Why The Covenant of the Goddess is Vital to Wicca’s Future

Why The Covenant of the Goddess is Vital to Wicca’s Future August 20, 2012

Covenant of the Goddess (COG) is one of the oldest and largest credentialing bodies for Wicca and Witchcraft in the United States. Originally founded in 1975 by 13 original member covens, the organization today boasts 121 member covens and a growing number of solitary members. The work of COG is done by a national board of directors, and fourteen regional local councils that engage in much of the grassroots organizing and direct activism in service of Wiccan rights. For example, it was the Dogwood local council in Georgia who responded to a story about religious harassment of a Wiccan student in Bowden, forming a coalition of local and national Pagan groups to make sure the student’s rights were respected. Representatives from these councils, solitary caucuses, and the national board gather each year in a different city to hold a Grand Council, a two-day consensus-run meeting where national elections are held, business is discussed, and Witches from across the country spend hours envisioning the future of the covenant.

I was pleased to attend the 2012 MerryMeet and COG Grand Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico not only as a reporter, but as a pending member. In 2010 I was invited to speak at MerryMeet in Indiana, and was able to cover their process, and the election of Peter Dybing to the office of First Officer. Since then I’ve built professional and personal relationships with many COG members, and have become convinced that the survival and expansion of the covenant is vital to the future of Wiccans, and modern Paganism as a whole. As modern Paganism continues to grow, and religious demographics in America reach various tipping points, more attention, both positive and negative, will be paid to what Witches do. As we enter that reality, an organization that is built to speak with the voices from many different Wiccan traditions will be increasingly necessary.

While many instinctively point to COG’s historic past, and who’s-who of famous members past and present ( Margot AdlerStarhawkDiana Paxson, Isaac Bonewits, and many more), I think it is more important to talk about what COG is doing right now. COG and COG members help fund Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan learning institution that just awarded its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling.

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“When I started in 2002, Cherry Hill Seminary was the first and best opportunity I found for inexpensive and trustworthy Pagan education beyond the training I received in the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove,” said Harris in an interview. “By the time the masters program was introduced in 2009, I had committed myself to becoming a board-certified chaplain. I embraced the Cherry Hill Seminary program as a way to add the necessary qualification of an M.Div. or equivalent.”

COG members are a part of Cherry Hill’s leadership, and extends COG’s role of credentialing clergy into making sure those clergy, whether COG-aligned or not, are well-prepared for their future in service. Another important part of educating Wiccan clergy is making sure they have the material and papers necessary for their research and development. The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area, is in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” All of its Board of Directors, save one, are current COG members, this includes Don Frew, Rowan Fairgrove, Anna Korn, and Gus diZerega. Starting with a collection of 13,000 volumes that they are currently cataloging and shelving, the library already has a physical space, and will soon have non-profit status. At this 2012 Grand Council, it was decided that Adocentyn would be added as a donation option on COG member renewal forms.

Adocentyn Research Library

In addition to simply opening a research library, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (which recently laid its foundation) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans. Don Frew is also working with other Pagan elders in forming a Pagan Foundation to help fund initiatives like Adocentyn and other projects that enrich and benefit our community.

The above examples are just a sampling of the work that is happening right now that COG is involved in. Work that often happens behind the scenes and doesn’t get the attention it often deserves. Of course, COG is also rightfully respected for its intensive interfaith activities, for the public events and Pagan Pride Days sponsored by local councils, for its partnership with Circle Sanctuary in honoring Pagan veterans with the Order of the Pentacle, for the many Pagan chaplains it provides resources to, and its support of Ardantane Learning Center, The Witches’ Voice, and other institutions that make our community what it is today. Look at almost any Wiccan or Witchcraft initiatives that has benefited our community, and in many cases you’ll find COG or COG members involved in some capacity.

Returning to this year’s Grand Council, what is apparent is that despite the contention, and sometimes esoteric points over by-laws or process, what emerges is a microcosm of Wicca today full of mutual respect and love. British Traditional Witches alongside utterly eclectic “bootstrap” traditions, alongside solitary Witches, finding common ground and purpose. Engaging in the kind of ecumenicism our sometimes fractious community desperately needs. There’s an emphasis on tradition at Grand Council, for obvious reasons, but I also caught glimpses of COG’s future as younger Wiccans started stepping forward. The election of Miraselena from Dogwood, a media professional, to the National Public Information Officer position, the formation of committees to explore better outreach and to make sure COG is fulfilling its purpose, which includes the participation of rising star Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap: Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society,” and several more small hints that things are starting to shift.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

First Officer Ginger Wages (Hawk), was re-elected for a second term, when first elected she told media representatives that the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now,” and it’s obvious from much of the discussion underway this year that her emphasis on that goal is starting to bear fruit. Her oversight in 2013 will no doubt play a vital role in seeing these budding initiatives succeed. She is joined by an energized and enthusiastic incoming board which sports representatives from local councils across the country.

As I said earlier in this piece, I believe COG is vital to Wicca’s future. It is the only organization of its type dedicated to the needs and issues faced by Wiccans and Witches. Unlike other large Witchcraft-oriented organizations like Circle Sanctuary, Sacred Well, or Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, they are not a church or single tradition, they are a collective of many different traditions who choose to align themselves under COG’s banner. This also differentiates them from other Pagan organizations which are often focused on a single tradition or practice within a Pagan faith. As Paganism grows, we will not only need “Pagan” spokespeople and leaders, we will need those who publicly advocate for views and positions within a particular Pagan faith. Journalists will all eventually understand that modern Paganism is a religious movement, not a religion itself with “denominations” branching out from it. As we move into that time, organizations that can speak with an explicitly Wiccan voice will be needed more than ever.

