There are good covens out there but caution is vital.
There are a lot of really bad ones too.
As a teacher of Wicca, I have heard many a nightmare tale of people who've ended up with The Wrong (Wiccan) Crowd. People can seem nice in the beginning, but may end up trying to control you or take advantage in some way, or lead you into evil actions.
Also, even well-meaning people can be a bad fit for the style of Wicca that works for you. There are so many different ways to be a Wiccan! When looking to find a coven, you need to find people who practice a Wicca that you'll be happy with.
In this article, we'll go through some warning signs, and how to protect yourself both before and after getting mixed up with a bad crowd.
Desperation Is Dangerous
If you think you must have a coven, in order to practice Wicca or be a real Wicca, you don't need to worry. Covens are entirely optional, and some people never have one and never want one.
If you want one so you can learn Wicca, well, it's like finding other Witches or mentors... usually it happens after you've been in it for a while. And that can be a really good thing! (This is explained below.)
And this is the most important caution you need to know...
The more desperate you are to join a coven (or find a teacher), the more at risk you will be of getting in with a nasty group.
And it's not worth it! It can cause you a heck of a lot of misery and stress and ongoing problems.
Having a coven or spiritual teacher creates energetic ties between you and them. It can take years to completely sever those ties, and meanwhile you will be at the receiving end of their energy.
You would probably do a lot of research when choosing a university or a car or a career -- don't wimp out on researching your spiritual teachers! They are likely to have a lot more influence (or, in the case of a bad one, control) over you for a lot longer!
So choose well the first time.
Test The Waters First
In Wicca, like anything else, Caveat Emptor is the rule. But in spiritual pursuits, it's often harder to discern the true gold from the fools' gold. And many people are so spiritually desperate that they're not thinking clearly or being cautious.
That's why it's so important to go cautiously.
Before you jump right in, get to know them as people first.
Find out about their beliefs, what they practice, what values guide them.
Inquire into what they expect and require from you if you choose to join their coven.
Do a bit of research to see if others have anything to say about this coven. Other Wiccans, forums and blogs,
Then attend a ritual with them, preferably something that's open to the public.
Check with the Caution Signs and the Signs of a Good Teacher/Coven (below) to discover any warning signs.
If it still seems good to you, it's probably fine to join.
Coven Caution Signs
Avoid anyone who does any of these...
Tells you what to think or how to feel and insists on obedience
Insists that their way is "the only right way;" claims to have the one truth or greatest power
Requires you to believe what they believe
Gets angry or offended when you want to learn from other sources as well
Tries to limit what you read or who you talk to, etc
Becomes angry or intimidating when questioned
Threatens you or others in any way
Pressures you to do things that you aren't comfortable with
Insists on nudity or sexual enactments even if you're not comfortable with it
Becomes emotionally or sexually engaged in relationship with students (or those who were recently students)
Belittles or humiliates people; is sarcastic, judgemental, disrespectful, or verbally abusive
Subtly demeans you or makes you feel unsure of yourself or inferior
Says that once you join, you can never leave
Claims that you've already become part of the coven, even if you hadn't intended to
Uses magick to influence, control, take advantage, or harm other people or beings
Promises you great power and superhuman abilities
Suggests that you will be able to take revenge on others
Claims they are doing things you don't like "for your own good"
Acts friendly in person but talks nasty behind people's backs
Shows a disconnect between who they claim to be and how they behave
Has double-standards of behaviour for them and others
Breaks their agreements
Lies, steals, or otherwise demonstrates little integrity or good character
Wants you to earn their approval
Claims to hold many secrets and dangles them like a lure
Charges money for initiations or other rites
Feeds you fear as a motivator
Encourages you to recruit others
Continually finds or perceives enemies
Refuses to let you "try things out" for a while before you commit
Hypes their teaching with nonsense like: "no one else knows this" or "I'm gonna be in trouble for teaching you this"
Does harm to other beings
Focuses on the negative aspects: negative energy, evil, fear-mongering, etc.
