Might be. Might possibly be. Partly for the reasons I’m about to write below, and partly because this was supposed to be written and published in mid-October of last year. Not an ideal amount of time to pass really, considering writing a blog post involves waaay less time, effort, and energy than the duties of joining a coven does, but as my joining of said coven would need certain conditions fulfilled that were out of my hands at the time the urgency of the post just sort of faded away, until it joined the massive backlog of ‘titles of posts I really want to write (but haven’t got round to because I plan and procrastinate far more than is good for me)’. So why publish now? Well, partly because I am trying to work my way through said massive backlog (there were around seventy on the list last time I counted), but also partly because I might possibly be joining another, as in a different, coven. Perhaps.
The story of my on-off search for a coven actually goes back several years, and pre-dates the start of this blog. I’d defined myself as definitely Christo-Pagan for at least a year before I started writing here in late December ’14, and while being a Solitary has its advantages I wanted to see if group ritual would enhance my spiritual life on the Pagan side as much as going to church did the Christian side. And, frankly, I wanted to be part of a group ritual, just to see what it was like. This was before I discovered Treadwell’s Open Circles, and despite lurking on the Pagan bits of the internet for several years, I hadn’t stumbled across things like the Pagan Federation either. I had, however, found Witchvox, so I had a look at their London listings and found one by a woman seeking to start up an all-female eclectic group. Now at the time that suited me perfectly, as having an eclectic set of beliefs myself and a lack of contact or connection with any of the, for want of a better term, ‘Pagan deities’, joining a group based around a tradition or geared towards a specific pantheon would have been somewhat pointless for me. After all, while a fair few bits of my praxis were Wiccan, that’s as far as it went – I was still firmly henotheistic, so joining a Wiccan coven with its seperate male and female deities was out, and there was no point in looking at groups that were Heathen, or Goddess-centric. Ah, hindsight. How you make me laugh at myself…
I sent off an email to the lady, in early December and we traded messages back and forth for a while, along with another woman who’d also expressed interest. Unfortunately for our plans, every time we tried to arrange a meet-up with all three of us something went wrong – there were illnesses, and emergencies, and work shifts, and that was when we had found a date when our free times coincided. You’d think it would be easy for three women living in London to find a time to meet up after work right? Nope. We tried several times from the beginning of December to the end of January, but after two months we realised that something was working against us ever being in the same place at the same time. Whether that was bad luck, the universe, a specific Someone in one of our lives, or just Sod’s Law I have no idea, but whatever it was the project was shelved and we went our seperate ways.
Roll on about a year and I start looking at coven listings again. By this point I’d done another couple of rituals with Kizzy, and also been to a few Open Circles at Treadwell’s, which gave me much more of a feel for group ritual dynamics. The only group event I’d ever done before I went to Open Circle was a Samhain one when I was at uni, sometime during my Masters I think, and while it’s different going from being solitary to having someone else in circle with you, it’s even more different to go from just you and a friend to you and a load of other people. It also made a difference that, unlike at my first group ritual, I’d actually started using Wiccan and Wiccan-influenced practices in my own devotions. I’d also done a lot more reading and research, including other people’s experiences and explanations of rituals they’d led or been part of. I felt a lot more informed, and a lot less apprehensive as well – I was more worried about what would happen if/when people found out I was Christo-Pagan instead of just Pagan rather than worried about doing something wrong – walking the wrong way round the circle, whatever. Sort of the same way I felt when I first went to Mass with my Catholic friend, or to Meeting with my Quaker friend – the knowledge that if I sit or stand at the wrong time, or don’t cross myself, then people will know I’m a visitor/newbie. Which would have been fine if it didn’t lead to the irrational fear of ‘and then they’ll turn on me for being a fraud’, which is ridiculous, but hey, brain weasels.