Conservative estimates say there are currently over 300 thousand Wiccans in the United States (I personally believe that number is higher), which means that COG will have to grow at a continual steady pace if it hopes to effectively serve religious Witchcraft as a whole. Of all the Wiccan-oriented groups, I think COG is best placed to achieve this goal, and be the proactive, responsive body it needs to be in a post-Christian society where Pagan voices will be heard by larger and larger numbers. This means more local councils, more solitary members, and an even greater engagement with new traditions, groups, and leaders. It is for this reason that I have taken the step of actively involving myself in COG, and helping it to work toward those goals. Despite the many challenges we face, externally and internally, I am optimistic about COG moving into an ever-growing and important role within the world of religious Witchcraft traditions. If you are interested in becoming a part of COG’s future, you should contact COG, or one of the local councils about you or your coven becoming a member. There’s a somewhat lengthy process, but one that I think is worthwhile.

Before I end this post, one picture, that I think sums up the importance of COG. Outside our hotel in New Mexico was a giant stone Ten Commandments monument. Instead of being seen as an affront, or reminder of Christianity’s dominance in our culture, I saw it as sign of how far we’ve come that this hotel readily accepts the business of a out-and-proud Witch conference.

Wait, isn’t this a graven image?

Crowley said that Magick is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” and our Will to be an accepted and vital part of our society is manifesting before us. I’m excited about where our Will takes us next.

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94 responses to “Why The Covenant of the Goddess is Vital to Wicca’s Future”

  1. what nonsense !! no group or organization is “vital to the future” of the Craft .. COG isnt the RCC .. theres no popes of Witchcraft

  2. An organization can be vital to a religion’s well-being without it being a hierarchical “pope.” Your knee-jerk response makes me wonder if you actually read the piece, or if you just have some issue with COG.

  3. I have no issues with the COG and I read the piece in its entirety, and my response is largely the same. I don’t see any reason, based on what I’ve read here, that the COG is vital to the future of anything except the COG.

  4. Hear Hear!!! As a proud HPS of a proud national COG coven, Strangers’ Gate, I could not be more happy with our affiliation. Thanks for the report.

  5. i read the article .. i dont have any issue w/ COG per se .. altho i take issue w/ any1 or any group who claims to ‘speak for’ the Craft .. im an initiated Wiccan Priestess & Witch and the COG does NOT speak for me .. your knee-jerk response makes me wonder if you have some vested interest in promoting COGs hubris

  6. Really, as an organization CoG fights for the rights of witches. Is that not a “vital” fight? or would you have us all be out there on our own with no one to come to out defence when the religious right discriminats agenst Wiccans?

  7. Imagine the history of Witchcraft in the United States without COG, or Circle, or the other groups that fought to get us the rights we now take for granted. These organizations have, and I argue continue to be, vital. Your mileage may vary.

  8. I must admit most Wiccans I have met feel the same way; they don’t dislike the COG but more or less distance themselves from it and would not like to be told the org. speaks for them, let alone that it is vital to Wicca’s future. I’m not a Wiccan, but as a witch, they don’t speak for me either.

  9. My opinions about COG come from actually speaking to, and watching COG work. Ideas that they are trying to usurp anything, or “speak” for you, aren’t grounded in fact. They speak for their members, who represent a wide cross-section of Wiccan and Witchcraft traditions. Whether you admit it or not, you have benefited from COG’s work.

  10. CoG has never claimed to speak for all Wiccans. Must you discredit important voices in the community inorder to maintain your independence? That seems a little overly reactionary and self centered to me.

  11. exactly Misty .. i dont want ‘ordination’ .. dont want hierarchy .. dont want ‘leaders’ .. dont want ‘exposure’ … all those are constructs of the patriarchate .. im perfectly capable of speaking for myself .. or better yet of practicing Witchcraft in secrecy & silence … far as im concerned the COG is only interested in self-promotion for the sake of $$$ .. imo COG worships Mammon not the Goddess .. the Craft is not for sale

  12. I said it’s not vital to Wicca’s future, and I still see no reason why it would be. Was it helpful in Wicca’s past in the US? Maybe, but that’s not the title of the article. There’s the ACLU, you know.

  13. Let me say as First Elder of my tradition, which could not be more independent from COG if you tried, and I agree with this article. I think that COG is a vital part of our future. That if we are to remain a healthy society, then they must continue, representing their people, and reaching out to other groups, and showing we can invest in the future. I think Jason has hit it on the head.

    On 300,000 Wiccans in America, is low. We have about 100,000 total Wiccans, most less than 10 years, in our Tradition and Community.

    Thank you for this article.

  14. you know Peter .. i look @ that list of “famous” COG “members past and present” .. of COG “leaders” & ppl who “can speak with an explicitly Wiccan voice” .. & who do i see ?? primarily ppl with a book to sell .. what i fear is going to happen is that theres goin2 be a Majikal battle 1uv these days .. between those who believe that the Craft Is Not For Sale & those who seek the increasing commercialization of the Craft .. whose side do you think the Goddess is goin2 be on in that fite ??

  15. Have you ever spoken with Starhawk? Diana Paxson? Don Frew? Gus diZerega? If you truly think these people are in it for the money, then you don’t know them at all. These are people who have sacrificed much for their community, and yet they are still slurred because they also happen to sell books.

  16. Excited to hear about the Adocentyn Library project. Would be interested in perhaps donating copies of my own books. However, their website has absolutely no contact information that I can find (still amazes me every time I see this, but it happens all too frequently). It says to contact Don Frew to participate, but there’s no email link! Jason, do you have an email address for those of us who might want to get involved in some way?

