The Pagan Blog Project: A is for Anonymity
Many people complain about the overall feel of the online pagan community from just about every perspective. Some people think it’s too “fluffy,” others say it’s no substitution for an in-person coven or kindred or what-have-you, many people comment on how the smallest issues (often created around a misunderstanding) escalate into curse wars. The list goes on and on.
But one thing that an online pagan community provides which is difficult to find in real-life scenarios is anonymity.
Anonymity can be a blessing and a curse, for sure. There are many who use the anonymity the internet provides to intentionally hurt others with their words. It is also very easy to misunderstand something when the majority of the interaction is in text. The writer could type something a little sloppily, the reader may misread something, and in all cases you’ve pulled out vocal tone and body language, two extremely important elements of clear communication. For the purpose of this entry, though, I want to focus on the positive aspects of anonymity.
When I signed up on the Facebook group for the Pagan Blog Project, I was really hesitant to say anything at first because I was in fact using a fake name. I was afraid I would be judged for not being an “out” pagan. But I was quickly put at ease when a number of others joined up who all said much the same thing. We were in positions where we could not tie our “real life” identities to our spiritual beliefs and practices.
This means that to even get started on a pagan path, we have to find a community where we can be a little more secretive. Online communities are perfect for that. If anonymity is required to keep family or professional friends from finding out about your spiritual leanings, this is the place! Or if you live in an area where your life could actually be in danger for following a different than “normal” path, the anonymity of the internet provides a safe (enough) setting to learn and grow.
Here’s a tangent for you. From time to time I see people start on lectures to those who keep their beliefs a secret, saying things like “you shouldn’t deny your gods” or “if they won’t accept you for being pagan, you shouldn’t have them in your life anyway.”
That’s a fat sack of crap. There are many reasons why it may be wiser (and more spiritually fulfilling) to not rub your beliefs in everyone else’s face. Let’s start with the family scenario. I love my family. They love me. My dad used to be a pastor and is still generally Christian but pretty open-minded. My mom is grassroots Texas folk Baptist. I don’t really know how else to describe her. On one hand she believes people who don’t follow Jesus are going to hell whether or not they are good people, and she can’t imagine any other possibilities of an afterlife except heaven or hell. On the other hand, she is so loving and personable. I know lots of people don’t understand how one could be both, but she is.
When I started studying paganism and really felt that it was going to be my long-term path, there was a stretch of months where I really fought with myself over whether or not to open this conversation with my parents. And then I realized something. I’m a 30-year-old woman. I don’t live with my mother. I’m capable of supporting myself and making my own decisions. I don’t need her approval for being who I am. And what’s more, my mother expects as much of me. What do I really need to prove by dumping this on her? She isn’t in the best of health, and for all I know she would live the rest of her years thinking she had failed as a mother and being extremely sad at the thought of me burning in hell or something. Why in the world is it my place to put that on her? Even worse, what if I shook her own faith that she is extremely comfortable in, now that she’s nearing the end of her life? That would be extremely selfish of me. Yes, of course there’s a chance that she would just be fine with all of it, and one of these days we may breech that subject for real, but right now, what’s the point?
I spent another couple of weeks letting that sink in, and now it doesn’t bother me at all that I choose to keep this secret from her. I am confident in my decision for now. What’s more, keeping my practices and beliefs more private has proven to be more fulfilling to me. I’m not constantly worried about having to make everyone happy. I just do it.
This leads me to my last point about anonymity: Protection.
In the above example, anonymity is not only protecting me from backlashes from family and people who know me at work, it’s also in a way protecting them. But how else can anonymity be protective?
How often have you read the instructions for a spell that told you to get one of the following:
- Hair or other “personal effects” or “belongings” of the person whom the spell will affect
- A photograph of the person affected by the spell
- A piece of paper with that person’s name on it
- The birthdate (and even time) of the person in question
- Something requiring the address of the person (either dirt from their land or eventually putting something on their property)
This list could be longer, but you get the drift. While most people aren’t going to want to screw you over via magic or cast an elaborate love or will-bending spell on you, if someone really wanted to, and had any of the items from that list, that would make it a lot easier. With the internet, the most someone can do is screw up your online persona. Sure, there are probably people out there who can do quite a bit more with just as little information as your screen name or Tumblr, but it would still take more effort.
Now, I generally don’t piss off enough people for this to be a personal concern, but many times when I hear about pagan groups, especially covens, there’s almost always that follow-up reference to “Witch Wars” that just makes me sigh and be done with it. Part of that is my natural inclination to work by myself, but if that were the only way to learn anything, you’d have to suck it up and do it anyway.
Luckily, there are tons of resources for a starting pagan online. Do you need to be cautious? Absolutely. Anonymity also means people can throw incorrect information around with no consequence, and at worse it allows otherwise-civil people to adopt much harsher online personalities. But if you can put on your thick skin and your truth-seeking lenses, remaining aware that you are here because you do not have all the answers and accepting that you never will, there is information all around you.
I do think that an in-person group has huge advantages, especially when talking about something like magic and energy work, and the personable nature of sharing religious experience. But paganism is just so big, and online anonymity lets you stretch your legs down a few different paths before sticking to one without the social pressures of a local organization. Once you’ve started to understand where you are and who you are, you are much more prepared for making decisions about the kinds of groups you would like to invest your time and energy in.