I like to brag that I was very lucky as far as my introduction to Paganism goes. When I was ready to really study and potentially practice the Craft, I was delighted to find resources all around me. Many of my friends knew Pagans or were Pagan themselves. A lot of the feminist theory I was reading applied to Earth Worship as well. Even my family was taking similar interests in Paganism. I remember with delight that my mom and I would often be reading the exact same books at the exact same time, unintentionally.
Not only did I have books and people to help me, but many of these people were in an organized group, a coven. The coven held public sabbats which were perfect for Baby Pagans. So, my first ritual ever was with the Serpents of the Vine, Midsummer 2005.
These people really had their stuff together. They had lots of experience and they all had lots of books and they’d pass them to me on a regular basis. Having an active message board online meant I could learn about the group, connect with the members, see upcoming events, and most of all, when I had stupid questions, they’d answer and help out. Through the coven I was able to participate in open sabbat rituals, open workshops, and even something simple and fun like Pagan coffee at a local shop. There was a community and a world opened up to me with the coven, even with only being an outer-circle person and not a member.
Through a system of me getting to know them, and them getting to know me, we found that we all liked one another. I was invited to a full moon esbat, and a few months later, invited to dedicate. With the dedication came a year of intentional study, mentoring, and real coven work.
Or course, having a coven has its ups and downs. There was drama, of course. Remember, Pagans are people, too! (and how!) There were breakups (with one another and the coven), gossip, cruel words, drama queens, people who took center stage, people who weren’t committed and didn’t do their work – all sorts of negative and toxic energy being spewed around by all of us, myself included. These things make it impossible to do magic with another person, but inevitably come up when you do magic with another person!
So what having a coven taught me was that it brings out the best and worst in people. It’s all part of being human, and Pagans are so very very very very human. (we almost make a religion out of it, don’t you think?)
I was lucky with my first coven, but I have dear friends who had horrible, scary first experiences. There are covens that abuse their members emotionally, sexually, and magically. For me, I was lucky. For others, they need to be smart.
I almost didn’t make it. We (the coven) almost didn’t make it. But I did, and we did. (Mostly/kind of.)
As people grow, change, and evolve, covens (should) grow, change, and evolve with them. And while I’ve moved away, and others have moved away, and others aren’t even Pagan any more, I still feel a connection with these people, a connection that I’ve never felt with anyone else (though I’ve come close, but different. Which is important to recognize as well. Different groups form different connections, and that energy takes on a different flavor. It’s different, but no less meaningful.) As a Baby Pagan, I needed a coven, but I also needed to move away from a coven in order to grow, too, in both my mundane and my magical lives.
And on my own in the big wide lonely Pagan world, I’ve learned that I had it very easy. When I went into my coven, they had already done all of the hard work. There was a system in place, with rules and tradition and protocol, and for the most part, it worked. It wasn’t until I was trying to start my own coven that I really, really appreciated this structure. It’s important to recognize, though, that some people and groups thrive under structure and some don’t. I guess I do. I’m lazy and I like it when people do all the hard work, and I just didn’t realize how hard it was help facilitate a coven until myself and others were trying to do it from scratch.
Not that my little coven was a failure. Far from it. I learned a lot, and it was a year of beauty and sisterhood and magic. While I don’t have a coven now, I have a group of women with whom I’m connected in a delicious, special way. What my experiment with covens has taught me is that being in a coven is hard. But they can be beautiful. At both their best and worst, covens can be a good way to learn and grow, and they can offer a way to facilitate those traits blooming in others, too.
Most of all, covens come in all different shapes and sizes. No coven I have now or in the future will be like my first coven, and I need to realize that. And what does or does not happen in my future will be unique and magical, and that’s special, too. That’s why we’re Pagan - so we can manifest our own destinies, magical and mundane, in whatever flavor we desire.