The Coven in Wicca

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Existence and formation of covens. Many Wiccans belong to covens, although it is estimated that many more practice alone as solitaries (see solitary). The number of covens is unknown, for most exist quietly, some even secretly.

Most Wiccans do not proselytize or seek converts; prospective joiners must seek out a coven and ask for admission. Novices are admitted at the coven's discretion; not everyone who wants to join a coven is admitted. Applicants are screened and trained in a "training circle," traditionally for a year and a day. They are evaluated as to their reasons for wanting to enter the Craft and how well they fit with the group. A coven is a close working group, the effectiveness of which depends heavily upon the rapport and trust of its members. Successful candidates are those who are interested in healing and spiritual development. Candidates who are accepted are formally initiated into the Craft and the coven.

Most covens follow a tradition that has its own book of shadows, a set of rules, ethics, beliefs, rituals, songs and administrative procedures for running a coven. It is customary for new covens to be formed by "hiving off" from existing covens.

Wicca is fluid, and any witch can start a new tradition, as well as a coven. Smaller ones abound, even one-coven traditions. Some of them are short-lived. Some covens choose to be eclectic, blending various traditions together or incorporating elements of shamanism or other religions. Even within traditions, covens vary in the emphasis given to aspects of the Craft (see witchcraft).

Some covens join together and incorporate in organizations that serve as sources for networking or as advocates in legal issues (see Covenant of THE Goddess).

The regular, working meeting of a coven is the EsBAT or circle, which usually occurs at the full Moon but may be set at other lunar phases. Covens also meet to celebrate eight seasonal festivals (see WHEEL of THE Year). The co-venstead is the location of a coven's temple and the place where a coven meets. It may be an outdoor site or the basement or spare room in the home of one of the coven members. The covenstead is the epicenter of a circular area called the covendom, which extends out one league, or three miles, in all directions, and in which all coven members are supposed to live. Traditionally, covendoms are not to overlap, but this rule is not strictly observed.

Number in a coven. GERALD B. GARDNER considered 13 to be the ideal number of a coven, which would include six

"perfect couples" of men and women, plus a leader. Ideally, the couples would be married or be lovers, in order to produce the best harmony and results in magic. sybil LEEK also said that all New Forest covens had 13 members: six men and six women plus a high priestess.

Thirteen is traditional, but not a rigid rule. Many covens vary in size from three to about 20 members. Size is important, for too few members means ineffective magic. Too many become unwieldy. Some witches consider nine to 13 the ideal range. Much depends upon the group rapport and harmony.

Most covens have both male and female members, which is in keeping with the male-female polarity required for a fertility religion. Some covens are all-women or all-men.

History of a coven. Members of a coven are called coven-ers. All are priests and priestesses, save the leaders, who are the high priestess and/or high priest. Some traditions call the leaders the Master and the Lady. Most traditions have a three-degree system of advancement that calls for a minimum of a year and a day at each degree. As the Witch advances, she or he learns more secrets of the Craft and is entrusted to perform higher-level duties and rituals. Third-degree witches are eligible to become high priestesses and high priests.

In most covens, the high priestess is the ranking leader of a coven and represents the Goddess. The high priestess is sometimes called the magistra (and the high priest the magister). If a coven has both male and female members, the high priestess shares leadership with a high priest; however, she is still viewed as the titular head of the coven. A Witch may become high priestess by leaving a coven to start her own, or by group consensus, should a high priestess leave a coven or step down. The high priestess is responsible for the smooth running of the coven so that all members can work in spiritual harmony with one another.

Besides good leadership qualities, the high priestess should possess strong psychic powers and sharp intuition. Much of a coven's magic work involves the sensitive use of psychic abilities. The high priestess must be able to build and shape the group psychic powers and sense when they are at their peaks. In addition, she helps individual coveners develop their own psychic abilities. It is usually the role of the high priestess to cast and purify the MAGIC CIRCLE and invoke the Goddess and the spirits of the four quarters and elements. She also directs the chants, rituals and magic work. The high priestess may "pass the wand" or delegate these duties from time to time to other coveners, as part of their training.

The high priest represents the Horned God, who is the consort to the Goddess and performs certain rituals with the high priestess. In most traditions, only high priests and high priestesses may initiate others into the craft; men initiate women and women initiate men (see initiation).

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