Similar to the priesthood, from very primitive times down to the present day, secret magical societies, including witch covens, have organized themselves into hierarchies, the policy of the group being dictated by the leader or leaders at the head. These people were usually held to be stronger, wiser, or merely older than the rest of the group, and maintained a position of authority until such a time as either they had it challenged from below or they themselves handed it on to a successor in due course. Some witches believe, mistakenly, I feel, that at one time the periodical death of the coven leader was demanded, thus forcibly ending his term of office. This was considered a magical sacrifice, a renewal of power for the rest of the coven; a recharging of the coven entity, in fact. Whether this form of sacrifice was, in fact, ever indulged in by witches is a moot point. It is certainly a practice common to many primitive societies.
The witch god and witch goddess
It seems, however, to be more connected with the beliefs fostered by established priesthoods, such as that of the Druids as recorded by Caesar, rather than of secret witch covens. The whole concept of guilt, scapegoats, and atonement is totally absent from witchcraft. The only rituals nowadays containing elements of sacrifice are those of cakes and wine and various libations thereof. The occasional use of minute amounts of blood in certain operations is by no means seen as a method of deity appeasement or atonement for a sin, but solely as a means for conveying a certain type of magical energy held to be resident in the blood. (Many present-day witches who are often of an extremely nonviolent nature even draw the line at using a few drops of blood, preferring to use that old magical substitute, the white of an egg!)
Traditionally, there may be as many as three leaders to a coven, again recalling Dion Fortune's dictum about one god, one goddess, and an initiator. The male leader representing the "masculine" power generally takes first place; the female, the "feminine," second; and the second male "executor," or "officer" third. Different covens have different titles for their leaders, all equally traditional. In covens which stress the love and fertility aspects of witchcraft and perform their rituals naked, the male leader is known as the high priest, the female as high priestess. On the other hand, in those which stress the knowledge and power aspect, the male is known as the magister, grand master, or "devil" (meaning "little god") and the female as the lady or queen of the Sabbat. The second male, known as the "officer," "executor," or "summoner," is he who relays the requests of the magister or lady to the rest of the coven membership. He is the go-between and lieutenant of the leader or leaders, and traditionally he wore black from head to foot to designate his rank. Hence his old title, "the Man in Black." Occasionally, in medieval France, he was dressed in green and named "Verdelet." His badge of office was a pilgrim's crutch or blackthorn staff, whence derived another of his titles, "Black Rod." It was the summoner's job to attend to the mundane functioning of the coven, the membership dues if any, and the passing out of information to the members about time and place of the next Sabbat, what to wear, what food to bring and so on. In the absence of the magister, the summoner could and would frequently lead the coven.
In those covens which concentrate on knowledge and power, the lady or high priestess holds little or no executive power. She sits at the magister's right hand during the feasts, leads some of the dances and ceremonies, and on occasion performs the task of a seer or spiritistic medium under the magister's control.
On the other hand, in the goddess-oriented covens, the high priestess is definitely leader, the high priest being merely her consort.
The magister may wear furs or pelts, a robe, or nothing at all, depending on the variety of coven he leads. Upon his head he may wear the traditional shamanic horned helmet, rather like that of a Viking warrior, or a mask covering his whole head and representing one of the coven's totem animals, be it goat, ram, horse, cat, or whatever. Or he may don a metal helmet which covers his entire head. (Hence the old comic epithet for the magister, "Old Brazen Nose !") He will naturally wear any witch jewels he possesses, also.
The lady or high priestess, on the other hand, may life-wise wear a robe or nothing at all, depending on the type coven she belongs to. The robes can vary in colour, the usual colour preferred being white, although black, green, red, or blue ones have been used. Upon her forehead she may bind a silver lunar crescent, horns upwards, or alternatively have her hair flowing and free. She will wear all her witch jewels as well, including of course the mandatory necklace.
During the Sabbats, the magister's headpiece will be adorned with a simple short candle rising from the centre, which is lit during the proceedings. This symbolizes his role as the Lord of the Sun, Lucifer, the light bearer. In some covens, the high priestess will likewise wear an illuminated headpiece to lead the Sabbat dance, this time, however, a whole coronet of candles.
Members may bring their own robes or work nude, as the case may be. As I mentioned before, a certain uniformity of dress is desirable, and the black, cowled robe, or tabard, is ideal for this purpose.
