Last Saturday, I participated with a local coven in presenting their Dark Moon public ritual.
Over the years, I’ve attended open rituals. As a Solitary Witch I find them very enjoyable and a good way to feel connected to the wider Witchcraft, Wiccan, and overall Pagan community. As an observer I’ve stepped into the circle dance to raise energy, hailed the quarters and received guidance through divination or by receiving a token from the human representative of whichever deity has been invoked. I’ve been blessed and honored to witness these rituals.
This past Dark Moon, however, I had a very different experience.
For the first time, I felt what it might be like to be an active member of a private group or coven, outside of my family, performing a ritual. An experience which gave me a deeper connection with the other participants in the ritual, and is what I assume makes coven membership appealing to many people. When the decision was made to attend the ritual being held at Artes and Craft over the Memorial Day weekend, I had no idea such a profound experience awaited me.
Here’s what happened.
Car and I went to the store so we could visit with the regulars who hang out there. There are free classes and open rituals offered at the store every weekend. We’ve gotten to know the regular visitors to the store and several members of the coven (led by Pat and Paul, who own the store) by spending the last six months sitting on one of the comfy couches or chairs arranged in the center of the store to enjoy spirited conversation.
The store buzzed with activity as we walked over the threshold, the jingling of the bells hanging from the door knob becoming lost in resonant music and the low murmur of voices. Some familiar people were lounging in chairs and chatting. The majority of the crowd consisted of new customers, those who came from some distance for a shopping spree or folks stopping by on a whim. Pat and Paul have been on vacation, so the store manager worked the register and assisted people at the large apothecary area, filled orders and cashed people out with supreme focus and still managed to get other store chores done. Which was amazing when you realized she would also be leading the evening’s ritual when the store closed for the night.
Car and I stayed for about an hour. Before leaving, we stopped to say hello to the manager, and she asked if we’d be coming to the ritual as by all accounts the attendance would be low. Up until that point I’d not made a decision on whether to attend the ritual but because the store manager is a friend I promised to be there.
A couple of hours later saw me returning to the store for the ritual. As expected, there were just a handful of people staying to celebrate the Dark Moon. Three members of the coven were present to lead the ritual. Normally, four people would be asked to participate but Memorial Day travel and celebrations saw people out of town, busy and unavailable. The store manager thought it would be okay. She had written the ritual and could adapt the script as needed.
Then one of the women slated to participate in the ritual discovered storms were brewing in the area where she lived. She had been at the store all day with an hour’s drive time to get home. The potential for heavy rain and hail on the trip had her leaving with haste.
And then there were two.
The store manager pulled me aside. “Would you be willing to step in and do the ritual with us?”she asked. There were four people attending as observers (five if you included me) and none of us are coven members. But she needed someone to assist who could read Tarot as part of the ritual. Since I spend every Sunday giving spiritual and Tarot readings at the store, she thought me the logical choice to ask.
For a second or two, I considered saying “No.”
I’m a Solitary Witch. The coven has particular ways of doing things in ritual. Sure, Car and I held the chalice and athame during the Beltane ritual as part of our handfasting and anointed people as they left with the sign of the Lord and Lady but that was different! Even then, I got stuff wrong. Stood when I should have kneeled, held the cup in the wrong hand, etc. Fiddly things which are important when it comes to a specific tradition’s rituals! Sure, it had been fine and nobody else cared but still…
My friend needed a third person for her ritual. She could have made it work with two people but it would have been selfish of me to sit there and not help when asked. My biggest concern in the situation was messing things up in some way. Disturbing the energy flow. In my view, it’s important when participating in someone else’s tradition to try to get things right if possible. Sensing my hesitance, the store manager rushed to tell me that all I’d do is cleanse everyone with sage smoke while saying these words here and reading those words there (A LOT of words. Two extra people’s worth of words!) for that part, hand stuff out and then do this other thing for everyone in the group.
No big deal.
