Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft: Family Coven Can Be Enough

Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft: Family Coven Can Be Enough June 2, 2014

This is a multi-part discussion on families, Family Covens and covens: what makes them different, what makes them similar and what makes them stick. Read Part One and Part Two.

Power in Covens & Traditions vs. Power in Family Covens

When a person recognizes that they have power and are part of power, what happens next is where traditions and covens part ways with Family Covens. This long and winding road of thinking about the power that paints our skin leads, for me, to a simple distinction between how pagan leaders deal with power and how Family Covens deal with power.

As I have experienced coven and tradition, I have met a few different views on power within paganism. All these views start out from a place of pure intention and love, and sometimes blood relation is involved as well.

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe to match your nature with Nature,” Joseph Campbell has said. I think it is safe to say most pagan leaders, teachers, speakers, priests, and priestesses want to help Seekers reach the goal of matching the beat of the universe.

Unlike Christianity, though, paganism does not have a history of seminaries, schools, doctrine, or even a common pagan indoctrination to fall back to. There are lots of small traditions and individual teachers doing the same thing Gerald Gardner did: reading, studying, and then coming to their own conclusions, their own way, their own traditions. Due to the lack of guiding principles, these different spiritual paths rely heavily upon the personality, personal ethics, and depth of personal/spiritual growth a teacher or tradition leaders have made.

The Problem with Ordination

The Seeker, in many covens and traditions, is led by a belief that the spiritual teacher or tradition elders they have chosen have the ability to lead them. This ability arises from their personality and charisma, first and foremost. Then it is confirmed by ordination.

Ordination is a process through which a person is set apart or defined as being clergy. Most are familiar with the Universal Life Church, which will give you an ordination free online. With this ordination, a person can perform marriages, oversee funerals, run a church, teach, or do any of the other things any other minister might do. ULC has received a lot of flack over their ordination process, which involves simply giving one’s information and purchasing a credential package ($7.99 to $49.99).

A step up from the ULC, pagan leaders and elders are most commonly ordained by other pagan leaders and elders. This entire process can be driven by pagan politics, coven politics, and witch wars. This leaves pagan communities unclear about who is qualified to do what in the pagan community. (A discussion for an entire book that hasn’t been written!)

Ordination: Now I know; Now I have to know; Oops! I didn’t know.

The problem with ordination is it gives a sense of certainty about teachers and leaders. I spoke in Part One about the damage my own pride did when I ordained myself as high priestess. I spoke about how condemnation became part of my ministry. I had to learn lessons at the expense of other people even when my intentions were pure. I have no reason to believe ordination by other pagan leaders would have made my journey any different.

For me, this is where Family Coven breaks with typical pagan traditions. As a mother, I have always said that I might not know something, but I would find out if I didn’t know. If my son wanted to pray like the Greeks, I called friends who worshiped in that way, did internet research, and then made him a prayer book to use. If my son wanted to dedicate to Thor, I bought books on pagan myths that included Thor. I talked with Nordic practitioners. I bought runes for my son. When he wanted to study Buddhism, I took him to a temple and presented him to the monks there. I left them alone and helped him study the materials the monks gave him. If I didn’t know, I found out.

When you become a pagan elder or leader, too often the pagan community assumes you know. Even when you ordain yourself, you receive a sense that you have gained some level of knowledge others have not. Over time this can cause you to believe you HAVE TO know. It is a short slippery slope from there to unintentional harm because of limited knowledge.

If my son began to abuse drugs, I would not assume that I knew or would even HAVE TO KNOW how to best help him. I would seek out the best in the business in my area and deliver him into their hands while I oversaw the process. My job would be to provide a stable environment from which he could conquer his addiction on his own. My job would be to learn as much about addiction recovery as I could, to best HELP him.

When my son came to me about a violation to his person perpetrated by a teenage boy in the neighborhood, my job was not to fix him. It was was to call the police. It was to take him to therapy. It was to talk to him and listen.  It was to work with specialists in the field and do what I could to provide a stable environment from which he could overcome the trauma. I didn’t have to know how to do anything but take the right and appropriate, common sense steps any mother would.

