© 2022 Angelina Alexandrovna VLASENKO; Viktor ARADIA
2022 – № 1(23)
Vlasenko A.A., Aradiya V. (2022) Pandemiya COVID-19: vzglyad vikkanskogo zhretsa [Covid-19 Pandemic: The View of a Wiccan Priest], Meditsinskaya antropologiya i bioetika [Medical Anthropology and Bioethics], № 1(23).
Junior Researcher at the Center for Medical Anthropology
Miklukho-Maklay Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow)
*Published in accordance with the research plan of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Keywords: pandemic, COVID-19, quarantine measures, paganism, wicca, witches
Abstract: The publication features an interview with a high priest of Wiccan witchcraft, the founder of a Wiccan coven, Victor Aradia, about how the coronavirus pandemic in Russia has affected the religious and social life of Wiccans; how the pandemic has changed the way Sabbats and other religious events are held, and what Wiccans think about the causes of COVID-19. The idea of such an interview came about in the course of observing Wiccans – their statements on social networks and on thematic forums, discussions about the attitude to the pandemic, vaccination, self-isolation, the emergence of hypotheses about the origin of COVID-19, the news that appears in the media about various restrictions imposed by the authorities on practicing mass religious rites under quarantine. The interview was recorded on August 11, 2022, which made it possible to look at the events of the pandemic from a certain distance and draw a number of conclusions about its significance for the Wiccan community in Russia.
Wicca is a neo-pagan religion founded in England in the first half of the 20th century by amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner. Gardner, a number of his followers, and many modern Wiccans consider Wicca to be the oldest of the religions, whose roots go back to Paleolithic times. According to these ideas, the witches, who were persecuted by the Inquisition in the Middle Ages, were followers of the witch religion and their activities were not related to the worship of the devil and opposition to Christianity. In the 20th century, when they were no longer risking their lives, witches made their presence known, and people like Gardner began to speak openly about witchcraft and spread its ideas outside of witch covens.
Gradually, Gardner’s ideas spread beyond England, crossed the ocean and led to the emergence of many Wiccan branches of witchcraft in the United States. One of the most famous American Wiccans was Scott Cunningham, who practiced solitary Wicca. Solitary Wicca did not imply the passage of an initiation rite, and anyone could become a Wiccan within the framework of this direction.
In the early 1990s, it was the work of Scott Cunningham and some other American practitioners of Wicca that influenced its spread in Russia. Russian Wicca is also distinguished by its solidarity and the practice of self-initiation. There are few covens in the strict sense of this term in Russia, a significant part of Wiccans practice alone and communicate through social networks. However, in Russia there is both the practice of Wiccan meetings and the practice of celebrating Sabbats and conducting rituals in small groups. Despite the rather broad scope of the Wiccan way of life, there are a number of stable ideas that unite the majority of both Russian and Western Wiccans. Firstly, this is the worship of a dual deity, represented in the female and male incarnations, most often referred to as the Great Mother and the Horned God. At the same time, according to Wiccan views, other gods and goddesses are hypostases, aspects of the personalities of the two main deities. In this case, it becomes clear why one can often find texts of rituals dedicated to ancient, Middle Eastern, Mesoamerican or Scandinavian gods on Wiccan resources. For example, the author of this text took part in a Sabbat dedicated to Saturn as an aspect of the Horned God associated with the control of time. Secondly, it is the worship of nature. On the ritual plane, the worship of nature is expressed both in a number of magical attributes that are on the Wiccan altar, and in certain actions and formulas that invoke forces associated with the elements into the ritual space. Outside of ritual life, the worship of nature among Wiccans is associated with various environmental and charitable activities: Saturdays, garbage sorting, fundraising for animal shelters, etc. Thirdly, it is following the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none do what ye will”, and the Rule of Three. According to this rule, any positive or negative action is returned three times to its author, and therefore practices related to the suppression of someone else’s will, love spells, black magic, etc. are not very popular among Wiccans. Fourthly, this is the celebration of the Wheel of the Year – the annual cycle of eight agricultural holidays (Sabbats): Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Lita, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain. The names and essence of these holidays are borrowed mainly from the Celtic and Scandinavian cultures. During such Sabbats, Wiccans offer praise to the gods, pray, hold festive feasts, and so on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an event that has had a significant impact on the lives of most people around the world. In particular, it affected the activities of religious organizations. The Wiccan community in Russia was no exception, and its members felt the effects of each of the stages of the pandemic. Religious and secular meetings became less frequent, there were fewer participants, many Wiccan groups switched to online communication, and some broke up due to difficulties associated with freedom of movement, fear for themselves and their loved ones, unwillingness to break the law, etc. Some people left Wicca under the influence of the crisis, others revised their methods of practice and moved from covens to solitary Wicca.
