10 Red Flags That Say, "Don't Join This Coven!"
We'd all like to think our "Pagan intuition" or our "gut" will tell us when it would be a very bad idea to join the group we've just met. Sadly, sometimes desperation, geography, or other circumstances make us ignore that little voice saying "this ain't such a good idea" and we make a really bad choice. If you're lucky, making a bad choice will only set your relationship with the Divine back a year or so (or however long you're in the wrong group). If you're not lucky...the consequences could be much worse.
So here are ten things to avoid at all costs when considering membership in a coven or other Pagan group:
1. Any group that tries to convince you that theirs is the only true path of spiritual development. There are a lot more "true paths" than one. Some Buddhists think there are close to one hundred, but the only true path of spiritual development is the one you yourself walk - no one is exactly the same, therefore no one's path is exactly the same.
2. Any leader, male or female, who uses sex as a "fee" in order for you to be accepted into the group or to receive further instruction. Even though the "free love" movement is long over, some leaders still try this tactic. Avoid it.
3. Any physical abuse. When I was just starting out in the Craft, we had a community/coven leader who would whip his students - actually, only his young single female students - hard enough to leave welts. Unless this is your "thing" you might want to stay away from this sort of practice.
4. Any group or leader who uses intimidation or "guilt-tripping" to get you to do what they want instead of what your inner guide thinks is right for you. My first High Priestess was really good at this. She even threatened to stab me with the little silver antlers on her athame handle if I handed her the wrong thing at the wrong time when she was casting the circle. Which goes a long way to explain why she was my first High Priestess - and she wasn't even that for very long!
5. The required or unknowing use of hallucinogens or any other drug for spiritual development. Drugs are a crutch - sure, they can teach you how to travel on the astral, but they don't teach you how to get there without them. Did you know that the Native Americans who use peyote in their ceremonies study for twenty years before they take it for the first time?
6. Any leader who is evasive, vague, or inconsistent when asked about his/her background, training or credentials. This means they want you to think they're better than they really are. Maybe they've just read one or two books and decided to be a High Priestess. Maybe they haven't even done that much! But any legitimate coven or group leader is proud of his or her background, no matter how humble it is.
7. Any group in which more energy is spent on political infighting, fundraising, or recruiting than on spiritual development. Because you and your budding relationship with the Gods will be ignored in favor of their latest "cause."
8. Any group that charges money for training. The leader is a lot more interested in funding his or her next Hawaiian vacation than teaching you anything. However, if the group is holding classes in a space that they're renting, a small fee to cover hall rental is perfectly acceptable.
9. Any group that seems too quick or eager to initiate or otherwise commit you without any formal training. How are you to know what you're getting into? How are you to make an informed decision if you've never gotten any information? If coven leaders run away from potential students who say, "I feel the Gods led me to study with you," then potential students should likewise run like hell if a leader says, "I feel the Gods led you to us."
10. Above all, don't participate in anything you feel isn't right for you! Perfect love and perfect trust is more of a goal than actual reality, but you'll never even come close if you don't trust the people you're circling with, and you just can't put your finger on why...
You just have to trust that a sane, legitimate, right coven is out there for you. And if you've truly been called by the Gods to serve, you'll find it. Someday. Somewhere.In the meantime, protect your health, your sanity, and your wallet - and stay away from groups that wave the above red flags!