Terminology has been changed within this article and no names have been provided to retain respect towards this coven and their members, sisters who I send my love to.
You would think that in the 21st century that archaic heirarchical structures would go anywhere near a New Age faith. You would be wrong. Unfortunately, even in this day and age as there is no set way for a Wiccan coven to set up their circle of kin. You can be left in the hands of someone who doesn't leave the forum open for discussion and slowly introduces a restrictive structure which the circle do not naturally question. It makes it harder for the leader because if they're not being open with their coven members to ascertain how the boundaries are formed and why.
I recently left a coven for this reason. It was one of the hardest decisions I'd ever made. We weren't all equal within a tiered system where some were left feeling left out because they weren't being accepted into the 'central ring' of witches. This saddened me a great deal. When you know that others aren't getting the same treatment and aren't made to feel as special as those within the 'central ring' it makes it hard to concentrate and thus the experience is dulled and the rituals aren't powerful for you. It's stilted the whole way along.
I had read of many solitary witches who practiced on their own but attended pagan events regularly so that they would remain in the community and in a way I wish that I'd done that, but I still loved meeting everyone aswell. Someone like Wendy Rule doesn't even like the term High Priestess (as she was made an honorary one) as it denotes simply that someone is at a higher ranking than you. Often these people are simply left in charge as leaders, to form the coven rituals and be the social 'glue', but sometimes their sense of power becomes too much and it's destructive. They want to become selective about who they want there as the 'central ring' which apparently had the 'priestesses with the strongest bond' which was only founded by the High Priestess. I don't regret having met these people at all, the events that I went to were wonderful, but the underlying strain caused by the politics was unfortunate to say the least. In a sense, I can understand why the High Priestess wanted to have some control over who came so that you had the most dedicated people, but it didn't always work that way - loyalty did not equal being allowed into the 'central ring.' The 'central ring' had remained closed for so long that the minute that someone else was let inside, the foundations of the coven started to fall apart - despite how lovely the new member was. Other witches who wanted to be in the 'central ring' who had been in the coven for just as long started to question why they weren't permitted into the 'central ring.' The High Priestess wanted the most dedicated women with the closest connection within the 'central ring' and 'regular attendees' to attend ('casuals' were the outer ring and were thus not always invited to events also) - but it ended up having the opposite effect.
Then things became messy: 'central ring' members were doing their own thing and not turning up to as many events with the 'regulars' and occasionally only went to exclusive 'central ring' events. Eventually this dissapated even more, and gossip ensued from all sides... less so from those who were not in the 'central ring' who did not want to risk being kicked out.
It just seems that if you want to organise that, you need to have everyone informed and involved every step of the way. In the Catholic church, for example, paritioners are given the right to attend Parish meetings once a week where they can talk openly about the proceedings of their congregation and air concerns. Many Wiccans would hate the idea of taking anything from the Catholic church, but this is definitely something that could at least help towards groups such as this. Without unity you can only have fragmentation.
Without wanting to go into any more detail, you get the picture. I had hoped that it would be an experience of 'let's learn from each other and grow together' but it wasn't really what ensued. It may still happen within this coven, and I hope that it does.
It's been a very strange experience but also a great learning experience aswell. Sadly, I had aired why I was leaving the coven openly with the rest of the coven and it was taken very well by other coven members - but not so by the High Priestess... That is another story - too soon to tell and this is a very public forum where it will be kept this simple.
In Perfect Love and Perfect Trust