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Recovering From a Bad Coven Experience

Author: Bronwen Forbes [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: November 15th. 2009
Times Viewed: 10,365

One of the best things about being in a coven is the sense of family among the members. In fact, it’s not uncommon to feel even closer to your coven family than you do your family of origin. Unfortunately, as with some families, there can be dissent and discord; some covens may be downright dysfunctional, others may “divorce”, e.g. break up with all the rancor and bitterness of a long-feuding married couple that has finally decided to untie the knot.

Spirituality and the expression of religious belief is so intimate, so personal, you may even take this breakup as hard as if not harder than the last time you were dumped by someone you were romantically involved with. Whether you’ve left an intolerable coven situation or your close-knit group has just blown up in your face, the question is the same: what in the world do you do now? How do you even begin to recover from something like this?

First, take a deep breath, and know that you are far from the first or the only person in the history of American Paganism that this has happened to.

Next, treat yourself as if you have just lost a good friend, a family member, or someone you were very much in love with because, let’s be honest here, you probably did just have a loss of that magnitude if, for whatever reason, you’re not going to be circling with the same people any more. Do what you would normally do in this situation: cry if you have to, take a lot of bubble baths, eat more of your favorite ice cream than usual – in other words, indulge yourself a little bit.

Be gentle with yourself and whatever feelings may be coming up (pain, anger, fear, etc.) It’s all part of the healing process. If the coven broke up – as opposed to you leaving on your own – try to get with some of your fellow former members for a meal and just to spend time together, not necessarily in ritual, but to express how you all feel.

Do NOT run to the local community and tell everyone you can make sit still long enough to listen all the gory, intimate details of the coven break. They don’t want to know. You don’t want to look like a nasty little dirty laundry-exposer, especially if you left your group (as opposed to the group splitting up) .

On the other hand, if you know that the group has split off from the leader (s) before, or if other people have previously left the coven for reasons similar to yours, it would be in your best interest to get in touch with these folk – privately – and talk, preferably more than once.

I know from experience that this can be very healing and reinforce that you are not alone in your pain. As best you can, try to move away from general “bashing” sessions into honest appraisals of what went wrong on ALL sides as soon as you can.

It may be tempting to leap immediately into a group situation with your fellow ex-coveners or join a new coven entirely. As with romantic relationships, this is called “on the rebound” and, as with romantic relationships, it is not generally recommended. You are broken. You have been hurt. You need time to heal before committing your heart to another – another spiritual group, that is.

The rule of thumb for long-term romantic relationships is to not get involved in another for a period of time equivalent to six months for every year you were in the relationship. If you were married to someone for six years before a divorce, don’t get seriously involved with someone else for at least three years.

Don’t be surprised if you are seriously considering applying the same rule to your between-coven time. You – and your new group – will benefit from you taking the time to heal rather than bringing all that pain, anger, and sorrow into a new bunch of people.

Consider practicing another religion for a while. This sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it really does work. About eleven years ago, I had a need to walk away from all things Pagan for a while. Why I had that need is not important, but I was hurting and broken and just needed somewhere definitely “not-Pagan but spiritual” to get my act together.

So I spent the next two years hanging out with a local Buddhist group – meditating on a daily basis, going on the occasional retreat, meditating with my fellow Buddhists at the temple on a weekly basis. My meditation skills improved dramatically (something I was able to bring back with me when I rejoined the Pagan community in the aftermath of 9/11) .

The Buddhist group I chose to be with wasn’t into chanting, so I had a lot of peace and quiet in sacred space; peace and quiet is good when you’re trying to heal spiritually. I developed a deep appreciation for a beautiful religion that, while ultimately not my primary religion of choice, was not incompatible with Paganism, either. And, ultimately, I felt like I still had a Higher Power (Buddha, as opposed to, say, Diana) helping me do what I needed most to do: heal.

If there are no Buddhists near you, look for the Quakers. Most Quaker groups consider themselves Christian but, like the Buddhists, their services tend to take place in peaceful silence that, believe me, you really do need if you are recovering from a bad coven experience. If there aren’t any Quakers, look for the nearest Unitarians.

No, you won’t get a lot of peace and quiet, but you will be with some good people who are genuinely interested in every religion on the planet; you might just learn a few things. If sitting in silence is just not your thing, try a more active spiritual practice like yoga or tai chi.

Of course, eventually you are going to need to take a long, hard look at yourself and honestly think about what you did or didn’t do to contribute to the bad situation. Was it just bad judgment on your part, getting involved with an unethical group? Or were you acting like an insufferable know-it-all until your High Priestess couldn’t take it any more and asked you to leave? Did you do the homework assignments your teacher gave you, or did you slack off? Did your group leaders a) divorce or b) move to Fiji and decide to disband the coven?

This is when a combination of other former members of the group AND some non-Pagan spiritual practice can be of the most benefit; you’ll be able to analyze what happened with others and you’ll have the peace and quiet to get your own head together. To say that this is the hardest step toward healing is an understatement. Be gentle with yourself if it takes the longest to complete.

Above all, give it time. It’s annoying as hell to be told, “Time heals all wounds” but unfortunately it’s true. Do the best you can to keep some sort of regular spiritual practice, even if it looks nothing like what you were doing when you were a member of a coven – it will help you feel connected to the Divine, from whom all healing comes.

I know. I’ve been there.


Bronwen Forbes

Location: Bloomington, Indiana


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