This data was last updated on 1 August 2018.
Address: P.O. Box 79, Georgetown, MA 01833
History and Mission: In 1996, several members of the New England Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess (NELCCoG) decided to form a group "in order to provide services to the local Pagan community which require a larger scale, more formal organizational structure than our individual covens can comfortably offer." These founders created the Society of Elder Faiths (SEF), which now operates in Eastern and Central Massachusetts, offering public Sabbats, community gatherings, and liturgical resources to the Pagan community. Its mission is "to worship the Goddess and the Old Gods, to teach the principles of our faith, to celebrate the rites of our religion, to realize fellowship and unity within our membership and among the elder faiths, to render loving service to the Earth and all Her inhabitants, to train and ordain clergy of our faith, and to promote the understanding of our faith." To accomplish this goal, the Society of Elder Faiths sponsors public rituals or festivals on each of the eight holidays of the Wheel of the Year. They also run retreats in the fall and spring for their members and offer classes on topics such as ritual craft, singing and chanting, or Pagan end-of-life issues.
Celebrating the Holidays: Although the Society is open and inclusive of many Pagan traditions, its calendar and practices are strongly influenced by the shared Wiccan traditions of its founders and many of its members. The eight Wheel of the Year holidays are celebrated in public rituals divided according to the Greater (Beltain, Lammas, Samhain, and Imbolc) and Lesser (the solstices and equinoxes) Sabbats. Beltain, Samhain, and Imbolc are celebrated at Brigham Hill Community Farm in Grafton, one of SEF's community partners. The Lammas Faire is held at the Hopkinton YMCA. Each Lesser Sabbat ritual is held at least twice on different dates around the equinox or solstice, once in Worcester and once in Braintree. Guests are given guides to the ritual, and may be asked to join in by reading invocations to gods and goddesses. A 2008 Summer Solstice ritual used invocations to the God and Goddess, as well as the Lady of Summer and Pan. Participants chanted prayers and praise, danced in a circle, received blessings, and shared consecrated food and drink. Although the details of each Sabbat celebration differ, the basic invocation and structure remains the same. The standardized circle-casting liturgy is available online. Beltain and Lammas are open to all ages, but Samhain and Imbolc emphasize internal transformation and are restricted to adults. Alternate celebrations for Pagan families have been held for those festivals. A potluck dinner is part of every Sabbat except Lammas, which is a large holiday festival.
Pagan Family Connection: Many members of the Society of Elder Faiths are parents and have developed ways to include and educate their children in Pagan traditions. In 2003, the Pagan Family Connection was developed as a means to support Pagan families in SEF, beginning with hosting Sabbat celebrations specifically designed for families. Both greater and lesser Sabbats now have celebrations designed with children in mind, sometimes integrated into full-community rituals and sometimes separated. Pagan Family Connection rituals often include picnics and hiking. The Pagan Family Connection has also worked on developing religious education for its members. Providing some "grounding in religion" and an understanding of the tenets and practices of Paganism for children aged 11 to 14, is one of the group's priorities. According to Debbie Fields-Berry, the aim of such a program is to "give some sense of the ground of being" for Pagans while staying true to the non-dogmatic roots of their traditions.
Structure: The Society is incorporated as a church with 501c3 status in Massachusetts. Membership is about 70 Pagans, although more people participate in the public rituals without being members. Members receive the newsletter and are invited to participate in SEF's annual meeting, classes, Forum, and retreats. The Society's Board of Directors is made up of volunteers. Morwynna, the Society's paid administrator, runs the website, sends out the newsletter, coordinates events, and serves as contact person. The Society is intended to fill a gap between solitary practitioners, coven members, and large national networks. Instead of being a coven or a network for its members, it provides an organization on the community level, "something like the church social," according to Morwynna.
Partnerships: SEF has participated in several community events, most notably "Wheels of Fortune," community bicycle rides to raise funds against AIDS. The Seeds of Change Program is a collaboration with Brigham Hill Community Farm in Grafton, which hosts several of their events. Members of the Society volunteer at the farm, and the organic vegetables grown there are donated to the Worcester County Food Bank. Within the Pagan community, SEF has several ties to "friends and neighbors." AzureGreen, an online metaphysical store, has donated several acres of land in Western Massachusetts to SEF. The Society hopes to build a stone circle on this land and develop it for ritual use. Because the Society is incorporated as a church in Massachusetts, it can ordain its members. Originally, the group had hoped to develop a seminary for training and ordaining clergy; however, the group now directs aspiring clergy to Cherry Hill Seminary, a professional Pagan ministry school for training in ministry, counseling, contemporary Pagan issues, and community-building.
Other Resources: Morwynna emphasized the importance of a shared liturgy in Society functions. To this end, the Society makes its standardized circle-casting liturgy available on its website. Other rituals have also been put online for other Pagans' use, including a funeral rite and Samhain and Imbolc rituals. The funeral rite reflects another priority of the Society of Elder Faiths: end-of-life issues. One of the Society's committees addresses questions of burial, funerals, and will-making. SEF has organized meetings with the Funeral and Memorial Society of America to learn about approved burial practices in Massachusetts. They also provide documents for legally informing survivors about how one's body and possessions should be dealt with after death.
Future Plans: The Society hopes to grow its membership over the next few years. The new religious education program for teenagers and the development of the donated land in Western Massachusetts are also priorities for the future. Since almost all of the planning is done by volunteer members, managing all the celebrations, classes, and new programs is often difficult. But the success of groups such as the Pagan Family Connection and the end-of-life care committee reflects a strong commitment to the changing needs of the Pagan community. Most of all, the Society of Elder Faiths will continue to provide the public rituals and resources that have been its core since its founding.