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How to approach a coven to ask for training

Since I wrote the article on finding your coven, I get quite a lot of questions from people about how to go about accessing training. Sometimes all I get is a one-liner through my website that tells me “I must have Wiccan training“ (and that’s all I get), other times it’s a more deeply thought out conversation. Before COVID, if one of my students plucked up the courage to ask me how to go about finding a coven, we would always start with an initial chat and a cup of tea at the local coffee shop. Now we’re in pandemic, those chats have to take place over Zoom or FaceTime.

This article may read a bit heavy-handed, and it will (I hope) make you question what you really want. If you end of asking yourself some pretty existential questions after reading this, then you will be in the right place to seriously consider coven training as an option. This is not me being superior or mean - you need to understand is that there are certain markers that a coven will look for when discussing training with potential candidates that demonstrate your commitment to your spiritual life. Coven life is a spiritual commitment to yourself and the group you are working with and whether or not you have thought this through. If you don’t have those markers, the chances are the conversation will be a fairly short one. You will go away with a very nice reading list, and a suggestion that you spend a bit of time thinking about what you really want, hopefully with the door left open for you to come back and talk again at a later date. the thing to bear in mind is that you wouldn’t ask the church to train you as a priest without giving it some depth of contemplation. A coven is no different.

This article is really fair to pre-empt that first conversation. In the absence of a local coffee shop, this is intended to be a short guide for you on what kinds of things you need to think about before contacting a coven and asking them to make that level of commitment to you.

Do you have a sense of vocation?

Witchcraft is not the latest fashion, it’s not something that can be picked up and dropped a moments notice. If the coven is going to invest time and energy in training you (training tends to come with a commitment of at least five years), they will expect to see a sense of vocation. What that means is this is not the latest idea that you’ve had at the end of a very long string of other ideas. If you enter enter Wiccan training, it’s because you really have no other choice. There is no life other than this that you want to live. This means they would need to see some demonstration that you’ve spent some time working on yourself both spiritually, emotionally, and in terms of your Wiccan knowledge. You will have attended classes (and the beauty of the pandemic is that you can do this very easily from your own living room. Living in the middle of nowhere is no longer a barrier to your learning).

Have you explored all other options?

It’s not enough to have watched Sabrina/Charmed/Practical Magic to come away with the idea that you want to be part of a Wiccan coven. While TV and films like that are really appealing and very enjoyable, they bear very little relation to reality. Wiccan witches don’t really go around battling Demons (please see my previous posts about inner demons). Part of my Wiccan training required me to explore other world religions, and it’s left me with the full knowledge of how other paths see the divine and their relationship to it. What that gives me is not only wide and open view of how humans relate to the divine, but it also allows me to appreciate each world faith in its own context, to not judge them as being the right or wrong way, but also I understand the mechanics of a spiritual life. They’ve also taught me that Wicca is the only life that makes sense to me. If I wasn’t Wiccan I wouldn’t be anything else.

It’s not just world religions that you should explore. Within paganism there are many different variations. If you relate to the idea of the divine being found in nature, then it’s entirely possible that one of the other pagan paths‘s may be more your thing. Do spend time exploring these other path before you approach a Wiccan coven, if only to understand the context within which they sit. The group you are approaching will respect you for it.

Get gemmed up as far as you can

Read whatever you can get your hands on if you can’t afford to buy books have a look in your local library. If you struggle to read vast quantities, and explore the options around audio books. If you can’t find access to audiobooks think about accessing online training classes or lectures.

Get to know some witches if you can’t find a local pagan community centre (again please see my previous posts about pagan bookshops and how to find a coven) then look for online communities. Social media is full of them. However do be discerning. I enjoy #WitchesOfInstagram as much as the next witch, but you have to be discerning. It isn’t always a badge that represents depth and training. Some of it revolves around the aesthetic of witchcraft rather than the deep practice and knowledge born out of years of study and hard work.

It’s also polite to get to know people a little bit before you start asking questions about the most private and sacred elements of their life. As a practising witch, asking me about my spiritual life and my coven is a bit like rifling through my nicker drawer. I don’t let just anyone do that. So do be polite, respectful, particularly of peoples private thoughts, - I’m not going to give it up to you without some sense of you wanting to get to know me first.

A coven is like a family group, and anyone who has successfully run a coven for any length of time will tell you that group dynamics are very important. Relationships must be fostered and encouraged to grow. This means that the coven will think very carefully before admitting someone for initiation. And if they don’t, then the chances are it won’t be a happy group.

In all things be open, but discerning

Don’t jump in with the first person that offers your initiation, particularly if it comes with any strings attached. Possible strings might include asking for payment for training, or asking for sexual favours. If either of these things comes into the solution, you’re not talking to a Wiccan coven leader, you’re talking to a sexual predator or a business person. While you can expect to pay for public classes (and you should expect to pay for public classes) once discussions about training for initiation into a coven start, discussions about money or sex need to be not part of that. This is why a coven will be discerning about who they agree to take on as a trainee. Your coven leader (or coven sister or brother) who is responsible for your training will be dedicating hours and hours of their free time to help you learn. They do this by way of paying it forward, and not for financial gain. Someone once spent hours and hours of their free time training them, and each of us enters into a coven knowing that at some point we will take on the responsibility of helping others.

