Today, there are more than 800 million active users of the social network known as Facebook. That’s closing in on three times the population of the U.S. Twitter has about 300 million active users. Facebook and twitter are means of communicating with others. But are they really helping people become more social? I think they’re doing the exact opposite.
I’m not criticizing Facebook or Twitter for what they are. Rather I’m suggesting that people should realistically understand that while using Facebook and twitter may be good for communication, they’re not so good as sources of socialization. Sitting in your room, staring at a monitor, is not the same as meeting people in person. You can’t hear the tone of voice of the people you’re interacting with. You can’t see their body language. That’s why it’s a good ideas to use “smilies” or “emoticons” to indicate the inner meaning of something you write. “I hate you” has a different meaning than “I hate you ;-).” I’ve seen disagreements start because people fail to use emoticons or ignore them.
But just as it’s important to understand the true nature of the so-called “social networks,” it’s also important to understand their realistic effect, especially upon occultists. You might like or dislike their effect on the occult, but they cannot be ignored.
One of the major effects of the internet and social networks has been the decrease of direct, in-person, social interaction among occultists. Before the 1980s, the primary means of learning usable magickal concepts, techniques, and practices was through in-person contact in meetings, magical lodges, and covens. The great advantage of such meetings was that you could observe what people were actually doing. Without such meetings—perhaps just reading books—people were lost. I remember one person who rarely met with others, explaining that he was going to perform some “writs.” It took some time for those of us who met in groups to realize he meant “rites.” He had never heard how to pronounce the word. If he didn’t know how to pronounce that word, how many other errors did he make? He was dedicated and serious, but without in-person interaction he was facing challenges. The internet and social networks have the result of allowing such things to continue.
I know of one person who goes on the internet and claims to be the head of one branch of a magickal order. He repeatedly reminds people that he has been asking that the bickering among various branches should end and that all the branches should be united. In his most recent version of this he attacks the head of another branch three times! Without groups of people talking with each other and laughing at this hypocrisy some people will actually take him seriously.
Getting together in person allows you to see how rituals are performed, learn from others, see what others are doing, and learn about the questionable actions of those whom we might otherwise take seriously.
Remember, however, I suggested that it’s important to realistically assess the functions of the internet and social networks. By the same token we need to assess the way society is evolving. We are becoming more isolated. Most of us don’t live as part of covens or magickal orders. We occasionally attend meetings if we’re part of such groups at all. We’re solitaries.
The explosive growth of the internet has coincided with the similar growth in solitary occultism. It’s quite possible that the number of Wiccans, Pagans, occultists, magicians, etc., would be much smaller if not for the internet and on line social networking.
So we have this contradiction: in-person socialization is positive for occultists (and for all people), but we seem to be moving away from that. We’re retiring to the privacy of our own homes and “socialize” only from a distance, often using fake names, fake images, and fake details about our lives. Is there a solution for this split?
One of my favorite books in T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey. A combination of politics and radical spirituality, he proposes the concept of the T.A.Z. or temporary autonomous zone. He suggests that rather than trying to set up permanent towns and cities, we should set up temporary areas where people of similar beliefs and feelings can come together for a short time and then separate and go their own ways.
This can sound radical, but it certainly has a strong basis in history. The village fairs would occur (often during a celebration period such as for Beltane) and people from all over would come together to socialize. Today, people from all over the world are familiar with the Burning Man festival where “…tens of thousands of participants gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.” Of course, not everyone is able to travel to a southwest desert and go camping under difficult conditions for a week.
When it comes to occult people, however, we don’t have to do this. All over the country there are conventions and festivals. I would strongly encourage you to attend at least one festival or convention the year. Later this year I’ll be in Florida. At another time I’ll be in Indiana. Next month, I’ll be in San Jose, California, for Pantheacon.
Pantheacon takes place in San Jose’s Doubletree hotel (no camping!) February 17–20. It is one of the world’s largest occult-oriented conventions, and is certainly the largest in the western U.S. There will be people coming from all over and you’ll have a chance to spend time with several thousand occultists. You’ll get support for your beliefs and practices and not have to hide away. You’ll see what others are doing (there will be lots of rituals) and have a chance to learn from lots of workshops and lectures. And there will be bands, dances, meeting new friends, shopping, and much more.
Look at just a few of the people who are currently scheduled to be giving presentations at this year’s Pantheacon (in no particular order):
- Ellen Evert Hopman on “Blessing and Cursing – An Overview of Scottish Folk Magic”
- Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox on “Triple Goddess Magic: Inner Guidance Quest”
- The Grey School of Wizardry’s Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (and Llewellyn contributor) on “2012: Year of The Awakening”
- World-famous author Starhawk on “Magic in the Streets”
- Famed Wiccan minister Patrick McCollum on “Touching The Sacred, the Power of The Tangible”
- Chic Cicero & Sandra Tabatha Cicero on “The Rosicrucian Vault: A Compendium of the Universal Unity”
- Yoruba Chief Luisah Teish on “Oshun: The Daughter of Promise”
- Solomonic and Enochian Magick expert Athena Wallinder on “Enhancing evocation with Sacred sexuality and BSDM”
- Amber K and Azrael Arynn K giving a talk entitled “Through Magickal Eyes”
- Mary Greer on “Who Are You in the Tarot?”
- Rachel Pollack on “Tarot–Prophecy, Catastrophe, and Rebirth”
- Holly Allender Kraig leading a workshop on “Yoga for Every Body”
- Lon Milo DuQuette on “The Holy Guardian Angel: Isn’t it Romantic?”
- Famed author and radio journalist Margot Adler on “Ritual Chanting as A Seemless Ecstatic Experience”
- Raven Grimassi on “Rethinking the History of Witchcraft”
- Brandy Williams sharing the “Sisters of Seshat Moon Ritual”
- Diana Paxson on “Oracular Seidh”
- Melanie Marquis on “Psychic and Magickal Development for Kids”
- Sylvia Brallier on “Tantric Shamanism Breathwork Ceremony”
- Raven Grimassi & Stephanie Taylor on “Greenwood Magic”
- R J Stewart on “The Sanctuary of Avalon,The hidden Fire Temple” (he’s giving a concert, too!)
- A Panel of Llewellyn’s Pagan authors discussing, “Are YOU a Pagan? Are we?”
- Christopher Penczak on “The Three Rays of Witchcraft”
And there will be many other speakers, musicians, and performers on an astounding assortment of topics. Many of the people listed above are giving multiple workshops. I’m giving a talk on “Why the LBRP Matters” and will be giving a performance called “The Seance Experience” where I’ll take a small group of people back to the experience of a Victorian seance combined with modern ghost hunting.
I have no doubt that Pantheacon will be this year’s premier occult experience. Many of the people named above (including me) will spend the weekend walking through the convention so you can meet them one-on-one.
I’ll be there. I hope you’ll be there, too!