Thinking About – Pagan Events after Covid-19

Thinking About – Pagan Events after Covid-19

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…at least for a while…

As the title suggests this is an article about the impact of the pandemic on the Pagan community focussing mainly on mine and Cerri’s local groups, but I think many organisers and facilitators will also be asking themselves similar questions. I realise that many people are tired of reading about Covid-19 so if that is you, feel free to move on.

Cerri and I have, for many years, been organising events and groups here in Sussex. We started the Anderida Gorsedd at the Spring Equinox of 2000 and have gathered as a group for every seasonal ceremony since then, up until what would have been our 20th Anniversary on the Spring Equinox of 2020. We hold a conference every year at Imbolc at our local Community Centre, we have a Druid Grove who have met monthly since 1997, and of course, I play my music at conferences, but also run my own musical tour dates. With the arrival of Covid-19, all of that changed.

I’ve missed meeting together for the seasonal ceremonies at the Long Man of Wilmington. Anywhere from 50-100 people, rain or shine, gathered together to share in the celebration of the season. For the Spring Equinox, we decided not to go the Zoom ritual route. Instead, Cerri wrote a ceremony that anyone could do in their homes or gardens, then, at 2 pm on the date the Gorsedd had been due to meet anyone who wished could join in and do the ritual. As part of the opening, we closed our eyes and imagined standing in Circle with our friends on the hill below the Long Man, feeling that sense of community that still exists, even though we are maybe far apart, then open our eyes and continue the ceremony. We have a Facebook group so people then posted photos of themselves after the ceremony, and of the ritual spaces, they had created. Ok, it’s never going to be the same as being together in each other’s company, but it has continued the Gorsedd’s tradition and has brought people together as best it can under the circumstances. We focussed on Beltane and the Summer Solstice in the same way.

The Grove didn’t meet for a month or so, but then we missed each other too much so had a Zoom meet up, and decided we would meet monthly to continue our Druid Journey together, sometimes online, sometimes apart but tuning into each other nonetheless. For me, it’s been wonderful to reconnect to the Spirits of our Sacred Grove.

The same with our monthly moot. With the closure of the pub where we met we had nowhere to gather, but as the lockdown continued, and it became apparent that those doors would not be opening any time soon, we took the moot online, and like many groups, met up on Zoom for a ‘Talking Stick’ moot. We’ve only had one but it worked very well, so it’s now back to a regular monthly thing.

I feel so lucky and blessed that I had the opportunity to go to three Pagan events this year before the lockdown. The Enchanted Market in Bracknell, our own AnderidaFest conference here in Sussex, and the Pagan Phoenix South West conference in Cornwall. There must be thousands of you who didn’t get that opportunity and have seen every Pagan event gradually cancelled. When we gather together in our groups and share space and time together, that is when we can truly know that we are part of a wider community. Pagans, like so many other groups, are often not at our best in Facebook groups. With no face-to-face contact we can argue, fall out, clash on almost anything, but these things don’t happen as frequently at physical gatherings. As a community, we need to feel that sense of coming together and mass celebration.

When I looked out from the stage at Bracknell and in Cornwall I had no idea of the impact the approaching lockdown would have. Pagans hug each other as greeting. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved. It’s hard to imagine a Pagan event where hugging is absent. But there are other things that, for so long, I have simply taken for granted, and this makes me now look to the immediate future.

So this leads to the questions I spoke of in the first paragraph. As the lockdown eases, any organiser, of any event, will probably be asking themselves similar questions. What can we do, what needs to happen, and what changes will need to be made, for us to begin to return to this ‘new normal’ we’ve been hearing about?

Already, me and Cerri have been asked when the Gorsedd will return to the Long Man? Will there be an AnderidaFest 2021? When will the pub moot return? Good questions. And right now the only thing we can say is that we are watching how things develop. There simply can’t be an unequivocal response, because anything can change, at any time.

Maybe it’s best to look at some of the challenges we face.

For 20 years the Gorsedd has been meeting, hugging and welcoming, standing close in a circle, holding hands, sharing food and drink, then going off to the pub for a social pint. How on earth can those things happen right now?

How hard is it going to be to meet, but not hug each other in welcome? It sounds easy, but when it is part of a way of life, I’m not sure it is.

The hill we meet upon beneath the Long Man just about holds 80 people standing close enough together to hold hands. That same circle standing 1 metre apart to respect ‘social distancing’? That would be difficult, especially if more people turned up. There’s never any knowing how many will be there as it’s a completely open ritual. It’s always been the foundation of what it’s been about. Friends have met there, people have met their life-partners there, we have all shared so much.

So the circle with social distancing is one thing, but the holding hands? It’s part of almost every Pagan circle – joining…as a circle! We hold hands to say the Gorsedd Prayer, we hold hands to say the Druid Vow and chant the Awen, we hold hands to share three breaths together. Three breaths together! “We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand,” but not standing hand in hand? Weird.

