trad. Make sense?
Seventh: Initiating you without providing any training as the training itself is Oathbound. I take issue with this statement because this is the way things were done in the beginning. I, personally, would like to stick with this model, as it is the model I came from. The training itself was Oathbound because the training is very Tradition-specific and not meant for public consumption. Technically, everything I teach the Dedicant is Oathbound material within my Tradition. But I have modified this model slightly. Rather than forcing a commitment and Initiation at the outset, you get a few months of basic foundational material. But after that Dedication Rite, you’re technically getting stuff that I was only taught after First Degree Initiation and is not available publicly. (I didn’t have a Dedication Rite because we didn’t do it that way – we used to Initiate first and train after, in the Coven from which I sprang). There is even some material that I didn’t receive until after my Second Degree. There are still some groups who operate this way – Initiate first, train after. But I’ve tried to soften how we do things in order to make sure fledgling Witches in our Trad are comfortable.
Finally, an extra point about one subject we never dive into as a group. We don’t teach you mythology or it’s effects on the psyche. Mostly, this is because we’re animists, and don’t subscribe to the whole “psyche/subconscious” hullaballoo. We teach you some very basic mythology about our deities and Their life cycles on the Wheel of the Year, from an animist perspective, including a particular “creation myth.” But there are exercises in First and Second Degrees where you’re expected to study mythology of specific deities that draw you within our cultural foundations, rather than learning all mythology of our cultural roots.
Yes, this particular Tradition that I “grew up” in and still practice (and teach) to this day is unique, in a lot of ways. We do a lot of things differently than most would expect. Some of it is different because it’s modified (for the comfort of those who who are new to us/the tradition). But most of it – 95% of it, actually – is different because it is genuinely unique material that you aren’t going to find leaping at you out of 1,000+ plus books put out by a major occult publisher.
So be safe, for sure. But don’t expect every group to operate the same way. And most definitely don’t expect an established Coven to bend to your will just because you feel a bit dodgy for some reason. Fundamental ways of doing things are in tact because they work, and because they keep healthy boundaries between the public and something the public shouldn’t be dabbling in.