COVID-19 & Witchcraft Practices: One Year Later

COVID-19 & Witchcraft Practices: One Year Later March 9, 2021

I’m taking questions online, today’s comes from Sorita Deste (Oh my gods, Sorita asked me a question!!!) who asks :

Wicca and Paganism has changed loads in the last 20 years, accelerated by the internet etc. What lasting changes do you feel the pandemic will have on Wicca and other Pagan traditions? More specifically . . . I was thinking of all the various covens who would NEVER have done online “esbats” before, now considering it relatively normal – would they continue with that? There are even talk, in some traditions, of legit initiations via Zoom, maybe following it up in due course with a physical one – because of travel restrictions etc. Again, if it is ok now – will it be ok a few years from now when there are (hopefully) a normal flow of people again?

(I’ve written about some of these ideas before, but as we approach the one year anniversary of “shut down” it’s worth writing about one more time.)

Image by Darksouls1 via pixabay.

I think there will be serious changes going forward as the result of the pandemic. Many will embrace these changes, others will turn their noses up at them, and the great majority of us will probably come out somewhere in the middle. I’m going to break this question down and answer it piece by piece.

Online Rituals & Things: Greater Pagandom

Going forward there will be more online rituals. In some ways online rites are great “equalizers.” No transportation is required, those with physical impairments can participate without issue, and provided you have an internet connection, most financial barriers melt away too. This is a great development!

I feel even more strongly about what online festivals can offer. The biggest obstacle that comes with going to most events is travel (and or hotel rooms/camping gear). Getting to have Mat Auryn or Lilith Dorsey on my desktop is freaking great. I can see some festivals going to a sort of hybrid format with both online workshops and in-person activities-for many of us that’s the best of both worlds.

Camping Event!

Our online spaces are both a blessing and a curse. Zoom makes everything easier than it’s ever been, and with most of us locked up in our houses many of us have been pretty liberal with sharing pieces of our lives that are more often kept hidden. I feel like I’ve gotten to know a lot of my newer online friends much better this past year than I would have otherwise. I’m thankful for these new connections, and I’m not even sure thankful is a strong enough word, but for every positive, there’s often a negative . . . .

. . . . I do think the lack of personal-in-your-face interaction has led to a breakdown in communication in our greater community. It’s easier than ever to say something completely ridiculous about a person when you know that you won’t have to make eye contact them for a year or two. Facebook and Twitter have become an all to easy to use conduit for sharing venom, all when a simple phone-call or private message would probably rectify the problem.

Coven Practice

In my own coven the pandemic has reunited us with a lot of coveners who have moved away from the covenstead. For the first time in years they can fully participate in conversations and rituals despite their distance from the rest of us. The moving of coven activities to the online sphere has some positives. I’m hoping that my coven will continue with the online chats, at least a few times a year, when this is all over.

Do I want to make our esbat rites going forward Zoom rituals? No, but I could most certainly see moving other activities online. I know covens that meet every week or every other week (I’m exhausted thinking about it), why not move some of that shit online? That’s a lot of traveling, and a huge investment of time. There’s nothing wrong with using the tools available to us to make life easier, and discussions and lessons online seems a lot easier to me.

While the Gardnerian in me scoffs at “online initiation rituals” it’s been a part of the Craft in some form for decades. There are stories of people getting initiated over the phone in the 1970’s. I have to think that a Zoom chat is better than the rotary phone version from fifty years ago. If an online coven forms and wants to do their initiation rituals online good for them! I bet it’ll work for ’em.

John Beckett leading a ritual at Mystic South.

Do I think that Alexandrian groups will start doing online initiations? Probably not, and if a coven decides to go that route I’m guessing there will be a huge schism in the tradition. Schisms and infighting are never desirable, but it’s also how we get new traditions. If someone wants to go that route, more power to them. As long as it works for everyone involved I’ll nod my head approvingly.

I’ll also add that if the pandemic were to go on for years (please gods, no!) maybe online initiation would be our only option? I have to assume that most groups who go the online route would probably do a physical initiation at a later date. Perhaps the online initiation allows the coven to talk about certain things they might not otherwise get a chance to talk about with a deserving seeker (now coven member)? With our world more inter-connected than ever before, there may be more pandemics. How many times we will have to set aside (or should be willing to set aside) our group practices?

Personally, I don’t like online rituals. I miss the energy that comes with doing ritual in person. I don’t ever see online rites replacing what my covens generally do. In October, with case counts down, we actually had a socially distanced Samhain ritual, our first rite since Imbolc. Despite the masks, physical distancing, and copious amounts of hand sanitizer I thought it was better than our online rites.

Maybe going forward we can all just learn to respect the choices individual Witches and covens make? Online? In person? As long as I can do ritual the way I want to, does it really matter? There will most certainly be repercussions, but if we survived Lady Sheba getting initiated over the phone and then publishing her oathbound book of shadows we will get through this too!

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