SOMERSET, England – Like everyone else, the British Pagan community has been significantly affected by COVID-19. How is it responding to the disease outbreak?
British Pagans are, also like everyone else, subject to the (increasingly stringent) restrictions placed on public movement by the United Kingdom government and the healthcare advice given to the country’s citizens by the National Health Service (NHS).
However, as practitioners of a set of spiritual practices, often working within a nature-based religious framework, many Pagans are responding to COVID-19 in a way that is being informed by their spirituality and are sharing their views on social media.
One commentator said over the weekend that, “it feels like the Earth has sent us all to our bedroom to have a good hard think about what we’ve been doing!”
And this is by no means a unique response. Many Pagans have said that it feels as though the virus is a wake-up call from Gaia or the Goddess: that due to the looming environmental crisis, things that have caused polluting elements such as air travel and road traffic has now been limited.
It has not been unnoticed by Pagans that fish have been more visible in Venetian canals, for instance, as the level of boating has decreased.
Others have taken the restrictions on movement as a chance to undertake retreat.
“I don’t mind the isolation as it’s an opportunity for me to spend more time in my garden and connecting with nature. I also think if the virus changes the way we live to help slow down climate change and protect our beautiful earth, then it’s worth it. What I do find difficult is certain people’s selfish and ignorant behaviour.” (Claire Angel)
Druid Liz Cruse said, “I like the idea of looking at this time as an enforced retreat. This morning I went to a Spring Equinox Ceremony in the open where we didn’t hold hands or hug. I had a strong sense of being on a cusp, partly that of the transition into Spring but also of moving from one kind of life into another.”
Cruse continued, “After a couple of days of anxiety and longer of denial, now that our White Horse Beltane Camp is cancelled, I came into a deep sense of peace and sat on the sofa gazing out at the burgeoning plants under the sun, my cat blissfully asleep in the warmth. I aim to hold a place of peace and stability. I am helping to grow vegetables at a nearby community farm. I have volunteered to help under our local C-19 [COVID-19] volunteer scheme. Who knows what other things may emerge.”
She credits former OBOD chief Philip Carr-Gomm with the idea of an ‘enforced retreat.’ Claire Angel, quoted above, responded with, “An enforced retreat is what the world needs to rebuild more healthy individuals and societies. Perhaps everyone who works in healing in some way can hold this vision.”
The British Pagan community is, of course, aware of the problems associated with the virus, including the danger to vulnerable groups and loss of income. But they also see the situation as an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Sarah Thelwall said, “Without denying people’s distress, disappointment and difficulties, I will be viewing this as a very special time. Spiritual practice may come to the fore, as we begin each day in uncertainty. We can choose to begin each day more fully alive, more aware and more able to truly connect with our immediate environment, with time to reflect on ourselves and our own actions.”
Thelwall went on to say, “It’s a time to practice gratitude for what we have in the present and to wake up, each day, to welcome the light, the earth, the wind and the water as our companions. We will learn the importance and deeper qualities of the connections with people in our own and immediate communities while, at the same time, worldwide communication and cooperation will be relied upon. It’s a time for creativity and a shifting of our identities and habits as consumers. It’s a time of change and change will always bring renewal.”
Druid Harriet Nwyfre Sams is taking the outbreak in terms of service, one of the Druidic tenets and with some practical details:
“Right now, my children are being home taught after self-isolating. They are creating study projects on learning about the Apple trees, what colour are they really when we see the bark with new eyes? What mosses and lichens are growing on them that give the illusion of colour? What do the buds look like? What changes will come, in these burgeoning weeks of Spring? Their anxiety, which they have picked up by the sudden truncation of their regular lives and regular patterns, is real and powerful; they need our collective care to come to understanding of this situation.
We occasionally pull a tarot card or even an animal oracle card; images that really speak to the minds of young children. They get it. They are so much closer to their natural selves. And through these images they understand much deeper the truths of our time, than if I’d tried to explain with words alone.
I now offer a weekly free yoga class through Facebook live for people who find the practice to be helpful right now. Yoga has been there for me in my own difficult times, so to offer it up, as I am a qualified yoga teacher, seems right.
As well as asking what the human community needs, the non-human and Awen-infused realms have teachings for me. I have drummed to the moorland and the skylarks as they sing their love songs in the sky. I witness the turning of the season. I have taken to writing a poem a day, so that I have a tangible record of these extraordinary times.
My husband and I are ramping up our permaculture learning, turning to the books and lessons we have been putting off for too long.
This enforced hermitage is good for us. Our energies are nesting, nurturing, loving, peaceful.”