My Pagan art and jewelry Etsy business, Jackal Moon Designs, had a wonderful debut in-person at Pagan Pride Milwaukee, a day-long event held yesterday at Moose Lodge #49 (5476 S. 13th Street) in Milwaukee’s South Side. This was my first odyssey as a fully vaccinated individual attending an in-person Pagan Pride event since the pandemic began. (By way of contrast, Chicago’s Pagan Pride, slated for October 3 this year, will once again be an online event.) I had the immense pleasure of reconnecting with Wisconsin-based friends in the Pagan community I haven’t seen in at least 2 years, as well as meeting and networking with new-to-me individuals and organizations in the greater Milwaukee metro area.
Responsibility Towards Self and Others in a COVID-Impacted Social Landscape: Demonstrating “Perfect Love and Perfect Trust”
For Pagans who belong to actual groups for religious worship and who ritually function in a group format, the past 17 months have been strange in terms of trying to strike a balance between exercising self-care in mitigating the spread of COVID (“flattening the curve” of positivity rates in your region) and getting spiritual needs met. Web-based platforms like Zoom or Discord were the only way to ensure the groups I belong to could have everyone meet for our appointed gatherings, regardless of physical distance (no driving in cross-town traffic to battle for street parking space, yay!) or a member’s particular vaccination status (half of the people in my coven are over the age of 55 and experienced delays in becoming fully vaccinated).
As with the effects of all technological tools at our disposal, the effects upon me of these virtual ritual meetings have been very double-sided: on the one hand, it’s a joy to see people smiling back at you through your webcam and to have the ability to chat (and see everyone’s pets!) in real-time; on the other hand, especially if your day-to-day work Monday through Friday entails at least two hours’ worth of Zoom or Microsoft Team meetings with colleagues and clients per day, “Zoom fatigue” has proven itself to be a tiresome phenomenon to endure. And hoisting up consecrated oils for a particular moon phase or Sabbat or chalices full of ritual libations up to a webcam and inviting your congregants to “etherically partake” just made me, as officiating clergy, feel silly. But for safety’s sake, it was the only way to host rituals.
Even though coven mates and friends were responsible enough to ensure they became fully vaccinated by the end of spring this year, many people I know and circle with hesitated to resume meeting in person for ritual functions, which I completely understand and respect. After all, my elderly father, a patient with advanced cancer, is not eligible to take any form of the vaccine currently available in the US market; hence I have to adopt strict protocols leaving the house to ensure that I, despite being fully vaccinated myself, don’t inadvertently become a “carrier” and unwittingly infect him. Physically as well as spiritually, ensuring cleanliness is crucial; as a Virgo, though, I’ve always been inclined towards adhering to purity standards so I think I’ve got something of an advantage!
So fully vaccinated friends and congregants who have been able to meet with me have met with me. We trust ourselves and each other enough to know we wouldn’t show up at each other’s homes and temple spaces when we’re not even remotely feeling well. We take very much to heart the injunction to only ever enter Sacred Space “in Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.”
But what about “the Pagan community” at large? (I loathe referring to it like a monolithic entity, because it’s not, but for grammar’s sake I’ll let the phrase slide.)
I had all of these reflections swirling in my mind yesterday during my long but beautifully pleasant, sunny drive up north on the I-94 tollway to Pagan Pride Milwaukee. I knew I would be meeting at least 5 Wisconsin-based friends I haven’t seen since 2018. I was very much looking forward to reconnecting with them in person, as well as venturing out of my comfort zone (and geographical area of Chicago) and going someplace new, all while intending to expand my Etsy business, to boot!
New and Familiar Faces (Plus a Moose Head) Contextualized in Midwest Hospitality
I couldn’t have prayed for a more stress-free drive to such a conveniently located venue with its own huge (and free), dedicated parking lot. I knew no one upon getting my equipment transferred from my car to what appeared to be the bingo hall section of the massive Moose Lodge, but for extroverted me, introducing myself to strangers has never posed a problem in life. It wasn’t long before event organizer Sandy G. of the Milwaukee-based Fellowship of Alternative Beliefs came out to greet me and apprise me of where my 8-foot table had been set up (mercifully, I had a wall behind me with multiple outlets to charge my Square card reader and other point-of-sale devices).
That’s when it happened: as during my Paganicon 2019 experiences in Minnesota, I felt that warmth of Midwestern cheerfulness, hospitality, and “folksy-approachability” from total strangers wash over me in waves of contentment. I’ve been to rituals and gatherings of many different traditions from beneath the “Big Pagan Tent” on the West Coast (northern California), the East Coast (New York and Virginia), and the South (New Orleans), but there’s nothing like that automatic spirit of inclusion and willingness to help extended by the hand of Midwestern hospitality. Sandy reminded me very much of one of my late aunts, and after asking me how my drive up north past “the Cheddar Curtain” separating Illinois from Wisconsin went, she asked if I was hungry and wanted to know if I wanted a bowl of newly made mullein stew! (After informing her that I’m vegetarian, she said, “Oh, we have a gluten-free vegan version too!” Fun fact: that vegan stew sold out from the kitchen hours before the meaty version did!)
