Thinking About: Technology, Personal Spirituality, and Where They Cross/Connect

How do you reconcile your approach to a nature-based belief system with the advances of the digital age?

This was an interesting question that was asked via Email. The individual that sent the Email specifically asked not to be identified. Its taken me over a week to formulate my response because I had to sort through a variety of layers to get there.

To be able to understand where I am coming from, I need to explain how things were when I started down my path of Paganism so you can contrast that against what you know about personal communication at this point in your life. That’s right, you will have to create the contrast and comparison against what you know. For me to do that would be trying to force my perspective against what you know for yourself. Furthermore, my understanding of the digital age goes back even further than my Pagan Path does. To those who encountered the digital age just a few decades back, their understanding will begin in a far more sophisticated perspective, which will make their understanding quite a bit different. Yes, technology has changed that quickly over the years.

My initial start with Technology beings in the rise of the personal computer, as well as in the beginning of the digital age from the 1950s. I started on the path of the personal computer in 1981, at the height of hobbyist computers. Think the earliest versions of the Apple }{, as well as the predecessor of the Commodore 64 computer – the venerable Commodore Pet-Plus 4. These computers had RAM modules around 4 kilobytes. That’s less than today’s digital watches. Professionally, I started on a UniVac 1100 series 08 mainframe system. This was my second duty station in the United States Air Force. To compare with the personal computer, the mainframe took up approximately half of a building, and required several people working in various functions to operate it. For me, these two very different systems were my start down a professional and personal path within computer technology to where I am today.

When I first started down my Pagan path, I was working on that mainframe environment at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas. At that time, I had purchased my own Commodore 64 with the 5 ¼ floppy disk drive (the 1541 model), along with a modem that would allow me to connect to local Bulletin Board Systems via a telephone call. That modem, which was the connective aspect that would allow me to connect with other Pagans in the Arlington and Fort Worth parts of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro areas. I would find friends that I still have today through the discussion boards on each BBS (Bulletin Board System). I would also find out about various public rituals that I got to attend, as well as various face-to-face gatherings in various local pubs. I do miss those days. However, I do acknowledge that all of that has led me to today’s internet, where I am able to discuss lots of things with Pagans around the world.

That’s really the biggest change from nearly forty years ago. The breadth and depth of people that I can communicate with. There was no Facebook, or anything close to it, back then. Much of what we know about the internet today wasn’t even dreamed of at that time. However, the internet has allowed us to communicate between one another in a much wider degree. A lot of communication has taken place within the Pagan community over the internet. We write blogs. We “chat” with one another via text and/or video. We have discussion forums on various platforms. We exchange ideas. We argue with one another. We insult and denigrate one another (Back in the BBS days, we called inane arguments and insult hurling: “flame wars”). We discuss whatever topics we desire. We make plans for get togethers, public rituals, private group meetings, and a lot of other things, all of which help connect new Pagans with groups that interest them. Today’s digital world is as much a part of our daily lives as eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping. We make friendships and strong connections with other Pagans that are far away from us, even in other countries. Some of these people become closer to us than our physical families. I have a few of these long-distance relationships with people I might never see face-to-face. That fact, the distances – neither have mattered when it comes to the strong, close connected relationship I have with them. I’m quite certain that others have similar relationships.

So, all of that doesn’t reconcile well with the strong connection we Pagans have with Nature. The internet is a man-made concept. It has become rather pervasive within our daily lives. Some of us use it to connect with our jobs, particularly in this age of COVID-19. How does all this fit into the beliefs that we practice in nature-oriented beliefs? Well, for me, it’s rather simple – it’s a tool. A means for communication. An access point to research that I wouldn’t have otherwise. But its not a part of my beliefs. It is a part of my personal history.

In the late 1990s, I was working on a mainframe environment for a financial company in Dallas. On a shift, I was talking with one of the other employees working on the operations floor. We started discussing religious beliefs. Being rather open about what I believe, I talked about Pagansim. At that time, we were all temporary employees. This individual and I were up for the same full-time job. When he went in for his interview, he couched it that I was a Satanist and should not be employed at the company. In my interview, my soon-to-be supervisor asked me point-blank about it. I answered that I wasn’t a Satanist, that I was a Pagan. I gave what amounted to a quick minute-and-half explanation of the difference. After I was hired, my new supervisor mentioned what was stated in the interview. The Director of the department had bluntly stated back to this temporary employee that she “could care less if I worshipped the computer system, so long as I did the job that was asked of me.” First time I had ever been accused of worshipping the mainframe system. At another job, I maintained the computer labs for a for-profit college. I worked the nights. The students would bring food into the labs, which was a no-no. I told them it would be all right, so long as they didn’t make a mess and kept drinks on the floor with lids on. One night, I went through a computer lab to get ready for closing. On the floor in the back corner, I found a paper tray filled with the bones from hot wings that a student had brought in for their dinner. The bones were all neatly arranged on the paper tray. I surmised, in my own sarcastic humorous way, that the student was working on a difficult project and had brought in the hot wings as a sacrifice to the computer Gods for a better chance at a successful project that would earn him/her a better grade. These two instances are as close as any moment has gotten to a religious inference with a computer being specifical involved. Thanks for letting me sidetrack you for a moment. 😊

Much like an athame, ritual clothing, a crystal, a table designated specifically for ritual, a staff, a written set of instructions for ritual, and even a meditational state of mind to put a participant into a correct frame of mind – the digital world that we find ourselves in is a tool. Certainly, it is used for more than just furthering our personal practice. It serves other functions and provides for other mundane needs. For me, beyond the use of a communications and research tool, the computer and internet serve no huge part in my beliefs. As a tool, these aspects of the digital age do help to further part of my beliefs through the communication aspects and research capabilities. I have used these to connect with others for assistance. Last year, I connected with a long-time friend for assistance in remembering a function of rebuilding my own personal shielding – simply because I had forgotten the technique. That would never have been possible without the amazing connective technology that we have today.

Am I some kind of cyber-mage? Does my use of technology make my Druidry stronger? As I am chucking out loud right now as I write this – you should be able to realize that my answer to both questions is no. I do; however, consider the dreams that became challenges that moved others to create and refine these technologies that we use today to be real magic. I marvel at what they have created. So, I end this with some of the lyrics from Rush’s song “Mission” which pays tribute to the Awen/inspiration that they had, in taking their own ideas and dreams and bringing that to a reality that could be shared by everyone. If you are looking for something that would bind these technologies to my beliefs – it would be this. Where the Gods helped spur the idea of innovation and creation. Not what resulted from it, but the drive to make what seemed impossible become a reality.

In the grip of
A nameless possession
A slave to the drive of obsession
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission

I watch their images flicker
Bringing light to a lifeless screen
I walk through
Their beautiful buildings
And I wish I had their dreams

But dreams don’t need
To have motion
To keep their spark alive
Obsession has to have action
Pride turns on the drive

It’s cold comfort
To the ones without it
To know how they struggled
How they suffered about it

If their lives were
Exotic and strange
They would likely have
Gladly exchanged them
For something a little more plain
Maybe something a little more sane

We each pay a fabulous price
For our visions of paradise
But a spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission

Rush, “Mission” from the album “Hold Your Fire”
My old classroom