The Future of Online Pagan Events Post-Covid

The Future of Online Pagan Events Post-Covid June 6, 2021

For better or for worse, the United States is abandoning its Covid-19 protocols. Whether you think it’s too soon, too late, or just right is another topic for another time. It’s also a moot point – right or wrong, we are doing it. Other countries are beginning to do the same.

But we aren’t going back to normal – there is no “normal” to snap back to. Instead, we’re going to have to figure out what we want to do and how we want to do it going forward.

Last week Damh the Bard had a blog post titled Online Events Shouldn’t be Seen as Second Best… Here’s a key quote:

Rather than seeing them as an emergency last resort, how about they become another way we come together as a community. Let’s face it, the environmental benefits are obvious, but so too are the benefits to those people who either couldn’t get to an event or, for whatever reason, didn’t want to. Now they can be enjoyed from the comfort of their home.

What a gift.

Damh has the right idea. His post is brief – I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself.

This is a conversation we need to have as a community, or as a collection of communities. Here are my thoughts.

the Cernunnos Ritual at the 2013 DFW Pagan Pride Day

What needs to go back to in-person

Public rituals. There is simply no substitute for being together and doing the things that proudly proclaim “we are Pagan!”

I want to dance the Maypole and the spiral dance. I want to hear a loud “hail and welcome” and “blessed be!” again. I want to be a part of 50 people raising energy and directing it toward a common goal. I want to look around the circle and see people’s faces as the presence of the Morrigan or Cernunnos or another deity becomes unmistakable.

I have missed public ritual and I can’t wait to do it again.

Denton CUUPS Beltane 2017

Private gatherings. Different areas have had different restrictions on private gatherings, and different people have different abilities to tolerate risk. Some of us never stopped our private gatherings – others had no choice. I’ve participated in occasional private gatherings for over a year, but the size and frequency has been less than before.

This is where the deep work is done. This is where our relationships move from casual to committed.

There is no substitute for seeing and hearing and touching each other in person.

Large conventions and retreats. I miss Mystic South. I miss the Texas Imbolc Retreat. I miss getting away and immersing myself in classes, rituals, and especially conversations. It’s great to get to talk to people I only see on social media for the other 51 weeks of the year.

Hotel-based conventions are expensive. I’m getting too old for camping-based conventions (or at least, my back is getting too old). I imagine some of the events may not come back after missing two years.

But I hope many of them will. They’re a great experience, and they’re the best way to have the kind of conversations we just can’t have anywhere else.

the Texas Imbolc Retreat, 2019 – you can’t do this online

Concerts. I’ll admit – I’m not a big concert fan. Most of them are too loud, and too many people want to stand up and sing along rather than sitting and enjoying the music (that’s not me getting old – that’s just me).

But my musician friends tell me they can’t wait to get back on stage and do what they do best. And as much as I enjoy recorded music, there’s nothing like hearing and seeing it played live.

What needs to stay online

Classes. Over the past year I’ve taught classes in Tennessee, California, Ohio, Virginia, and Texas, all without leaving my home office. I’ve taken a couple of classes too. Nobody had to travel and everybody got a good seat.

Full time online learning for school kids has many shortcomings, even if it was necessary for a while. But for one-shot class, or even a series of classes (like the Under the Ancient Oaks Online Courses), doing them online is easier, less expensive, and perhaps most importantly, makes them available to far more people.

I’ll still teach in person at conventions and gatherings. If I ever write another book I’ll speak as part of book signings. There is something to be said for face-to-face interaction, and especially for the conversations that come after the class is over. But as far as I’m concerned, most classes need to stay online.

Concerts. I know – I listed concerts in the “go back to in-person” section. Damh the Bard has the right idea – we need to do both.

I’ve enjoyed watching and hearing musicians play live, including some I would never have heard otherwise. No travel required, no dealing with the crowds, and no overpriced concessions. The audio quality has been excellent, and if the video quality hasn’t, at least I’m not sitting a hundred feet away from the stage.

Business meetings. Committee and business meetings are a necessity in any group coven sized or larger. Nobody likes them, but without them the work doesn’t get done. Or one person does it all, which also isn’t good.

Online meetings mean no travel. Zoom or other software means you can still see people as you talk to them. The nature of virtual meetings makes it less likely people talk over each other.

I hope all business meetings will be online only going forward.

Some rituals. I’ve been doing online rituals for the Wheel of the Year since Covid started. In my newsletter this week I announced I was stopping that – the main reason is that I just don’t have the bandwidth to do them and everything else I’ve got going on.

You lose a lot in online rituals, mainly the group energy. But you can facilitate worship for people who otherwise would be alone at the high days. That’s worth a lot.

And also, you can give everybody a front row seat. You can switch locations in an instant. You can use video to show people what they otherwise would have to imagine. There’s a downside to that, but once again, both ways have their place.

In the past year, I’ve found that “temple rituals” that focus on worship and connection work very well on video. So do individual magical workings. Not surprisingly, group workings and ecstatic rituals work best in person.

recording part of an online ritual

What needs to be figured out

How to work together online. I think most of us are just fine working together to write and edit a ritual, to plan an event, or to host a class. But we haven’t quite figured out how to work together ritually, magically, and energetically.

Some of us held Zoom rituals with some success – I never got much out of them. As good as live streaming is, it’s still one-way communication. And pre-recorded video takes the whole thing out of real time.

Can we meet between the worlds in spirit as we meet online in this world? Can we create Otherworldly “hot spots” to collect energy for direction toward a goal? What else could we do if we could only imagine it first?

Best uses of video. This may be a “me thing” rather than a “Pagan thing” but I’m struggling to figure out how to best use video in my work. What’s best done on a blog? What’s best done on social media? What’s best done on YouTube or in a live stream?

I’m not on TikTok and based on what I hear about it, I’m not going to be. But it’s clear that more and more communication is moving to video. We need to figure out how best to use it for our purposes.

Or at least, I do.

I’m thankful we have online events

I would rather have continued to meet in person, but I’m so thankful we’ve had Zoom meetings, online events, live streams, social media, and all the ways we’ve stayed in touch over the past 15 months. But Damh the Bard is right – these aren’t emergency last resorts. They’re new tools that are now in our toolboxes.

Going forward, we need to pick the right tool for the right job.

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