- It seems even magical powers are ineffective in the face of a pandemic.
All sorts of events that are usually part of our daily life have been put on ice due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. From small local gatherings like picnics and cookouts to large music festivals and even the Olympics, all have felt the sting of the ‘Rona.
The list of disrupted everyday get-togethers includes religious gatherings. Churches, mosques, temples, altars, and any other kind of sacred sites imaginable have had to cope with the social distancing measures.
Of course, some religious institutions have been less than cooperative, but we won’t open that can of worms here. Instead, let’s talk about one particular group of witches whose big religious holiday was recently unceremoniously ruined.
A Celebration of Rebirth
A Wiccan coven in Pontypridd, Wales recently found itself unable to congregate to celebrate Halloween – or Samhain. Predating modern traditions, Samhain is an important date of the year for many neo-pagan religious movements.
For Wiccans, this date is particularly important, according to The Conversation. According to their beliefs, there are two major deities – an eternal goddess and a male god figure who dies and is reborn every year.
On Samhain, the witches – as practitioners of Wicca call themselves – symbolically sacrifice the god figure on Samhain. The ritual is said to ensure good harvest and the well-being of the community as the god returns, birthed by the goddess on Yule, better known as Christmas.
This festival also centers around death and remembrance of those who have passed on. Wiccas don’t consider death a bad thing in itself, as it is part of the natural cycles of life that they revere.
According to Wiccan beliefs, the border between our world and that of the dead is at its thinnest during Samhain. This year’s event was supposed to be even more spiritually significant, as the date fell on a Blue Moon – a second full moon in one month.
But the Samhain celebrations couldn’t take place as usual. In order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Wales is under strict lockdown measures.
Most public spaces, including non-essential shops, hotels, libraries, and pubs, have closed their doors. For the witches this poses a particular problem, Karin Rainbird, a pagan prison chaplain, told BBC.
“Wicca is not really something you can do online,” she said.
A sense of unity and oneness is important to Wiccans, not only with their community but also with nature. It’s easy to see how something like that might be difficult to convey through a Zoom call.
The lockdown has also presented Rainbird’s coven with an additional challenge. The group is new and as such, Rainbird is its only fully initiated member.
Any new initiates wanting to join the witches’ ranks will require face-to-face training.
“Because we just started the coven, no one is initiated yet apart from myself, so it’s really the training period,” Rainbird said.
She explained that the initiation would consist mostly of practical exercises. These would involve workshops on specific rituals and spellcasting, lessons in herbalism and identifying plants, and performing sabbaths – or Wiccan ritual gatherings.
Witchcraft and Wizardy
Talking about witches casting their spells on Halloween brings to mind a lot of cartoony caricatures. However, according to the Wiccans, their witchcraft is serious business.
It’s not the kind you’d see in Harry Potter, nor does it include flying around on broomsticks and having your skin turn green. In fact, Wiccans’ witchery might not include spellcraft at all.
“Wicca has three elements: magic and witchcraft, religion, and mysticism,” explained Rainbird.
As we already mentioned, connection with the natural cycles of life plays a major part in the religious life of many witches. Still others, like Rainbird, emphasize the religious part of the Wiccan faith.
“The most important thing to me is communion with the deity, with the goddesses and with the god. Personally, I very seldom do any kind of spell craft myself on my own. It’s not really that important to me,” she said.
Tirion Morganna Hill, a 19-year-old witch who studies film at the University of South Wales, also considers spirituality to be the most important factor in Wicca.
“You have to believe in something greater than yourself, ultimately. That inherently is a religious or spiritual ideology,” she said.
“A witch could be any religion. It doesn’t matter what you believe, it’s more about how you express your faith.”
That said, Morganna Hill is one of the witches who actively practices spellcraft. She sees it as a more action-oriented form of prayer.
For her spells, she prefers using materials found in nature.
“Water, preferably moon water, and a branch – you basically do some chants about what you want to achieve,” she explained.
Not So Wicked Witches
The Wicca movement is part of Neopaganism. These worldwide religious groups either attempt to recreate or are directly influenced by one or more ancient religions, most often those found in ancient Europe.
Individual groups tend to be small, and it is hard to estimate the actual numbers of practitioners as not all movement require adherents to renounce a more mainstream religion. The United States Census Bureau in 2008 estimated that there are some 700,000 neopagan practicioners in the U.S.
While different neopagan groups have grown in popularity in recent years, the attitudes of the general public toward them vary wildly. Some are more accepting, others view them with amusement, while still others consider their rites to be blasphemous or even downright evil.
Halo Quin, author of Pagan Portals – Gods and Goddesses of Wales – told BBC that most people consider her a bit weird for her beliefs. Some even accuse her of being anti-science, anti-Christian, or a Satanist.
She, however, denies all of this. Quin said that witchcraft is a practice that works together with the natural world.
“[Witchcraft] is working with the natural forces that we don’t necessarily see on the surface. Witchcraft is operating in tune with your intuition and yourself,” Quin explained.
To anyone still thinking that witches go about casting the kinds of spells you see in movies, let us ask you the following question.
If they really had that kind of power, don’t you think they would’ve magic’d the pandemic away so they could just gather to celebrate Halloween in peace?