The Online Coven is Dead. (Long Live the Online Coven).


Hawkfire’s First (and Last) Week Together

My head is spinning a little from a week of ‘witch camp’ with my remaining OC member which was both fun and intense — but ultimately led to some hard and important conversations. We agreed it made sense for them to Seek with other covens for various reasons, including the fact that a coven of two didn’t support what they hoped for, and since their living circumstances had stabilized, there were several coven options closer to them than Charlotte, North Carolina.

I am deeply, deeply proud of this Seeker. They stuck it out for a year in an online Gardnerian Coven, they did the hard work, they traveled to North Carolina twice, including a week of intensive in-person training. And they concluded their time with Hawkfire taking on their greatest challenge yet: coming to their HPS with love and honesty in their heart and explaining why it was time for them to move on. I have no words for how honored I am that I was able to share this journey with them, that I was able to facilitate a space of learning. Any Coven will be lucky to have them, and I will do what I can to smooth that road for them.

Coven Postmortem

But what now? My grand attempt at an online initiatory Coven, dedicated to equity and access, is dead. It failed in carrying sincere Seekers through to initiation.

Some left because they realized initiatory Witchcraft wasn’t what they thought it might be, or what they truly wanted. Others left because the time zones and distance made it truly and extraordinarily challenging, and they realized it was better to wait for personal circumstances to change, even if that took years. (Even though it had already taken years.) And others I asked to leave because they needed to prioritize personal and practical matters in their lives better before they pursued craft training, but I have no doubts they will do excellent coven work someday.

I created this Outer Court to serve Seekers who couldn’t find training elsewhere, for diverse reasons. Some, I’ve stayed in touch with and we continue to have conversations about devotional practices, magic, witchcraft, and the balance of these things with daily life. Others have preferred interpersonal distance, and I respect and appreciate that. In all cases, I am fiercely proud of each and every one of them as individuals and am deeply humbled to have been a part of their paths — even though it didn’t end with initiation into Hawkfire.

Hawkfire is dead. By most metrics, it failed.

But for all these same reasons, I truly believe Hawkfire also succeeded. Every one of these Seekers grew through the process. They encountered ritual and the Sabbats, they worked as a group, they each learned a great deal on a personal level as well. And, selfishly, I learned a tremendous amount from each of them. I learned from my failures and successes. So if I served them half as well as they taught me, then a great deal was accomplished by this rag-tag digital OC. I don’t regret a moment of it.

Ethics, Aspirations, and Reckonings

I truly believe an online Coven, dedicated to equity and access, could work. But I’ve also realized that I’m not the best person to achieve that goal.

I might be in my late 40s, a professional educator, and a dedicated Priestess and Witch of my tradition. But this was my first Outer Court, and running an Outer Court is an entirely unique (and uniquely challenging) experience. Perhaps, if I had a decade of Coven leadership under my belt and a confident in-person Coven to help support an online structure, I would be able to design and structure a truly functional and sustainable online Coven. But in prioritizing the training and development of my Seekers, I’ve also realized certain limits to my abilities and certain qualities to operating a Coven that were opaque to me before running a group.

To Coven leaders reading this:

I encourage you to consider distance training if you haven’t done so already. Goodness knows there’s a long history of distance training in the Craft (looking at you, GBG and Uncle Bucky!) and we have the technology, creativity, ingenuity, and yes, magic to make distance training highly effective. Will online work fully replace in-person work? No, I can’t imagine that. But it can bridge the gap for the right Seekers.

Should a Seeker, who is barred from conventional craft training due to geography, global economic inequity, physical disability, or other historically marginalizing quality, give up on pursuing Craft training because they literally can’t travel to a covenstead twice a month?

Fuck no. (I’m emphatic on this if you can’t tell.)

If a Seeker makes sixty grand with full benefits, has no kids, no medical issues, but says driving three hours twice a month for Craft training is too far, then maybe they aren’t a good fit for the Craft, that’s true. They may need more time to discern what they truly want from a coven-based practice.

If a Seeker makes thirty grand a year (because they’re a public school teacher in the South), has a child to care for, and balances it all with a chronic medical condition, but has been practicing as a solitary for years, is dedicated to the gods, and knows they want serious training in initiatory Wicca because they want to be a dedicated PriestX of the gods, even if it takes years for initiation — isn’t it reasonable for a Coven to require a different attendance policy for that individual? If they can afford childcare and gas to travel every other month but can attend remotely via Zoom the rest of the time — wouldn’t it be worth it? Sure, you can say “Wait until your kid grows up, or get a better paying job.” But then you’re not asking them to take responsibility for controllable aspects of their life. You’re telling them they shouldn’t have had a child if they wanted craft training and to change careers. If you’re not up for distance training, that’s perfectly fine — but at least talk to other coven leaders who might be willing to help that Seeker. I know we don’t normally do that. But maybe we should consider it.

Is any of this ideal?

No.

Do you know what else is not ideal?

How little public school teachers make.

And to Seekers

If you are a Seeker reading this, listen up. When you write you Seeker letter, the best thing you can do to help Coven leaders make challenging choices about who to train is simply to tell us a great deal about yourself, your circumstances, and what you can sustainably manage time wise. If you live in a country that is struggling with rapid inflation, and you can only afford to fly to another Neighboring Country Y once a year, be honest about that — but tell us and write that letter. Even if a Coven isn’t comfortable taking on that challenge, they may be able to encourage and support your training in other ways. Just try. Dare.

What Happens After an Coven Dies? New Covens are Born.

Taking a year to train five lovely, talented, thoughtful occultists, only to end up with an empty OC is, yeah, demoralizing. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken. But it’s a good kind of heartbreak. It’s the kind of heartbreak that feels so deeply an experience of our gods — it’s the reason I also feel deeply, deeply satisfied with what I’ve tried this last year.

I’ll try to start a new OC, but I know it will necessarily be more ‘traditional’. Assuming there are appropriate Seekers (North Carolina is awash with Gardnerian unicorns) it will be a “Show up. Do the work. Go home to your kids. Repeat.” kind of Coven. It will be focused on serious training and ritual practice, no socializing only because I’m busy in my work and family life and already have a lot of wonderful friends. That’s not what a lot of Seekers will want, but for those who do want that focus, I intend to provide that kind of training. And if and when something like that solidifies as an established and stable Coven, I would definitely take on a ‘distance student’ again, if the student and their circumstances made sense for that. Again, it’s not ideal. But it can work.

Whenever I settle down to open a new OC, I’ll announce it on this website, but it will have a new Coven name and a new website. I’ll maintain this website and blog as a public record of Hawkfire’s curious digital egregore and what I learned from this experience, in case it’s useful for others.

I am very proud of Hawkfire and learned a tremendous amount over the last year.

But now, Hawkfire, you pass on to whatever Summerlands Covens go to. Hail, Traveler, we’ll meet again.

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