Sunday, March 18, 2018
Back To Basics: Guidelines for Running Your Own Coven
Magickal Greetings My Witchy Readers,
Ahhh, I love it when my inspiration simply walks in the door!! As it did just last week with two lovely young witches, young adults, who asked some questions and wanted to know about practice, starting their own coven, we had a lovely conversation. I hope they come back so I can thank them! They got my thoughts going in a direction that I am starting with this discussion, and we are going back to basics.
Much of what I write is usually geared towards the solitary, individual practice. Yet, all one needs is another to have the lovely beginnings of a coven, and the energy of two or more witches combined is powerful and of course there is slightly different dynamics one must take into account. So I am going to dedicate the next few or perhaps more discussions to the basics and beginning workings of group magickal workings, or coven magick.
Before we get into the magickal work a coven can do, and it should do magickal work. Too many, in my magickal opinion, covens simply get together to socialize and party and while that is perfectly fine, or to hold classes, also fine, a coven's ancient, first and foremost purpose was for witches to gather to create magick they were unable to do on their own. Plain and simple. Yes, there was the socialization part of it but people could socialize during other times without risking their very lives and the lives of their families by gathering in secret to hold magickal gatherings. They were conducting very important magickal workings for serious reasons and desired outcomes. They were not risking their lives to simply worship the moon phase, they could do that and did solitary at home.
So, whereas we gather at the Sabbats for celebration of the life and abundance Goddess and God has given us, for Sabbat's origin is Greek meaning "To rest" , so there is no magick typically done during Sabbats. But covens are very likely to also gather for the esbats, the full and new moons during the month and this is the time for serious magickal workings to take place.
But long before magickal working can happen, there should be guidelines when running your coven. After working with covens for over 30 years, having run my own, having been part of covens from small, intimate close covens of no more than 5 people to groups as large 50 or more I have seen probably more than I should have, or needed to! But I can share with those like the two lovely witchlings that came into my store and those readers who would like to start your own group and hopefully together we can help you avoid some basic, typical pitfalls. I'll do my best to share what I have seen. It is up to you to pick and choose what you think works best for you and the friends that make up your coven.
So before any gatherings or magick is done consider the following first:
The coven members, who will they be? Will everyone be of the same rank or level? Is one person more experienced or educated than the other (s)? Will just one person act as High Priestess? (you can be male but for this article and convenience I will use the female gender) I recommend that each person take turns being High Priestess, switching off with each coven gathering.
Book Of Shadows: A MUST!! Get a notebook, it can be fancy or it can be a basic notebook, and you can later transcribe the notes into a computer and share the files with the others or write them into a fancy book which usually stays at the covenstead. All in the coven should have free access to the notes of each gathering.
Someone chooses to be the scribe to write the notes of the gathering. Usually the information recorded into the BOS is the magickal workings of the gathering. It is NOT meant to be a transcript of "minutes of the meeting" of the coven, and if any names are used (not recommended, then magickal names only, or initials only). I recommend not writing names down, only magickal potions, spells, the moon phases, and what magickal goals were worked for. The end result, and other magickal goals that came from the spell.
Coven stead: A Coven stead is the place the coven usually meets and houses the covens altar room, altar and most of its magickal supplies and tools. Now it is feasible that gatherings could be moved from house to house monthly, and as was done in olden days tools and supplies were carried to the ritual place in baskets. Where ever the coven stead is chosen it does need to be in a home where everyone's magickal tools, supplies and items can be trusted to be safeguarded and not risk others touching or coming into contact with them. It is best that an altar room, and any magickal supplies are not out on open display in a home, if not all of the items are yours.
Coming up with a name for the Coven, and then having a naming ceremony can and should be the very first magickal circle your group casts together as a new coven. You can come up with a name any way you choose. Some like to work a name so it has numerological meaning, or a spiritual meaning, or some other significance. For whatever reason you choose your name, then have a ritual, tell the name of the coven to all the watchtowers as well as the Goddess and the God and something should be made that has it's name upon it. Some like to make a flag, or a banner or even a clay tile or plaque, maybe a painting. Even having your new BOS in the ritual circle with the name of your new Coven on the Book of Shadows will count.
Then decide, will you have ritual wear or garb? Some groups wear robes or cloaks. Some wear regular clothes. But it needs to be a group discussion. If you feel magickal, spiritual and ritually ready by wearing flowing robes and some also wear cloaks and the energy is all in sync, will it bother you or any other if one chooses to come wearing raggy pants, dirty sweatpants, and looks like a bag lady? Yeah, yeah for those who are about to say "we don't judge" please, save it. I'm 54 years old, and one thing I can tell you, is yes. We do judge. Everyday, in almost every situation. We are human and there are basic primal reasons I could go into, but that is another discussion. So, enough of that. WILL it bother you how another dresses? No? Okay cool. Continue on. If the answer is Yes! Okay, then everyone in your group needs to determine a dress code. Maybe everyone wears black (So Goth!) Or purple? Or Oooh Gold, so Egyptian, or maybe all greens or all robes or cloaks, or everyone makes and wears a beautiful witch hat?
