Covens: Expectation vs Reality

I’ve received a couple of requests from readers to cover covens in my Expectation vs Reality series. As I’m happy to oblige requests, here it is. And if there’s anything YOU want me to write about, you can contact me at*


what is a coven of witches

A coven refers to a gathering, community, or group of witches.


‘Coven’ holds roots in Latin from ‘conventum’ meaning convention. From there, Old French ‘covent’ to Anglo-Norman ‘cuvent’.

It is interesting to note that the word ‘coven’ was not used en masse until 1921 after a woman called Margaret Murray promoted it. She was an “Egyptologist, archaeologist, anthropologist, historian, and folklorist” who wrote a paper for a journal called Folklore after taking interest in the witch trials of Early Modern Europe.

It is in this paper that Murray first champions her narrative of the witch-cult theory. Part of her argument that the historical European witches who were tyrannized and tormented were all members of a coven. She claimed that these covens were made up of 13 members – 12 women and men and a dignitary.

According to Murray, it was a requirement that all members in these covens gathered for a weekly meeting. These meetings known as ‘esbats’ is a term also designated and made popular by Murray. She also noted that those who missed an esbat were brutally punished and at times, executed.


  1. Expectation: You’re not a “real” witch unless you belong to a coven
    Reality: You don’t need a coven to be a “real” witch
you are a real witch even if you practice alone and not with a coven

Solitary practitioners are just as valid as any witch who chooses to practice within a coven. Think of it as some people work better in group settings while others do their best work alone. Practitioners who enjoy structure and casting with fellow witches benefit from belonging to a coven. Mystics who prefer doing things at their own pace and setting their own magickal schedule do well on their own.

Either path is valid, no matter which one suits you best. After all, it is YOUR path, YOUR magick, YOUR experience.

  1. Expectation: There has to be 13 witches or else the coven isn’t legitimate
    Reality: You can have as little as two witches and as many as 1,000 or more
two or more witches can make up a coven

I made it a point to talk about Margaret Murray earlier in this post to reference here: she was the one who assigned the word ‘coven’ and ‘esbat’ in her writings. This was not something she found in her research. This was written to support her witch-cult theory.

Having said that, the notion that only a legitimate coven has 13 members is ludicrous. A coven can be just you and your best friend. A coven can be a group of 30 practitioners. A coven can work outside of the number 13.

  1. Expectation: You cannot start your own coven
    Reality: There are plenty of self-started covens out there
you can start your own coven

To start this Expectation vs Reality I will say that depending on your particular path, there could be some rules you have to follow. For instance, if you subscribe to an established tradition like Wicca, there are standards already in place.

If you aren’t part of a tradition, here’s a basic guide on how to start your own coven:

  • Initiate a meeting for fellow practitioners to come together. is one option for you to explore those local to you who are interested in joining a coven. Word-of-mouth is also a great way to spread news of your meeting. Posting flyers at coffee shops or metaphysical stores is another option. Make sure to protect yourself and your private information – use a new email address for RSVPs – and choose a public space to host your meeting.
  • At the meeting gather potential coven members’ email addresses, phone number, social media handles, and their preferred name – magickal or mundane. Hand out literature on your reasons for starting a coven, its goals, and why you’re qualified to lead it. Some founders like to write up a questionnaire for candidates to fill out regarding things like coven experience, how long they’ve been practicing, if they’re openly practicing, etc.
  • Talk. Take questions. Lead an open discussion covering what you put in the handout. Get a feel for the energy of potential covenmates. Express how you plan on going about the selection process and how long it will take. You may also wish to take notes about certain feelings you get about particular people or interactions you witness.
  • Go through the selection process. Take your time choosing as a coven who does ritual work together HAS to get along together. The group dynamic must be considered. Go over everyone’s answers to the questionnaire. Reference your notes taken at the meeting to help guide your decisions. Reach out to everyone whether they made the cut or not.


Hold a second meeting for the chosen candidates. This should ultimately feel more formal than the first, but still be held in a public space. Inform the attendees that this meeting doesn’t guarantee membership into the coven. This meeting is to further explore what the group is all about and its plans and goals. Here is where rules for your coven comes into play as everyone deserves to know what they’re signing up for. It’s only fair that potential members understand what’s expected of them – responsibilities, study requirements, practice, etc.

This second meeting is inherently more intimate. As such, it’s the perfect time for potential coven mates to get to know one another and ask questions. As no decisions about who will be the final members have been made yet, be observant of these interactions and take notes to reference later.

This is also the time to touch base on any initiation process candidates will go through if selected. Things like nudity and permanent body modifications absolutely MUST be discussed with potential members!

Make your final decisions. And as before, reach out to ALL candidates letting them know their status. You could offer those who you’ve chosen a dedication followed by a formal initiation. This is similar to a trial membership that lasts for a year and a day of study, after which they become full-fledged members. On the other hand, they can be immediately initiated. It’s up to you.

How members are dedicated and initiated is at your discretion. Again, this is a very basic guide on how to go about founding your own coven. As I always say: Read more to learn more! Do your research!

  1. Expectation: Online covens are not considered to be authentic
    Reality: Remotely joining a coven is just as valid as joining those that are in-person

With modern times come modern solutions. Online covens provide an opportunity for those without the means or access to become members of virtual groups. It only makes sense that covens, among other groups and associations, made their way to the internet.

The biggest difference between online and in-person covens is the ritual work being performed in the flesh. However, this is not something to completely eradicate the authenticity of a coven. It’s still a virtual place where members can come together and discuss ideas and methods, collaborate, and share in one another’s experiences.


There you have it, Witches! Have you come across any of these misconceptions? Have you started your own coven? Are you a part of one? Let me know in the comments! And as always, Bright Blessings and Happy Crafting!

*I do not guarantee my ability to honor all post subject requests

Published by Pie

Pie Ankiewicz is the Resident Witch of Printable Witchcraft and sister-site Candle Cross Coven. She is a seasoned Eclectic Witch whose practice spans over three decades. Residing in Massachusetts, Pie designs printable Book of Shadows and grimoire pages, blogs about the Craft, and teaches others how to pursue being a practitioner.

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