Then of course there is the sharing of food and drink. Something central to so many spiritual traditions. There is not a chance we would be able to do that right now. And all of these things are the moments that join the community together. So these are challenging times for any community.

These moments are common to so many Covens, Groves, groups, events, conferences, open rituals, I’m sure I can’t be the only person asking myself these questions. Of course there may be some people who might just say “Oh get on with it!” But I’ve never been that kind of organiser. If I just said “OK, let’s just meet up and see what happens” I would never forgive myself if someone, or many people, caught Covid-19 because of that decision. At the end of the day the responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the organiser/s, and me and Cerri have never taken those decisions lightly.

As time moves on, and the restrictions are gradually lifted, we will all know more about the measures that need to be taken so that this ‘new normal’ can begin to emerge. But right now it is simply too early to know exactly what those measures might be, or what that ‘new normal’ might look like. In the mean time we continue to nurture our communities online, on Zoom, with Facebook Live concerts, online conferences and gatherings. We are so blessed to have this technology available, and it’s been amazing to see the creative ways people have been using it.

When I saw all of my concerts disappear literally overnight I was worried. In truth I still am because that’s another whole lot of questions about when small Arts Centres might open, and how we will be able to see live music again. But I thought, why not do an informal house concert on Facebook live? It might be fun. I had no idea how many people would watch it but we’d have a good time, despite the lockdown. Well, those little house concerts have been amazing, not only for me as a singer but also for the community. I just didn’t see it coming – that I would be playing to my largest ever audiences, whilst sitting in the peace and quiet of my own home! I’ll continue to do them, even when I can get back to playing live in person. They’ve been a light in the darkness.

One day I am sure we will all be able to stand in Circle again, holding hands, sharing food and drink, and hugging each other. Until then we will have to get creative and re-imagine what it means to be a Pagan, in community, sharing space and time with each other. I adore our community. I love the way we have risen to the challenge we have faced. And I look forward to the day we can sit down together over a bottle of mead, or a glass of ale, and reminisce over the year 2020, and how the Pagan community arose to the challenges it faced, and moved through the crisis.

11 responses to “Thinking About – Pagan Events after Covid-19”

  1. Yes when will all met again in field, in a pub, at a concert or talk?
    When will we hug again? or will that also take time to readjust?
    What will be the new ‘normal’, if normal ever returns and stepping off the pavement to maintain that 2 metres separation. Which makes me wonder with almost car free roads if anyone has stepped into the path of of a vehicle coming up behind?
    What ever happens and when it happens, it will be a strange return to ‘normality’!
    When we will return to saying Good morning/evening, instead of stay safe?
    And will my tent have rotted in the garage by next year?

    Blessed Be and stay safe!
    Dennis

  2. This is a most thoughtful and excellent article. As someone who does talks at many Pagan events, I have certainly missed the contact with fellow Pagans. We have a similar situation in the re-enactment world where all performances have been cancelled this season.

    Some cancelled events such as the COA Gathering have postponed to a date in 2021 with the same line up etc. That is great, but some smaller events may not survive: a lot of them had already paid out on non refundable deposits for venues, portaloos, publicity, walkie-talkies etc. and will not be able to recover that lost money. That means they will not have the same amount of ‘start-up’ money for next year. That is needed before people start paying for tickets or stalls. I would therefore urge everyone to do one thing that can help them: order and pay for tickets etc. early. This will help give them the confidence to go ahead instead of wondering whether enough people will turn up on the day. YOU HAVE AT LEAST 6 MONTHS TO SAVE UP!

    Regrettably, it is likely that some small traders, book publishers, craftspeople etc. will go out of business because of the lockdown, since they are less likely to be able to make claims for funds or absorb costs. It is therefore essential that we support them and not be penny-pinching in our deals.

    Zoom meetings and other internet connected initiatives have been a creative way to stay in touch, but nothing beats the real thing! I look forward to talking with you, drinking with you, taking the pee and arguing with you but most of all giving you a big hug in 2021.
    Best wishes, Pete Jennings

  3. This is a conundrum for so many. I don’t have the chance to go to many Pagan events myself, but know how separation from other souls, and especially physical contact, can be hard to bear. I usually meet with my mother and sister, but this has not been possible since lockdown began. Instead, I have had to imagine them inside my inner, spiritual grove and share feast foods with only my closest family at home. I trust the love we share between us all, will keep us and those of all faiths, connected until such time as we can ‘meet’. Bright blessings, Elaine xXx

  4. Just saying hello. Lockdown suits me in some ways, although I’d like to get out. I’m less mobile these days, bit of a solitary, I suppose. So I’ve found the Damh the bard concerts on FB absolutely wonderful.
    The sense of community is really great and I see friends virtually there.
    Used to live in Sussex, so I know the Long Man.
    I hope the concerts continue after we emerge.
    I’m blessed as I’m in lovely countryside in the middle of England.

