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Patti Wigington

Reader Mail: Coven Bylaws

By December 27, 2013

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A reader writes in to ask, "After several years of training, I have decided to form my own Pagan coven. The group I left always followed a very loose, casual format, but I feel like I need some order in my group. I asked my former high priestess about it, and she just said that people should be allowed to follow their hearts. I'm not sure I like that, because I'm someone who needs structure. Should I have some sort of bylaws? What would I include?"

Covens are funny things. You can have one group which is all rainbows and sparkles and unicorns and everyone gets along by doing their own thing, and then right next door there's a group with a twenty-page list of rules and guidelines, where everything is planned down to the slightest detail. Both can work well -- or not. What determines how well they work is not whether there are rules, but how the members of the group choose to respond to those rules (or lack thereof).

Since you're the one forming the group, it's up to you how it's going to be run. It sounds as though your former HPs ran her group in a way that worked best for her -- but that doesn't necessarily mean her way will work for you. Realistically speaking, any time you have a group of people coming together for a common purpose, it's not a bad idea to have at least some sort of guidelines in place for how things will work. Now, you don't necessarily need that twenty-page list of rules. But what you do need is to figure out what items matter the most to you.

Some things you may want to use as a framework for a set of bylaws might be a mission statement explaining what the purpose of the group is, a description of who can be a member and how they are chosen, details on what behavior is expected of members, and what standards of training members are held to. For more detail on how to write a set of guidelines, read Writing Coven Bylaws.
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Comments
January 21, 2012 at 2:19 am
(1) Kirsten says:

I feel that no matter what tradition one follows, a person’s spirituality is a very personal thing. Just as each person’s thoughts and feelings and experiences are unique, so are a person’s feelings about the spiritual and divine.

A coven works because people who have similar ideals get together and make it work – I imagine it would be more difficult if members had completely different views on how it should be run.

And even though there may be some covens that are very lax, you’ll probably find that even they have rules and guidelines governing conduct.

What I would do is sit down with with the people I would want as my fellow founding members and come up with a list of things we want and things we don’t want.

As HPS you have veto power and ultimately what you say goes, but chances are if there are people who are so against your way of thinking and doing things, you won’t be able to work cohesively as a coven in energy and spell work, and those people will not remain a part of your coven.

Just my two cents.

January 22, 2012 at 8:28 pm
(2) Jhane says:

I gave my application to the leader of a coven I had been attending. This coven is run pretty slackily. I thought she automatically accepted me but never mentioned a dedication ritual. A week ago she announced she was moving away but still going to be in charge. I understand this has ruffled the feathers of some members. She also said there needed to be dedications and pointed to me. I said, yes, i gave my application in 3 months ago and she suddenly blurted out–you need to wait 6 months! I asked a high up member what that was all about and she said she had no idea–that’s not how she was initiated into the coven. From my experience, there can be no rules and ridiculous rules in the same coven. Oh and control freaks who make few rules (make sense? i didn’t think so either…)

January 24, 2012 at 8:55 am
(3) Joyce Campagna says:

We wrote a coven oath, that we say at the beginning of each ritual. It keeps us connected to the values of our coven. Our coven broke off from the High Priestess that we had last year, and we have continue to follow her rules, and add a few of our own. Try sitting down with your entire coven and ask them what they feel is important. By the time you are through, you will have a wonderful oath for your coven.

January 24, 2012 at 9:13 am
(4) Juniper says:

I definitely agree that spirituality is a personal thing. But it is great when you find a group of people that you can work with, I love group energy. There are some groups that work well together and others that don’t, so I agree with Kristen that it should be people who have similar ideology. I also think that any time that you are getting a group of 3 or more people together, especially for a specific purpose, you are going to need some ground rules. And with all relationships, communication is key!
I am very surprised at Jhane’s story. First, the HPs should have communicated with you about the process of being dedicated into her coven. And she should explain the why’s. I understand that coven issues should stay in coven, but neither should the dedicants be kept in the dark about what they are getting into and when or why. How can a person make an intelligent decision about the future of their spiritual life? And there should be set standards, and you should be able to call it out if there is an issue. And then if she is moving, she needs to pass the Wand, so to speak. In whatever decision making process that is in place, a new High Priestess should be appointed. I imagine running a coven from afar will work as well as English rule did in America… but if she is moving, I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just keep quiet until she is gone, and then raise the questions, hopefully level-heads will prevail and if necessary break away.

January 24, 2012 at 10:42 am
(5) Satori says:

The main reason I researched Paganism is its lack of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots”. First off, who designated the High Priestess as such? Anytime there are people gathered and rules are made, the trouble starts. If you need structure,a re you sure this is the path for you? How can someone “run” a coven yet live far away? Sounds like a power trip to me, and the coven members need to address this. A planned ritual is wonderful, and so is getting together with like-minded individuals to celebrate the Sabbats, etc. But throw rules and regulations into the mix and you’ve got “organized religion”.

