Public health in sacred space is important. We take part in actions of community. We pass the drinking horn and the plate of cakes. We dance hand in hand. We even engage in sex magic, or working a ritual through sexual pleasure. The problem today is this: we are facing a day when diseases are global and drug resistant, and people have fewer ways to protect themselves.
We are living in a day where there is the potential for diseases to become epidemics. The World Health Organization or WHO, declared the Ebola outbreak in Africa a global health emergency, cutting through red tape to release funds and aid from around the world to help treat and slow the spread of the disease. Over the last decade, swine flu has tracked across the US. In the last century, Spanish influenza killed tens of millions globally, and that was before people had easy access to international travel. There is now a new crisis, measles. There was an outbreak in California, which is now closing in on 100 cases. This state has one of the highest rates of parents choosing, because of belief or misconception, not to vaccinate children.
Second, strains of bacteria are becoming more and more drug resistant. The MRSA outbreak at hospitals around the country, in which patients died because antibiotics just didn’t work, is one example. MRSA is an aggressive product of staff infection. PBS Frontline goes into this topic in their show about nightmare bacteria, which is on Netflix. Alternatively, people are developing allergies to all sorts of drugs, or to foods that could boost their immunities, because of the various toxins in drugs and in our environment.
Third, drug companies do not wish to put money toward antibiotics. Lifelong users of blood pressure medicine, allergy medicine, or bipolar medicine ensure long term profits, where antibiotics, a short term necessity, do not. Alternatively, many still don’t have access to drugs, either because they lack the financial freedom or because they simply have no way to get to a doctor.
I will focus on the sharing of drinks for my first example. It is, first and foremost, critical to be aware of any group members who have communicable diseases. If someone has strep throat, for instance, perhaps they receive the horn last, or the group uses plastic cups for that ritual. I would feel that the first would make someone feel a little under-valued. The second would work, though some may feel that the sharing of energy is lost in the use of plastic cups that are only drank from once. So possibly, take a moment to bless the bottle or goblet of wine or juice by passing it around the circle to allow each person to hold and add energy to, without the transfer of pathogens.
As far as sex magic and STI’s or blood-borne diseases, the answers are pretty well-known. Thanks to incidents with Pagan leaders exposed for inappropriate actions, many of us have begun to work on a more sex-positive, consensual atmosphere. Dental dams and condoms are crucial. If we are using sex toys, it is important to cover them with a condom to keep them sterile especially if sharing them with multiple partners.
The sad thing is that we have to make some concessions. It might mean not sharing a drinking horn at a Sumble, a Norse ritual of boasting and toasting, to keep a strain of the flu from spreading throughout a public gathering. But we have to be on guard at a gathering like PSG. I myself got sick last year, on two 1000mg vitamin C pills daily, with precautions, because bugs and rain were so bad last year. Even at a one-day event like Pagan Pride, we have to be careful.
We can put hand sanitizer at booths, use plastic cups for public or even private ritual, and practice safe sex. We can vaccinate and eat well, take vitamins and stay home if we are not well. If we value community, and our sacred space together so much, shouldn’t it be important to us to help maintain that? We keep negative spiritual energy out of a circle. Shouldn’t we try and refrain from introducing illness, especially considering those with allergies or impaired immune systems? Even if it means buying a box of reusable plastic glasses at a garage sale in case something is going around, or having everyone use sanitizer before entering a circle, it is a small price to pay for keeping the circle happy and healthy to stand together another day.