I remember about 20 years ago (give or take); I was a teenager and just making my first tentative steps upon the path of the occult. It was around this time we first got AOL dial-up into the house, we had our first PC and I remember the excitement of finding out it came with a built-in modem, one which plugged into the phone line no less. AOL was one of the biggest internet providers back then and I remember the first time I dialled in, the hissing and crackling noises which would issue forth from the computer as it communicated with some big central server somewhere, only to be followed by the ever so posh feminine words “Welcome to AOL”.
Suddenly this whole new universe opened up to me, having been exposed only to relatively few books at that point I was now presented with a seemingly endless wealth of information and… the AOL chat rooms!! The chat room entitled ’Ask a Witch’ became a regular haunt of mine and I would spend hours accumulating a massive phone bill (for my poor parents!) whilst chatting to Witches from all over the globe, probing for information and advice.
20 years on and pretty much every person in the world has access to the WWW and many crafters whether they be ‘traditional’ or otherwise now have blogs, run or contribute to online forums or email message boards enabling the Witchcraft community to interact in ways never before possible. Overwhelming, yet exciting!
This isn’t without its problems, many of us have witnessed or been involved in the, oh so common, disputes and even what some have termed “flame wars”. Highly destructive and sometimes endless bickering has become somewhat normal to any of us who belong to such forums and online communities…so much so they seem to have become a fact of life. Yet there are ways to navigate oneself around the realms of Witchcraft cyberspace and enjoy all the positives such free flowing information and freedom of speech can bring without being sucked into the quagmire.
Here are a few hints and tips for the World Wide Witch, things I have learned (or am learning) over the years.
1.) Accept there will always be disagreements.
To those of you who think that because of our faith / path we should always be getting along…get real! Disagreements are a fact of life because people have different perceptions, experiences and opinions. We in the west have enjoyed freedom of speech for decades, if not centuries, this should be celebrated. One doesn’t have to get involved in disagreements if one doesn’t wish to, but we should however refrain from getting involved with clichés “Can’t we all just get along!” There are moderators etc to diffuse situations as they see fit so leave it to them. Healthy debate and disagreement drives the mill of learning, growth and development. Long may it be so!
2.) Accept people will occasionally disagree with you.
Similar to the above. Once we post a blog, send an email to a message list, post on a forum we instantly open the doors to disagreement. We shouldn’t expect every person who reads our words to agree with them or appreciate what we are trying to say. Challenges should be welcomed, there are many points of view out there and yours is just one voice in a vast, ever growing chorus. “If you can’t stand the heat…!”
3.) Avoid gut punch reactions
Sadly this is one example where I frequently fail to practise what I preach. My passionate cockney temperament occasionally leads me to respond to things I read online without really engaging my brain first (I’m working on it!) If something online stokes your emotional fires to the point where you might burst if you don’t say something then it’s probably best not to say something! Take a breath, count to ten, step away from the laptop. Consider what has made you angry, consider why it’s made you angry…is it because what’s written is genuinely flawed? Or is it just because you don’t like it? Maybe the writings of another challenges your core beliefs? Maybe you just feel defensive / protective of those beliefs? Maybe someone has responded negatively to something you have spent time and energy writing and you can’t help but take it personally? Whatever the motive, take time to understand where it comes from before you respond. I’m sure there will be times that actually, when we’ve thought about it, it’s not worth the trouble. I have written many an angry blog which never got published in the end (but its bloody good therapy to get it out on paper!) I know from experience some people express opinions online which we may strongly disagree with…that’s OK…but know what you are saying and why. This leads on to…
4.) Be confident
As I said above…we are all entitled to our opinions and point of view. If we want to be taken seriously when writing something or responding to someone else’s words then we should have the courage of our convictions…at least until someone makes a good argument otherwise. It’s OK to change our minds, after all the point of any debate isn’t to win an argument. Sometimes a good discussion can alter perceptions, it can change the way we see the world…this is a good thing! It’s easy to get locked into one mind-set which can be detrimental to the workings of the Witch…we should welcome challenges AND be secure enough in our faith to deal with these challenges.