January 24, 2012 at 11:42 am
(6) evie says:

As someone who has yet to write bylaws, I can understand why some would be intimidated by the idea of “bylaws”. I personally like the idea of bylaws because it will help keeps the coven focused. It can be structured to the way the coven wants them. It should not be about power trips, although there are misguided people who are intent on that. I try to avoid these people as themselves have yet to reach their maximum potential. Having said that, if one or a group would like to grow together, I think bylaws can help keep a group focused on their goals.

The beauty behind it, one does not need wording that makes the coven feel uncomfortable. If they don’t wish to, and some groups vote for someone to lead the group to keep them focused, the a “foreman” in a jury. Nothing more. Everyone shares all responsibilities equally. Just because someone has the title, does not make them any different than their sisters and brothers.

And in the end, You don’t have to have by-laws if you don’t want to. It is YOUR coven with your brothers and sisters.

Blessed Be, Evie

January 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm
(7) aquarabus says:

Satori- Rules and regulations can and often do differ not just between the different paths of Paganism, but also more often than not from coven to coven. As Patti pointed out, some feel the need for more structured gatherings than others. For it to truly be an ‘organized religion’ the rules and regs would be the same for all covens and follow the same structure across the paths. The path of Lady Isis isn’t ruled by the same forms as that of the Lady Brigit or the Lady Diana (or those of the Lords Ares, Zues, or Osiris who are also all ‘structured’ differently).
I would like to point something out here: “The group I left always followed a very loose, casual format, but I feel like I need some order in my group. I asked my former high priestess about it, and she just said that people should be allowed to follow their hearts.” Following a set of guiding rules for someone who feels they need some kind of order IS following their heart.

January 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm
(8) LeylandCypress says:

My group had the original members work out the rules together. It’s pretty loose, but since everyone had input, it works for us.

January 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm
(9) Sephira says:

For anyone looking to starting their own eclectic Coven, and writing up by-laws and/or guidelines I would suggest getting the book “Covencraft” by By Amber K, Robin Wood – lots of great information. I really do think that any serious coven should have, at least some sort of guidelines about how they are run, and what sort of requirements are necessary for joining, etc… , even if it’s just a basic outline.

If someone is hiving off from a Trad Coven, then I don’t know that it would be as much of an issue, since it’s probably something that would be (somewhat anyways) set forth by the Coven you are hiving from.

January 24, 2012 at 4:18 pm
(10) Inga says:

Have yourself some by-laws..but dont do what my 1st coven founder did…as soon as he decided our coven needed by-laws and we all agreed to it. He proceeded to break them..and then place the blame on someone else…me. I ended up kicked out of the coven becasue he broke HIS by laws..and some one else lied to him about other lies. The coven I am in now..NO by-laws is our one and only rule!

January 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm
(11) cernowain greenman says:

Our group of covens was everybody doing their own thing which ended up leading to misunderstandings and conflict without any way to resolve it. Finally the group got together and made up a “covenant” (note the word has “coven” in it!). That has helped our group go from chaos into a group that trusts each other. You’ll be surprised how much more powerful your magickal working together will be with this.

A covenant can be your group’s expression of what “do no harm” means and how that is spelled out.

And I disagree with Satori, “rules” don’t make trouble. It makes people deal with conflict that is already there and needs resolved. Yes, they can be misused, but if the rules make everyone accountable, then they will work for the best of all involved.

January 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm
(12) cernowain greenman says:

Our group of covens was everybody doing their own thing which ended up leading to misunderstandings and conflict without any way to resolve it. Finally the group got together and made up a “covenant” (note the word has “coven” in it!). That has helped our group go from chaos into a group that trusts each other. You’ll be surprised how much more powerful your magickal working together will be with this.

A covenant can be your group’s expression of what “do no harm” means and how that is spelled out.

And I disagree with Satori, “rules” don’t make trouble. It makes people deal with conflict that is already there and needs resolved. Yes, they can be misused, but if the rules make everyone accountable, then they will work for the best of all involved.

And one more thing– our group will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year at the Summer Solstice!

January 25, 2012 at 10:31 am
(13) Jade says:

By-laws remind members of commonly held guidelines and inform potential new members and visitors of the very basics of what is expected in the group.

Our group tried operating on the principle of “everybody do their own thing,” assuming we all had fairly common ideals. Then someone showed up to ritual nearly naked. It had always been assumed by the founders and most members that we had an understanding – no skyclad (or nearly skyclad) attendees.

There were also instances when members brought guests who were stoned or expected to get stoned or otherwise wildy intoxicated at our gatherings.

This caused a lot of bad feelings and interfered with our main mission which is to create a place where people can come together for spiritual growth and community.

We have by-laws that are generally loose and are periodically revisited. If some find this restrictive, they are free to find other groups with which to practice.

December 27, 2013 at 12:54 pm
(14) Clint Willis Jr. says:

There is a book out by one of my favorite authors Edain McCoy titled
“The Witches Coven”
In the book she addresses ALL the issues in this articular and starting a Cover or Group.
I think it might be re titled not sure. I read it a little over a year ago.,
It WOULD be worth your time to read and study it.
Good luck and many blessings to you and the Coven if you get up and running.

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