Ten Things to do to Get Ready to Join a Coven
The good news: You've discovered that you are, at heart, a Pagan - maybe even a Witch. Even better, there are people "out there" just like you; people who actually get together on full moons and at Samhain, Yule, and all the other holidays. People who are in an actual coven.
The bad news: You can't join a coven right now. Maybe the one you "click" with is full and won't take any new students for a while. Maybe your family or roommates are absolutely, positively, not open to the idea of you joining a bunch of wierdos who dance naked in the moonlight in the park down the street (note: most covens do not advocate dancing naked in the moonlight in the park down the street). Maybe you're too young - many covens have a minimum student age of eighteen, or even twenty-one. Some covens actually prefer that their members be at least thirty years old - or even older!
A coven is, first and foremost, a family; a magical family bonded by shared beliefs and ritual, rather than by blood. So while you wait until you're older, or for space to open up in the group you want to join, or until you can move to a tolerant living situation, it makes sense in the meantime to do what you can to prepare to be "adopted" by a coven. The ten suggestions below will help you develop the skills you will eventually need to be a fully contributing member of your future magical family.
The best news so far: Not only are these skills you can learn or perfect whether you're thirteen or thirty, male or female, but even the most strictly religious roommate (or parent) will find nothing strange in your desire to learn them.
1. Learn how to cook.
All Pagans and Witches love to eat. In the twenty-plus years I've been practicing Paganism in both coven and community settings, I have rarely if ever attended a ritual that didn't have some sort of pot-luck feast or meal afterwards. And if everyone brings a lovingly prepared home-cooked dish to the feast and you show up with a bag of potato chips and a container of store-bought dip, it shows a certain lack of maturity on your part. Your willingness to contribute your fair share to the ritual feast may, to others in the coven, reflect your willingness to contribute to coven life as a whole. If you can read, you can learn how to cook.
I'm not suggesting you attend chef school (unless you discover you really enjoy it), but find a couple of inexpensive, tasty recipes and practice them until you're good at it. It's good to have more than one dish in your repertoire, so I suggest these:
- Lasagna as a main dish. It's much easier to make than it looks and it feeds a lot of people.
- Some sort of side dish or salad. In-season fruit and a half cup of orange juice with a dash of peppermint extract makes a cheap and tasty fruit salad - perfect for Litha!
- Homemade cookies. Everyone loves homemade cookies. Brownies or cupcakes from a mix with nuts added and frosting on top are an acceptable compromise between homemade and store-bought, and cost the same, if not a little less than, a bag of potato chips and a container of dip.
- Bread. There's nothing like a loaf of homemade bread to capture the true essence of Lammas! It's easier to make than you think.
If you live in a situation where you can't cook - like a college dormitory - ask the ritual host or hostess if you can come a little early and prepare your feast contribution on-site. Be polite: bring all the ingredients you will need.
And if you really want to endear yourself to your future coven family, know how to load a dishwasher and put away leftovers.
2. Learn how to sew.
Unless you have an intense desire to become a Gardnerian and attend all coven Circles buck naked, you will need at least one ritual robe. And even Gardnerians need altar cloths.
(Hint: black scratchy "Death" or "Hangman" robes sold around Halloween are tacky. Ditto purple sparkly "wizard's robes." Don't even think about wearing them to a serious ritual.)
Most covens have an unofficially appointed seamstress who makes ritual garb, altar cloths, and tarot card bags for members who cannot sew. That person will love you forever if you know which end of a sewing machine has a needle before you join the coven.
3. Take up a hobby or craft.
Having interests outside of your religious studies will make you a more balanced, well-rounded person. A balanced, well-rounded person is an asset to any coven.
It takes time, effort and focus to learn a hobby or craft to the point of actually being good at it (notice I didn't say great). Whether it's mastering a musical instrument, woodwork, cooking or sewing, writing poetry, candlemaking, gardening or training dogs, your future High Priest or High Priestess will see that you are self-disciplined enough to take what they have to teach you - and the commitment to learn it - seriously.
