Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Are Megacovens Covens?

Since the days of Margaret Murray (at least), the term “coven” has referred to a small group of witches that practice together regularly.

In fact, however, while small groups predominate across contemporary Witchdom, there's no shortage of much larger groups—in some cases numbering more than 100—that call themselves covens.

So: is a group of (let us say) 130 people actually a coven? If not, what is it?

Historically—appeals to the supposed “number of full Moons in a year” aside—the coven is a product of the Age of Persecutions. The notion of the Horned and his coven of twelve undoubtedly originated as a “satanic” parody of Christ and his twelve apostles.

Tradition does, of course, make provision for a larger group, called a Grand Coven, the name given to a number of covens which gather together (usually on a one-off basis) for a specific purpose.

(Also known as a Coven of Covens, the Grand Coven rather charmingly traditionally numbers 169: thirteen thirteens.)

Still, that's not how contemporary megacovens function.

Well, me, I'm nobody from nowhere, but if you ask my opinion, “coven” implies small. (This is certainly the most widespread understanding of the term as currently used.) If a megacoven is a coven in any sense, it's a non-traditional coven at best.

So as for me, when referring to these larger groups, I plan to stick with the term “megacoven,” at least for now.

And if you think that you're hearing echoes, and possibly a little disapprobation, you're probably right.


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Tagged in: coven grand coven
Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 07 August 2019

    Sounds to me like they have transitioned or are transitioning from coven to neopagan community. Curiously reminiscent of household Christians giving way to churches. Hopefully they can avoid the whole sacred scripture trap.

  • Victoria
    Victoria Thursday, 08 August 2019

    Unlikely, the neopagan community is vast in its interpretation and worship of the divine and not all within the community consider themselves witches or even practice magic.

    There is also many types of witchcraft practiced by those who consider themselves witches so I would say we are fairly safe from developing a universal orthodoxy.

  • Victoria
    Victoria Thursday, 08 August 2019

    Historically, numbers in a coven are not specified. A coven refers to:

    coven (n.)
    "a gathering of witches," 1660s, earlier "a meeting, gathering, assembly"

    The number 13 is a modern contrivance based on the thoroughly debunked work of Margaret Murray. Seriously, does anyone cite her work anymore? Murray so muddied the waters with her poor scholarship that who knows what 'traditional' covens consisted of, or if they even existed before the rise of modern witchcraft.

    Hopefully we've moved on and covens can be and are as variable as modern day witches require.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 08 August 2019

    Certainly as the Craft grows and expands, there will be an increasing need for larger congregations. "Temple" seems to me a good name for such things.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 08 August 2019

    Ah, but what if we read Murray, not as historic history, but as mythic history? Then her work becomes a guide to how to think and what to do. It teaches us how to become the New Witchdom.
    Same with Frazer's Golden Bough. As anthropology, it's outmoded.
    As mythology, though, it has been the very making of us and our people.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Thursday, 08 August 2019

    Let me add that the social dynamics between a group of, say, nine, and one of ninety are, as one would expect, entirely different.
    To call both such groups by the same name seems to me to muddy the waters of meaning.

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