Wednesday, 3 August 2011
Online or offline?
I have been a witch (knowingly) for over 15 years, and in that time, have been lucky enough to experience a variety of situations and environments.
As with many, I started off as a solitary. I didn't know anyone else on the path, except for a rather intimidating witch who ran a shop in the local town. Ha - she probably wasn't that scary, but to a newbie with limited confidence, everyone was intimidating!
For years I had only books to learn by. I found the types of books I was drawn to (the solitary hedgewitch ones) and the books that made me less comfortable (the wiccan coven ones). But on the whole, I mostly drifted without direction.
Fate brought me to meet and befriend another who walked a very similar path to myself. She was a member of an online college, which I sought out and also joined. One of the best decisions I ever made. The community was huge and amazingly supportive and friendly. For months I was distracted from my lessons by the wealth of information there, and the social interactions.
The first proper ritual I ever attended was an online one. It wasn't mind-shattering or life-changing - but I could feel the amazing potential. Online rituals need a bit of practise, but it is entirely possible to link many people, in all corners of our planet, into one chatroom and raise an incredible energy. Some of my best ritual experiences have been online.
Good visualisation skills are key, not seeing with your eyes, but with your mind. If you can read a book and "see" the pictures of the story as you go along, then you'll know what I mean. Everyone "sees" things differently. You can be part of an online ritual, and have a totally personal experience. No two people will "see" the same deity. I once took part in an exercise to describe how we saw Brighid. The answers ranged from a raven-haired, dark eyed woman in a deep-red dress, to an ethereal blonde in pale blue. But whatever you see - it is your personal relationship with divinity that you will experience.
In this last year, I have been lucky enough to experience some group rituals. One thing I have learned here is that location does matter. Offline rituals also take some practice to get the most from. You can attend in body, and have a nice time, or you can bring your visualisation skills, attend in mind, body and spirit, and have an amazing time. I do like the locations that are wide and open, almost a blank canvas for "other landscapes" to superimpose over the top, for other beings to come and stand around us - those that occupy the astral world.
Group rituals are nerve-wracking at first. Especially to those who are a bit shy or uncomfortable in bigger social situations. I have also learned that when I stretched my boundaries, I felt really good. Being amongst people of like mind is the best feeling, knowing that you don't have to hide, that you can talk about invisible dragons sitting on your shoulder, and that the people around you will think nothing of it...who knows what is sitting on their shoulder!
I have also learned that group rituals don't have to be rigid and theatrical ceremonies. They can be informal and FUN. They can involve laughing and cake. They definitely involve friendship.
So, which is better? Both have their advantages, and it depends on what is available to you. I am in the envious position of living close to other like-minded people, close to a druid Grove, and close to my pagan friends. Most of these friends I found online. I have very good memories of my time online, it brought me to where I am now. A good online group is better and more effective than a bad offline group. If you are unable to find a good group of people near to where you live, then definitely give the online route a go - it could well change your life, open up many more opportunities than you expect.