It was one of my illusions that ShadowMoon was the first coven in cyberspace, but in the course of writing CyberCoven.Org, I have discovered otherwise. Although I am disappointed at not being ‘one of the first,’ it is nonetheless a wonderful piece of news. There is a history – an established time period – of pagans, and witches in particular, being online since the mid 1980s. We have been performing rituals, sharing information and acting together in covens for a couple of decades now – an amazing piece of news if you stop to think about how many people feel the internet is a waste of time.
You see there is a perception in the Pagan community that a nature religion can not possibly be compatible with the Internet. Since I think I would be ‘preaching to the converted,’ I am not going to try to answer their arguments here. However, let me say a few brief words on why I believe that being a Techno Pagan is not an oxymoron.
Pagans are not (for the most part), against exploring new forms of technologies and communication. We have been encoding thought and experience since we first began carving bones to mark the lunar cycles. As each new method of communication is discovered – drums, papyrus, books, radios, computers – we reevaluate the world and redefine it in terms of the new technologies’ properties, creating new modes of opportunity, thought and social experience. By appropriating new communication technologies, our spirit expands and creates symbols and rituals – hieroglyphs, printing presses, on line databases.
It is a basic tenant of most Pagans that the natural world describes our moral and ethical lessons. If we are part of the natural world, then so are our tools and it is a mistake to assume the natural world, in this context, means something like ‘outside the city limits’. Technology is part of the natural world – it is made of devices that expand our abilities – and whether that describes a dowsing stick or a computer, it makes no difference.
I do not think we would deny that legitimate worship occurs via television or radio. Therefore, why not via the Internet and World Wide Web? It is simply the next paradigm shift occurring at the end of a long line stream of movements as worship moved to television from radio, after it left the leaving the pulpit to be broadcast on the radio. Which came after it moved from the handwritten word to the printing press, and so was easily carried throughout the world. But that shift came after the worship switched from the orations of the gospels to being codified within written text. Healthy religions use the available technologies to reach a wider audience, thereby shining one more ray of light upon the universal truth.
As I am still gathering information this article is a little scattered, but let me share with you what I have found so far – it is just too interesting to keep to myself!
As early as 1985 rituals were held on CompuServe (the nascent AOL) in various forums or chatrooms. These rituals evolved organically, along the lines of ‘Is it possible for us to do a rituals? I don’t see why not. Let’s try it.’ Jehana was an early participant and she tells me that:
“…I know that online circles began by ’85 or ’86 at least on CompuServe — those were before my time but an older member rejoined the service briefly and told us. We eventually grew into making a point of keeping the sabbats online, with periodic full and very occasional dark moon rituals. Eventually, by the mid-90’s, there was also a women’s group who met and did very informal rituals interspersed with talks, discussions, and lessons on a variety of topics.
As I recollect, it was a spontaneous idea to do ritual — one of our number as I recollect had been bitten by a snake, and we wanted to send her healing to supplement that doctor thing. We’d been having regular weekly online meetings (chat sessions), which we pretty much enjoyed, and had developed “regular attendees”, with the occasional new person popping in. We didn’t really believe that an online ritual, with everyone sitting at separate computers miles and miles apart, could really generate anything, but on the other hand we wanted to do whatever we could regarding that one of us who was sick. After that first time, we realized how stunned we were that the energies could flow so well.
Eventually, this all developed into a “CompuCoven” — nothing formal, no set membership (in those days, there was a fair bit less online traffic, for one thing).”
A Yule ritual held December 20, 1994, in the Pagan Room of the New Age Forum of CompuServe , provides the earliest web reference I can find as to a ritual online (http://www.notelrac.com/whuups.dir/rituals.dir/yule_compuserve.html).
Also in 1994, Tyagi Nagasiva produced the “Mage’s Guide to the Internet (MaGI)” a lengthy listing of occult resources online. This document was particularly important because it did not focus on one religion or aspect of mysticism, but instead tried to represent all religions. The document lists 14 private and 50 public email groups, 46 Usenet groups, five BBS sites and 33 IRC channels discussing magic. Interestingly, the document also indicates seven MUs (multi-user domains), 30 FTP sites, 14 electronic publications and 32 other forms of electronic communication. All of these have to do with religion (including Christianity) and the author included documentation on how to access/subscribe to each form of communication.
Philip H. Farber wrote “Invoking the Psychosphere, A Process-Eon Experiment in CyberRitual” in February, 1996 in which he describes “…a web of points that suggests a sphere. This semi-spherical web can fill a place in our ritual analogous to the circle of offline ritual. The web represents a microcosm of the entire Internet and the human minds operating it.” Mr. Farber calls this structure a ‘Psychosphere.’ I found his description beautiful, and similar to my imagined view of cyber coven rituals in which each member casts a glowing personal sphere which, when we connect in the cyber circle, then becomes a glowing jeweled web linking us around the globe.
On a recent stroll through the Web, I found this:
“A number of us who frequent the House O’Chatter have got together on a number of occasions to perform ritual in cyberspace. Most often these rituals have taken the form of eclectic healing circles for the benefit of our family in the House O’Chatter when healing needs have arisen… Over time, the rituals have become a little more elaborate and their goals more complex, as we have realized how well cyber-ritual can work.”
From looking further into their web site, I find that this group has been doing cyber ritual since October 1, 1997 monthly and occasionally more often. They are utilizing the technology of web-based chat rooms hold their rituals, a slightly updated version of the AOL forums.
I know of only one other group that holds ritual in cyberspace, and that would be the Guild of Chaos Magicians at AutonoMatriX, a group with one of the most comprehensively maintained collection of cyber rituals I have ever seen. Meticulously detailed and frequently utterly unique, this group has been doing magick online since 1994, and they continue to perform magickal workings online.
Speaking to the Dead, a Samhain cyber-ritual dedicated to Doreen Valiente, held on October 31 1999 at #open-sesame was the most similar to ShadowMoon’s ritual in that it was held on IRC. I found this ritual and its web site is particularly interesting. This site is a full explanation, including pictures, background and lore, of the ritual held. It is a richer version of the texts I usually send out to prepare participants for our rituals. I may just ‘steal’ this idea and start creating web pages myself!
In the end, I strongly believe that there is a component to ShadowMoon (and now JaguarMoon) making it unique: we combine all aspects of the physical coven experience into a full-blown cyber experience. There are many solitaire pagans who do cyber-ritual and there are online covens who share information. But very few (really, almost no one) actually combine teaching, with information sharing, with ritual. So, although ShadowMoon isn’t the first cyber coven, it is the first one to give its members the same experience as a great physical coven would. I am proud to be a participant in the ShadowMoon Tradition, and prouder still to have the opportunity to explore the new magickal arena of cyber space.
Lisa Mc Sherry
(several of these URLs are defunct. I list them here for reference purposes):
Personal email conversation, Jehana
Personal email conversation, Striyx