As regards environment, whenever you wish to perform an operation of witchcraft solo, all you basically need is a corner of your own home, the only prerequisite being privacy and a modicum of soundproofing. The latter is required not so much as a precaution against the neighbour's objecting to your noise, but rather as a further aid to the discarding of inhibitions, which is of such primary importance in all magic.
However, should you wish to gather a group of likeminded friends around you for regular witchcraft sessions, then of course you will need a larger space to operate in than the one required for solo work. Apart from the more obvious aspect of companionship and mutual enjoyment of the practices, the formation of a group, or coven as it is called, brings with it certain advantages not present in the solo approach.
It is well known among practitioners of the occult arts that a magical operation performed by a group will often succeed spectacularly, whereas a solo effort may achieve only moderate success. The old adage about strength in numbers is particularly true in the case of magic. This is the occult rationale behind the witches' coven. The proviso exists, however, that the group, first, be like-minded, that is sympathetic to one another in basic belief and emotional rapport, and, second, that there be present a certain amount of magical dedication and intensity of purpose. This does not necessarily imply a rigid fanaticism among the members but rather abilities first to bring the mind to bear upon a problem, and second to let the imagination loose within certain limits.
In fact, the members must all be fully, and practically, conversant with the four powers of the witches' pyramid. The more magically powerful are the individuals belonging to a coven, the more potent does the coven become as an entity. And it does become an entity. If enough pyramid power is brought to it and tied in place by sufficient emotional rapport among the members, witches believe that a pool or vortex of magical energy begins to form, which, if sustained by regular performance of a ritual, not only becomes an "energy bank" upon which the comprising members can draw to supplement their personal resources, but also an artificially constructed collective deep mind, independent in its own right. This is the magical rationale behind the formation of most occult groups that require secrecy from their members.
The rituals and symbols special to a group such as this are kept from the eyes of "cowans," or the uninitiated, not so much for fear of the powers supposedly conferred being abused, but because, by meddling with the "triggering devices" involved in the symbolism, such outsiders set to naught all the careful work involved in building the coven entity. This is particularly the case should the intruder be of a hostile or sceptical turn of mind.
The total number of members to a coven is traditionally limited to anywhere up to thirteen, inclusive of the leaders. Should the full complement of three leaders be present, that makes ten other members possible. Whenever the number of members grows to exceed that, a new coven is formed, which splits away from the original one. In goddess-oriented covens, with their concentration on the sexual aspects of witchcraft, the group is ideally made up of six male-female couples and a leader. Similarly, these covens also require that initiations only be conferred from sex to sex, by man upon woman or vice versa, the only exceptions made being those of parent and child. In other branches of the craft, however, this ruling does not apply in any way.
Traditionally, covens are supposed to have at least three miles between their physical meeting points. This seems to stem partly from an old custom dealing with "territorial rights," in some circles referred to as the covendom, and partly from the days of the persecutions, when smallness of number was considered a wise precaution. Similarly, the unusual number of thirteen members may also have this foundation, although there are many magical reasons behind the number, not least of them being the thirteen full moons to a lunar year. Some modem witches claim, however, that thirteen has a more pragmatic import, inasmuch as it is the largest number of folk that can comfortably be squeezed into a nine-foot circle.
The word "coven" itself is derived from the Latin noun conventus, meaning "a gathering or assembly." It is the same root which gives us our words "convent," "convention," "covenant," and "convene."
The occasions at which a witches' coven meets informally are known by the name "Esbats." The word itself, derived from the French word meaning "to frolic," hints at how unponderous and nonreligious in the generally accepted meaning of the word the medieval concept of a witches' meeting was!
Similarly, the eight annual Sabbats, in addition to their magical import, have always been considered as great occasions of festivity, celebrating the beginning, midpoint, and end of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the elemental tides. So if and when you form your own coven, always bear in mind that, first, Sabbats are a time of renewal of friendship and elemental power; and, second, Sabbats are a time of enjoyment.
The actual details of establishing your own coven can be considered under the following seven headings:
1. The Nature of Your Coven - the coven "logo," totems, and general symbolism.
2. Your Coven Hierarchy, if any.
3. Your Initiation Ritual (or rituals if you establish a coven hierarchy) making use of coven symbolism.
4. A Binding Oath of Secrecy imposed upon all members on admission to the coven, fortified with the additional threat of magical reprisals. This is usually facilitated by the candidate surrendering certain object links, such as a drop of blood or a lock of hair, et cetera.
5. The Taking of a Magical Coven Name. This may be the same or in addition to the witch name initially assumed for solo practice.
6. The Actual Witch Insignia to be worn, such as pendant, ring, bracelet, necklace, or garter.
7. A Ritual or Rituals to be performed on any of the eight Sabbats you care to celebrate, again involving considerable use of coven symbolism.
What you do with the coven after you have established the preceding seven points is entirely up to you and the other members. Some covens concentrate on attempting to heal the sick, others specialize in necromancy, but the general goal is one of knowledge and power. In further pursuit of the latter, a few groups try to bring their powers to bear on political matters, singling out individuals who stand high in public office on whom to cast their spells. Then there exists those groups who devote their energies solely to invoking the witch entities as deities, worshipping them not so much for practical and magical reasons, but rather as an expression of that simpler and maybe purer life of the spirit which takes its inspiration from pre-Christian European sources. It is these "witch cultists" who have largely held the public gaze over the past fifteen years, despite the fact that the word "witch" embraces a far wider circle of people than merely the followers of Gerald Brosseau Gardner.
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