One of the memes floating around right now talks about the difference between nice and kind, and the way people can be one but not the other. It relates those concepts to different regions of the United States. That meme generates a chuckle for me since the east coast is associated with being kind but not nice – the folks who will help you change a flat tire while swearing at the weather and complaining about being late for their next appointment – and I know from my lived experience that it is at least mostly true. We are kind. We are not always nice.
Witches are the same – we are not always nice. We are often kind and we are usually right, but we don’t always sugarcoat things for people. It’s why we have historically run into problems with the cultures we live in. That and the whole manipulation of reality/seizing agency from institutions and authorities who would really rather we kept our heads down thing. But who’s counting.
Today, I have something kind to tell you that is not nice.
One of the conversations I keep having with my dear ones is the incredulity we feel when we see articles and conversations discussing ‘returning to normal.’ For those of us who work in support of community, that language is laughable at best and actively harmful at worst.
There is no normal to go back to.
Even if the pandemic ends tomorrow, here in the United States we lost half a million people to this disease and the number is climbing. That’s half a million families actively grieving – literally millions of broken hearts scattered throughout the country when we begin to extrapolate the number of family and friends.
Most of us have spent nearly a year isolated from our loved ones. We have evolved coping mechanisms to deal with the separation. Some of those are healthier than others. We have forgotten how to be in large groups, how to interact in the ‘public square’ when the public square is not a bunch of little blocks on a screen. We’ve lost touch with some of the normal skills of society. Tools that are unused get rusty. Sometimes they completely fall apart. There has been immense damage done to the minds, hearts, and souls of the people we love. And that’s without considering the material impact on folks in terms of jobs, houses, and family dynamics.
There is no normal to go back to.
That is one of my kindnesses today. Here is the other:
There is a new kind of seed to be grown in this challenging soil, and it involves our care of each other. We, culturally, globally, are going to be in deep need of healing. I have been thinking about what that looks like and I have some ideas.
As per my usual, I’ll start with the practical ones and move to the more esoteric ones.
First Response TrainingAfter this year, we all need a winebulance
CPR, AED, and First Aid Training are wonderful skills. They do not turn a layperson into a doctor or a medical professional, but they teach average folks like me how to respond to a medical emergency. Most individuals who work with large groups of people are required to be certified in First Aid training. I went to my first course when I was fourteen and volunteering with the YMCA as a counselor in training for their summer day camp program. I have renewed my certification every couple of years since.
Mental Health First Aid training is less common but needs to become more so. One of the most useful things we can all do right now is pick up some basic training in how to respond to a mental health emergency. The good news is that there are courses available:
https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/ offers trainings throughout the United States that are searchable by region.
For Marylanders like me, the next online Core Adult Mental Health First Aid Training is April 1st. Here’s the website for Mental Health First Aid Maryland: https://www.mhamd.org/what-we-do/training/mental-health-first-aid-maryland/
There may be trainings through the organizations you are already a part of. Some workplaces offer training, some community centers and congregations do as well. Look around and see what’s available.
The other thing we could all be doing is brushing up on communication skills. Listening, holding space, conflict resolution, and assertiveness (as opposed to aggressiveness) are all skills. In the United States, at least, they are rarely taught and must be sought out, learned, and practiced deliberately. The reason we will need them is simple – we’re going to run into communication problems. Mistakes in communication are normal without a pandemic and isolation. With one? Lawsy. It’s gonna be bad, y’all.
If you know how to use reflective listening and conflict resolution, you’ll be able to navigate those choppy waters more easily.
I was fortunate enough to be sent to my first communication skills workshop while I was enlisted in the Marines. I kept getting into fistfights and my (very insightful) Master Sergeant determined that I needed help rather than a few nights in the brig. I was lucky to have him as my NCO. That first course began a lifelong interest in how we communicate.
The skills I use most when communicating with others are not ones I learned at home. They are ones I learned from courses, books, and training programs. Remember, United States culture does not teach these skills. Chances are, what you learned growing up could use some retooling and improvement. I am still a work in progress, as we all are, but I am a much better listener now and it has made an immense difference in my relationships.
My favorite book on this subject is People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts by Robert Bolton. Some other options are Nonviolent Communication (A Language of Life) by Marshall Rosenberg and Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny.
