Coven is Not
IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.
Although many fine
Neo-Pagan groups choose to operate using 'non-hierarchical consensus', traditional Wicca
does not. In the United States, egalitarian assumptions are often at odds with the urge
for individual distinction. When Wicca began, the need for hierarchy was self- evident:
you worked until your achievement was obvious and then you received recognition. So a
traditional coven is a hierarchy and, as High Priestess, you're in charge. That means
you're responsible for whatever goes on and to blame for whatever goes wrong. Welcome to
the Club. May you wield it skillfully!
If you would lead people, you must offer them something valuable. If you want their
loyalty, you must cultivate it. If you want their respect you must be honest, and that
means, first, being honest with yourself. Do not let your words and deeds be seen to
contradict each other. Keep the 'wit' in Witchcraft by always laughing louder and
longer at your own follies than those of others. Remember that true wisdom consists far
less in what you know than in how you communicate it.
Some Basics: From the beginning, be clear about what you expect. Put the coven by-Laws in
writing. Make sure everybody has a copy and reads it! If you teach, plan the
lessons carefully. Don't make them too hard or too easy. Be concise and to the point; then
allow time for discussion and feedback. And never expect your students to do any work you
haven't done or wouldn't do yourself.
As for technique, I offer Lao Tzu's cryptic maxim, "Govern a great empire as you
would fry a small fish." In other words, keep an eye on the flame, watch it with the
grease, know when each side is done and never let anything stick to the wok or you'll have
a mess on your hands!
IS NOT A DICTATORSHIP.
We have all heard horror
stories of how Lady So-and-so bullied her students while keeping them beglamoured and
ignorant. Likewise, we encounter examples of the High Priestess as Ultimate Arrogant Twit.
But the true Priestess' prerogative is leadership. Yes, the High Priestess rules the
coven. Anyone who does so successfully soon understands that TO RULE IS TO SERVE.
The Power of traditional Wicca lies in the balance of opposites and the Mystery of
their union. They are equally potent and when joined become something far greater than
each would have been alone. So if you are fortunate enough to have a devoted Working
Partner, cherish their values and opinions as you do your own.
Consult your Working Partner and Coven Elders on all major policy decisions. Let them
overrule you occasionally. Keep your clout in reserve for things that really matter to
you. Never argue with anyone in front of the whole coven. Instead, quietly use Magick in a
positive way to facilitate accord. Learn to keep your own counsel. Above all, learn to
preserve your dignity.
IS NOT AN EGO TRIP.
Although most (all) of us
actually have egos, we try very hard not to come off that way at least not in
public. But if you find yourself succumbing to High Priestess Disease, remember: AUTHORITY
IS A GARMENT TO BE WORN LIGHTLY. The High Priestess is the "first among equals"
and functions as the living representative of the Goddess. In plain English, she must
practice what she preaches. No coven can long survive under a leader who mistreats her
people; for all are equal in the Circle and each must be accorded the respect they
If a High Priestess manipulates her coven, makes arbitrary rulings, withholds approval
from those who merit it, obsesses over "enemies", or otherwise behaves
irresponsibly, she will soon lose their love and respect. "Those who cannot bear your
rule will leave you" and they have every right to do so!
IS NOT A PYCHOTHERAPY GROUP.
Magick and psychotherapy
are not the same thing; in fact, they're rather inimical to each other (Just try telling a
conventional shrink stuff happens as a result of your "projecting energy" at
it!). In the hands of an experienced professional, psychotherapy can be a great healing
tool; but mixing it with Wicca can be a great temptation for the High Priestess.
As High Priestess you may counsel anyone who asks for your help, as long as you do so in
private; but, under no circumstances, may you betray their confidential disclosures, nor
attempt a clinical diagnosis unless you are professionally qualified to do so. And ever
avoid ye Shrynke-Lyke cliches, such as "And how do you feel about that, Louise?"
If you can't figure out how they feel about something, maybe it's none of your business!
Those whom you initiate must be capable of handling their own emotional lives. Most of us
are damaged or dysfunctional in some way, yet still manage to cope without the constant
need to lean on others. Likewise, Wicca is not a 12-Step Program; if someone has a problem
with compulsive behavior, they should work it out in therapy, not in your coven. Yes,
crises arise now and then; but repeatedly wasting group time on an individual's 'personal
issues' is boring and unfair. Discreetly refer such a person to a competent professional.
As for your own mental health: you'll need it! So do whatever you must to maintain your
equilibrium; but never allow your coven meetings to become group-therapy sessions
especially for yourself. It's one of the surest ways to lose their respect.
IS NOT A NUCLEAR FAMILY.
One of the hallmarks of a
good coven is that everyone feels like 'family.' A High Priestess is her coven's mentor
and inspiration, not its' parent. Your coveners are Brothers and Sisters of the Craft,
responsible adults, who must be treated as such. Many a High Priestess has chosen to
project the image of Big Mommy, and so forced her students to remain in childlike roles
indefinitely. I urge you to think carefully about why you would need this type of
authority over others.
Goddess-Worship often appeals to people recovering from childhood emotional and sexual
abuse. This form of psychic damage is far more common than was once thought and far
easier to act out than to resolve. When you and your partner style yourselves Mom and Dad,
you assume a loaded kind of authority which can easily become incestuous. So if you truly
desire parental responsibility, have or adopt children of your own and raise them to
maturity. You'll find it's quite different from bossing around a bunch of adult co-
dependents! Meanwhile avoid using your coven as a surrogate for the 'perfect' nuclear
family you never had.