  17. As sopmeone who has nothing to sell and is a supporter and member of CoG, I think your framing of the question is nonsence. The vast majority of CoG members have nothing to sell or gain. As for me I spent thousands of my own dollers in my work as National First Officer in 2011. CoG ihas limited finanical resources mostly commited to it’s programs that support it’s mission. Now for an answer, I think the Goddess will be with those who act with compassion and support those who defend the rights of her followers.

  18. Peter, that you are running the CoG is hopeful to me, based on reading how you’ve been online, you seem pretty solid.

    With existence since 1975, CoG’s probably seen it’s share of the good, bad, and the ugly.

    Circle Sanctuary leads Lady Liberty League.. the estimable Assembly of the Sacred Wheel is the lead for the New Alexandrian Library. These also been around a nice long time and you know that has required a lot of commitment and experience.
    And I’m not in Circle Sanctuary’s tradition, and not Wiccan, but LLL was helpful to us – it would be nice if the fight wasn’t necessary, but while it is, and for what you’ve done and how you’ve been real without fanfare and publicity – thanks!
    Thanks Selena Fox and LLL!! CoG if you helped me out there, too, thanks as well.

  19. @ed66ccf68a0d5c74367497f819fb2cb2:disqus HA! The ACLU! Right. A bunch of self-absorbed glory hounds who only want to tackle the high profile cases.

  20. This “no organization speaks for me!” language is really unhelpful and seems to largely come from a place of ego and from folks who aren’t familiar with CoG’s work. As a young Witch who came into Wicca in the late 90’s, I didn’t have much too much to worry about in terms of public information. I credit that privilege to organizations like CoG and CIrcle who fought for my rights before I even knew I needed them. When I was trying to explain Wicca to my parents at 12 years old, CoG information is part of what I gave them and helped to calm their nerves when I was first learning.

    I support CoG and organizations like it because I value the services they provided for me as a youngster. I want the next generation of Wiccans to have the same resources that I was fortunate enough to have.

  21. @theskysgoneout:disqus: Of course they’re slurred, Jason. Pagans can’t actually sell anything without wanting to gouge the overly-deserving masses. Everything needs to be free, or else we’re just feeding into the system which perpetuated our own discrimination! Services rendered must not be paid for, book and labor costs are incidental.

    Seriously. The attack on authors for writing and *SELLING* their books is as ridiculous as attacking intellectuals as being “elitist” simply because they’re educated.

  22. Thank You,
    One point, I am the Past First Officer of CoG. Hawk is our current First Officer. We as an organization have term limits inorder to insure that leaders are focused on the organization, not building some kind of “power base” It is a great policy that I fully support. I am still activly involved in the organization and will remain so.

    In Her Service,

  23. Jason, you couldn’t. because LLL helped with things that never garnered any publicity. 🙂

  24. I am PIO for a local CoG affiliate. I do not have a book to sell. I do not have anything to sell. And, if I look around the “room” at the amazing variety of people involved in this organization, I only see a few writers and even fewer that are published.
    I can’t speak for those of the past. The original founders, who do have books, did have stories to tell – CoG being on only part of the story.
    CoG is non-profit. In my area, the local members work to support the local Pagan community in a variety of ways – some political and some cultural. (I’m sure that the mother in Bowdon GA was happy we were around.) Our volunteers, who don’t have books, do not get paid. CoG does not get paid. And after our projects/meetings are done, each of us goes back to our sacred spaces to reflect and enjoy our spiritual privacy.
    If all you see is pomp and circumstance and the dazzle of famous names, then you aren’t seeing CoG. Look harder.

  25. I think you’re reversing the association. The names that are “famous” in modern paganism are those who published a book largely because almost all pagans are voracious readers. Just about the only way to become famous in paganism is to publish a book.

  26. That’s kind of awesome. Also, I think having term limits got to help prevent burnout. Thank you and Hawk.

  27. Or at the very least, do something that is accessible to a wide array of people from varying faiths. One has to do a lot more than just post on a solitary WordPress site or periodically add articles to Witchvox.

  28. As a librarian at a large academic library since 1988, I am very excited about the library work being done for Pagan communities. I know full well how easy it is to lose important information if someone does not make the effort to catalog and archive it, in a form that will survive over time.

  29. Second that! We would love to donate some of Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s devotional anthologies. 🙂 And the library would be very fortunate to have Dver’s books on the shelf. 🙂

  30. I have a great deal of respect for the work COG has done in the aggregate, but the way it is currently structured, there is no realistic point of entry or engagement for 95% or more of us out there. Unless you subscribe to the clergy and coven structure very similar to that defined by BTW Wicca, you’re not even eligible for consideration.

    The membership procedures are particularly troublesome in the context of the history of my own region and local council. It is a minefield of decades old personality and witch war grudges in which even your casual affiliations or lineage can be held against you.

    I’ve been through that grinder before, when a good faith effort to volunteer my time was used as a weapon against me in a feud that had been running long before I started this path. It wasn’t COG, but it was some of the same personalities who have had or continue to have highly influential positions within it regionally.

    It is a truly toxic dynamic and so I’d be putting myself at the mercy of what amounts to a country club admission committee process that could be nixed for any or no transparent reason at all, and for what? To prove that I or my coven are “real enough” to contribute or have a voice?

    None of this detracts from the work COG has done nationally and probably in many other local areas. I can only go by what I see on the ground where I’m at, but so long as membership continues to be so difficult and so provincial, COG will never be more than a very marginal and distant entity for the vast majority of us, and it will not be the voice of Wiccans or pagans generally.