Be polite, and leave your sense of entitlement at the door

Wicca is an intensely polite religion. Although we practised sky cloud, and you may think we’re heading there, we also really value good manners.

I’m not saying you have a sense of entitlement, there are some folks out there who do, and contact groups with an attitude of ‘I’ve always known that I was special/different, why can’t you see it too? I need to be trained!“

This is likely to be given short shrift. The point of a spiritual path is not to make yourself feel special or different. Nor is a coven there to plug any gaps in your self-esteem. That’s your job, not theirs. There is an etiquette involved, which means we do send thank you messages for things that people have done for us, and we say please and always arrive with a gift.

If it sounds a bit brash, then do remember, Wicca is not a proselytising religion - we don’t seek out new members nor do we seek to convert people.

To reiterate, in order to enter into a coven you have to have demonstrated a sense of vocation, and good manners and politeness go along way.

Be patient

Training takes time. My initial hearing the day was actually more like three years and a day. In some traditions, once you have been initiated then you might have a further four years of study before you reach 2nd°, and 15 years before you go any higher. This is your life path that you are dedicating yourself to. There is no rush, and you should take your time - it is a big commitment.

If anyone offers you initiation any quicker than after a year and a days worth of initial study, then I would be questioning definitely. The point of joining a magical group is that you’re building relationships, and things take time.

Hierarchy and Rebellion

I was a very rebellious teenager and did not enjoy being told what to do (just pity my mother who handled it very well!). That’s not a personality types it fits comfortably within a coven. It is a hierarchy, whatever anyone else might tell you. The coven is led by the high priestess and a high priest. You need to be able to take instruction from them, or the other members of the group who have been in this a lot longer than you have. The point of the coven is that they will teach you things you cannot learn in books. The self-help books will only take you so far, and much of what we do is passed on through oral tradition. This means you need to be able to listen, and be instructed. If you were born knowing this stuff you wouldn’t be joining a coven (nobody is born knowing this stuff-in this life we all die beginners).

Do expect to be put off

There’s a tradition in the Jewish faith, that if you ask for conversion, the rabbi is likely to turn you away at least three times. Wiccans may also use this approach if they doubt your sense of vocation - we approach initiation in much in same way. If you have it, you won’t be put off. (Although there is a fine line between not being put off and arrogant or ignorant - please see the previous paragraphs about manners as sometimes no really means no!) For a coven leader, there is nothing worse than going through the process of initiation training, and initiating someone only to find that it’s not really their thing. There are folk that go round collecting initiations, either from different lineages, or from different faiths - that’s something to be avoided. This is why your year and a day is important - it’s a chance for the group to get to know you, and for you to get to know them (although you won’t know for sure who the members of the group are before your initiation, this is protected information)

Acceptance into your year and a day is no guarantee of initiation

A lot can happen in a year. You might suffer a significant bereavement and decide this isn’t for you. There might be a global pandemic which stops the coven from meeting. It’s really important that you remain open to all possibilities and realise that just because you’re in coven training, does not mean the group has a responsibility to initiate you. If it feels like one big test, it is.

Don’t expect to have it handed to you on a plate

Similar to the idea of not coming with a sense of entitlement, you need to be prepared to really put in the work. My year and a day training was a huge piece of work (humongous!). I was really daunted by it in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of it. It’s meant to be that way, there is a baseline of understanding and knowledge you need to come in with, because if you don’t, you will always be playing catch-up. Be prepared to study hard.

Be prepared to travel

While Wicca it’s one of the world’s fastest growing religions, you may find you have to travel in order to find a group and study with them. I know one priest who used to travel from the UK to the Netherlands for coven meetings. I’m not saying you will need to be that extreme, but it’s possible that your nearest group may not be the right group. This is about finding the right set of people to commit to. That means they might not just live down the road.

Take time in choosing

It’s important that you listen to those inner prompts. If something is making you feel uncomfortable around someone, it’s likely this isn’t the right group for you. Just as you wouldn’t just pick up any old Tom, Dick or Harriet down at the local supermarket to be your partner in life, you don’t just jump in with the first group you find. They will be screening you, but it’s important that you screen them to. And don’t be worried that you’ll never find the right group. You will, but sometimes it takes time. You will know it when you find it.

Iff having read all of this, you’re not put off, and your certain that this is the path for you, then now is the time to look for a Wiccan coven. At this point you have several choices. One is to start hanging out at your local pagan bookshop. Start to attend events. The other is to look out for your local Pagan Federation representative. They will have an online presence. I would also be referring you to social media. For instance, on Facebook there are groups dedicated to Gardnerian or Alexandrian seekers (and if you don’t know the difference between the two, now is the time to go and find out).

There will be members of that group who are initiates, and also coven leaders. They will be able to advise you how to go about finding a group in your area, or somewhere thereabouts. Pay attention to their advice, be polite and be humble. They might just be your high priest or high priestess.

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