I’ve thought a lot about covens and why they are important to me and how they have impacted my spiritual practice. I’ve been involved with several pagan groups of varying size, some calling themselves covens, some circles and others simply “groups.” Most of my initial interactions were definitely learning experiences and even wondered myself for a time whether or not the kind of coven I always dreamed of — chosen family, support network, and so on — really existed anywhere.

What drove me to seek out a group in the first place is a need for objectivity, accountability and being a part of something larger than myself. I wanted to work with people who could help me see my strengths and weaknesses, who would keep me on task and force me to keep my spiritual practice consistent (i.e. attending classes, rituals, etc.) by simply expecting me to be there. I wanted to be part of a group of strong witches, each adding something to the cauldron, creating a brew stronger than any individual ingredient.

I have never felt that wanting these things, or being part of a group, has prevented or exempted me from keeping a personal practice as well. In fact, I think a personal practice is fundamental to my strength as a member of a coven. I find my relationship within a coven to be much like a relationship anywhere else, where alone time is important and necessary. Through my individual study and practice, I find things of worth to contribute to the group, as well as things that simply feed me.

My first group was a study circle that I started in college. I was still new to practicing my Craft and wanted to find others of like-mind. What happened instead, is that I started to learn about commitment and depth. I was disappointed that only one person consistently attended — and that person is still very much a part of my life — and that when other people did attend, they frequently didn’t read and didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation in the way of deep thoughts. There was one member who put me in the uncomfortable role of personal messiah, insisting I was wise beyond my years (I was about 26 at the time) and asking for help in curing her depression. The woman was very sweet, but very broken and needy. I had no clue about how to erect boundaries or about how to maintain a non-inflated sense of self. I learned a lot from that first group about the need for structure, the need for discernment in membership, and the need to set personal boundaries about what I was willing and able to offer others as a leader — though I was far from done with any of these lessons.

When I left college, I moved to a large metropolitan area. I had an online study group with which I tried to apply some of the lessons I had learned in my offline group. I think I moved too far to the opposite extreme, imposed too much structure, too much discernment and still not enough boundaries. I ultimately learned that I cannot find what I am looking for in anything less than face-to-face interaction. Email and internet can be a great supplement to personal interaction, but it’s no substitute.

Next I met a person I’d chatted with online — A. She was probably my first true, internet-to-real-life friend. We worked together on a group, but life wasn’t very cooperative at the time. We were both busy and in transition. We checked out an ADF group together, but the leader of that group was very stuck on hierarchy, sexism and kept hitting on A. We pretty quickly left that too. I learned that timing is important. People can simply not be at the right point in their life to be part of a group — and that’s no reflection on their worth. And I learned it was okay to recognize leadership qualities that rub me the wrong way and to walk away from them. No matter how much I wanted to be part of a group, I wasn’t willing to compromise my self esteem to do it.

A moved away from Arizona, and I started looking for someone else to grow with. I found Boudica. Boudica was a third degree high priestess from a traditional coven back East in search of a student. We hit it off immediately, having tons in common and a similar approach to our spirituality. We worked together through the second degree (and would agree that the third degree is a formality we just need to complete) and I learned tons. I learned about raising energy, I learned about the traditional elements of ritual, practice, worship, everything. I learned that there is value to learning the history of our religion and that there is value to tradition, even if I chose not to follow it. There is value to having a starting place and a common language. I learned the deep meaning of sisterhood in the Craft — Boudica has been with me through thick and thin — through a short-lived exploration of Christianity on her part, and through some seriously hard growth on mine. I learned what to expect of an equal in the Craft and I learned the power of compromise. Boudica taught me about professionalism and the power of expectation.

During Boudica’s exploration, I sought out other groups. I was briefly involved with a Druidic group in the area that blatantly plagiarized many Craft and Pagan sources. I was so deeply disturbed by this, I completely severed ties with that group. I learned the value of honesty and integrity in group leadership. My relationship with that one consistent member of my first group (TS) strengthened and was further bolstered by her move to my part of the state. Our bond quickly tightened, with the addition of a third person (IV). This bond became a group, and this group became one of the most influential in my growth as a part of a coven.

I’m reaching a pivotal point in my growth as both a Witch and a covenmate… so I’m going to take a break and pick this up later. Please, feel free to ask questions!

Coming up — my experience with the Sisterhood, then with a small coven in Illinois, more with Boudica, and finally, with Prairie Fire Coven and the new coven.

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