  31. With all due respect Jeanne Anne Decosta:

    You’re a fool. Secrecy and silence breeds persecution, rumors, and distrust. It enables the majority of people to oppress and suppress a minority that may or may not in their good graces. This has nothing to do about establishing a ecclesiastic hierarchy. These people are not, will not, and cannot tell you how best to live your religious life, how best to perform your personal practice, etc. You don’t want exposure? That’s all well and good. What happens when you’re outed at work and fired for it, with a thinly veiled excuse for their reasoning? What happens when people’s children get taken away in custody battles, because there’s a preconceived notion that Pagans, Wiccans, etc., are bad, immoral, and unethical people who are a danger to children and themselves? Or even if that’s just the pretense for a jealous husband or wife to take children? What organization is going to step up for you and provide support, documentation, or act as a reference that can be brought in court? The ACLU doesn’t take much but the most high-profile cases.

    Prove to me how the COG is interested in self-promotion. I would like reference to this accusation.

  32. Where are you located? I’d love to work on building councils that ignore people who constantly try to re-litigate Witch-Wars from 15-20-30 years ago and just build new structures from younger groups uninterested in the drama.

  33. I’ll PM or email you or something if I can figure out how. I don’t want to turn this into a public axe-grinding or re-inflame local tensions here. I do think if there was some way around or through ugly long-standing local politics, COG would probably pick up a hell of a lot of involvement. I know I’d be willing to roll up my sleeves and pitch in if I didn’t feel like I was in the Borgia Vatican….

  34. No organization made of people is perfect. Organizations enable us to
    pool our strength and talents and to accomplish things that take more
    than one human lifetime to build.

    My first coven, Ursa Maior, was one of the thirteen founding covens of CoG. The coven and I are mentioned in Drawing Down the Moon, but I have never sought fame or money from witchcraft. I’ve never written a book, but I’m grateful that others did and I have some of those books on my shelves. I held various national and local offices in CoG during its formative years and I’m a member of the Northern California Local Council.

    CoG was designed as a grassroots organization, run from the bottom up by its members. CoG has no paid staff. It runs on volunteer labor. The only financial benefit any officer or member representative can receive is partial reimbursement for travel expenses when traveling on CoG’s business. We take pride in the accomplishments of CoG members, but we don’t choose officers according to how famous they are or are going to be; we choose people who are willing to work. Most of the work is quiet and low key.

    I’m as prickly and independent minded as the next witch. When some other witch is interviewed by the media, I often take exception to some of the things he or she is quoted as saying. But there are times when someone needs to speak on behalf of witches to law enforcement, the military, other government agencies, a hospital administrator, a church leader, or the public. If the witches most directly affected don’t want to be publicly known as witches, or don’t have experience dealing with big bureaucratic institutions, or need backup from a bigger group, they may find it helpful to have a nationwide organization of witches to turn to.

    Because the Covenant has been around for awhile and includes solitaries and covens from many traditions, locales and personal backgrounds, we have the ability to select spokespeople who are aware of the diversity of opinion and practice among witches. CoG only takes a stand when there’s a need and we don’t tell other witches what to do. We know that only a minority of all the witches choose to join the Covenant, and none of us has any interest in creating a megachurch or a pope.

  35. Perhaps “valuable” would be a less divisive word? “Vital” implies that without COG, Wicca would die. Are you sure you mean that?

  36. This is more a response to the various responses, rather than to the article itself.

    Regardless of personal feelings on the matter, an officially recognised group/organisation is vital for the (healthy) future of Wicca/Paganism/Heathenism/etc. as being a part of society.

    No, that group doesn’t *have* to be the COG, but that is the group that is currently filling the role. If you don’t feel represented, do you decry the group, or work for change?

  37. I think “vital” as a word is only divisive if you take it to mean that only COG can be vital to the health of Wicca in the United States, which I don’t believe. Or that one could/should only interpret vital to mean that Wicca would die without it, which I don’t contend. I used “vital” because I don’t think using “valuable” would say something very different, and actually undercut the importance COG has played in the formation of Wicca in the North America, and the potential importance it can play in the future.

  38. Exactly. John Michael Greer gave a great talk at this year’s Sacred Space conference about the importance of preserving esoteric information. So glad to hear the COG is working on this.

  39. Thank you for writing this, Jason. As a member, I’ve often felt that COG doesn’t receive the credit that it deserves. For all these bizarre and wrongful allegations about COG being about self-promotion or money because a handful of its hundreds of members have authored a book or two, one rarely, if ever, hears COG tooting its own horn. Much of its work and many of its accomplishments go unnoticed especially those at the local council level. Like Circle, COG is indeed one of the most important organizations for Wiccans and Witches in the U.S.

  40. Yes, I too am a CoG member. I have nothing to sell, and quite frankly I have heard some other non-selling CoG folks take an occasional potshot at someone who has.
    I never even knew Starhawk was a (founding) member of CoG, all the years I bought her books – and most people I know, so I think you are really bitter or something.
    Of course CoG doesn’t speak for all Witches. But we are there when people ask for our help – as a community of Witches. We are not hiding our rituals and love of the Goddess, in silence.
    “All acts of Love and Pleasure” as She says.

    CoG Witches love helping others, quite frankly, even when our legends are not sung, as others have remarked.

    But finally, CoG *is* a community of Adults, who live, learn and work together. And we do it in Consensus, which takes a lack of ego and willingness to compromise.
    From my dear Auntie R, Rachael Watcher, who recently said on our own list:
    The one thing that any type of Consensus requires, (and that I have never heard anyone ever verbalize but that I have seen demonstrated time and time again) is an adult attitude and the desire to serve the organization over the individual. The latter generally comes with the former.