I am very well-versed with (and have many friends from) the Madison Pagan scene and with Circle Sanctuary, but Milwaukee was totally new to me. I wasn’t sure which of my Deity-centric jewelry pieces to emphasize (they’re Polytheistically organized by cultural pantheon: Celtic, Hellenic, Egyptian, Norse, Slavic, Hindu, etc.), so I just carted my entire inventory over. Per the wise words of my ritual partner who successfully ran his own Pagan store north of Chicago for more than a decade, I had items specially priced for every budget (with a huge emphasis on pieces costing $40 or less, including sterling silver-centric pieces), with even greater markdowns storewide since I was eliminating Etsy’s “middleman” fee by selling in person/offline. I really had no expectations of anything, certainly no sales goals to meet other than hoping to at least break even/recoup my investment in renting the table for the day. But since I’ve been blessed with the phenomenon of “beginner’s luck” my entire life no matter what I’ve attempted to do for the first time (and at the time of this writing, Retrograde Jupiter in Aquarius is crossing over the degrees of my Aquarius Ascendant, thereby increasing my luck, huzzah!), and since I believe the land spirits of Wisconsin are very benign and giving, I wound up having an excellent day of sales! Hail, Hermes! Maferefun, Eshu and Oyá!
But more precious than those dollar amounts were the amazing friends I was able to reconnect with, friends from Lake Geneva and Athens and even Black River Falls, which is not only way up in the North Woods but close to the Minnesota border, the exact opposite of Milwaukee’s geographical location. The promise of the ability to reconnect and truly celebrate Pagan Pride Day with one another in person proved to be too powerful an idea to keep people hostage to pandemic fears. I had no idea how much I missed hugging these wonderful people until I felt my giggling self swept up in their hearty embraces. No Zoom meeting can simulate that. Grateful for our robust health, we met once again “in Perfect Love, and Perfect Trust.” It was the spiritual battery recharge I didn’t know I needed, and I am profoundly grateful for all of the blessings of the entire day: scenic drive, total sales, squeezy hugs, and all!
As people practicing minority religious traditions, pressing our way against cultural tides of either an atheism that contemptively dismisses our beliefs or a hostile evangelical Christianity that literally demonizes them, Pagans, Witches, Heathens, Druids, Priestesses, Shamanic Practitioners, Spirit-Workers, Magicians and other like-minded folk are stronger together. I’d like to give shout-outs of love to the nonprofit organizations and small Pagan businesses of Wisconsin that I learned more about yesterday.
- Wade Mueller, a friend and Tyrsman dedicated to spearheading the Pagan Homestead Movement through his organization, Deeply Rooted Church
- Milwaukee-based no-kill cat shelter, Second Hand Purrs. A 501(c)(3) organization, they are solely funded by donations, which are tax-deductible. If you cannot adopt or foster a cat at this time, please consider donating money as well as mailing the urgently needed supplies of fuzzy blankets, plain bleach, cat toys, and Fancy Feast wet cat food. Their address is 4300 S. Howell Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53207. Call 414-727-7877.
- Musician Chad Canfield of Baraboo is the founder of Kenebula Records. Chad was our versatile (he does Tibetan/Tuvan throat-singing!), talented, witty, magical (he tamed quite a lot of young children, no small feat!) musical entertainer for the day and I really enjoyed speaking with him between sets. Check him out!
- One of my favorite Tarot card readers, who formerly used to read for many summer seasons on locations at the Bristol Renaissance Faire (how I first met her), is Susan Sigl, founder of Tarot Tree/Knowledge Tree. You can book a reading with her through email@example.com or see her in person this October at the Iowa Renaissance Festival in Des Moines! She is hands down the most jaw-droppingly-accurate-in-her-level-of-detail reader I’ve ever had the pleasure to consult the Tarot with!
- Fellow Etsy vendor Krista Hilpert of Kristalyzed Kreations has beautiful crystal skulls for sale (I bought a ram-horned one to add to my collection) at affordable prices.
- Samantha Go was working her magical hands all day as an on-site massage therapist. Her business is called Goddess Touch and you can book an appointment with her at Samigo0424@gmaildotcom
Of course, this is just a small sampling of folks I got to speak with; there were many other vendors and sponsors in attendance, and I’m sure you can learn more about them by looking up yesterday’s Pagan Pride Milwaukee event online or perusing its Facebook page.
So what about you? How are you navigating the reality of Delta variant-inspired COVID surges with participating in Pagan group activities? Will your group be reverting to closed/non-public events, or foregoing physical gatherings entirely in order to resume meeting online? (My friends of the Chicago-based ADF Grove entitled Wild Onion have decided, after Lughnasadh, that all celebrations for the remainder of the year going forward will be online-only. I’m glad I literally got to break bread with them as a specially invited guest [I’m not a member of ADF] at their Lughnasad celebration in a lovely suburban backyard a week ago!)
However and with whomever you celebrate, stay safe and healthy; please mask up; wash your hands and decontaminate surfaces accordingly; perform wellness checks on the elderly and those especially susceptible to COVID; and may your Gods and helping spirits protect and guide you!
For the harm of none and the good of all, So Mote It Be!