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 It is suggested that outdated versions of the law be kept for historical reference and that notes on why and how changes were made be added to the coven’s grimoire for reference by later group members.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:
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?
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!