  41. Sorry, but by and large I do not trust other pagans. I prefer to keep my own council, and let people think what they want. It bothers me not. For those who like and want the CoG on their side, that’s fine. We’re all different and some of us need organizations to bolster us and defend us. It just sort of irks me that some feel they need what amounts to a central governing body. I left Wicca because I could see dogma creeping in… and that’s what I fear CoG could end up imposing. *shrug* Just my two cents… not that it matters, considering I am no longer Wiccan but an Agnostic Atheist. 😉

  42. my mom was a Witch long be4 it was trendy .. she was a Witch be4 i was born .. i grew up in the Craft .. my mom taught me to not talk about Witchcraft .. not because she was ashamed of it but because she said that Witches work in the shadows .. Witches dont proselytize or advertise or expose themselves to the patriarchate .. she taught that Witchcraft has no “leaders” .. no hierarchy .. that the Witch is autonomous .. that even in the coven each initiated Witch was her or his own authority .. and my mom taught that the Craft Is Not For Sale ..

    so now times have changed .. so-called “Witches” have turned their backs on the Goddess & bowed down at the altar of Mammon .. they seek self-aggrandizement .. want to be “leaders” or “spokespersons” for the Craft .. why ?? all too often because they have a book or candles or spells or altar accessories to sell .. commercialization is what ruined Xtianity & its going to ruin the Craft .. Jesus took a whip to those ppl & someone needs to take one to these con artists who seek to sell the Craft ..

    you know .. i dont care what the COG or any of you do or believe .. its between you & the Goddess .. its your own karma .. but i tell you this: there are many covens & solitary practitioners who neither want need or appreciate some self-appointed organization deigning to speak for us or look out for our interests .. you do us no service by exposing us .. be4 2day i really had nothing against the COG or its cheerleaders but now i do .. the more i read in this forum the more convinced i become that youre all in it for the sake of $$ &/or your own ego aggrandizement .. i may be a fool Marc but as far as i can see youve sold your soul .. i hope you got a good price for it


  43. The COG is not inclusive of all pagan faiths, and thus neither can I support it nor agree that its continued existence is “vital” to paganism in the United States.

    The mere fact that members are required to adhere to the Wiccan Rede, and that groups are specifically required to have a theology “centered around the Goddess” excludes most reconstructionists out there, particularly Asatruar, Theodsmen, and other Heathens.

    Until they realize that Paganism =/= Wicca, they cannot by definition represent all pagans.

  44. thank you Deborah for your thotful & sincere post .. blessed be ♥³

    im sorry if i come across as militant or contentious but you hav2 realize that not every Witch or Pagan wants or needs or appreciates others speaking for them .. or trying to paternalistically look out for our interests .. or defending us when were perfectly capable of defending ourselves or withdrawing in2 the shadows & avoiding the conflict .. were masters at looking out for ourselves & have been for centuries .. i apologize for the ‘pope’ talk but please look @ the issue from the perspective of Witches & Pagans who dont honor or seek the bureaucracy or structure or exposure that organizations like the COG impose .. i really dont want to see the Craft become polarized between the hierarchists & those who oppose hierarchy .. please recognize that the COG only speaks for itself & those who willingly embrace its confinement .. not all of us do


  45. Did you actually read the headline of this piece before going for the criticism, or what? It says “vital to Wicca’s future” not Paganism’s. They are a organization for Wiccans and Witches, and have never claimed to be anything else. They have never claimed that Paganism equals Wicca, and I challenge you to find an official COG document or statement that says as such.

  46. Except that COG isn’t hierarchical. It’s grass-roots based, and run by consensus. If they tried to rule over its member covens, the organization would collapse tomorrow. You keep making statements about COG, and I keep wondering if you’ve ever talked to someone from a local council, or a member coven?

  47. Jason, thank you for posting this article. People who want to fall into traps of believing that CoG is about fame will continue to benefit from the work of this group and others like it regardless. They can not agree and still benefit… as they already have. What I have come to know as truth is that a community sustains when people put their money where their mouths are…. and CoG does that in action. If people knew how much money CoG reps spend to support interfaith work and the rights of witches… they might feel ridiculous to think anyone is making money.

    I am a CoG member because I believe in activism and true leadership. I believe in finding ways to support systems my children will need when it is their turn to be in community. I believe in giving back what was given freely to me. I am a younger witch, 36 years old, and I can wear my pentacle in public and have other rights because of the 37 years of CoG or other orgs that have done this work. I don’t take that for granted.
    I find it disheartening that others who carry the title of HPs, HP or even practitioner would take it for granted. Thankfully CoG, Circle and others will continue to fight the fight for others and their children regardless of how they are disrespected by their own community members. Thankfully some take their responsibility to support the children of the Gods seriously and I am grateful to the members of the organizations who do that for me. I am proud to be a CoG member and love that this article was written.

  48. Jeanne, based on your commentary on this topic, it’s pretty clear you are reading the wrong blog.

  49. From the few comments I’ve read here, I think some folks are forgetting that since Wicca is a recognized religion in this country we do need some organized group to be points of contact for the non-pagan segments of society to speak to. The US Government, Law Enforcement, etc. can’t run around to every pagan and get their opinion on legislation related to Wicca. CoG can be a point of contact as far as I’m concerned. Whether they completely represent me as an individual or not is irrelevant. They mean well, and I’m sure we’ll agree on a lot of points and they’ll do their best on my behalf. If I felt strongly about an issue I’d get involved with CoG and make my voice heard. While I’m currently solitary, it’s nice to know there’s an organization of like-minded people doing their best for all of us.

    If folks don’t want CoG to “speak for them”, then start speaking up. Go ahead and write editorials for your local paper, and national news organizations. But realize that no matter how often you say you don’t speak for everyone else, simply because you are public with your opinions there will be someone hating on YOU for speaking on their behalf.

