(This article first appeared on WitchVox, April 3, 2005)
The world of online magick is just about 20 years old, having begun in the ‘good old days’ of Compuserve, when BBSs were the primary mode of transmitting information. Rituals were held online as early as 1985, with participants have reported highly successful results, akin to those found arising from physical rituals. Like physical covens, virtual covens (which may also be called ‘temples, ’ ‘groves, ’ or ‘circles, ’) do not last very long. So online magickal teaching has quite a bit of history to it, but stable online groups do not.
My coven, JaguarMoon has been working together for five years now. Online, that is an ancient tradition. Physically, we are at a place where it looks like we will be here for the long run. From our perspective, every piece of magick can be done online. We have healed; built an Astral Temple, honor the Deity at each Sabbat, invited prosperity into our lives, channeled energy toward peace and clear reasoning, and even initiated members.
We do not believe that spell work is an integral part of our tradition, but is a necessary part of being a Witch. In our year-long class, we break the components of ritual and spell work into specific pieces (casting a circle, choosing correspondences, etc.) . We than have the students work with each piece before moving on to the next component. After each piece has been reviewed and discussed, and only then, the students put those pieces together to create an entirely new ritual and create specific spells. No one is required to actually do the ritual, or work the spell – we leave that up to individual desire.
Within the coven, we do most of our spell work on various Esbats through the year, with two Sabbats also used for specific spell workings. The Esbat spells are agreed upon beforehand by the group, and are things like healing, abundance, prosperity, and specific manifestations. The Sabbat spells are cord magick and releasing negativity.
In our experience, many people interested in working with a group online think it will be easier than working with a physical group. In some respects it is. Scheduling rituals, working with people no matter their physical location, sharing information – all of these things can be easier than with a physical group. Sharing energy and creating connections with one another, however, is much, much, more difficult.
For the seeker, there is a great deal of gray area in which to fall, and potentially become damaged, or at least misled. There are specific steps, however, that will help the seeker find a good group to work with.
The seeker should spend time examining his or her motives for working online. It may be as simple as not being able to find a physical coven, or not comfortable with the training found in the ones nearby. Perhaps it is as straightforward as being unusually shy and unable to communicate with people physically. It can be as honest as knowing that a physical coven will require too much time and effort for the learning provided. All good spell work begins with being honest about your motives, if only to yourself. You will not have be able to find a magickal group that suits you best unless you are, and that is the whole point of the exercise, isn’t it?
Having done that, the seeker will probably want to spend some time considering what s/he wants from the group experience. Again, there are many choices here. Do you prefer to find like-minded people to swap spells with you? Maybe you just want to get a lot of information to ‘pump up’ the size of your HDoS (hard disk of shadows) . Then again, maybe the God/dess has called you, very loudly, and you know that now is the time to get that formal training you always swore you’d get to solidify your 20 years of solitary practice.
Think about how you learn best. Is a more formal, structured environment with specific goals to attain better for you? Maybe an easy-going ‘you’ll learn at your own pace’ setting is more practical.
Teaching is a skill, and sometimes people with a great deal of knowledge are terrible teachers (just think back to some of your high school or college classes for an example) . Teaching magick requires an even greater degree of skill, and correspondingly there are fewer excellent teachers available. If you desire to spend the time and the energy to learn magick online, then give yourself the gift of validating your teacher’s credentials before you go any further. This happens frequently in legitimate physical covens, and can happen online as well.
Write to the teacher and (respectfully!) inquire about where she received her training. Request an email address to verify, and then do it. Ask about the format of the class, how she handles students who fall behind because they do not understand the material presented, or because life interferes. Ask whether she is the only person you can turn to with questions, and if so, how large the class generally is. Ask about whether there are tests or goals to achieve, and what happens if a student cannot pass. Treat this like a college-level class, one that will make the difference between your getting that $100k-a-year job and remaining a fry-cook for the next decade… or whatever motivates you to take this seriously.
Is the response warm and informative, or do you feel like you have offended the teacher in some fashion by daring to questions her abilities (gasp!) ? If a student falls behind, are they kicked out of the class? Will you have several ways to learn the material, and several places to ask questions?
Use your common sense when looking for an online class or magickal group. If things do not look right, or seem odd, then do not join or leave right away. I promise you there are more, and better, alternatives. Also, pay attention to your instincts. Frequently, your gut will give you negative information, which later turns out to be correct. Do not let anyone talk you into doing something you do not want to do.
Always take the time to verify background information. If the group says they started working online in 1980, ask them how things worked with an Atari. If the leader claims to have been initiated by Janet and Stewart Farrar, then ask for dates and places, and write (via email or snail) to Janet Farrar and ask for verification (most teachers are proud to substantiate the claims of people they trained). Diplomas and other paper documents can be faked, so they are useless online.
Some online practitioners make claims about their mundane abilities, like working with local police or writing a column in the nearby newspaper. Again, call and confirm, to the best of your ability. If you are told, “We have never heard of this person, ” well then, ask yourself why the leader is lying. Oh, and do NOT believe someone who make incredible assertions (“I used to do contract work for the CIA, ” “Aleister Crowley showed me how to make bread pudding”) . In most cases, their claims are conveniently unprovable. Ask yourself why they need to make such bold statements; their worth should be seen in their everyday attitude and abilities.
Ask for references from former students or for contact with current group members. Pay attention to the tone of the conversation they have with you. Do the group members seem warm, open, and pleasant? Alternatively, do you get the feeling they are keeping something back, borderline hostile, or even a bit paranoid?
Finally, before you make any kind of commitment, make sure you understand exactly what is expected of you in time, energy, and other resources (perhaps financial) . Find out what you will learn, what the teacher will do to support you in the learning process. Get a feel for the group and people. If it is a training group, are you guaranteed to get a degree? (That may not be fair, to you, or the group.)
(continued in the next post, Warning Signs)