This week’s blog post is on the letter ‘C’ and concerns itself with the online culture and in particular they cyberhenge. The reason for this post comes from a very interesting dialogue on Facebook following a recent post, titled; Techno-pagan: Social Media. The aforementioned post spurned much chagrin amongst commentators on my personal Facebook and personally I believe a lot of their comments had to do with some of the buzz words I used in the article, namely the idea of the “technopagan” and “cyberhenges”. For those not in the know; these were very popular ideas during the zenith of the internet in the mid-to-late 90s. There is, even now, a plethora of advice for neophyte witches and pagans wishing to incorporate their PCs and laptops as virtual temple spaces. If we were born in the 14th Century and asked to live in a monastery we might have the same ideas concerning language and writing as a sacred duty but our virtual spaces are just as secular as they are sanctified through enlightening conversations which bring about personal gnosis and understanding. If you read over my post I was using the terms technopagan and cyberhenge rather glibly as a means to illustrate how when the terms were first employed they were a niche for those disconnected from a community and peer support system but that more and more of us are using Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks.
In his work, Cyberhenge (2007), Douglas E. Cowan offers an in-depth study of modern pagan paradigms as they are presented in online discourses. I won’t hold Cowan up as the luminary of modern pagan studies as there are some limitations in his work, such as; the author limiting to virtual experiences akin to Role-Playing Games (RPGs) when even LARPing has become a thing now. Furthermore, as I review some of his findings I realise that many of the groups he cited were self-described as being virtual covens or temples, there simply wasn’t a counter-balance to his hypothesis. Furthermore, it didn’t seem to fit with my own studies of the movement of new media technology and how individuals and groups are utilising them. Naturally in the run up to my Final Year Project this was very disheartening because new media had become such a pivotal point in my life – both as a pagan and a student.
In his article, Paganism: The Real, the Imagined and the Virtual (Issue 13: Imbolg 2013) for Brigid’s Fire Magazine, Dominic Hodson discusses his views on virtuality in modern paganism going into some deeper personal accounts for us. Hodson puts it to the reader that Second Life enables modern pagans to transverse social barriers as agoraphobia or even socio-phobia (18) and asks the question if those of us who have social media presences aren’t just living through those now? Second Life offers a virtual experience of life unlike any other but the guiding principles of connectivity at one’s fingertips and plugging into a hyper-reality is, indeed, ingrained in modern pagan thought. Okay, so there are some of the attractions, what are the drawbacks? Well as Hodson puts it modern paganism has meeting in person as a spiritual journey at the heart of it (18). Indeed as he puts it,
“And it is safer and less expensive to meet online than it is in the real world; travel costs are increasing all the time and especially in Ireland, …Or would it then not be the adventure of a lifetime every time you wanted to visit a fellow pagan in the wilds of the countryside?” (18).
So now I’m wondering if the virtual world or the cyberhenge was initially all about making connections to people of “like mind” then perhaps the tool or mechanism for reaching out to others is being overused? I’ve heard it said from a few Witches and Magicians of my acquaintance that people just aren’t traveling for initiation anymore. That they feel as though the Work is accessible online and one simply can navigate through a labyrinth of successive “gurus” online with the handle, “PixieFlora-Meadowsweet”.
Personally, I’m partial to meeting in person. Not only am I a social creature but the face-to-face interaction enables me to consider questions I’d not otherwise be able to rehearse with a virtual avatar. I’ve used modern technology to connect with others and share ideas so I’m not adverse to Second Life or even using virtual spaces as a mode of connection but eventually there are issues such as tapping into the egregore of the Tradition as another mode to learn from. In my time online and interacting with others I’ve often strove to be coherent and make sense without being overpowering with people. The problem with online interactions is that you just don’t know a person’s writing strengths and often when you do its a matter of style that gets critiqued.
In the post Techno-pagan: Social Media, I commended Orfhlaith Robin from Musings of a Young Irish Witch for her engagement with social media and for some enjoyable interviews. The post received some harsh criticism from some other blogger friends of mine on Facebook – (oddly enough my post on here had inspired me to do a round-up and review of all my blogging friends and promote them, guess thats off the cards now!) – who felt that Orfhlaith’s posts should contain “more content”. This is of course a fair statement from people who are looking for something that relates to themselves for that personal gnosis I mentioned earlier. However, I’m a firm believer in constructive criticism – if one must give negative feedback make sure its constructive! For instance, one comment from Irish blogger Frater Docet Umbra stated that his tastes in content has evolved over time and the implication being that one’s tastes became more sophisticated. Naturally, I cannot concur with this idea since in my view the nature of the content one writes doesn’t evolve but the WAY one writes does. There is a distinction which few writers and bloggers make. I have the height of respect for Frater D∴U∴ and what he writes but from an Irish pagan perspective I do disagree with some of the modern, inspired stuff he writes on.
Orfhlaith is big enough and bauld enough to fighter her own corner, so its not my intention to do any such thing but to illustrate how social media and the writing process can work to develop a person’s ideas into a working thesis. We have a long held belief that writing and publishing is fixed in its point but such is not the way of writing. Its actually quite flexible and fluid. Indeed even as I type this now Nick Farrell if re-editing is seminal piece Making Talismans and aims to re-title it Magical Imagination: The Keys to Magic (Cynthia Caton, Brigid’s Fire: Imbolg 2013, 28).
My own blog is far from done being re-directed to new ideas and perspectives and as I begin to sign off for the evening I’m inclined to summarise my points. I titled this piece “Cyberhenge: Real, Imagined and Virtual” because defining the real from the imagined from the virtual is a challenging concept. It requires us to discern for ourselves truth from fiction and whether fiction holds even a grain of truth or whether truth holds enough fiction. Second Life uses its own series of symbolism and iconography which the user can fashion from programable material and so it is the case with other modes of expression while online. I may be writing in English but the computer will interpret it as code enabling people to read this in other languages through translation software available on most PCs and laptops now.