Dirt: Coven building
The creators of Crypto Coven talk about fostering community in the era of NFTs.
Crypto Coven is a woman-led generative NFT project with a very magical roadmap. As a witch holder myself, I can say that the vibes in the project Discord are immaculate–somewhere between a slumber party tarot reading and a collaborative zine. I talked to the founders (they go by the pseudonyms Nyx, Aletheia, Xuannü, Aradia and Keridwen) to find out how they are keeping the community real when so much in cryptocurrency feels, well, fake. — Daisy Alioto
Daisy Alioto: Why a coven? How did you develop the story of the artwork together?
NYX: Right now, NFTs form the base of the crypto creator subculture. They’re used as characters, items, places, or avatars for your digital self. Subcultures are defined by and attract an audience through aesthetics—and we wanted to introduce a new one that would draw in and capture the imagination of a more diverse set of creators for the space.
As avatars, witches have agency, power. They shape the world as they move through it, are mysterious and strange. They defy traditional expectations. A witch is not defined by their relationship to, or appeal for, anyone else. They are individuals with influence over any narrative they touch, not objects to be observed and sold. Witches create. They perform magic. A coven of witches implies a bond—a group working together with more power than an individual.
ALETHEIA: The word coven invokes a sense of strangeness and community, not unlike the atmosphere of web3 we experience today. Our project name, Crypto Coven, also strikes an interesting tension: two words marking the spectrum from technology to mythology, unceremoniously brought together through alliteration and an overwhelming number of JPEGs.
As for the creative work—I unironically believe that, between the five of us, we have impeccable taste in art, fashion, and literature. Developing the story and artwork became an exercise in pooling together all the beautiful and curious things that excited us and finding a common thread to weave it all together. We each brought something different to the table and approached our differences with openness and excitement. So many of our conversations took the form of “yes, and!” and it felt pretty incredible to witness the outcome of these exchanges become more than the sum of its participants.
KERIDWEN: The alignment in background, whether it be aesthetic, literary, or pop cultural, between the members of our team is really special. When Nyx proposed a high-femme space that would be equal parts magic and strangeness, I got the vibe immediately. We have an “inspo” channel flooded with Alexander McQueen, Miss Sohee, Stardew Valley, Welcome to Nightvale, Naoko Takeuchi concept art and Rihanna’s Instagram. I found we had an easy collectiveness when it came to influences and what kind of content brought us joy—what kind of content made the most sense to channel for the new space we wanted to build. It’s an aesthetic and outlook that centers femininity, optimism, softness, weirdness, all the kinds of contrasts we felt were underrepresented in the scene before now.
XUANNU: A coven is a collective identity rather than an individual one, and witches are people who exist at the fringes, who do what they want and go where they want. They exist outside of the bounds of societal structures and norms.
That boldness, the willingness to be different, was compelling—it really spoke to us. And we wanted to create a space where people who identify as femme felt comfortable and welcome. Witches are for everyone, regardless of gender, and we make an effort to use gender-neutral pronouns for our witches, but historical associations mean that even using the word “witch” signals that women are invited to this space, which counts for a lot right now in web3.
ARADIA: Crypto, and tech in general, is a pretty homogeneous space. There is a lot of man-energy out there, which is immediately apparent when you browse the most popular collections on OpenSea. It’s high time for an infusion of a more femme aesthetic, and who better to usher in this new era than a coven of witches?
DA: How did you use the narrative of the coven to lay the groundwork for an intentional community?
ARADIA: As witches, we want you to feel “unafraid and unfettered”—powerful, beautiful, and free. It’s important to us that a wide variety of people see themselves represented in the witches. With this in mind, we modeled three possible body types and seven skin tones. Our builder code rolled each of these characteristics with an equal probability. Just to name a few other considerations, we included witches with their hair covered for modesty, witches with no hair at all, and witches with hairstyles limited to certain skin tones. And although our project has a decidedly femme vibe, we generally prefer to use non-gendered pronouns for the witches. Lastly, with six archetypes of power and our vast virtual vanity of makeup and accessories, each witch manifested has a “look” and personality all their own. We’ve put a lot of thought into diversity and inclusion, and it is our aim that anyone may find a witch that truly speaks to them.
ALETHEIA: Our lore really set the foundation of what we wanted our world to feel like and what it means to be a WITCH.
WITCHES wander the weird wilds of the world, unafraid and unfettered... WITCHCRAFT is about intuition. About listening to the quiet, about the freedom to choose and go where one wishes, about maintaining the balance of things.
DA: What does community in web3 mean to you? How do you keep it engaged?
XUANNU: To me, community in web3 means participation. What drew us into making an NFT project, rather than any other medium, was the extensibility of the universe we could build. As NFTs, the witches have three functions: they’re the faces of the characters in the world we’re creating, they’re an open, interoperable interface for these characters’ metadata, and they represent a financial stake in the part of the metaverse in which they exist.
