Covens, Groves, Clans and Alike
- A Few Definitions
- A Coven
- Middle English - Covin a group of confederates
- Old French - covin or middle Latin - to convene
- Vulgar Latin - to
- A coven is formal organization of 13 working practioners
of magik. These can be witches, mages, shamans, and so on. But
a coven is typically associated with a group of witches. Lead
by a high priest and priestess.
- A Grove or Bangor
- Middle English - grof - a thicket
- Old English - fraefa - a group, a small wood of trees
- A formal group of Druids, who organize for ritual work, learning
and providing spiritual guidance to their communities.
- A Kindred
- Archaic - raedan - a kinship
- Middle English - kinreden - akin to
- A formal group of Norse practioners, usually within Asatru,
lead by a high priest/priestess called a Gothar. They gather
together in many numbers, from small to large. The Kindred is
a family of souls which can be 3 practioners plus the Gothar,
up to a full community.
- A Clan
- Gael & Irish - clann, cland - offspring - tribe
- Latin - planta - offshoot
- A formal group of Celtic practioners, usually within Irish
traditions, lead by a high priest/priestess called a Shaman/Shamanka.
Who organize for ritual work, learning and providing spiritual
guidance to their communities. The Clan can be as small as 9
practioners, up to a full community.
- Gathering Together
- People have been gathering together for centuries. Wither
by practical purpose to survive in the harsh world of the time,
or for simple kinship. As within society today, people also gathered
together in smaller groups for common purpose. This is true of
early pagans around the ancient world.
- Covens have been referenced in literature as early as the
12th century. In the Polycraticus, John of Salisbury describes
organized groups of witches who carry on at wild sabbats. A story
popular in the Middle Ages concerns an event with St. Germain
(390-448), in which he encounters villagers preparing a dinner
for the "good women who walk about at night" dancing
with the spirits.
- During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the existence
of covens was taken more seriously. The judges of the inquisition
tortured witches into confessions of being part of 13 member
covens, and forced them into providing the names of the other
participants. The Church believed this would allow them to throw
a wide net around these 'criminals'.
- The earliest known documented reference (outside of literature)
to a coven is from a 1324 witch trial in Kilkenny, Ireland. Dame
Alice Kyteler was accused of being part of a 13-member group
and was being forced to reveal the other members. Dame Alice
refused and was executed for her insolence and being a witch.
By the 1700s, the concept of a coven was firmly established in
society. But many quickly went under ground and became secret
to avoid the persecution of the Church.
- Some witches of today claim to be members of covens that
date back generations. Sybil Leek's New Forest coven claims to
be 800 years old. Some covens may indeed be old, but there is
little practical or accepted evidence to indicate that these
covens have existed in unbroken lines throughout the centuries.
That doesn't mean it's not true, just hard to prove beyond reasonable
- European witches were and are not, the only pagans to gather
in groups. The earliest known records of the Druids come from
the 3rd century BC and describe Druid Groves. Formal organizations
were also known as Bangors. Both of these were groups of Druid
Priests who became teachers, leaders and even judges when necessary
of their local communities.
- In addition to the Druids, and some say prior to their formalization,
there were the Irish Clans. Family groups usually, who were lead
by a warrior leader and a spiritual Shaman. This is the basic
concept of Celtic Shamanism which is slightly different than
the Druidic Order. In these groups, Shamans gathered together
with the Clan for ritual work. At times their workings required
them to meet alone without the laymen of the Clan. In these cases,
the gathers would consist of at least 3 members if possible.
But many Shamans of a Clan worked alone. During special events,
Shamans from neighboring Clans would also gather together for
Across the waters, the Norse also had/have their own coven versions
called Kindreds. These groups are formed with members, who the
existing practioners would want to be in their own family and
extended family. This is how many Kindreds are formed today in
Vinland. Today the Ásatrú Alliance promotes the
founding and growth of Kindreds, and that through the pages of
their publication, Vor Tru, they reach out to many of the Folk,
or people of the Kindreds.
- For further details about each of these groups, I'll be adding
postings to each section listed on the Witchcraft & Shamanism
menu. Stay tuned.
- For those looking for information about starting your own
coven, read the posting on "Starting
Your Own Coven".
- Sources: 1, 2,
- Created: 6/6/2002