Warning Signs In Prospective Covens

Red Flags to Watch Out For

If you see red flags in a group's dynamics, run away!. Image by Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

So you think you've found a group or coven that might be the right group for you. Great! Ideally, a coven will allow you to attend a few open meetings, in which you can observe the goings-on and meet all the members, without intruding upon the secrecy of any oathbound ceremonies or rites. After attending a series of open meetings - usually three, but that varies from group to group - members of the coven will vote on whether or not membership should be offered to you. Remember, though, there are a few things you should watch out for in any prospective group.

  1. Members that don't seem to get along with each other. If you have a group of eight people, and four of them are snarking at one another constantly, it may not be a coven you want to be a part of. They may be offering you membership in hopes that you'll take sides, and you'll find yourself caught in the middle of a squabble that existed before you even came along. Stay away.
  2. Covens whose ideas strike you as silly or foolish. You want to be part of a coven, but if you think worshiping a pink sparkly dragon or wearing Star Trek uniforms to Sabbats is goofy, then don't join covens that have those requirements. If you don't genuinely believe in the coven's principles, it's not the right group for you, and both you and the other members will gain nothing from your membership. Likewise, if the group's requirements include things that make you uncomfortable, like ritual nudity, then this may not be the group for you. Find one that more closely aligns with your existing beliefs and comfort level.
  3. Leaders who are on a power trip. If the High Priestess (HPs) or High Priest (HP) is the only one who knows all the secrets, and is the only one who will EVER be privileged enough to know all the secrets, then they're on a power trip. These are the people who like to boss coven members around, they don't let any one member have too much information, and the coven is for their own personal gain. Don't bother joining, because you'll be as miserable as everyone else.
  4. Leaders who clearly don't know what they're doing. When you ask your prospective coven's High Priestess how long she's been Wiccan, and she tells you "three months," it's time to bail out. There's no set time on learning, but someone who's only been studying for a little while simply does not have the experience to lead a coven or teach others. Use your best judgment here. Keep in mind there's nothing wrong with being a newbie and leading a study group or informal get-together, but someone who has only a short period of experience is probably not qualified to do all of the other things that coven leadership demands.
  5. Covens whose adults actively seek teens as members. Few reputable covens will accept anyone under the age of 18 as a member unless the teen's parent is a member of the coven - and even then, it's iffy. This is for a variety of reasons. Some covens practice skyclad - nude - and it's completely inappropriate to have naked adults in front of someone else's child. Also, a coven that accepted minors would be setting themselves up for huge legal liabilities in that the teaching of religion is the job of a child's parents - it would be the equivalent of a Christian minister preaching to your child without your permission.
    In the event that a coven member has a child that is part of the group, the minor may still be excluded from some parts of coven practice, particularly those that include ritual nudity. Having a parent in the group is generally the only time it is acceptable to have a minor practicing with adults.
    It's also not uncommon to have a teen-only group, run by teens, for other teens. This is perfectly okay, because the balance of power is far more equitable than in the case of an adult-led coven.
  6. Covens that demand that you have sex as part of your initiation.* There are people out there who use coven leadership as an excuse for deviant or predatory behavior, and the fact is that if there's any kind of sexual initiation involved, you may want to reconsider this group. People who say you've got to participate in sex with the HP or HPs (or both) in order to be a member may well be looking for their own gratification, not your spiritual growth. Yes, many Pagan religions are fertility religions, but there is an imbalance of power between a High Priest/ess and an newbie that makes sexual initiation a subtle form of coercion.
    That having been said - it's not uncommon for some covens to work skyclad, which is not sexual in nature. It is also not unheard of for a couple within a coven to perform a sexual act as part of a ritual; however, it is usually an established couple (people who are in a relationship with one another already) and the act is nearly always performed in private, rather than in full view of the rest of the membership. You do not have to let ANYONE violate you sexually to be Wiccan or Pagan. Anyone who tells you differently is not interested in helping you learn, they're just trying to get into your pants. Move on.
    * There are some legitimate exceptions to this - there are some older, established, and reputable Wiccan traditions that do include the Great Rite as part of initiation. Typically if you're exploring joining those, you'll be told about this up long before you get to the initiation stage. However, if it's a newer group where there's a clear imbalance of power between the person being initiated and the one doing the initiation, it's okay to take a step back. Consent culture is a big part of the Pagan community, and the bottom line is that if something makes you uncomfortable, then this isn't the right coven for you.
  7. Covens that demand you give up your money, family and friends. While it's fine to contribute a love offering to a coven's petty cash fund, if the High Priest expects you to give him your monthly paycheck, look elsewhere. No reputable coven will encourage you to forsake your loved ones, or tell you that the coven comes before any and all other obligations. A group that does this is not a coven, it is a cult. Stay away.
  8. Groups that ask you to break the law or cause harm to others. A Wiccan coven is not Fight Club - you do not have to blow up a building, beat someone up, or steal stuff to get in. Any group that requires its members to participate in illegal activities - and this includes drug use - is not a coven focused on spiritual growth. Any coven that demands animal sacrifice from its members is probably not a group you want to become involved in (bear in mind that some traditions of Santeria and Vodoun do include ritual sacrifice, but this is a rare exception and it is usually performed only by high-ranking members of the tradition, such as members of the priesthood).
    Certainly, the decision as to whether or not you are willing participate in negative behavior to be part of such a coven is entirely up to you, but understand that once you become involved in this kind of group, you risk arrest and possible jail time.