Eventually, it’s the last two functions that might be the most interesting because they enable us to experiment with decentralized world-building. Our community could create new stories, places, interactions, more that we haven’t even imagined, on top of the foundation we build—then share in the value they add. The story that we write should only be the beginning. We want to see what happens when many more threads come together to weave an entire universe.
For that same reason, long-term, I don’t think it really is about us keeping the community engaged. Right now, it is, and it will be for a while, because the project is small and early, and it’s up to us to create most of the content. But someday hopefully there are enough people creating and sharing their own parts of this world, their own interpretations, that it’s the community that perpetuates itself.
KERIDWEN: As someone completely new to web3, I want to be a part of something accessible, beginner-friendly, and kind. It may seem trivial, but individually welcoming new people, checking with them if they have questions, and engaging with them about their lives and interests creates the kind of warmth in a community draw together likeminded people. We talk about art, film, or books (we’ve convinced at least a half dozen people to purchase Madeline Miller’s Circe) with the same openness as the smart contract or minting process. We unveil new witches twice a week on a rolling schedule so people can return to our space to be surprised or delighted or hyped up on a regular basis. We want to be the kind of space where people return because it’s fun and fulfilling, not because it’s a quick way to make cash.
DA: What are some misperceptions about web3 community?
NYX: The common ones I’ve heard is that it’s a scam, a Ponzi scheme, and that it’s transient and will eventually fade. Using that lens as a wall to not understand web3 more deeply, or rejecting your agency to change it, is one of the more frequent traps I see people enter.
It’s important to question the flawed systems that exist today—are individual commissions or partnerships with corporations the best ways for artists to survive? Is our current conception of money working? A lot of the current proposed solutions in the web3 space are far from perfect, but they aren’t going anywhere, and they will evolve and change, with or without you. We think it would be a richer and fairer future with you.
DA: How has the Crypto Coven community shaped the storyline and artwork? Have you made large changes based on community feedback?
ARADIA: During the creation of the witches, we called for “moodboards and articulations” from the community. We chose our favorites and folded them into the project—drawing accessories from the boards and adding some of the writing to the descriptions, granting the winners with a witch of their own. It’s been so gratifying to see the enthusiasm from our community and so much fun to engage with it on Discord.
DA: Crypto Coven is incredibly detailed, down to the names of the channels in Discord. Can you share some of your favorite details, either in the text of the project or the artwork?
NYX: By and large, I’m the most proud of the diversity of the witches themselves. Generative projects are usually fairly limited in the range of character you can express, since you want the art to be as reusable as possible and every combination to work visually.
One of the problems for projects aiming for “10k” unique characters is that, while they are technically unique when a single attribute is different, visually they can feel homogenous. I think that the witches are truly visually unique, not just unique in a non-fungible sense, and our focus on diversity to hit a Savage x Fenty level of inclusion also elevated us past most other projects out there.
ARADIA: Most of my contributions were in code, but I did also become the High Witch of Bequeathing Names. To name the witches, I collected ~1,200 thematically appropriate words, sorted by archetype of power and bucketed into parts of speech. I wrote a name generator function, which first chooses from one of eight weighted naming schemes, then randomly grabs a word from each matching bucket—all to form 9,999 unique witch names. Fun fact: the script could produce well over 1.5 million names! Each batch reveal is full of wonderfully chaotic surprises. Some of my favorites have been a hag called “Fennel, the Honest Snack Cake” and a necromancer called “The Curse.”
XUANNU: One of my favorite details is a Discord bot I built with Keridwen’s writing—we have this bot, the Oracle, who offers a prophecy every morning, and it’s just a fun little touch for the community that renews this mystical and vaguely eerie atmosphere every day.
DA: What challenges have you faced as a new community and how did you rally to overcome them?
XUANNU: The night we launched, I deployed our first smart contract in a rush (and, well, after weeks of sleep deprivation from writing code across the project until 4 a.m. every night), and it had a subtle but fatal bug that we triggered a day or two later. No one could ever mint on that contract again, which was… my absolute worst nightmare. And I was really worried about how people would react, not to mention the expense of redeploying and rolling over the witches people had already minted.
But the high witches came together so quickly to figure it out—explaining to the community, creating lore around the glitch, drawing beautiful art to turn the situation into its own creative work. And then the community was overwhelmingly supportive, offering everything from reassurance (that we didn’t need to worry and should take our time) to a pro bono Solidity audit that made the new contract more secure and gas-optimized. That gave me some room to breathe, to take two or three days to feel confident that we got everything right before redeploying.
DA: What are your hopes for the future of the Crypto Coven?
ALETHEIA: I hope that our little corner in web3 becomes a stepping stone to many more weird and wild creations with and by our community.
ARADIA: When I was initially brought into this project, I was particularly excited by the idea of creating a virtual world. I felt a deep sense of nostalgia for my early internet experiences. I remember staying up all night, exploring these new realms, searching for hidden secrets, caring for virtual pets… But today, for me and probably many others, the web has lost some of that sparkle. It’s now a space dominated by social media and occupational toil. So my hope is that we can bring some of that magic back—create a weird and welcoming world of our own, one that will bring joy to us and to our community.