  50. @68da47794218c0fcd03fb9ca4c985262:disqus I have children, and as such I would like structure and community for them when they grow up. And not community led by amateurs who want their own cult, and I’ve met those people.

    As for the Craft not being for sale, you mean to tell me that you haven’t bought any of your tools, herbs, candles, books etc?

    If you have the resources to make all of those things and learn all of the Craft without reading books, then I apologize. There are many people who earn a little money from selling supplies and from selling books. But the publishers make the money in the book sales, not the authors. At least not enough to get rich and retire off of. Much like the music industry.

    I have met many Pagans who have these hangups with Christianity or whatever religion that they left from. Since Christians have churches and structure and actual training, us Pagans can’t because somehow that turns us into Christians or the like. I’m sorry but this is total crap, Paganism/Wicca won’t ever be like Christianity, the religion isn’t built for it. But we can have temples and community leaders, just like the ancient world did.

    And before you say it, I know Wicca hasn’t been around that long but there were Pagan religions long before that.

  51. CoG is definitely vital for the future of Paganism, as are all other examples of Pagan groups that have managed to not merely continue to exist, but to thrive and grow over extended periods of time. These groups have proven that Pagans really are capable of establishing our own stable religious institutions! These are positive examples for all Pagans to draw inspiration from. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of CoG, but as a Pagan and a Wiccan I take pride in its success.

  52. After careful thought, I’ve moderated my tone somewhat in this.

    Be a dear and go back and relearn what Karma is. And know that it is not a concept I adhere to.

    “Witches work in the shadows”? Perhaps if they didn’t want to be outed, arrested, or victimized. “Witches have no leaders/Hierarchy”? Perhaps your mother was, I don’t know…wrong? It’s quite alright to admit it. A lot of people can be wrong, from time to time. It’s only human. Now, this seems to be a silly thing to me, and forgive me if I’m getting this part wrong, but I always was under the impression that covens had some kind of hierarchical set up, at least in my understanding of Traditional Witchcraft.

    “Exposing you”? That’s a laugh. I’ll make sure I sign a contract for a reality TV show that goes around outing people for being Witches Who Would Rather Keep Their Practice In the Shadows. That way I can roll around in all my filthy money I get from being a solitary with no connection at all to Wicca or an organization like COG.

    You speak intimately of inner workings of the COG. Were you a member? Have you sat down, learned these diabolic capitalist plans of the big name Pagans who you are attributing to the organization? The little names? No? Drat. You must hate to pay for your food, or the internet, or medical bills, too.

    I find it interesting that you constantly claim that this organization venerates Mammon. What a purely Christian concept here. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re just arguing to argue at this point in time, and I know I’m going to consider any further post you make to be trolling.

    And if I sold my soul, I hope the check is in the mail. I could really use some solvency.

  53. The notion that Paganism=/=hierarchy is not
    a universal one.

    These groups exist as a bridge between the
    religions of the Pagan umbrella (in COGs case, specifically Wicca) and the
    politics of a wider society.

    Without the public voice that a group has,
    how can Pagan concerns be heard?

    Considering that ‘Witchcraft’ has been persecuted for centuries, I don’t think that shows a great ability to ‘look out for ourselves’. In Britain, for example, the Witchcraft Act was only repealed in 1951.

  54. I did. I also read the body of the article, wherein you make statements such as “Since then I’ve built professional and personal
    relationships with many COG members, and have become convinced that the
    survival and expansion of the covenant is vital to the future of Wiccans, and
    modern Paganism as a whole”, and others where the terms “Pagan” and “Wiccan” are used almost interchangeably.

    I don’t say you do it maliciously, or even consciously. But I will say that the success or failure of a specifically Wiccan organization such as COG is most definitely not vital to the future of paganism as a whole. Asatru, the Religio Romana, Hellenismos, and a host of others will do quite nicely regardless of whether COS stays or goes.

  55. See, what you point out is the difference between my personal opinion, and what COG as an organization believes. They are two different things. I do believe that, should all the large Wiccan organizations that have been winning battles on behalf of the modern Pagan movement as whole disappear, things would be a lot harder for everyone else. That Wiccans have indeed been vital to our movement, even for recons. Now, you may disagree, and you are free to do so, but it isn’t a case of the organization conflating Wicca with Paganism as a whole.

  56. CoG does not claim to govern anything. It is a bottom up organization with no authority over it’s merbership in practice or belief. Is it so hard to believe that in our community we have created an organization that reflects our beliefs, is modeled without “power over” politics, and defends our rights withut the need to be “in charge” Those who see it as about power or money need to step back and take a good look. They will be pleased at what they find.

  57. WoW, what a crazy rant. Have you not read all the comments here. Relized that most CoG members have nothing to sell, get no personal gain from their efforts?

  58. Over the years, every time I’ve tried to contact one of the groves, I’ve either gotten no response at all or a “someone will get back to you”, which turned into no response. If COG is going to be the premier Wiccan organization, do they plan to actually respond to people who want to join and support them???

  59. yeah TCIMP .. youre rite .. i am reading the wrong blog .. i dont really need to be reading a blog written by some1 who seeks to make $$ as a “pagan journalist” & who begs for cash so he can travel to conventions of other ppl selling stuff .. sorry for reading the wrong blog .. id thot it was about Paganism .. i realize now its only about marketing the Craft

  60. As a Non-Wiccan, solitary practitioner, I definitely agree. I just wish that other solitaries would realize that the act of community building and outreach programs like these are not inherently evil or “Christian”.

