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There appears to be a fair amount of ongoing confusion as to what each of these is and what each of them should be doing, so let me stick my oar into it, too. But first, let’s play the definition game.
Circle: Three or more people who gather to work ritual or Craft. Some are ritual only, some worship only, but most do both. The following are all special cases of a Circle:
Grove: Circle usually led by, and under the auspices of, a coven. Frequently eclectic in practice, groves are commonly used as an introduction to the Craft as a whole but not necessarily to any given Tradition. Groves usually don’t initiate. May also be called a Study Group.
Coven: Circle gathering at least once per month (most, however, get together twice a month) for worship and/or magic. Membership tends to be stable with personnel changes being gradual. Normally practicing within a single Tradition, Covens typically have strong group rapport. Most train their members to whatever standard they use. Rites of passage (the “I” word) are the norm.
Temple: Two or more Circles, generally at least one coven (the Inner Circle) and a grove (the Outer Circle), the latter being open to the public. Serves the public as a place to worship and/or learn about the Gods with advanced training for those seekers who meet the Temple’s standards. I’m on shakier ground here, never having run a Temple, but I see a Circle/Grove open to the general public as essential to the definition, while the strong affiliation to one or more covens is a matter of observation (as is the relationship between groves and covens cited earlier).
A fair number of practitioners do not distinguish among these terms (nor, for that matter, among Wicca, Paganism & New Age). Feel free to take issue with any of these definitions, but they are what I have in mind as I write this. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these is and how they tend to function within NeoPaganism.
A Circle is a gathering of, preferably like-minded, individuals for purposes of magic and/or worship. None of those gathered need to be of the same Tradition, nor even Initiate, though it makes for better results if at least some of them are. All groves, covens, and temples are therefore Circles. The reverse, however, isn’t always the case since many Circles do not also meet the criteria for a grove, coven or temple.
A grove, or study group, is a Circle of students learning the basics of NeoPagan (or Wiccan or any of the other subsets of Pagan) worship and Circle techniques. While normally under the tutelage of one or more Initiates, the members are not necessarily being trained towards Initiation in any particular Tradition, nor need the tutors be of the same Tradition(s) as the students (nor even of each other).
Mystery religions, by their very nature, aren’t for everyone, nor is any given Mystery suitable for all Initiates. The grove is a way for potential Initiates to take a good look at one or more Traditions while learning how to handle themselves in just about any basic Circle. If this isn’t for them, they can easily drop it. If it is, they can focus on the specific Tradition (or family of Traditions) which seems to speak most clearly to them (assuming they were exposed to more than one). Similarly, the tutor(s) can teach basic technique to any serious Seeker without worrying about an implied commitment to Initiate anyone unsuited to his or her particular Tradition.
Now lest I be misunderstood here, I’m not suggesting that grove leaders should come from different Trads. Doing so is likely to produce confused students especially if such leaders aren’t quite clear about differences in accepted practice and in ritual correspondences, the two places any two Trads are most likely to differ. What I am suggesting is that the grove might bring in guest speakers from different Traditions to try to convey why a Seeker might wish to practice in that particular style. Similarly, before a candidate will be ready for Initiation into a specific Tradition, s/he will need more than basic technique. S/he will also need a grasp of that Trad’s style and correspondence system.
Groves do not normally do Initiations (they’re done by the sponsoring coven, if any), and tend to be oriented more towards teaching and worship than towards magical practice. They are also more likely to be fairly open to new members or even the general public than is the case with established covens, whereas study groups, in my experience at least, are more likely to be invitation-only. The most effective groves (or study groups, of course) are under the helpful eye, if not out-and-out sponsorship, of an established coven or family of covens.
A coven, on the other hand, is a regularly meeting Circle, all of the same Tradition, at least some of whom are Initiates (and at least one of whom holds Initiatory power if the coven is to survive or grow). Such a group tends to become very close (“closer than kin”) and is bound by the rules and styles (deliberately non-existent in some cases) of its Tradition, and by its own, internal, rules and customs. A member of a coven is normally provided training and, when deemed ready, Initiation or Elevation by that coven’s Priesthood/Elders.
