First things first - take a good long look at your desires, motivation and skills. What role do you see yourself playing in this new group? And why do you want to start one? Do you really want the responsibility? A coven (or circle) leader's job is mostly hard work between rituals and behind the scenes. It is not a good place to act out your fantasies, because the lives and well-being of others are involved, and what is enjoyable to you may not be in their best interest. So consider what you are about to attempt carefully. Have you been in a coven or circle situation before?? What role did you play in those? Understand that no person or group is perfect. Conflict can show both groups and individuals where there is room for improvement. Compatibility issues can arise from many causes. If they are discussed and addressed in a timely manner, they may well be satisfactorily resolved.
In my personal opinion, you cannot call yourself 'High Priest/Priestess' unless you have studied with a coven or circle for a minimum of 1 year and/or have received your First Degree. The reason for this is simple: you need to travel the Wheel of the Year at least once and observe all rituals to fully understand your path. If you have no 'hands-on' practical experience, then I would suggest you find a coven or circle or study group. I would also suggest that you obtain your Third Degree before you attempt starting a coven or circle. If you aren't willing to devote your time, energy and resources, then perhaps it's best that you don't try to set up a coven or circle. If your prime motive of establishing a coven is to gain status and ego gratification, other people will quickly sense that. If you think it is glamorous - think again. If you think it will shock your family - don't do it. If you think it will make you 'cool' - don't do it. If you have no clue what you are doing - don't!
Some better reasons for setting up a coven or circle are: you feel that you will be performing a useful job for yourself and others; you have enjoyed leadership roles in the past, and proven yourself capable; or you look forward to learning and growing. Even with the best motives in the world, you will still need to have -- or quickly develop -- a whole range of skills in order to handle a leadership role.
Other competencies necessary to the functioning of a coven or circle are: ritual leadership, guidance, administration, teaching, and counseling. In a coven the leaders are expected to be fairly capable in all these areas, even if responsibilities are frequently shared or delegated. Another thought to consider is the eventual 'hiving off' , 'budding' or ending of the group. Most good teaching groups generate multiple offspring groups. There is an expectation that people who have completed their own training will leave their home groups and start new groups of their own.
This involves much more than reading invocations by candlelight. Leaders must understand the powers they intend to manipulate: how they are raised, channeled and grounded. You must be adept at designing rituals which involve all the senses. You should have a collection of songs and chants, dances and gestures, incense and oils, invocations and spells, visual effects and symbols, meditations and postures; and the skill to combine these in a powerful, focused pattern. You must have clarity of purpose and firm ethics.
These skills include: guiding discussion in such a way that everyone has an opportunity to express ideas and opinions; summarizing and clarifying; conflict resolution, or helping participants understand points of disagreement and find potential solutions which respect everyone's interests; moving the discussion toward consensus, or decision, by identifying diversions and refocussing attention on goals and priorities; and being able to end the group if necessary.
Basic management practices necessary to any organization. These include handing out work fairly, and following up on its progress; locating resources and obtaining them (information, money, supplies); communications (by telephone, printed schedules, newsletters, email, etc.); and keeping records or accounts of gatherings.
Crucial to covens, circles and study groups. If only one person has any formal training or experience in magick, she/he needs to transmit that knowledge in a way which respects the intuitions, re-emerging past life skills, and creativity of the others. If several participants have some knowledge in differing areas, they can all share the teaching role. If no one in the group has training and you are uncertain where to begin, then you may need to call on outside resources: informed and ethical priest/priestesses who can act as visiting faculty, or who are willing to offer guidance by telephone or correspondence. Much can be learned from books, of course -- assuming you know which books are trustworthy and at the appropriate level -- but there is no substitute for personal instruction for some things. Magick can be harmful if misused, and an experienced practitioner can help you avoid pitfalls as well as offering hints and techniques not found in the literature.
A special role of the High Priest or High Priestess. It is assumed that all members of a coven share concern for each other's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual welfare, and are willing to help each other out in practical ways. However, coven leaders are expected to have a special ability to help coverners explore the roots of their personal problems and choose strategies and tactics to overcome them. You must have good listening skills, clear thinking and some insight into human nature are helpful. If you are in a bad relationship, having emotional problems, etc., I would suggest that you NOT even consider trying to help another. Guided visualization skills, tarot reading and pendulum work are valuable tools as well.
Usually any new people who desire membership within the Coven or Circle must have a 'sponsor'. This sponsor should be a member in good standing with the Coven or Circle.
Responsibility of Sponsor:
1.Maintain communication with your student
2. Make sure your student is receiving all information relating to the Coven ..ie - rituals, classes, etc.
3. Make your student aware of the Coven Website (if you have one)
4. Make your student aware of Coven or Circle rules
5. Make sure your student is learning.
A First Degree initiate has demonstrated possession of the knowledge and skills needed to take care of his or her own spiritual needs. Also he or she must possess the basic working and hands-on knowledge of: the Elements and with basic correspondences; ability to banish, bless, and consecrate material to prepare it for ritual use; familiarity with basic magical tools; familiarity with the Wheel of the Year; ability to cast and close a Circle; ability to center, ground, and shield; become proficient in one method of divination. The usual time frame for First Degree can be anywhere from 1 - 2 years.
A Second Degree initiate has demonstrated that he or she: can safely lead a magical working; possesses the willingness and the capacity to minister to the needs of others (this includes mediating and counseling); to work within the Witch/Wiccan/Pagan community. This time frame can be another 1 -3 years.
A Third Degree initiate has demonstrated that he or she is competent to lead his or her own Coven or Circle. This means 'running the whole show'!! Preparing rituals, assigning duties, counseling, clergy duties. This time frame can be another 1- 3 years. To attain a Third Degree is no easy task. You must be dedicated and hard-working.
Codes, Laws and Ethics:
These can either be in place when the group is formed and modified as needed. Or you may want the group to be involed in creating the structure. This is where you need to address those pesky questions concerning: how you recruit members (written referral, ad in magazine, word of mouth, etc); dealing with personality conflicts; how will the group deal with inappropriate, unethical or dangerous things that might or are happening in your group; confidentiality; resignations (reasons, exit interview); complaints; banishment; grief/sorrow; and new groups forming. These Laws need to be formally written and perhaps signed by those setting up the group. They should be distributed to members or potential members so they have an idea how your group works and resolves any issues.
Think carefully about your skills in these areas. Ask friends who can be trusted to give you a candid opinion, how they see you in some of these roles. Remember - don't ask the questions if you don't want to know the answer. Meditate, and decide what you really want for yourself in organizing the new group. Will you be content with being a catalyst and contact person -- simply bringing people with a common interest together, then letting the group guide its destiny from that point on? Would you rather be a facilitator, either for the first months or permanently? A low-key discussion leader who enables the group to move forward with a minimum of misunderstanding and wasted energy? Or do you really want to be High Priestess or High Priest -- and what exactly does that mean to you? Do you fully understand what a High Priest or High Priestess is responsible for? Have you had any formal training? Are you willing to serve as the guiding spirit and acknowledged leader of a coven? And if you do want that job, exactly how much authority and work do you envision as part of it?
The above is meant as a general guide to help you with your decision making. It is my opinion that in order to create a workable coven or circle, those who are organizing it must have a MINIMUM of 1 year experience helping the mother coven or circle with the aspects involved.
For additional info on coven/circle leadership, please check these books:
Covencraft: Witchcraft for Three or More, by Amber K
Inside a Witches' Coven, by Edain McCoy
The Wicca Handbook, by Eileen Holland
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