Ancient Lands: Paganism Via Internet
Wicca, as envisioned by Gardner, was an initiatory religion—people were brought into covens only by other members of a coven. It was, essentially, a mystery religion, and as a result, its knowledge could only be transmitted orally. Things were written down, of course, but public dissemination of rituals and theology was verboten. As I understand it, the first widely published books on Wicca were scandalous to the initiated; that knowledge was meant to be passed down personally, from teacher to student. Reconstructionist religions, working off of extant mythology and academic works, may not always have that specific charge of personal transmission, but they attempt to recreate religions that were based in oral tradition; the personal transference of knowledge from the learned to the learning is fundamental to the history of Pagan religions. We are not People of the Book. Adapting to even that medium caused us no small amount of friction.
Yet now, so much of the business of the Pagan community is carried out online, and so many of the resources (like, well, this website) are on the web. This really is a drastic change from the way Paganism existed only a few decades ago. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured a character who referred to herself as a "technopagan" in 1998, that seemed like a subtle joke, in keeping with the show's tone; now I wonder to what degree "technopaganism" is not just the future of our religions, but the present-day reality. Certainly, much of my earlier knowledge of Wicca and mythology came from my parents, but more of it probably stems from a computer screen. I suspect that for those coming to Paganism for the first time, the internet is probably even more important in their development than it was in mine.
I can see a valid critique of internet-enabled Paganism, namely that the information passed along will, by necessity, end up being more generic and less personal than if that knowledge were passed along via the traditional methods. Is the greater availability of that knowledge—and, as importantly, the greater room for debate—worth that tradeoff? It's hard for me to say, having been privileged enough to experience both worlds. But I think this is a change we may not have fully grasped yet, and one that represents a more drastic shift in the fundamental assumptions of our religions than we might realize.
Eric Scott was raised in St. Louis by Coven Pleiades, a Wiccan group based in the Alexandrian tradition. His fiction and memoir explore the joys and doubts of being a second-generation Pagan in the modern world. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Ashe! Journal, Kerouac's Dog Magazine, Caper Literary Journal, and Witches & Pagans. He is also a Contributing Editor at Killing the Buddha.