One of the questions I’ve heard a couple of times now about someone interested in possible coven work is “And I have this friend/spouse/sibling who also might be interested.” On one hand, that’s nice. On the other hand, it’s complicated. So, let’s talk about that.
There are some groups where it’s generally no problem. Any open ritual group or other group that welcomes basically anyone who can behave themselves appropriately probably will be just fine with it. (Although a few of the points below are still worth keeping in mind.)
However, the question gets more complicated when we’re talking about a smaller study group, coven, or other group that works closely together.
Adding any new person changes the group:
Adding two people adds much greater complexity. It’s not just 1 + 1 – it’s a whole new scale of things to keep in mind.
- You’re adding more than one person, which may have purely practical issues.
- People are not interchangeable. These people may not be the same level of ‘great fit’ for the group, even if they are otherwise great people.
- Adding people who already have their own existing relationship patterns has some particular challenges.
- And finally, there are particular concerns if one of them turns out to be a great fit for the group, and the other really isn’t. (Rather than ‘one’s fine and one’s fabulous’)
None of these are automatic reasons to say no, in my view. But they’re not automatic reasons to say yes, sure, fine, more the merrier, either.
Do you have the physical space for adding more people than you might initially have been open for? Not always a problem, but if you’re almost at the limit of your living room, dining table, or whatever other spaces you might use, it’s worth considering.
Do you have the time/energy/teaching space for more than one student? In a larger group, where multiple students might be common, or there are multiple teachers able to help, this is less of a concern than in a small group, where taking on two students might stretch someone really thin.
What will taking these two students mean if another, really wonderful, potential student comes along? For example, I’m open to one or two students at a time: if I already have two, I need to say “Please wait” to any further ones – that can be really hard on all sides. If one of the people is an amazing fit, and the other is okay, or is struggling with some of the group work, this can feel even harder for everyone.
People are not interchangeable:
Chances are, these two people, no matter how much they like each other and get on well, are going to have different strengths, weaknesses, and interests – even if they share the general interest to study religious witchcraft and a potential interest in the same group.
This means that it may turn out that one of them is a much better fit for a specific small group with a tight focus than the other. (This is less of an issue, obviously, in a larger group with a wider variety of activities and interests.) They may have different responses to the group mind, to the Gods the group works with, to the way the group practices, or any number of other thing. And, of course, to the existing people in the group, especially the group leadership and teachers.
Sometimes those might turn out fine – the two people develop at their own speed, and can set aside their interactions to allow themselves to grow as individuals learning about the group rather than an existing pair. But sometimes it’s not that simple, and things can get fraught, time consuming, or both, for everyone involved.
In a case of this kind, I’d want to be extra careful about communication with everyone involved (with extra attention to one-on-one conversations), and to make sure that what people said, and what they did (and how I saw that) all matched up reasonably smoothly.
Adding people with existing relationships is tricky
People who already know each other will come in with existing patterns of interaction – maybe one person usually takes the lead on one kind of activity, or they’ve learned to avoid a particular topic most of the time. This is great – except that it doesn’t always work that well when you add more people. There can be a danger for people to fall back into the existing relationship, rather than learning and growing as individuals.
There may also be some frustrations or discomfort if one person makes major strides at a time the other person is having lots of frustrations – the two naturally will want to talk to each other about important stuff in their life, but they may frustrate or irritate each other in the process if they’re at opposing stages for a while. This can often be managed by encouraging other connections within the group, but it usually also helps to have some conversations with the teacher/mentor about how to handle that in their specific situation.
Initiatory craft is also something that can cause a number of changes in how someone views themselves, their priorities, their place in the world, and their relationships. While many relationships come through this just fine, some don’t. (And it can be hard to tell what’s going to be the case in advance.)
What happens if one person decides to leave?
In small groups, even one person leaving the group can be unsettling to the group: it takes time to get used to the change. But when the person leaving has particularly close ties to another, their choices may affect that other person. (This is true even if the person needs to take a break, but not leave the group, or needs to change their focus for a while, too.)
It’s hard to predict the overall effect on the group – but it’s definitely there and can be challenging to manage smoothly.
My own guidelines:
My basic priority is that each person who might be a good fit for the group (and who meets other requirements and mutual interest) deserves their own chance to learn about, learn from, and potentially decide to join the group.
People must petition independently, and go through each step of being accepted by the group for themselves. (In my group, that means sending me a letter of introduction, meeting with me one-on-one, and so on. If that goes well, I might be glad to continue with people together.)
People must individually understand and commit to confidentiality agreements, private teaching conversations, oathbound material, and so on. They also need to understand that maintaining that has extra challenges for people with existing relationships, and that everyone will probably need to spend a bit of extra time and conversation being clear about any necessary boundaries. I’d plan to do this via conversation at the points where it comes up with both people individually and together in some form, to make sure we were clear on what that means.
(Note that this doesn’t mean they can’t talk to each other about group – just that some specific pieces might not be shared readily. For example, I might choose to share a personal story in teaching with one person and not the other, and might ask them to keep it to themselves – either in general, or until the other person had reached that point in training.)
We should plan on individual and group discussions on how it’s working at regular intervals – when they start training, at significant decision points (deciding to dedicate or initiate, for example) and if there are any other signs of stress or difficulty.
Each person gets treated individually: That’s my goal for the group in general – decisions about whether someone is accepted as a student, is initiated, or is elevated to higher degrees all need to be handled for each person, based on their own actions and choices. But that’s even more true here.
Each person should be given chances to develop relationships with other group members: For example, they should not regularly work on a shared assignment or project with each other. It might be especially important to encourage them to meet one on one with other teachers in the group, or to work with other students, so that others in the group can get to know them as an individual. The goal is not to always keep them apart – just to make sure that they get know others independently, not as a communal entity.
If stuff starts going poorly, we’ve got a special commitment to following up and trying to resolve it quickly. I try to do this anyway, but I think it’s especially critical when you’re dealing with more complex interlocking relationships, since the possible complications for the group are even larger. (Whether both of them leave, or one of them leaves and the other has to figure out how to adjust to that.) In my experience, early attention here makes things much easier in the long run.
[last update December 26, 2016]