This past weekend I traveled to the historic town of Salem, Massachusetts for Covenant of the Goddess’ (CoG) yearly Merry Meet Convention. This multi-faceted four-day event includes rituals, leadership training, social activities, shopping and the ever important annual business meeting called Grand Council. This year’s Merry Meet was artfully hosted by CoG’s New England-based local council – the Weavers.
Before I recount the experience, I want to make one thing very clear. I am a proud CoG member and have been for years. Currently, I am serving as its National Public Information Officer and will continue to do so for the upcoming year 2013-14. Often when I speak publicly about CoG, it is in an official capacity. What I share below is my own personal reflections from Salem.
This year’s Merry Meet contained a unique and symbolic presence. Salem alone is an interesting city without us even being there. The city is marinating in all things “witchy.” There are pentacles in shop windows and metaphysical shops on every block. If a store clerk notices your pentagram necklace, he or she kindly adds “Blessed Be” while handing you change.
Being a Witch in Salem offers an interesting dichotomy of experience. It allows for a certain freedom of practice while simultaneously putting you in a spotlight. I recall an earlier summer trip to Pennsylvania’s Amish country. While there I wondered how the Amish people felt about being a tourist attraction. How did it feel to live like a Disneyland character? While I was in Salem, I very briefly experienced what that might be like.
With all of those oddities, Salem serves as an excellent backdrop for a Witch convention. Even the producers of Bewitched thought so. In the 1970s Salem Saga episodes, Samantha, Darrin and Endora arrive in the city for their own annual witch convention called Convocation. In the show, the characters actually stay at the Hawthorne Hotel – the very same hotel that CoG used.
Throughout those four days, I found a deep sense of connectivity through the coming together of all things “witch.” Before us lay the rich history of Salem and the tragic deaths of those who were accused of Witchcraft. Layered upon that was the popular culture image of the witch, Samantha, who is now immortalized in a bronze statue on Essex Street. As one tour guide said, the show saved the town. Then there is the presence of real Witchcraft, real Witches and real magic as seen in some of the shops and local practitioners who make Salem their home.
One of these local Witches is Sandra Mariah Wright, the High Priestess of Elphame Coven and CoG’s Merry Meet event coordinator. Standing outside in the Salem Commons, she spoke these opening words:
It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to Salem. It’s my hometown, and I suspect like every hometown it looks much different from the outside looking in. For so many people who visit Salem, it is a pilgrimage that ends up feeling more like a homecoming. I hope it will be that way for all of you….We are standing on Salem Common, the site of the militia’s first muster and the birthplace of the National Guard, and it seems only right – because we are warriors for change. … That is the energy we are tapping into here, weaving this web of unity.
There in the Commons stood more than 70 Witches and Wiccans from across the country representing many generations and traditions all weaving a web of unity. This added yet another layer of meaning to the experience of Merry Meet.
As the work of the Covenant progressed through Friday and Saturday, there was a decidedly clear consensus that the organization needed to modify its processes and adapt to a rapidly evolving world. Much of the work was centered on the notion of looking towards tomorrow. How does CoG, as an organization, successfully implement new technology and what are the best practices for social media? How do we adjust our long standing policies to accommodate or reflect any new trends in Wiccan practice? How do we stay relevant for younger generations whose needs and expectations are different than those of the CoG founders?
Accommodating new technology, such as virtual meeting access, blogs and social media marketing, is the easy part. In fact, today CoG has a very successful Facebook page with well over 15,000 likes. However, negotiating social trends is far more complicated whether that be the increase in solitary practitioners, an aging population or something else entirely.
The incoming First Officer, High Priestess Kathy Lezon of Circle of the Moonlit Sea, is excited to explore the possibilities of moving CoG forward into the evolved future as a strong and relevant organization. She says:
We need to do a whole lot more talking [publicly] about us as an organization…demonstrate what we already do. How nationally can we talk more about what is happening locally with the CoG face on it. [We also need to ] think about the needs of the younger population…solitaries who want some sort of affiliation or people who don’t see the value in a connection with a local organization. There’s a shift happening.
Over the past year, Kasha and members of CoG’s Everglades Moon Local Council (EMLC) have dedicated themselves to experimenting with new ways of increasing CoG’s visibility in Florida. In doing so, they hope to demonstrate its relevancy within contemporary Wiccan life. One of their most progressive projects was their podcast series.
However, the Covenant of the Goddess is not entirely about revolutionary change. While locating its position in this post-Christian world, the organization is also very interested in preserving its own history and that of all Witches. During the meeting, many of its older members provided a much needed grounding point. Anna Korn and Don Frew of Northern California Local Council, often acted as a needed reference point on the history of policies and actions. Several evenings, I had pleasure of talking to another longtime member, Gary Linden of Northern Dawn Local Council, who shared some wonderful stories of Merry Meets gone-by.
Even more profound was the connectivity that we all had to a darker and older history. On Friday morning, the membership unanimously agreed to participate in a service in honor of those colonists who suffered at the hands of Salem Witch Trials in 1692. On Saturday at 1pm, the entire group of 70 plus witches walked to Salem’s Witch Memorial for the tribute. Rayna of EMLC and Jennifer Bennett of Weavers led the observance. I was honored to be able to read aloud a specially written prayer. It stated:
We, the Covenant of the Goddess, a national organization of Wiccans and Witches, in honor of the innocents in Salem who were accused and those who died in 1692, wish to express our sympathy and sorrow over the pain and suffering they experienced. It is our wish that all people will be free to worship the divine presence in their own way in peace. To that end, we have laid a white rose on the marker of each of the aforementioned innocents where that place is known, or here, with these flowers to honor all the rest who suffered alongside them.
While we spoke the words, sang a ritual song and laid the flowers, many tourists stopped to listen and take photos. Some even joined in. Laura Spellweaver, one of the Weavers event planners, stated “It was a lovely and moving moment.”
After this, we got back to business and back to the consensus process. As always this unusual process is simultaneously frustrating and awe-inspiring. A visitor in our midsts, Patheos Pagan Portal’s Managing Editor, Christine Hoff-Kraemer commented:
I was impressed and excited to see an organization where consensus process appears to be working. The meeting was skillfully facilitated, with the moderator working to keep the group’s attention on the specific proposal in front of them. Contentious issues that could be resolved in a relatively short time were sent back to committee for revision and then re-presented after a break and approved. Issues that were more powerfully contentious were tabled for additional discussion and re-consideration in the next year.
Consensus worked its own magic and the business got done. Along with everything else, the Covenant elected its new 2013-14 Board which includes from Left to Right: myself, Garth Garrett, Kathy Lezon, Jack Prewett, Lady Emrys, Lady Mehurt, Jennifer Bennett, and Lady Bridget.
The Weavers ended the weekend with another outdoor ritual. Priestess Sandra Wright spoke these words:
In thirty years, COG has never held a Grand Council in Salem….We have accomplished much here together, and will continue to carry this energy through the coming year as we look to more growth and prosperity for COG. Weavers Local Council has enjoyed hosting you so much, we don’t want to let you leave! And so we say stay if you will, go if you must, return when you wish, hail and farewell! Safe journey, and blessed be!
As always the experience of Merry Meet is invigorating and inspiring. This particular Merry Meet held a unique significance as it brought together a slice of Witchcraft history together with a slice of Witchcraft modernity and, beneath that umbrella let us, the members of CoG, examine our own role in Witchcraft’s future.