I am not a seer. I don’t own a crystal ball, and while I own several decks of Tarot cards, I haven’t read for anyone in over a decade. However, I do think there will be lasting changes to the landscape of the Pagan Community in the wake of coronavirus and Covid-19. Like everyone else, I want things to “return to normal” as soon as possible but I can’t shake the suspicion that at the end of this there will be a “new normal,” and it might not be one we like very much.
SCIENCE VS. CONSPIRACY THEORY
There’s a belief held by many on the left that conspiracy theories and misinformation are strictly the province of the right, but potentially harmful and wrong information is a problem that affects everyone today. If you are on social media, then you’ve had friends sharing “The Plandemic” video, or suggesting that vaccines are unsafe or that Bill Gates is trying to vaccinate the world in order to sterilize it. Many of these ideas feel straight of the fringes of right-wing talk radio, sources like InfoWars and Alex Jones, and yet they are making inroads everywhere.
I want to be careful here, I don’t think people INTENTIONALLY share false information, or do so with the objective to harm others. Covid-19 is scary. The world hasn’t truly experienced a pandemic equivalent to what we are going through now in over 100 years. Conspiracy theories offer people hope and an explanation for their current circumstances. It’s comforting to think that things are going to return to normal in six months and that there’s no need for a vaccine, but if you are still reading this you probably know better.
The language used to promote anti-vax and “5G is the cause of coronavirus” idiocy often works because people work to make it sound credible. It gets spread online in the form of videos and memes. Talk shows and podcasts on the fringes of the right and left promote it, and then it starts to slip into mainstream spaces too. Fox News hosts share it, the idiot in the White House tweets it, and people like Robert F. Kennedy share videos on Instagram about Bill Gates and a George Orwellian future.
The end result of this is that there are going to be the usual 80% of us who believe credible scientists and don’t get caught up in conspiracy theories. But then there’s that other 20%, and sometimes it’s going to include people you love and care about, who get caught up in the idea that this is all a plot to take away certain freedoms, or that the virus “is not as bad as they are saying.” I’m watching friendships fray online, and simply suggesting that I’m not going to “de-friend” everyone who posts inaccurate information had some people I know up in arms. (I get the impulse, but how can we change anyone’s mind if we all them to only sink further and further into their bubble?)
I think this is going to have ramifications for our community going into the future. Some people are going to jump further down the rabbit-hole, perhaps getting caught up in alt-right nonsense, or arguing that vaccines are “against nature” and therefore “not Pagan.” In my nightmares I sometimes envision a whole second Pagan world dedicated to conspiracy theories and the rejection of sound science. I think we generally believe in science as a community, but misinformation is so easily spread through social media, and times of crisis have a way of making people behave irrationally, with the end result a new form of disconnect in our community.
THERE WILL BE CASUALTIES
As I write this 81,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States. In a country of 350 million that can feel like a small number, but it’s actually huge. You may not realize it, but there is someone within three degrees of separation from you who has died as a result of this virus. One of your friends has at least lost a parent or a grandparent! I’ve seen some people argue online that we should open the country up and damn the consequences, instead I suggest “damn those selfish bastards” who put haircuts above life. (All of those songs I sang about “weaving the web” at Pagan gatherings in the 90’s meant something to me.)
The human toll is catastrophic even if it doesn’t appear so on the outside. But apart from the loss of life there will be other casualties in the Pagan world. Every major Pagan Festival I’m aware of in North America have cancelled their events for the Summer of 2020. I’m hopeful that most of those festivals will come back, but some most likely will not. The loss of the connections even the smallest festival brings will diminish our community that much more. And despite what some seriously misinformed people believe, most festivals squeak by year to year. They are not money making enterprises.Unemployment will soon reach 20% in the United States, with too little direct stimulus to make up the difference. Stores will close, musicians will throw in their guitars, artists will abandon projects, and writers will set down their keyboards. Things are not suddenly going to be just like they were 18 months ago. People will lose dreams and businesses because of this. There will be a deep scar across our community that will take decades to recover from.
SOME CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
My thoughts on the future of Paganism post-virus are not all negative, there are certain changes that might be for the better. Covid-19 is going to change how we look at the world going forward, and much of that change is going to be directly related to what we choose see outside of our back door. I think our worlds are going to get both bigger and smaller at the same time.
The giant gathering of 1000 Pagans might be off the board for the foreseeable future, but smaller gatherings (even virtually) have their own power. I find myself more and more drawn to old friends and wanting to hold them close. I’m not sure Zoom will ever be a true alternative to drinks around a bonfire, but I’ve had some good experiences hanging out with people over it. Times of crisis really put into perspective just who you care about and who you want to throw down a shot with.
My wife pointed out to me that going forward it’s very possible that people are going to focus more on local stores and eateries. When you can’t visit your favorite pub or Witch-shop you realize just how important it is to you. I think we have a tendency to take things for granted, “I’ll just order it on Amazon,” but even if we don’t patronize independent spots I think we value them. Nothing beats browsing actual things instead of “listings.” The joy of finding that random something in person is much more satisfying than going online to order something.
I also think we are figuring out new ways to do things, and finding out that many of them work. There’s been an explosion of online offerings since shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and the reviews have generally been positive. We’ve got festivals moving entirely online and people are enjoying the experiences they are having in these new spaces. I was a part of the Spring Mysteries back in April and made a whole bunch of new friends as a result. The combined Pagan Unity Festival and Three Gates Gathering has been moved online and features one of the best workshop line-ups I’ve ever seen (and all for only fifty bucks, some of the presenters involved in this charge that much for one class!). We are finding new ways to do things, and I think even after the current pandemic we will continue to see more and more “online” festivals.
THERE WILL BE A NEW NORMAL
When I watch TV now I often think to myself “why are those people standing so close to each other?” On evening walks with my wife I generally give any passerby I see a wide berth, much more than the recommended six feet. I assume everyone out there is carrying the plague and I want to keep as far from them as possible. Social-distancing has changed me, and my wife worries that I will never do well in public places again. I don’t think she’s wrong, and I’m not going to be the only one.
“Touch” is going to be taboo for a long time to come. “May I give you a hug?” is going to become “Can we make real eye contact for a moment?” Even shaking hands and bumping fists will become uncommon after this passes. You may give your best friend a long hug when this is done, but probably not very many acquaintances, or (especially) people you’ve just met.
In the immediate aftermath of Covid-19 we might gather for a public ritual or two, but we will be doing so with masks on while standing six feet from the people on our left and right. There will be no spiral dances or holding of hands during ritual for quite awhile, at least until there’s a readily available (and affordable) vaccine. I’m hopeful that I might see my coven again by Lammas, but ritual will be in the backyard and everyone will be standing a safe distance apart.