  5. A well thought through article Damh, and one I’m halfway through drafting myself in regard to Druid Camp. We have of course abandoned camp this year, but before we hit the big red button we spent a lot of time considering how a camp might be run. It’s no small thing getting a couple of hundred or more folk together in a field with basic facilities, in order to celebrate being in a field together as Druids. May it all become a new normal not so far from the old.

  6. You, my dearest, are a Light in the dark. I am sorry this is so hard on you, but glad I finally get to see you in concert! Human kind is going through a large shift in consciousness, and we are all feeling growing pains. You are helping us to facilitate that shift. You help me keep my courage up, anyway. So at least there’s that. I’ll take your hand on the Inner Planes, and give you a hug.

  7. I have already passed a horn with my family, and then with some extended family. It felt really weird, like we were taking too many chances. It is hard for me to imagine NOT passing a horn around a fire in the future.

    I expect it to start with some people passing it on, and not drinking, then later, most people drinking, then finally very few giving it up.

    I have already accepted a certain “new normal,” and I expect that new normal to change as things happen.

    Certainly, an escalation of deaths, or another pandemic, or other factors could change the vector of where the new normal is going, but I am not convinced pagans will just give up hugging and passing horns. There is too much resistance to change out there.

  8. I hear you Dave. Now our events in Canada tend to be smaller, but online meetups have been a total goddess send.

    What is weird is that when spring opened to us here, we were told to hunker down and stay home. I happened to be in a place where I got to watch daily the shift. That daily observation helped me figure out where i was at. My brothers house literally, rural Canada, had a basic nature preserve, while i had a basement suite i normal live in a city.

    I was caught there with restrictions. No point in leaving. I had really finished up my family purpose for being there, but the world opened up a different perspective.

    I see we are attempting to reopen and go back to some missed activities….hugging with masks on, hand touching with gloves…lots of sanitizer…lots..yikes. we are lucky ..canada has the space to distance in. But even the woods were shut down this year. Ironically enough.. I had to talk my brother out of it…as we see…if we thought of doing that
    ..how many more. BANFF had to tell local Calgary…ah…no…cannot go retreat to the mountains.

    So it has been ….a very interesting year. So far.

    Climate change is very real. And animals are migrating. So we do in our work. I got excited about taking in entertainment at home . I have been able to listen to amazing home concerts. Visit cool places online.

    But more….connect with myself deeper, and others better. And got to spend some quality time with my dad…an 88 year old elder.

    Love this post. Gatherings will have to be thought out…and maybe a circle with a connecting rope…and people handle it one their end only. A rope between people …a symbol of connection with distance?

    Time to put on the creative ways. Adapt. Transcend. But I have also been able to connect to Stonehenge this year. And that was a treat.

    So…in someways…I have a bit more…peace with what I do have.

    Blessings.

  9. I think we need to change how we word many things. I don’t like the term “new normal”, because it implies a permanent change, which in this case, is mostly not for the better.

    Until we have returned completely to the previous “normal”, it’s not normal, it’s just less unusual.

    It would be great to have a reduction in cars on the roads, air travel and so on. Where I live, the cocophany of birds you now hear is deafening, and you can almost breathe in the insect life, there’s that much of it. I haven’t witnessed anything like that since the mid-80s. And that was only in a rural area, not a small town.

    But the 2m (or 1m) distancing, masks, safety-screens and so on… while any of this exists, it is not “normal”, new or otherwise.

    We have already gone through many weeks of varying degrees of restriction and isolation. A little longer won’t hurt if there’s light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to be patient until “true” normality is restored and we can all happily hold hands, share a horn of ale, and not worry so much if fitting into a sacred site or pub is a little bit tight.

    Who knows, maybe a few of the more positive effects of the lockdown will remain, with more teleworkers and environmental awareness, so we’ll end up having the best of both worlds? I’d happily call that a “new normal”!

  10. The last gathering our small group had here in New Jersey, USA before the lockdown was at Imbolc. There were 8 of us, under a canopy, in the cold rain. It was nice to be able to get close together, to hug and hold hands and to share food and drink.
    We didn’t do anything for Alban Eiler as a group. I went to the ritual place, lit a candle and cried. For Beltane, I did a small ritual on a live video on our Facebook group. And I cried.
    For Alban Hefin we got together, outdoors, and stayed 6 feet apart. For the ritual, I had prepared a length of bright yellow paracord with knots tied every 6 feet. Each participant held a knot and at the end, I cut between the knots and everyone took their piece of cord home.
    Nobody hugged, but it was nice to gather.

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