There are so many articles about building covens, being in covens, working with covens - but fewer about leaving or dissolving a coven. I know that in some cases the latter can be painful or difficult to talk about, but I think it's important to discuss nonetheless.
I have been involved in 3 covens in my pagan career. I left all 3 of my own volition, for different reasons:
- The first I left because I was moving to a different city, and this was before there were online covens. It was the coven that initiated me and dedicated me. The high priestess moved and the coven met rarely, only when she came back to visit. When I moved away as well, the coven opted to discontinue, but all of us remain friends. Our paths have taken us many different places, but we all have that initial connection in common.
- The second was a small coven, and disbanded due to schedules - it was almost impossible to find a consistent time to meet, and we all decided to go our separate ways. We lived on opposite ends of the city, and we all had varying work schedules and none of us had a vehicle. After months of trying to schedule meetings and rituals, we all determine that the coven was not viable at that time.
- The third was due to communication breakdown and conflict that severed the ties between the members. This I will not go into much detail about - mostly because I don't think it's fair to air dirty laundry in a public way, but also because while I may dislike some of the previous coven members, I do hold my oaths seriously and believe they are entitled to their privacy.
There are a wide gamut of reasons why people leave a coven - abuse, scheduling issues, relationship/marital breakdown, change of path, branching off to form own coven, relocation, forced/asked to leave, etc. Like any other social group, there are complex dynamics at play. I have always viewed almost all covens having an expiry date - it could be weeks, months, years, decades. Eventually, though, there will be an ending. It is the natural way of things. Birth, life, death. Natural cycles.
When you are a part of a coven, it is work. It can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be incredibly draining. You are working in trust with the other members. You are creating magic and change, you are supporting one another. It's not all glamour and glitz - there is all the mundane stuff that goes along with it - who is hosting, who is working what ritual, who is bringing the ram skull, etc. I think some people can go into a coven experience thinking it's going to be just like The Craft, and they're clearly the Sarah of the group.
It is not like that at all. Covens involve humans, and humans have emotions and conflicts. Some are ill, some are contrary to a fault. Some are power hungry. Some are too giving. Some too lazy. Covens are as flawed as the people within it, and that can lead to any of the aforementioned scenarios that would cause someone to leave. Some people leave in a big way. Sometimes one person leaves and everything crumbles. Sometimes people leave in a quiet way. Sometimes one person leaves, and the rest continue on.
What people fail to pay attention to is the debriefing process. By that, I mean what actually happens after you have left. Everyone gets caught up in the moment, it's hard to look past that to the near future. There are a few rules of thumb I think are prudent in these situations:
- Did you swear any oaths binding you to other members of the coven? If so, you need to address those oaths in a way that will sever you from the coven itself. You need to make your energy yours again. Whether you work that out with your former coven or not (and if you can, you should), it should be the first thing you take care of.
- Be sure to take any and all personal property with you when you leave.
- Ensure to take time to address your spiritual bonds with your spirits and gods. I usually recommend a cleansing (smoke or bath) followed up by an informal recommitment ritual. Addressing your needs is important, and can be helpful in the decompression process. Even if you leave on great terms, you still need to take care of yourself.
- Know that any and all secrets, oaths, and words shared while in the coven are sacred - meaning, you should not be telling other's secrets or using any of that information as fuel for any 'retribution'. You should not be gossiping about any other member's business. It's disrespectful to yourself, your former coven, and whatever gods or spirits you swore your oaths to. I don't care how juicy or how you think it will make you look - DON'T. The only exception to this rule is with actual physical, mental, or sexual abuse, and any of that involving minors. That should be reported to the police. (I am talking actual abuse, not hurt feelings or perceived victimhood. Actual abuse that can cause long lasting actual and possibly irreparable harm.)
- Don't "take revenge" on members of your former coven. I know that if you leave on bad terms, and there are a lot of hurt feelings, it can seem tempting. Don't. It's childish and unbecoming. Move on with your life with lessons learned, and allow them to do the same. You'll all be better for it.
Covens are a learning experience, and you should take any experience with them after leaving (good or bad) as a lesson. You learn a lot about yourself when you work in close proximity with other people, and those lessons can be a powerful force moving forward in your life. I look at it like a resume - you have had good and bad jobs, but you learned something (theoretically) in each of those jobs that can be applied to the next job, or other areas of your life. Working in covens is no different, and leaving a coven does not have to be forever traumatic or bitter.
At this point in my life, I am done with coven work. I am not currently involved in any kind of coven structure. My spouse and I have a small hearth we work together on, and we have several people we meet up with to celebrate and mark seasons, but most of our practice has become familial. I have taken my experience with working in the 3 groups I have been in, and molded it into something useful. I know what I enjoyed about working in a coven, and I know what I disliked about it. Like any other kind of group I have worked in, there have been some wonderful things, and there have been some terrible things. They all kind of even out.