b2ap3_thumbnail_A-Christmas-Carol.jpgIf I could reach through the folds of time and explain a few things to new-Priestess me, here is what I would say about who I might want to re-consider letting into the Coven:

The woman with the brassy-sassy personality who called you at work crying because it looks like she'll be getting fired wants to know because if it's because the Gods rejected her offerings...and gets rancid-offended when you suggest it's probably less about the offering and more because she slapped a co-worker that morning...she's going to be a bit tough to work with.

The married lady who attends workings solely for the hopes of making out with other ladies....even though her husband doesn't know and wouldn't approve....who got sorely offended when you told her to knock it off....she's probably not really interested in doing Magick work and it might be better if you asked her to leave, now.

The lady who "takes an AA break" at Sabbats and drinks wine aplenty because "it's in Sacred context" (who also periodically foregoes their diabetic nutritional restrictions and chows down on chocolate and Peeps) will eventually pull her clothes off in a parking lot and throw a punch at another Covener. Yes. That will happen. And it will be ugly.  

The white guy who obsessed with crystal skulls, aliens, and 'becoming' Native American who goes a bit glassy-eyed when you discuss the dangers of cultural appropriation, he's just going to annoy the crap out of you and everyone else in the Coven. Bye. 

My Coveners know this about me and I've spoken about it in public: I don't like the basic concept of a closed group. 'Don't like' is mild. I friggin' hate it.

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Through ages 12-13, I was bullied and outcast. In the chilly morning wait-time between between when my parents would drop me off and the doors of my Catholic middle school would open, I stood in the parking lot trying to find a space to stand and talk in one of the only two groups of girls from my class. But both groups stood in tight circles with their backs to me and I couldn't get in. I wandered around the circles hoping at some point one of the girls would step aside just enough for me to wriggle a place beside them. They didn't have to talk to me! I only wanted to stand with them so I wouldn't be a sitting-duck target for the bully-boys. It didn't. I prayed Jesus would notice what assholes these girls were being and remember that on Judgement Day.

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Flash-forward to high school and college where I was obsessed with being in a group: Theatre kids, art collectives, whatever. I craved solidarity and frankly, the security of being in a clique. I loved being loud and proud and laughing at inside jokes, particularly around others who weren't "in the know." That was so rude. I wasn't excited about making new friends. I just wanted the friends I had. It wasn't until after college that I looked back and realized I'd been the same type of ass as the parking lot girls in the Christopher-plaid skirts. I didn't want to be like that anymore (and even though I'd left the Church, hoped Jesus wasn't laughing too hard at the irony).   

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"Cliques" could go straight to hell, said 20-something me. Everyone was welcome in my spaces.

Thus began the early days of my Coven. Everyone was welcome! The seasoned Witches, the newbies, the curious, the cynical, the dabbling Pagan with the bored roommate in tow, the boyfriend of the regular attendee who could "only experience the Divine if he were tripping on LSD," and of course, the people who wanted to work and work seriously.  Over time, the latter were making serious personal and Magickal discoveries. They weren't always comfortable sharing their revelations and going deeper into Magick when the aforementioned persons were present. For the first time, I understood the need for a closed group. I set a haphazard boundary: "Anyone who has come before can still come to the private Esbats. If you're new and want to come to the private stuff, just shoot me an email and we'll talk about it."

I said no to no one and as you can see from what I wished I could have told myself, there were plenty of people to whom I should have said no.

The need for a closed group

As uncomfortable as I am with having to say to someone, "I'm sorry, this next meeting is members-only," I've learned how important having a closed group can be. Magick thrives in containers. The container of a closed group in which everyone is focused on the same Magickal outcome is highly effective. It's easier to process the sensitive and sometimes-emotional things that occur to us when we dig deeper into Magick when everyone in the room will be a familiar face.  We know we are there for the same reasons. We know each others' boundaries. We know where we stand.

So, how do we know who belongs in the group? 

I'm one of those people who would like to believe that my group would be great for anyone, but it's just not true. We're an ecstatic, folk-Magick group with an emphasis on liturgy, but we're not Ceremonialists. Those looking for a more Ceremonial Tradition would do better elsewhere. We're not an initiatory Tradition--we believe the Gods provide the Magick, not the initiations. Someone looking to advance through degrees can find excellent Traditions offering that very thing.  We're a practice-oriented group. We use what works and we try to make it better. We don't only go by "what feels right" in every situation. There are lots of groups that do that very thing and it's great for them. 

My Coven has a long "vetting" process which is equally about potential members getting to know us and our work as we are getting to know them and theirs. Do we work well together? Do we like each other? Will the new member be satisfied by what we do? Will they be a powerful addition to us? All of these things are so very important to a healthy, functioning group. We have would-be members attend at least six of our private functions before formally requesting to join. Most of them do. A few have decided we weren't the right group for them and went on to other things. 

Before you let someone petition, here are a few things you'll want to make sure you know about yourselves:

What are your Coven's core agreements? Why have you decided to come together? What do you want from one another? 

* What is important to your Coven within Magick?

* What are the boundaries, expectations, and rules? What is okay and what's not?

* What are the rules of attendance? Are all meetings mandatory? Some? None?

When you let someone petition (meaning, trying out your Coven for size), make sure they are aware of these things upfront. 

I've been lovingly (and sometimes less than lovingly) accused of making people "Jump through hoops" to get into my Coven. I don't like doing it. I wish I could open the doors wide and let everyone in, but by doing so in the past, I've caused more harm than good. Sure, I soothed the hurt/ashamed part of myself that ruled/was excluded by cliques in my past and I made the new person happy. But if that person isn't right for my Coven, I've done them and others a grave mis-service. 

Also, if I don't give people a taste of what we do, I might be delaying them from finding what they really need. What if they do want initiatory degrees? What if they are more drawn to Yoruba or East Asian Traditions, which we respect greatly but don't practice in ours? 

Lastly, and most importantly, it gives us a chance to screen for the kind of people I wished I could go back and warn myself about, earlier. We're not a psychiatric hospital or a what-happens-in-Coven-stays-in..whatever opportunity. We don't have to take everyone, particularly if someone is going to harm our integrity or other members.

Closed groups have a purpose, but the point is this: if you're to have a closed group, make it intentionally so. Set a "maximum" number of people who can be in and make it very clear what the protocol and qualifications, if any, for joining. Bend the rules for no one, even if you're completely BFFS with one person and it's your dream to have them on board...make them go through the process, too. It depersonalizes it. No one wants to be rejected from a group and if they have to be, don't let it be because your group has gotten too chummy and doesn't feel like "making other friends."

Good luck!