Pagan Paths

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How to Start a Coven

b2ap3_thumbnail_Path-1.jpgI knew a Witch for a time who frequently said to me, "No one just gives you High Priestess status in my Tradition. That's something you have to earn." I try not to take stupid sayings personally, but after the third or so time she said it, I realized she was probably talking about me.

First of all, screw her. 

Second, I may not be impressed by titles and I certainly don't throw mine around (unless I have a Covener or ritual guest acting up and it's time to throw my crown at their head), but yes. I've earned a status. People have asked me how and I say with all honesty that I'm not really sure. All I know is that one day recently I looked at the calendar and realized I'd been leading a Coven for almost eight years. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Imbolc_Festival_February_3rd_2007.jpgI'm only able to remember how long it's been because our first Imbolc took place on the day one of my dearest friends discovered she was pregnant. Her babies (twins) will be eight next August. Which means my Coven will be eight come Imbolc. How did this happen? WHEN did this happen? THEY GROW UP SO FAST!!!

I didn't mean to start a Coven. There was a simple stirring in the arts community I hung around. A few people were interested in Magick and they knew I knew something about it. I invited them to come hang out in the park and connect with the Elemental frequencies (like you do...). Those people had fun. They wanted to come back. Next time, they brought friends. 

In cold weather, we held Sabbats in my 450-square foot apartment. This was only feasible if we collapsed the IKEA couch and pushed it, along with the cafe table and stools, into the bedroom. We could fit 13 in a Circle, but everyone had to move if one person needed to get to the bathroom. Somehow, the space held and Magick was made.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Fort-Tryon.jpgIn warmer weather, we went to the park. Once during a silent meditation, a now-Covener found a goat skull (or maybe a dog's???) surrounded by flowers and candle nubs. We gaped at each other in silent shock. We doused ourselves in Florida Water and kept walking. 

We weren't really a Coven, yet. Just a bunch of people who liked to get together and make Magick. But experiences deepened. People had awakenings. In time, there were several requests for "private gatherings" meaning, "Gatherings in which people don't bring their curious roommates." If the deeper work was to happen, greater trust and deeper bonds needed to be established. We established that some Circles would be private and others public. 

Later that year, we decided to come up with a label for ourselves. The broader community was calling us, "That Coven-That's-Not-A-Coven." We took a vote and decided we were in fact a Coven. There were 23 of us. Ten dropped out within the year. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_pumpkins-1388678.jpgSamhain, the following year, took place in a member's apartment. A creepy dude whom the hostess meant to uninvite showed up, anyway. It was apparent that we were too big and public to keep crowding into private homes. We started renting public spaces and took collections to pay for them. Any extra money we gathered was donated to charity. 

More members came. We developed a protocol for accepting them. Others left. We devised a way to energetically release them with good wishes, all the while honoring and tending to any hurt feelings left in the departures' wake.  

We built an email list and a website (which still needs to get back up and running). Our rituals got bigger and bigger. We realized we'd firmly established an outer-community as well as an inner Coven. 

We were invited to lead public rituals at festivals. Some of us started to travel, more. Artists, students, and writers approached us as subjects for their work. Sometimes we met people we'd never known who had heard of us. That was weird. 

I crowned one member as a Priestess and we blessed her as she hived off and started her own Coven with the same principles as ours--a good 1,000 miles away. This past fall, we all came together and met for the first time. 

That's basically how it happened. Almost 64 Sabbats, countless New and Full Moons, healings, cleansings, and community rites. How did it start? I don't know. I do know how I've managed to keep it going:

b2ap3_thumbnail_candle-1424236.jpg*Just like in theatre, the Rite will go on. With maybe one or two exceptions because I or others were sick, I've never canceled a ritual. There were times I worried that it would only be me showing up to honor the Gods and my way of assuaging that was to say, "Okay. So it'll only be me." Sometimes, it's only been three of us. Other times, it's been 300. No matter how many, I vowed to keep showing up.

*Organize, organize, organize. For the first ten years of my working life, I was an Executive Assistant. I wondered why my path would take me down such a mundane road and one day the answer came to me. "Organization doesn't come naturally to you and this community needs to be organized. This is how you were taught to organize." Pick dates, put them on calendars, stick to them, stick to your plans for the year. 

b2ap3_thumbnail_time-1179087.jpg*Come up with a list of agreements. If I could go back and spare myself and my Coveners years of frustration, I would have helped set our Coven agreements and expectations early on. It's easier to found a list and enforce it than to just bumble along and be all, "Wait. That's not right...." and try to create a rule around it, later. 

*Keep the focus on Magick. A Coven is not a social club, therapy session, or support group. Yes, there will be elements that are social. There will be elements that are therapeutic. There will be elements of support for its members. But those can't be the great pillars. Magick, however, must be. Otherwise, you have one of the other labels, but you don't have a Coven. 

*Just keep doing it. The moment you give up on your Coven is the moment you no longer have one. Delegate, take a break, change things up, freshen your approach. Whatever you have to do, just stay with it. 

Did I learn to be an HPS by studying Kabbalah, Norse mythos, and Astrology? No. But did I earn it? At this stage, I sure as hell hope so.

Eight years in and somehow we're still functioning.....I must have earned some High Priestess status points along the way. 


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Courtney Weber is a Priestess, writer, Tarot Advisor, performer and activist originally from Portland, OR living in New York City. Her writings on Witchcraft have been published in numerous publications, including Spiral Nature and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess" and "Tarot for One: The Art of Reading For Yourself", both through Weiser Books. She is the producer and designer of "Tarot of the Boroughs" a contemporary Tarot deck composed of original photography set in NYC. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.


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