For most of us, there are a few things that you hear about at some point in your life, and you say to yourself, "I've got to get me some of that." The reaction is visceral, instant, strong. It's a lot like falling in love. And, Goddess help you if you ignore that call; it will not go well with you.
When I first learned, pre-pre-pre internet, about the modern Wiccan revival, I had that reaction to the idea of being in a Dianic coven, being part of a circle of women who practice magic. It took me a long time -- longer than it would take in today's interconnected world -- but I did find just such a circle. And, as the poet said, "That has made all the difference." And I want to talk tonight a bit about the workings of a women's circle.
DC is a transient town. Some of us make it our home, but lots of people move here, work in government for a few years, move "back" home. You're asking for misery if you expect to be in a stable, permanent circle in DC -- at least one involving professional women. And so, around a fairly consistent core, my circle has seen its share of comings and goings. And we've learned, although imperfectly, to deal with the fact of permanent impermanence.
That's not to say that we like it A pillar of our circle gets told that, to move up in her federal government agency, she's got to take a two-year stint in a field office. And then, the housing market crashes, she's underwater out in the middle of bumfuck-nowhere-she-wants-to-be, and we're missing her on a regular basis. Our most musical member decides to go to NY to break into music in a real way, falls in love, moves to LA, and we get to see her sporadically when she's back here on tour or for a march or demonstration. One of our crones is badly injured on the job and finds herself more or less unable to do magic, to make it to meetings, to cope with magical demands. Nor will her pride allow her to accept any help. A brilliant witch, who never casts a circle but you feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up and experience magic ALL AROUND, the kind of woman who centers circles just by being who she is, gets sent to Europe to manage a media conglomerate. She times her trips back home to be at as many Sabbats as possible and sometimes casts the circle from the banks of the Thames a day or so early so that it can float back across the Atlantic and up the Potomac to us.
Other leavings are less -- what's the word I want? -- satisfactory? Clean? Magically appropriate? A young member simply stops coming to Moons, Sabbats, Stitch-n-Bitches, doesn't respond to calls or e-mails, finally admits that clubbing is more important to her right now than the circle. A woman for whom we've made a lot of exceptions finally says, "Look, I'm busy. And, I'm just not that in to you." She's unavailable for a ritual to bless her and acknowledge her separation from the circle. Members overcommit themselves, want to be involved in so many different things that there's realistically no way for it to work, want constant support from the circle but are seldom available to support the work of the circle.
Those of us who form the "working core" can find ourselves resentful, and, at the same time, feeling guilty about being resentful: after all Sister X is having a rough time/raising a young family/caring for an aged parent, etc. And, yet, people make time in their lives for the things that matter. Like pornography, we can all "just tell" when it's working and when it's not, when someone would be here if she could and when she's choosing more often than not to not show up. And, like life, magic is 80% about showing up.
Our coven doesn't have "leaders," nor are we, as one of our "core members" who came to us with almost no background in Wicca will attest, a teaching coven. But it's still with interest that I read Bronwen Forbes' article on Witchvox entitled: So You Think You Want To Be A Coven Leader? Ms. Forbes asks some questions of prospective High Priestesses that apply, IMHO, just as well to those thinking of joining a coven.
How good am I at forming group cohesion?
How many hot meals am I ready to miss?
Is my home usually clean enough to have rituals in?
Do I have my own act together?
Are there other obligations in my life that . . . need me more?
How good [am I] at saying no?
Being in a circle of women is a constant exercise in loving the other women with a deep and profound love and being about ready to strangle at least a few of them at any given time. You know, like having sisters. (The Goddess knows, I often wonder why my circle sisters haven't thrown me out; I would have.) Certainly, it can be a learning opportunity and can help you to grow. But if your need to control is overweening, perhaps the life of a solitary suits you better.
"Hot meals" is, for me, a metaphor for "other bits of my life." Can you juggle your work schedule when needed? Will you be able to make other arrangements, either with a significant other or a dependable sitter you can afford, for young children, aged parents, sick pets? Regularly? Can you adjust your schedule at the gym, budget enough money at the end of the month for gas, supplies, and food, say no to that tarot class or reiki training session that conflicts with the Sabbats? Are you willing to go home early the night before in order to be well rested on the night of the Full Moon? (Real magic is serious, physical, intense work. You're not being fair to yourself or your sisters if you show up exhausted, unready, not in shape.) If not, maybe some general public rituals, where it won't matter if you don't show up, are best for you right now.
Similarly, "a clean home" is a metaphor. Perhaps the circle will never meet in your home, but is your life together? Can you find your supplies? Do you have a comfortable, stable base from which to operate? Is there somewhere where you can do the prepatory meditations and the daily practice required of circle members?
This is aligned with the question of whether you have your own act together. If the magic depends upon you showing up with red and black ribbons and incense made of ground rose petals, and you don't show up, or you show up shrugging without supplies, well, you know, karma. Again, do you have a way to squeeze out 8 Sabbats, 13 moons, and a few other meetings a year from your work, family, school, inviolable tai chi schedule? If not, are you honest enough to admit that, or do you still live in a world where you "hope" you'll meet your obligations? A wise witch once said that if your word's no good on this world, why on Earth should you expect it to be accepted between the worlds?? I'll add that "having your life together" is often a big challenge for a lot of Pagans. One can speculate about why, but I think that a huge magical undertaking, one with the potential for immense magical growth for many, many, many of us, is to determine to, within a set period of time, "get your life together." There are dozens of books and tons of classes that will allow you to get control of your work, financial, possessions, health, family, and social lives. Go do it. It's a way of grounding par excellence.
Are there other obligations that need you more? We had a lovely woman who asked to join our circle, became close to us, developed a relationship. Then, it turned out that, in order to complete her graduate practicum, finish the reiki training for which she'd signed up, and deal with her daughter, she wasn't going to be available for any Moons or Sabbats for over a year. Information it would have been nice to know before we wrapped our circle around her. Be an adult. No matter how much you want to, you can't do everything at once.
Which leads to the question of whether or not you're good at saying no. No, I can't work late tonight. No, that's not a good night for a date and, if that means the end of our relationship, well, fare thee well; I need to be in a relationship that honors my need to be in a circle. No, I can't go out the night before because then I'll be wrecked the night of the ritual. No, I can't join this new group planning public rituals because, well, there are only 8 Sabbats and we all celebrate the same ones. (Or, you can join that group, but then you owe it to your old circle to say, "No, I can't continue to carry my weight with you and I want you to bless me and let me go.") No, I adore G/Son and want to spend time with him, but that night I've got the witches coming over for Litha; how's the next weekend? No, I won't be able to stay home with the kids that night; let's arrange for a sitter.
In the end, for me, the advantages so far outweigh the costs, that I'd choose being in this magical circle of magical women over almost anything. I'll move heaven and Earth to make it work. I've left work, gone to ritual, and gone back, aching and drained from magic, the way that magic can leave you, and drafted briefs for another 18 hours or so. I've worked every night for a week to get my home ready for ritual, and I demand that women be able to enter a clean, peaceful place with polished silver, chilled wine, lovely flowers, space -- before they are ever called upon to do magic. I've gotten up early to do required meditations, turned down conferences that conflicted with the Sabbats. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat to stand skyclad with these women beneath the full moon, to run skyclad with them out onto the deck and to howl at the dark moon, only to be answered back by something wild and free in the middle of a city of marble, to do political magic with them in the heart of the capital of the world.
What would you do to be in a circle?
How would you answer Bronwen's questions? To what extent do you understand that it's not just like joining a class or a book club or a church choir?
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."