I was not required to be the police. I was not required to be the therapist. I was not required to be the specialist. I was required to be a mom. But ordination sometimes gives teachers, leaders and elders the false idea that they must now BE all things to their students.

Recently I have been offered rituals to heal my childhood abuse. I have been sent articles and admonished about forgiveness and my personal motivation. In the past, I have had teachers suggest I divorce my husband, Tony. In the past, I have had teachers accuse me of “uncontrollable energetic outbursts of an unconscious nature.”  All of these things are well and good, but none of the people who made these statements, suggestions, and admonishments were qualified to give them.

They didn’t have degrees in psychology. They were not licensed therapists. They had no years counseling abuse victims. They had never gone to a battered women’s shelter. They didn’t have licenses in marriage counseling. All their beliefs about energy and energetic knowledge were to be taken on faith, because they couldn’t provide any other substantiation of their training.  They were all pagan leaders.

Family Covens Openly Accept: We may not know. We do not have to know. We are not all things to all members, nor should we be.

This is where Family Coven breaks with most pagan traditions and typical pagan clergy. My job as a member of a Family Coven is to provide a safe, stable environment from which my family coveners and myself can explore spirituality. If they need a place to stay, then they have it. If they need an ear, then they have it. If they want to celebrate a Sabbat or moon, then they have it. If they want to kick their addiction, I will take them to the local addiction specialists and go to meetings with them if they want. I might call my sister who is an addiction specialist and gather as much information as possible. I, however, am not qualified to create a ritual about recovery or oversee their addiction recovery.

Traditions that ordain and teachers who claim ordination give an appearance of attesting to a teacher’s or leader’s competency. Family Covens, by their nature, understand that members are not competent in all things, and there is no expectation that they should be.

Like a family, Family Covens can function appropriately by understanding when the family coven is out of its depth and requires outside assistance. No adult child ever expects their parents to be perfect, and Family Covens apply that same logic to traditions, elders, and pagan leaders.

Family Coven is a group of people who share resources for survival and spiritual growth and development.

In practice, this means that family covens are willing to financially support their members, if necessary–in fact, to do whatever is necessary for the members of their Family Coven. If that means helping them get institutionalized for a time, then so be it. If it means finding an addiction specialist, then so be it. Like traditional families do, Family Covens require that members be as honest about themselves and their personal limitations as possible. We are held only by the desire to love our members because we have chosen to make a lifetime commitment to them.

Knowing that most covens have a lifetime of about five to seven years, this makes Family Covens very particular about who joins. Our members will be marks upon our skin for a lifetime.  Nearly ten years after the birth of the idea of Family Coven, my Family Coven is quite large. My extended Family Coven includes my two sisters who run their own Family Covens. In my immediate Family Coven, there is myself, my husband-priest Tony, our son, and three other members. One has been a Dragonstone Family Covener for over five years. The other two are relatively new. There is only one other person our Family Coven is looking to join us in the next two years.

Additionally, the roles of adult members are looked upon differently than in typical covens. A member might be a neophyte, a new person within our group; however, they are not my daughter or son. They are my sister or my brother. They aren’t Tony’s daughter or son. They are his brother or sister. The only “children” are those physically born or legally adopted. Adoption is a legal process that gives guardianship to adults in the Family Coven. Only my son calls me mommy. In this dynamic, any of my sisters or brothers have the right to call me out on bad behavior. Even our dedication is different.

Dedication, Service and Relationship in Family Coven

All members agree to abide by the Family Coven’s Virtues. These are any number of virtues chosen at the time of the Family Coven’s founding. Some of my Family Coven’s virtues include tolerance, devotion, efficiency, discernment, and helpfulness.

