Starting a Pagan or Wiccan Group or Coven

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Starting a Pagan or Wiccan Group or Coven

Druid Equinox ceremony on the Hill of Uisneach, County Westmeath, Leinster, Republic of Ireland Eire, Europe
Are you ready to start a Pagan group of your own?. Andrew McConnell / Getty Images

Many people write to About Paganism/Wicca saying that they’d like to start a Pagan group of their own. Interested in more than just a casual study group, these are people who have spent enough time studying Paganism on their own to know that they’d like take advantage of the many benefits of group practice.

If you’re starting a group, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’ve read Are You Ready to be a Pagan Teacher? and Becoming Pagan Clergy. While you don't necessarily have to be clergy to run a successful group in all traditions, it's something to keep in mind, depending on which direction you want your new group to take.

It's also important to acknowledge that group rituals and ceremonies aren’t for everyone - if you’re someone who prefers to practice as a solitary, then by all means, keep doing so. Coven or group life has its own unique set of challenges - and if you’re someone who’d rather just go it alone, you should read How to Practice as a Solitary Pagan.

For the folks interested in starting their own groups, however, the one consistent question is, “How do we get started?” If you’re part of an established tradition, like one of the many Wiccan trads out there, there are probably guidelines already in place for you. For everyone else, it’s a multifaceted process. One of the things people want to know is how to vet potential Seekers, and figure out if someone would be a good fit for their group, before the individual is initiated or dedicated into the tradition.

A great way to do this is by hosting an introductory meeting.

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Your Introductory Meeting, Part 1: Preparation is the Key

Meeting in a coffee shop is both friendly and safe. Image © PhotoLibrary/Licensed to About.com

A great way to meet new people is by holding an introductory meeting. This is an informal get-together, often held in a public place such as a coffee shop or library, where potential Seekers can come and meet the group’s founding member or members. You’ll want to advertise and spread the word ahead of time, and that can be as simple as sending out emails to any acquaintance who might be interested, or as detailed and formal as mailing written invitations to a select group of people. If you’d like to reach out beyond your immediate circle of friends and get some new folks involved, consider placing an ad or flyer at your local metaphysical shop.

Your invitation or flyer should be simple, and say something along the lines of, “Three Circles Coven is a new Pagan tradition forming in the Metropolitan City area. This group will honor the [pantheon of your choice] gods and goddesses and celebrate the Sabbats within a NeoWiccan framework. Interested Seekers are invited to attend an open get-together at the Java Bean Coffee Shop on Saturday, October 16, 2013, at 2 pm. Please rsvp by email to [your email address]. Child care will not be provided, so please make other arrangements for your children.

It’s a good idea to use only an email address for your contact information initially. Putting your phone number on invites - unless you know every invitee personally - is a good way to get a lot of phone calls from people you may not want to speak with.

The day before your introductory meeting, send out a confirmation email to everyone who has RSVP’d. Not only does this serve as a reminder to people, it also gives them an opportunity to let you know if something else has come up, or if they’ve simply changed their mind about attending.

When the day of your meeting arrives, get there early. Depending on how many people have RSVP’d, you may only need a small table, or you may need a private space. Many coffee shops have Community Rooms that you can reserve at no charge - if you do this, make sure you encourage your guests to buy at least a small item to help patronize the business. If you’re meeting in a place that doesn’t serve food - the library, for instance - it’s common courtesy to provide bottles of water and small snacks, such as fruit or granola bars.

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Your Introductory Meeting, Part 2: What to Do Next

A questionnaire is a good way to get to know your potential Seekers. Image © Photographer's Choice; Licensed to About.com

When guests arrive, be friendly, welcome them and introduce yourself by name. Have a sign-in sheet for guests to write their names (magical or mundane), phone numbers, and email addresses.

You should have a handout summarizing, briefly, what your group is, what its goals are, and who the founders are. If it’s just you, include a short paragraph explaining why you want to start the group, and what qualifies you to lead it.

Start as close to the scheduled time as possible. While it’s acceptable to give people a few extra minutes to get there if there’s bad weather, or you know there’s an accident a mile down the road, don’t wait longer than about ten minutes past the planned time. People tend to get impatient if they’re kept waiting, and their time is as valuable as yours. Be sure to read about the idea of Pagan Standard Time.

It’s a good idea to get people talking before you get into the meat of the discussion. Go around the room and ask everyone to introduce themselves. You may want to include a question about, “Why are you interested in joining this group?” Be sure to read Ten Reasons Not To Become Pagan for some red flags. Keep in mind that even if you dislike or disapprove of someone's answers, this is not the time or place to discuss it.

After everyone has introduced themselves, it’s not a bad idea to hand out a questionnaire (if you do this, be sure to bring pens - many people don’t carry them). The questionnaire doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but it will help you to remember who your guests were, when you’re going through the selection process. Questions to ask might include:

  • Have you every been part of a Pagan group or coven before? Why did you leave?
  • How will your family feel if you are part of a Pagan group? Does your spouse know you are Pagan, and if so, how do they feel about it?
  • How long have you been a practicing Pagan? What do you feel is the most important aspect of your Pagan studies?
  • Are there any types of people that you absolutely do not want to be in a group with? Is there anyone in this room that you have personally had a negative experience with?

Once everyone has completed their questionnaires, collect them to review later during the selection process, and explain who you are, what your background is, and what you hope to achieve with the formation of your new group. Writing up a draft of your coven bylaws may help you focus on topics to cover during this part of the meeting, but you do not have to go into excessive detail.

