For many Witches, who tend to view themselves as ‘right brained,’ psychic and creative, the realm of computers reeks of calculus, and other ‘left-brain’ activities. Computers are intimidating at first, but the world of cyberspace is a wondrous environment, and, in my opinion, the new frontier of spiritual growth and exploration. Many of the traditional tools are used in the cyber coven – but there are a few extras that are necessary. For example, JaguarMoon (my cyber coven) uses a black-handled athame in our cyber rituals, which is a traditional tool, but we wield it within IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a completely modern environment.
Following is a guide to the basics – what you’ll need and where you’ll find it. As the Information Age moves along at ever-increasing speeds, making the newest ideas obsolete quicker than ever before, some of my information may be laughably out dated by the time you read it. In that case, use it as a guide to develop your own desires.
Because I am most familiar with PC technology, that will be the terminology I use, but if you and your group prefer the Apple line of products, please use them instead (or Linux, or Unix, or whatever…). Also, my discussion should in no way be regarded as an endorsement of certain products over others. Use what you like, what you know, and what you think works best.
There are many books available that have excellent explanations of how to use your computer, navigate through the World Wide Web (WWW or Web, for short), access the Internet, and manage your systems. I strongly encourage you to use your local library as a resource rather than spending the money to buy a lot of books you think you need, only to discover that they say the same thing in slightly different ways. The series of ‘Dummies…’ books are especially good for the novice, and will provide you with a good foundation of knowledge upon which to build.
The most basic implement is a computer. I know that is an obvious statement, but it has to be said. Although we’ve had coven members with older models (386, 486) having a Pentium processor makes a real difference in coven communication. The more RAM the better, but perhaps the most important tool is a modem connection of * at least * 28 kb/s, and the faster the the better. This, along with a monitor, a good-sized hard drive, and at least 32Mb of RAM will get you nicely hooked in to the Internet and able to start (or participate in) an online coven. Much better computer systems than this are available for much less than $1000, and some programs will give you one for free if you sign up for a particular service. My only caution here is that there is no such thing as ‘free’ and you will probably get what you paid for.
However, if I were making up a wish list, I would recommend that you invest in a large screen monitor (at least 17”), lots of RAM (512 Mb) a laser printer, a video/audio card with at least 32Mb RAM, speakers and a CD-rom player. (Actually the CD-rom hasn’t become much of a factor in cyber covens, but it provides a nice way to have background music during rituals.) A scanner is a really nice, and totally optional, tool that adds to the depth of information you will be able to share with your coven. Many of these options will cost you less than $200 each, and there is no reason why you should buy them all at once, or even new. There are many bargains on used computer equipment available if you are willing to do some research.
You will access the Internet through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Although there are national companies (like AOL and AT & T Worldnet) most people go through a local ISP. Prices vary with services, but you should pay no more than $20 per month for unlimited Internet access. Many people pay less, and have lots of bells and whistles (like a free web page) for that price. There is a website which provides a list of ISPs, divided by region. This is a relatively new market, and it absolutely pays to shop around and compare prices and service. If you can’t decide between several providers, you can sign up with an ISP and then switch providers after three months – and then keep switching until you find a service that is reliable and inexpensive. (The downside to doing this is that you keep switching your email address, which can be a pain to keep people informed about.)
You need some kind of web browser and an email reader program. Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer are both free to download from the Web. There are other programs, but I happen to know something about these two in particular. Each one provides you with the capability of receiving and sorting large numbers of messages as well as browsing the Web. You want to get used to creating as it will help you keep track of a variety of information. A browser-only interface I can suggest is Opera, a small and extremely powerful program. (There is such a wealth of information available to Pagans online that I think some kind of Web browser is necessary.) However, if you are not interested in the Web at all, Eudora has a version of its email reader (called Eudora Lite) available for free download.
You will want to download a copy of IRC (Internet Relay Chat). IRC is a wonderful little program that allows you to create a channel that is available 24 hours a day for your coven. It is a ‘real time’ forum for your discussions, meetings, classes and rituals. To quote the mIRC Homepage, available at:
“IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a virtual meeting place where people from all over the world can meet and talk. You’ll find the whole diversity of human interests, ideas, and issues here, and you’ll be able to participate in group discussions on one of the many thousands of IRC channels, or just talk in private to family or friends, wherever they are in the world…
Using an IRC client (program) you can exchange text messages interactively with other people all over the world. Some of the more popular chat clients are mIRC, Pirch, and Virc for Windows and Homer or Ircle for Mac’s. What program you use doesn’t really matter; all of them connect to the same chat networks. When logged into a chat session, you “converse” by typing messages that are instantly sent to other chat participants…
The value of IRC depends on how you use it. IRC can keep you company when you can’t sleep, contribute to family togetherness and cut your phone bill. It also can expose you to unpleasant behavior. Chats can get wild and woolly, and anyone (male or female) who takes on a female persona is likely to be hit on. There is indeed a great deal of sextalk, sleaze and garbage on IRC, and one should exercise caution in allowing children to access the IRC without supervision. But, as an adult, you are free to visit only the channels you choose, and there is also a great deal of positive communication going on.”
© Copyright 1995-1999 TjerkVonckmirc@dds.nl (used with permission)
IRC is a vital component of cyber coven communication. JaguarMoon holds all of its rituals on IRC, in a channel we have held since the coven’s inception. The major downside of holding meetings on IRC is that it is difficult to ensure privacy, but we have discovered various tricks to lessen that obstacle. Although I will briefly go into what we did, detailed information is available in the ‘Help’ section of IRC.
? Choose a server you will always use. If you don’t like anyone’s attitude, you can change servers.
? Register coven nicknames and create ‘auto-ops’ for certain people.
? We registered our channel.
? Every time we had a meeting, we set our channel to +s mode, which meant that outsiders couldn’t ‘see’ us to join us — you had to know we existed. This almost completely eliminated unwanted visitors.
Originally published circa 2002