The word coven remained largely unused in English until 1921 when Margaret Murray promoted the idea, now much disputed, that all witches across Europe met in groups of thirteen which they called "covens".[disputed ]
In Wicca and other similar forms of modern neopagan witchcraft, such as Stregheria and Feri, a coven is a gathering or community of witches, much like a congregation in Christian parlance. It is composed of a group of believers who gather together for ceremonies of worship such as Drawing Down the Moon, or celebrating the Sabbats. The number of persons involved may vary. Although thirteen is considered ideal (probably in deference to Murray's theories), any group of at least three can be a coven. A group of two is usually called a "working couple" (regardless of their sexes). Within the community, many believe that a coven larger than thirteen is unwieldy, citing unwieldy group dynamics and an unfair burden on the leadership. When a coven has grown too large to be manageable, it may split, or "hive". In Wicca this may also occur when a newly made High Priest or High Priestess, also called 3rd Degree ordination, leaves to start their own coven. Wiccan covens are usually jointly led by a High Priestess and a High Priest, though some are led by only one or the other. In more recent forms of neopagan witchcraft, covens are sometimes run as democracies with a rotating leadership.
With the rise of the internet as a platform for collaborative discussion and media dissemination, it became popular for adherents and practitioners of Wicca to establish (often paid subscription-based) "online covens" which remotely teach tradition-specific crafts to students in a similar method of education as non-religious virtual online schools.
However, because of potentially-unwieldy membership sizes, many online covens limit their memberships to anywhere between 10 to 100 students. The CFFN, in particular, tried to devolve its structure into a system of sub-coven clans (which governed their own application processes), a system which ended in 2003 due to fears by the CFFN leadership that the clans were becoming communities in their own right.
Usage in literature and popular culture
In fantasy stories and popular culture, a coven is a gathering of witches to work spells in tandem. Such imagery can be traced back to Renaissance prints depicting witches and to the three "weird sisters" in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Orgiastic meetings of witches are also depicted in the Robert Burns poem "Tam o' Shanter" and in the Goethe play Faust. Movie portrayals have included, Suspiria, Rosemary's Baby, The Covenant, Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, The Craft, Coven and Paranormal Activity 3.
In television, covens have been portrayed in U.S. supernatural dramas Charmed, Witches of East End, The Originals, The Secret Circle and True Blood. In the 1967 Star Trek original series episode "Catspaw", three witches appeared as illusions and acted in unison to voice a warning to Kirk and the landing party to leave the planet. The third season of American Horror Story is titled Coven and focuses on witches.
- Murray, Margaret (1921). The Witch Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology.
- K, Amber (2002). Coven Craft: Witchcraft for Three or More. Llewellyn Publications.
- Margot Adler (2006) Drawing Down the Moon (book). Penguin Books.
- Miriam Simos (1999) The Spiral Dance. San Francisco: Harper.
- Janet and Stuart Farrar (1996) A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches Handbook. Phoenix Publishing.
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- List of Covens by Location at Witchvox
- Online Covens supported by SpellsOfMagic
- Choosing a Coven by Judy Harrow
- Choosing a Coven (advice on) by Lisa Mc Sherry
- Information on Covens by Spell Reviews