  61. Your statements betray a real misunderstanding how how money works in nonprofit organizations like COG, Circle or other Pagan churches I’m aware of. I wonder have you ever had bad experiences with money-grubbing new agers or the like? Because no one is getting rich off this stuff by writing a few books, or getting the occasional speaker’s fee. A FEW of our most famous leaders and authors are able to make enough money that they don’t have to have a day job – but they’re not getting rich.

  62. Dear Jeanne,

    If you’re practicing something that has been around for centuries, then you aren’t practicing Wicca and CoG is simply irrelevant to you. From what I’ve seen, CoG claims to be *Wiccan*, not to be inclusive of all forms of witchcraft past, present, and future.

    Disclaimer: I am not taking a position about whether or not Gardner was initiated into something older. If he was, it was not yet what we call “Wicca.” It’s clear that he invented the term “Wica” to describe the specific mystery cult that he and Valiente and others developed. The use of the word Wicca always implies at least a spiritual descent from Gardnerian Craft. (Which is not to say that everything called Wicca looks much like Gardnerian Craft.)

  63. Yes Wiccan =/= Pagan – but if you think that other Pagans (or different but related religions) aren’t going to get the ‘coat-tail’ benefits of the success of organizations like CoG, I urge you to think again.

    We’re all currently benefiting from the legal victories won by Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette. I’ve got just about nothing in common with them theologically, but I am very grateful that they were organized and persistent enough to with that fight in the 40s.

  64. Perhaps the best way to follow your mother’s precepts is to avoid media like this one.

  65. “Sorry, but by and large I do not trust other pagans.”

    I think this sums up the underlying issue here. I suspect that the vast majority of people criticizing the existence of umbrella organizations in paganism really are projecting their personal trust issues onto the “pagan community.” Mature individuals understand that one trusts or distrusts individuals based on that individual’s behaviors. Any generalization to an entire category is simply stereotyping.

  66. Your story is a little sad. I’m possibly erroneously going to assume you’re not a child, since you’re sitting there trying to tell a group of mostly adults how they’re all going to hell/ sold their souls and stuff.
    If what you’ve learned from resembles Wicca your source had to get it from someone – Wicca didn’t even exist until 1950 or so and didn’t become publicized until the 60’s. It sounds like you’ve been unwittingly isolated from other people – do you really think solitaries don’t have people coming to them for help? Do you really think everybody has to be a solitary, without even anyone to talk to? And anyway, despite their wide dispersal, not everybody feels the Ardanes are any best example of Gardner’s writing efforts. Not even his coven bought they were ancient sourced.

  67. Jeanne, “withdrawing in2 the shadows & avoiding conflict’ is often not an option.

    For just a few hypothetical – what if you had an ex who wanted to use your faith against you in a custody case? What if your kid blurts out their plans for Halloween to a teacher who calls child protective services? What if there is a crime near your house and the police investigate you, or your teenage child?

    Something like of those examples HAVE HAPPENED and will certainly happen again, to people who never tried to draw attention to themselves. When it happens, the difference between life-altering tragedy and just a difficult situation that you can get through may be the presence of an organized, capable community with people who have the kind of credentials that police or bureaucrats understand.

    And maybe, just maybe, if those people keep talking to authorities and to the media then we won’t have to live in fear of misunderstandings and societal ignorance threatening our families.

    I pray nothing like that ever happens to you, or anyone else. But don’t try to discredit an organization that can help those who do need it – because it could be any one of us, suddenly and without warning.

  68. Yes, my original comment was aimed at your comments. On re-reading my original comment, I agree that I gave the (erroneous) impression that COG viewed itself as pan-pagan, whereas I meant to say that you saw it that way, indirectly.

    That said, I stand by my point that the mere fact that a Wiccan organization is successful is not in any way “vital” to the success of non-Wiccan faiths.

  69. Ah, but Jason didn’t say that non-Wiccans don’t benefit, he said that COG was “vital” to all pagans. I disagree with that assertion; given that COG is exclusively Wiccan, at most they can have an indirect impact.

    As you yourself point out, many other groups of many widely diverse theological persuasions influence one another. But I don’t think it’s necessary or appropriate to say that the success of the JW’s is “vital” to the success of pagans. To my mind, COG is just as tangential to my own beliefs and practices as the JW’s are, and their “coat tails” are no longer nor wider than those of other groups. I see no reason to single them out as being “vital” in the slightest.

  70. Though not a member, I feel grateful for the work COG has done over the years, and continues to do. I give thanks to you, Crystal, and to Don Frew, Anna Korn, Rachael Watcher, Macha Nightmare, Peter Dybing, Rowan Fairgrove, Amber K, Phyllis Curott…. and too many other people to list here.

    – Thorn

  71. Spoken as someone who knows not how CoG governs. All covens are considered autonomous. Niether CoG, nor any Coven or Solitaire within it has a right to tell any other “how” to practice. Having said that, the often referred to “so hard to get in” is because you and your practice will be evaluted in the membership process. Should we let everyone in who has read Coven Craft or a Cunningham book (only)? While that sounds elitist, please consider, CoG is really a professional organization for Clergy/Clergy minded Witches or Wiccans. Many years ago we ran a newsletter with a mail box (pre-Net). Most of the correspondence could be summed up as “I’m __ years old and think Witchcraft is cool. Please give me everything you got”. I am not kidding, that was our constant meme back then. CoG is really for the serious Adult minded Witch who is not looking only for power, but a chance to serve the community.

