These are some of the lessons I’ve learned since joining a coven in 2011. It’s probably not complete, and I know I’ve got a lot to learn, but I figured I’d share what I’ve learned thus far.
Inclusivity is key. Recently, there was a beautiful public ritual where the focus was to get reconnected with joy. The work was to create a mandala with chalk. Some of the ritual goers couldn’t get down on the ground to participate. Also, the ritual took place on one of the hottest days of the year. For those who could participate it was very meaningful and a lot of fun, but not everyone could. You have to keep in mind that not everyone can get down (and back up!). I would really like to do a ritual where we all go through the woods to connect and listen to the Wild God. Even though I’d like to do this for just the coven members, there are some mobility issues, not just for our elder members, but for those with little children in attendance. Is a mother going to be able to fully participate in such a ritual knowing that she might have to do a diaper change mid-forest?
I have a better understanding of why, upon obtaining their 3rd Degree, priests/priestesses were expected to hive off. No one wants to feel left out, and when a new up and comer has done the work and wants to take more of a role within ritual, there is a shuffling of responsibilities that can leave others feeling left out and replaced. We’ve been fortunate enough to avoid a schism by creating special interest groups.
Get people involved in the rituals. If you have students, train them up to be effective leaders by stretching their creative muscles. Take the time to learn something new from your elders. When writing a ritual, think about your group and try to incorporate roles for your members. If someone has been feeling left out lately, talk to them about taking a role. Have a shy person read a quarter call if they’re up to it, and praise them afterwards.
Give people a chance to use their skills and talents; this goes hand and hand with the previous paragraphs. Is there someone in the coven that’s tech savvy and trust worthy? Let him/her handle the construction of the website. Someone who majored in communication or marketing can write the content for the website, make the flyers, or maintain the social media pages. Have someone who adores children? Let him/her develop a children’s ministry. Simple discussions can lead to discovering there’s a need within the coven not being addressed.
Sometimes you end up with a ritual that you think is beautiful and well planned will go abysmally. Figure out what went wrong, learn from your mistake, and don’t dwell on it. There’s always another Sabbat or Esbat around the corner.
As an addendum to the last paragraph, even if you feel your ritual is a dismal failure, chances are someone enjoyed it.
Back in the day, I used to trawl Witchvox, looking for a group I could visit and perhaps join someday. I was quite dismayed by how many were closed off. Now, I understand how difficult it can be to practice with someone who doesn’t clean himself/herself up spiritually. I do my best to take the time to make sure my energy is good, or at least decent enough to not impact others’ experience, and if I can’t get okay (and I don’t have a role in the ritual) I don’t attend. It’s not fair to make others deal with my spiritual baggage. I’ve gained a sincere appreciation with those who are aware of themselves.
Getting a public space to hold circles in is hard. Parks are okay, but can be expensive (here it’s around $150.00 to rent a park shelter for 4 hours) and not everyone is in a position to donate on a regular basis, or is willing to do so. Being outside can be pleasant, but for only part of the year. Not many people are comfortable inviting the general public to their house, and houses can only accommodate so many. If you have a metaphysical store in town, or an open-minded church like the Universalist Unitarians, that’s probably going to be your best bet.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lines get flubbed. Children say funny things or run around the circle. Occasionally you’ve just got to laugh it off and keep moving.
Treat your High Priest/High Priestess with not just respect but with kindness. They are human, and are worthy of your friendship.
Your robe or cloak may be stunning, but be wary around the candles. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Degrees shouldn’t refer to the condition of your burns!
If you have a website, keep up with your domains and make sure they don’t experience. We had an issue where the webmaster wasn’t paying attention and let the domain lapse. We lost our web address and it redirected to a porn site. After watching the market for about two years, we were able to reclaim the web address but had lost all the content that had been on it, and we had to redo our handout materials while said address was out of our possession.
Not everyone has a working knowledge of circle etiquette. Just because you know the ropes doesn’t mean the newbie does. It’s good practice to give a rundown of protocol if someone needs to leave the space. Remind people to silence, or better yet, to turn off their cellphones. If someone would prefer to observe and not participate, point them to the appropriate area. Pre-ritual discussion is a good time to go over these things.
If you want a ritual to be a surprise to the attendees, it’s a good idea to at least provide someone with a checklist of what is needed in order for the ritual to go smoothly in the event you are unable to obtain the necessary items.
Curb bashing of other religions. While many of us Pagans are converts from other faiths, and are hurt/angry from experiences in that previous faith; however, pre-ritual or ritual discussion is not the time to hash it out. There might be observers in attendance that are of that faith, or people who have family and friends that are of that faith. I know I don’t appreciate it when another religion bashes on my faith in their services, so why should I do the same? Our rituals should be a time of celebration.
In conclusion, I hope these are lessons I can pass on to someone else that they might not have to learn the hard way. Maintaining a coven is hard enough work, but it’s truly amplified when your coven holds public rituals. I hope to see more Pagan groups to gain prominence and respect in their communities, and I hope they can avoid some of the aforementioned pitfalls.
What about you? What are some lessons you have learned?