Your future covenmates may also benefit from your non-religious talent. Music in ritual or after the feast (maybe for a dance or a coven sing-along) brings a welcome level of revelry to any holiday. Your garden can be a source of home-grown herbs for incense or spellwork. Poetry is the voice of the Gods.
4. Become an experienced camper and hiker.
A lot of covens I know attend - as a group - at least one major four- or five-day Pagan festival a year. Some covens even run the event. Although a few of these festival sites have cabins and electricity, many do not. Some lack basic plumbing. Doing your share when it comes time to pitch tents and set up camp is mandatory - especially if it's dark and/or raining when you get there. Know how before you find yourself in this situation.
If your family is, or was, not the camping or hiking sort, find an organization that can help you. The Scouts, YMCA, and Campfire all offer plenty of opportunities for "roughing it" to their members. It's not too late -- participation in these organizations can and often do extend to college campuses. They are also almost always desperate for adult volunteer help.
Hiking is excellent exercise. A toned body can lead to a toned mind, and both are essential.
The day-to-day ritual practice of Paganism and Witchcraft is often Nature-oriented. Get to "know" Nature before you begin serious study with a coven, it's to your advantage. And nothing gets you more up close and personal with all aspects of Nature than hiking or camping in it.
Yes, Nature is coming face-to-face with a cute speckled fawn on a sunny Beltane afternoon.
Nature is also finding a humongous, fanged hairy spider on your latrine seat at four o'clock in the morning. In the rain.
It would behoove you to be equally calm and reverent in both situations.
5. Read non-Pagan books.
By non-Pagan books I mean physics, anthropology, botany, biology, history, the classics, comparative mythology, poetry, and Shakespeare's plays.
- Science books will teach you how this planet works on a basic level
- Anthropology, the classics, and comparative mythology books will help you discover which God or Goddess is which (useful, when one comes to choose you for His or Her own), and how the Gods were really worshipped in times past
- The natural literary flow of poetry and Shakespeare will be invaluable when it's time to create a ritual from scratch
- History books will keep you from saying stupid things like, "I really feel for the witches who were burned at Salem." (they weren't witches and they were hanged, not burnt)
Most important, reading books like these will exercise your mind. Remember that a fit mind and a fit body make a balanced person - and a balanced person is a good covener.
Once you achieve a certain level of initiation/elevation in most covens (and this level will vary from group to group), there is usually a requirement of "service" to the Gods. How you act on this requirement is open to interpretation. It could mean you serve the Lord and Lady directly as a Priest or Priestess. Or it could mean that you do Their work here on Earth. Or it could mean both.
Start now, and it will be a habit by the time "service" is formally required of you. It doesn't have to take a lot of time, but you should volunteer to do something you believe in that a) benefits others and b) feels "Pagan" to you: clean up trash at your favorite park, play with dogs at your local no-kill animal rescue, serve food at a soup kitchen not during Thanksgiving or Christmas week. Can't think of anything? Call your local chamber of commerce - they will be happy to provide you with a list of local organizations in your area that desperately need volunteer help.
You don't have to tell the people you're volunteering with that you're doing this as part of your religion. In fact, you probably shouldn't. You know, the Gods know, and that is all that matters.
7. Start or continue a healthy lifestyle regimen.
Being a Witch or Pagan is hard work. Studying magic is hard work. Self-discipline and a healthy mind are absolute necessities if you're serious about this spiritual path. A healthy mind and a healthy body make a well-balanced person. And, as we've already discussed, a well-balanced person is a bonus to any coven.
Does this mean you have to adopt the lifestyle of an Olympic-class athlete? Unless your heart's desire is to win a gold medal someday, no. The Oracle at Delphi said it best twenty-five hundred years ago: Everything In Moderation.
- Quit smoking. Better yet, don't start. If you're reading this, you probably aren't studying Native American spirituality. To the Native Americans, tobacco is sacred, and if you're smoking 3 packs a day, you are not treating tobacco with respect. So stop.
- Yoga, tai chi, and walking or hiking are ready-made combinations of exercise and spiritual practice, as are some forms of karate. See if anyone offers classes or hiking excursions in your town.
