Covens, Circles, & Solitary
- What's the point of covens?
- Do you really need one to be a witch?
- What's the difference between a coven and a Circle?
- What about solitary Wicca practice?
Especially when a witch is just beginning her journey in Wicca, she may wonder whether she's missing out on something . . . Should she practice solitary? Should she join a group? Just what do those mysterious others do?
Do Real Witches Practice Alone Or In Groups?
Either. Often both. Witches are not great believers in black-and-white divisions. So there's a lot of fluidity in how Wiccans practice.
There are three basic forms for the practice of Wicca: coven, circle, and solitary Wicca practice.
Much is made in the media - and Christianity - of Wiccan covens. In contrast, few witches make any fuss about it.
There are as many ways to practice Wicca as there are witches. Some people practice with others. These groups can be "closed" or "open." And some people practice on their own.
Generally, covens are Wiccan ritual groups where the membership is fixed. Only those initiated into the coven can attend the rituals, and attendance may be mandatory.
Each member generally practices on their own as well, coming together to celebrate the Moon and High Holy Days, as well as occasions like blessings and purifications.
Wiccans who work in covens are likely to be very committed to the practice, and to have been formally trained, and formally initiated.
These groups are likely to be hierarchical, with degrees of initiation, High Priestesses and High Priests leading the group.
In most covens, new members may join from time to time. This usually involves some kind of initiation, particularly since those who pass on a "tradition" of Wicca tend to work in these closed groups. Those who place a high value on following a tradition often highly value initiations.
There can be rules about how many people a coven consists of. Traditionally the number is set at 13, or sometimes 9. While not all covens insist on specific numbers, a small group is desirable.
Benefits of Covens
The power of covens is the level of intimacy and trust built between the witches over time.
This requires consistency, getting to know the people and how they work. It also requires a small membership. Too many people makes a group cumbersome, and sub-groups tend to form - which inhibits the communal energy.
Provided there is a foundation of respect for all, a coven can be advantageous for those who go deeply into the soul.
Closed groups create a safe environment for authentic self-expression. As the members open their souls in ritual together, a deep intimacy forms and bonds the group.
Limitations of Covens
There are risks in having a closed group, though. One is becoming dogmatic. Everyone reinforces the accepted beliefs and set patterns. Lacking fresh views - or disdaining them - religious "ruts" can develop.
Another hazard is that covens seem to set the stage for ego battles and personality cults. This is the downfall of the hierarchical system of the old Wicca.
As people jostle for status and power, the coven can become an arena for self-aggrandisement. (Which, by the way, is the opposite of spirituality.)
(See this article for tips on how to find a coven.)
A Circle is a (fairly) open gathering of witches. It differs from a coven in that the membership is more fluid, and the level of commitment and attendance required of each witch is generally less.
This is not a strict definition. A Circle in the broadest sense is simply a gathering of people in order to practice Wiccan ritual.
But with the development women's spirituality and the new Wicca, there came a different kind of ritual group. One for people who want to circle with others, but don't like the rigidity or style of Wicca practiced in covens.
There is no set term for such groups. But they often refer to themselves as Circles, because that's what they gather to do.
Why Circles Instead Of Covens?
Some circles are very loose, meeting only occasionally. Other circles meet regularly, with different people in attendance each time. This kind of flexibility is important, especially to women with family and other intensive commitments.
And for many of these witches, inclusivity is a vital part of Wicca. For them, the exclusivity, hierarchy, and elitism of traditional covens is more than distasteful. It's a violation of the philosophy of Wicca.
These groups are generally accepting of a wide range of personal beliefs and practices.
Within one group, you can have some people who consider it a coven, others who think of it as a Moon group or Circle, others who don't really have a name for it but value the community of spiritual practice. Some may call themselves witches, some Wiccans, and some Goddess- worshippers.
And no one minds how the others choose to think about it.
But they will have a certain common set of beliefs, which they can celebrate together.
How Open Is Open?
There may still be some limits on how and when new members can join.
Each circle will have its own level of comfort with openness. There may be certain times or ways new members are welcomed in, or they may have a completely open-door policy. Whatever works for the individuals in the group.
These Circles are less likely than covens to emphasise formal initiations, and may welcome new members with little if any ceremony.
