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    Of Witches and the Rise of The Coven
    Posted on Wed, October 26, 2005 by Dongul
    Cebrion writes "This article delves further into the history of witches and what affect throughout time the presence of witches within the varied societies of the Flanaess has had upon the growth of The Coven. Also presented are the requirements for joining The Coven and the secrets of the powerful artifact that makes a confederation of witches serving such varied powers even possible - The Eye of the Covenant.

    Of Witches and the Rise of The Coven
    By: Brian McRae, aka Cebrion
    Used withpermission. Do notrepost without obtaining prior permission from the author.

    The Founding of The Coven

    The origins of The Coven date back more than eight thousand years. The exact year of The Coven’s inception is not known precisely, but the earliest records within The Coven’s archives date back to around -7,400 CY. The earliest surviving records from this time are a series of engraved obsidian tablets recounting a great elemental confluence, the event that by all accounts drew together the four witches, one dedicated to each of the four elemental powers, who first formed The Coven. The tablets tell of how these four witches sought out and soon were joined by a group of other witches representing patrons of the positive and negative planes, as well as the astral, ethereal, and shadow planes. Witches representing patrons of the outer planes were initially not sought out by The Coven to join their group. Such powers were viewed as not being able to lay aside their strictly defined moral and ethical views to the required degree to be of use to The Coven, and more importantly, for witches serving such powers to be loyal to The Coven.

    The initial founders of The Coven decided that it would be necessary for them to find a secluded locale to build a safe haven for themselves. To this end, they journeyed to the southern Crystalmist Mountains, and into the semi-volcanic area known as The Hellfurnaces. It is there that the founders came upon a secluded valley that they all agreed was a fortuitous site to build upon within. To forever join themselves in a magical union, the founding members of The Coven brought all of their supernatural power to bear for the purpose of creating a powerful artifact known as the Eye of the Covenant. The main function of the Eye of the Covenant is to tie the members of The Coven together in a bond of self preservation, but it also serves to protect the area surrounding the Eye from magical and extraplanar incursions.

    Upon the creation of the Eye of the Covenant, the membership of The Coven found that their loyalties to each other had become unquestionable, such that witches serving the aligned powers of the outer planes might be acceptable candidates for inclusion in their ranks. At first many witches serving outer planar patrons were wary of The Coven due to their being previously excluded, but once word began to spread of The Coven’s true purpose, the fears of many witches were alleviated and so the membership began to well. The Eye of the Covenant served its purpose well, enabling witches of varied affiliations to band together under a common cause- not only that of self-preservation, but to preserve their ancient traditions. The Eye also allowed the coming together of High Secret Order Witches of many affiliations over time. Supernatural patrons do give permission for such powerful and dedicated witches to join The Coven in this way, though it is uncommon, the exceptions usually being made when witches are under the greatest outside threats. The witch’s patrons have seen the wisdom of protecting their most valuable servants, by allowing them to take the oaths necessary to join The Coven’s highest ranks. Not only would these servants gain a great amount of protection, they would also gain knowledge of the servants of other extra-planar powers. Over the period of -3,000 CY to -2,000 CY The Coven had seen its ranks swell from a few dozen members to a few hundred members, and the influx of members only continued to rise. With an ever-growing core of lesser members, and a slowly but surely growing upper echelon of High Secret Order witches, the rise of The Coven had well and truly begun.

    The Ancient Empires

    With the rise of the great empires of the Flan, many of the great religions of Oerth became codified and organized, and the old traditions that witches represented were cast unto the fringes of society. The Flannae sorcerer-kings, with the support of the budding churches and even representatives of the Old Faith, subtly worked to discredit influential witches within their lands. This process was made all the more easy due to the Flan traditions of nature worship, whereas witches represented forces far beyond the scope of the natural order. Witches became anathema where once they were respected. The resulting discontent among witches caused many of them to seek out the solace offered by The Coven. Others simply chose to leave the lands of the Flan, or dwell upon the fringes of its society. For many centuries witches lived in such seclusion, but with the fall of the great Flan Empires witches slowly began to once again fill their previous role within Flan society as midwives, herbmongers, and wise women among backwater communities in the wilder lands. While never attaining their previous level of acceptance, Flan witches managed to reassert themselves to a point that they have retained until the present day among the mixed races of the Central Flanaess.

