I wrote this about a decade ago, but just found it as I was cleaning out papers. I hope you enjoy!

So you've decided that you want to find a coven, grove, circle or group. You may have even found a group that you're curious about. There are a few warning signs that you should be aware of when looking for a group to participate with. Sadly, there are some unscrupulous people out there. This list gives you some ideas of what to look for so you know what to avoid.

1. A group that advertises that it will be around only for a limited time. Reputable groups aren't limited-engagement runs. A group may only offer classes some years and not others, and a group can always end up folding, but if the group expressly says that they'll be around short-term and pressures you to act now or lose out, they are best to be avoided.

2. A group that says once you join, you cannot leave. The Craft is built on the necessity of free will. If a group is telling you that you can't leave, that's your clue to leave immediately.

3. A maximum age limit. Some groups may have a minimum age limit, generally because of legal issues regarding the teaching of minors. On the other hand, if a group has a maximum age limit, it should set off warning bells that they're more concerned with the age of an individual rather than the individual themselves.

4. A group that requires sex. In the past, there have been groups that require sexual intercourse for initiation or elevation, however these groups are few and far between. Because of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, it is my opinion that any group that requires sexual intercourse between members should be avoided. As a brief aside, nudity is not the same thing as sex. Some groups do perform rituals skyclad and there are clothing-optional festivals, however these conditions should be made known to the individual before it becomes an issue. If nudity makes you feel uncomfortable, however, you can certainly opt to avoid groups where that is required (see #10).

5. A group that requires large amount of money. Let's face it, to have the things that we want in a spiritual community, we do need financial resources from time to time. On the other hand, if you are being required to contribute excessive money--or if the money that you're contributing seems to benefit only the group leadership with nothing to show for the members--it's probably a sign that you should find another group. In many traditions, it is considered unethical to pay for initiations or elevations, or even teaching and training (beyond the costs of materials that may be needed or facility rental for the class location).

6. A group where the leadership is never to be questioned. We may have the divine within us, but we are not gods. We are all human, and we can make mistakes. If the leadership in a group does something that you find odd or unethical, ask questions. If you find the answers unsatisfactory, or if you are punished for daring to ask questions, it is a good sign that you may want to seek elsewhere.

7. A group that makes unrealistic claims, including claims of a lineage, especially when they will not provide proof. Most groups do not have lines that go back generations upon generations. Some traditions may not provide information about their lineage until after an individual initiates, however use your best instinct. If a group claims a lineage going back to King Arthur, they are full of it. LIkewise, be wary about groups that make impossible claims--groups run by reincarnated spirits of Lemuria or groups led by aliens, for instance, or groups that claim you will learn how to shoot fireballs or levitate in six easy lessons.

8. A group that requires you to recruit or convert others if you want to advance. This is a spiritual path that we come to on our own. We do not convert others, because the gods speak to each of us differently. We are not Amway. We do not run around with buttons that say "Ask me about the Goddess!" If the only way you can join or advance with a group is by converting others, this group should be avoided.

9. A group that requires you to break ties with anyone who is not of that group. Not everyone will understand your choice in spiritual path, and you may have a falling out with friends or family. That's a choice between you and them. No group should tell you who you can or cannot have contact with, however. That is a form of control and isolation and an act to subvert your free will.

10. A group that makes you feel uncomfortable on a gut level. Yes, especially in initiatory processes, you may have times when you experience discomfort or the uncomfortableness of facing your own darker sides of the self. On the other hand, if you feel deep down that there is something wrong, trust your instinct. It is better to miss out with a group and be wrong than to go with an unhealthy group and be proven that your gut instinct was right.

There may be some groups who have some of these characteristics for different legitimate reasons, so as with all things in life, let reason be your supreme guide. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Comment by Freebird333 on August 24, 2013 at 13:18

Hello.

I am a solitary Pagan. I work a lone due to fear of Covens. This article cleared a lot of my confusion. Thanks a whole bunch

Comment by Aubrey on February 24, 2011 at 2:12
thank you so much for this insightful blog. helps me out with my own "coven" problems.... cleared up now :D
Comment by VLM on November 13, 2010 at 12:25
So true, Leisha... sorry it's taken me a long time to comment.

I'd meant to add that a good thing is the Advanced Bonewitz Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF,) test.

http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html

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