Pagan Paths

Into the Coven is a sneak peek into the development and workings of a Wiccan coven. Each monthly installment will explore the history and lore surrounding the idea of the coven. In addition to looking at the coven in history, Jason Mankey will share the growing pains, triumphs, and tragedies of his own working group.

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Into the Coven: The Covenstead

I first came across the term covenstead in Uncle Bucky's Raymond Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. In the Big Blue Book Buckland describes the covenstead as "the name given to the home of the coven (the place where it always, or most often, meets).  Within the Covenstead,* of course, is found the Temple."  I've been a part of several covens over the years, but most of those situations seemed to lack a true covenstead.  Rituals were undertaken in several different locations: a few houses, maybe a park, etc.  Those places were all nice, and my house numbered among them, but they didn't feel like a covenstead.  


When one starts a coven there's no telling how things will end up.  One always hopes for "perfect love and perfect trust" and that they are building a chosen family, but it doesn't always work like that.  One of the great things about the Oak Court (the coven I'm a member of, and if it sounds pretentious it's not, it's the name of the street I live on!) is that it has consistently succeeded my expectations over the years.  I never figured we'd build a covenstead, but we have.

What I love the about our covenstead is probably what Buckland would call the "temple" but covenstead just sounds cooler.  Though to be honest my house just feels more like a magical home when my brothers and sisters in the Craft are there.  Of course how we got from "Ari and Jason's house" to covenstead is a tale unto its self.  

We built our covenstead by accident.  My wife works in a medical laboratory and because of that spends a lot of her weekends "on call" limiting our ability to travel.  We started the Oak Court mostly so we could host rituals without having to travel.  Initial gatherings took place in our living room, which is not completely un-magical.  We keep three seasonal altars in our living room and we usually lit it with candle light during ritual.  It was inviting, but not a temple, and certainly not a covenstead.  

It's strange what a piece of furniture can do . . . . . . We started what became the Oak Court after a year or so of living in California which coincided with us moving into a new (rental) house.  One of the things we wanted in that (new to us) house was some new furniture. Ten months after we move in we picked up a new couch, complete with a chaise lounge.  For ritual we used to move our Ikea love-seat to make more room, but when we got the much-bigger couch there was just no where to move it.  

This resulted in my wife and I discussing where we were going to have ritual since the living room was way too full of couch.  After some pondering we wondered if our small guest bedroom would be large enough for a coven of 12.  Only one way to find out.  

The fit was tight, but intimate in a good way.  There was just enough room for a bit of movement and the altar fit comfortably in the middle of the room.  A bookshelf nominally dedicated to photo-albums and old college text books was refurbished into a shrine for our magical items.  Three months after the bedroom became the ritual room we added some candle sconces at each of the four quarters.  My wife's sewing desk began to pull double-duty as an "extra altar" for cakes and ale (and often my sword).  


Within a few months our Temple Room began to feel like a covenstead in a way our living room as temple space never did.  Soon there was just something about being in that room that felt good. Coveners began commenting simply on the feel of our ritual space.  "I'm so happy to be back in this room!" remarked somebody one night, and this was before we cast the circle or called a quarter.  Since our Temple Room has basically become a space reserved for coven gatherings simply walking into it during the week sends a jolt of energy up my spine.  

Doing ritual with certain people has always made me feel magical over the years, but our dedicated ritual space is the first time an indoor room has ever made me feel that way. In fact we all love our covenstead so much that instead of blowing the candles out post ritual and heading back to the living room (with chairs!) for drinks and conversation we are going to keep that space "lit up" post-ritual.  There's something soothing about being in a space where real magick is worked and worlds collide.  Letting everyone have a private moment there while our energy continues to sizzle overhead seems like a good idea.  

So when does a house become a covenstead?  It's hard to pick an exact moment, but it might be when everyone in the coven feels comfortable and "at home" when meeting in the same spot over and over again for ritual.  The "ritual room" is no longer a space in my house, it's the heart of the covenstead and belongs to everyone who circles there.  









*His capitalization not mine, I don't think it really needs to be capitalized unless one is referring to a particular covenstead.  In the case of my coven we'd call it the Oak Court Covenstead.

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Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason's main gig is writing "Raise the Horns" at Patheos Pagan, but he's also a columnist for "Witches and Pagans" (print) magazine, is currently working on his first book for a major publisher, hosts a twice monthly radio show, and lectures frequently on the Pagan Festival circuit.   When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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