As popular Wiccan opinion goes, the number one coven killer in existence is a dreadful little thing called divorce. We’ve all heard the stories; the High Priest’s and High Priestess’ relationship devolves, the marriage unravels, the trust is shattered and people inevitably pick sides. Much can be said about divorce and its effects on a coven and on an entire line by Gardnerians in the USA. But this article isn’t about the number one coven killer in America. This article is about another way that covens end; this article is about life. Continue reading
Genuine Witchcraft is Explained, by John of Monmouth
Capall Bann Publishing, 9781861633347, 486 pp., 2012
If your concept of witchcraft is composed exclusively by the modern Pagan movement and Wicca, this book is going to be a real eye-opener. For the majority of Wiccans and witches in the US, where I reside and write my reviews, there have been few choices – one either “trained” as an eclectic (usually by means of reading one or more books) or one looked for a “tradition” to follow (many of which touted themselves as having a long, distinguished linage, but failed to provide any substantiation of those claims). Within the past couple of decades the concept of initiation by another has fallen into disrepute and “self-initiation” has become the norm.
This is a massive book, but fully one half of it is composed of data which supplements the first half. The supplemental section includes photos of original documents from the Royal Windsor Coven (no connection to British royalty – just a heads-up to American readers). A large number of the documents which appear in the photos are almost indecipherable, since they were either hand-written, heavily amended, or carbon copies of originals. This is, in my opinion, not a shortcoming. The fact that these documents still exist at all is nearly miraculous, and the fact that they are being preserved and made available is a real benefit for those who wish to explore the development of Witchcraft in the 20th Century. Following these reproductions are transcripts of the documents which make it possible to read and understand the preceding illustrations. Continue reading
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!
Listen up kiddies, ’cause this is serious. Being a teenage witch, I can relate to many problems that are being discovered by the many younger members of our religion. I know that as teenagers, we are indeed very inquisitive and very social people. This is absolutely normal for human beings, and we are expected to be this way.
If a teenager is practicing Witchcraft, a religion that is still being frowned upon and persecuted in too many parts of the nation, he or she may feel an extra sense of isolation. Along with the usual feelings of rejection, fear, inequality, low self-esteem, and various other emotional problems that afflict today’s teens, this can be a real kicker. A teenagermay want to seek out people who share their beliefs or interests. This is completely normal, for it is how we chose our friends during those formidable high school years and beyond, but when it involves an alternative religion, one must tread lightly.
This is especially the case with today’s laws. If you’re not 18, anyone over the age of 18 who is discovered to be instructing you in any religious path of which your parents do not approve, can be held legally responsible for “influencing” you against your parents will. So many adult covens, ones with some real experience and lots of real knowledge to share, will usually prefer not to aid you until you are of legal age. It’s a horrible thing to be denied knowledge or the right to learn, but I’m sorry to say that examples have been made, and this is an all too real possibility for those who would gladly help you otherwise.
So it seems that other teens are the only option open huh? Well, let me share my experiences with you before you jump in over your head.
As a teenager, I found people in my school who I believed were fun people, and even better, they practiced Wicca! These people actively practiced the religion by which I was so entranced. I felt like I had discovered “my” people. This is a very popular feeling when many people discover Wicca. What I failed to realize at first was that these people were my age. They had the normal teenage problems that I did. They weren’t all mighty and able to banish their problems with a twitch of their noses or the wave of a magick wand. While they may have had a year or two more than me in which to practice what I was just discovering, I eventually realized that I had a year or two in maturity on them.
Everyone’s personality is different, and not all people can co-exist nicely. High school teaches this to everyone. You can’t get along with everyone on this Earth, and not everyone agrees on everything.
Getting back to my group, I was now in a coven. Oh yeah, we had an initiation. It took place in one member’s basement, with a makeshift altar on a knock hockey board, and a wickedly sharp knife pressed to my throat as I croaked out the words “Perfect love and perfect trust.” (I believe that my bulging eyes may have belied that statement a little.)
