Friday 7 October 2011

Second Opinion: Evaluating Wiccan groups

Like many pagan websites, I sometimes get asked questions about Wiccan groups, witchcraft training courses and how to find a coven to join. Merlin Sythove of the Silver Circle has put together this page of extremely good advice on getting a second opinion and evaluating Wiccan groups.

Merlin said of this initiative by Silver Circle: "We find it important that the prospective seeker gets enough options to become well informed, and we gladly explain those options."

Here is his advice, which I've rewritten slightly for those in the London area:

1. Pub moots
Pub moots are social meeting points where newcomers and old hands are equally welcome to meet each other, and to orient themselves within the large field of pagan and heathen groups. The pub moots that I would recommend in the London area are listed on the Pagan Federation London website on Pub moots run by PFL organisers are led by knowledgeable people who are able to give you good advice and refer you to trustworthy groups.

If a particular pub moot is not listed, this does not mean that it is bad or that the organisers don't know what they're doing - it only means that the PFL organisers don't know much about it yet.

2. Evaluating a group yourself
It is not too difficult to make a reasonably good estimate of a group based on a few criteria. You won't get 100% certainty, but the really bad groups will stand out quite easily using these rules of thumb.

Group checklist
If you are invited to join a group, you should be told if the members follow regular Wicca. Regular Wiccan groups are those whose high priestess and high priest can trace their lineage back to Gerald Gardner. These are called Gardnerians and Alexandrians. You should be able to find this kind of information on any web page the group has created about itself, or its members will be able to tell you this personally. Please note that you will not get information about exactly who initiated them. That probably would not mean anything to you anyway. But, as soon as people claim to be Gardnerian or Alexandrian, you can get that claim verified. Silver Circle does offer to do that, but as Silver Circle is based in Europe, if you want information about a UK group you might be better talking to a local Pagan Federation organiser.

Which tradition is it?
A regular coven will indicate which tradition the members belong to, which tradition they were initiated into, and if they by now have moved so far away from that tradition that they should be considered something different.

Not regular Wicca?
There are many groups that have started from books and follow a roughly Wiccan path. Just because a group is not part of regular Wiccan traditions does not mean that it is a bad group. But, if the leaders were not initiated, they will not have the experience, nor the material, available to those in initiatory traditions. A group should provide clarity about this, and refrain from using names or terminology that give the impression that it is part of any regular Wiccan tradition.

What is the price of initiation and membership of a coven?
A regular Wiccan coven will not charge for actual initiation, nor for preparation for initiation, nor for coven membership. However, it is quite normal for coven members to contribute to coven expenses such as candles, incense, food and drink, in-house workshops and so on.

How much does a course or workshop cost?
A course or workshop that is open to everyone and is not explicitly part of coven training leading up to initiation does not need to be free and can cost a normal amount. How much that is, depends on what is being offered. You should not pay more than an amount you yourself consider reasonable. You can easily compare course prices with what other activities would cost, such as sport clubs or creative or spiritual workshops.

Do you get along?
This is a purely individual matter. Do you get along with the leaders of a group? Do they make you feel relaxed and at home? Do they give you room to be yourself? Do you get the impression that they have something worthwhile to offer, that you can learn something there? Do they challenge you, inspire you, make you enthusiastic? Or do they scare you, make you feel tense or nervous or inadequate? Do they give you the feeling that you are the master of your own destiny or do they make you feel lost? You will only find out if you allow yourself to take an honest look at your feelings. Do not join any group that you feel uncomfortable about joining.

3. Asking for personal advice
If you are considering joining a particular group and you cannot figure out your feelings about it using the rules of thumb above, or if it is really important to you that you join a regular initiatory Wiccan coven, then you can ask for personal advice. For example, if you contact Silver Circle then its members will use the same checklist as above, but have far more information than most seekers and can verify claims by sending a few emails. However, as mentioned above, it is based in Europe.

if you are in the London area, I am willing to offer a second opinion. So, if you have been invited to join a group and would like my opinion, you can email me at However, I would point out that I do not have in-depth knowledge of individual covens and can only really offer a general opinion based on my experience and anything available through normal research. Also, please note that I am not in a position to personally offer places in covens, training or introductions to groups.

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