Ask Cat is THoT’s advice column, where Dr. Catherine
Winther responds to your questions about all things related to relationships, witchcraft,
magick, and beyond.
Can I join a coven without becoming a priestess? I’m lesbian and have a gf I don’t want to have to be in the (sexual*) rites with men. My teacher said that’s how the magic passes on to me and the other witches and it’s a privilege to be chosen for the rites. She is really the best teacher I’ve found. I really want to be a witch but I don’t want her to know I am a lesbian.
Liv, 21, female, UK.
*The rites referred to in this letter are the sexual rites of The Great Rite as clarified with Liv.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me, Liv. It can take a lot of courageto reach out and put your trust in someone you don’t know, but I am very glad you did because your question raises some important issues and concerns.
Your prospective coven and teacher are displaying a number of red flags. Let’s start with your choice about whether to tell your teacher that you are a lesbian or not. First, you should never, ever feel pressure from anyone to reveal your sexuality. It doesn’t matter if this person is your High Priestess or your best friend, your sexuality is your own private business and any choice to share your orientation should be made freely and without duress. If you don’t want to tell your teacher that you are lesbian then do not tell her. There is no reason she needs to know.
Second, if you don’t trust your teacher enough to confide in them about your sexuality (regardless of whether you do decide to share that information with her or not), you might want to reconsider whether this is the person you want to guide you through your magickal journey. Trust is absolutely essential within a coven, you need to be able to trust the people you will be casting magick with. There will be times that the work you do within a coven will make you vulnerable. That is why so many covens recite ‘In perfect love and in perfect trust’ as they enter a sacred space. If you don’t trust your teacher then they are not the teacher for you, no matter how nice or wise they seem.
Moving on to talk about sex magick and The Great Rite. In my opinion, sex magick can be a beautiful and incredibly powerful tool, whether it’s on your own using masturbation, or with a partner/s. To clarify, while there are all kinds of sex magicks, The Great Rite is something altogether different.
The Great Rite is a wiccan ritual that symbolizes the unifying of the male and female energies to create a new and greater whole, thus re-enacting the birth of the Universe. It is usually performed symbolically with a ritual knife and chalice. On rare occasions some covens enact The Great Rite sexually but it is usually performed in private between an established couple. It can be performed outside of these parameters but by all accounts that is a rare phenomenon, most covens prefer to stick with a symbolic performance of The Great Rite.
It is also true that a rare few covens believe that magick is passed on through heterosexual intercourse. Now, while I don’t have any inherent issues with sex magick or with the beliefs of any particular coven, I do have an issue with people using beliefs around magick and their position of power to pressure people into having sex which is exactly what it sounds like your teacher is doing.
You should never feel pressured to have sex. Ever. No matter the circumstance.
If you feel like that in order to join this coven you will have to perform sexual acts that you don’t want to in order to gain admission, acceptance, and/or access to magickal knowledge and powers, then you must turn around and leave. That coven is toxic and abusive.
Most covens are warm and welcoming and have a lot to offer new witches trying to find their way. Pagans, witches, and wiccans are renown for having open minded and inclusive attitudes towards sexuality, gender, culture, experience etc. As such, whether you choose to reveal your sexuality or not, you should be able to find a welcoming coven pretty easily. (You may even want to see if there is an online coven for you.) But like any large, international community, we have a mix of people; most have good intentions but there are a handful of individuals that are dangerous and only out for themselves. These predators roam within our community and use the cover of The Great Rite and sex magick to abuse other witches. They often target novice witches, preying on their naivety and eagerness in the most horrendous ways. It is our duty as a community to prevent this happening. As such, I strongly urge you to walk away from this coven and your teacher.
I know it can be hard to find fellow witches that make you feel at home. This path can be a lonely and confusing path. Having a wise and generous teacher appear in your life can feel like such a relief after muddling through so many books, herbs, crystals, classes, and websites. But trust me when I say that having the persistence and patience to wait until the right teacher or coven appears is worth it. Nothing is worth risking your safety for.
