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 think it is important that we contemplate these problems, which are universal, when we engage in passing a plate of cakes, engaging in sexual activities with consenting adults for magic, or even just holding hands and dancing. These are ancient practices, meant to draw us close, meant to help us bond.We like to be touched, to be heard, to drink of our brothers and sisters. We feel we belong, and we feel powerful. But how do we participate in these things with less risk of contracting serious health problems?
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.
If the issue is larger, an outbreak of flu for instance, a very basic step could be taken, mainly using hand sanitizer before and after ritual. Again, the use of individual plastic cups can be effective at containing communicable diseases.
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.
Take this situation. Someone whose beliefs are connected with the African Diaspora flies from West Africa to the United States. They come to a large Pagan gathering, looking for community. They are unaware they are infected with tuberculosis. Even the mildest variant of this disease is difficult to treat and takes patience and commitment They share a one-night stand and a few cigarettes with someone else at the festival, and their partner is infected. With everyone in close conditions for days, without regular hand washing and with plenty of interaction, TB could spread to many people there without them being aware.
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.
One more thing before I wrap this up. We have those among us skilled at herbal healing, those of us educated in nutrition and in the growing of organic food, and those of us who can use stones to heal on a spiritual level. When modern science fails us, becoming unable to repel diseases, and we do not manage to hold them back through precautions, we must maintain public health in our sacred spaces by relying on what we know. Our community can heal itself, strengthen itself, and protect itself. We have the capacity to go back to the time when drinking horns and nude dances were common, and physical contact carried less fear. We can go back to this time, and find the answer to protecting our love of the natural bond we share. This was the time when wise women and sages healed us. There are those who walk in two worlds, the modern and the ancient. There are those who embody those sages and wise women.We must embrace their skills, their wisdom. We can evolve in a simpler manor, and be stronger for it.
I found many of the concepts offered in this post in stories reported by NPR, and on PBS front line. I hope to discuss this more in the future.