Where I went wrong: Virtual sacred space

Where I went wrong: Virtual sacred space June 10, 2013

Bid the invaders take the shoes from off their feet, for God is here within.

— Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

I’ve had an epiphany.  For some time, I have struggled to understand why certain hard polytheists seem to feel threatened by the very presence of non-theists in the comments sections of their blogs.  P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, for example, has been very clear that he considers it inappropriate for non-theistic Pagans come into his virtual space by commenting.  Each time I have read this, it just went over my head.  I didn’t get it.  I mean, it’s the internet, right?  Blogs are a public spaces.  If you want to have a private conversations, there are online forums where you can do that, where you can quite effectively exclude others.  That’s what I thought.

What I did not realize is that at least certain polytheists consider their blogs to be sacred space.  Sacred space is something that I understand as a Pagan.  And I respect it.  But for some reason, I had not considered the possibility of virtual sacred space.  (Welcome to the 21st century, John.)  This finally hit home when I saw a recent comment by PSVL on the Anomalous Thracian blog:

“… when non-polytheists keep coming into our spaces (which, speaking for myself and the Aedicula Antinoi blog, are virtual shrines to our various gods, and thus are sacred spaces to those gods and not just ‘public forums,’ thus conduct in them by everyone is expected to respect those gods) and telling us what they think, and by just stating it in our spaces …”

I read this, and I thought, “Holy sh*t!  I have tread on someone’s sacred ground.”  As a Pagan, I consider that to be … well, a sin.  I should not have been that surprised.  After all, PSVL’s blog is titled, “Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous” (emphasis added).  But, for whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me that e was being literal about it being a shrine.

The anomalous Thracian made a similar comment, analogizing commenting on his blog to coming into his house and sharing uninvited opinions.  That would be a violation.  After all, a person’s home is sacred space to them.

So what happens then is this: I, the naive non-theistic Pagan, wander into a virtual shrine to the gods, a temenos, if you will, mistaking it for a community meeting place, an agora.  My very “presence”, in the form of my questions or comments, no matter how carefully phrased, is a violation.  Polytheists for whom the space is sacred respond with the emotion one would expect in response to an act of desecration, while I just think they’re over-reacting to my innocent invitation to dialogue.  And then everything spirals out of control from there.

This explains so much to me.  I could never figure out why certain polytheists claimed they had been attacked, when I felt pretty confident that they were the ones doing the attacking.  But I had invaded their sacred space.  I had failed to show the respect that I would ordinarily show if the shrine were physical.  And, in the 21st century, the fact that it is a virtual shrine really shouldn’t make a difference.

Now, we can argue about the appropriateness or feasibility of treating a blog as virtual sacred space, in contrast to a more closed virtual space, like a Yahoo group.  But the fact is that PSVL, and I think Anomalous and others, do see their blogs this way.  And I sure as hell am not going to barge into someone’s sacred space and argue with them whether or not it is sacred.  While some polytheists I have interacted with recently may feel that I have more to apologize for, we can at least agree on this at least:

I have done you wrong, by coming into your sacred space uninvited and acting like I have a right to be there.  I apologize sincerely.  I apologize for not understanding this sooner.  I will not, in the future, be commenting on blogs of hard polytheists unless I first confirm whether comments of non-believers are welcome.

Having said that, I do wish that, if other polytheists feel that their blogs are sacred space, they would indicate this in some way (as PSVL has done) for anyone who happens to stumble upon their blog unawares.  Even PSVL might benefit from a more clear statement warning trespassers that they are on virtual sacred ground.  A clear statement that the comments of non-believers are not welcome would be most effective, I think.

I will continue to (silently) visit the blogs of polytheists, because I am interested and my own practice has grown from reading what they write, and I don’t think that constitutes a “presence” (tell me if you think I’m wrong about that).  I may comment on or even link to them sometimes here on my own blog.  And I will continue to comment on the blogs of those hard polytheists who do welcome comments from non-believers.  I sincerely hope that this may help avoid similar verbal conflagrations in the future.

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