Witches are generally a secretive bunch especially when it comes to joining a coven. There’s a good reason too as history hasn’t been kind to folk who want to get together to practice witchcraft. As Ronald Hutton said in The Triumph of the Moon: “Covens tend to resemble lobster pots in reverse, being very difficult to enter and very easy to leave.”
Before you’ve donned your initiation robes (or de-robed, if that’s your thing), let warning bells ring loud if your potential coven or its leader claims to be long-established but there is no proof. Where are the current or past members to chat with? Where are the hived covens? Why are there no members after, for example, a couple of decades leading covens? Be sceptical.
But once you’ve entered the ‘reverse lobster pot’, how can you tell if what you’ve joined is the real deal or you’ve accidentally joined a cult (and not in the Margaret Murray witch-cult sense) instead of a coven?
Coven information is not shared among members
Promises of information, in the form of a coven Book of Shadows, for example, are given and everything will be revealed after initiation. Only there’s nothing to see because it never existed.
Also, certain members are given some information while others at the same degree are excluded. Secrets are asked to be kept when there is no clear reason why that should be the case.
Decisions are made by the coven leader like a dictatorship rather than a democracy.
No safe, open lines of communication to the leader
If you have a problem with the leadership then who can you talk to about it? No-one? If you don’t feel safe bringing issues to the coven leader(s) then that’s a huge warning sign. In fact, if you don’t feel safe in the coven then it’s not a good place for you.
No clear path of progressionMost covens have a clear path of progression through the degrees. Members know what is expected from them and what they need to do to be able to take the next degree. If your coven leader withholds that information or continuously moves the goalposts so you have no clue how to progress then hear those warning signs!
Implied repercussions should members leave
The reverse lobster pot analogy is great but if your coven isn’t so forgiving on losing members then it’s a good sign that it’s a cult and not a coven. If members do leave, pay attention to how the coven leadership treats them. Are they wished well in their new path or are threats implied behind their backs of consequences for leaving? If so, get out now.
Questions are never directly answered
If you have questions about your coven then you should get a straight answer. If you constantly have questions answered in such a way that they are never truly answered then you must wonder what is being hidden from you. It doesn’t foster trust if you feel as if you’re either not trusted with information or you’re purposely being kept confused.
Has a ‘one leader fits all’ approach
If your coven claims to be Wiccan but doesn’t have a balanced leadership of a priest and high priestess then perhaps it isn’t the coven you need to be in, especially balance is important to you. If there is only one leader, does he or she embrace both the masculine and feminine roles in a balanced approach? Or does the leader run from his or her ego? If it’s a solo male leader, is this because he has a genuine reason for not having a high priestess or is it through fear of losing power/control or misogyny?
Obviously, there are more than sevens signs you’ve joined a cult, not a coven. Pay attention to your intuition and if something doesn’t feel right, leave sooner rather than later. Covens should be a place of trust and respect, and not a thinly veiled excuse for manipulation, bullying or abuse.