If you're thinking about starting a Pagan group or Wiccan coven of your own, one thing that many covens find helpful is structure. A good way to keep things organized in a coven setting is to have a written set of mandates, or coven bylaws. Bylaws may be created by a High Priestess or High Priest, or they may be written by a committee, depending on the rules of your tradition. If you're forming a new tradition, or your practice is eclectic in nature, then you'll need to decide who's in charge of writing coven bylaws.
Whenever you have a group of people getting together for a common purpose, it's always a good idea to have some sort of guidelines on how those people will be interacting with one another. Whether it's a Wiccan coven, a stamp collectors' club or a PTA, bylaws provide a sense of continuity for all members.
Your group's bylaws may be ever-evolving and changing, and that's okay. Or, they may be set down from Day One and never amended because the group doesn't need them to be amended. That's fine too. Every group is different, and it's important to come up with bylaws that will best serve the needs of your individual coven.
While you don't have to include every one of these items in your coven bylaws, they are things you may wish to consider. How you word them will depend on the needs of your individual group.
What is the purpose behind your group's formation? It can be something simple, like what tradition you are following or which gods you are honoring, or it can be more complex, if your group plans to do more involved activities.
- The purpose of the Three Circles Coven is to honor the gods and goddesses of the Celtic peoples, and to celebrate the seasons in accordance with the Pagan Wheel of the Year.
- The mission of the Standing Stones Coven is to help educate the community about modern Paganism, and serve as an outreach group providing resources to both Pagans and non-Pagans in our area.
Membership and Structure:
Who will be allowed into the group? Are there certain qualifications they must meet? What requirements are there to remain a member? Is there an initiation process? Be sure you outline all of this in detail before the group is formed - you don't want any ambiguity about whether or not someone meets the membership requirement. It's up to you whether you take all interested parties, or whether there is a vetting and selection process, but whichever you choose, you need to put it in your coven bylaws. Are there various offices in your group, such as Secretary, Treasurer, or some other role? Who will fill these parts, and how will they be selected?
While you don't have to put specific dates into your coven bylaws - and in fact, I'd advise against it - it's a good idea to clarify how often members will be expected to meet. Will you be meeting quarterly? Monthly? For every single Sabbat and every full moon? Establish this ahead of time - that way, members will know what is expected of them. If there is an attendance requirement, be sure to include this in your bylaws.
- The Three Circles Coven will meet twelve times a year. Eight of those meetings will be held in tandem with the Pagan Sabbats, with four remaining meetings to be held at the High Priestess' discretion. Members will be given a schedule with all twelve meeting dates at the beginning of each calendar year. Members should plan on attending at least eight of the twelve meetings every year; members who are continuously absent may be asked to reconsider their commitment to the Three Circles Coven.
Principles and Laws of the Tradition:
Every magical tradition should have some sort of guidelines. For some, it's very rigid, following a specific list of rules and regulations. In other trads, it's more loosely interpreted, where members are given a general list of guidelines and expected to interpret them in their own way.
Examples of some laws you may wish to include:
- Three Circles Coven has a Zero Tolerance policy regarding any use of recreational drugs or the excessive use of alcohol or tobacco. Members who attend rituals or ceremonies under the influence of illegal drugs will be asked to leave the event, and may find themselves asked to leave the Coven altogether.
- There shall be a strict rule of privacy within Three Circles Coven. No member may ever reveal Coven business to anyone outside the group. This includes the names of other Coven members, ritual activities, and meeting information.
- Members will never be required to pay a fee for membership in Three Circles Coven. A "love offering" is always welcome, but never demanded.
How to Leave the Coven:
Let's face it, sometimes people join a group and it's not the right one for them. It's a good idea to include a policy on how someone can leave, or separate from, your group. Even if it's simply a matter of them saying goodbye and letting you know they're never coming back, put it in writing.
Training, Degrees, and Education:
If your coven offers a Degree system to its members, you'll need to outline how exactly members may achieve different Degree levels. What is required for each Degree? Is there a time period - either minimum or maximum - in which someone can obtain a Degree? Will members be required to attend certain classes, either within or outside of Coven meetings? Are members expected to study on their own, or will all education take place within the confines of the group?
While this isn't absolutely necessary, it's a good idea to include a page that outlines, in general, what you expect from the members. If they sign it, then that indicates that they understand what will be demanded of them, and can't come back later to claim they didn't know what they were supposed to do.
Examples of items to include:
- I, as a member of Three Circles Coven, shall participate in classes, rituals, and other ceremonies with the group.
- I will uphold the laws and rules of the Three Circles Coven.
- I promise to support the works of the Coven with energy, contributions, or other resources as needed, while giving first priority to my the needs of my family and livelihood.
Finally, make sure you keep a copy of your bylaws available to all members of your group. Every person should have a copy available, and you should have one on hand that you can refer to should a question arise.
Not quite ready to form a coven? Try starting a Pagan study group instead!