Editorial: 2021 – a cautious look ahead

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Happy secular New Year from The Wild Hunt! We hope that 2021 brings many blessings to all of our readers.

As we look to the new year ahead of us and look back on the extraordinary year we have left behind, it is clear that covering the news of the Pagan community will be more challenging than ever in 2021. Last year, TWH‘s editors thought our news coverage would be dominated by these themes:

      • Our Past – recognizing the structure of abuse
      • Discrimination – religious marginalization
      • Elders – the crossing of elders
      • Exclusionism – The barriers to inclusion
      • Heathenry’s challenge – The rise of white supremacy

We also thought we would be covering more on Brexit, the Olympics, the U.S. presidential election, the World Expo, and our planet’s ongoing climate crisis. In many ways, we were right – but we never could have predicted how we would end up reporting on those stories, given the monumental events of 2020.

2020 exposed something about each of the themes we anticipated for the year. The COVID-19 pandemic made us confront the reality of so many elders crossing the veil – not just in the Pagan community, but worldwide. More than 1.8 million worldwide have died this year from the coronavirus – 1.8 million lives, each of which touched so many other lives, each one an individual soul, now extinguished.

The George Floyd protests exposed the fault lines of racism and white supremacy in a way that could not be ignored. The lockdowns and distancing implemented by governments in response to the pandemic made clear how tenuous our daily routines really are – and with that, brought a deeper consideration of our pasts and how we came to this point.

To say the year has been difficult is an understatement. The pandemic laid bare our insufficient healthcare systems, our endemic racial injustice, and the obvious effects of human activity on the environment vis-à-vis the “anthropause.”

I remember the moment I heard about the coronavirus. We were in Nemi, Italy, and I heard a broadcast from RAI, the Italian national news service, about a new disease in Wuhan, China. I remember that it had a haunting tone, because at that point the cause of the disease was unknown, but it was likely a new, quickly spreading virus.

On our return flight to the United States, we had an emergency stop in the Azores for a medical evacuation. A passenger was ill and getting much worse. I and other passengers thought the same thing: ” I hope it is not that new disease.”

We would never know whether or not that person had COVID-19, but two months later the pandemic began, and with it, an unraveling of social norms and an immense loss of life. The pain will ripple into 2021 and beyond.

The year did not let up either. Politics, explosions, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and much more kept tensions high. I think most of us are happy to see 2020 in the rearview mirror.

Looking ahead to 2021, make no mistake: the pandemic will remain the main story.  All data is suggesting that the pandemic will get far worse before vaccines can be fully deployed. Vaccinations end pandemics, not vaccines. Meanwhile, our world is experiencing pandemic fatigue, and everyone is anxious to return to the lives they once knew.

That said, there is little doubt that science will bring the pandemic under control. Sometime in 2021 – sooner rather than later, we hope – we will turn a corner. TWH remains dedicated to covering the perspectives of Pagans, Heathens, Witches, and polytheists of all kinds, both during the recovery and in the times that follow.

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Thinking beyond the pandemic, this is our annual look ahead at the top five stories we will be watching. We are cracking open the door gently; we recognize the 21st century is now, at least in the USA, old enough to drink and play blackjack.

5. The Economy and Return to “Normal”

Speaking of games of chance, the economy is usually not exciting, but it affects all of us. There is growing disunion between general economic growth and the small businesses that are linked with the spiritual and creative sectors important to Paganism. The pandemic exposed the fiscal challenges we continue to face as a Pagan community.

We will undoubtedly see new economic challenges as we exit the pandemic, since it is still not clear how deeply the event has altered our lives. Will customers return for tarot readings?  When and how will festivals and conferences return? Will we ever hold hands in rituals again?

We have been seeing how intimate groups like covens and groves have handled challenges by shifting to online platforms, but 2021 will see how public Pagan spaces respond as they begin to reopen to visitors.

4. Space

There is a tremendous amount of activity happening in our exploration of space, and we will cover the ways we are deepening our scientific and spiritual understanding of nature.

