Aphrodite, Paganism, Spiritual Growth

Priestess in a Pandemic – Part One

Earlier in January was the anniversary of my oath to Aphrodite as Her priestess. After my first year of priestesshood, I wrote a perspective piece on lessons I learned in my first year of service. I was going to write one last year as well, but time got away from me, and nothing felt particularly celebratory at the beginning of 2021. Now with two years of being a priestess in a pandemic, I finally feel like I can write something.

Like everyone I know, the pandemic was the defining character of my 2020. And my 2021. As much as both 2020 and 2021 were an absolute clusterfuck dumpster fire, they were also my second and third years as a priestess of Aphrodite. My relationship with Her helped me get through the past two years, and I’m sure it will give me strength to get through the next one. I learned so much, grew in ways I did not expect, and found opportunities to expand my relationship with the Goddess. At the same time, my worst OCD fears came true, I couldn’t hug my friends and family for an entire year, and life as I knew it was completely upended.

The past two years have been undeniably awful, but Aphrodite has been a guiding light through all of this – giving me hope when I had none, filling me with strength when I thought I couldn’t go on, and showing me the amazing power of love (which sounds cheesy, but it’s true).

Here are a few things I learned, as well as some thoughts and general musings, on being a priestess in a pandemic:

Changing Needs for Changing Times

While my oath to Aphrodite and the fundamental nature of my priestesshood has not changed, my roles as a priestess have shifted during the pandemic because what my community has needed of me has changed. 

The pandemic knocked us collectively as a society a few rungs down on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Whereas prior to the pandemic, I was helping people mostly in the top three tiers of Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization; the pandemic brought us all back down to basic Physiological and Safety needs, with more desperate yearnings for Love and Belonging than ever before. 

While I’ve always been very involved in my local Pagan group, these past two years saw me stepping into new leadership roles and supporting our community in different ways. One of my mundane skills is that I am very good at organization, so I took on a lot of our logistical responsibilities. The shift to online ritual was a rough one for many in our community. Throughout most of the pandemic, we have been running a bare bones ritual structure, with about half of the rituals we normally did in-person pre-COVID. There was a steep learning curve of discovering what does and does not work online during a Zoom ritual, and we had to heavily modify a lot of the things we were doing, or just start from scratch.

I also ended up leading many more rituals these past two years that I normally would. Some of them were my regular fare – I usually lead Beltane, one full moon during the summer, a self-compassion circle in February around Valentine’s Day, co-lead a few rituals, and maybe a couple of others by myself. In the past two years, I led at least twice that many rituals for my local group via Zoom (including some that I have posted here, such as Adaptive Spiritual Practice for Pagans; Self-Compassion Circle Pandemic Edition; Ritual for Radical Acceptance, Fierce Love, and Divine Surrender; as well as others I have not posted), plus two rituals for a different online group.

While this was definitely taxing at times, particularly when everyone was dealing with Zoom fatigue and general pandemic exhaustion, it really cemented for me that I love leading rituals. I really enjoy helping others to encounter the Divine, and I can apparently do it pretty well both in person and online. I like pretty much everything about the ritual creation process, from setting the atmosphere to writing the words and designing activities or meditations. It brings me so much joy to hear feedback on the rituals I lead, to hear from others the Divine experiences that they have had that I helped facilitate. 

I anticipate that leading rituals will always be a part of my priestesshood. While I wish it were under better circumstances, it was nice to learn during the pandemic that I can be creative and adaptable in the rituals I lead. I look forward to how that part of my practice will grow and evolve next.

Permission to Feel ALL the Emotions

I thought all of my years of therapy had prepared me to deal with my emotions, but 2020 and 2021 proved me wrong. Or rather, therapy helped what could have been an utter disaster and total mental breakdown not be quite so awful. As much as I grew to loathe this phrase over the past two years, it was truly “an unprecedented time,” and with that came unprecedented situations and emotions about those situations. 

If there was a mantra I had for 2020 and 2021, it was “it’s okay to not be okay.” In addition to the feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, despair, anger, frustration, and everything else inspired by the pandemic, here in the US we were also dealing with a tense political climate, institutionalized racism, corrupt police forces, a (thankfully failed) coup trying to overturn the presidential election results, and hate and prejudice of too many kinds. 

As a human being, and particularly as a priestess of love, I cannot express to you how painful it was to watch these events unfold. I have never witnessed Aphrodite be so angry. She is a loving and compassionate Goddess, but She does not tolerate actions against love. Her ferocity was in full force on these occasions, and while I knew that side of Her existed, I had not experienced it to that degree before.

As I have said before, we must stand for love. And with that comes all of the messy emotions around love. Accepting and loving ourselves no matter the situation was also a prominent theme these past two years. While that has always been a part of my priestess work, it took on new meaning and importance in 2020 and 2021. Our society was suddenly faced with a collective trauma that we will likely feel the effects of for years. No one will emerge on the other side of the pandemic unscathed. 

Importance of Mental Health

Experiencing all of the many emotions of the past two years and suffering a globally traumatic event has really highlighted the importance of mental health. This has gained more traction in the public discourse during the pandemic, and I am thankful that there is at least that silver lining. I hope that this was not a temporary phenomenon, and that employers, governments, organizations, families, and everyone else will continue to see mental health as an important part of personal wellbeing.

Prior to the pandemic, I had “graduated” from therapy a couple years before. My emotion regulation was much better and my OCD was pretty much under control. I am under no illusion that my OCD is ever going to go away – I will have to live with it in some form or another for the rest of my life – but prior to COVID-19, it wasn’t majorly affecting my life. Then a worldwide pandemic hit, and it was my worst nightmare made real.

It was my version of the zombie apocalypse – People were walking around as plague carriers unknowingly infecting others. Since it was a new virus, we didn’t know much about it from an epidemiological standpoint, particularly early in the pandemic. Even now, each new variant throws us for a loop for what measures are most effective to curb the spread and what precautions we need to take. Couple this with certain people not understanding science, and somehow thinking that a vaccine that can save their life as well as the lives of others is an infringement on their “civil liberties” (even when it is for the good of the community), and it was a recipe for disaster.

Like many others, my mental health took a nosedive during the pandemic. Thankfully, I had the experience to recognize that I needed help and the resources to obtain that help. I started seeing both a therapist and a psychiatrist again. We made adjustments to my medications, and I got weekly coaching to help me deal with the ever-evolving nightmare we suddenly found ourselves in. And still find ourselves in. 

We are going to have some collective trauma to process once the pandemic has reached its endemic stage. I don’t know what that will look like. No one does, because it isn’t over yet – no matter how much some people might be pretending that it is. With omicron, case numbers are higher than ever. While some people are full steam ahead with “normal” life at the expense of the health of others and overloaded hospitals, that has left many of us seemingly “behind,” though we have perfectly valid reasons to continue to be cautious.

I saw a meme about mid-2020 that said, “This pandemic is why I hate group projects.” The pandemic was a global group project, and we failed pretty miserably. 

It’s okay if you’re just getting by right now. We are still in survival mode. Circumstances are changing daily, and it is difficult to keep up. Whatever you are doing right now, wherever you are at, please do what you can to keep yourself and others safe and healthy. 

Wow, this first part was kind of a bummer. But things aren’t all bad! Read Part Two of Priestess in a Pandemic!

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