Interview dated August 11, 2022 – a conversation between the authors indicated in the publication: Angelina Vlasenko and Victor Aradia, the high priest of one of the branches of Wiccan witchcraft in Russia, who lives and practices Wicca in Moscow. Victor Aradia is the creator of the largest in the Russian-speaking segment of the Internet, the Spirit of the Goddess community dedicated to Wicca. As of August 2022, it has more than thirty-four thousand members.
V.A. In general, I see COVID-19 as an annoyance to Mother Earth and an outpouring of her wrath on man. I think that any such large infection is a message from Nature in the spirit: “Stop doing evil, otherwise you will all die out. Here’s a little lesson for you.”
A.V. Why do you think Mother Earth is punishing humanity?
V.A. For the destruction of the ecosystem; for the harmful way of life of human civilization; for the destruction of the fragile balance between people, animals, plants, minerals; for the fact that a person ignores the rest of the earthly community, separates himself, placing himself on an illusory peak.
A.V. Do you think it is Wicca that influences your worldview and similar vision of the causes of COVID-19? And is this perception common to Wiccans in general?
V.A. On the one hand, this is my human opinion, and on the other hand, it is Wiccan. Wiccan dogma does not say anywhere that you need to be environmentally friendly. But if the general ethical postulates of Wiccan witchcraft were indifferent to such issues, I could not have been a Wiccan for so long. This is my personal and religious position at the same time. I adhere to the Wicca way precisely because it is consistent with my views. At the same time, Wicca is an eclectic path, with different Wiccans holding different opinions. Not everyone views Covid as the wrath of the earth, but this position is quite popular. There are those who perceive Covid as a disease, as a natural virus, as an artificially created virus, etc.
A.V. And which opinion is more common: that COVID-19 is the wrath of the earth or just a disease?
V.A. It is hard to say. Even on the personal side of COVID-19, Wiccans were very divided. Some were afraid, some were not. Someone wore a mask just so that there were no problems with fines, while someone constantly washed and disinfected everything. For some, Covid was easy, for others it was hard. In the first months, there was an opinion on the Internet that either more negative people or tougher people get sick. But this was only the initial opinion, then they stopped thinking like that. There were many different esoteric ideas. That COVID-19 affects everyone differently, depending on the energy of people. But here I am of the opinion that the matter is not in energy, but simply in the general immunity and adaptability of a single person. For some it was easy, for some it was hard.
A.V. Have you been sick yourself?
V.A. I don’t know. But my wife assumed that we had been ill without symptoms, although we did not check.
A.V. And why did you decide that you were asymptomatic?
V.A. Because my wife at one time worked in a laboratory, where they also dealt with Covid tests, and, naturally, someone could get infected, including her. And it’s just that when many in the team sneeze, get sick, it’s annoying. We caught the flu a couple of times, but we didn’t clarify anything.
A.V. Have you been vaccinated against COVID-19?
V.A. Yes, I got vaccinated at the time QR codes were introduced. Basically, in order to move freely around the city, go to different institutions, travel in transport. It is clear that at that time many people were worried that the vaccine had not been finalized, that it was dangerous, people did not want to participate in experiments and risk their health. But then time passed and the excitement subsided. And I got Sputnik V.
A.V. Did you consciously choose this particular vaccine?
V.A. Yes. I was worried for a long time, I thought that it was not finalized. But then I talked to those who had already done it. Someone got pricked and felt normal, someone got pricked and got sick. But I also talked with European friends, with those who are well versed in the issue and who have connections. Someone even had connections in Gamaleya Institute. And I was told that Sputnik is the best vaccine available in Russia, the most developed one. There were many more side effects from European and American vaccines; well, I made up my mind.
A.V. How many people in the Wiccan environment have been vaccinated?
V.A. I think it’s 50/50, just like outside the Wiccan environment. Someone was worried because of side effects, someone did not do it because of contraindications, someone hoped for natural immunity, etc.
A.V. Did you and your friends connect some magical means to understand whether it is worth getting vaccinated or not?
V.A. Naturally. Those who decided to get vaccinated asked the Tarot. But not about the virus itself, but simply for support in an exciting situation. What happens if I get vaccinated with this vaccine? And this one? This information went into the common treasury along with communication with people who knew the sick or who understood vaccines, reading scientific information, etc.
A.V. Did the tarot answers mean a lot to you about vaccinations?
V.A. For me, yes, I trust my hands. This was an important building block in the overall foundation of analytics. Both materialistic and magical.
A.V. If the cards said you shouldn’t get vaccinated, would you listen to them or to science?