So, it turns out I quite like being part of group rituals. I like the atmosphere in the room, the chatting over ‘cakes and ale’ afterwards, the feeling of… I’m not sure what, but the general kind of energy in the room maybe. Now I could just keep going to open rituals and events at Treadwell’s – they’re group rituals after all, so why join a coven if I don’t need to? Well, ‘need to’ is a strong way of putting it, but I’d like to. I’ve discovered I get the same sort of feeling at open/public rituals as I do when I go to church services of other denominations – CofE, Quaker, Roman Catholic etc. – the feeling that while I’m welcome, and included, I don’t really feel part of the group. Kinda like I’m just passing through. I’m not sure whether part of this is due to the infrequency of my attendance at such gatherings, or because there’s always a certain amount of turnover among the attendees of open rituals – there are several people I recognise by sight that I’ve seen on several occasions, but there’s always new people and this makes everything feel a lot more fluid and unsettled. Ok, maybe not unsettled, but not as… knowable maybe? For example, I go to my church and I will know pretty much everyone there. There’s usually one or two new/visiting members of the congregation, but the bulk of us have been going there for years and have that sense of community, the shared memories and experiences of things like our past ministers, past events and fundraising etc. But I also get the same feeling when I go to other Methodist services, just to a lesser extent. The church I sporadically attended at university (because getting up early on a Sunday morning after being out with friends till the small hours of the night before does not appeal) was a Methodist one, and while I didn’t have the shared memories of that community, I felt I fitted in easily as I knew the moves so to speak. The rhythm of ther services was familiar, I knew the responses, most of the hymns, the pattern of the prayers, and when the responses weren’t ones we knew off by heart, we were using the same worship book that all Methodist churches use. And while I know how other Christian services go, they still feel ‘other’. Now I grant you that that’s just familiarity – I’ve been going to a Methodist church for pretty much my entire life, and if I went to, say, Quaker meetings either more often or instead of, I’d eventually get the same feeling of belonging. But that’s the thing – I’d get the same feeling of belonging because I would be part of another community with a definitive common core. People who are actual ‘members’ of that community as opposed to visitors or newcomers. And I kinda miss having that sort of feeling on the Pagan side of my religion, hence coven-joining wishes.
So I started browsing the London or UK-wide groups on Witchvox, and find a couple I was interested in. By this point Freyja had shown up and I’d started developing my devotional relationship with Her, which in a way made it easier as I felt I now had more common ground with the people I was asking to join in with. So I send off a message to a London-based Gardnerian coven that was open for new members, pretty much saying ‘hi’ and giving an abbreviated version of my beliefs and the last couple of paragraphs, and wait to see what happens next. The answer is – nothing! So I figure that either my message has got lost/ended up in a spambox, the group is defunct and the listing hasn’t been taken down yet, or the coven’s full. Granted, if it was the last it would have been nice to have an email saying so, but considering how bad I am at replying to emails and how easily an email can get lost among mailing lists, Facebook notifications, and other stuff, I wasn’t annoyed or anything, just a bit wistfully sad. However, four months later I get an email from Ellie saying that the coven I’d applied to was at capacity but that she was hiving from hers and starting to think about taking on trainees as a result.
So we find a time to meet up for tea, cake, and a chat regarding how things would work, what I’m looking for, what she’d expect from me etc., and it went really well. Well, mostly. As in the chat went really well and was productive and so on, but did lead to me sitting there going ‘ummm…’ when Ellie asked me about my beliefs. You remember how I said at the beginning how this post was meant to be published last year? Yeah, this was the conversation that inspired my how on earth does my theology work now post, and this post was supposed to be a companion piece to that. Ellie also had some very valid concerns about how I would fit in to a Gardnerian coven, which I hasten to add she expressed a lot better than I’m about to. A lot of it centered around my Christianity, and while I’m an incredibly liberal member of that faith, Christianity’s track record when encountering Pagans isn’t always the best. Even if you ignore everything pre-Gardner/1950s, the world in general hasn’t reacted to Pagans particularly well, with attitudes ranging from ‘deluded’ to ‘Devil-worshippers’. And then you have a faith whose holy book very clearly states that witches should die, oh, and also no divination and no multiple gods. Now granted, the vast majority of Christians don’t believe that all the people in the world who identify themselves as witches should be killed off, but ignoring the fundamentalists and those with fundamentalist leanings, there are still a lot out there who are evangelical. Hell, one of my good friends (she of the resident church rock band) is a very passionate Christian, and does attempt to convert, or at least encourage to think more about Christianity, the atheist in our group of friends. So I can see why Ellie might be slightly concerned about how the Christian side of my religion would mix with a group of definitely-Pagans.
