Covenant of the Goddess (COG) is one of the oldest and largest credentialing bodies for Wicca and Witchcraft in the United States. Originally founded in 1975 by 13 original member covens, the organization today boasts 121 member covens and a growing number of solitary members. The work of COG is done by a national board of directors, and fourteen regional local councils that engage in much of the grassroots organizing and direct activism in service of Wiccan rights. For example, it was the Dogwood local council in Georgia who responded to a story about religious harassment of a Wiccan student in Bowden, forming a coalition of local and national Pagan groups to make sure the student’s rights were respected. Representatives from these councils, solitary caucuses, and the national board gather each year in a different city to hold a Grand Council, a two-day consensus-run meeting where national elections are held, business is discussed, and Witches from across the country spend hours envisioning the future of the covenant.
I was pleased to attend the 2012 MerryMeet and COG Grand Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico not only as a reporter, but as a pending member. In 2010 I was invited to speak at MerryMeet in Indiana, and was able to cover their process, and the election of Peter Dybing to the office of First Officer. Since then I’ve built professional and personal relationships with many COG members, and have become convinced that the survival and expansion of the covenant is vital to the future of Wiccans, and modern Paganism as a whole. As modern Paganism continues to grow, and religious demographics in America reach various tipping points, more attention, both positive and negative, will be paid to what Witches do. As we enter that reality, an organization that is built to speak with the voices from many different Wiccan traditions will be increasingly necessary.
While many instinctively point to COG’s historic past, and who’s-who of famous members past and present ( Margot Adler, Starhawk, Diana Paxson, Isaac Bonewits, and many more), I think it is more important to talk about what COG is doing right now. COG and COG members help fund Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan learning institution that just awarded its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling.
“When I started in 2002, Cherry Hill Seminary was the first and best opportunity I found for inexpensive and trustworthy Pagan education beyond the training I received in the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove,” said Harris in an interview. “By the time the masters program was introduced in 2009, I had committed myself to becoming a board-certified chaplain. I embraced the Cherry Hill Seminary program as a way to add the necessary qualification of an M.Div. or equivalent.”
COG members are a part of Cherry Hill’s leadership, and extends COG’s role of credentialing clergy into making sure those clergy, whether COG-aligned or not, are well-prepared for their future in service. Another important part of educating Wiccan clergy is making sure they have the material and papers necessary for their research and development. The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area, is in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” All of its Board of Directors, save one, are current COG members, this includes Don Frew, Rowan Fairgrove, Anna Korn, and Gus diZerega. Starting with a collection of 13,000 volumes that they are currently cataloging and shelving, the library already has a physical space, and will soon have non-profit status. At this 2012 Grand Council, it was decided that Adocentyn would be added as a donation option on COG member renewal forms.
In addition to simply opening a research library, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (which recently laid its foundation) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans. Don Frew is also working with other Pagan elders in forming a Pagan Foundation to help fund initiatives like Adocentyn and other projects that enrich and benefit our community.
The above examples are just a sampling of the work that is happening right now that COG is involved in. Work that often happens behind the scenes and doesn’t get the attention it often deserves. Of course, COG is also rightfully respected for its intensive interfaith activities, for the public events and Pagan Pride Days sponsored by local councils, for its partnership with Circle Sanctuary in honoring Pagan veterans with the Order of the Pentacle, for the many Pagan chaplains it provides resources to, and its support of Ardantane Learning Center, The Witches’ Voice, and other institutions that make our community what it is today. Look at almost any Wiccan or Witchcraft initiatives that has benefited our community, and in many cases you’ll find COG or COG members involved in some capacity.
Returning to this year’s Grand Council, what is apparent is that despite the contention, and sometimes esoteric points over by-laws or process, what emerges is a microcosm of Wicca today full of mutual respect and love. British Traditional Witches alongside utterly eclectic “bootstrap” traditions, alongside solitary Witches, finding common ground and purpose. Engaging in the kind of ecumenicism our sometimes fractious community desperately needs. There’s an emphasis on tradition at Grand Council, for obvious reasons, but I also caught glimpses of COG’s future as younger Wiccans started stepping forward. The election of Miraselena from Dogwood, a media professional, to the National Public Information Officer position, the formation of committees to explore better outreach and to make sure COG is fulfilling its purpose, which includes the participation of rising star Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap: Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society,” and several more small hints that things are starting to shift.
First Officer Ginger Wages (Hawk), was re-elected for a second term, when first elected she told media representatives that “the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now,” and it’s obvious from much of the discussion underway this year that her emphasis on that goal is starting to bear fruit. Her oversight in 2013 will no doubt play a vital role in seeing these budding initiatives succeed. She is joined by an energized and enthusiastic incoming board which sports representatives from local councils across the country.
As I said earlier in this piece, I believe COG is vital to Wicca’s future. It is the only organization of its type dedicated to the needs and issues faced by Wiccans and Witches. Unlike other large Witchcraft-oriented organizations like Circle Sanctuary, Sacred Well, or Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, they are not a church or single tradition, they are a collective of many different traditions who choose to align themselves under COG’s banner. This also differentiates them from other Pagan organizations which are often focused on a single tradition or practice within a Pagan faith. As Paganism grows, we will not only need “Pagan” spokespeople and leaders, we will need those who publicly advocate for views and positions within a particular Pagan faith. Journalists will all eventually understand that modern Paganism is a religious movement, not a religion itself with “denominations” branching out from it. As we move into that time, organizations that can speak with an explicitly Wiccan voice will be needed more than ever.
Conservative estimates say there are currently over 300 thousand Wiccans in the United States (I personally believe that number is higher), which means that COG will have to grow at a continual steady pace if it hopes to effectively serve religious Witchcraft as a whole. Of all the Wiccan-oriented groups, I think COG is best placed to achieve this goal, and be the proactive, responsive body it needs to be in a post-Christian society where Pagan voices will be heard by larger and larger numbers. This means more local councils, more solitary members, and an even greater engagement with new traditions, groups, and leaders. It is for this reason that I have taken the step of actively involving myself in COG, and helping it to work toward those goals. Despite the many challenges we face, externally and internally, I am optimistic about COG moving into an ever-growing and important role within the world of religious Witchcraft traditions. If you are interested in becoming a part of COG’s future, you should contact COG, or one of the local councils about you or your coven becoming a member. There’s a somewhat lengthy process, but one that I think is worthwhile.
Before I end this post, one picture, that I think sums up the importance of COG. Outside our hotel in New Mexico was a giant stone Ten Commandments monument. Instead of being seen as an affront, or reminder of Christianity’s dominance in our culture, I saw it as sign of how far we’ve come that this hotel readily accepts the business of a out-and-proud Witch conference.
Crowley said that Magick is ”the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” and our Will to be an accepted and vital part of our society is manifesting before us. I’m excited about where our Will takes us next.