Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Circle, Coven and Grove Expectations

Q. Bendmeoverbruja asks: I saw your post on how to behave during a ritual. I was curious... Are you in a coven or have you been in a coven? And if so, what was expected of you by the coven?

A. I’m currently in a circle, but I’m the coordinator (closest thing to a high priestess) and founder, so it’s more what my expectations are of my circle.  You can find out more about our membership structure and roles here.  You can also read this article I wrote on 13 basic ritual etiquette tips to give you a better idea of what I generally expect out of my circlemates for ritual.

We do have a lengthy set of bylaws (14 pages to be exact) but they’re really more common sense than anything.  If you’re thinking of joining or forming a coven, or are in one, there should be a set of bylaws or rules that you can reference to see what is expected of you.  That being said, I’m happy to go over some of our basics here.

Before I get started, I’d like to say that our structure as a circle is highly different from the standard coven hierarchy.  Circle of Fountains is a circle of equals.  While I’m the closest thing to a HPS, Primary Members get equal say in how the group runs, what we participate in and any rule changes.  Primary Members take on one responsibility to the group (such as managing our potlucks or taking care of our inventory), agree to teach two Novice classes, and will lead one sabbat and one full moon esbat a year.  In addition to this structure, we’re non-denominational, which means we’re happy to have anyone who practices witchcraft regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs; we’re all-inclusive to the best of our ability.

With that, here are some of our expectations as a group:

1. Attendance is expected.
If you are a Primary Member, we have a strict attendance policy, requiring you to attend every sabbat and every meeting barring emergency or illness.  If you really need to miss and talk to me, I’m usually pretty understanding, but if you just don’t show, that could easily be grounds for dismissal.  Participation is key to what you get out of the circle and rituals are planned around a certain attendance, so random missing members could cause a real snafu.  Fortunately, attendance has never been an issue with CF.  While a prospective coven may not have any specific attendance policy, if you start missing regularly, it's likely that will cause problems.

2. There will be a time commitment outside of meetings.
If you choose to be a Primary Member, you are expected to fulfill your roles and responsibilities in a timely manner, devoting roughly 5-6 hours every month outside of circle meetings and events.  We meet once monthly for full moon esbat and once every month for a meeting (followed by a fun drunk divination).  Then we of course have the sabbats, which means some months, we have three events and some months we have two.  Outside of that, you’ll likely want to be prepping for your next Novice class, esbat or sabbat, which is where the 5-6 hours comes in.  While this isn't indicative of every coven's expectations, you can anticipate spending some time outside of meetings on coven work, particularly if you're an essential part of how that coven, circle or grove functions.

3. You will likely need to pay some sort of fee.
We do not have any yearly fees, but each attending member of a sabbat is expected to pay $15, which goes directly to whoever is leading the sabbat.  Circle of Fountains doesn’t get the money, I don’t get the money (unless I’m leading) and no one is expected to profit off of a sabbat.  The money is purely to cover the costs of the ritual.  Assuming you have 10 people going (not including yourself), that’s $150 you can expect back to cover the costs.  It allows us to do some spectacular things with our rits.  Of course, you should never be expected to invest large amounts of money - that's a huge red flag - but many covens and groves have some sort of fee or expectation of sharing the financial burden.  Sometimes, if finances are an issue, you can apply for forbearance or forgiveness of those fees.  Be aware, however, that this is a common part of the practice.

  4. Be inclusive of your fellow members.
Because we’re non-denominational and because each Primary Member is expected to lead one sabbat a year, we do have a policy regarding rituals being inclusive.  I love when sabbat rituals are flavored with the individual’s beliefs - in fact, I fully expect it - but I also want everyone to be comfortable.  If someone’s nontheistic, a deity-centric ritual is going to be a struggle for them.  I don’t ask that rituals leave out deity by any means.  I simply ask that sabbat leaders provide a tie-in.  This is something you might not run into with other covens or groves as many usually teach a specific type of witchcraft or paganism.  It's also rare that individual members split up sabbats in covens.  That being said, inclusivity is essential to any group's functionality.

5. Do not cause drama.
We have a strong anti-drama policy and I have no problems acting on it.  I’ve never had to kick anyone out for stirring the pot in our circle but that’s because we also carefully vet our members.  I have, however, had to have both a couple one-on-one chats and, once, a full circle exercise.  Drama is almost inevitable in any group situation but I refuse to let it get very far because it’s so easily the poison of any great group.  If CF wants to remain strong and cohesive, drama has to be dealt with swiftly.  If you're interested in joining a circle, grove or coven, ensure that you don't become the epicenter of drama by treating members with respect, refusing to participate in gossip and taking the extra step to meet your covenmates in the middle.

6. Take care of yourself mentally, physically and emotionally.
CF is an amazing support system and I’m very proud to call my circlemates my family.  That being said, we’re not your doctor or your therapist.  We’re happy to provide resources and support but your circle/coven should never become a substitute for professional help.  Our four cornerstones include practicality and, in practicality, we note that the safety of our members supersedes all else.  If we feel you are being unsafe in some way, we will ask that you take action.  Most covens and groves will expect the same.

Again, I want to remind you that Circle of Fountains seems to be rather unusual in our structure.  It’s likely that any coven you join will have different structural rules.  However, these are the sum of our expectations.  If you have any other questions, I’d be happy to answer them!


  1. Thank you for this ... I've been part of groups that died because there were not any basic structure or policies in place for when things come up .. Plus folks didn't know what was expected of them.. and that lead to hard feelings.. :(
    I'm now co founding another group and this has helped ...
    You wrote something about the "corner stones" of your group.. would you elaborate on this, if you feel comfortable ..
    Thank you in advance
    River in TN

    1. I absolutely will do that in the near future. Thank you so much, River!

  2. Wonderful article! Kinda makes me want to form my own group. =P

    1. Thank you so much, Willow! It's been so much work, but it's absolutely worth it.

  3. Excellent points.
    I've been toying with the idea of joining a coven once more, but had to be honest with myself -- that between work, grad school, and my personal home life....I honestly did not have the free time to devote to a group. It was nice to read that Time Requirements was the first one you touched on, as it seems to be the one most people overlook. :)