    Throughout the western homelands of the ancient Oeridian tribes, witches dwelled in conditions similar to those witches who lived among the Flan. The Ancient Oeridians feared witches, regardless of their affiliations, but respected them enough to seek out their advice regarding important times in their lives. From tribal leaders to the most base-born, witches were sought out to provide answers to questions, magical charms, remedies for ailments, or to call down curses upon their enemies. This status quo was not to change until the Oeridian tribes migrated beyond the eastern mountains and began to intermix with the native Flan peoples there. Ongoing conflict with the magically gifted Suloise little helped engender good will towards witches who remained uninvolved in the wars of those times. Many witches chose not to join the migrations of the tribes, remaining behind in the lands of the west to dwell in solitude. Many of these witches were to fall victim to the rise of the Baklunish and Suel empires, or much later on, to the fall of these empires. As to the Oeridian tribes that settled in the east, few witches remained among them.

    As the influence of witches declined in the lands of the Ancient Flan, it continued to grow in the lands west of the Crystalmist Mountains. For more than a millennium the witches of the west continued to practice their ancient traditions from a position of prominence among their people. In the lands of the ancient Suloise, witches played a role among society as mediums with the afterworld. Even as the burgeoning religions of the Suloise gods gained power within the realm, and the Suel Imperium was established, witches found a niche within everyday society. Far from being suspicious of magic, the Suel people had a fascination with it. For more than 3,000 years witches enjoyed a level of wary respect and personal freedom not seen in other lands, though this tolerance extended only to witches of Suloise blood; all other witches being either driven away or enslaved.

    On the surface, being a witch in the Suel Imperium did not have the negative connotations attached to it as was the case in other lands. Even though witches were not as well accepted as clerics or wizards, they were at the very least tolerated. All of this was to change, as unknown to the witches dwelling in the Suel lands, darker motives ruled the hearts of those who held the reigns of power. Around the 32nd century S.D. (-2,400 CY), witches began to slowly disappear from the great cities of the Suel Imperium. These disappearances were very gradual at first, and nobody thought of it as very odd, as witches often wandered off on their own in search of those things that witches found of interest. Decades passed and witches continued to go missing, and none had yet to ever return. When four members of The Coven failed to return from visiting the Suel Imperium, The High Secret Order of The Coven itself took an interest in finding out the cause of these disappearances. Agents of The Coven discovered that hundreds of witches, some of whom had more than respectable powers, had disappeared over the past century within the Suloise lands. Most of these missing witches had last been seen near or within the great cities of the Suel Imperium. It was soon discovered, at the cost of many other witches’ lives that many of the rulers of the Suel Imperium, the Mages of Power themselves, had been kidnapping these witches. The Coven eventually acquired evidence that suggested the Mages of Power were experimenting with dark necromantic rejuvenation magic that required the souls of powerful wielders of magic. Rather than simply being killed, the souls of hundreds of witches had literally been snuffed out, ceasing to exist, all to the purpose of granting the Mages of Power immortality, or at least a much greater lifespan. When one by one the obsidian shards bound to the four missing members of The Coven shattered into dust, it was all the confirmation of this that was needed. The Coven’s members contacted their varied patrons throughout the planes and warnings were sent to all of the witches within the Suel Imperium. The majority of these witches fled the Suel lands altogether, while others found refuge with an unlikely source- the clergy of one of the Suel’s most prominent deities, Wee Jas.

    As the clergy of most lands had persecuted witches, it was unforeseen that any clergy might ever actually aid witches. The clergy of Wee Jas saw the irreverence of the Mages of Power regarding the gods, in particular the Goddess of Magic, as an insult, while witches were seen as embodying a very unique aspect of faith and magic. While disdainful of religion in general, the Mages of Power would not defile the sanctity of the temples of Wee Jas (nor that of any temple) in search of subjects for their dark rituals, and so those witches who sought sanctuary there remained safe. While it is extremely rare that witches serve actual gods, this is less so with regards to the goddess Wee Jas. Wee Jas has welcomed many witches into her service, and they refer to her as “The Witch Goddess”. To the present day, witches in the service of Wee Jas may occasionally be found at any of her temples throughout the Flanaess. It is also of note that many lawful Suloise witches will aid the clergy of Wee Jas if it doesn’t go against the wishes of their patrons, as they continue to honor this old debt of gratitude. In return, such witches are readily given succor at such temples in times of trouble.

