Covens, study groups, and Wiccan/Pagan networking organizations are being formed all the time. Some are brand new, others are well established, but the majority probably fall somewhere in between. All too many newcomers to Wicca/Paganism get obsessed by their need to be part of a group, and they dive off head first into the first one that invites them without bothering to find out if it is really the best group for them. Often they find the pool is empty, and they crash big time. In the 1970's a seeker who wished to find a teacher or coven had a very difficult time. There were few books and few metaphysical stores. Now we have the opposite problem. There are hundreds of books and metaphysical stores and many thousands of websites which will all claim to be able to teach you Wicca. The problem now is finding a legitimate, trained teacher amongst all of the eager but unqualified ones. Anyone can create a website and claim to be a teacher of Wicca. Be careful. Ask questions. A good teacher will welcome questions about their background. Make a list of those things which are important to you, and from that make a list a questions to ask potential teachers.
Don't be in too much of a rush to find a teacher, and especially do not be in a hurry to find a coven. There is much you can learn on your own through on this website and from the books in the suggested reading list. One thing you might try if you are anxious to make contact with other Wiccans is an introductory class in Wicca - sometimes known as “Wicca 101”. These classes are given at many metaphysical book stores.
If you are a newcomer to the Craft, or a solitary who is just beginning to seek out a group situation, it is wise to research the group first and decide if you really want to be a part of it. Remember that the interview process is a two-way discussion. They not only have to accept you, but you have to accept them as well. Be picky. You're worth it.
Recognize that, though there are unifying themes in any Pagan belief system, practices from group to group can vary widely. One thing they all share in common is that all members will be expected to blend their personal energies with those of the others in the group, making it a very different spiritual experience from what many of us grew up with. This also makes our ideal goal of "perfect love and perfect trust" within our group situations essential to the well-being and spiritual growth of all concerned.
Define Your Requirements
Before you begin actively seeking contacts, sit down with a pen and paper and actually write out a list of what it is you're looking for in a group situation. Don't get so detailed that you build a fantasy group that can never exist, but do put into the words those things that mean the most to you. For instance, do you want to be part of an actual working coven, or are you more interested in a loosely structured study or discussion group? Do you want a mixed gender group, or one that is all women or all men? Do you want a group with an eclectic focus, or one that practices within a certain cultural framework or within one particular tradition? Do you want to worship skyclad (ritual nudity), or in robes or street clothes? Are you interested in a group that teaches others, that is open to the public, or that keeps its membership to a certain number? Do you want to be with younger people, or are you seeking the over-thirty crowd? Is it important to you to have established leaders and a system of degrees for advancing within the group, or do you lean toward the egalitarian/priestly traditions that share leadership roles?
After you have a list in front of you, go back over it and cross off any item about which you feel flexible enough to compromise. What is left are your core requirements. These requirements are what you should be looking for in any group you seriously consider joining.
Questions for a Potential Coven
At your initial interview, and also after your first meeting/ritual with the group, ask both the group members and yourself some of the following questions. There are no right or wrong responses, but the answers should give you a general idea if this is the right group for you to explore further or not.
1. What is this group trying to accomplish?
2. How do the leaders characterize the group?
3. How many members are in the coven? How large does the group expect to grow?
4. What is the group's general level of experience?
5. What sort of turnover rate has the group seen among its members?
6. Has any member ever been banished (forced out)? Why?
7. What qualities or characteristics are the group's leaders looking for in new members? Why are they interested in you?
8. How did the coven's leaders get their positions?
9. Do the leaders seem to wield an excessive amount of power over others, or do they lack leadership skills altogether?
10. Is there a written set of rules they will permit you to see?
11. What contributions will you be expected to make to the group? Teaching? Leading? Providing a meeting site?
12. What will the group give you in return? Lessons? Chances for advancement? Connections to a larger umbrella group?
13. Who prepares and leads the rituals?
14. What about magical practices? What are the ethics of the group and its individual members? Are you comfortable with these?
15. Have you been asked to do things that conflict with your ethics, or things whose purpose are not explained to you?
16. Have you either witnessed or been asked to participate in rituals that harm, degrade, or frighten others?
17. Are the other members cautiously welcoming to you, or do they seem indifferent about your participation?
18. Do the members seem to get along well with one another? If at your first meeting you are bombarded by backbiting from rival members, it is a good sign to run fast!!!!
19. Is there anyone in the group to whom you react negatively? It only takes one to keep you from fully feeling a part of the group, and this clash will likely lead to internal fighting that could destroy the group.
20. Does the group seem to you to have a solid future?
21. Do the group members seem to be committed to spiritual progress, or do they strike you as playacting?
22. Listen carefully to see if everyone's input is welcome. What happens when someone makes a suggestion?
23. Do you feel this is a group in which you could grow?
24. If you had the power to alter the group in any way you wanted, what would you do? Most important of all, how do these alterations measure up against your original list of what you were looking for in a group?
Some of the more bizarre things we have heard of that have taken place in some covens:
• Beware of anyone whom you do not know well that asks you to join a coven. This is not a normal Wiccan practice. Students must ask to join and are only admitted after months, or sometimes years, of study.
• Beware of any adult coven leader who accepts as a student or coven member, anyone under the age of 18 without verified permission of the child's parent or guardian. Most High Priests and High Priestesses will not take on students under the age of 18 unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian to all events. You will occasionally find “covens” or study groups whose members are all under the age of 18. We highly recommend that you do not involve yourself with such groups unless you have permission from your parents and you know that the group is either supervised by responsible adults, and/or the parents and guardians of all members are aware of the existence of the group and condone its meetings.
• Beware of a teacher who seems to blame other people (students, assistants, society) for their problems. A leader of a coven or group needs to take responsibility for what happens in the group and to the group.
• Beware of teachers who require students to do house work for the High Priest or High Priestess. This is not normal Wiccan practice. It is reasonable for a High Priestess to ask for help setting up for ritual and cleaning up afterward.
• Some Wiccans have reported being beaten for failure to obey rules of the coven or for failure to do housework. This is definitely not part of Wicca! If you are a victim of such a practice do not hesitate to report it to the police. Wiccans, like everyone else, are required to obey civil laws. No oath of secrecy binds you from reporting such illegal acts.
• Beware of teachers who claim that you must have sex with them before beginning your instruction. This is not normal Wiccan practice and should be a major warning that the teacher is unscrupulous.
• There are some covens which do use actual sex for purposes of initiation. If this is a concern to you make that very clear the High Priest and High Priestess. You may be told that the initiation involves only a symbolic “Great Rite” or symbolic sexual union between god and goddess.
SPECIAL NOTE: There have been reports of at least one coven which tells potential initiates the union will be symbolic, and then the student is coerced or forced into actual sex with the High Priest or High Priestess. THIS is not legitimate Wiccan practice! Any forced sex should be reported to the police as well as to the Wiccan community.