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Imagining a Virtual Religious Community: Neo-pagans on The Internet.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Gregory Price Grieve, Associate Professor (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: Anyone who has spent time exploring the Internet cannot help but notice the prevalence of Neo-Paganism. This paper answers the seeming paradox of why neo-Paganism, a self-proclaimed nature religion, pervades cyberspace. What defines the social space opened up by the Internet is lack of 'presence,' the face-to-face interaction of oral communication which is generally considered necessary for the formation of authentic communities, religious or otherwise (c.f. Benjamin 1968: 217-251; Eliade 1954: 141-147; Eliade 1957: 111-113, 141-147, 164; Eliade 1978: 162; Levi-Strauss 1970: 286-298; Levinas 1985: 85-92; Ong 1967). Yet, in Benedict Anderson's terms, other media besides speech enable human beings to imagine communities which transgress the hori-zons of face-to-face interaction — "all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even those) are imagined" (1983: 15). What is unique about neo-Pagan practitioners is that they are able to imagine a religious community which is not dependent on presence. Instead of presence their Internet communities are sustained by the notion of a religious 'energy' which is created and circulated by 'personal rituals.' It is their shared 'feeling of energy' which binds them together in cyberspace, and enables them to imagine a virtual religious community. Neo-Pagans 're-enchant' the disenchanted landscape of modernity through a religious strategy whose myths are patterned on an imagined pre-Christian European religion, but whose practices revolve around the production of an affective sentiment which neo-Pagan nomenclature labels 'energy.' The 'feeling of energy' created by personal rituals is a religious strategy which employs a ritualized imagination. The ritualized imagination is the sanctification not of the content of specific creative acts, but of the act of creation itself. Hence, the religious strategies that surround neo-Paganism concentrate neither on written unifying myths, nor on a set of oral traditions, nor even on a ritual complex. Instead, what binds neo-Pagans together on the Internet, and how they overcome its lack of presence, is through the experience of the perceived sentiment that accompanies creativity itself. Methodologically, my research on the Internet religious groups and neo-Paganism was collected as a 'virtual ethnographer.' I observed four religious Usenet newsgroups — alt.pagan, soc.religion.bahai, soc.religion.christian and soc.religion.eastern — on the Internet between October 1, 1993 and April 1, 1994. I concentrated on 'alt.pagan,' which exists "for the discussion of paganism and Witchcraft in their various forms and traditions; for sharing ideas and ritual and completed liturgy" and "for sharing within a larger community than one might find at home." (FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions document)1 Beyond observing religious newsgroups on the Internet, I also compared the ethnographic data from alt.pagan with interactions I had with neo- Pagans at the 1993 World Parliament of Religions, especially with members of Circle — a 'Shamanic Wiccan Church' headquartered near Madison, Wisconsin; and Covenant of The Goddess — a Wiccan Coven headquartered in Berkeley, California.

Additional Information

Publication
Chicago Anthropology Exchange 7 (1995): 98-132
Language: English
Date: 1995
Keywords
Neo-Paganism, Internet, World Wide Web,