February 10, 2012

The Coven

With the surge in popularity of the Pagan, or Occult paths, many are perplexed about whether or not to join a Coven of like-minded individuals. Even if you have been a practicing Solitary for several years, you may be wondering where to begin when searching for the right Coven (or training group) for you. The rise in social networks and message forums on the Internet gives us a great place to begin looking. One place you might search through is "Reclaiming" - they were founded around 1980 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and now include several dozen regional communities across North America, in Europe, and Australia.

As with any social networking venture, and especially those in which initial contact is made via the Internet, we recommend using caution and care to protect your safety as well your bank account. Most "teachers" will not ask you to pay them or do "labor and chores" for them in order to be screened or admitted for formal training or coven membership. Here are just a few things to consider, but by all means, thoroughly research your options and do not limit your questions to those listed below. If a training group or Coven does not feel 100% "right", then it is probably NOT right for you. Take your time to find the exact fit.

1.  How closely do the traditions of the Coven, including the Pantheons revered, match your own?

2.  What exactly will you be required to do for initiation or in order to earn "degrees"? Is there actual sexual activity involved?

3.  Are past or present member names kept confidential? How many students have successfully completed the course under the present instructor(s)?

4.  Are minors allowed within the group or Coven?

5.  Will there be a reasonable fee for training or supplies? How much is it, and is it refundable?

6.  What happens if you want to leave the group or Coven for any reason?

7.  Is there a policy or procedure guideline in place for all members to follow?

8.  What happens in the event of any form of disagreement? Who decides how it will be handled?

9.  Is there a "screening" process for all potential members to insure their commitment and devotion to this path? Are all members treated equally?

These questions barely begin to scratch the surface when seeking the right training course or Coven. Be sure to take the time to get thoroughly acquainted with prospective Covens and by all means, do not limit your choice based solely on the content of this one blog post. Bright Blessings!

Some years ago, Julia Phillips wrote the following article, providing a bit of history and insight to ponder:

"Greetings All!

This article was written by me several years ago, but I thought it might be of interest here, as it discusses several issues relevant to modern Witches. Any thought or feedback most welcome! Please remember, that although the historical stuff is pretty general, the other parts of the article are my own ideas, and not necessarily applicable outside of my own tradition:)

Covens and Witches
In 1662, Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne made four separate confessions of being a Witch, and in the process, gave the word “Coven” to the world. Although there is no other historical evidence for this word, it has proved to be one of the most lasting facets of Witchcraft – ask anyone today what Witches do, and the answer will almost certainly include the fact that they meet in groups, called “Covens”.

So given that a number of modern Witches do, in fact, either run, or belong to, a Coven – just what is its purpose in 20th (and 21st) century Western Civilization? Why has this word of such dubious historical veracity survived over three hundred years? Is there a place in our modern world for a social group which, as far as we know, occurred only in 17th century Scotland?

The very fact of its survival for over three hundred years argues that there is a place for such a group. In my own case, I have been a member of, and run, Covens of Witches for a number of years, and it is a social model which fits extremely well within modern society.

The structure of a coven varies, but generally has one or two leaders, and a number of members of varying levels of experience. In a sense, the modern Coven has replaced the tribal family, and its members often fulfil familial roles, which are no longer available to them in the family in which they were born.

Some researchers have commented that many modern Witches come from a background which was disrupted; i.e., did not provide a safe family environment during their formative years. As I know a great many Witches for whom this was not the case, I think this is only a partial reason, and only for some people.

Humanity itself seems to be inherently tribal; any common bond between people will generally result in the creation cults or sub-cultures, where those of a like-mind will bond together. They will evolve their own social order (generally hierarchical), have their own common language, and often are identifiable by their demeanour and appearance.

Witches gather together in Covens for very much the same sorts of reasons; we are apart from general society by virtue of our beliefs and practices. Meeting with others who think and feel similarly to ourselves gives us the opportunity to share ideas and skills, as well as being able to practice our Craft.

A modern Coven provides a family-style environment, where the “Elders” can, by virtue of their experience, give encouragement, support, and advice to those seek to learn about Witchcraft. As with all families, Covens have very unique and individual ways of approaching this. Just as no two families are the same, neither are any two Covens.

Some Covens are run by people with an academic bent, and as would be the case in any family, this characterizes the way in which their “children” are brought up. Other groups are oriented towards a more simple approach, and the oral traditions play an important role in the way in which the Coven is structured. Some combine the these two approaches, and the variations upon the basic themes are endless.

For any “family” to exist harmoniously, everyone within the group must feel a part of the group, and wish to learn and grow within that group environment. With a path such as Witchcraft, with its emphasis upon personal growth and development, it is likely that individuals who may at one time have been happy within their family group, will change, and wish to move away. This is a perfectly natural process, and the wise coven leaders will send those people off with their love and blessing. Trying to keep them would be like trying to keep your sons and daughters tied to your apron strings forever!

Ultimately, and despite the popularity of the word “coven”, I do believe that most Witches are solitary in nature, and will generally spend at least part of their lives without being a member of, or running, a coven. I think the inward exploration during these periods is vital to self-development, just as we believe it is important to encourage social-awareness in children. However, I also believe that at some stage it is important to learn the practices of Witchcraft from another person; to be an apprentice, if you will; because the act of passing knowledge from one person to another cannot be replicated by books, correspondence courses, or be self-taught. This may seem an almost impossible task to some people, but as all the magical traditions teach: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear! What’s more, it’s true!

B*B Julia"
This post is part of series in response to the Pagan Blog Project 2012. There are currently over 310 bloggers contributing. If you'd like to join in, click the link above and sign up today!
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA.  She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.


Magaly Guerrero said...

I was part of a group once, we didn't called ourselves a coven, but others did. I miss them... there were Witches, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Atheist... we had the best of discussions. We still communicate, but live all over the world.

I don't think I ever find the same again. A group of like-minded people is difficult to find, but the information you've offered might help some.

Polly said...

I was just discussing this with another person. I said that over the years, there have been many times I longed for the support and guidance of a Coven, but the potential conflicts or judgments that might erupt is what keeps me a Solitary. I'm a bit of a hermit anyway and prefer my seclusion. (Behind the screen of my computer anyway, lol)

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