(I apologize now for the rambly nature of this post, but sometimes rambling is all that we’ve got.)
Last Friday my coven had its first ever online ritual. I’m not completely dismissive of online ritual, but we had kept putting it off because I kept hoping that soon we’d all be together again. For Lammas I was thinking that we might all meet for a socially distant ritual in the backyard complete with face-masks of course, but we aren’t in a position for even that much interaction. Things aren’t slowly getting better, they are more or less staying the same and in many places just getting worse.
One of my coven-sisters had the brilliant idea to feature our group’s ritual-room lit up for our rite, but with no one present within it. The video of the room served as a focal point, and in many ways was like looking at another coven mate. Our group’s temple room is in my house, but my wife and I rarely go in that room outside of ritual and other magickal work.
Setting up the room almost felt like a return to normalcy. Where does the wand go on the altar again? We usually hang up our coven’s quarter calls on the walls, and while there was no reason to do so this time, I did it anyways, just to make it feel more like a standard ritual. Fresh water went into our bowl, incense was put in the burner, my wife and I’s athames flanked the pentacle like they normally do. The illusion fell apart when I checked my phone to see how the ritual-room would look on Zoom; three out of four quarters in frame aren’t bad I thought.
There was still something powerful about just setting up the room, and I was determined to find the joy in it. I turned off the overhead light and began lighting the candles we use to honor the Watchtowers, their light bouncing off the brass sconces holding them up on the wall. This was followed by lighting our Spirit candle and the candle we use to represent fire on the altar. In that moment our room was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen during this pandemic, and it was too much for me.
I broke down right there, on camera with my coven mates, my sobs loud and painful. I’ve kept my best brave face on for most of the pandemic, but in that moment I found myself missing my chosen family, my practice, that magick we weave together, and half a dozen other things. I collected myself and joined my wife in our bedroom for the ritual, and when she saw me SHE KNEW. She just put her arms around me and let me cry into her shoulder. Even as I write this the tears are welling up.
The ritual went well, our Ankhira led us threw a powerful working in an attempt to strengthen (and perhaps reforge) the bonds we all share. It wasn’t equivalent to working in person, but it felt good to say our familiar ritual liturgy for the first time in six months. My practice has not been lost, but it is struggling.
I have noticed several articles here over the last couple of months about people not being able to hear the gods. These have been written by individuals who generally have close relationships with deity, and are rather committed devotionalists. My experiences have not been quite the stark, I think deity is still out there, and I can still it feel Dionysus, Pan, Aphrodite, Persephone, and all the rest moving through my life and around my house. But the sounds are quieter, perhaps because everything else is quieter.
Everyone’s practice is different. In the Summer mine generally revolves around rituals with the covens, rituals and workshops at a variety of festivals around the country, and simply being present around others. I’ve always felt that our practices and rituals are primarily about connection. Connection can take various forms. There’s connection to magickal energy, nature, deities, and not surprisingly each other. When I’m connected to one of these ideas, I generally feel more connected to the rest of them.
I’m an awful solitary practitioner. I don’t like doing ritual alone, and while I’m comfortable pouring libations on my lonesome, there’s something lost when I’m not with my coven, or at least like minded-souls. The energy that makes my ritual room stir is harder to conjure up with just my cats. I spent the first three months of the pandemic focused intensely on the Horned God, and during that process I could feel Pan and Cernunnos around me and pushing my writing; but there’s also something powerful about hearing 200 people chant “Half a goat and half a man, everyone praise the Great God Pan!” He feels like a different god when he’s being invoked in such a way.
With larger ritual lost to me, maintaining my practice has evolved into a collection of small everyday rites. There’s the morning check-ins on my garden. How are the pumpkins? How big are those sunflowers? It’s lovely to see so many bees! I spend more time with the garden again in the evening-not going to festivals has given me more time to work in the backyard than ever before. There’s a connection there, and I can feel it even when I’m separated from my flowers and fruits, and it creates spindles that draw me closer to my Pagan self and deities that truly value green growing things. But there are some connections that will most likely remain lost until the world resembles something close to what it was.
Pouring individualized libations is perhaps more important now than ever. Giving a bit of our wine or Scotch to Dionysus and Aphrodite is our primary way of connecting to them now. No more chants, no more magick worked ’round the altar with the coven, but their presence remains. A little bit of Florida water goes a long way right now.
These are perilous times. Not only is there a pandemic raging mostly unchecked through America, there are also hurricanes, and closer to home much of my immediate world is on fire. I also don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to suggest that maintaining our democracy depends on getting rid of Donald Trump in November. These are things that weigh us down, and they can’t simply be swept away with incense or salted water. For many of us, they are permanently lodged in our psyches, obstacles and road blocks that make practice more difficult. There are few respites, no easy ways to fully unplug from the danger, fear, and unpleasantness that are a part of our society.
Rage is a powerful tool, and it has no doubt powered the work of many magickal practitioners these last six months and longer. However, there’s also the anxiety, worry, and yes, sometimes feelings of helplessness that are a part of our current situation too. With all of that percolating through our spirits, is it any surprise that personal practice has grown more difficult and what it’s harder than ever to feel the gods? All of the stress that’s been a part of 2020 is most certainly a roadblock.
My practice is struggling, but that does not mean it has gone away. The connections I feel to various powers and entities will continue on, but they’ll adapt and change as they must. My Witchcraft has weathered life upheavals, cross country moves, and covens gained and covens lost. It will survive this too.