Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Non-Denominational Coven: How Circle of Fountains Approaches Multi-Craft Practice

When I formed Circle of Fountains on the Spring Equinox of 2014, I immediately knew that I did not want to create a tradition-specific coven.  I had three strong reasons for avoiding a specific denomination of witchcraft.  First and foremost, my former coven was entirely Wiccan.  I had tried to force my Craft - my nontheistic, Hermetic, non-traditional Craft - into the duotheistic traditional fertility religion box in hopes of connecting with other witches.  It didn't work.  I felt suffocated as I tried to cater my rituals to their needs while often neglecting my own.  Secondly, the other two witches I was forming this new coven with were not of the same path.  One was Wiccan, yes, but the other was a Ceremonial Magician.  Between the two, and my hedgewitch tendencies, I wanted some breathing room and flexibility for each member to convey their own beliefs without feeling restricted.  Finally, when thinking of the teaching aspect of CF, I did not want to perpetuate those claustrophobic limitations that I felt attempting to be Wiccan onto new witchlings.  When a new witch first begins diving into the Craft, they often have no idea what path to choose - and that path will most certainly shift repeatedly overtime.  I wanted members of the coven and Novices alike to have the ability to change their beliefs without losing their circle.  With that, the non-denominational coven was born.

Circle of Fountains varies from other covens in many ways beyond not having a set tradition.  One such variance is that we operate as a group of equals.  This comes from my personal belief that no one tradition or practice is better than another.  Because of this mentality, we divide up all coven responsibilities among Primary Members.  Not only does each Primary have equal voting rights and Novice training obligations, but they must also lead one sabbat and esbat each year.  This means constructing a ritual that will appeal to all members while still staying true to the individual's belief.

Unanimously, Circle of Fountains members agreed that the most difficult part of ritual creation is ensuring that everyone manages to connect to some part of the ritual.  This unique challenge, however, is something that members of my coven face with excitement and enthusiasm.  We laud differences in practices and beliefs, emphasizing the wide variety of witchcraft traditions as an integral part of community and togetherness.  "I think truth is crowdsourced," Amy says.  An Eclectic Wiccan, Amy is the only one of her kind in the Primary Members.  She could have joined a Wiccan coven; several exist in the Kansas City area.  Instead, she chose Circle of Fountains.  "More perspectives, more ideas, more experiences and different specialties leading to different knowledge," she says are the strengths of being a member of a non-denominational coven. "I need to be able to express my own spirituality without constriction. I can do that here."

For Amy, overcoming the challenge of creating a ritual that appeals to the varying beliefs of the circle is best achieved by utilizing personal strengths.  As a theater major, Amy is well versed in performances and can draw inspiration from the arts to write creative rituals that inspire. "I take inspiration from the season, or Shakespeare, or our relationships." Amy states. "Things that are darn near universal."   By drawing from general themes outside of her beliefs, Amy feels each member can better relate to the ritual.

Instead of taking a more generalized approach to ritual writing, Primary Member Phaedra prioritizes finding a common ground by "trying to explain the different angles."  In other words, Phaedra looks at each individual's belief and ensures a portion of her rituals are dedicated to connecting with them.  This likely comes from the fact that Phaedra has three children each with different beliefs.  With one dabbing her toes in Christo-Wicca, another firmly an earth witch and the last leaning towards elemental paganism, Phaedra gives special attention to each of her kids' individual beliefs. This in turn is reflected in how she overcomes the challenges of ritual writing.

Just as she has watched her kids’ paths change over time, her own path has evolved.  Phaedra hasn’t always been an agnostic kitchen witch herself.  When she first entered Circle of Fountains, her patron deity was Demeter.  Before the circle, Phaedra didn't realize that agnosticism and nontheism were options within the Craft.  "CF has helped me evolve my path," she says.  Between her own personal evolution and her kids' varying and ever-changing practices, the non-denominational aspect of Circle of Fountains is why she calls this coven her home.

That kind of evolution and growth is a central focus to the coven, and that's why I personally choose to focus on that personal growth as the main goal of ritual.  Many of my rituals as a nontheistic hedgewitch center around shadow work - the practice of staring at the darker, less desirable parts of yourself and learning to accept the whole of who you are.  When we face our shadow selves and release the hurt, guilt, disgust, anger, grief and fear that we have against our hidden aspects, we not only learn and grow but heal.  In the circle, I'm known for tapping into that internal fear and anguish in attempt to bring a little light to our darker aspects.  Everyone has a shadow self, parts of their personality and interests that they've locked away from the world and themselves.  By taking a direct look at that, I can make a ritual relate to every person present.

Personal beliefs aren’t the only method used for creating inclusive rituals.  As a Northern Traditionalist, Laura is transfixed with reconstructionism.  "I try to make sure my rituals include historical context," she says.  Since everyone’s path has developed from fixed points in time and continues to evolve today, Laura believes it's easier to connect to your craft by understanding its place within that timeline.  By knowing where both the ritual and your own personal beliefs originate, you can better understand where the two intersect, heightening your personal experience.

This connection to history is exactly where Primary Member Abby starts when forming her rituals.   As a hereditary witch, she looks towards her Russian roots and her mother's practices as inspiration for meaningful and inclusive rituals. "I try to focus my rituals on a cultural aspect," she says. "Even if it doesn’t flow seamlessly with their beliefs, at least there will be a component where they can learn or experience something new."  Experiencing the variety of witchcraft is not only an important goal of Circle of Fountains but the  most important founding feature - and the reason why most of our members joined.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Polytheist Andrea has a more forward approach: "I don't want anyone feeling uncomfortable during a ritual so, if I am not sure on something, I just ask."  Communication is key in any coven but especially so in one where each member's beliefs vary.  "The circle really is open on their opinions of the rituals they participate in," Laura says.  Abby agrees with her, stating that “I ask members after rituals if what I've written and performed has satisfied everyone's individual religious needs."  Being comfortable enough to ask the opinion of other members - and expect a truthful answer - is one of the core foundations of our coven.

While ritual creation has unusual challenges in CF, it's not without incredible rewards.  As I mentioned earlier, not only is each member introduced to paths and belief systems they might not have known before, but they get a chance to change and evolve their own personal Craft in the process.  "I'm challenged to learn new things in areas of magic and broaden my horizons." Laura says.  "It allows me to gain a deeper sense of self."  Because each member has their own beliefs, we're incredibly supportive of individual paths in the coven.  "We have so many opportunities to express our faith in a supportive environment, regardless of whether others share that specific belief," says Amy.  Abby agrees, "It offers me a lot of mental and emotional support, which is the most important thing a religious group can do for its members."  In Circle of Fountains, we are all pieces of the same puzzle.  Without each individual component, the full picture can never be realized.  We hope that, by being non-denominational, we can get a better view of the beautiful picture our many paths paint.

"Besides, we're all from different backgrounds yet we can come together to do some kick butt spell work while laughing and crying," Andrea states.

I couldn't agree more.

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