What is a ‘house’ in Vampyre culture? And what is a ‘coven’?
In South Africa, there have been several groups known as Houses. House Valur is perhaps the most well known here, followed by House of Havoc, and there is also Coven d’Eir. While some have contributed immensely to the growth of the culture in their own ways, numerous others have surfaced in our community over the years, but it seems took a deep breath, and then sank below the surface never to be heard from again. What are these groups and why do we need groups like them?
A ‘house’ is one of several types of group in the culture. In the VC, there are Covens, Orders, Houses And Clans. Because our community is so splintered and dispersed – and also diverse, it is difficult to set such definitions in stone. Mostly, definitions of groups in the Vampyre community tend to be similar to those in “occult” circles. However, for the purposes of introduction, I will focus on Vampyres only.
In the days before the OVC (Online Vampire Community), the structure of the Community was different, and as those of us who were around before the internet can attest, almost everything else was too. Today we know Houses – whereas before, there were no ‘Houses’, only Covens. When a group was founded and was small, it was called a Clutch. Only after a year (traditionally a year and one day) and also when it reached a certain size, usually bigger than say, three members – could it be called a Coven. When a Coven reached a certain size where it was considered too large to manage itself or to meet safely, a small group would separate from it (or it would divide by half) and form a new Clutch which was still part of the larger Coven. This process was known as “hiving off” and sometimes the smaller groups were known as “hives”.
When the Coven grew and had two hives or clutches of its own, it was called an Order (or sometimes, “Ordo”). When these hived-off groups began to hive-off clutches of their own, the collective was called a Clan. Since the early 1990’s, Vampyre groups have become increasingly known as “Houses”, with “Coven” taking a secondary place, presumably due to association of the term with witchcraft rather than with a more purely Vampyre identity.
Today a Coven or House is a group of Vampyres numbering more than three, and usually operating in a particular geographic area or specific location. Frequently the ‘coven’ stage is skipped altogether, but sometimes ‘House’ would be used as an extra ‘level’ of status for a group. Perhaps people think ‘House’ sounds more impressive than ‘coven’, but who knows? Mostly, as in Wiccan groups, three is seen as a perfect number to begin a coven with, but whether this number includes only Vampyres, or both Vampyres and Swans or Otherkin, is not really an issue of great import. Originally, Vampyre groups did not often include Otherkin as they do today.
Some Vampyre Houses take the title “Ronin”, or “a house of Ronin” to indicate they do not follow any other value system other than their own. “Ronin” is a term that refers to the Japanese feudal system, where ronin were Samurai who lacked allegiance to a particular house (or royal family), but who were nonetheless honorable and skilled as samurai, meaning a Vampyre who is not a member of any household. Houses of Ronin do not necessarily isolate themselves, they just stick to their own way of doing things.
It is assumed that a VC group would be governed by its Founder, or Primus, or by a leader of a smaller sub-group (a House or Coven) elected or chosen from among other leaders. How the group is governed, is a decision taken by the group, really – and not a matter decided by outside elements.
It is quite apparent that although there are many known and unknown Vampyre Covens and Houses in the modern world, some of which have formed extensive alliances and associations with each other, based on their mutual beliefs or views (whether political or religious, or both).
Havens (or haevens) are safe places where Vampyres and their Kin meet. These can take the form of regular (weekly or monthly) public meeting places, such as coffee shops, clubs etc which are friendly to Vampyres or even owned by Vampyres. They also include venues which are closed and accessible only to Vampyres or associated Otherkin. There are well-known examples in the USA and UK for example, which have strict entry requirements, such as the Court of Lazarus (NYC). Haevens can also include events held at a home belonging to a member of a House or other group.
Inner And Outer Circles
Most Vampyre groups seem to consist of various groups within groups, with the most trusted or experienced members at the center (Calmae and Elders), and lesser experienced or ranking members in concentric layers around them, like the layers of an onion. This largely depends on the focus or membership of the group. In some cases, these groups will consist entirely of Vampyres, while some will include Vampyres, Swans and Otherkin depending on the values of the group. Advancement from one circle to the next is usually a matter of trust, service, or even the successful completion of various designated academic tasks.
As an example, a House may have two circles – an Inner and an Outer. Sometimes these Circles are given names, or designated colors – or simply referred to as “Inner” or “Outer” Circles. The Outer Circle may consist of ordinary members of the House i.e. Swans, Donors, Katura (Black Swans), and an Inner Circle of Vampyres. Within the Inner Circle, there may be other designated groups. Within the whole House, there may be Covens which form part of the House in general, but which may consist of members of one or both Circles. During the Fledgling or Apprentice period, the Fledglings fall under the Outer Circle, except where training activities may include an invitation to meetings of the Inner Circle.
