A study into Internet services and the Pagan Community.
"The CyberPagans are out there, building virtual communities in the virtual world, and they are ordinary people like you and me"
Jem Dowse. "Cyberpagans!" Pagan Dawn; no. 119: Beltane 1996
The "Craft and the 'Web" was a study of the Internet Pagan Community, conducted over the Internet through an HTML based form, and taking place between 18th November 1997 and 12th January 1998.
The study tried to identify the ways that the Pagan Community makes use of the services made available via the Internet. In particular, it focused on trying to discover the benefits that the individuals within this community were able to derive from such use - and looked at early forms of Social Networking, before such a concept even existed...
Making use of a qualitative paradigm, a questionnaire was posted onto the Internet to gather the opinions of individuals within the Community. These qualitative responses were then analysed and sorted using a methodology rooted in Grounded Theory. Through this process patterns were identified in the reported behaviour, and the categories of use described and related to each other. In this descriptive process, the actual responses of the respondents were always given priority
In the six weeks that the survey form was posted here, over 130 pagans and witches gave the author details of how they make use of the Internet, and gave their views on it's role in the Community.
Using their answers, and my own experience over the last 3 years, I was able to identify common themes in our Community's use of the 'net; and to make suggestions of how other Communities similar to ours can also benefit...
The main finding was that the uses we make of the 'net are as diverse as our religious views:
- The respondents described using the Internet as a tool to communicate with, support and learn from each other. Such contact and support is a feature of all communities. The Internet appears to assist this process by providing quick communications between individuals through e-mail, and through distributed discussions via Chat, Mailinglists and Usenet.
- They described the Internet as a Global, censorship-free resource that gives them free and unlimited access to a variety of information, resources and products. Information is essential to any community, so that the individuals can learn and grow. Access to this information is even more important, especially when such information is easily available through Traditional means. The Internet supports this use by being a freely accessible, uncensored and diverse source of materials.
- The respondents also described using the Internet as a networking tool through which the community can disseminate news, information and contact details to its members. (In certain ways, their responses seem to describe an informal distributed, self-guided and collaborative learning environment!) A community must be able to talk to itself, to share news and information. In this way the community creates its own identity. But the community must also be able to communicate with those outside of itself, to describe itself to others. The Internet provides a tool for this through E-mail and the World Wide Web. Both tools are freely available and accessible - to the Community and to those outside of the Community, making them ideal for communication and "Public Relations".
- Uniquely they also described using the Internet as a religious space - one that they even use for ritual and worship. In this, the Graphical and Multimedia environment of the World Wide Web, or the textual interactions between individuals in Chat rooms and MOOs, would appear to be supporting a use that was not expected. Even so, such use can be understood: it makes use of the unique nature of these services, and even expands upon them.
The respondents said that they felt they had benefited as individuals and as a community from using the Internet; the main benefit being the ability to maintain contact between the individuals within that community, or for gaining access to resources. As has been noted, such benefits should not really be surprising: individuals within the Pagan Community are often isolated from each other, with limited access to resources or community contact. The Internet provides a tool to remove this isolation. To these people the Internet had become a teacher and a friend.
The respondents were positive about the Internet's perceived lack of censorship, and their corresponding freedom to publish, contact and communicate. Several also identified with the fluid diversity of the Internet, seeing in it a reflection of their own polytheistic philosophy. They were also happy about it's perceived cheapness. Such a response is perhaps to be expected from a community whose individuals normally have only limited access to traditional means of publishing, and communication.
In the ways they use the Internet, and the benefits they acquire, the Pagan Community is using the Internet in ways that the original pioneers of the technology would understand, and perhaps appreciate: they saw its benefits in connecting groups that where previously globally scattered, as a democratic means for minority groups to freely publish and disseminate their ideas . In the case of the Pagan Community, it would appear that they have embraced these opportunities.
A copy of the full Thesis (as a .pdf file) can be made available upon request by emailing me.