V.A. I would try to find a middle ground, I checked with the cards. It rarely happens that cards prohibit something once and for all. As a rule, we are always talking about certain periods of time. I would clarify: why not? I am not ready? Or will they vaccinate me badly and treat me negligently? And I would also clarify when the situation can change. I don’t follow the answers of the cards blindly
A.V. How strictly did you comply with the requirement to wear a mask in public places?
V.A. For the first particularly tough weeks, I followed this prescription very strictly and wore a mask. I did not want to disturb the public order and I sought to minimize contact with the infection. Even now, in crowded places, I try to wear a mask.
A.V. Describe how Wiccans reacted to COVID-19? What has changed in your religious interaction in everyday life?
V.A. I will not speak for all pagans, because there are a lot of opinions. Both within different religions, and within one, for example, Wicca, but in different countries. I spoke to European and American Wiccans about this topic and found they have a completely different attitude towards the pandemic. And it is due not so much to paganism as to mentality. The Americans and Europeans reacted more seriously. They kept a social distance for a long time, strictly following the recommendations of the government, and did not go to the Sabbats for almost two years. But even when they started going to rituals, they stood in a circle at a social distance. For Russia, this is completely uncharacteristic, it didn’t fit in our heads. I also watched a video of one American rite, where there was no social distance, but everyone was wearing masks and reciting spells, also wearing masks. I thought about how uncomfortable it must be, and that we would have relaxed a long time ago and, at least, would have lowered the mask from our nose.
A.V. Can you tell us how the Wiccan community reacted to these measures? How were the Sabbats held, what has changed in your religious life?
V.A. Most of the communities stopped any meetings due to the fact that it was impossible to get to each other. Plus, some people have stopped traveling for fear of getting sick. And someone because of the fear of fines.
A.V. What kind of people did you relate to?
V.A. I combined both points of view. But, since I mostly gathered people at my home or somewhere nearby, it was easier for me: I didn’t have to travel anywhere even before the pandemic. I stopped collecting meetings, and we started a tradition of online get-togethers. And when there were relaxations in restrictions, a couple of people came and we already held the usual Sabbats. In general, after all these restrictions came into the world, none of the Wiccans have fully recovered. As big as the outer circles were before the virus, they are no longer going to.
A.V. That is, until you returned to pre-Covid life?
V.A. Well, yes. People used this time to study themselves, many went on individual paths. And it’s just that everyone is already used to, it seems to me, being alone.
A.V. Did you and your friends make up some new magic remedies for the treatment of COVID-19 specifically? How were Wiccans treated in general? How were conventional medicines and magic related in their treatment?
V.A. Everything depended on the magical approach of the person. Someone, being a Wiccan, rarely uses magic and is limited to psychological techniques and meditation, someone considers Wicca as a religion and philosophy, and someone is engaged in magic. And the latter, of course, combined magic with medicine. I can’t say that I know of those who were treated by magic alone, for this one must be quite desperate. Therefore, rather, there are those who were treated purely medically or simply waited until they recovered without treatment, and who combined treatment with magic. These could be ordinary healing methods, meditations, Reiki, runic stavas, conspiracies, spells. Some have tried to come up with special spells for COVID-19. I didn’t do that because I don’t think it’s necessary to reinvent the wheel every time. And I don’t know if I was sick, so I didn’t use anything for myself. And when I was worried about sick friends, I used the usual spells and prayers for illness.
A.V. Can you share the texts of such spells and prayers?
V.A. When we talked to Wiccans from America, they gave us one chant. I don’t know if they use it specifically for Covid or in general for healing. We used it by translating it into Russian. The text there is as follows:
Apollo, Asclepius, Hygeia, Panacea, Brigid, Dian Cecht,
Heal the world.
Dispel sickness and contagion.
Isis, Anahita, Eir, Mami Wata, Guanyin,
Teach us how to heal ourselves, and how to heal each other.
(Author – Purple Alice)
There is also another prayer that we use in our circle in case of illness. It is also translated from English by Silver Ravenwolf, a well-known American Wiccan.
Prayer for deliverance from disease:
Let this pain and disease
Will be buried in the depths of the earth
Crushed by gray stones
Because they are stable.
Let her fly away with the birds of the air,
Will fly away with the wasps of the hill,
Let her sail away with the whales
Because they are the fastest.
Let her be on the heavenly clouds,
As they bring the rain
Let her be in the flow of the river
that flows into the ocean
May she never come back to me
From the wind or the earth or the swirling sea.
And here’s my own little spell:
The power of the moon heals and blesses
the power of the earth nourishes and strengthens,
the power of the Sun inspires and protects.
When reading it, work with energy and a number of magical actions are carried out.
A.V. Thank you for the interview.
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