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What does an inclusive coven look like?

A lot of people seem to think that inclusive means “I’ve got some gay people in my coven”. That is certainly welcoming – but is it really inclusive? I think there’s a spectrum of inclusivity – so one coven might score 100% and another might score 80% – but I think we have to accept that different people will have different ideas and priorities. However, it would avoid a lot of heartbreak all round if people stated upfront how inclusive their coven actually is.

Inclusive Wicca (design by Yvonne Aburrow)

Inclusive Wicca (design by Yvonne Aburrow)

An inclusive coven ticks some or all of the following boxes:

  • Understands that diversity has a place in celebration, theology and cosmology.
  • Understands that gender identity, gender expression, sex/gender assigned at birth, and biological characteristics are distinct (when I say distinct, I mean noticeably different, but interpermeable and with fuzzy boundaries).
  • Understands that you can make energy through polarity (tension of opposites), resonance (two similar people), or synergy (joining the energies of the whole group).
  • Understands that polarity can be made by two or more people of any gender and sexual orientation, and by two or more people of the same gender, and that polarity exists on a spectrum where Person A may be yang in relation to Person B, but yin in relation to Person C.
  • Understands that you can make polarity with any pair of opposite qualities (e.g. morning people and evening people, cat lovers and dog lovers, tea drinkers and coffee drinkers, air signs and earth signs, fire signs and water signs).
  • Understands that fertility is not strictly biological and may refer to creativity (and that you don’t need a male body & a female body to produce fertility on a symbolic level – e.g. when blessing crops).
  • Allows invocation of any gender deity onto any gender human.
  • Allows gender fluidity in ritual roles & doesn’t make people stand boy/girl/boy/girl in circle.
  •  Does cakes & wine with reference to lover & beloved, or using two cups, or on the understanding that we all contain both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies, or some other inclusive variation, and can be done by two people of any gender.
  •  Accommodates difference (e.g. neurodivergence, dyslexia, left-handedness, aphantasia) and disability. Bonus points for embracing the social model of disability.
  •  Is open to other cultures and ethnicities and does not insist on a genetic basis for culture (e.g. anyone can worship gods from any culture). Bonus points for being aware of the concept of systemic racism.
  •  Tries to avoid cultural appropriation.
  • Is accepting of kink, polyamory, and monogamy.
  • Promotes consent culture.
  • Welcomes members of all ages (over 18) and accommodates older members’ needs.
  • Does not automatically exclude people with mental health issues.
  •  Accommodates different theological perspectives (animism, atheism, pantheism, polytheism, duotheism etc).
  • Body-positive: does not allow fat-shaming or body-shaming.
  • Is prepared to accommodate coven members who are less well-off (by not organising expensive social activities, or having a massive and expensive reading list, for example).
  • Does not insist that its members reach a particular educational level or belong to a particular socio-economic class.
  • Listens to the views of all the members.
  • Values the contributions and ideas of all the members.

Summary

Inclusive Wicca is about being inclusive towards everyone.

There isn’t a competition over who is more oppressed, and there is no queue for liberation. We can work on small issues and large issues at the same time – I am not suggesting that all the categories mentioned in the list receive the same degree of oppression in society – they are included in the list because at some point, they have been excluded from some Wiccan circles for some reason.

Also, please note that inclusive Wicca is not a new or separate tradition; it is a tendency within existing Wiccan traditions. (Though just to confuse matters, in Australia, there actually is a tradition called Inclusive Wicca, which is unconnected to the inclusive tendency – though it may have similar goals.)

Double rainbow in Alaska

Double rainbow in Alaska. Photo by Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia – English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5.


Thanks to Alder Lyncurium, Anna Hammarlund, Anya Read, Brian Paisley, Francois Schaut, Lirilin Lee, Susan Harper, for suggestions and comments on the first draft of this.

Find out more at the inclusive Wicca website.

(originally published at Dowsing for Divinity)


Yvonne Aburrow

Yvonne Aburrow has been a Pagan since 1985 and a Wiccan since 1991. She has an MA in Contemporary Religions and Spiritualities from Bath Spa University, and lives and works in Oxford, UK. Her most recent book is “All Acts of Love and Pleasure: inclusive Wicca”. She has also written four books on the mythology and folklore of trees, birds, and animals, and two anthologies of poetry. She is genderqueer, bisexual, and has been an anarchist socialist green leftie feminist for the last thirty years.

24 Comments »

  1. Yvonne, in your experience what percentage of covens or similar groups are exclusive? How big a problem is this?

    Like

    • Hi WW, as I hope I have made clear, most covens are LGBT-welcoming. Not all are inclusive in the way I have described here. I don’t have any statistics, but I and others have experienced a lot of the stuff I am talking about, or I wouldn’t be talking about it.

      The other day someone told me their coven was inclusive because it has gay members. I thought we could set a higher standard than merely having gay members and continuing with heterocentric rituals.

      Please note that having more inclusive rituals does NOT mean never mentioning heterosexual sex. That wouldn’t be inclusive either. It means celebrating ALL acts of love and pleasure.

      Like

  2. I would think inclusive would depend on the present members in a coven. The rule in most British Traditional covens is everyone has to be comfortable with the new member. That may not always make a coven able to be inclusive. Some can handle dealing with mental health issues, some cannot. Then don’t forget the subject ex cons. There are some crimes that people can’t deal with, sex with underage girls of boys, rape, violence towards women, and children, and some others.

