What’s a coven?

People use the term “coven” in a wide variety of ways these days. Here’s a look at different kinds of Pagan, magical, and witchy group options, and how to find more of the kind you’re interested in.

Connecting: heart made of hearts on a deep teal background

What are you looking for?

Online, people often use the word ‘coven’ in a whole lot of different ways. 

These days, I’m often seeing it used for a loose, fairly large (or at least open to be being large) group of people who don’t necessarily share practices, beliefs, approaches, or anything else other than a general interest in witchy or Pagan stuff.

Many of these groups post links online in relevant places to their space (often Discord or some other site). Joining is usually pretty simple – you click the link, read the rules, maybe click something to agree to them, and start reading the conversation.

These spaces can be great, but they’re not the more traditional definition of a coven. Of course, there are also other kinds of in-person groups: pre-pandemic it would be common to have a range of activities to choose from, besides covens and small working groups (all of which are often more similar to the way people use “coven” for online spaces.)

Many of these have moved online in some form, so you can still check them out. 

Social gatherings, often called coffee cauldrons, pub moots, or something similar. These might have a topic or a lecture as part of it, but also include time for people to chat and make connections in the community. 

Open rituals and open circles: Rituals open to the public (usually with a requested modest donation to cover space rental and supplies). Sometimes different groups in the area will be responsible for different rituals over the course of a year (so you get a chance to try out a lot of different ritual styles), sometimes a single group will be the ones providing them (and there’s probably more consistency of style and practice.)  

Depending on the person or group putting them on this might be for some Sabbats, all Sabbats, or all Sabbats and full moons – it depends on the group! 

Workshops and classes: These are often hosted by local esoteric shops, but might also be arranged in other rented spaces. They can cover everything from the basics of magic, ritual, divination, herbalism, to specific more advanced topics. They might be taught by a local teacher, or by someone who’s visiting from another place. 

Festivals: These range from a single day Pagan Pride Event (free events held in the fall) or other similar local events to week-long camping festivals or lengthy hotel-based conventions. They can be a great way to explore a bunch of different topics or approaches in a short period of time, and to meet people you might want to keep talking to about magic and religion.

If you’re looking for any of these things, the online open-invite coven spaces may be just what you’re looking for! How useful and enjoyable they’re going to be depends on who’s making them happen, who shows up for discussion, and a bunch of other details, but there are some great online spaces out there. If you run into a lousy one, remove yourself from the group and try again. (I’ve got an article on how to check out different online groups, too.) 


So what’s a coven, then?

In the more traditional sense, a coven is a small group of people (traditionally, no more than 13) who work magic and do ritual together regularly, who agree to do things together a certain way while working together.

This can involve training or learning so everyone is working from the same basics, shared initiation rituals or other ritual practices, working with/honouring specific deities, and/or doing magic in a particular way (or not in other ways).

Covens often aim at creating a single focus for doing magic together. It’s a fantastic method of amplifying magic and doing more.

It means that the people doing it:

1) have enough shared background to work closely together (usually this means some amount of training in how the coven does things),

2) participate regularly (you can’t build trust with people who only show up rarely or don’t really participate…)

3) have agreed on ways to do what they’re doing together. 

Think of this like a music group or a theatre production. There are lots of possible choices, but to do a great performance, you’re going to need to agree on going at things while working together with the same goal and focus. 

Part of the reason traditional covens are small is that the larger the group gets, the harder it is to have a close direct relationship with each person in it.

(Interestingly enough, psychology says that most people can manage that kind of close connection to around 13 people in a specific context – more than that and a group starts fragmenting into smaller groups or the connections get more general and less personal.) 

There are also some practical issues.

When covens meet in person, they often meet in someone’s home. There’s definitely a “Am I okay having these people in my house on a regular basis” piece here that isn’t nearly as present online.

Meeting in a specific physical location means both that people have to be able to get to where the coven meets in person regularly (so they can do things together), and that everyone meeting up has to be comfortable doing things with the other members. 

In a large online space with dozens or hundreds of active people, it’s often easy to ignore the people you don’t have much in common with. When it’s ten people in a living room, that’s pretty much impossible. 

In other words, a coven that normally meets face to face is a very different dynamic than a lot of online groups that use the term coven. If you’re still interested in looking for a coven that will eventually meet face to face again, read on for tips and ideas.

You can learn a lot more about learning about smaller groups throughout the links on the Connecting page of this site.

Title card: What's a coven?

Published January 3, 2021.

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