I left Wicca, I left spirituality, and I left every theological/philosophical belief that I practiced for 20 years. Melodramatics aside, I did this in pursuit of knowledge. This knowledge was sparked by a few outside events that shook my essential beliefs and caused me to uproot myself. In three posts I would like to share this journey with you and how it ultimately led me right back home. I want to show how we as people can and should question our beliefs and have the ability to reincarnate those beliefs, if we want.
This first article is about my experiences during COVID-19 and how that instigated my religious uprooting; also where I began to look for answers. I want to give a disclaimer that throughout these three posts that there will be triggers of abuse, emotional distress, and depression. I find sharing these states of being with you (the inter-web readers) to be cathartic and healing. My hope is that this will be a resource for someone out there.
The Pandemic Turned Endemic
March of 2020 shifted all of our worlds and we have been carrying the weight of this pandemic for a year. The pandemic wasn’t out of sight for the line of work I am involved in and as part of the environmental health and safety team we were gearing up to be on the front line. My typical duties as a financial analyst were about to morph into the role of tracking and analyzing sick employees on campus. We were charged with creating a software model that provided resources for employees, monitoring for leadership, and communication on testing.
My career was forever changed when I began to handle deaths. I went from speaking with employees who were scared and didn’t know where to go for assistance to marking them as ‘expired’ only a few days later. This tore my soul to shreds and was the sole reason I left healthcare for administrative style work.
Though my thoughts were heavy I chose to keep calm and carry on. I had to do my part during this pandemic. This meant signing my spouse and myself up for studies, working weekends, working nights, and creating guidelines for the state of Utah that should have already been in place. Throughout all of this my home-city was also hit with a large earthquake (large for us) in April of 2020.
Throughout much of this time I was still practicing Wicca and tried my best to keep afloat with daily rituals that usually kept me feeling optimistic. For the most part they worked and I was holding my small family together and seemingly myself as well. I wouldn’t say I leaned heavily into my spiritual side but it wouldn’t be too far off to say that I was using it as a crutch and assuming all was just fine.
In reality I was acting like a frantic human pleading with nothingness and shouting “why me…why this…why why why?!!!!” Looking back, this obviously wasn’t the healthiest approach but then again I don’t believe any of us were spiritually ready to take on the possibility of a pandemic turning to endemic.
Stepping Down and Stepping Away
By June of 2020 I was burned out completely. No candle left. Not a single wick to light! (I love theatrics.) I felt this emptiness inside that had not been there before and began to heavily question my philosophical/theological beliefs. Not necessarily because there was a pandemic and millions were sick but because I now had a stabilizing force that was holding me together: science. My team was surrounded by researchers, doctors, and people who maintained a good amount of strength due to their faith in science.
All around me I saw colleagues who were practitioners of various religious movements begin to have the same breakdown I was experiencing. For me that left a bitter taste that festered into the roots of my religious tree. Meanwhile, Dr. So-and-so was holding together and focused on saliva samples while Joe-shmoe was having a full on mental breakdown that led to hospitalization.
While I wasn’t quite to the level of Joe-shmoe, I was not that far off. My work with the pandemic led to yelling matches with a friend who I am sorry to say is no longer in my life. It was creating a neurosis that I couldn’t stop. This was worse than that itch on your mid-back, it was madness. That is part of why I stepped down and stepped away from my part in contact tracing efforts and helping in COVID-19 cases. I was also informed that our system was to be taken over by public health sectors; which helped mitigate any guilty feelings.
After all was said and done, I wasn’t alone in my worn-out state. Nearly every scientist, biological worker, lab aide, or doctor was also burned out. Now we were able to let go and given a huge part of our lives back to do……well…..whatever it was we did.
This void kept staring at me and filled me with regret and doom. Was I actually a Pagan or a good Pagan at that? Being surrounded by high-logic I felt like there had not been a single moment in my past 20 years that was magical.
I couldn’t think of one thing that could not be explained by science or common sense. Those bumps in the night that made me giggle as a kid turned out to just be our deaf cat running around at night. Those chills from being in nature were just an awe for the landscape that was formed over millions of years. So much magic just felt dead to me.
Being resourceful and inquisitive I reached out to people, public figures, religious teachers, Shamans, Pagan Priests and Priestesses, and then to lamas, Rinpoche, or anyone who would give me some advice. I went from losing my mind over anti-maskers to losing my grasp of faith with spiritual leaders and professionals. This was full on manic mode!
I read several books from September through December to try and find a ritual, a meditation, or anything that would light my fire again. Nothing seemed to work and it was all gone. I tried knocking on the door of the divine and nobody answered.
I Was Alone and That’s Okay
I really was alone for the first time in my life, when it came to my practice. Part of me looked at this opportunity to expand my intellect beyond mathematics and study quantum physics, quantum mechanics, biology, and psychology. If you haven’t done this, I strongly encourage you do. There are seeds of truth in science. I say truth because these theories and studies are usually provoked by religious thought.
Though much of what I learned will be expanded upon in a future article; science really became a vessel for my beliefs. Hear me out on this one. Science was the area of my life that stayed constant and soothed my troubled mind. It gave me avenues to explore when so many avenues in Paganism were hitting a wall. Science carried my logic and held my beliefs without my intending it to. Science also humbled my experience and expectations. So in the end I was alone and that was okay with me because my eyes opened up to the vast interconnectedness of our universe. I was tripping out on the psychedelic waves of research, studies, and how my experience is impacted.
Then it happened, I found my answers. I found a higher level of my initial beliefs through a common Pagan teaching. Once I found the seeds of interconnectedness that fell from my old tree of religious belief; I planted those seeds in the vessel of science. This sounds so metaphorical but it truly is the best way to convey this exciting moment for me. My old beliefs did not die but offered fruit and seeds to grow stronger beliefs (belief trees?).
My Exercise for You
One common thread amongst us Pagans tends to be our ability to see or at least say we believe in the interconnectedness of all things. I want to share an exercise with you that helped me back home and to find some solace in this pandemic. This will be a two-part exercise so be sure to have some time to yourself.
- On paper or even on a Word document, write down these 5 things:
Name of someone who gets under your skin who you know personally
- Create a web that shows how all of these things are connected. Use connecting words like atoms, divine, or whichever you feel right with.
- Meditate on the interconnectedness of these items. How COVID-19 is a living virus and viruses are part of our living planet. Think about this on a serious level and you may come to realize that our humanity, viruses, germs, and all living things have an equal part in the universe. We are not separated.
- Take a white candle and place it on your altar. This can be a simple tea light or pillar candle.
- Take three deep breaths, light the candle, and close your eyes.
- Offer a moment to those whose lives have been lost in this pandemic. This need not be a deep and formal ritual. You won’t need to take on a lot of energy. The intention is to validate their experience and acknowledge the loss.
- Take three deep breaths again and give thanks for your own health.
- I like to bow towards my altar when I finish. For me it is a sign of reverence for the sacred space but also in a manner that acknowledges this special moment.