At the top of the list is the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on Halloween 2021. This enormous, costly, and ambitious NASA project was delayed in 2020, as with so many other things, by the coronavirus. Nonetheless, the telescope is expected to begin its mission this year, offering new images of exoplanets and peering into the earliest moments of the cosmos.

In addition to the regular annual meteor showers, we will also see a Venus-Jupiter conjunction in February, and in March, the planets Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn will form a triangle with the new moon. There will be a blood moon eclipse on May 26 and a “ring of fire” eclipse of the sun visible in northern Canada, Greenland, and Russia. Mars and Venus will form a conjunction in mid-July, and a Mars-Mercury conjunction will occur in mid-August.

Antarctica will be treated to a total solar eclipse on December 4, but a partial eclipse will be visible in parts of Australia, Argentina, Chile, Namibia, and South Africa.

3. Earth Justice

Paganism’s intimacy with the natural world means we witness climate news, whether dismal or hopeful, on a spiritual level. There is little doubt we will see continued challenges in this area, as well as pragmatic and spiritual responses motivated by our relationship with Earth.

We have seen protests on sacred sites to save their spiritual and cultural significance.  There will likely be more. There will also be a major climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021. We can expect many more stories to come out regarding climate change this year. We will likely see more about what we learned in the “anthropause,” and we will see more effects of ecological insecurity on Indigenous communities.

2. Satanic Panic Redux

There is disturbing and heated rhetoric coming from conspiratorial sectors like QAnon using the same tinder as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s: false allegations, declarations of evil, and the presence of the Christian devil at work in society.

We recently saw attacks on Native Americans and calls to eliminate Witches. We have also seen the fictitious accusations that religious liberties are under siege. Just this week, the White House released a “Proclamation on 850th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket,” which stated that “Thomas Becket’s death serves as a powerful and timeless reminder to every American that our freedom from religious persecution is not a mere luxury or accident of history, but rather an essential element of our liberty. It is our priceless treasure and inheritance. And it was bought with the blood of martyrs.” Becket’s conflict with King Henry II involved, among other things, trying to prevent priests from being subject to the secular courts – a special privilege for clergy that is quite out of line with the U.S. constitution’s establishment clause.

Why is United States government, which has religious freedom inscribed in its constitution, concerned with the martyrdom of a Catholic bishop from eight and a half centuries ago? Certainly the proclamation appears to promote a vision of the “Christian tradition” that is out of line with the founding documents of the nation.

The proclamation goes on to quote George Washington, America’s first president, who was a devout Deist – not that a reader would know this from the proclamation.

These dog-whistles and outright declarations of Christian supremacy will not vanish from the public sphere overnight, and neither will governmental flirtations with theocracy. TWH will continue to cover stories about religious liberty through our Pagan lens.

1. Racial injustice and white supremacy.

The George Floyd protests demonstrated to the world how racial injustice and white supremacy impact every facet of our lives. Many communities are coming to terms with the racist actions and ideas in their past, and movements like Black Lives Matter have demanded a genuine dialogue between all of us on issues like police brutality and systemic forms of discrimination.

In the Pagan community, Heathens bear the brunt of the white supremacists’ handiwork, as racists continue to profane Norse religious symbols, rites, and theology. Unlike any other branch of our minority faiths, Heathenry is experiencing an unprecedented threat that has the potential of marginalizing the faith within our community and to the world.

Ending racial inequity and white supremacy is not just a problem for Heathens, however. Paganism as a whole, like everything else in the societies in which it was recreated and revived, has been tainted by racism. The threat of white supremacy cannot realistically be born by the Heathen community alone. All branches of Paganism – especially those rooted in European culture –  will be called to reckon with how they can repair the racist elements in their traditions.

How the Pagan community chooses to respond to white supremacy will be news again in 2021.

♦      ♦      ♦

We say goodbye to 2020, but its scent will linger for a while.

As always, we invite you to share your insights, your news tips, and your press releases with us. We thank all of you for being here – our readers, our supporters, and our detractors. We appreciate you correcting our reporting, sometimes critiquing our editing, and, always, sharing our stories. The complaints, the concerns, and the praise speak to us being one community in support of one another.

We are grateful to all of you and thank you again for joining us through another year.

Happy New Year!