Into the Coven: The Life and Times of a Working Wiccan Coven

Into the Coven is a sneak peek into the development and workings of a Wiccan coven. Each monthly installment will explore the history and lore surrounding the idea of the coven. In addition to looking at the coven in history, Jason Mankey will share the growing pains, triumphs, and tragedies of his own working group.

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Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason's main gig is writing "Raise the Horns" at Patheos Pagan, but he's also a columnist for "Witches and Pagans" (print) magazine, is currently working on his first book for a major publisher, hosts a twice monthly radio show, and lectures frequently on the Pagan Festival circuit.   When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

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Next week my coven will be celebrating the Winter Solstice and instead of writing this blog post I should be writing our sabbat ritual. I'm sure the inspiration will come, eventually, but for now I'm going to continue to procrastinate (and perhaps daydream about an Oak King/Holly King scenario).

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b2ap3_thumbnail_10647028_10152639569303232_2654539940423990677_n-e1409779680543-300x300.jpgI'm not sure that every coven unrelated to a specific tradition needs a "Book of Shadows." I probably wanted one for my coven because I have strange control issues. After finding a ritual structure that worked for our circle I wanted to get it all down on paper, and share it with everyone in our little group. For our group a BoS made perfect sense because we work the same way ritual to ritual.  

A BoS is not necessarily a rigid, never-changing book of instructions, but it often contains ideas that consistently work. If the quarter calls I'm using "work" why would I want to change them every month or so? I also think there's real power in repeating a ritual structure over and over again. It takes the guess work out of ritual and creates an atmosphere that lets the mind and spirit quickly ease into ritual mode. When my coven's opening chant starts I'm in "work mode" and instantly push outside concerns away.  

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  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven says #
    "Merry meet. Merry Party and merry meet again" - I don't know if that actually qualifies as a typo!

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The other day a member of my coven offered to lead an upcoming ritual.  I was extremely pleased by this development. Though my wife and I often function as the "High Priestess" and "High Priest" of our group we didn't start this endeavor with the idea that we would run every ritual.  It's nice to just sit back sometimes and participate instead of having to stand forward and "lead."  

I know that our group is kind of set up in a such a way that it often looks like I'm in charge. My wife and I started our coven, we selected our initial circle-mates, and I organized our week to week gatherings.  As time went on we adopted a formal ritual structure, which I wrote.  

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The first six months of its existence my ritual group mostly floundered.  We had a good circle of people around us and did some nice rituals, but we didn't really have any sort of structure. To find a solidity for ourselves we had to do a ritual for someone else.

When my wife and I put our ritual group together we did so with low expectations.  We were basically just looking for a group to ritualize with, we weren't necessarily seeking anything formal.  During those early months our rituals were continually different. We never used the same quarter calls twice or called to the same gods and goddesses for that matter! The circle was scripted but eclectic, details constantly in flux.  

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I'd like to imagine that starting a coven is a completely organic process.  Perhaps a few friends get together and decide that it's time to form a coven or at least begin operating as one.  On the traditional side it's easy to imagine a Priestess and Priest recently elevated to Third Degree and hiving off to form a new coven, perhaps taking a few of their old coven mates with them in order to do so.  Both of those scenarios sound better then how our group started.  Our coven began with a question:  "who should we invite over for ritual?"  

b2ap3_thumbnail_Ari-calling-goddess.JPG

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Into the Coven

As a Witch the goal for me has always been to work and practice in a coven. In twenty years of mostly Wiccan-style Paganism I’ve only truly been a part of a real, living, breathing coven a small handful of times. That’s not to say I’ve been a solitary for the majority of a my time as a Pagan, just that the groups and people I was working with didn’t quite meet the standard of a coven. The word coven means something to me, it has value, so I don’t like to use it lightly.

Most of my group ritual has taken place in ritual groups I generally label circles. These are usually eclectic gatherings of people without much (or any) adherence to any particular tradition or path outside of the basic Wicca-101 type books. I’ve had some truly amazing experiences in these types of groups, but with revolving door memberships most of them lacked cohesion. Just because something worked the one time didn’t mean we’d remember it for the next sabbat.

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