May 31, 2002
One of the more interesting experiences that we have found that we have had on the internet was looking up the definition of the word “coven” on the net. We got a lot of pages regarding covens, ranging from Polish rock and roll music, to a witch role playing game, to a small sampling of on-line covens. This is after we narrowed our search criteria down to “what is a coven.” Only two sites offered a brief blurb on “what is a coven” out of some of the pages that we saw!
So, we are offering our own brief definition of what is a coven. A coven is a collection, a group, of three or more witches or Pagans that share a common interest and goal. In other words, a coven is not simply a gathering of people who elect to get together just because they are all non-Christian; they need to have a common purpose in order to attempt to work together as a coven!
Now, in our view, what may be some of the qualities of a working coven? We came up with some of the following points that we feel are important in a working coven. They are that a coven should have:
· A group of practicing witches
· Generally have a decent number of members (Tradition says 13)
· The ability to function as your chosen family
· Loyalty and commitment
· Regular meetings
· Purpose and intent
· A High Priestess and/or a High Priest
· Follow through
A group of practicing witches
A coven is a group of practicing witches! It is as plain and simple as that! Despite the page that we saw on the web about Polish rock bands, a coven (for the purposes of Wicca) is a collection of witches. It is not a group of Sunday school teachers. It is not an insurance salesmen convention. It is a group of witches working together, celebrating together, and worshiping together AS WITCHES!
Please note that we say a coven needs to have a group of practicing witches. We were once part of a coven that met on a regular basis--at a local Denny’s! While we had fun conversations and a lot of food and coffee, we were not working together. We were a coffee klatch, a social gathering, not a coven!
Generally have a decent number of members (Tradition says 13)
We have seen some small gathering of witches, two or three witches, working together. Now, is that a coven?
Actually, we would have to question that. A coven should be able to be self-sustaining. If a member has to leave the coven (let’s say that this member had to move across the globe), then the coven should still be able to function despite that loss! Worse yet, if a member leaves the coven because of internal politics, then the coven should definitely be able to function after that loss!
In this light, it would seem that a gathering of only two or three witches is not a coven! Why? Well, if just one of those members has to leave--no matter the reason--the coven, the odds are pretty good that this “coven” would not be able to survive. It could not be self-sustaining.
The ability to function as your chosen family
Your coven is your home away from home, your family away from family! This is the family that you choose. It is your logical family rather than just your biological family!
When you coven with a group of people, you expose yourself to a group of people, telling things about yourself, sharing some of your needs that you may want help with from your coven. This quickly dissolves the notion that your coven is just a group of strangers that you get together with from time to time! If it doesn’t, then you may be in the wrong coven!
Doing this kind of intimate work can quickly dissolve the barriers between strangers. It seems that it is better to do this with people you feel a “family” connection with rather than just a group of clinical or disinterested strangers!
One of the things that RainBear and MegasTu believe is that a coven needs to have some sort of Tradition, rather an already established British Tradition or a newly created one for that specific coven! This concept of Tradition (the way of practicing and believing) helps to define for the coven who they are and what they are. An eclectic group, one in which everyone does their own thing, practices their own practices, does not offer this sense of identity or definition. It may be fun to attend such a group, but, since no one is on the same page, how can such a group be categorized or defined?
Loyalty and commitment
Covening is hard work! You may have ritual to attend even when you would rather stay home and just pop in a videotape! You may have a class to teach, even when you would rather go hiking in the mountains!
Loyalty and commitment is sticking to the planned schedule, even if you do not want to. It is studying, even when your favorite movie is playing on cable. It is going to ritual, even when a car show is in town. It is staying together and getting done what you have promised and pledged to get done!
Now, even though this is not actually a part of the above issue, commitment should also include punctuality. In simple terms, this means being on time and not running on Pagan Standard Time!
This type of loyalty and commitment also indicates, since not everyone can be in attendance or punctual 100% of the time, having the courtesy to call your coven or High Priestess or High Priest if you are going to be late! It is inappropriate to have everyone waiting for you, not knowing where you are! Poor excuses, such as “My dog ate my magic wand” may not be accepted by your coven mates!
Covens are not a spur of the moment thing. They happen on a schedule! Why? Well, regular meetings help to keep everyone on the same page, rather than just having some people show up today and, what the heck, someone else show up three days later for the same class! Also, regular meetings help others know what is expected of them: what outside events I can schedule that won’t interfere with my coven responsibilities!
Some groups seem to feel whenever they get together--at the drop of a hat--that it is a coven activity or event. Sorry, but a coven cannot identify itself if it doesn’t know if it is a coven event tomorrow night or is that six months from now?
