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Whether your group is collaborative or hierarchical, it can be argued that a coven should have written by-laws.  As a Trad Wiccan, part of my education was reading the “Law of the Wicce,” ostensibly a remnant of the “ancient” religion popularized by Gardner in the 20th century.  It’s part of our history and therefore important, but it’s also quaint and laughable to most 21st century sensibilities.  However, it does provide the framework for modern groups to come up with their own laws for best practices, conflict resolution, coven duties, and etiquette.  Whether a group identifies as “Wiccan” or one of the many other monikers in modern Neo-Paganism, having your own law provides for smoother and more rewarding practice, leaving your group free to pursue a relationship with Gods. 

What is the value of a set of by-laws in practical application?  First, it’s a guideline that gives a snapshot of your group’s goals and values, and as such, it assists potential new members in deciding whether or not they might petition for acceptance.   Second, it relieves the members of the group from having to make awkward or painful decisions that could be interpreted as personal vitriol in the heat of dispute.  Being able to point to a set of objective rules allows for cooler resolution of conflict.   Third, by-laws are an expression of the current personality and goals of your group, and are meant to serve only insomuch as they are effective in the here and now.  They can be changed under proper protocol, and that protocol should be written into the by-laws.  As covens are living, breathing entities, a loophole to provide for change to avert stagnation and obsolete convention offers the group a means of keeping their by-laws relevant to changing group needs.  It is suggested that outdated versions of the law be kept for historical reference and that notes on why and how changes were made be added to the coven’s grimoire for reference by later group members.

Following are my recommendations for coven by-laws:

  • The writers of the by-laws should be named in the beginning of the document, along with the date
  • Clear outlines for the coven’s authority structure should be given
  • The method for accepting new members should be clearly noted
  • The method for dispute resolution should be described in detail, including the means for dealing with the coven’s equivalent of a “hung jury.”  Who is the person with the final say?  Is that person elected, appointed, or always the coven founder?  What are the terms of service and how is a person removed from this office, if at all?
  • The means for properly leaving the coven should be described.  Can a person ever be banished from the coven, and what are the procedures and circumstances for banishment?  Are there other punitive measures available to the coven?
  • What are your group’s official jobs, and how are they assigned?  How long does a person serve in an official capacity?  Do you have a scribe, a maiden, a summoner, a Green Man?  What are their duties?
  • What are the rules for rituals?  Is there a grace period for start times?  Can members bring guests, and if so, do they need permission?  Are there conventions for ritual garb?  Are there passwords?
  • If your group offers degrees or elevations, what are they and who decides whether a member is elevated?  Is there an inner court?
  • What is accepted etiquette for circles, feasts, and other coven meetings?  For instance, my coven has a rule that no alcohol or other mood altering substance should be used for 24 hours prior to a ritual.
  • Are there dues for coven membership?  Are in-kind contributions expected from time to time?  How is the covenstead cared for?  How is money handled?
  • Are clergy credentials granted by your group, and if so, by what organization?  What is the procedure for hiving, if any?

What are your feelings about how by-laws should be handled?  Do you think a group could or should function without by-laws?  Do you have any stories regarding experiences of the governing of a group that did or didn’t work well (no names please) where by-laws could have been a factor?




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Replies to This Discussion

Good topic!

I suppose every group works different. I worked with a very close knit and small group for year with success probably because we kept it as simple as possible. We did have bylaw, such as no mind altering substances, and no one was allowed into the closed circle for atleast a year if they were serious about the path. We kept our rites pretty quiet. there were sacred names of the goddess, and practices that we keep to ourselves and an open circle format. We did not have any dues, but we expected everyone to do an equal share of duties. it was a potluck group thats for sure.

We only had a few written in our book though, which makes me think of some revising!



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