    Among the early Baklunish lands, witches filled the role of wandering prophetesses, who were feared and respected for their mystical powers by the nomadic peoples of those lands. Even before the coming to power of the First Dynasty emperors, witches began to suffer a fate similar to those of the east, as the clergy of the various Baklunish faiths successfully seized upon a role of influence within the royal family that would eventually found the Baklunish Empire. It is unfortunate that among the forces that pursued the royal family over the western mountains into what are now the Baklunish lands was a witch serving the powers of Darkness. The tale of this powerful witch’s demise at the hands of the great Baklunish hero Azor’ alq forms a small portion of an ancient Baklunish heroic cycle. In the account of this epic confrontation, this witch is only ever named as The Black Harridan. Baklunish clerics were quick to seize upon the example set in this ancient account, which greatly aided them in their efforts to destroy the influence of well-meaning witches simply by citing the holy text.

    While witches were merely being persecuted in the east, they were being outright hunted in the Baklunish Empire. Rather than face certain death, most witches fled to the most desolate regions of the Baklunish Empire, or left such lands altogether. Those that knew of its location, and who were so inclined, sought refuge with The Coven. Many Baklunish witches fled into the far west of the continent of Oerik, to the lands of Zindia, the High Khanate, Erypt, and even unto the far reaches of the Barbarian Seameast. Others sought refuge in the jungles of the south, or upon remote islands in the northern seas. By the third century B.H. (-2900’s CY) the clerics of the theocratic Baklunish Empire had succeeded in establishing a new order, scattering the witches of the Baklunish lands as sand upon the wind.

    The Baklunish view of witches remains to the present day one of outright fear and hatred. This view is propagated by the existence of an evil coven of witches known as The Black Harridans living within the Dry Steppes. This coven openly follows the traditions of the Ancient Enemy of the Baklunish Emperors. The Black Harridans are servants of Darkness and are rumored to be in league with the rulers of Ull, seeking to bring about the eventual downfall of the more righteous Baklunish nations of the north, and the deaths of the Baklunish royal families. The Coven currently includes two of The Black Harridans among its membership, and though they are a cause of unease among many witches, they are just as tolerated as the rest of The Coven’s membership.

    In the more remote lands of the south, witches have existed since before the rise of the Olman and Touv empires. Be they called wise women, shaman, or witch-doctors, witches have always held a place of acceptance within the societies of the peoples of the south. Many Olman and Touv tribes contain one or more witches who usually act as counselors to tribal chiefs; some tribes are in fact ruled by a witch or group of witches. While witches are generally accepted as being touched by the supernatural, not all tribes are open to being ruled and influenced by witches, or the powers that they serve. Such tribes usually have a longstanding warrior tradition, and while they may frown upon witches actually living among them, the warriors of such tribes often seek out witches living among the wilds for their oracular visions, protective charms, or for curses to be cast upon their enemies. In the present time, witches continue to exist within Olman and Touv society pretty much as they always have.

    Witches and The Coven in the Present Day

    Throughout the millennia, the growing intolerance of witches among the lands of the Flanaess has led to a noticeable increase in the ranks of The Coven. Whereas in the past many witch’s patrons forbid them from joining the varied ranks of The Coven, more and more of these patrons saw the wisdom in allowing their servants to join the ever increasing power of The Coven. The protection that only The Coven could offer allowed the witches serving these patrons to more safely grow in power, thereby increasing their patron’s influence in the mortal world. The general acceptance of witches has waxed and waned over time. Even in the best of circumstances, witches are regarded with suspicion.