I had to prick my finger with the rest of them, let one drop of blood fall into the wineglass, and then drink of our communal blood/wine offering. I was amazed at the depth of their knowledge. It felt as though I knew only the tip of the iceberg. Thus was I plunged headlong into idolatry.
I idolized those in my new group of “friends.” They were so much wiser than I was. (Never mind the fact that I was on the honor roll and each of them was failing a few classes.) They were my teachers, though I may not have agreed with what I learned.
“The most important thing, ” I was told, “is to protect yourself.” For, unbeknownst to me, we had enemies. There were other covens in my school who would attack me with evil magick just because I was weaker than they were. I was in a war, and by joining with this coven, I had unknowingly chosen sides.
I watched as my friend and covenmate crafted a spell in which to bind someone else with his blood. I was terrified. Was I going to be the next victim? Who would strike out at me? I had no enemies; at least that’s what I thought. My friends told me otherwise. I later found out that while some other Pagan groups in my school did not exactly like the people I had gotten involved with, they weren’t about to waste their time doing nasty spells on us.
They were smarter than that. I wish my friends could see that. To this day I can still say that I am grateful to my Catholic upbringing for keeping me from dabbling in nasty hate magick and bindings. I abstained from assaulting anyone else, much to the dismay of one particular covenmate. They eventually stopped teaching me, as we all had our own lives to see about.
I began to gain my knowledge solely from the many books which I had acquired. As I read the accounts and teachings of more and more older and wiser Witches such as Raymond Buckland, Scott Cunningham, Silver RavenWolf, and Doreen Valiente, I realized that my so called “teachers’ were not all that wise.
My visions of their power shattered. They were simply ordinary teenage witches, just like me. One of them had a dark streak, true, but most of the others were in it for acceptance, power trips, and maybe for two of us at least, to teach and to learn.
It’s too bad that the one designated as my teacher wanted me to pursue a slightly different path than I wanted to. Mysticism looked nice enough, but I was focusing on Wicca at the time, and I had my other interests too. They eventually began to lose interest in me, partly because I trusted my books over them, and also because I refused to even learn “black magick.” “I’m a white witch, ” I would tell them. I now realize that there is no such thing, but I tried to come as close as possible.
Well, according to them, white was weak. I trusted in Karma and the Law of Three to protect me, and if necessary, an occasional Justice spell. They did not agree. I should fight back. Hell, I should strike first. I didn’t think so.
Now I realize that that blood binding initiation ritual was an absolutely stupid thing to be lead into. A blood binding is extremely hard to break, even with mutual consent among all involved. I am still with these people, and more have joined us, some have left. I am trapped. I lent a covenmate my pentacle, and he took my athame too. He has two of my most treasured and personal items, and I have no way of getting them back. Teenagers can be extremely petty.
I plan to get out of this so called “coven” as soon as I can get my stuff and hightail it out of there. Until that opportunity arises, or it comes time for me to go away to college, I seem to be stuck with this crowd of wayward witches. It’s not like I’ve given up hope for them or anything, for a real witch never gives up hope. It is simply a matter of knowing when it’s best to try a little harder, and when to move on.
So what’s the moral of this story?
High school covens are a bad idea. There is a distinct difference between a coven and a study circle. A study circle would be much better for a high school setting. What most teenagers fail to realize about a coven is that it isn’t just a “come when you want to and we’ll have fun learning together” kinda deal.
A coven implies responsibility. There are lots of problems, like mediating disputes, group dynamics, witch wars, the whole perfect love and perfect trust, and lots of other group related problems. There is usually some type of hierarchy, which is the perfect opportunity for someone to be oppressed, used, dumped, and others to go on power trips, make wrong decisions, and pressure others into things that they don’t want to do.
There’s the problem of who will teach what, and who wants to teach what to whom. Most teenagers are simply not old enough or experienced enough to carry these responsibilities.
So take my advice. If you’re a teenage witch and you feel the need to interact with others of like mind, don’t seek out, form, or join a coven. Find some nice open-minded friends, and create a study circle. One where there are no obligations, no pressures, and no one has power over another. Encourage the free exchange of ideas and learn from and with each other. At this age, a coven is not all it’s cracked up to be.