“Holding Court” is the Vampyric community meeting of a House or Coven, usually under the guidance or control of an ‘elder’ or other community leader, in deference to the medieval or royal custom. This can be to address specific functions, or to socialize, but in either case, this usually only involves Vampyres and those within the community. Court is held at a House, a Haven, or a mutually agreed venue, such as a community friendly coffee shop, bar or other meeting place. Although the terms used may vary from faction to faction, ‘Court’ is usually more for formal internal discussions or decision making purposes.
Types Of House Meetings
Some House meetings fall under the description of the term “Court”:
“A Vampyric community meeting, usually under the guidance or control of an Elder or other community leader, in reference to the medieval or royal custom of ‘holding court’. This can be to address specific functions, or to socialize, but in either case, this usually only involves Vampyres and those within the community. Court is held at a House, a Haven, or a mutually agreed venue, with varying degrees of privacy as required, such as a community friendly coffee shop or other meeting place.” – House Valur Lexicon, 2010
The different forms and occasions for House Meetings to be held IRL, at a pre-set location or haeven are set out below (these are examples):
Regular House Meetings:
Who is present? : Anyone who is a noted member of the House and is expected to attend.
When? : Weekly, Monthly, or as agreed upon at a prior time.
Why? : To discuss House matters, socialize, keep up to date with House or community matters, host educational sessions etc.
Special House Meetings:
Who is present? : Anyone who is a noted member of the House as needed for whatever reason the Meeting is called. This sort of Meeting is either OPEN (to the entire House) or CLOSED (for Vampyres only), or for various individuals as the situation demands.
Why? : To discuss matters affecting either the whole House, or parts of the House in relation to the other parts of the House, such as in sensitive matters involving disagreements between members or parts of the House.
Sabbatical House Meetings:
Who is present? : Anyone who is a noted member of the House and is expected to attend.
Why? : For circles and rituals, such as for marking Awakenings, Yearling Rituals etc. Usually OPEN to the whole noted House membership, but set by the nature of the ritual or circle.
Open House Meetings:
Who is present? : Anyone who is a noted member of the House and is expected to attend, as well as anyone allowed entrance to the haeven or venue chosen for the Open House Meeting. OPEN in this case means open to anyone from outside the House as well.
Why? : In order to provide an inside look into the Vampyre community to interested parties, friends of House members and other invited individuals. This is in the form of a welcoming, a ritual, an information (Q&A) session, and followed by a social session.
In many groups, there are ranking systems, cultural positions and systems of social status. Advancement from Seeker is to “Fledgling” (Initiate) and then to Calmae after the Yearling Ceremony. Following this, a Vampyre will be a Calmae for an unspecified time. Today they may be considered an “Elder” if they are 30 years old, or and hold a position of some authority within a House, and have passed whatever tests have been set for them to complete.
There is much argument today about the age and qualifications of an “elder”, since most of the active OVC seems to be young and mostly under the age of 30, some people called by the title “Elder” are in their late 20’s even. This causes much heated debate, with some insisting that being an Elder amounts to expertise or experience in a certain field, and not necessarily power or authority. I would prefer to leave the debate of what an ‘elder’ is, for another article altogether.
The head of a House is sometimes accorded the title of “Primus”, meaning “the first”, with their close assistant being called “Secundus”, or secondant. Although this is usually a title only given to the founder of the House, successive incumbents of this position may take the title “Queen”, “King” or “Stepanu”, or even “Regent” but this too seems to vary according to the traditions of the individual group.
Many Vampyre Community groups or Houses are foundationally religious or spiritual in nature. Some carry the name “Temple of…” indicating this. Most groups though appear to respect the privacy of the beliefs of their members, without forcing a particular doctrine on them. Few appear to be wholly secular (totally non-religious). It seems that even secular Houses hold rituals to mark certain occasions, such as the initiation or welcoming of new members, and so on.
To close, this has been a brief description of the different types of Vampyre Community groups we know of today. I hope it has whet your appetite to discover more about the culture, and sparked your desire to make it grow.
So, what is a Vampyre coven? What is a Vampyre House? It’s a real life meeting group, a source of comfort, warmth and friendship. It’s a place of support when you need a shoulder to lean on from someone who understands you. It’s a breakaway from your busy dayside life. It’s a social escape and a chance to kickback and be yourself with others who are like you and who won’t judge you for being your inner Vampyre. It’s a chance to work together to achieve more than one person alone, to give back to the community. More than all that, it is a building block of our community, and our subculture – and after the value of the individual participant, it is the next most valuable aspect of our culture, and of building it.
Sadly, in South Africa, this aspect is one which has been neglected. It would be nice to see Vampyres in South Africa reclaiming their heritage, and embracing this aspect to our culture again.