Also, and this is important. Open or Closed? Your Coven. Open means you will entertain allowing others to come in. Closed means, the door is closed you are good with those who are members and no others will be allowed. Unless an extreme exception is made. Only the founding members can make that decision.
Now for the toughest part. If everyone, whether you have 2 or 5 of you, are all good with one another. You all get along, and all are trusting and good friends. If someone wants to bring another into the group, the following is highly recommended, no matter how difficult it may be:
Have the new potential member be invited and have them meet everyone and have a social occasion where that person can interact with everyone and get tp know everyone for a little bit. Maybe even a couple of occasions. Make sure the potential new member knows that it is up to a later vote and NO promises as to anything. Then at a later time have a secret vote. Trust me, make it an unbreakable rule if it is not a unanimous all yes's for the new person, then the new person does not get let in. No matter how much some may want her to become a member. I say this because if someone does not want her, if there is a divide it will split your group much faster than any hard feelings about not letting someone in. That will pass. The divide, once the person, at least one does not want comes in, will never be healed and it will continue to break apart until your group is a memory.
Dynamics of Holding a Gathering / Ritual
Make some basic ground rules for the gathering and ritual and feast afterwards. Remember the person running the group, the High Priestess running the gathering and the coven stead are to be respected. That nonsensical phrase "Pagan Time" which people use to wave away their disrespectful lack of promptness needs to be done away with. Set a time for the circle casting say 6 pm, and make sure it starts by 6:15. Now, of course everyone has text and smart phone technology. If there is an accident or an emergency people can let others know, but it soon becomes very apparent those who are consistently late and simply do not respect others nor the worship enough to be prompt.
I started my coven years ago with the rules no alcohol for any reason at any gathering, ever. This has saved many an issue and problem. Even when new people come in there is never an issue because there is never any drinking. Not that there has been no issues with people and their drinking but they have not brought it to my coven stead, that is key! If you are to allow wine, or drug use or tobacco use, etc. be specific and clear as to what is allowed and what is not. It can be difficult changing the rules mid-stream when issues arise, although of course that can happen. Best to have it thought out right from the start.
So, if you are respected enough to be invited and accepted as a member of the gathering and you receive an invitation, if it is not a regularly scheduled day, then a response is expected so the hostess can plan for the number that will attend. Also, and this is a personal point of interest for me. If you cannot make a coven gathering, replying back to the invitation by saying something so trite, so trivial and insignificant that you can't make it "because you'd rather sleep in", or " you have to organize your sock draw" is not only rude to everyone else in the group, as there are those who wish they had a group to worship with and because of circumstances they are unable to and it also makes your commitment look pretty weak. I'm not saying it is, I don't know, but remember words have power, and your words become your deeds and your creation.
Many ask me why after studying, practicing and surrounding themselves with witchcraft or such long time, they suddenly find themselves no longer as committed, they wonder why? Remember the passion you had when you started? Remember how excited you were to just come to class and talk about spells? Your magick stays special as you keep it special in your day to day life.
It is traditional to have the ritual first, then feast afterwards. Why? Because everyone needs to achieve ritual trance to manifest the magickal goals they are sending forth and creating and you cannot do that if you have just eaten. The body is too involved with the act of digesting and breaking and processing foods. You will, simply be standing in the circle, but not spiritually or magickally participating. Then eating afterwards helps ground you and re-balances and realigns the body.
Having said this, it is important to think about the actual ritual itself. There is a trend that turns into a mistake amongst many who run gatherings nowadays and I have seen this mistake perpetrated in large regional gatherings to the smaller groups. I do say mistake and I will explain my harsher choice of words.
The casting of a ritual circle and during the actual working of the circle, the person acting as High Priestess will attempt to hold a class within the magick circle. Please reconsider this, if you are working in constructing a coven. Now we cast a circle for three primary reasons. Yes, yes the actual circle itself provides protection, seals in and enhances energy and keeps out harmful energies but that is not what I mean, when I say why we cast a circle. The things I just mentioned is what the circle does in its construction and existence.
We cast a circle for 1.) to celebrate Sabbats, to honor Life and the Divine, 2.) to hold esbats - lunar magickal workings rituals 3.) for special rites, Requiem rites, Handfastings, Wiccannings and Initiations.
These are the primary reasons we cast a circle. And when we cast a circle for any of these it is not to hold a class or to teach a history lesson, or to even have the crafting aspect of the spell if it is detailed and lengthy and extensive. That can be done before the circle is cast.