Take any questions from your guests. Answer truthfully, even if the answer is not the one the person wants. If someone asks a question to which the answer is oathbound, by the guidelines of your tradition, it is definitely okay to say, “That’s a great question, but it’s something that I can only answer once someone has committed to being in the group.”

After you’ve answered questions, thank everyone for attending. Let everyone know you will contact them, one way or the other, to let them know if you feel they are a good fit for the group - because not everyone will be. A week is a reasonable time to let people wait. Any longer than that reflects badly upon you and your group.

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Selecting Potential Seekers

Which people will be a good fit for your group, and for each other?. Image © Photographer's Choice/Getty Images; Licensed to About.com

This is one of the hardest parts of starting your own Pagan group. Unlike in a study group, which tends to have a more casual and relaxed atmosphere, a coven or group that holds ritual together is like a small family. Everyone has to work together well, or things will fall apart. If you have a co-leader or assistant priest/priestess, ask them to help you go over the questionnaires that your guests filled out at the introductory meeting.

You’ll have to determine what items are your deal breakers. Do you only want female members, or a mix of male and female? Mature adults, or a mix of older adults and younger people? Are you only interested in working with people who have already studied, or will you take “newbies”?

If you included the question, “Are there any types of people that you absolutely do not want to be in a group with?” be sure to read the answers. While some of these answers may be things you can work with, such as “I won’t stand in a circle with someone who’s drunk or high all the time,” others can be red flags pointing out various intolerances that you may not wish to have in your group.

Likewise, the answers to the question, “Is there anyone in this room that you have personally had a negative experience with?” can be important. If Seekers A, B, and C all say that they’ve been to Seeker D’s shop and he makes them uncomfortable, that is something to consider when you review Seeker D’s questionnaire. While this doesn't mean that Seeker D has to be ruled out, you've got to consider the potential group dynamic if you invite him in along with A, B, and C.

Once you’ve got a good crop of candidates chosen, send an email or call the individuals you would like to invite to be part of your group. This is when you’ll plan a secondary meeting, which we’ll talk about on the next page.

Be sure to contact the people you’ve opted not to invite into the group - this is simply common courtesy, and you should do it before you contact the people you are inviting in. It’s acceptable to send an email saying, “Dear Steven, thank you for your interest in Three Circles Coven. At this time, we do not believe that this group will meet your needs. We will keep your information on file for reference, should the focus of our group change in the future. Good luck to you in your endeavors, and we wish you the best in your spiritual journey.”

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Your Secondary Meeting

Hold a secondary meeting, with the people you think would be the best fit for your group. Image © Photodisc/Licensed to About.com

Once you’ve selected your candidates who look promising, you may wish to hold a secondary meeting. This will be somewhat more formal that your introductory meeting, but again should be held in a public place. Invite your candidates to attend this meeting, with the understanding that attendance does not automatically guarantee them a spot in the group.

At your secondary meeting, you may want to go into more depth about what the group is and what your plans are. If you’ve written up a set of coven bylaws - and it’s a really good idea to have those - you can review these at this time. It’s important for Seekers to know up front what they are getting into. If someone is unable to follow the guidelines you’ve set for the group, it’s important that you - and they - are aware of this before an initiation or dedication takes place.

If your group includes a Degree System, or has study requirements, make sure you are upfront about them. Members who are expected to do a certain amount of reading or hands-on practice should know what responsibilities are going to be given to them. Again - this is important to do beforehand, rather than later, after the person has been initiated.

This is also a good opportunity to discuss, in general terms, the initiation process with your candidates. If the initiation (or any subsequent group ceremonies) will involve any ritual nudity, you absolutely MUST tell them so at this time. For some people, that is a deal-breaker, and it is unfair to allow someone to come into a ceremony expecting to be initiated in their ritual robe, and have them surprised when they are told to remove their clothing. It is unfair and should not happen.

The secondary meeting gives you and your candidates a good chance to get to know each other, and to ask and answer questions. After this second meeting, if there is anyone you have opted not to extend an invitation for membership to, email or call them as soon as possible. For those members you’ve decided to bring into your group, you should send them a written invitation to their initiation or dedication ceremony.

Keep in mind that your group may choose to welcome new Seekers with a dedication, followed by a year and a day of study, at which time they are formally initiated. Other groups may opt to initiate new people right away as full fledged members. The choice is yours.

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Initiation and/or Dedication

Once your group is initiated, the real work truly begins. Image © Scott Olson/Getty Images; Licensed to About.com

When you invite someone to be initiated or dedicated into your group, even if it is a new group, this is a major step, both for them and for the group itself. In general, new members can be initiated at the same ceremony, although they are typically initiated one at a time.

Some groups choose to have a rule that if a Seeker fails to show up on the designated time and date of the initiation ceremony, then their invitation is revoked, and they are no longer deemed to be a good fit for the group. This is actually a reasonable guideline to follow - if someone can’t be bothered to show up on time for something as important as a dedication or initiation, they probably aren’t taking their spiritual journey very seriously.

For a sample initiation ceremony, be sure to read the template at Initiation Rite for a New Seeker. Make adjustments as needed, according to the guidelines and needs of your group.

Finally, once a member has been initiated, you may wish to offer them a certificate indicating that they are now part of the group. It’s a nice thing to have, and provides them with something tangible as they start this new part of their life.

Once your new people are initiated or dedicated, you now have a group that’s ready to learn and evolve. Get started, lead them honorably, and be there for them when they need you, and you’ll all have the chance to grow together.