Quite aside from that, there were other much bigger reasons why I didn’t immediately start training with Ellie’s coven. For one thing it’s based in London, and while it is my home town and I do generally live here, at the time I was on an away job in Cambridgeshire, with no idea when I’d be able to get a job back in London again. Now while it is possible to do coven training at a distance and travel in for big things like Sabbats and initiations, it’s not ideal. Now we could have done it like that, but shortly afterward I ended up working in Lincoln, and considering it took me four hours travel each way and I had a day and a half each weekend at home it just wasn’t practical or desireable. The other reason for postponement was because I hadn’t got as far in my 366 project as I’d have liked. (Granted, I still haven’t but that’s not the point…) So while I did like the idea of joining a coven, and more specifically a Gardnerian one, there was no guarantee that British Traditional Wiccan practice would be something I’d actually enjoy doing. In theory, sure I had no problems, or at least no major deal-breaking ones or ones I can’t work around, but the thinking was that as I work through Roderick’s book I may discover that actually, this isn’t for me. And seeing as I wouldn’t be in London for the foreseeable future it made sense for me to carry on working through my 366, then when I did get a job in London again, see how far I’d got, see if I still felt Gardnerian Wicca was a good fit, then get back in touch about joining with a view to initiation.
The other issue aside from geography? Freyja. Now I’m not saying She was an issue as in problem, because a) She wasn’t, and b) I’d only ever say that if I was being obviously and humorously irreverent. But at the time of this conversation I was still a relatively young/new devotee of Hers – I was chatting to Ellie in September 2016, and I had only realised that Freyja was definitely there in early February that year. Eight months isn’t a very long time to come to terms with a change that big, and I was still very much feeling my way in my relationship with Her. And while that’s still true, it’s now been nearly two years and I feel a lot more settled and comfortable having Her around in my life, as well as having a better idea of how She fits in to my life. But at the time I was taking tiny baby steps, and Ellie made the very good point that I might want to try and see how I fit into a Heathen group as opposed to a Wiccan one, and gave me the names of a couple of groups and resources to have a look at. After all, I’d only ever read about both kinds of ritual rather than participating. And while the Open Circles were Wiccanesque in structure, with the calling and dismissal of the four quarters and the participants starting and ending standing in a circle, and the rituals I did with Kizzy slightly more so, there is still a lot of difference between that and a full BTW or Gardnerian ritual. Kinda like the difference between low- and high-church in Anglican services. So while I knew I liked what I’d read and experienced of Wiccan-style ritual, I’d only ever read about Heathen practices, and nowhere near as much as I had about Wiccan ones. Not really through not wanting to, but because there’s just so much more information out there on Wicca than Heathenry – and when it comes to the internet there is also a lot of questionable or downright wrong information regarding the modern (or should I say current?) worship of the Norse pantheon – hence the need for things like Declaration 127. I hadn’t disliked anything I’d read about the practice of Heathenry (bigots and racists aside), and if I tried it with a group I may have found that it ‘fit’ a lot better than Wicca did.
Now none of this was Ellie turning round to me and saying ‘no’ – far from it. Ok, I didn’t recieve and enthusiastic ‘yes, you must join us!’, but I wasn’t expecting one either. Until I was working in London again everything would be on hold anyway, so while I’m waiting for the job ads to appear I would have an opportunity to think on how my beliefs in two very different kinds of deity fit together, time to work on my exploration of BTW praxis (shutupshutupshutup), and a chance to try out Heathenry. Then once I was ankle-deep in London mud again I could evaluate what I’d learned in the meantime and how I felt about it all, get back in touch, and see where things went from there. Which all went swimmingly aside from the ten-hour work days along with the truncated weekends and long travel time left me with very little spare energy to pour into Day 2, and then as soon as I did get a job back in London (which would have solved that first problem) I got ill, which has pretty much made this year a washout as far as me getting anything hugely constructive done.
Coming up in Part II – how my adventures in Heathen blotting led to a chance conversation that led to my meeting with another Gardnerian group that led to me sitting here asking myself ‘so… now what?’. And let’s hope it doesn’t take me so bloody long to write about it either…