To answer your question, can you join a coven without becoming a priestess? Yes. Yes, you can join a coven without becoming a priestess, but that is something you will have to negotiate with the coven you choose to join. I strongly urge you not to join this coven and to walk away from your teacher. If you are feeling pressured to have sex and reveal your sexuality then this coven is neither a safe or fertile learning environment for you. Instead, move on to find a teacher you can trust and a coven that does not require sex.
Some other questions you might want to ask yourself when looking for a coven include: do you feel safe with them? Will it be sky-clad? Is there sex involved? What is the initiation ceremony? Is there a lot of interpersonal drama? What is the turnover rate of the group? What are the coven rules and ethics? How are complaints managed? Do any of the members use secrecy and their purported mystical skills to manipulate others? If they are asking for money—what are they using it for? How long has the coven been running? How long have the High Priestess and High Priest held their positions of power for and how did they gain those positions of power? Can any title or lineage claims be verified? If the elders of the coven are not open to questions and frank discussions about the nature of the coven then I would strongly suggest not joining that coven.
Any group of people working together, coven or otherwise, will only be effective and cohesive if they have good communication, have a healthy relationship with power, are open minded, and are welcoming of chances to engage in self-reflection and growth.
Magick doesn’t grow in bitter, locked down, and fearful environments.
I hope that helps and if you have any more concerns, please feel free to contact me.
Love and blessings,
P.S. You’re already a witch. You don’t need to join any coven or have anyone initiate you. You are a witch just as you are, right now, alive with magick and potential.
Here are some articles on covens and personal safety from a very reliable source (Pagan Awareness Network Australia) for further reading.
Dear Dr Catherine,
I like how you read tarot cards on your Instagram. I’m only starting learning to read tarot. How do you use oracle cards? How is that different to how to you read the tarot? Sometimes you use them (oracle cards*) and it seems very different to others (other readers*.)
Emily, 26, USA.
*Terms clarified with Emily.
Thank you for writing and sharing your question. I’m so happy to hear my readings resonate with you. When I hear that feedback like that it really does make my heart sing.
In order to answer your question as accurately as possible, it’s important to understand that while there are articles, books, and teachers that insist there is a single, right way to read tarot, the reality is that all tarot readers have their own, unique style of reading tarot cards. It can take years to learn and develop your own style and that is okay. The tarot cards are a magickal tool and do hold their own energy, but the real power comes from you, the tarot reader. You’ll find that as you grow so does your relationship with your cards. That’s what makes the art of tarot so interesting and wonderful.
Before launching into the nitty gritty of card reading here are some basics. Tarot decks and oracle decks are different. There are two common types of tarot decks, the Thoth and the Rider-Waite. I mainly work with the Rider Waite and as such that will be the tarot I refer to in this piece. Tarot decks can appear visually different to one another, but they all have a fixed and rigid structure of 78 cards that consists of 22 major arcana cards and 56 minor arcana cards that are split into four suits: swords, wands, pentacles, and cups. While the original Rider-Waite tarot does dictate a set visual representation, it’s not unusual for modern authors and artists to take creative licence with the artwork.
Oracle decks are not limited in any way, as such their artwork can sometimes be more wild and fantastical than the tarot because there is no set reference artwork limiting them. Oracle decks can have any number of cards, and can be structured (or not) in any way the author sees fit. Where the meaning of the tarot cards oftem come from a mix of Arthur Waite’s Rider-Waite deck and ancient knowledge that can be traced back to the eighteenth century, the meanings of oracle cards come directly from their author.
Even though tarot and oracle decks are vastly different, I treat them the same way energetically. Before starting a reading I always cleanse my deck. I have various ways of enlivening my decks but when in a session with a client I will shuffle the deck continuously to fill it with the client’s energy and questions. I do this by making sure all of my focus is with my client as I shuffle.
When I read tarot it’s more like a counseling session that the cards aid as we go along. I shuffle the cards throughout the session to imbue with them with the energy of the conversation and my client. I will draw cards either when I feel the urge to, or when there is something the client wants to ask the cards directly. Sometimes, if the energy is really strong, the cards will leap out of my hands to be read. The client’s questions may be open ended such as: ‘What do I need to do to develop spiritually?’ Or, they can be closed questions such as, wedding dates, whether they will get their dream job, love and relationship predictions etc.