    Inclusive is a great idea, and in general, I am in agreement, but I wonder with covens being mostly small groups, how many covens can create it. I am at the other extreme, being both bipolar and introvert, so I can not deal with groups at all. Still, you bring up something worth talking over and perhaps some covens might be able to accomplish.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think every coven needs to decide what it can cope with. But at least if there is clear communication, that will help.

      I would exclude racists, homophobes, and misogynists, and people convicted of rape and paedophilia.

      Like

  3. This is a great guide for covens and I think could be applied more widely to hearths, groves, any pagan group. Have you mentioned its existence to the Pagan Federation? I’ve had a quick look at their web page and can’t see anything on inclusivity. I wonder if they’d include it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lorna, I will suggest it to Kate / Mike / Robin. If anyone wants to write a “what does an inclusive hearth or grove look like” article, feel free 🙂

      Like

  4. I am a High Priestess and try to be very open to all, but I find it very difficult to accommodate physical disabilities. It seems to be the one thing I have not found my way around. I’ve decided that is OK. My coven is diverse in many other ‘categories’ and there are other High Priestesses who do that better than I. Great article, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • what was the difficulty with accommodating physical disabilities? if it was that you like to work outdoors, or like a lot of dancing, or you work in your basement and there are stairs… that could be difficult.

      I am aware of covens that do accommodate physical disabilities, so it is not impossible

      Like

  5. Good food for thought. In the early 1990s I attended Feminist Spirituality Workshops here in New York. There was a definite bias towards traditional Moon Goddess/Sun God pantheons. Anyone working outside of the archetypes designated as “appropriate” to their race and culture was looked on as strange. I was very interested in the Altaic Shamanistic infuences on Shinto. Since Shinto has a Sun Goddess and Moon God it was hard to converse with some people. They’d get almost evangelical about why I should consider the more appropriate role of lunar/feminine and solar/masculine. There has been so much progress since then. I think the younger generation is raising the right questions and seeking the answers in a sincere way.

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    • but practicing shinto or appropriating altaic (a ethno-linguistic category not a defined people) shamanism is hardly sincere in a pagan context.like begets like.

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      • I brought up these comments because based on the definition given here of inclusion it seems that people would be free to worship any deity from any pantheon without being constrained by their background. What are your thoughts?

        Liked by 1 person

      • If EmilyAnn is learning from an actual Shinto practitioner from that culture – how is that cultural appropriation?

        And if she is just reading & learning about it – also not cultural appropriation

        There are respectful ways of engaging with other cultures and as you don’t know what her practice is, I don’t think you can automatically assume cultural appropriation

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Different people draw the line in different places with cultural appropriation. I have written extensively on it, and tried to emphasise that it’s about power and money.

    Worshipping a deity from another culture in the privacy of your own home – can’t see the problem.

    Writing books and making money off of oppressed indigenous cultures, and claiming to represent them when you don’t: that is cultural appropriation

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    • Similarly, calling yourself a shaman is not cultural appropriation unless you claim to be a shaman of an oppressed culture and weren’t trained as such. I would think. Yvonne what about native American sounding craft names. Something like Dancing Bear or Willow 10 Ponies?

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      • Hi Woods, the word shaman is a bit of a tricky one, as it was borrowed by anthropologists from a specific culture and thenm universally applied to other cultures. I personally would not call my practice shamanism – but I don’t think it is automatically cultural appropriation if you do.

        The more oppressed a culture is, the steeper the power gradient, and the worse the cultural appropriation – but you can also culturally appropriate things from (say) Buddhism – and people do that regularly (with variable results).

        People with fake “Native American” magical names – unless you are from that culture and embedded in it, I would have thought that counted as cultural appropriation.

        Much of the problem with cultural appropriation is pretending to be something you are not, and acting as if you are entitled to speak for the culture, and misrepresenting it (and in many cases, charging money for doing so).

        However: we can discuss this till the cows come home, but the oppressed cultures are the final arbiters, imho. I try to raise awareness of the issue and explain cultural appropriation to people who often don’t have a clue what it is, but I don’t think I should have the final say on what is and isn’t CA (unless it is my culture being appropriated).

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      • I think it goes to intent. If you are intending it to be a Native American name, you can argue for appropriation. If you live where there are a lot of willows and own horses and take your name from that, it is not. There could also be a uniqueness argument – what is unique to a culture or group of related cultures? Sioux war bonnets for example (except that tribal stores sell them) would be an example. One of the problems with cultural appropriation is that there is always someone somewhere who is looking to be offended. Can’t please everyone.

        Like

  7. Hi Yvonne. I agree with you and woods wizard. My intention to learn about Shinto was to better understand the Japanese people I worked for full-time. I also had a boyfriend. Understanding it helped enrich my interactions and not look through the lens of Judeo-Christian concepts of “right vs. wrong”.

    In terms of shamanism I learned that the Ainu were practicing this form of worship in ancient times. I could never assume to enter into it as a practice but to have an understanding for the peoples and respect their beliefs opens the door for friendships.

    Someone who is genuinely going to enter the worship benefits from the education first. I was raised a Catholic but my parents gave me freedom to ask lots of questions and seek answers. I’m still asking questions today. In college I loved the study of folklore and mythology. That’s why I come to blogs like this. It’s good to keep an open mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Wolf Spider Dispatch and commented:

    I love this post! Part of the reason that I’ve never joined a coven is because I’ve never found one that truly strives toward inclusion – especially as it comes to gender expression. Wicca really struggles to get away from the biological essentialism in regard to the god and goddess, and I really appreciate this post acknowledging that the deities are NOT just about fertility in the reproductive sense.

    Liked by 1 person

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