Family Coveners can join without becoming spiritual students to anyone already in the Family Coven. My sister Freyasdottier and I learned this lesson the hard way. Since the day we met, we felt a connection of love, and as time accrued in our friendship, that connection became spiritual, emotional, and mental. Before I conceptualized Family Coven, she was my family.  When I created Family Coven, she would eventually join me, and I would take oaths to be her teacher–a completely foolish and unnecessary notion. I was not more qualified than she was. After a rough few weeks where, energetically and spiritually, we were on a crazy roller coaster, we ritually split our ways. I encouraged her to do as I had done, take her 3rd in her own sacred space. In truth, I never saw her as anything less. Now, there is an understanding that someone could come to be important to myself or my husband-priest and then join our group without becoming a seeker. Often these groups would be considered Extended Family Coven.

In Family Coven we say, “Family Coven is accepting you as part of this family. You aren’t a dedicant we imagine will leave us in short order. You aren’t just somebody that we are trying to add for the sake of numbers and growth. You will be to us, always, Sister (Brother) Witch… not just someone we know.”

After someone joins the Family Coven through taking the oaths, a type of marriage occurs between myself or my husband-priest and those who join as Seekers. In this setting, membership in the Family Coven is foremost, and spiritual seeking through individual tutelage is secondary. The oath teachers in a Family Coven take are around the idea that even if the relationship as teacher and seeker fails, the relationship as sibling to sibling will not fail. Everything is done to preserve that relationship first and foremost.

Finally, the teachers all take an oath of servitude. Teachers serve the family coven, period. We aren’t hired. We are accepted by our seekers as servants to them. The statement is that a teacher may be a leader, but they are a servant first, never higher than any other family covener. Because Family Coven is based on equal energy exchange, those who serve understand that their Brothers and Sisters are servants also. There is a equal and consistent striving by all members to met everyone’s needs.  Most needs get met as energy equity is sought by all.

Most importantly, though, Family Coven is not dogmatic about practice. Within any Family Coven, each person’s sacred spiritual path is individual and sacred even if it isn’t completely like everyone else’s. We agree upon a standard ritual, and then members are encouraged to find a way to celebrate and worship and practice in a way that reflects who they are. When we leave ritual, we want to have experienced Divine Power THROUGH our Sister or Brother Witch. This makes experiencing the Divine like eating someone’s favorite dish. The ritual will taste like our Brother or Sister Witch. It will be spiced and energetically stamped by them. We find a new window into the Divine through them, and our group mind is strengthened by these bursts of individual illuminations.

Legacy: The Last Pagan Standing Wins?

Family Coven is based upon my personal idea of legacy. In the pagan community, legacy seems to be viewed as longevity within the community: The Last Pagan Standing Wins. Often money drives who gets to keep standing. We are a commerce-driven community. If someone’s book sells, then their wisdom prevails.  There is no guarantee that the wisdom is worth prevailing.

A family believes that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” We aren’t interested in some grand legacy to preserve our memory. We are interested in the legacy left inside individual family coveners. If I can leave a positive impression of a woman steeped in the Goddess, in the God, in The Power that is, and that impression uplifts, stabilizes and promotes the growth of my family covener, then my legacy is eternal by nature. Further, my Family Coven wants no person in it that is not trying to leave this kind of positive impression on all of us and all we come into contact with. Family Coven is equal energy exchange: a set of brothers and sisters with their own faults and strengths brought together to make a stronger core, a stronger family coven center to the greatest and highest good of the family coven and the world beyond.

Family Coven has learned that blood is not enough to define family. Many with pure intentions are teaching and leading without any other qualification than their pure intentions. But we recognize at the very beginning that we do not know everything, and that is a symptom of strength, not weakness. We have learned that equal energetic exchange is necessary to keep a house clean, figuratively and literally. The common goal of Family Coven isn’t a legacy outside itself. It is the legacy inside itself. We live our lives to die and be remembered thoroughly and well by a few, even if we are misunderstood by the masses. All members serve to live and live to serve each other, the broader community, and even the pagan community.

We are of The Power. The Power, however, is not of us. Whether we define it as an ideal or archetype or a supernatural being, it is a pure and perfect delineation of spiritual fulfillment that we are ever striving to find. We are in it for a lifetime, not a few years or a sprint toward some goal of transcendence or ordained power.

When Family Covens strive toward these ideals, Family Coven is enough.

Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft is published on alternate Mondays. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail!

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