FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Members of the Covenant of the Goddess held their annual Merry Meet and Grand Council Meetings here from Aug. 9 – 12. Grand Council functions as the organization’s national decision-making body, while the Merry Meet gathering consists of workshops and rituals. 47 people registered to attend both events, while 15 registered only for Merry Meet.
The Covenant of the Goddess finds itself at a turning point after its 43 years of existence. Its members are “graying,” or getting older, and membership numbers are declining. The social and political context is much less threatening now than when the covenant was formed in 1975, and members have contributed to that change. Grand Council member Donald H. Frew said, “We are very much a victim of our success.” Witches and Wiccans have won many of the battles for civil rights and respect.
While many people spoke about how the climate has improved, they noted that it may shift again. The Christian Right concept of “religious freedom” could well threaten Witches and Pagans. As Wild Hunt managing editor noted in one editorial on the subject,
While people of all ilks know that faith, ethics, morality, and belief cannot be fully separated from action in any sphere of life, there is a sacrifice that must happen for the sake of the greater community to thrive. The dangers of an ideology based on the integration of church and state, or church and the public square, move closer to a government based on a dominant theology.
That, in the end, would become a substantial burden for anyone outside of the religious majority.
Grand Council members took up several issues to address some of the problems faced. The organization’s first mission statement was developed, its membership application process was streamlined, and a report on declining membership in one region was considered in context of the whole.
The first mission statement
The Covenant of the Goddess has functioned without a mission statement throughout its history, but that chapter is now closed. The new statement reads:
We, the Covenant of the Goddess, through advocacy, education, interfaith action, and resource sharing, empower Witches and Wiccans to protect, strengthen, and enrich our religion, society, and the earth.
The mission statement identified four key activities. Members will advocate for the rights of Witches and Wiccans, educate Witches and Wiccans as well as the public about the Craft, engage in interfaith activities with people from other religious traditions, and also share common resources among themselves and the public.
In their reporting, representatives of the New Mexico-based Chamisa stressed that the designers of their study of membership decline wanted to explore reasons for dropping out. Unless someone knows something about why a problem exists, they reason, it cannot be fixed. However, they had no intention to to provide a statistical explanation of why people left.
These former members expressed a lack of faith in the organization’s leadership. Some felt that leaders had acted in elitist ways. Some alleged that leaders had mishandled the Black Lives Matter statement. Others felt that leadership had failed to develop racial and ethnic diversity. Still others alleged that the leaders were well-intentioned, but unqualified. Some respondents felt that the organzation was no longer necessary, had a lack of focus, and moved at glacial pace. To summarize, former members felt the covenant leadership was elitist, privileged, or irrelevant.
Covenant of the Goddess has a complex membership structure. It began as an organization of autonomous covens or groups. It was not an organization of individuals. Only later on were individual memberships created. This makes measuring a decline in membership difficult. No one disputed that membership had been declining, but by press time, leaders were unable to provide exact numbers.
A coven must have at least three members, according to covenant by-laws; the largest coven has 16 members. As each coven must have at least three members, a minimum estimate of 253 people can be calculated. As the largest coven has 16 members, a maximum of 1,098 people is the upper limit.
The organization’s Facebook page has 263,572 followers; Grand Council members discussed how to actively engage these.
Unlike many organizations, membership requires more than paying dues. Individuals and covens must apply for membership to one of nine local councils. Should the individual or group live outside of the geographic area served by the local councils, the application is directly to the national body. This results in four types of memberships: local coven, local individual, national coven, and national individual.
An applicant must complete a membership form, write a statement of practice, and submit two recommendation letters. Currently it can take up to one year to process. Grand Council members approved several changes to speed up this process.
Technology as solution
Canu, “a Pagan with a bad tech habit,” plans to increase the organizational use of technology to solve some problems. Grand Council has limited time for face-to-face interaction. It only meets once per year for two to three days. Most communication is via email, through which the emotional cues of face-to-face interaction are absent. Canu feels that using web-based meeting software could lessen this problem. This is particularly important for emotionally-charged issues.
This Grand Council had five virtual attendees. Virtual attendance reduces expenses, and the carbon footprint.
Canu said that CoG has taught its members about new technology. He reported that within the organization, “Tech literacy has advanced quite a bit, even within our aging membership.”
While membership has declined, some local councils have seen increased memberships. Local councils can play a vital role. Canu said, “We’d be really interested if people wanted to explore forming new local councils in their area. I’d be very happy to talk with anybody about what I think makes a good local council and makes one work well.”
It may surprise many Pagans that this event was scheduled with Mercury in retrograde. Canu explained that this week in August has been the traditional week for Grand Council to meet. This date aligns with the school year and traditional summer vacations. The first part of Grand Council was devoted to a workshop on healthy communication. Canu felt that this could help lessen any Mercury retrograde issues.
The next Merry Meet/Grand Council, “2019 High Desert Magick,” will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico from Aug. 15 – 18, 2019.