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Six Warning Signs When Joining a Coven

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I grew up fascinated by ancient myths and legends. I started studying paganism seriously in 2013 and was initiated into a coven in 2016.

Joining a coven can be wonderful, but it is not a process to be taken lightly.

Joining a coven can be wonderful, but it is not a process to be taken lightly.

Joining a Coven

My last article was centered on reasons why you should join a coven. It is only responsible of me to follow that article with some suggestion of what you may want to watch out for—and avoid—when researching and considering covens to join.

I was very fortunate as a Seeker that the first Outercourt I attended was held by a coven that was amazing and—most importantly—safe, and I have been with this coven ever since. I've since seen and heard stories from multiple people who were not so fortunate, unfortunately.

As a community of spiritual people, we like to think our community is a safe and trustworthy place. Unfortunately there are predators, abusers and toxic people within every community.

Please don't misinterpret this article as 'Reasons Not to Join a Coven'—that's certainly not how it's intended. So, with no further ado, here are six warning signs to look out for when you are attending a new coven or community event.

These include:

  1. Abuse
  2. Underage Initiates
  3. Individuals Making a Profit
  4. Isolation
  5. Narcissism
  6. Incompatible Teaching Style

1. Abuse

Emotional and physical abuse come in many forms and are never acceptable. The most obvious form of abuse is physical, such as hitting, shoving and throwing objects. There are, however, many other forms of abuse. This includes—but is not limited to—the use of threats, humiliation, and manipulation. It barely needs to be said, but if you witness or experience any form of abuse at a community event or a prospective coven that isn't dealt with to your satisfaction, leave immediately.

A responsible coven will have a set of written guidelines outlining unacceptable behavior and a conflict resolution procedure. These should be provided and discussed with the group early during the Outercourt.

As an example, there is an old-fashioned practice called scourging that is still practiced within some covens. I highly recommend you do your own research and ask many questions if you are considering joining a coven that practices scourging. Personally, I find the practice outdated and bordering on abusive. Whether or not you choose to join a coven that practices scourging is your choice alone, but I certainly would not.

2. Underage Initiates

No person under the age of 18 should ever be initiated into a coven. Depending on the rules and practices of the coven, teenagers aged 16 and older may be allowed to attend an Outercourt and become novices (pre-initiation), but only with informed parental permission.

The work of a coven tends to challenge people and bring up emotions they usually suppress. I've seen adults struggle and walk away from covens because of these challenges. This is not an environment for a child, and any coven that allows underage participants are acting irresponsibly and should be avoided.

Coven members also tend to form very close, sibling-like relationships with each other. These types of relationships are simply unacceptable or safe between children and unrelated adults.

3. Individuals Profiting From the Coven

There are always expenses involved with running a coven. For example, tools for rituals (e.g., candles, mead and incense), printed materials for lectures and workshops for training.

It is perfectly reasonable and normal for a coven to ask novices and initiates to help with such costs. However, these costs should be transparent and openly communicated to coven members.

Covens are not a business and no member should be profiting from other members. I often see these profits named as training or coven fees. Unless these fees are reasonable and you can clearly see how they are being used to purchase resources for the coven, then someone is probably profiting.

Community events are a different matter. These are often run as fundraisers for a particular project or even directly by businesses.

Covens are not a business and no member should be profiting from other members.

4. Isolation

Isolation is a form of emotional abuse in which a person is separated from their existing support network and must rely solely on the perpetrators for support. This is a common technique applied by cults when acquiring new members. No coven should pressure you to distance yourself from family and friends.

The flip side of this, however, is that you may feel isolated anyway if your friends and family are unsupportive or even directly hostile about your decision to join a coven. Unfortunately, this is quite common and many covens are experienced with supporting their new members in this situation.


5. Narcissism

While nowhere near as serious as the other warning signs mentioned here, I've included narcissism due to how widespread it seems to be within the pagan community.

There is a lot of ego out there—a lot of people claiming they are more spiritual, more advanced or more 'powerful' than others. While often harmless, these views are generally not the trait of a good teacher or leader and should be avoided when looking at prospective covens.

The truth is, we are all traveling along different paths at different speeds. Just because someone is seemingly further along their path doesn't make them better— just different.

6. Incompatible Teaching Style

This is possibly the hardest warning sign to identify as a new pagan. Like narcissism, it is generally far less damaging than abuse or exploitation but is still an important thing to look out for.

Everyone learns and teaches differently. Some prefer a series of written lectures, others prefer hands on activities and others prefer casual discussions over coffee. None of these teaching methods are wrong, but knowing which method suits you certainly helps when meeting prospective covens.

This is one of the main reasons that I suggest people try attending Outercourts at different covens. This is the best way to determine which ones teach in a style that works for you and which ones don't.

We are all traveling along different paths at different speeds."

Take Time to Consider Which Coven to Join

Joining the wrong coven can be at best frustrating and unproductive; at worst, it can be traumatic and debilitating. The Outercourt/Training Circle/Novice process gives covens time to vet new members before any commitments are made. Potential new members should use this time to vet the coven. Ask plenty of questions, attend as many gatherings as possible and watch closely for any warning signs or red flags.

Joining the right coven can be an amazing, life-changing experience. You'll learn new things and have experiences you never even considered. Not to mention the lifelong friends you'll make with your fellow coven members and the greater community.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Ashtein