Witch jewels should be worn, and members should bring their Athames and wands for participation in the group rituals. In the old days swords would be brought if the participants were gentry or nobility, or pitchforks if they were peasants. The wands or riding poles were, however, generally disguised as broomsticks. The Athames and wands are the modern substitutes.
During the coven meeting itself, whether it be formal Sabbat or informal Esbat, the magister and lady may be known by any of the following titles, apart from their own coven names. These are some of the traditional names for the various witch spirits you already know about, whether they be held to be independent entities or aspects of a single divine pair, a god and goddess. The coven leaders are seen as direct representatives of these witch spirits during the Sabbat.
The magister's titles are, among others:
Cernunnos. The title is derived from the ancient European Celtic horned deity of the same name.
Dumus. Derived from "Dumuzi" or "Tammuz," the young consort of the Mesopotamian Mother Goddess.
Puck. Also known as "Pookah" or "Bok," the horned, satyr-like mischievous spirit said to be a Reformation folklore version of the Horned God. He was also known as Robin Artisson and Robin Goodfellow.
Hu. Channel Island version of the Horned One, possibly derived from the Welsh-Celtic deity, Hu Gadarn.
Barabbas. Hebrew Bar Abba meaning Son of the Father or Divine Son - reference to the incarnate god. Mamilion. Derivation unknown.
Dianus or Janus. A twin-faced god of the Romans, who guarded the threshold of the house and supervised all beginnings and endings. He is referred to by some witches as Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Another version of the Horned One.
Janicot. A Southern French diminutive of Janus or Dianus.
The Devil. Literally, "little god." Derived from early Aryan stem div or dev, meaning "holy" or
Lucifer. "The light bearer." The god seen as the spirit of light and, hence, the sun. Simon. Possibly a reference to the Gnostic magician, Simon Magus.
Herne. Witch name derived from early English version of the Anglo-Saxon god, Odin or Woden. A god of wisdom and storm, and also a guide of the dead, he leads his wild rout across the winter skies accompanied by the baying of his death hounds!
Gogmagog. Prehistoric version of the god and goddess in giant form. Andros. The god as worshipped in the Weald.
Adonai or Adonis. Hebrew for "the lord." Dying god, consort of Astarte. Sabaoth. Another Hebrew name for God.
Baphomet. Horned deity allegedly worshipped by the Templars, a Christian order of fighting monks of the twelfth century. The name has been variously construed to mean "The Father of the Temple of Universal Peace among Men," the initials of which phrase in Latin spell the name backwards: Templi Omnium Hominum Pacis Abbas; or by others as a corruption of Bathos Metis, "purification by wisdom." However, many witches take it to refer to "the Stone of Buffo," Buffo being an ancient name for the island of Cyprus where legend has it the Greek Love goddess Aphrodite was born; from whence also certain of the feminine witch mysteries were said to have emanated. Which brings me to my second consideration, namely, the titles bestowed upon female witch leader whether she be designated high priestess or queen of the Sabbat.
Among the Lady's titles are:
Andred. Witch goddess name coming from the Forest of Weald in England. Bensozia. Twelfth-century French name for the goddess, meaning doubtful. Nocticula. Similar twelfth-century appellation meaning "little night." Rhiannon. Welsh-Celtic mother goddess. Arrianrhod. Similar Welsh Goddess, mother of Llew.
Herodias or Aradia. Italian name for the witch goddess, being the daughter of the Great Mother, "Diana," "Dione," "Dana," or "Jana." Referred to in Leland's Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches.
Habondia or Dame Habonde. Goddess seen as Lady of Love and Plenty.
Holda or Hulda. German version of the same.
Morgan or Morrigan. Celtic names for goddess seen a Lady of Death, variant of classical Hecate. Also King Arthur's half-elven sister.
Brigid or Bride. A Celtic mother goddess.
Astarte or Ishtar. Mesopotamian goddess of love. Bride of Adonis-Tammuz.
The Virgin or Maiden. Referring to Perephone, the Greek underworld goddess. Should the lady or high priestess have a daughter present within the coven, the latter title of "maiden" is sometimes conferred on her.
Let me reiterate: the titles bestowed upon the leaders vary considerably from coven to coven, depending on the approach adopted, Dianic or Druidic, Celtic or Cabalistic, Robed or Sky Clad. In one you may find it is the magister or Lord of Misrule who holds sway, in another the high priestess or Queen of Elfhame. And likewise, when you wish to consider forming your own coven, the choice of leadership, who, how, and in what manner, remains, as it always has done in the past, entirely your own.
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