So, as you can see, I rarely do set spreads (such as the Celtic Cross) with my clients unless that is what they ask for. Another example of this might be a set spread that I advertise for New Year’s Eve or a Solstice, but even these spreads get expanded upon in just about every reading because all of my clients are unique and the cards respond just as exceptionally.
When I lay out a tarot reading I know the original meanings, stories, and symbology of the cards instantly. Tarot cards are so rich with history and meaning that there is always more to learn, so even till this day I am studying them. However, when I’m reading for a client I go beyond the strict and simple meanings of the cards. I let go of all I know and clear my mind, letting any feelings and images arising from the tarot to wash through my mind. This lets whatever energies we have invited into the sacred space to speak with us. These energies may be the cards themselves, spirits, ancestors, guides, universal energies etc. Some rules I have when speaking with these energies are that they must be invited, they must leave when their invitation is rescinded, and they must do no harm to anyone in my sacred space or home. And there absolutely must be no attaching to anyone.
This might sound like a long process but it only takes a matter of momentsin human time. (Time moves differently on Earth compared to the places and dimensions I visit when I meditate.) In essence, I channel and meditate on every card. I do it with each card individually, then I meditate on the relationships between the cards, and then the spread over all.
Sometimes I invite the client to join me in reading the cards. Tarot readings with me are always a collaborative process. This is not because I shy away from being tested as a psychic, I will happily use a pendulum, crystal ball, or even a Ouija board in a session if they are required. But the tarot can go so much deeper and explore so much more if it is a cooperative act between them, myself, and the Universe. Tarot is about healing not proving. People can either spend two hours with me picking apart the details of their future, or they can slow down and take refuge in my safe, cosy, and quiet witch cave, and spend some time looking at their soul and their heart—the ignition source for their future. The nature of my tarot readings is always dependent on what the client brings to the session and how deep they are willing to go. Being vulnerable is no easy feat and it is good to remember and respect that as a reader. It is an honor and privilege to share such sacred space and time with people.
Oracle cards are a bit different. I mainly use them in conjunction with the tarot. The oracle cards usually serve as an overall theme for the tarotreading. For an example, I may get my reading all set up and ready toincluding setting up my altar, tarot table, and cards. But before I’ll start, I’ll pull a single Oracle Goddess card out. This Goddess and her energy will frame and cradle the tarot reading as well as represent the energy that is available as support to my client at that time. I would then go on to read the tarot as normal. Sometimes if I am working with an artist in a session I will dig in to my Brian Eno cards for inspiration at the end of the session. Again, it all depends on the client.
But what I think what you are interested in is how I draw meaning from the oracle cards.
I don’t have the guide books for my oracle decks memorized and I rarely consult them. Rather, I follow the same process as with my tarot cards. I tend to sit with the oracle cards that have been drawn and meditate on them, letting the visuals wash over me and sink into the feeling of the card and the moment. If the oracle card is a specific deity I may reach out to them, too. When I read oracle cards it is largely instinct and magick, followed by guide book meanings.
This is where people usually get frustrated with my answer. It is then I try to explain that their frustration has nothing to do with the oracle cards, it has to do with trusting their own intuition. Learning to trust your gut is the essence of what it means to become a tarot reader and it’s not easy, especially if you or your clients expect the tarot to deliver simple, easy, concise black and white answers every time.
I will now try and explain my experience of listening to my instinct when reading oracle cards.
When the oracle card comes out and I lay it down, I sit back and focus my gaze and all my attention on the card. The rest of the world fades out as I sit there just breathing and feeling. I follow my very first instinct that arises, that is, I trust whatever image or feeling first comes to mind, no matter how strange, stupid, or irrelevant. I don’t question if it is real or where it comes from or why. I just go with the flow. I sit with the feelings, visions, sensations, sounds, letting them evolve and grow stronger. In most cases, the energies and information arising from an oracle card will come to a stop on their own. If they don’t, I know how to stop the influx—another important skill to have before you start reading tarot.