- Cut back on desserts.
- Get adequate amounts of sleep.
- Cut back on or, better yet, stop recreational drinking.
- Drugs are, sadly, a very effective short-cut to various trance-states. Do yourself a favor and learn how to get yourself into those states without chemical help.
It is also a good idea to test your self-discipline in this area from time to time. For example, I recently gave up all refined sugar for a full lunar cycle as a way to let the Gods know just how seriously I wanted and was willing to work for a life change. All I will say as of this writing is: it was one of the hardest things I have ever done magically, and it seems to have worked!
8. Learn how to drive a car.
Even if you live in New York City and have no intention of ever owning a car, learn how to drive one anyway. Bumming rides from your future fellow coveners to every ritual or group get-together is the equivalent of bringing a bag of potato chips and a container of dip to every feast - tacky and immature. Plus, it gets old really quick. If you're old enough and physically able to get a driver's license - get one.
What if the coven you eventually join is thirty miles away? What if it's a hundred miles away and you're the only member who lives in your town? This happens more often than you may think, especially if you don't happen to live in or around a major metropolitan area. How will you get to the covenstead for classes and rituals if you don't drive? If you can afford it and you're old enough, you can always rent a car - but you can't rent a driver's license!
9. Keep your word.
One of the things that was drummed into my head twenty years ago when I first started to study Witchcraft was "a Witch is only as good as his or her word." Think about it: why would the Gods choose a habitual liar as Their Priest or Priestess? A liar's actions and the hurt he or she causes wouldn't reflect very well on the Gods, would it?
Many covens require some sort of oaths from their members, in order to help preserve the tradition that is being taught. I guarantee you, if your High Priest or High Priestess sees that you have trouble doing what you say you're going to do - or not doing what you say you're not going to do -he or she will see to it that you never take those oaths, and therefore you will never be a member of a coven!
So what does this mean for you now? Keep your word, no matter how small the consequences. If you tell a friend you will meet her at five o'clock in front of the mall, then unless you are in a horrific car accident or the world ends, you had better be in front of the mall at five o'clock. If you promise to pay someone money you owe them by such-and-such a date, you had better stick to it.
Try not to lie. This is sticky, as sometimes it is better to tell a small white lie to keep from deeply hurting someone's feelings. If your sister asks what you think of her haircut, and you don't like it, you could lie and say it's cute or you could tell the truth and say it makes her look like a wombat at the end of a three-day drinking binge. Here is where the tough part of being a Pagan or a Witch starts: you must weigh the situation, assess what will be the least hurtful (remember: an it harm none...), act accordingly and - here's the tough part - truly be willing to accept the consequences of your actions.
10. Get organized.
Let's say, for the moment, that your coven is ready to accept you as a student. Except now you're in a long-term relationship, possibly even a marriage. You may have pets that rely solely on you for care, or maybe a child. You have a full-time job and/or you're in school. Where will you find the time to attend weekly classes, rituals, and other mandatory coven gatherings?
Start now. Learn how to budget your time, so that no one, especially you, will feel shorted because of this new demand on your resources. If you're in school, learn now how to arrange your week so you get your homework done before it's due - and it doesn't matter if your in high school or graduate school. If you think your teachers are harsh now if an assignment is late, trust me - your High Priestess will be much worse. If you're out of school and working, become more organized on the job and on balancing job and home life.
The best thing you can do is get an organizer/calendar and learn how to use it. Keep a diary of your typical day for a week - you may be shocked to discover just how many hours you waste "vegging out" in front of the television or on the Internet, time you could spend learning how to cook, or taking your dog to visit sick children in the hospital - in other words, getting ready to join a coven!
Whether you ultimately join a coven or not, I promise the above ten suggestions will enrich your spiritual practice and bring you closer to the Gods and the world They created. And the best part is, no one around you will even suspect that cooking supper for your family, mending your favorite jeans, learning how to play guitar, keeping a personal calendar, not smoking, or reading that book on geology is, for you at least, Witchcraft!