A National Church for Witches: A Brief History of COG, Part II

A Pagan Almanac for August 12, 2012

Lunar Cycle: Day 6 of the waning Moon

Rome: Feast of the Invincible Hercules

Athens: Hekatombaion 26. The Panathenaea continues

Passed over on this day in 2010: Isaac Bonewits

William Blake wrote:
The worship of God is: Honouring his gifts in other men, each according to his genius, and loving the greatest men best: those who envy or calumniate great men hate God; for there is no other God.



The problems with trying to start a “Church for Witches” were obvious, of course. Witches were not going to believe that anyone could become a Witch merely by joining a church. Likewise, Witches were not going to allow any church the authority to decide who was or was not a Witch and therefore qualified for membership. That seemed to be an impasse. However, Cotton Mather (of all people) had once said that Witches are organized like Congregationalists. Probably all those martyrs actually were Congregationalists, but what did he mean?

Looking at the charter of the current version of that church revealed the trick: individuals belonged to their autonomous local congregations, and each congregation as a whole was a member of the national church. That would work! The church would only need to decide whether a group qualified as being a coven, and there could be objective standards for doing that.

Given that clue, I drew up a first draft of a constitution and by-laws based on that concept, and another gathering convened at Alison and Gwydion’s home, on March 1, 1975. There were 17 covens of at least half a dozen different Traditions represented. I read the group the Preamble to the constitution, like so:

“In the fullness of time and by the providence of our Lady, it seems good to us that we covenant with one another, as members of an ancient and honorable religion, to establish a Church that will further our mutual interests and purposes in the service of our Lady and our Lord.

“We are agreed: that we worship the Goddess and recognize the Old Gods; that we are bound by the ethics of the traditional Laws of our religion; and that we recognize one another as being members of the same religion.

“We are also agreed that we are not the only members of our religion. If the members of a local congregation [coven] choose not to join in this covenant and in the church thus created, their choice creates no presumption that they are not members of our religion.

“We are agreed further that the reality of our religion lies within each local congregation, of whatever Tradition, and that there is no sovereign authority in our religion outside each local congregation. Therefore the local congregations which enter into this Covenant with one another cede to the Church which is thus created only as much sovereignty as they may agree the Church will need in order to function effectively as an instrument of their joint will.”

The charter then went on to provide:
that only covens as a whole would be regular members;
that the representatives sent by covens to an annual meeting would be the governing council of the church, and would elect officers from as many different Traditions as possible;
that the church would have no authority over the internal affairs of any coven, and could not itself establish a coven or initiate anyone;
that the church would establish local councils to coordinate Craft concerns within some manageable region;
that it would have a code of ethics and fair procedures for encouraging compliance with this code; and
that, within these constraints, it would provide the same legal and social benefits for its members that all churches are allowed to provide under American law.

After some hours of such discussion, it became clear, to everyone’s amazement, that we were in unanimous agreement on the need for such a church, on the principles in the charter, and on the very wording of the Preamble. We also decided that the name of the church would be the Covenant of the Goddess. So we added a final article to the Preamble, and signed it. It read:

“The undersigned witness that they were present at the meeting at Caerdderwen where this tentative Covenant was discussed, find themselves to be basically in general agreement on the principles inherent in it, and agree that a Committee shall be formed to draw up a final version of this Covenant and accompanying by-laws to be submitted to the covens in California. Signed on March 1, 1975 C.E.”

Those who signed were:

Aidan and Alta Kelly, Coven of Eurynome, NROOGD, Oakland;
Alison Harlow, Feri Tradition, Palo Alto;
Bill and Helen Mohs, American Tradition, La Puente;
Bran and Moria, Corax Covenstead, American Tradition, La Verne;
Bud Chase, Barbara Brook, NROOGD, San Francisco;
Chuck A., Antioch;
Claire P., Geoff Albertson, Judy Foster, Moon Seed Coven, NROOGD, Berkeley;
Deborah Bender, Rita Alcorn, Ursa Maior, Oakland;
Don Rowley, NECTW, San Francisco;
Ed Fitch and Janine Renee, Gardnerian, Huntington Beach;
Forest and Alison L., Riverside;
Glenn Turner, Carol T., Elizabeth C., Stone Moon Coven, NROOGD, SF;
Gwydion Pendderwen, Feri Tradition;
Herb Mitchell, Georgian Church, Edwards;
Karla and Larry K., Tuatha de Danaan, NROOGD, Pacifica;
Lynn H. and Bert R., Spiral Dance Coven, NROOGD, San Francisco;
Phil and Jo W,, Spring Valley;
Roberta B., Jill J., and Ruth Y., Georgian Church, Bakersfield;
Sharon Devlin, Oakland;
Victor Anderson and Dennis von S., Feri Tradition, San Leandro.

A committee was formed to create a final draft of the Covenent and by-laws; it met alternately in northern and southern California. Then the coven representatives met at Coeden Brith, Gwydion and Alison’s land near Ukiah, CA, on June 22, 1975. Those who signed the Covenant that day were:

Aidan Kelly, Coven of Eurynome (NROOGD)
Alison Harlow, Feri Tradition
Ann Finnin, Pasadena Training Coven
Ann T., Lady Athena, California Coven (Gardnerian)
Belinda M., Ursula, Holy Order of the Bear Brethren
David F., Lazuli, Isis Rising Coven (NROOGD)
Diane B., Moria, Corax Covenstead
Ed Fitch, Labrys Coven
Geri DeStefano, Isis Rising Coven (NROOGD)
Glenn Turner, Stone Moon Coven (NROOGD)
Jill J., Grove of Uril (Georgian)
Lavalthir, Coven of Tiva & Tio
Lawrence K., Tuatha De Taran (NROOGD)
Martha Adler
Ruth J., Skye Brigid O’Byrne, Coven of the Moon Seeds (NROOGD)
Thomas DeLong, Gwydion Pendderwen, Feri Tradition
Z. Budapest, Susan B. Anthony Coven

We then elected Alison Harlow as the interim First Officer. A year later, Starhawk was elected as the official First Officer. During that year, Local Councils were elected in northern and southern California.

Although COG was intended to be national, it was confined to California, despite a few far-flung member covens, until 1982, when Ginny Brubaker and Dave Norman of the Temple of Uranus in Chicago were lured out for the annual Grand Council meeting. They were then elected as co-Second Officers, responsible for organizing the next annual gathering, thus guaranteeing that the meeting would take place in the Midwest. The plot worked. The next year a truly national board was elected, and Local Councils began to be established all around the United States.

As of 2012, COG is still going strong. One of the highest points in its history occurred at the Second World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993. During the staging for the grand entrance parade, modeled on the Olympics, COG happened to be in the staging area next to that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. As a result, Phyllis Curott, First Officer of COG, got to chat with Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Later, when the Parks Department refused to grant COG a permit to hold a ritual in the park, Phyllis prevailed upon the Cardinal on live television to use his influence to ensure that the rights of his fellow Americans would be respected. Of course he had to do so. As a result, the circle was held, on the exact (carefully chosen) spot where the riot had broken out at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Members of almost every religion in the world held hands in the circle, and Phyllis worked a spectacular ritual that made international news. The presence of the Goddess could no longer (or at least not so easily) be ignored.

(I give an even more detailed history of the founding of COG in my Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A Social History of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn [available on Amazon and Kindle] and will give even more in my forthcoming A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America.)

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