What is a coven?

By Forest Jones 4/29/98
Rev. 2/16/99; 2nd Rev. 8/17/01

Over the past decade more and more people have become interested in Wicca leading to a shortage of teachers of traditional Wicca. Many people are forced to, or are choosing to form their own working groups with friends without having had any formal training in Wicca. Many people call their groups “covens” believing that any group of people working together for the purpose of practicing witchcraft may claim this title. We do not want to argue this point, but we do want it known that since the beginning of Wicca in 1949 covens have had structure, training programs and trained priests and priestesses.

Traditionally new covens are formed by “hiving” from a mother coven. In other words when a priest and/or priestess have attained the level of competency and wisdom deemed adequate to run a coven they are officially given permission from their teachers to break away and form a new coven. We observe that the definition of “coven” has become greatly diluted by the number of loose-knit, and self-taught groups using the term. A traditional coven is not for everyone. Many people are more at home in a non-traditional group. Be sure you know the structure of any group you are investigating before you make commitments to that group.

A coven is a unique entity.

It is not a club.

A club may include members who drop in whenever they don't have something better to do, joined merely to find friends without having a sincere interest in the club's focus, or because it is “in” to belong to that particular club. As long as you pay your dues, you remain a member of the club. That will not work in a coven.

It is not a substitute for family.

A family consists of many people who may or may not like each other, and may or may not have chosen to be part of the family. There may be stress and personality conflicts which take up a large portion of the members' energy. That will not work in a coven. A coven must consist entirely of people who “click” with each other, respect each other and work well together.

It is important to maintain family relationships even when your relatives are non- pagans and may not understand what your beliefs are. Your family is your support system in times of crisis. Each coven member has his own family crises to deal with, and while we help each other in the coven when we can, our connection with each other relates mainly to spiritual matters. While a coven can feel like a family it is important not to let it take over your life in such a way that you push your biological family aside.

It is not a church.

Churches have large congregations in order to support large buildings. Churches may contain within their structure many “ministries”, whose purpose may be teaching children, visiting the sick, fund raising, and community outreach. Most covens have no paid clergy, nor fund-raising sub-groups, nor are they practical within any group with a limited membership consisting mainly of people who work full-time jobs.

Wicca is said to be a “religion” because it involves worship of gods, has priests (and priestesses), and provides a platform for spiritual growth. However, Wicca differs from “conventional” religions in many ways. Everyone in Wicca is considered to be a priest or priestess, or in training to become a priest or priestess. We do not believe we need someone to intervene between us and the gods. High Priests and Priestesses of Wicca serve as guides to point the way to enlightenment but should never be viewed as an indispensable part of one's spirituality. Wicca teaches that each individual has the capability to draw energy from the gods and universe into themselves for the purpose of healing and other magic. We do not ask (pray to) the gods to do things for us. We ask them to guide us, instruct us and give us strength.

It is not a conventional school.

In a school most lessons are taught in a classroom setting with a clearly written curriculum. Textbooks are provided which contain most of the information which must be learned. Exams are given, and grades or points are awarded to chart one's progress. There is competition for class standing.

Do not expect any of that in a coven. While some lessons are taught in the classroom, most learning happens everywhere but in the classroom. Exams are oral and ongoing. There is no competition. Each person progresses at his or her own rate and there is no pressure to advance through all the levels of the coven.

A traditional coven is a “mystery school”. As such students are led toward enlightenment through experiences, riddles and meditation. There are no grades, students are not compared with one another or to any fixed standard. Spiritual growth and enlightenment are entirely up to the individual. A student of a mystery school must be highly self-motivated.

It is not a support group or Twelve Step program.

Support groups help people work through problems which they find difficult or impossible to handle alone. Twelve Step programs ask that you give your life over to a higher power. No one should enter a coven with the idea in mind that it will “fix” all of their problems. The gods can give you the ability to overcome many of your problems, and that can only be achieved by building a solid relationships with the gods themselves.

A coven is a place for people who have their personal problems under control or are working through them with a qualified group or therapist. There is neither time nor personnel in most covens to handle on-going personal problems. While coven members may be happy to support one another in times of crisis, personal problems are ultimately the responsibility of the individual.

Unlike a Twelve Step program, a coven teaches self sufficiency and self reliance. We draw power and energy from the gods and the universe to help ourselves. We do not hand our lives over to a “higher power” or any entity outside of ourselves. If you attend Twelve Step meetings you might find it useful to view your “higher power” as yourself, empowered by the gods.

What a coven is...

While a coven may seem to have some elements of the above mentioned groups, it is a mistake to expect a coven to duplicate or be a substitute for any or all of them.

Ideally, a coven is a group of like-minded people who come together with the understanding that there is strength in numbers and any organization is only as strong as its weakest link. What a coven is, most of all, is a “group mind”. A coven is a group of people who have worked hard to achieve rapport so that the focus and flow of every ritual comes naturally to the entire group.

With that in mind it is necessary for each member of a coven to understand that self-confidence, sincerity, ambition, and absolute honesty are critical characteristics of a dedicated witch. While even the most traditional coven allows for some differences in belief, there is absolutely no room for personal agendas which do not serve the interests of the entire coven.

A coven provides a platform for sharing craft-related experiences, working together to raise energy for magic, group meditations, spiritual growth, and enlightenment.

Coven membership (Dedication or Initiation depending on the tradition) is not something to be entered into lightly. One must understand completely, the rights and obligations of members of the coven at all the various levels. If there is ever any question as to what those rights and obligations are, the priest or priestess should be consulted personally as soon as the question arises.

It may take many years to find the right coven. Some people choose to work solitary for many years before considering coven membership. Some may work with several covens of various traditions before finding one that feels right. One must trust the gods to lead him or her to the right teacher when the time is appropriate for both student and teacher. And even then, there are no guarantees that the student/teacher relationship will last forever. Some people have many teachers over the course of time, gleaning valuable information from all. Your job as a member or prospective member of a coven is to be honest with your self and leaders of the coven, and to trust the gods to guide you along your chosen path.



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