My job as a tarot reader is to sort out what information is related to the client. I do this by trusting my gut. I literally ask in my mind and wait for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of some kind. It’s like interpreting a dream but I have more of my wits about me. This is why I encourage my students to work with their dreams and interpreting them, it is a good way to start learning to trust your intuition and interpreting different kinds of energy. If I ever feel like my logic or doubt are trying to push in on this process I immediately shut them down. The triggering of my logical mind is an important sign. It usually means that whatever my logic was trying to grapple with is important information for the client. I can’t explain why that is the case, that is just how it works for me in readings. It may be completely different for you. Everyone’s instinct works differently and thus, you can see why tarot readers vary and why it takes time to learn your own style.
Once again, the process of interpreting oracle cards is usually instantaneous. So, when I draw out an oracle card, I’ll often know what it means before it hits the table because the image will spark an answer in my mind. I’ll then sit with this feeling and image for a while before discussing it with the client. In rare cases I’ll consult the oracle guide book.
Sometimes I’ll offer the oracle guide book to the client. This allows them the opportunity to read over the meanings to see if they pick up anything extra from the cards. This also encourages a collaborative reading approach which is my preferred style, not only does it result in deeper readings but it takes away the sense of hierarchy than can develop between a reader and client. The only person who can answer your questions is you, you are the expert and master of your life. However, it is easy to get exhausted, tired, and confused by life. It is only natural then to seek out help. If this help takes the form of a tarot reader, they should be an equal who offers to sit alongside you as you work towards discovering your own answers. If your tarot reader starts to coax any kind of idol worship from you or presents themselves as infallible, I would urge you to get a second opinion. A healthy ego is important for having confidence in your work as a reader, but idolatry is toxic.
So, while I can tap into my intuition to read cards and draw inspiration and messages from the Universe, all of this is just to aid the client in finding their own answers. It’s good to keep this in mind when you read the tarot and oracles for yourself. No matter how big and powerful the messages are that come through for you are, if they don’t feel right for you or don’t resonate right now, you can always choose to ignore these messages. You have the power to say ‘No’ to anyone and anything, including the divine. This is also why it’s so important to have a sacred and safe place to read in because trusting one’s self does not always come easy and often it is the most perplexing cards and messages that carry the most important messages. It can take a lot of concentration and mental effort to be a tarot reader.
In some ways reading oracle cards is not that different to tarot. The hard part is trusting yourself and your intuition and having the courage to believe in your magick and share it with others. All of these things can be developed with time. Tarot cards and oracle cards are powerful magickal tools, but they are just that, tools. They rely on you to create magick. The cards are there to aid you in accessing your own intuition and whatever other universal energies you wish to engage with. Remember to keep your safety measures in place but also try and retain a sense of play, wonder, and magick as you explore divination tools and personal magick.
I hope this helps you on your magickal journey, Emily.
Love and blessings,
Letters to a new witch: Spirituality, science, religion, abuse, awakenings, and healings. (Trigger warnings.)Ask Cat is THoT’s advice column, where Dr. Catherine Winther responds to your questions about all things related to relationships, witchcraft, magick, and beyond. Can I join a coven without becoming a priestess? I’m lesbian and have a gf I don’t want to have to be in the (sexual*) rites with men. My teacher said […]
Ask Cat is THoT’s advice column, where Dr. Catherine Winther responds to your questions about all things related to relationships, witchcraft, magick, and beyond. Can I join a coven without becoming a priestess? I’m lesbian and have a gf I don’t want to have to be in the (sexual*) rites with men. My teacher said […]
Love and Magick: A look at love spells and how to bring love and magick together in a healthy and powerful way.Ask Cat is THoT’s advice column, where Dr. Catherine Winther responds to your questions about all things related to relationships, witchcraft, magick, and beyond. Can I join a coven without becoming a priestess? I’m lesbian and have a gf I don’t want to have to be in the (sexual*) rites with men. My teacher said […]
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