Advocates summoning and controlling demons or other entities
Leaves you with regular feelings that are negative (anxiety, anger, guilt, despair, discomfort, etc)
In short, anyone who pressures you in any way or treats you with less than respect is a Wiccan to be avoided!
Trust your "Spidey Senses" -- when they start tingling, there's a good reason for it!
Signs of a Good Teacher / Coven
Some teachers truly do consider themselves Wiccan (though others might disagree on fundamental principles).
But there are some unpleasant people out there who should be avoided.
And there are also ignorant people, or people doing animal sacrifice and other destructive practices, or people power-tripping and all kinds of normal human-type goings on (like seeking status, ego-gratification, etc.) that are unhelpful or even harmful.
On the positive side, there are lots of good people out there, too. You just need to use your common sense and make sure which is which before you get involved.
You’ll know you've found a good teacher or coven for you, when they...
Respect your needs and boundaries
Accept the limits of what feels right to you
Are open and honest
Value your questions
Are respectful to all
Uphold their agreements
May require a fee or some service in exchange for their work with you (as with an apprentice), but it is reasonable, up front, and willingly agreed upon [This is for a teacher, not a coven.]
Share your values and deep beliefs
Are patient and compassionate
Have been practicing for at least 10 years [This is for a teacher.]
Are generous and open with their knowledge
Are generally kind (a spiritual teacher's kindness can occasionally manifest as a harsh lesson, but the overall interaction always comes back to kindness)
Consider service to be a necessarily element of spirituality, and lives that belief themselves
Are humble and grateful to their own teachers
Honour your right to study with others as well
Usually leave you feeling uplifted, inspired, and empowered
Their teaching is helpful and works
In short, Your own intuition and experiences are the best guides. If it works and you feel good about yourself and life and others afterward, that's a pretty good indication.
And no matter what, never give your power away to anyone else. You, with the direct guidance of the Divine, are always the final authority on what is right for you.
Things To Consider
Finding other Wiccans is usually not the beginning of the journey into Wicca. Almost everyone finds Wiccans later, once they have some experience under their belts. Most people start learning Wicca on their own, and then at some point a connection is made others. This is the most common way for people to start, so you're in good company. ; )
And it can take time to find the right coven for you. Don't just leap at the first group to come along. Make sure that they're trustworthy, and that they're a good fit for your spiritual path. (More tips on Finding a Coven.)
It seems to be more common, in my experience, for people to start a new coven than to join an established coven. So that's another option for you.
Learning By Yourself Gives You Great Power
Keep in mind that it's often better to start on your own rather than with other Wiccans -- not every Wiccan is a good person, or a good teacher, and it's really hard for beginners to know the difference.
And although it's challenging to be on your own, especially in the beginning, it's also a very powerful way to develop your own skills AND confidence!
Your best bet is always to start with yourself, working with the Divine directly.
The more you think you need someone to tell you what to do, the more imperative it is that you find your own power and path. Books and, of course, this website, plus paying attention to Nature and the wisdom of your own body, can offer you all the guidance you need.
Remember what the Charge of the Star Goddess says: "If you find Me not within yourself, you will never find Me without… for behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am the end of all desire."
You can learn what you need to know, through awareness and practice.
So if you don't find a coven or a teacher right away, give thanks for that! Explore Wicca on your own. Develop your abilities, learn as much as you can. All spiritual practices, such as Wicca, really occurs within yourself, whether you're with another person or not.
So focus on your own journey into Wicca...
And enjoy this fantastic journey you are embarking on!
Remember, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Get out in nature, talk to the Moon, bask in the Sunshine, snuggle up with trees, lay your belly on the Earth and breathe Her energy up through your bellybutton.
The Divine is all around you, waiting to be your friend. Sometimes I think when we are isolated from others like us, it's because She's trying to get us to make friends with Her!
Reach out your hand, and you'll find Her holding it.