There are also magical considerations, which go into the making of a coven, which further differentiate it from a grove/study group, but it isn’t my intention to go into them here. Suffice it to say that they are connected to the closeness and tend to enhance it. Because the bond is tight, and because a coven generally intends to be around for a few decades, they’re kinda fussy about who joins. The wise Seeker is equally fussy about which, if any, coven s/he eventually joins. You’re not joining a social club here, you’re adopting, and being adopted into, an extended family. And this time ’round you have some control over who your kin will be!
NeoPagan temples are a fairly new phenomena combining many of the characteristics of both covens and groves. I think that the clearest description of just what they’re about comes from the (draft) Constitution of the Temple of the Lady in Victoria, BC:
To minister to the Pagan community by way of providing support, education and sponsoring religious celebrations;
To establish and maintain a religious sanctuary and place of worship accessible to all who would worship the Goddess and the God;
To provide a seminary for the training of Wiccan clergy;
To provide accredited ordination for Wiccan clergy;
To provide accurate information about Witchcraft to all who would ask and to engage in dialogue with other religious groups with the purpose of furthering understanding and friendship between us; and
To do other charitable acts of goodwill as will benefit the community at large.
As stated in my definition of temple, above, I consider the provision of neoPagan (not necessarily Wiccan) religious instruction and services to the general public to be essential, and provision of community services to the local neoPagan population highly desirable. To be taken seriously in the wider world, we need to have our clergy recognized by our government(s), which in turn means that we need to be visibly providing training and ordination which meets government accreditation criteria (which can vary significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction). Such ac-credited ordination is most easily administered through temples.
To address a diatribe current on the Nets, so long as the governments we seek accreditation from think in Christian terms, then we will have to use Christian terms, carefully defined to earmark differences in usage, to describe ourselves to them. Sure, there’s some danger of picking up some inappropriate (to Wicca) ways of thinking along with those terms, but we’re more likely to import them with converts who were raised as Christians. The solution to both problems is the same X clearly understood (by the tutors above all!) religious instruction. And if a Christian notion isn’t inappropriate, and if it’s truly useful, why shouldn’t we adopt it? Religious intolerance itself is inappropriate to Wiccan thought, and I think we should be clearer in condemning it.
So how does it all tie together? I think that the neoPagan community needs a mix of solitaires, covener and templers, along with significant variety among their Traditions, to remain intellectually and spiritually healthy. We also need umbrella organizations capable of meeting the needs of each of them, not only for credibility with governments and the general public, but to spread new (and not so new) ideas around the very community they should exist to serve. I’ll talk more on what I think this umbrella organization should look like in another article. For now, let’s get back to roles of the different types of Circles.
One of the things that fascinates about the Craft is our teaching that the Gods don’t need a priesthood to run interference between Them and Their worshipers. Nor is this a new idea. Heroditus recorded with a certain amazement that Persians must call on a Magus to perform every little sacrifice, whereas among the Greeks of his time, anyone, including housewives and slaves could sacrifice at any time, assuming they had the desire and the means. We have a priesthood because some people feel called to a deeper understanding and expression of their faith than is the case for many. And while our Gods don’t need an Initiated priesthood, humans find them very useful both as a source of thoughtful religious instruction and as a ready source of warm bodies to stick with the administrivia of organizing group ritual.
Despite considerable mythology to the contrary, effective worship, like sex, isn’t something that just ‘comes naturally’. It must be learned, and practiced. Groves, festivals, and temples are all good places to learn the fundamentals, assuming you weren’t fortunate enough to learn them at home. They are also good places to socialize with people who think much the way you do a deeply seated human need we do well not to overlook. If your need runs deeper, you will find Priesthood there to talk to. If your needs prove more mystically oriented, they should be able to arrange contact with one or more covens, who can in turn, if appropriate, Initiate you into whichever flavor of the Mysteries they practice.
Different Circle structures serve different needs. None is superior to the other except to the extent that it serves your needs better. For those of us seeking simply to express our religious feelings in sympathetic company, whichever form best serves that expression is all we’re likely to need. But those of us who feel called to serve the greater community will need all of them to achieve the mandate we have set ourselves.
Originally posted 2009-11-10 02:29:59. Republished by Blog Post Promoter