  72. Perhaps, perhaps. I look at it differently. Once the word “Witch” can be re-claimed as a non-perjorative, it will be so much easier for the terms Druid, Heathen, Kemetic-ian(?), etc. As someone who has been around a long time, as a Witch (early ’70s), I’ve often heard folks say things that indicate they don’t want to be known as a Witch, but Celtic, or similar was fine to them. My point is that words have meanings, either side of the equasion. Some people are not brave enough, or have the support and resources to proclaim their Witch-ness. Likewise, non Pagans who have known me have asked “Well can’t you just call yourself something else?”
    Finally it would be very important to know that a number of my colleages in CoG also practice other paths; Druidry, Asatru, various Reconstructions, etc. I think Cog may be specifcally for Witch Wiccans but we are obviously in common ground with these other faiths. Don’t be afraid to network with us, at least!

  73. I was pleasantly surprised when I read this article from the round up. I have been considering membership in CoG but my state council (in my opinion) is not exactly one that I wish to associate myself with. It’s a sad thing to say and there is far too much to go into on this board. I am sure some will think my opinion unfair but there is far too much politickling for my taste- that’s the only polite way to say that.

    Suffice it to say, I had assumed that I would not be able to join so long as I lived in the state that I do. After reading this article, perhaps I jumped hastily to that conclusion. Perhaps I can still be a part of this, in some way, shape or form while living here in the south. Thank you very much for your informative and thought provoking article!

  74. Defeating such perceptions is going to require a couple of things. One, younger Wiccans need to reconsider their cynical instinct against joining organizations.

    Two, those organizations need to provide a reasonable path for them to get involved. This disconnect between COG and street-level younger (under AARP age) Wiccans is real. It exists in no small part because COG’s organizational and membership structure remains one that was built to serve and engage Wiccans as they were in 1975. It was a model that probably fit reasonably well for 20 years or so, but it’s simply not where the vast majority of us are today.

    To the extent COG is organized around Wicca of the past, it will never engage Wiccans in the present and more importantly in the future. That means that almost all of its potential energy will be unrealized, and the good it does manage to accomplish will be unappreciated by those who had no role in those accomplishments.

  75. Ummm, didn’t St. Gerald Gardiner SELL books he wrote and charge admission to his museum on the Isle of Mann?

  76. Thanks. I appreciate CoG’s accomplishments, but didn’t feel right about joining when I was invited back in the ’70s. Why? I identify more as a Pagan than as a witch, and while I was invited multiple times, the admission process struck me as a problematic institution. I went on to co-found CUUPS, the Covenant of UU Pagans, which has a very open membership.

  77. I didn’t know anything about the history of CUUPS; I’m glad to virtually meet its co-founder.

    Sounds like things worked as they were supposed to. A common criticism
    of CoG is that it doesn’t accept members who are Pagan but don’t
    identify themselves as Witches. That’s not a bug; it’s a feature.

    One of the first decisions that the people who created CoG had to make was whether it was going to be an organization inclusive of all Pagan paths or an organization of witches. Partly because of some previous failed attempts to create pan-pagan organizations, they concluded that Paganism is so broad and fuzzy at the edges that it would be impossible to set guidelines as to who was entitled to join and who wasn’t, and that the people or groups who did join would be so diverse in their outlooks that it would be hard to find enough agreement to get anything done.

    They decided that the various varieties and traditions of witchcraft/Wicca have enough in common to form the basis of a cooperative organization. They also agreed that those points in common aren’t amenable to being sharply defined like a law code, but one Witch can recognize another if they spend some time together. So from day one, CoG’s bylaws have required that if you want to join, you have to declare that you are a witch or Wiccan or a coven of witches or Wiccans, and you have to obtain letters of recommendation from two other witches. It’s perfectly all right for a CoG member to also be Heathen or an Umbanda practitioner or any other religion or spiritual path, but if you don’t consider yourself a witch, CoG is not the organization for you.

    Other organizations have arisen that have a broader membership, and good for them.

    Apologies for the inconsistent capitalization of Pagan and Witch; I go back and forth on that.

  78. I barely meet the definition of Pagan but I do agree with Jason. Obviously,
    anyone who sees no value in COG can ignore it. But like it or not Wicca is the most publicly recognized face of Paganism as a whole and its success or failure in defining itself as a legitimate American religion will affect all of us. They are our brothers and sisters and I wish them every success.

  79. I’ve been part of the movement since 1970 when I joined Temple of the Pagan Way (headed by Gardnerian HPS Donna Cole and ceremonialist Herman Enderle.)

    IMO, every Pagan group which succeeds in furthering its mission contributes something to the future success of every other Pagan group. So good for COG that it’s self-reflective and good for all the other groups who are attending to their respective parts of the Great Garden! Whether we are Reconstructionists, Wiccans, or DIY Pantheists, it’s important to understand the commonalities which hold us together even as we attend to the particularities of our personal work.

    Christa Landon, Trustee CUUPS

  80. They would have been able to do a whole lot more if all the people who criticize them had been willing to fund them. The ACLU has to bring in lawyers from out of town because unpopular cases hurt them professionally. This is expensive.

    They have to pick the cases that can make a difference and they can only take as many as donations provide for.

    If WE don’t fund institutions which reflect our values, then we will have to live in a world shaped by the institutions others create and support.

  81. That I donate to the ACLU doesn’t mean they were there for my needs when the LLL had been. Yes, it’d be nice for more people to donate also to the ACLU if they support religious freedom

  82. To be perfectly honest, I don’t see many commonalities between Asatru and Wicca. Don’t get me wrong; I fully support pan-pagan groups such as Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty Project, AREN, etc. They are umbrella organizations and their success definitely has more of a direct impact upon that of my own faith. But the success of an explicitly Wiccan organization is no more relevant (and certainly not “vital”) to the success of my own faith than the success of an explicitly Hindu one.