Forget Squads — 2017 Is The Year Of The Coven

In a sea of clever, energizing, and radical signs at the Women's March, one particular message, emblazoned across signs in Washington D.C. and around the country, stood out to me: "We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren't able to burn." In one fell swoop, these signs reminded the nation that women are persistent in the face of persecution and that, as a collective, we have always been, and always will be, incredibly strong. These signs also felt like a very specific call to action. As American women circle up and prepare for the political changes (which have already started in full force), I'm convinced we can find comfort and strength in gathering ourselves into the ultimate female collective: covens. Why call ourselves squads, posses, or gangs, when we can claim a term that already has historic ties to democratic groups of powerful, oft misunderstood, women? Between the thorough whitewashing of "squad" and this administration's insistence that women's voices don't belong in decisions about our bodies, there's never been a better time to get a little witchy. Unfamiliar with covens? At its most basic, a coven is defined as an assembly of no more than 13 witches. To get really specific, the Middle English roots of the word "coven" mean "confederacy" or "agreement," driving home the point that a coven is formed based on an understanding between its members. Even today, people may associate it with an archaic gathering of bitter, spell-casting women or a word that exclusively applies to Wiccans — but that's not quite true (more on that later). In popular culture, from The Craft to Charmed to Macbeth, covens are depicted as sisterhoods in pursuit of a common goal — usually something they might not be able to accomplish alone within the confines of their society. Often portrayed as groups of outsiders and rebels, covens are able to support each other, and they draw their power from within. Of course, the term has modernized since its inception. We need only look to groups like Ravenous Craft, Moon Church, and the Anonymous-esque W.I.T.C.H. to see what contemporary feminist covens really look like and what they can do. These groups gather to protest civil rights violations, worship in nature, and exchange DIY skills. They support each other in their activism and in their personal care — because the two go hand in hand.

They support each other in their activism and in their personal care — because the two go hand in hand.

Wiccanism doesn't necessarily play a huge part in all covens today, which is one way we can see the term's definition changing to fit modern-day use. Instead, covens that don't have any religious affiliations are usually formed on shared progressive politics. "Coven" may have shed some of its spiritual meaning, but it has retained its significance as a term of unified subversion. Whether it's W.I.T.C.H. staging a public protest, in which they rally for intersectionality and radical change, or Ravenous Craft holding a meal in honor of the Equinox, covens today continue to challenge the status quo and defend the needs of the unseen — much like the more than 5 million women who took to the streets for the Women's March earlier this month. I don't know about you, but these days I'm feeling the urge to take a cue from these badass groups of women as I continue to speak up for the causes I believe in, even if I'm not very likely to incorporate spells into my activism. I'm going to gather my friends and mindfully resist harmful and unjust policies, seek out where changes can be made, and make sure we take time for reflection and self-care. And that is why I'm making "coven" my own, drawing my strength from the witches that came before us. I hope interested parties do the same. This is not about wearing all black, quoting American Horror Story, or taking a few witchy Instas — it's about fighting the good fight and establishing the #CovenGoals to help us along the way, no magic required (though I suggest you keep an open mind to that, too). So, before you get into formation for the next protest (or just before your next hangout), consider referring to you and your closest friends as a coven. Words have power, and in a year that has already seen its first battle in the "war on women," this one might just express how strong and committed you and your friends are.

More from Spirit

R29 Original Series