Ten Questions with a Virtual Pagan

1. Can nature oriented faiths benefit from the internet?
Absolutely. The Internet (and specifically, the world wide web) is an incredibly powerful tool for communication. It provides a forum for magickal groups to describe and discuss their beliefs and practices. At the same time, it allows for a great deal of anonymity. For example, I could have published under my craft name (Maat) and there would have been no easy way to know that Maat and Lisa Mc Sherry are one and the same. Another benefit is that some groups can be made up of people from diverse geographies. I can only imagine how lonely it was for people interested in exploring alternative religious practices that had no ‘likeminded’ groups to learn from. Or for the nascent ceremonial magician surrounded by Erisians!

2. How do covens perform rituals and celebrate holidays using the internet?
I think the most evocative (and accessible) way uses a combination of physical performance and real-time chat. (Perhaps it is no surprise that this is what my coven does.)

Set up a physical altar, with specific energy spent on ‘dressing’ it for the ritual. For example, at Lammas a blade of grain; at Mabon, an apple; at Ostara flowers, etc. As well, if the ritual includes sharing cakes and wine, or another physical element, set up the altar to include it. (For example, at Yule, we begin the ritual with no fires lit. At specific points we light candles and wood-scented incense.)

Any ritual can be done online, but special attention must be directed to transforming physical actions into text that describes the action being done. We use a narrator to describe what the leaders are doing when they are busy Aspecting or engaging in some activity that requires their attention sufficiently that it would be distracting to type.

If the participants actively visualize what the text is describing, the energy raised (and felt) is palpable. In the end, visualization is the key. Practice helps as well. It has taken me several years to write virtual rituals as easily as I once wrote rituals for physical enactment. The timing is different, the flow, the need for far less words, but those with richer meaning and deeper content.

As for tools: a computer, Internet Relay chat (mirc.com) and internet connections. That’s all that is required!

3. What advice do you offer Pagans exploring the internet?
Use your brain! If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Also: Don’t be seduced by the highest tech – low tech is often easier to use, less intrusive on your computer, and more adaptable to your needs.

4. What challenges do you feel the Pagan community will face in the next 10 years?
There are several, but I think the biggest and most complicated challenge will come from the tension of having group members who have no desire to become a priest/ess, but actively prefer (and consistently choose) the role of follower. I think we need to consider and address that tension – can we truly be a religion of priest/esses? If we all speak directly to God/dess, what need do we have to work in groups? Do groups create hierarchy?

The second biggest challenge will come from the tension between group and solitary practice. The bulk of pagan publishing is directed towards working on your own and there are an enormous number of groups started by people with inadequate training. These two factors make working in a group unattractive – but traditional (nature-based) teaching is based on the concept of group work.

These challenges both come from the enormous growth the Pagan community has seen in the last 20 years.

5. What advice to you have for someone interested in starting their own website?
K.I.S.S. – keep it seriously simple.

I am not a professional when it comes to websites (or even technology in general – that is my dark secret). I am, however, an excellent end-user. I have made a point to learn the most efficient ways to do what I want to be done. And I happily pay people who are professionals to fill in the gaps.

I always start with a diagram of how I want the site to look. Ask yourself about the different components, maybe a blog, a collection of knowledge (say, a Book of Shadows that visitors can add to), graphics, etc. The elements you want to include will help you decide how to design the site. For example, my webhost (drak.net) provides a huge number of free site installations, like Wikis, content managers, image galleries, and blogs. This allows me wide latitude when deciding how I want my sites to look, and what they should contain.

Facing North, for example, is my review site. Because it is a huge collection of data (with accompanying graphics) it was best to use a CMS (content management system). So the site is in Joomla, with the template modified to be clean-looking, and a professionally re-designed main graphic.

JaguarMoon, my cyber coven’s site, is a collection of data, but also serves as central point for password-protected data. This data includes our calendars, class logs, class work, and coven-only data (like rituals). This site is in the process of going from an ‘old-fashioned’ html-encoded site to one with a series of discussion boards, supported by content.

Cybercoven, my writing site, is the most complicated site I maintain. For one thing, I actually own a bunch of domains which I forward here for my convenience. The main site is in Joomla, and I update the look (and image) each sabbat. The site links to my blog (in wordpress) and JaguarMoon. Some of the pages are static, others are actually collections of information (like my various writings).

As you can see, I am a big fan of Joomla. If even a technologically inept person like me can manipulate the templates, it is a seriously easy technology to use.

6. Microsoft, Apple, or open source?
I’m pretty much locked into Microsoft products. But I use a lot of open source products to get the nifty things done. Like IRC programs and Joomla. I used Macintosh back in my college days and they were easy to use. But now they just seem great for people who do a lot of graphic work.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure website?
Witchvox.com – it is full of incredibly interesting things to read, updated weekly. Oh, and craigslist.org. Lots of yummy things to buy, trade, sell, and give away for free there.

8. The cup holder on my computer is broken, what do I do now?
LOL! Cheap replacements can be found on your local craigslist.org site – search for ‘cd drive.’

9. Can you explain for our readers the concept of the “cyber altar”?
A cyber altar is a virtual altar, virtual sacred space, that you create as part of your practice. I have seen some gorgeous ones graphically created. (For example, http://aheartsease.com/nuke/modules.php?name=Altar. http://angelnet.com/altar2.html is particularly interesting, but http://home.znet.com/quan_yin/ is my favorite.)

My own cyber altar is the physical manifestation of the items I use in my cyber rituals. Having them ‘to hand’ during ritual adds extra energy to the work I am doing.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question?
What made you decide to start this venture and what are your future goals?

Many different things went into the decision to start The Magical Buffet. Much of it is outlined on our philosophy page (http://www.themagicalbuffet.com/Philosophy.html), but at this point it’s evolved into more than just a celebration of the generalist, it’s become my obsessive mission to start dialogues between different communities. The idea being that once you meet the face behind the belief, that belief system becomes less alien and thus less scary.

My future goals? Global domination. Seriously, I’m asked this a lot and honestly our goals range from just trying to get our next issue done to maybe one day hosting interfaith discussion groups. At this point our little publication and website has evolved into more than we could have expected. Who knows what goals we’ll be able to achieve?

About Lisa McSherry
A practicing Witch for more than 25 years, Lisa McSherry is the author of Magickal Connections: Creating a Healthy and Lasting Spiritual Group (New Page, 2007) and The Virtual Pagan: Exploring Wicca and Paganism Through the Internet (Weiser, 2002), the senior editor and owner of Facing North: A Community Resource (www.facingnorth.net) and can be reached at: lisa@cybercoven.org.