    At the current time (591 CY), The Coven continues to recover from its betrayal during the Greyhawk Wars. Along with the five members of The Coven’s High Secret Order that survived the treachery of The Night of the Weeping Moon, a further eight witches have joined their ranks to round out the circle at thirteen. The remainder of The Coven’s membership has further increased from just over seventy to one hundred and seven, as previous members and new supplicants have become convinced that The Coven grounds are once again safe to return to. Of The Coven’s membership, the estimated bloodlines of its members (mixed and un-mixed) are as follows: Suel 35%, Oeridian 30%, Flan 15%, Baklunish 10%, Olman 3%, Touv 2%, Non-human 5%. Among The Coven’s membership there are only twenty-one males, three of whom are a part of the High Secret Order. The Coven continues to clandestinely influence the various powers that be throughout the Flanaess and beyond.

    Joining The Coven

    Applicants wishing to join The Coven must fulfill very few actual requirements. Those wishing to join The Coven must first survive the journey to The Coven grounds. As The Coven is located in the rugged fastness of the Hellfurnaces, where all sorts of dangerous creatures live, simply completing the journey there is a dangerous undertaking in and of itself. Once a witch has safely arrived at The Coven, she will be accepted as a member as long as she agrees to the terms of membership. It is customary for applicants to arrive with a gift in hand, usually that of a minor magical item or very rare magical components, such as beholder eyes, dragon’s blood, or a set of rakshasa whiskers.

    Upon being accepted, the witch undergoes the Ceremony of Binding, where the witch takes an oath to abide by the laws of The Coven. During the Ceremony of Binding, the applicant is magically linked to a personal crystal focus, which is housed within the Tower of the High Secret Order along with the focus crystals of the rest of the membership. This focus crystal governs the actions of the witch while within or without The Coven grounds. While intact, the focus crystal enforces The Coven’s laws upon the witch as a magical compulsion that the witch may not break by any means. The power of the Ceremony of Binding overrides any other enchantments that might affect the witch, and attempting to force the witch to disobey The Coven’s laws actually dispels such enchantments upon the witch. The power of the Ceremony of Binding even functions within anti-magic fields. The Coven’s laws are as follows:
    1. You will respect and defer to members of the High Secret Order regarding all matters involving The Coven, for it is by their sufferance that you are allowed entrance.
    2. You will not betray the confidences of The Coven, nor any of its members.
    3. You will strike no blow, cast no spell, hinder, nor harm any member of The Coven, nor will you do any harm to the property or servants of The Coven nor its members unless in self-defense, nor will any servant or ally under your command do any of the these things unless in self defense.
    The Coven’s High Secret Order immediately know if a witch has somehow managed to break one of The Coven’s laws, as doing so causes the witch’s crystal focus to turn black and shatter. Managing to somehow break the laws of The Coven is considered a treasonous offense. Any such witch who manages this near impossible feat is no longer considered a member of The Coven, and the rest of The Coven’s membership is encouraged to deal with the witch in any manner they see fit, up to and including seeking the witch’s death.

    Members of The Coven are required to “donate” an equivalent of 500 gp worth of material components, magical items, time, spells, or money to The Coven annually, but being a member of The Coven does have its benefits. The wide variety of backgrounds among the membership of The Coven means that members have access to a veritable font of knowledge. Members will often seek each other out to find answers to obscure questions. Members of the Coven also have access to the main library of The Coven as well. This combined knowledge is equivalent to 15 ranks in all Knowledge skills, or 20 if the question regards one of the outer planes. The witch adds her own Charisma bonus to this score to represent her being able to not only find the right person to help look for an answer her question, but also convince them to do so for the right price. It takes one full day to find an answer to a question for each full 5 points of the question’s DC value. For example, it would take a witch a full week to try and learn the answer to a very difficult question with a knowledge check DC of 35. The success of the Knowledge check roll determines how specific answers to questions will be, subject to the DM’s discretion. Standard fees equivalent to what a sage would charge do apply to members. The main benefit is that members have access to knowledge, if they have the required fee.