5.) Develop “the skin of a rhino”
Wise words from a well-known writer on a public craft forum recently. Remember its just words, you are highly unlikely to know personally the producer of these words, equally they don’t know you from Adam. This makes it easy, for some people to be rude, insulting and yes, sadly cruel at times. I am sure many people would behave differently in a face to face environment but nevertheless when responding try to remember there are human eyes and emotions on the receiving end, and similarly, before getting too hurt by someone’s opinion or response to you, maintain a little perspective and try not to take it too personally.
6.) Use words wisely
When writing online, due to the limitations of language, it can be incredibly hard to convey one’s thoughts and feelings, especially when concerned with matters of a higher more spiritual nature. We can’t write our facial expressions, it’s tricky to type accents, mannerisms, humour and so on. This leaves the written word as open to interpretation as Craft philosophy itself. The familiar saying “Ask ten Witches a question and you’ll get eleven different answers” well, the same is true of our words…some people will interpret them differently…some may take offense when none was intended, some may simply misunderstand altogether. We should therefore endeavour to use words well, even if it means using twenty words to get our point of view understood where ten would ordinarily suffice! I try to write like I speak, it helps…even if it is common, southern English!
7.) Nobody’s perfect
It doesn’t matter if you are new to the craft, a seasoned practitioner or a world famous author, all the while we are clothed in mortal flesh we are fallible. We all make mistakes, we are all subject to impulses and emotions which make us say and do irrational silly things sometimes. Just because someone is a Witch or in any way spiritual doesn’t mean they are excused from normal human fallibility. We may decide to call someone out on their behaviour, if so do it politely but equally we must expect the same in return when we cock-up.
8.) “Know Thyself”
I don’t need to explain that really do I? Be yourself, people can spot a bull shitter from a mile away…if not instantly they will eventually! Just be honest, you have as much right to speak as anyone, but don’t fudge the facts…if you have only been practising the craft a week that’s absolutely OK…everyone’s experience contributes to the whole and more fool those who point the finger and jeer at those less experienced than themselves.
9.) Be savvy
Be smart, know your audience…if you are addressing a highly academic group then tailor your writing accordingly. People of this nature like hard facts, references to published sources and so on. It can be a colder yet highly logical environment. Similarly there are more impassioned and emotive groups of people out there…why not…after all we all feel passionately about our Craft otherwise we probably wouldn’t be here. We aren’t all the same, and not all internet forums were created equal!
10.) You have the power!
You are responsible for your own destiny. If a group or forum isn’t suiting you, then you have the ability to leave and find one more appropriate. If a blog continues to offend or upset you then you don’t have to read it, if someone seems hell bent on an argument for the sake of an argument you have the choice to indulge or ignore, if you are the victim of continual bullying online then for God’s sake report it! Furthermore you are under no obligation to tell all and sundry your life story. Share what you wish to share, if people ask for personal information then you have the ability and the right to politely refuse…The craft is deep and intensely personal, Lord knows I don’t publish everything about me or everything I experience!
So there you have it, a few of my personal ‘mantras’ for surviving the online Craft community, now I’m not saying I have mastered all of these…far from it! I have said some stupid things online and rightly so had my wrist slapped on occasion (perhaps an addition to the above should be ‘Learn to enjoy Humble Pie’?). Similarly I have been on the receiving end of some highly unjustified behaviour. Hindsight as always is 20/20!
The WWW is a wonderful commodity for all of us who practise the magical arts, everyone has something to say and experiences to share which more of us actually want to share, of course not everyone’s motives are noble, some just want their turn in the limelight, some genuinely want to reach out and help others. When I think back to the early days of AOL dial-up I can see just how much has changed, it makes me think of a time before internet, even to a time when publically sharing some of this material would have been considered a crime! We are lucky, we should celebrate the freedoms we have and our differences, relish the vast amount of knowledge available but always endeavour to be respectful of everyone’s point of view and keep an open mind…you never know, the words of another could open up doors never previously accessible. The real skill however seems to be in knowing when to speak, and when to zip it (easier said than done!)
The workings of Wyrd are just as prevalent in the cyber universe as they are everywhere else…as Witches we are tasked with recognising and working alongside the flow of Wyrd…the web of connectedness to all things. The internet has enabled more connections than ever previously possible, I have been fortunate to have met and interacted with some truly inspirational people, many of whom I have come to consider real friends.
Just think of what is still to be accomplished!