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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
Image Credit - The Druidic TarotVulgar Latin - to agree
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 doubt.
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 spiritual workings.

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, m23, m25, o2, o17, o22, c12, c13, c12, c19, n2, n5, n6
Created:  6/6/2002         Updated: 03/10/2008