One casts the circle, for a Sabbat you may have a short talk to with the coveners present to think about, give thanks to the Goddess and the God, Cakes and Ale,
If there is any extra component like the individual Yule logs at Yule, those are made at a time outside of the circle, either before the ritual or at a day or two before the gathering. They are then brought into the circle to bless them, and they are brought home to bring a piece of the covens energy to each coveners home.
For an esbat, the workings for the spell can be done in the circle if it is not lengthy, but this is primarily anointing candles and charging the supplies for the spell. The carvings, drawings, written words, any extensive work is done before casting the circle. That focus is actually a bit different and more more direct and intense and different from ritual trance which you will use to release and cast the spell.
The reason I said the teaching or holding of a class within a circle is a mistake, has a number of components. Firstly there are usually no chairs, desks, paper or pens brought into the circle. A ritual circle from beginning to end, with all of the necessary components necessary should take about 30 minutes. Maybe a little more when you are starting off. Not everyone is comfortable telling you if they can stand for longer than that length of time, or if they have other physical or medical issues.
And I am going to be real here. If you want to teach a class or hold a workshop that is wonderful. That is NOT part of the worship or magickal practice and when one is in the magick circle, they re in effect "stuck" and cannot simply walk out. Yes, you have them hostage. They are not even, respectfully allowed to interrupt the High Priestess, and ask questions and have a back and forth discussion because that is not appropriate in the circle. See what I'm saying? The magick circle is not a classroom, it has an altar not a podium. And podium is to hold the Book of Shadows not to teach and deliver a lecture. To assume that a convener and or any guest or visitor that comes to worship, also wishes to remain for a lengthy lesson or lecture and to keep them sealed in a circle for any longer than 30 minutes for the entirety of a ritual is not considerate.
If there is a Requiem Rite, a Wiccanning a Handfasting or an Initiation let us say it may take a bit longer but everyone is informed of the extra component before the circle is cast. The point is everyone needs to be informed of what is going on.
Have the class or workshop afterwards with the feast where people can participate should they wish to, or they can leave should they wish to, or quietly visit elsewhere in the house with others. Also having the class while eating after the ritual will help ground people and relax them, allow people to take notes, ask questions, have a back and forth with the instructor now, NOT the High Priestess, and this is an important distinction.
And if you normally like to have your rituals out of doors, that is great. Yet if the elements are harsh for humans, please take this into consideration. I have heard of High Priestesses holding Sabbats out of doors in the bitter cold in the wintertime, after dark rituals where conveners were eaten alive by bugs, standing for two hours in the direct sun with no shade with coveners overheating and becoming ill. My point is, yes we are Pagan but we are also of the Wise Ones, The Wicca. We need to remember that. If the weather conditions are not good, we can and should move indoors to make it healthy for all to participate.
IF you happen to have the situation pop up where there will be visitors or guests that are not part of your coven, but everyone agrees that they are welcome to join, perhaps you are having an "open to the public ritual" it is very important that it is known to all that any pictures or videos taken are only taken with everyone's consent and if anyone is not good with their photos taken, then keep them out of your pictures. It is that easy. If anyone is not good with their photo taken then it is recommended no video should be allowed, at all. Again, everyone in charge of the coven needs to make the final decision.
Sooo, still want to run a coven? Giggle! Yep, lots of fun! And we haven't even touched on the magickal workings yet!! No you have to master Inter-magickal-personal relations first! Oh yes, now that's a mouthful, but it is true.
I can tell you all sorts of horror stories of how all it takes is a couple of mean spirited brats in a coven, or one really subversive, gossipy, lying troublemaker can wipe out your magickal group and leave people disenchanted, really disillusioned and worse. . . all hating you!! So I strongly recommend you keep your magickal coven to a few close friends and the less the best. Because when you do have a small, close group with a few wonderful, magickal special people then it can be a very magickal experience, and that's what it is all about. Keep in mind an old occult belief is three witches working together is considered by some to be the most powerful force in the universe.
So, taking that bit of knowledge, combine it with the only real rule "An it harm none", my assurance you really can't do any harm, light a candle and pull close a note book and pen and start to craft what your perfect coven would be!
I would personally like to take a very brief moment to wave hello at those from the past both distant and recent, those who gave me all of the experiences and knowledge I write about. I want you to know I am doing so well and I am blessed to find myself surrounded by such wonderful, magickally gifted, and light and love beings whom I am proud to call my students and graduates and friends.
Knowing you only made me stronger, more magickal and in the end happier where I find myself. Proof that one can find blessings in all sorts of experiences and circumstances.
My next discussion will also cover some Back to Basics and working with others!!
© 2010-2018 Faith M. McCann. Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see www.enchantmentsschool.com or go to the title of tonight's discussion and click, it will link you to my school's website. Please note that the copying and/or further distribution of this work without express written permission is prohibited.
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at Sunday, March 18, 2018