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So You Think You Want to be a Coven Leader?

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 7th. 2009
Times Viewed: 9,509

If there is a less glamorous, more arduous job in the Pagan community than leading a teaching coven, I’m not sure what it is. Oh, wait, I just thought of one -- being the overall coordinator of a large Pagan gathering, but I’ll save that topic for another article.

Although the job titles of High Priest and High Priestess sound very prestigious and glamorous, people who *truly* deserve those titles understand that while running a coven can -- rarely, occasionally -- be both of those things, the job is, at heart, a calling, a labor of love, and a hell of a lot of hard work. If you’re thinking coven leadership may be in your future, ask yourself the following questions.

How good am I at forming group cohesion?

The phrase, “it’s like herding cats” was probably first coined by a coven leader; if it wasn’t, it should have been! Pagans, in general, tend to be independent of thought, strong in their opinions, and just plain stubborn when it comes to matters of religious expression. Trying to get a group of these sorts of folk to agree on anything, much less trust each other in order to create group gestalt would try the patience of a Buddhist monk.

How many hot meals am I ready to miss?

It sounds trivial, but there were some periods of time with my students that there would be an emotional emergency or crisis of conscience every night around suppertime for four or five days in a row. I ate a lot of formerly hot food at those times, since it’s rude to audibly chew food in the ear of someone who is sobbing hysterically --at least it is where I come from. If mealtime is your special time with your significant other or family and you want to lead a training coven, turn the phone off during mealtimes.

Is my home usually clean enough to have rituals in?

If you’re the leader, chances are your home will (and should) double as the covenstead. Fairly or unfairly, the filthier the home, the less likely your students will take you seriously. I don’t mean *moderately* cluttered and I am not suggesting your living room/family room has to look like something from the pages of House Beautiful magazine. But if it’s impossible to tell what color the front of your microwave oven is supposed to be and there’s an inch of dust on top of your entertainment center (and you’re too lazy to thoroughly clean your house before every ritual, class, workshop, or a student dropping by in a state of emergency) , you’re not ready for the priesthood.

Do I have my own act together?

Ideally, you should be in a reasonably stable stage in your life -- done with school (including graduate school) , comfortably pursuing a career or in a steady job that offers enough financial compensation to at least pay the bills, and either in a supportive, long term emotional relationship or comfortable with your lack of one.

Running a coven takes a lot of time; you have to plan and teach classes, interview every potential member, mediate and resolve conflicts between members, plan and execute at least eight holiday rituals and up to twenty-six moon rituals (assuming your group observes each new and full moon) , and, as mentioned above, have at least one shoulder available at all times for your students to cry on as needed. If a large percent of your spare time is being spent doing homework, worrying about money, trying to find a job or cruising dating websites, you won’t have time to lead your coven.

Are there other obligations in my life that have need me more?

Aside from the above time obligations, I’m talking about small children and pets. Little kids take a lot of time, and (I say this from experience) once they reach the age of two until they’re in high school, you’re not likely to include them in ritual without excluding the needs of your students. A little kid in ritual with all the sharp shiny things and open flame is going to command a lot of High Priestess Mom’s and/or High Priest Dad’s attention just so Toddler won’t hurt himself. With that going on, how are you going to also monitor your first-time-in-ritual student who is about to make herself sick because she can’t ground and center properly and you’re too busy keeping Toddler’s hand out of the candle to help her?

Can you really find a 100% reliable babysitter for each and every ritual? And what if you have a potential student who is deathly afraid of or violently allergic to your 110-pound long-haired dog? Do you have the strength to steer the student elsewhere because of your pre-existing commitment to your pet? Consider your answer to these questions very carefully before you hang out your “I want students” shingle.

How good are you at saying no?

I’ve done it -- we’ve all done it -- taken on a student we shouldn’t have, and suffered the consequences as teachers because of it. Our favorite ex-student stole my husband’s wedding ring that he’d taken off because it’d become too loose due to recent weight loss. Our “guts” told us not to accept him as a student, but we did anyway -- mostly because he was a friend with another of our students who begged us to take him in. Can you look a potential student in the eye and say, “No, you can’t join”? What if she cries? Can you look a current student in the eye and say, “You are not ready for initiation”? What if he becomes angry? Again, consider these questions -- and your answers -- very carefully.

Are you willing to lead a more-than-exemplary life?

This is probably the hardest part of being a coven leader -- the constant spot on the Top Ten Gossip Topics list in your community. And it doesn’t matter what you do: if you are dating (serially or all at once) more than one person, you’re a slut. If you’re in a closed, monogamous relationship, you’re a stuck-up prude. Every conflict you have with a student that results in the student leaving your coven will be blown all out of proportion by the local Pagan community.

You will be vilified, stabbed in the back, put on a pedestal, and worshipped -- sometimes all by the same person at different times in your relationship, and always with the eyes of your fellow local Pagans upon you every step of the way. Can you live in a fishbowl? Because the minute you start to lead a training coven, you’re new address is First Glass Container On The Right.

This is not to say that teaching is not worth the trouble. Far from it. There is always the moment when you see the “aha!” moment in a student’s eyes as he gets, really gets what you‘re trying to teach him. That moment is the best reward there is.

If you crave those moments, welcome to the few, the proud, the training coven leader!


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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