A coven or covan is a name used to describe a gathering of witches or in some cases vampires. Due to the word's association with witches, a gathering of Wiccans, followers of the witchcraft-based neopagan religion of Wicca, is also described as a coven.

The word was originally a late medieval Scots word (circa 1500) meaning a gathering of any kind, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It derives from the Latin root word convenire meaning to come together or to gather, which also gave rise to the English word convene. The first recorded use of it being applied to witches comes much later, from 1662 in the witch-trial of Isobel Gowdie, which describes a coven of 13 members.

The word coven remained largely unused in English until 1921 when Margaret Murray promoted the idea, now much disputed, that all witches across Europe met in groups of thirteen which they called 'covens'.[1]



In Wicca and other similar forms of modern neopagan witchcraft, such as Stregheria and Feri Witchcraft, a coven is a gathering or community of witches, much like a congregation in Christian parlance. It is composed of a group of believers who gather together for ceremonies of worship such as Drawing Down the Moon, or celebrating the Sabbats. The number of persons involved may vary. Although thirteen has been suggested[who?] as the optimum number (probably in deference to Murray's theories), any number above and including three can be a coven.[citation needed] Two would usually be referred to as a working couple (in any combination of sexes.) Within the community, many believe that a coven larger than thirteen is unwieldy, citing unwieldy group dynamics and an unfair burden on the leadership.[2] When a coven has grown too large to be manageable, it may split, or "hive". In Wicca this may also occur when a newly made High Priest or High Priestess, also called 3rd Degree ordination, leaves to start their own coven. Wiccan covens are generally jointly led by a High Priestess and a High Priest, though some are led by only one or the other. In more recent forms of neopagan witchcraft, covens are sometimes run as democracies with a rotating leadership.

Online covens

With the rise of the World Wide Web as a platform for collaborative discussion and media dissemination, it became popular for adherents and practitioners of Wicca to establish (often paid subscription-based) "online covens" which remotely teach tradition-specific crafts to students in a similar method of education as non-religious virtual online schools.

One of the first online covens to take this route is the Coven of the Far Flung Net, which was established in 1998 as the online arm of the Church of Universal Eclectic Wicca.

However, because of potentially-unwieldy membership sizes, many online covens limit their memberships to anywhere between 10 to 100 students. The CFFN, in particular, tried to devolve its structure into a system of sub-coven clans (which governed their own application processes), a system which ended in 2003 due to fears by the CFFN leadership that the clans were becoming communities in their own right.

Usage in literature and popular culture

An intermediate view is often portrayed in fantasy stories and popular culture. In this usage, a coven is a gathering of witches to work spells in tandem. Such imagery can be traced back to Renaissance prints depicting witches and to the three 'weird sisters' in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. More orgiastic witches' meetings are also depicted in Robert Burns' poem Tam o' Shanter and in Goethe's play Faust. Movie portrayals have included, for example, Suspiria, Rosemary's Baby, The Covenant, Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, The Craft and COVEN. In television, covens were portrayed in the U.S. supernatural drama, Charmed and the HBO hit series True Blood.


  1. ^ Murray, Margaret (1921). The Witch Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology.
  2. ^ K, Amber (2002). Coven Craft: Witchcraft for Three or More. Llewellyn Publications.
  • Drawing Down the Moon Margot Adler (Penguin Books; 2006)
  • The Spiral Dance Miriam Simos (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999)
  • A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches Handbook Janet and Stuart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing, 1996)

External links

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  • coven — /kuv euhn, koh veuhn/, n. an assembly of witches, esp. a group of thirteen. [1500 10 for sense assembly ; 1655 65 for current sense; var. of obs. covent assembly, religious group, CONVENT] * * * ▪ witchcraft       basic group in which witches are …   Universalium

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  • coven — UK [ˈkʌv(ə)n] / US noun [countable] Word forms coven : singular coven plural covens a group or meeting of witches …   English dictionary

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