On Being High Priestess

Being a High Priestess of a coven isn’t an easy job, even if you have experience in some of the skills needed: organization, small-group management, project management, counseling, or leadership. These skills –outside of the witchy skills most associate with a high priestess- are important to have as part of a priestess’ skill set, but even if one has seemingly mastered these skills, becoming a high priestess will demand more of you than you can really think of. It demands more of a person than one really realizes. Even if one is proficient in delegating, there’s a good chance that one will fall victim to the very high burnout rate that seems to partially define the Pagan priesthood. There are many articles on the internet about the high burnout rate of Pagan leaders, along with articles wondering why we don’t have more Pagan groups. Because the role of High Priestess is one of much responsibility, even if a person is new to leadership, the Gods will mold her into a leader, if she takes the role seriously, and keeps the good of the group always at the forefront of her awareness.


My journey to priestesshood was initiated by an experimental idea and set me on a very interesting path. Over a decade ago, I started an online group (that I then called “coven”), and worked with energy online. This group was structured like a traditional Wiccan group, and gave me the opportunity to observe small-group dynamics in an online format, as well as experiment with raising energy over great distances. Three years into this group, I found a local coven to work with. This coven was a new one, just forming, and I was initiated into this brand new eclectic group, as the Maiden (second in command, assistant to the priestess), as most of this coven was much less experienced than I. As I took more responsibility in this group, my online coven ended up disbanding, as I didn’t have enough time or energy to sustain both groups. I ran weekly classes for the online coven, and at the time was working 10 hour days.

I spoke almost daily to our High Priestess, and she confessed to me that she had some mental health issues, though she was being treated. She had a very nice, albeit not commanding, mien and everyone liked her. On the day of initiation, however, she ended up initiating a few people whom the rest of us had never met. Our eclectic coven was formed and bonded. During the first meeting, it was clear that she hadn’t had a plan for how the coven should be run. We had bylaws, but I later found out they were pretty much copied word for word from Amber K’s Covencraft book. The bylaws didn’t mention new membership, parting from the coven, or any sort of mission statement. The first few meetings were disorganized and full of confusion. A few young drama queens shattered the conversation by interrupting to speak about themselves several times. People argued about membership- some wanted the circle open, some wanted membership closed to new aspirants. Some needed classes, others didn’t feel that classes should be necessary. People were commuting from all over Los Angeles and Orange County. No one was on the same wavelength at all. After the first ritual, a splinter of this group split off to form their own group. After about four months, the High Priestess became ill and her treatment made in infeasible to continue her role as leader. I was elected to her position. At this point, the group was so fractured, that more people left, and it quickly became clear that this group had no future.

Having completed all of the coursework to become elevated to third degree by the high priestess, and having the experience under my belt, I decided to start a coven of my own. I spent several months carefully crafting a group that I would like to lead. I researched bylaws and compacts and created a set of bylaws that would easily manage the expectations of an aspirant. I created a hierarchy that I felt would work. I did readings and listened to the Gods during meditations, and created a coven tradition that I felt could easily last well beyond a year, as most covens dissolve before their first anniversary. I’ve always excelled in organization, and I really enjoyed the creation of the structure and the dedicant class syllabus. These were my strengths.

After a few meetings, six women came together to found the coven. The meetings were informal at first, and ended up more structured as the group found its feet. New sisters joined, some sisters left, and some left and then returned. As we all matured, so did our gatherings and rituals. Now, our meetings are structured, our purpose is clear and focused, and our sisters are all over thirty, instead of under twenty. Seven years makes a big difference in many ways.


Now, looking back on the time that I’ve spent as a High Priestess, I can see how the experience has molded me into the person I am today. When I started my current coven, I thought of the role of High Priestess as little more than a study group and ritual leader. Now, I know that the role encompasses so much more than a leader. The High Priestess is ultimately responsible for the success of the coven, as well as the spiritual lives of those in the coven, to a point. Even if one’s strengths include delegation, the ultimate responsibility falls of the shoulders of the High Priestess.

There are rituals to plan, meetings to organize, dynamics to manage, gatherings to attend, finances to figure, aspirants to communicate to, history to document, and classes to teach. Even if one excels at all of these responsibilities (or successfully delegates), a new High Priestess might underestimate the amount of time she may devote to thinking about the coven. Ideas for rituals come up at inopportune times. One will spend time figuring out ways to make every event accessible to all coveners, regardless of any financial issues, disability or personal issues. The High Priestess will create handouts, syllabi, packets of trip information, and maps. The Goddess will give one insight in the middle of a conference call. In addition to all of this, it’s imperative that a High Priestess continue her own personal practice. In addition to all of this come the readings she may do, meditation, and the rest of her personal life- her mundane job, family and friends.

Being a High Priestess is much more than a hobby, as the Gods won’t let the coven sit on your back burner. It’s a commitment to both your coven, and to the Gods. It’s hard work, made much more difficult if you deal with any sort of mental illness. It’s not all dramatic robes, enthusiastic acolytes and spookily burning candles. It’s also putting out literal fires, dealing with misguided law enforcement, asking dedicants to depart, and taking the blame when something clearly goes wrong. The role of High Priestess is very fulfilling and wonderful, but it is not without its challenges.


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