IS NOT A HAREM.
In my experience, teachers
who get sexually involved with their students are asking for trouble. This may sound
harsh, but in the long run it's the best policy. Someone who sees you as an authority
figure needs to maintain his/her sexual distance as a balancing factor. Most women
recognize that sleeping with the boss is a sleazy thing to do. So why act out a
reversed-role form of this, simply because you can? Crudely put, this is 'shitting where
you eat;' and nobody will respect you for it.
Some Neo-Pagan groups advocate polygamous lifestyles, and that is certainly their right.
Yet in my experience a coven that both prays and lays together doesn't stay together too
long. Life might be different if the female of our species were not genetically designed
to pair-bond through intercourse. I can only assume the Goddess made most of us this way
for good and sufficient reasons. At any rate, the longterm soap opera quotient in every
multiple and overlapping relationship I've observed has convinced me that the game is
unworthy of the candle. Speaking strictly for myself, I cheerfully refer individuals with
polygamous leanings to faiths such as Islam, Mormonism, or the Church of All Worlds. I do
not initiate them.
IS NOT A PARTYING CREW.
Reverence" both belong in the Circle, but the balance between them is very important.
If you wish to imbibe or indulge on ritual occasions, by all means do so. But keep it down
to a very dull roar: the last thing you need is to suddenly realize you're too zonked to
remember your lines! Likewise, random interruptions or pure silliness, when casting the
Circle, must be avoided at all costs. You may get a bit rowdier after the ritual solemnity
is accomplished. Unless you live several miles from your nearest neighbors, I suggest you
discourage the coven from baying at the Moon!
IS NOT A SOCIAL CLUB.
I asked a Witch I greatly
admire what she thought attracts people to the Craft. Her reply? "It's an excellent
Shopping Opportunity." It's true! A subculture brimming with fellowship, drama, and
creative self-expression offers something for everyone. Thus many people take up
Witchcraft because they're lonely, horny, and bored; they feel the urge to Get a Life.
Wicca is sexy, fun, and glamourous; it's also instant Identity, Power, and Community. The
World Between the Worlds becomes a social Holodeck from which many are reluctant to
As High Priestess you had best have a life outside your Craft and coven. Why?? Sooner or
later you may find it worthwhile to relate to others without revealing your religion or
proclaiming yourself 'Pagan Clergy.' Sooner or later your coven will graduate and move on,
leaving you to wonder why theynever call you ...at least Once in the Month When the Moon
is Full... Sooner or later you may come to realize that your activities in the (ugh) 'Real
World' are just as vital to your health and emotional well-being as any you may pursue in
the Pagan Community.
IS NOT A CAREER PATH.
Wouldn't it be swell if you
could just start your own little Pagan Church and get paid for doing what you love? Many
people have, but doing this requires the sort of chutzpah which commands far more envy
than respect. Maybe Uncle Gerald made up that rule against "...taking money for the
usage of the Arts." Then again, maybe he didn't! Where you draw the line at
commercializing your psychic talents is a matter of personal taste. Just remember, you'll
be judged by your peers, and many of them are quick to take offense at any perceived
'sellout' of the Craft. This goes double for publically billing yourself as
Thrice-Consecrated Lady Kallipygeia, High Priestess of Ancient Lemurian Wicca. The rubes
may buy this; but insiders will collapse in hysterics at such pretensions, especially if
you're under forty and haven't published anything in hardcover!
Witchcraft has always been far more a of a Knack than an Anointing. Even if Wisdom could
be conferred by fiat, the fact is that no lineage of Wicca per se goes back more than a
generation or two. Finally, I would strongly caution you to forego public statements
regarding what "all ethical, responsible Witches" believe. Practically speaking,
you are never in a position to determine this for anyone but yourself.
IS NOT AN EMPIRE.
Wicca is meant to be a
self-perpetuating entity. If newcomers cannot join, rise through the ranks, and eventually
found their own groups, the Craft cannot survive. 'Tis rumored that Gerald Gardner wasn't
terribly picky about whom he initiated, and this alone may have caused Wicca to spread as
rapidly as it did. So if buckles on your garter and/or a large political constituency are
what really motivate you, you may well be tempted to do likewise.
The problem with this is that one matriarch, no matter how dedicated or charismatic, can
rarely administer anything bigger than three generations of extended family (Ask your
Italian, Chinese, or Jewish grandmother about this if you don't believe me). Traditional
Wicca provides quite adequately for the delegation of authority. But when the Line becomes
a Tribe it starts getting unwieldy. By the time it's a Horde you're really in trouble!
Inevitable misunderstandings will in turn generate factions; and very few of us possess
the time, energy, or Solomonic wisdom to deal with the results.
So keep your group small. It may sound elitist to say it, but quality control is far more
important to a "Craft of Wisdom" than rapid proliferation. If someone is worth
training at all, s/he is worth training well. To rush your Maiden through the Degrees just
so you can be her Queen is stupid and shortsighted. You'll have only yourself to blame if
she becomes your rival in a Wiccan Turf War or worse, runs off with your High
This piece is from my personal Book of Shadows: part of some 'common-sense' advice to the
traditional High Priestess I've been compiling over the years. Since it's a personal
statement (and a rather strong one at that), the standard disclaimers apply: This is my
own opinion, based on my own years of 'trying to get it right' as High Priestess of a
structured traditional coven. I offer it for what it may be worth to the reader
clearly without the presumption that anyone will agree with all of it! Enjoy.