Benefits Of An Open Circle
One benefit is a constant influx of fresh ideas and enthusiasm.
There's always a new group ready to take on organizing the next ritual. And questioning the established patterns keeps Wicca alive and grounded in reality.
Another benefit is that inclusivity is healing to the individual soul, and the soul of the Earth. Inclusivity is a practice of compassion, and a recognition that there really is no separation between us.
Limitations Of An Open Circle
When membership is very fluid, it is - at best - difficult to develop the sense of trust and community that enables deep spiritual work to take place.
And the group energy has to shift and reweave itself every time the membership changes. This can create a sense of "not going anywhere," as the group energy never gets a chance to gel, and evolve.
Without some form of initiation into the group, this problem is intensified.
A very informal initiation can make a big difference. For instance, offering a group blessing of the new witch to welcome her, and her blessing of the established members. This goes a long way to maintaining group cohesion and a smooth transition.
Wicca Solitary Practice
A solitary is a witch who practices Wicca on her own. Or rather, in the sole company of the Divine. For many witches, that is all the company she needs.
As every witch is the priestess of her own religion, it makes no difference whether she practices with others or solitary.
In Wicca, wherever one calls the name of the Divine, the Divine is present.
How Does A Solitary Learn To Practice Wicca?
A solitary often learns Wicca from a combination of instinct and written material.
It's also common for a solitary witch to take workshops and sometimes participate in public rituals, both of which are great learning opportunities.
A solitary may be initiated at some time, or create a self-initiation. Some find that the Goddess has initiated her, spontaneously. You'll know it when it happens.
All Witches Are Solitaries
A witch may also practice solitary Wicca, yet celebrate the High Holy Days or other occasions with other witches. You don't lose your solitary standing by also celebrating with others.
In fact, most every witch practices solitary Wicca, because we don’t save Wicca for Full Moon Circles and Sabbats or whenever our groups meet.
We are casting spells, invoking the Goddess, or communing with nature spirits all by ourselves, all the time. If we're living La Vida Wicca, it's guaranteed that we practice solitary Wicca.
The Benefits of Wicca Solitary Practice
The primary benefit of being a Wicca solitary is complete openness. You are serving only your Deities, so you are free to practice however you see fit. Your rituals can be completely spontaneous and utterly unorthodox.
Some people are better suited for solitary than group practice. People who are very introverted may prefer solitary practice.
Some witches, especially those who are extremely sensitive, with limited ability to contain energies, can find being in any kind of group challenging. To these, doing magick in groups can be almost impossible.
Working solitary allows them to be as open to the Divine as they wish, without taking on others' energies.
The Limitations of Wicca Solitary Practice
When it's done well, working magick with others can raise much more energy than one witch can raise working solitary. (But this is not always feasible, as noted above.)
Another limitation is the difficulty of following a spiritual practice on your own.
There are ways to learn from others - like open public rituals and Wicca workshops. But to advance past a certain point on your spiritual Path requires being fully visible to others who can serve as mentors and guides.
And it is harder to maintain spiritual practice without spiritual community. This is as true in Wicca as in Buddhism, Yoga, and Christianity. Spiritual community helps us move forward on our Path in a way true solitude can't.
These issues are more challenging for a solitary to resolve, than for a witch who works in groups. But if she is dedicated, she can find other means to fill these needs.
Forums and email lists are one option. And solitary witches may like to show their allegiance with obviously Wiccan jewelry, to be visible to the Wiccan community.
Solitaries, Circles, And Covens - Oh My!
Which way is right? Which is True Wicca? None!
In case you haven't noticed yet, there really are no rules in Wicca spirituality, save one: Follow your heart, and do what you deem right for you.
Each way has its benefits and its limitations. Which way is best depends on the witch involved.
Anyone who tells you there is One Right Way is a victim of their own dogma. You may empathise with their need for certainty, but don't let them convince you that any other way is less worthy or real.
Read that again . . .
There is no one right way to practice.
In a mystical religion such as Wicca, you are called upon to practice in whatever manner pleases you and your Gods. You and your Divine Source are the only ones who know what's best for you.
So listen to your own heart. And follow its advice. It's the only one you can be sure has only your best interests at heart.
With Bright Blessings,
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