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Remembering Walter Wakelin
April 24, 2000
Cowan or Coventry
Treating Others in the Craft
I suppose part of why I was asked to do an article here is that Ian wanted someone who was not stuck on Wicca 101. Rather than looking at the Rites and Rituals of Beltane this month, let us cover new ground. Beltane is not one of our more obscure holidays.
As a Witch, you are expected to keep certain things to yourself, and to honor your other covenors and those in the Craft in various ways. In the Laws of the Craft, we find few specifics of offenses and punishments for those who do not keep the Laws.
Every group, coven, and Tradition has its own version of the Laws. Everyone also seems to have differing interpretations on whether they are even valid in these times.
All quotations of the Laws within this article will be taken from the document titled "JRFLaws", which is an attempt at placing the Laws of the Craft into modern, hopefully understandable English. You can find this version on the Internet, including my own website.
In many regions, you will hear the terms "Cowan" or and "Coventry". These terms generally mean that a person has been shunned from either their coven or the entire community, and are no longer considered Witches by that community. Neither of these terms actually appear in the Laws as we find them today. In most cases, someone who has been cowanned has done very harmful things, and in most of those cases, the harm was intentional and the punishment just.
But what if the harm was NOT intentional, or the punishment NOT just? Since we are only human, we can make mistakes, of incidental harm and of poor judgment, either one based upon the heat of the moment or mere naivete. Also, what can one do who HAS done something wrong but wishes to do whatever s/he can to repair the damage?
At the present time, the Craft in America is very divided. No single group speaks for all. (Is it the same elsewhere? I cannot say.) So an offender can move anywhere else or "infect" another coven. At the same time, innocent offenders or people whose offense was less-easily demarcated and who may need a second chance are just dumped out of the community, with no plan or program to make them welcome at a later date.
Here are some of the statements in the Laws about offenses and punishments:
"If anyone breaks these laws, even under torture, may the Curse of the God and the Goddess be upon them, so that they may not be reborn upon the Earth (but shall live forever in the Hell of the Christians)."
"...She [the Goddess] is not inclined to favor acts which divide Her covens and scatter Her Witches unnecessarily."
"...none shall use the Art in any way to harm anyone or even wish them ill. However much they may injure us, HARM NONE, and may the Christians forget that we exist."
"DO ONLY GOOD, and then only when it is safe to do anything at all."
"It is NEVER permissible, in any dispute involving the Craft, to invoke any laws other than those of the Craft, nor may any tribunals be held other than one consisting of the High Priestess, the High Priest, and the elders."
"If there should arise quarrels or disputes among the Witches, the High Priestess or High Priest shall immediately convene the elders and inquire into the problem. The elders shall hear each side separately, and then both together. Their decision should be just, not siding with one side until the matter is determined, recognizing that there are people who cannot work under others, and others who cannot make wise decisions. ... No one can truly worship the Gods when personal conflicts among the coveners are not resolved; all who cause strife in the coven must be told, `Go away from us, for the Craft must ever survive.'"
"Order and discipline must be kept within the coven; the High Priestess or High Priest should and may punish all faults. To this end, all in the Craft should receive their correction willingly. With the culprit kneeling, all in the Circle should be told of the offense, and the sentence will be pronounced. Punishment might include the scourge [NOTE: in America at least, the scourge is made up of light threads, usually silk, not anything threatening] or the recasting of the Circle, followed by something silly such as several kisses. The culprit must acknowledge the justice of the punishment by kissing the scourge upon receiving sentence, and afterward by thanking everyone for their loving correction."
Those last two were last for two reasons -- they are the latest items on the subject numerically in the Laws, and they are the only ones which say anything about punishments being dealt out BY THE GROUP.
There appear to be only two acceptable punishments in the Craft. One, send the culprit away for good. Two, make them feel loved and cherished by the coven again. I must say that the latter does not seem to be practiced enough. Beyond this, many local groups deal out other punishments, hurtful things (remember the Do Only Good line above?) that may make a very loving and valuable person into a hazard to himself, the Craft, and possibly society in general. I am not going to go through detailed case histories, as that would serve no purpose. What I intend to do is more pre-emptive -- suggest other alternatives of correction.
Obviously, if a person has decided to be nasty and hurt people, there is not a whole lot you can do besides cast them out of the community and make sure you have good protection spells. (If you have a better idea, please tell me, and I'll include it in my next missive.) But the direction to "HARM NONE" should go both ways, in my opinion.
However, in many cases the "culprit" meant no harm and/or fails to see what harm was caused, or might not see the harm for some time to come. In the latter case, no recourse is available, for s/he has already been cast out permanently. I believe it is incumbent upon us to do something more constructive than merely kicking these people out of the Craft. It is my feeling, with no supporting data, that hundreds of people in America fit this description. This is a tremendous loss of resources, in a time when we are so few.
I propose that we handle these cases with the greatest of respect, forethought, and, most of all, follow-up care. An Elder, or someone selected by an Elder, should be in frequent contact with the person. Lessons, discussions, or whatever is amenable to the "culprit" should be provided. These people have been made to feel as if the Lady herself has rejected them, when it fact it was only people who have done so. Many of them would be willing to do almost anything to be seen as assets to the community, to their beloved Goddess, once again. In all cases known to me, there was no outlet permitted for them to continue worship except in solitary. No contact whatever was allowed with the community around them, and they were made to feel useless despite whatever gifts they had to offer.
I do not expect an upswelling of support from local and regional elders. Therefore, I propose that these people themselves should band together and begin discussing themselves -- why they love the Lady (and/or Lord), what they did to get them cowanned, what they have done since (either to rejoin the community or in spite of the community), what they feel they have to offer. All are welcome to contact me, and I would be happy to support anyone who wants to form such a group or serve as point person myself for such a group.
I am not passing judgment on the groups who have ousted these people, but it is time for us to see that we are all in the same boat and need to be paddling in the same direction, rather than arguing about who deserves an oar. That waterfall is getting awfully close...
In service to the Goddess,
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The above article is copyright ©2000, 2004 by Mordewis ap Llys and Gerald L. "Moss" Bliss, who are the same person. The document "JRFLaws" is not currently displayed on http://mosshippohaven.info but is available on several sites on the Internet; do a Google Search for "J. Random Folksinger".