A study group or study circle generally is less complicated to start and run than a coven and may be a better choice for a new group just starting out - especially if none of the members has experience working in a coven. Many of the considerations below apply to either type of group.
How much time do you have to put into it?
Will your group be a coven or a study circle? (A coven will have a more formal structure and generally expect more commitment from students. A coven may include one or more study groups which work on different levels or who focus on different topics. A study circle which is not part of a coven can be open to the public or closed to members. It may or may not hold rituals for Moons and Sabbats, etc.)
How many people do you anticipate being in your group?
Will your group focus on one particular pantheon of gods or be eclectic?
Will there be a set leader, or will members take turns leading?
Will the leader(s) establish and enforce all the rules or will members vote on new rules?
How will you advertise your group, if at all? (Some groups get members by word-of-mouth only. Others may post a notice in a metaphysical store or on the net in The Witches Voice. Some announce their group in classified ads in a newspaper. While a coven never solicits members, there is nothing wrong with an open study circle announcing their existence and saying they are accepting new members. If you do this it is recommended that you use a P.O. Box address.) For further information on advertising your group see our page on Public Awareness in Wicca.
Where will you meet?
Possibilities include meeting at the home of one of the members, moving the meeting from one member's home to another in rotation, renting space in a metaphysical store, or renting space in a commercial building. Obviously if you need to rent space in which to meet you will also need to charge membership dues or fees to cover this cost.
How often will you meet?
Will you be meeting only for classes or for circles or both?
Will you have a questionnaire for incoming students? This highly recommended and will help you decide if someone is right for your group. See our sample Questionnaire. Feel free to use the sample but please credit the author.
Will you have a written rule book? (This is also highly recommended. It can save a lot of arguments. What we do in Blue Moon Wicca is have each member sign a paper which states they have read all of the rules, understand them, and agree with them. Include all the information you can about your group. Be sure to include a statement about how new rules are implemented).
If you plan to run the group in a democratic fashion - where everyone has a vote, you may want to consider purchasing a copy of Roberts Rules of Order which many corporations, clubs and other organizations use as a guideline for organization and voting. It will probably be more complex and rigid than you actually need but it will give you ideas for writing your own rule book.
What will the lower age limit be for members of your group? (For legal reasons most groups do not accept members under 18 years of age. An exception is made for children of adult members, but only if the child is accompanied by the adult at every function. We do not recommend that anyone under 18 start a coven or study group unless it is with clear permission of your parents and the parents of each member of your group. We do not recommend that anyone under 18 join a coven which is run by adults unless they require your parents to accompany you. No ethical Wiccan coven takes on students under 18 without their parents' permission or encourages underage people to sneak behind their parent's backs to join or study the craft. Some covens set the lower age limit as high as 26 years of age.)
Will your group have one level or several levels or degrees?
If you will just have a study group or study circle degrees are not important nor recommended. Nor are the they absolutely necessary in a coven. However most covens have at least two degrees and many have more. Three is the most usual number, but we have heard of covens with up to 15 or more degrees. As an example, here are the six levels within the Blue Moon tradition:
Seeker - This is a student who has taken the Introduction to Wicca course in person, filled out the Questionnaire, and has been accepted as a Seeker to the Coven.
Dedicant - After a year of study a Seeker may be accepted as a Dedicant. There is a Dedication ceremony at this point and the Dedicant promises to devote his energy to learning more about the tradition and the gods.
Neophyte - When the Dedicant has learned enough about the tradition to be sure he or she wants to progress to Initiation and the High Priestess and High Priestess agree then there is a Neophyting ceremony.
1st Degree Initiate - The student becomes a full fledged member of the Coven.
2nd Degree Initiate - An acknowledgement of further work and accomplishments.
3rd Degree Initiate - Third degree is the acknowledgement that the student is now capable of Hiving Off and starting his or her own coven.
Aside from levels of advancement, there may also be layers to a Coven. These, if they exist, are generally known as the Outer Court (or Circle) and the Inner Court (or Circle). The Inner Court may include Initiates only - or any other segment of the Coven. If the Coven is new then the Inner Court may include Dedicants only while the Outer court includes Seekers. This allows for students working at different levels to get together with those working at the same level. Some groups allow only Inner Court members to Full Moons and all members to Sabbats, or all members to Sabbats and Full Moons, and only Inner Court to New Moons. There are any number of ways the different layers may be arranged to best suit the make up of the group. Be sure to make the rules very clear though or you will wind up with hurt feelings when a student expects to come to a particular event to which is level is not admitted. Have very clear rules on how exceptions are made if you plan to make exceptions.
What will the dress code be? Will it be different for different degrees?
For a study group or study circle no special clothing is necessary. If you plan to do group meditations though you will want to suggest that everyone dresses comfortably since it is easier to meditate in loosely fittted clothing.
Most covens require members to wear ritual robes. Some require a particular color or style of robe and may require different colors for different degrees. Some believe that the ideal robe is handmade and of natural materials. If you can not make your robe than you may want to consider at least adding some personal touch to make it feel special to you. Natural materials are both more comfortable and safer. Be especially careful of synthetics with long flowing sleeves - they are a fire hazard!
Some traditional Wiccan covens work skyclad (nude), but this is generally only within the Inner Court. To require this of new students is highly unusual. If you do plan to have a skyclad inner court you must make this clear to new students so that they may decide whether or not to proceed.
How will your altar be set up?
What shape will it be? Where will it be placed in the Circle? (In the Center or in the North are most common.) What tools will be required? How will they be placed? Will they change with the seasons? Will they be different for each degree? Who will be responsible for setting it up and putting the tools away after ritual?
How will your rituals be structured? Who will design them?
By definition, a ritual is a rite which has is always performed using the same basic structure. While there is room for creativity within most rituals some parts must stay the same to be ritual. Generally there will be a set way of opening and closing a ritual. See Class 6 for an example of ritual structure. Will the leader of the Circle or Coven design all the rituals or will other members be asked to help or take turns in ritual design?
What roles will there be to fill within your group or coven? Will there be a Priest and Priestess presiding over every ritual? (This is the most common). What will you do when one or the other is unable to attend the ritual? Which additional roles will members fill? Some common ones are Maiden or Handmaiden - who assists the Priestess, and a Summoner or assistant to the Priest. There may also be members put in charge of keeping a journal of the coven's work, organizing who brings food, candles, etc., teaching the other members chants or songs, calling members if there is a change of plans or any other task which needs to be delegated. Giving everyone at least a small job helps each person to feel more a part of the group.
At what level will students be taught or permitted the use of spells?
It is not unusual for traditional covens to discourage the use of magic or spell crafting before Initiation. There is much background work to be done first. This should never be rushed. See our page on Spells for further information.
A study group or Outer Court of a coven may practice learning to recognize and work with energy, but leaders or teachers need to be aware of the responsibility they take on when the give others the tools of magic.
How will members qualify to pass from one degree to another?
To qualify for initiation or a higher degree there will generally be a combination of any or all of the following requirements including: time, assigned books to read, research, oral and/or written tests, reports or teaching presented to the rest of the group, community service or volunteer work, meditation, physical training (i.e.- martial arts or yoga), crafts (creating tools, oils, jewelry, etc.), and solving riddles.
For further details on starting your own coven we strongly recommend the following books:
Covencraft, by Amber K
Wicca Covens, by Judy Harrow