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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Coven

This article was written by John Michael Greer on April 01, 2005
posted under Coven

In Scottish folklore and modern Pagan practice, a group of Witches. The traditional number of members in a coven is thirteen, and Margaret Murray, whose writings on medieval Witchcraft were a major source for modern Wicca, insisted that this was an absolute rule. The medieval evidence does not support her claim, however, as groups of thirteen are hard to find in any pre-Murray discussions of Witchcraft lore of the Witch trials.

The word coven is a Scots English version of convent or conventicle, and simply means "gathering." It appears in the records of a few Scottish Witchcraft trials, and was taken from those sources by Murray.

In modern Wicca and many other Pagan traditions, the coven is the basic unit of organization, and consists of three or more people who meet at least often enough to celebrate the eight Sabbats. While thirteen is considered the optimum number of members, this requirement is usually honored in the breach, and covens range in size from three members to twenty or more. In most Wiccan traditions, the leadership of a coven is centered in the High Priestess, who may or may not share her authority with a High Priest. Other officers include a Maiden, who is female and assists the High Priestess, and a Summoner or Guardian, who is male and assists the High Priest; these positions are often held by members in training to become High Priestesses or High Priests themselves.

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