Coven Life: The Tie That Binds
Author: Aconite Caotix
I’m sure that many people wonder what it is like to be in a coven. To some, it is their goal to find that special group of people that you can share your magickal journey with and have that bond of love and trust that only seems to be in such a tight knit group of people. This essay is to serve as a warning to those that feel that they NEED to be in a coven, grove, or circle to further themselves spiritually. Yes, there are many lessons to learn in such a group, but they might not all be ones that you want to learn the way they are taught to you.
When I first came to Wicca, I was what you might call a “lost soul”. I was seeing a counselor for depression, and one of the things that we came up with that was leading to my depression was a lack of belonging to any spiritual group. I was your typical “seeker”, and ripe for anyone to pick. So I met a very charismatic gentleman at a Pagan Meetup, and he said that he was starting a coven. My eyes lit up when he said the word. It was the very reason I was there! But you know the saying, “Be careful what you wish for…”
Things were great the first few years. I was getting the teaching that I had always wanted, and even though there was a lot of work on my part involved, I believed that it was all worth the effort, and that I was serving the gods. I’m not going to go into my whole history with the coven, but I will get right to the point of this essay and that is that the leaders of the coven were not all that they originally seemed to be. What seemed to be a nice, nurturing, couple turned out to be people that were selfish, dishonest, and willing to do whatever they had to and use whoever they had to in order to get what they wanted or feel that they deserved out of life.
For the whole ten years of my time with them, I was a servant. Sure, they called me their friend, and even went so far as to call me family, but I was to them whatever they needed me to be for their own purposes at the time. When the High Priest was lonely for company, I was his best friend. When they needed money, I was family. When they needed someone to move furniture, I was the subordinate doing their part to help their elders. They even coerced me into getting a cell phone JUST so they could get a hold of me whenever they needed to.
Now some of you might be reading this and think, “Hold on! You weren’t in a coven, you were in a cult!” Well, you would be wrong, but not completely. If you have read Bonewitz’s or other lists on what to look out for in a group that could classify it as a cult, you could find elements of a cult-like group in the coven I was in, but I don’t think I was ever strictly in a cult. But I would like to strongly suggest that if you don’t get anything else out of this essay, that you take away a caution when building the kind of bond a coven fosters with ANYONE.
Yes, it is a very romantic notion to be that close with a group of people, and to have that support network in your life, but if you are not careful, you can get into a situation where the support only really flows one way, and it is REALLY hard to see that is happening when you are right in the middle of it, filled with notions of “family”, “perfect love and perfect trust”, and “hierarchical tradition”. You can easily be duped into thinking that all the things that are being demanded of you are legitimate, no matter how outrageous they may seem to someone on the outside.
The coven setting can create the perfect storm for egos to be fed, “us vs. them” alliances to be formed, and where “tradition” can easily trump common sense. You feel that you owe your allegiance to those that have worked so hard to put the group together. And it is usually an allegiance that is required unconditionally. They SAY that you are there of your own free will, but how free is your will when you are doing things for people because you feel you have to? Because you feel bound by some mystical sense of accountability to the leader of the group. It is this kind of command that turns coven members into minions.
When three separate groups of parents of members of our group thought that the leaders were controlling and egotistical after meeting them for just a short time, then you think that would have opened my eyes to the fact that something was unhealthy in the relationship. But the bond they created was so strong that I did not see it right away. It was only after 10 years of doing practically nothing but my job and my coven life that I realized I had gotten in “too deep”.
There were other factors to my leaving as well. The most damaging one was that my wife and I actually LIVED with the coven leaders for about a year. (I know you are thinking that “c” word again.) Luckily for me, though, it was during this time that we got to see their true colors, and the lengths they were willing to go to secure their own comfort and well being, anyone else’s be damned. They would claim to others that we were “helping each other out”, when it was really them that needed OUR financial assistance. They took advantage of our good natures and drained us for every penny they could, but still thought we owed them more when we finally managed to get out of there and get our own place. We even almost bought a house with them! I thank the gods every day that we did not, because it would have been doubly hard to leave then, but at the time we were fully committed to them. They, however, were only committed to themselves.
So please take this caution to heart. You may think that a coven is the only way to get the spiritual experience and teaching that you feel you need in your life, as did my wife, many others, and I. And there are some lessons that you will probably only learn is such a setting. However, joining a coven is a possible trap. While it may not exactly fit the description of a cult to a tee, there are elements of such groups built into the structure of most covens. Someone who has been intimately involved in such a group for ten years has warned you. And while I don’t completely regret it, there is a lot to life that I missed out on during that time because of my allegiance to the group and its leaders.
There are other ways to get spiritual teachings and camaraderie. Public gatherings are great ways to meet others of like mind and spirit without the trappings of “belonging” to anyone. A lot of local new age stores have some kind of classes going on regularly. But another note of caution here: some of these classes are taught by leaders such as the ones I had, and they can use these classes as a way to recruit people into their group. And if you do find yourself in that first interview with the leaders of a coven, try your best to find out what kind of people you are talking to. Ask to see their bylaws. If they give the leaders “supreme authority” and equate them with the gods themselves, then enter at YOUR OWN RISK! Because you could find yourself tied to them in a way you never thought you would be to anyone for any reason.
And it is a tough bind to break.