There’s been a lot of talk this week about “reopening” the economy… whatever that means. I think the person who repeated what Winston Churchill said after the Battle of El Alamein (in 1942) was right: “This is not the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
While the quarantine will eventually end, we will not be back to a pre-Coronavirus situation any time soon. So we still need to look for new ways to live our Paganism and to maintain our connections with our communities. Earlier this month I wrote a Letter to my Fellow Pagan Priests about fulfilling our obligations under quarantine and social distancing. But what about everyone else?
Here are six Pagan roles you can fill during the quarantine, and in the days to come.
You don’t need a formal group to do any of these things.
Let’s start here – you don’t need to be a High Priestess, a Chief Druid, or a CUUPS Chapter President to do any of these things. You don’t even need to be part of a formal group.
Who is your community? Who are your local Pagan friends? Who are your on-line friends? All of them can use your help, where ever you are.
Who are your Gods? What is your religious tradition? All of them can benefit from your service, even if you’re a solitary practitioner.
1. Pagan Layperson
If staying alive and sane in this diseased world is all you can do, that’s enough.
Maintain your daily spiritual practice – it will help you get through this. Continue to honor your Gods and ancestors – you need the support they bring to your life. Stay on good terms with the spirits of the place where you live.
But beyond that? It’s up to you. Some of you can take on more. Some of you need to take on more, to keep your mind off all the things you can’t control. But if the only role you can fill right now being a good ordinary Pagan, then that’s enough.
2. Technology Chief
For a movement that is often accused of being anachronistic (and not without reason) Pagans are by and large a rather tech-savvy bunch. We’ve been doing on-line classes for years and e-mail groups for decades. We’ve done rituals on Zoom, Facebook, and YouTube. We’ve got apps for everything.
But while most of us are at least competent at this, some aren’t. They can use help getting set up to participate, or to lead. And while most of us are willing to help when asked, a lot of people don’t know who to ask. Naming someone Technology Chief makes it clear where people can go if they need help connecting remotely.
3. Pastoral Care Coordinator
Does everyone have enough toilet paper? Does everyone have enough food? Does someone need a ride to the doctor?
How are people holding up? Does someone need a live phone call? Or connected with a mental health professional?
These sort of needs can be missed in the best of times – they’re even harder to keep up when we don’t see each other anymore. As with a Technology Chief, naming someone Pastoral Care Coordinator makes it clear who to go to if you need help… and it gives someone the responsibility to check up on everyone else.
In some places in-person visits are currently illegal. In other places they aren’t. But if someone’s life and health are at risk, screw the law – do what’s right.
4. Philosopher / Theologian
Philosophy and theology are two different disciplines. Philosophy is the study of wisdom and the fundamental nature of knowledge. Theology is the study of the Gods. I combine them here because they’re both examples of roles the wider Pagan community needs: people who explore the deep subjects that most people ignore.
You can study philosophy and theology on your own. Then publish it, either in a book or on-line. People will critique it. That’s a good thing – weak ideas get torn down, while strong ideas are spread.
And our collective wisdom grows.
5. Shrine Keeper
Maybe you’re less of a thinker and more of a doer. Then be a shrine keeper.
Many Pagans and perhaps most polytheists keep some sort of shrine – a place of honor to a deity or other spirit. These usually (but not always) are centered around a statue or statues. We make offerings, burn incense, say prayers, sing hymns, and otherwise pay honor and tribute to our Gods and spirits.
In ancient times this is what priesthood was – serving the Gods in their temples, not serving as clergy to a congregation. The priests served their communities by performing the rites necessary to insure they remained in right relationship with their Gods.
We could use a little more right relationship with the Gods about now.
In one of last year’s conversations around the use of the word “shaman” someone suggested that the closest thing Western culture has to “shaman” is “hedgewitch.” I think they may be right.
Hedgewitchery is many things, but here I’m referring to the practice of “jumping the hedge” – journeying into the Otherworld to meet with Gods, ancestors, or other spirits. That’s an intensely personal, individual process and it doesn’t require anyone to do it with you.
Now, my most productive ecstatic journeys have been done in very small groups, with someone taking notes and with someone to help me ease back into the ordinary world. But I’ve done this on my own before, and I will do it on my own again.
Because while you can facilitate hedge jumping and other ecstatic experiences, if They want you, They’ll come get you.
After this is over
We may be meeting in person again this summer – I haven’t canceled my reservations for Mystic South yet. Or we may still be doing the quarantine thing next summer. I flat out don’t know. But either way or somewhere in between, eventually this will be over.
And when it is, we’ll still need people to help with technology. We’ll still need people to make sure nobody’s needs are overlooked. We’ll still need philosophers, theologians, shrine keepers, and hedgewitches. And we’ll still need lots of people who want to honor the Gods and live ordinary lives.
The roles we need filled now will be needed for years to come.
What calls to you? Where do the needs of your community intersect with your skills and interests?
Consider these six roles.