If books are tough for you and you are a member of a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the Unitarian Universalist Association offers Lay Spiritual Care training online. These trainings teach spiritual companioning – how to hold space and walk with people in a supportive capacity through challenges. If you, like me, act in support of a spiritual community, this is a wonderful training. There’s more information at this link.
Additionally, Cherry Hill Seminary offers regular pastoral counseling courses as part of its curriculum. One of their Summer 2021 offerings is ‘Comforting the Bereaved.’ Cherry Hill offers courses taught at the level of a college course and I have heard wonderful things about their offerings.
If you are a member of a congregation or Tradition, talk to your elders and leaders about pastoral care training. It’s not just for clergy and the more of us trained in emotional and spiritual support, the better off we all are.
Lesson one: Lightning is bad, mmmkay?
Let’s get a little more esoteric. Chances are, there will not be a sudden ‘all clear’ and in-person rituals can just suddenly start happening again. Our ability to gather in person will begin gradually and flow in waves that increase or decrease according to risk and change. As we start to share physical space with each other, additions to ritual forms will be necessary. Things I’m thinking about:
- Designated quiet rooms/introvert spaces for people who get socially overwhelmed. These can even be provided at outdoor events simply by marking off and supporting a specific spot that’s low-stimulation. Having integration/expression activities in the form of journaling and coloring pages available in these spaces could be useful.
- Pre-ritual support spaces that include releasing magick and more involved grounding protocols. The mystery school I teach includes a releasing of obstacles to engagement in every session. We may need to implement more opportunities to earth discordant energy before our gatherings formally begin.
- Active discussion and support of consent-based culture. People will have different tolerances for touch and proximity as the pandemic wanes. My own community is hug-oriented. That is going to have to shift so that physical contact always comes with enthusiastic consent. Regular discussions and clear communication around consent should become part of the fabric of ritual gatherings.
- Ritual pieces that include grief support and healing work even in rituals that are not focused around those themes. Perhaps a repeating pattern that becomes part of setting ritual space. Ignoring wounds just makes them fester. We need to make addressing the grief and pain of our communities a piece of the tapestry of religious experience.
- Processing space for after rituals. In the Before Times, this was the potluck. However, different shadows and traumas will be triggered by gatherings. Having space for talking through those rising energies and people who can hold space for that (see also: mental health support training) will be vital.
Oh, don’t be so dramatic. A little magick never hurt anyone.
I’m a big fan of developing workarounds for problems before they arise. I keep a collection of items enchanted for various purposes that I carry or wear when they might be needed. One of the best aspects of an enchanted item is that it works when you’re not – when you’re distracted or otherwise occupied, it’s handling all the stuff going on outside your specific area of focus. We have some time now to plan and prepare, to consider what will be needed when we gather again. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about and developing:
- Dampeners and drains. Items that are designed to siphon off excess discordant energy and earth it. Energy traps are already fairly well established within magick – we can use those existing forms or create some new ones to tuck into corners and under chairs in gathering spaces.
- Purification gates. Devices that must be walked between or over that clear attachments and bits of stray energy off of people as they come into shared space.
- Communication supports. Enchantments for both personal space and gathering places that support clear, compassionate communication.
- Healing charms. Whether we consciously realize it or not, we’re going to need individual healing charms as well as larger-scale ones. The charms created for groups should be targeted toward enhanced well-being and increasing the flow of life-energy (prana, chi, or ki) in the people gathered rather than addressing specific issues. Everyone will be bearing different wounds – we need generalized battery-recharging for these spaces.
- Shield-reinforcing supports. Most witches wear daily shields that help keep us from taking on the energetic shedding of other humans. However, we’re going to need some boosters for those. Consider adding a jewelry-anchored shield set to wear along with your daily shields when you go into community again. I’ve worn a booster set for years and it’s been incredibly helpful.
The same way learning about permaculture changes the way we think about gardening, we need a perspective shift when it comes to the practice of paganism. When we offer gatherings and events, they can both serve a religious need and support the healing process of the community at large.
So, what are you thinking about? What needs and challenges do you anticipate? And, would you like to brainstorm some solutions? Hit me up in the comments.
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