A coven needs to have goals. It needs to, as RainBear says, “see the future of where your group is going to go.” Setting goals is important. Its purpose is to let you know a what your groups wants to do and b what it may need to accomplish this goal. Goals set a direction! Goals will more accurately reflect what the actual values and ethics of a coven are than a mere mission statement.
As we mentioned earlier, our groups used to get together and just talk. That was all that it did. It completely lacked a direction and a goal. Without such a goal, the group was destined for failure. And, surely enough, the old group died a quiet death.
Purpose and intent
Now, this is closely related to your goals. Your goals give a destination. Your purpose and intent say why your coven exists. Your goals may change, but your purpose and intent will remain pretty much the same. As RainBear points out, “for me, my intent is to learn and live something!”
A High Priestess and/or a High Priest
Covens need structure and they need some type of leadership. They need someone they can look to, when all else fails, to cast that final deciding vote, to speak the mind of the coven members. We do not mean that a coven needs its own version of the Pope, but it does need a final person to act as arbiter to help the coven keep on its appointed direction.
Others may lead some of the rituals, but there has to be someone responsible for and to the coven! You cannot have an anarchy in a coven. This just means that everyone will leave once they do not get their way. A High Priestess and/or a High Priest is there to keep everyone ultimately on track and to provide that sense of organization and structure.
Ethics are key to a coven! What does the coven believe? What are its practices? Ethics exist to keep the coven acting in ways that responsible ways and that point out the actual foundation of a coven’s belief system!
We actually studied with a coven that, while it had a good curriculum, did not teach ethics to its students for months on end! Honestly, we feel that ethics should start being taught from day one--even if not in an actual topic that first day. Ethics are the things that establish what the coven’s actual values and beliefs are, more so than pretty language in a ritual or remembering Gerald Gardner’s date of birth!
Along with ethics, a coven should have a set of established beliefs. It must be hard to identify and define your Tradition when one member of your coven practices Druidism and another in your coven is Asatru while you practice Christos Wicca. A coven should have members that pretty much agree on the same mythological basis for the group, the same practices, and other beliefs rather than just having a spiritual free for all!
People in a coven need to be able to feel safe. They need to feel secure. They need to know that they will not be abused by their coven. We have actually heard of one coven in this town where a member forgot to bring in her homework assignment one Sabbat (while another coven was visiting). This unfortunate young lady’s High Priestess actually ordered her to act as the footstool for the visiting High Priestess. Worse yet, the young lady’s boyfriend was also visiting this Sabbat. She definitely did not feel safe after this incident!
Safety is a group effort! We all, as a family, have to look our for one another. If someone is acting inappropriate, then you need to let someone else in your coven know! Your safety is important!
One of the lines in the Wiccan Rede is “in perfect love and in perfect trust.” A coven needs an atmosphere where each member can trust another member. Additionally, each person should be able ascertain just how far he or she can trust another member, rather than just expecting the other member to be Superman. We each need to know each other’s inabilities so that we do not overburden another member because “we trust them perfectly!”
Part of trust is respect! If a member cannot show respect to their coven mates, it is harder to trust that member! If a member is always rude to their fellows, then the others will avoid trusting the rude member ... And possibly avoid respecting the rude member!
Trust also means being honest with your coven mate. When you have an issue with another member, such as the above described rude coven mate, then a good idea might be to walk up to that person and be honest enough to tell them your concerns about them! Some of us may only have a million more incarnations to try to get it right!
Close to trust is the issue of confidentiality. We have people in one group rush right out of their Wiccan group to tell their friends in another Wiccan group just what happened at their last ritual! We have heard of people visiting one group’s public events just so they can go tell their friends everything “wrong” that this public group did.
Things that are done or discussed in a coven should stay in a coven. They are not meant to be public news. If they were, then let that coven hold its own press conference. We don’t need to hold it for them!
Honesty is the best policy! We have all heard that saying. Guess what! It’s still true! If we cannot deal in the reality of honesty, then what reality are we dealing in? Certainly not the one that will help you to succeed with your magic and certainly not the one that will help you effect whatever needed changes in your life that you may need to spiritually evolve!
Be true to yourself, then you can be true to others!
Conviction and commitment go hand in hand. If you make a commitment to your coven to do something, you should have your convictions, your principles, to make you stand up, be counted, and to do it! You should not be in a coven or do something for you coven just because it may be “cool,” you should do these things because you believe in them.
Last, but not least, is the commitment to follow through with things! We have seen many groups start out with enthusiasm, get tired of it after a while, and never follow through with what they promised or with what they started!
Don’t suggest ideas or start things unless you are willing to follow through! Talk the talk and walk the walk at the same time!