    The Coven also gives its members access to all manner of material components of all levels of rarity for the usual prices. Conversely, members are encouraged to donate or exchange any rare material components that they come across, and that they don’t need or have an excess of, to The Coven. The Coven also provides warded work areas for magical experimentation to its members, though any raw materials must be provided by the witch. Other members of The Coven may be sought out to cast spells on behalf of the witch for the usual prices, though witches are notorious for bartering for magical items or favors instead of accepting monetary payment. Favors and other agreements are covered under the Second Law of The Coven, so any promises of favors on the part of a witch are binding.

    Members of The Coven usually identify themselves and their supernatural affiliation by wearing a small obsidian pendant carved in the shape of, or engraved with the symbol of their patron.

    The Eye of the Covenant

    The Eye of the Covenant, also referred to as The Eye, was created shortly after the formation of The Coven as the ultimate means of binding together the varied loyalties of its membership. The Eye of the Covenant is a large obsidian sphere roughly ten feet in diameter. Its glossy black surface is covered in an untold number of facets. The Coven’s records show that the number of facets upon the surface of the sphere has increased over time, and it is thought that whenever a new member joins The Coven a new facet is formed. Beneath the dark surface of The Eye, the artifact pulses with multi-colored lights that dance and meander within its confines. The Eye of the Covenant is impervious to all forms of damage, magical or mundane, and in fact seems to feed upon magical energy of both arcane and divine natures. The Eye of the Covenant radiates a field of power in a one mile radius that absorbs all magical spells as they are cast, unless such spells are cast by an individual bound the artifact. The artifact also serves to block entrance into its field of power any summoned or teleporting creatures unless such creatures are in service to a witch bound to the artifact or are personally bound to the artifact themselves.

    A witch who knows the proper ritual may cause the Eye of the Covenant to grow and detach a small obsidian shard from itself. These shards are used in the Ceremony of Binding that all witches admitted to The Coven’s ranks must undergo. This ritual, which is conducted by a circle of thirteen witches, binds the supplicant witch with powerful compulsions to serve The Coven’s interests, and also serves to bind the supplicant to the Eye of the Covenant itself. Each obsidian shard, once bound to a witch, takes on an inner light appropriate in color to the patron that the witch serves. The main benefit of being bound to the Eye of the Covenant is that the witch may cast her spells within the field of power given off by The Eye without having them be absorbed by the artifact. The witch is also able to use summoning spells within the confines of The Eye’s field of power and may teleport freely into or out of it. In effect, a witch bound to the Eye of the Covenant may operate unhindered within its field of power, as may her servants.

    Once a supplicant is bound to the Eye of the Covenant, the obsidian shard that the witch is bound to during the Ceremony of Binding is stored among the shards of all of the witches that have ever belonged to The Coven, past and present. While a witch is living, her obsidian shard emits a dim radiance and feels warm to the touch. When a witch dies, the shard becomes cold and lifeless. If a witch’s soul is obliterated through some catastrophic event, the obsidian shard she was bound to shatters. As a witch is magically tied to her obsidian shard, it may be used to more easily scry upon or magically locate the witch that it belongs to. Furthermore, though the obsidian shards of dead witches may darken and become “lifeless”, they may be used in conjunction with a call spirit spell (see “The Witch” article for details on this spell) to conduct a sťance, enabling the witches of The Coven to seek the guidance of its long dead members.
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    Re: Of Witches and the Rise of The Coven (Score: 1)
    by mortellan on Fri, October 28, 2005
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    Ah yes I was not disappointed by the part about the Black Harridans. They are so despised even the Coven is wary of them! Living in the Dry Steppes, I could imagine they are a direct foe of the Mahdi of the Steppes and the dervishes who I would imagine carry on the traditions of witchslaying that Azor started.

    Re: Of Witches and the Rise of The Coven (Score: 1)
    by mtg ( on Sun, November 06, 2005
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    Thank you for a well-detailed article Cebrion

    I enjoyed the parts of the article that braided your new ideas into the fabric of Oerik's history, e.g., the Baklunish Hegira.  Therefore, I suggest developing more about the relationship between witches and the Coven and druids, the Old Faith (and Old Lore), and the Hierophants of the Cabal.

    I think the piece will also benefit from explaining more about the relationship between witches and clerics.  Aren't witches an older version of (comparatively modern) clerics?

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