Saturday, 1 April 2017

Hey Smart Witch: Coven

Hey Smart Witch: What is the definition of a "coven" exactly? A group of women friends meet occasionally to have a potluck dinner, watch the Moon come up, light candles if someone is sick, talk about Wicca and Witchcraft, and sometimes give each other books that they've read and talk about those. But they call themselves a coven. It is not a coven! There's been no initiations, none styles herself as the High Priestess (unless it's maybe the woman hosting that month's dinner), and it all is too casual to meet the most basic criteria for a coven. I don't think they can legitimately call themselves a "real" coven. What do you think?
The Smart Witch: Many people call their groups covens. Sometimes this is said with a wink and a smile. Sometimes it is said seriously in the belief that any group of people working together for the purpose of studying and performing acts that may be considered magic or Witchcraft have a claim to this term.
I have no interest in debating the issue of how people choose to label themselves or their groups, but here are my thoughts.
If you are talking specifically about Wicca, then since the late-1940s, covens generally have had structure, a "group mind" and rapport, trained priests and priestesses, members who are willing to work hard to achieve the focus necessary for spell work and ritual, training programs for members who are dedicated to learning, an initiatory process, a clear path forward in the tradition, and more.
In traditional Wicca, a coven likely will have "hived" from a mother coven when the priest or priestess attained a certain level of competency, knowledge of the tradition and wisdom deemed necessary to develop and manage a new coven. In this case, the priest or priestess will have been granted permission to break away, and given blessings and support as he or she begins to bring together a new group of like-minded people who understand such concepts as:
• There is strength in numbers, but the coven can be only as strong as its weakest link.
• There may be differences in personal beliefs, but there is no room for personal agendas that do not serve the highest good of the entire coven.
• One must trust the gods and goddesses to lead him or her to the right teacher when the time is right for both the student and teacher, and one may have many teachers over time, all with valuable wisdom for the student.
• The coven is not a support group for helping people to work through their problems - it is a place for those who have their personal problems under control or have a solid relationship with the gods and goddesses, and are working outside the coven to overcome any personal issues.
• A coven is not a conventional school with textbooks, a syllabus and clear curriculum and competition for class standing; rather, it is a school of mystery, in which students are led to enlightenment through meditation, instruction, problem solving, life-long learning and experiences.
• The coven is not a church, although there is worship of gods and goddesses, priests and priestesses, and an emphasis on spiritual growth.
• Everyone in the coven is considered to be a priest or priestess (or in training to become one), and no one needs another person to intervene between them and the gods and goddesses.
• There is no praying to the gods and goddesses to do things for the members, rather, the gods and goddesses are asked for guidance, instruction and strength.
• Coven membership must not stand in for healthy family relationships - although it can feel like family - nor should one sever biological family relationships for the sake of the coven or the tradition.
So, while the group you describe appears to be a gathering of like-minded friends, I would describe it as a club or more accurately a group of good friends who may be Witches (or have an inclination toward Witchcraft) who enjoy good food and conversation in each other's company.
From your description - and your expectations as to what constitutes a "real" coven - I can't determine whether the group is platform for a deep commitment to the learning of "mysteries," sharing of craft-related experiences, group meditations, working together to raise energy toward the achievement of specific goals, or spiritual growth and enlightenment, which would be seen in a coven.
What I do see is an admirable strength as a result of the friendship and common interests that brought the individuals together initially and that have held them together going forward. With the group you describe, I appreciate the apparent "group mind," rapport, pleasure in the shared experiences of dining together, concern for the health and wellbeing of members, and dedication to learning.
I would not judge them unkindly - and I hope you will not either - for a lack of an initiatory ritual, overt worship of deity or deities, obedience to the direction of a priest or priestess, or formal training program. Also, many people consider themselves witches, yet never undertake spell work or formal ritual. So, if these good people have invited you to join them, I think that would be a good thing, so long as you do not use the invitation as an opportunity to "educate" them as to what a "real" coven is.
If you are interested in being part of a coven, it may take time for you to find the one that is right for you. You want to find one with members you believe you can trust, whose goals are aligned with yours, and with whom you can be absolutely honest. There should be a sense of having been led to that particular coven and to the relationships you will develop there - the leaders, teachers and other members.
There must be a willingness to set aside your own ego and what you've been taught, and give yourself over to the guidance of the leaders and traditions of the coven, and to that particular tradition's teachings. And you must be dedicated to your advancement in the tradition as you achieve the levels of knowledge and experience to which your teachers will lead you.
Coven membership is not something to be entered lightly, and for many people, coven membership is simply not a good "fit" for the way they wish to practice, worship (if at all), and advance in their own time and in their own way.
If it pleases this group of friends to term themselves a coven, there is no harm, and no need to judge through your own filter, or to argue the point with them. Simply enjoy the food, conversation and activities, and participate with friendship and joy. It sounds like a good group.
[Image: Playtime (1891) oil on canvas by John William Godward(1861-1922).]

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