What? I’d be performing half of the ritual. Myself! Yes. Fine. There was a binder with a whole script from which to read with complete instructions on what to do and how to do it, but GREAT GODDESS! I’m not a member of the coven. A friend to the coven, yes. Absolutely. Maybe – coven adjacent? I don’t know. But this?
Was this even legal?
However, the woman is my friend, so I said “yes” because I didn’t want to leave her hanging. And it didn’t hurt when she assured me casting or releasing the circle would not be something I had to do. Don’t judge me. I cast circles in own practice, but they do this thing with their hands which confounds me.
Me = Solitary Witch, remember? They are a COVEN with traditions and secret ways, people!
Anyway, I did the thing with the sage (keeping the book in one hand the entire time even though the words were simple, repetitive, and I KNOW them, but I was nervous, okay?) and then read the words of greeting, which I had to improvise a tad, indicating the two actual coven members first and then myself as the “outsourced stand-in.”
I’ve never been so glad for my experience as a public speaker and podcast host. Ever.
The circle casting happened and then came the next set of words for me to speak. Beautiful, deep-felt words invoking deity to attend our Dark Moon circle. In the beginning, they were just words but within a few sentences something mystical happened.
The invocation (or hymn, if you will) shivered down my spine, power and energy rippling around me as I spoke the verses in a loud, supplicating voice. How could I speak them any other way? Words which evoked a sense of the great mysteries deep within me. The moment felt intimate within that sacred space of gathered Witches. Goddesses were called upon. And as I read, the name of a goddess to whom I am now devoted stood out within the text. A goddess who came at the invoking of her name, settling over and within me for that time and place and working.
To say I found the moment profound would be an understatement.
Taking such an active role in the ritual with my friend and the other leader brought with it a sense of oneness I’ve not often experienced in public ritual. A unity which is most often found in sabbat rituals performed with my family. There have been times I’ve experienced wholeness or the power of being a part of the group while attending a public ritual, but they are few and far between. These public rituals have always been beautiful and I’ve appreciated them, but as an observer or spectator.
Being part of this ritual as a leader (even as one who is outside the coven), and participating in the Beltane ritual which included our handfasting a month prior, has allowed me to feel the powerful connection which can be attained in a group or coven working in a way I’d not experienced before.
This is not to say a Solitary Witch’s ritual and spellwork is not powerful because it is.
However, I suspect there is a dynamic energy within a coven or group that is very different from what a Solitary experiences or even the energy raised during a public ritual, which can also be intense.
Now, I understand why people are drawn to a coven, group, kindred or grove. People coming together with like-minded purpose can do remarkable things. People who share the closeness of family, or dearest friends, can do astounding feats together but with the added potential for spiritual and emotional growth under the competent leadership of a high priest and/or priestess or the support of other members. Something which can be hard to manage on one’s own.
I’ve never been drawn to join a coven.
Such groups must have a hierarchy, structure, customs, rules and other fiddly things which allow them to function for the good of all and accomplish their goals. As a Solitary Witch, I enjoy the autonomy of creating my own path and answering to myself or deity alone.
In recent months, I have self-dedicated to Modern Hekatean Witchcraft for a year and a day study. Upon completion of this period of dedication, I will self-initiate to become a Modern Hekatean Green Witch. Even so, I will still be a solitary practitioner. There is an online Hekatean community of which I’m a member, a coven of sorts, but in the end my path will still be my own to make.
Experiencing ritual from within the circle of a coven has been eye-opening. And if I’m ever asked to participate in the same way, or attend a private ritual with the coven, I will do so with gladness. However, now that I’ve had the experience and found it desirable, Hekate or one of the other goddesses I work with may one day call me to leave off being solitary, to join a coven or even start one of my own.
Time will tell.
In the meantime, if you are a Solitary Witch and have the ability to get to know a local coven or attend open rituals then I recommend it. The energy and connection gained as an observer is valid and useful. You may never become an “emergency outsourced stand-in” as I did, but you will experience the oneness which comes from being part of something bigger than yourself.