(This article was first published on Witchvox, April 2005. It continues from the previous post. )
Some things that are wrong in a coven – physical or virtual — will not be obvious at first. If you ever feel that something is wrong, or you do not like how a situation is handled, then seriously consider whether you want to stay with that coven. Use your common sense, people do make mistakes, and text-only communication has many pitfalls, but staying in an unhealthy situation is not a good idea.
There are specific warning signs:
- A group leader who claims to have grasped the one and only truth, making all other beliefs and practices wrong. For a newcomer, it may feel as though a teacher is saying ‘this is the only way to do that’. Good teachers will probably say ‘this is the way that I was taught this, and it has worked very well for me and those I’ve taught it to.’ If a group leader’s philosophy and beliefs are narrow and one-sided, then back away.
- A group leader who has too much authority. Do they feel it is ok to control the personal lives of the group’s members? Does it seem like there is a ‘guru’ to whom everyone defers?
- A group where much of its doings are secret or cloaked in ‘mumbo-jumbo’. NEVER speak words in a ritual setting that you do not understand. I doubt you could partake in something evil without your knowledge, but why get into something you do not understand?
- A group leader who shows a lack of respect for members. Related to this, I would be very unhappy if it seems the magickal group has ‘misunderstandings’ all the time. If there are seemingly constant flames and harsh words, followed quickly by apologies and ‘buddy-buddy’ posts, be wary. Flames and harsh words indicate a lot of disrespect. Occasional disagreements are ok – even healthy! – but anger should not usually be a part of it. Are guilt-trips a part of group discussions?
- A group that is overly concerned with how many members they have. Do they accept anyone who asks to join? Is the screening process essentially meaningless, or even skipped? Ask yourself why they are so concerned with ‘having’ members.
- Be skeptical of a group that has no clear belief system or one that accepts everything — from Sculderianism (a system that worships the dual deity in the form of Mulder and Scully from the t.v. show “The X-Files”) to the Illuminati (a hidden magickal organization that theoretically runs the world) — as valid belief systems.
- Be wary of a group that alienates you from family and friends. This aspect, a particular trait of cults, should be a HUGE warning signal to you.
- Do not join a group in which it is not okay to excuse yourself from practices that make you uncomfortable, for any reason.
- Do not remain in a group where you feel like you cannot ask questions about magickal workings. Maybe not during the rite, but there should be some way of being able to ask ‘why did you use sandalwood incense and not pine, ’ as well as all of your other questions.
- Do not join a group that requires that you engage in sexual activities of any kind with any member. In a cyber group, this is less likely to occur, but if sexually explicit flirtation is common in list posts, be wary.
- Consider carefully before joining a group that offers a First Degree Initiation after a short time period (unless you have training in other traditions and/or have been practicing solitary for more than decade) . At the same time, watch out for groups that require you to Dedicate yourself fewer than two months after joining. That is barely enough time to get to know everyone, even in a cyber coven, where interaction can occur on a daily basis.
Does the group follow the Rede verbally as well as in practice? Do they participate in bindings, hexes, or ‘witch wars’? Do they require a physical link from you before you join? Do you ever wonder whether their magick would be used against you? Have you ever been told that if you leave you will suffer reprisal?
- Is the group unhappy with the idea that you might want to work with or learn from other groups or individuals? I do not think it is a good idea to belong to more than one group at a time; to work with another group (as long as you are clear about your commitments to each) should be no problem.
- Does the group have Laws or a Compact that you can examine before you join? If they will not show them to you until after you have been Dedicated or Initiated, be wary. Group Laws should be easily obtainable before you have initiated – how else will you know what you are agreeing to abide by?
- Do they ask for more than a small amount of money to join, receive training, or be initiated? Are ‘gifts’ expected or required?
- How organized are they? Do meetings flow all over the place and typically end with a feeling of ‘getting nowhere’? Does participation and attendance at rituals or classes seem to not matter?
You may have different reasons for being uncomfortable or wary of a group’s true intentions. Listen to your intuition and follow your heart out the door.
If you find yourself in a magickal group gone bad, do not waste time blaming yourself, just get out as quickly as you can. Be polite, respectful, and swift. Taking care of yourself is your number one priority. Know that this was a lesson, and one to avoid repeating. You will not, because now you have seen the warning signs first hand, and they will always be prominent in your mind.