Words in a Tempest|
Posted: March 17th. 2001
Times Viewed: 11,588
I've been on the Internet almost full time since 1994. Recently, with the focus on the Pagan Summit, the AvatarSearch crisis, consulting on a book about the Pagan Internet, and various other fiery Electronic Wars that I've watched quite gratefully from the sidelines, I've had some time and prodding to reflect on where the Net has been, and where it's headed, and what we've all done together.
Six years ago, there were possibly 20 Pagan sites on the Internet, and today there are thousands upon thousands of web sites on every variety of belief system, Pagan and otherwise. Whether these belief systems are held by a single person, or thousands of people, you can log on and learn.
Any information you wish to learn is there, free for the taking. You can meet people you never would have spoken to before. You can organize people in a way that has never before been possible. I have seen our growth, our organization as a tribe, and the wonders that have sprung from our collective works. There is perhaps no other religious group that has used the Internet for such incredible ends.
There is also perhaps no other community that has been so torn apart by what we do to each other on the Internet. At our brightest moments, we can come down upon each other like bricks through a carefully crafted stained glass window and tear down that which we have built up. This past month has been one of those times.
Between the Light and the Dark
Maybe I'm growing older, growing wiser, or maybe I'm just tired of reading pages upon pages of arguing and fighting, of attacks and counter-attacks, of suspicion and denial, of witch hunts and of betrayals, but as I look out upon the national and international communities today I find the most incredible rays of hope shining through so many pockets of anger.
The Internet is the most incredible manifestation of a magickal tool that we've likely had in modern times. The most potent of spells can often pale in comparison to the effect of an anonymous web site, a post sent to a mailing list in anger, a confidentiality agreement betrayed, a poorly worded announcement, or an accusation made in public without thinking. Luckily, that same effect can also be seen in an invitation to a gathering, an announcement to a work weekend, a call for support, a call to action, a picture of a missing child, or a memorial to a life cut short.
We have both here, on this Internet, and like all fights for balance this one too sways back and forth in the wind, toppling from one side to another making it's participants and those that follow dizzy. The fight of balance encompasses many things, and like those that stand between the worlds in a circle those on the Internet, too, stand between the worlds - a world that demands not an ill word and the freedom of the Net to speak your mind.
Between the darkness and the light, between hierarchy and democracy, between ideals and common sense, we fight our way through this new technology praising the positive that it has done for us and yet struggling to maintain some kind of control over a medium that struggles back just as hard in an effort to be free and uncontrollable.
It is not an easy task.
We have taken this technology in six years and brought it forward to a true and defining magickal tool. We have those among us that use it to create traditions, to manage organizations, to network with other organizations, to raise funds, to maintain a circle of communication on the web, and we yet we still sometimes waste our precious time and our progress and our ideals by allowing this tool to use us for negativity, attacks, and betrayal. We are our own greatest strength, and our own worst enemies, and a tool as powerful as this will eventually expose them both.
I have seen many things exposed over this past month and learned many lessons. One of the most poignant, one of the most profound brought so much about the Pagan web into clarity for me.
On, February 20th, a girl hung herself in her bedroom. Teasing from other students because of her interest in Wicca and her black clothes had driven her to this desperate act. A family friend cut her down from her bunk bed, her lips blue, and called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. After more than fifty organs were donated so that others might live, they turned off life support, and twelve year old Tempest Smith died.
At her funeral, children that taunted her left letters of apology near her casket.
"I'm sorry if I said mean things to you"
Five years ago, many of us probably wouldn't have known Tempest Smith. Five years ago, her interest in Wicca would have been called Satanism and her death would have gone down as an occult related suicide. Instead of funeral attended by mournful children mortified at what their own teasing had wrought, instead of notes on Tempest's coffin which read "I'm sorry if I said mean things to you", her family would have grieved away from the glare of the media struggling to make sense of it, and we all probably would have gone on blissfully unaware of this tragedy.
Even if the sensational story of a "Satanic" suicide was covered, who would have passed it on? The Detroit News, which carried the story, was not even online until 1997. No one pagan web site got millions and millions of hits a week, Wren Walker was not yet scouring news articles from around the world in a daily unpaid ritual, and even if someone had found it, who would have had the reach to tell so many of us? None of us would have been able to mourn Tempest's death.
The tragedy of Tempest Smith should teach us all a lesson about the power of the community, the power of the Internet, the power of words, and the true power of the adversity that Pagans, especially the next generation of Pagans, face.
On March 11, the front page of the Witches' Voice again tore my heart to shreds as I read the words of my friend, Wren, and realized what a precarious position our youngest members are in with the current political situation, and how utterly useless this Internet infighting is when the situation is life and death. Even if just one life, even if just one death.
The lessons of Tempest, from her name to her tragedy, should serve notice to the Pagan community on so many levels.
Stop saying "mean things" to each other! Take hold of this medium that has brought us the tragic lessons of this beautiful girl and wake up to all of the possibilities around us, possibilities that can only manifest if we work together instead of tearing each other apart. One of our own has died - whether she was initiated or not, whether she was just a child interested in an idea or not, she took her own life because she feared to be who she was. She ended her life because the society in which she lived tormented her into a shame and fear and depression so great that she thought the world would be better off without her and the she would be far better off without the world.
How can we, who often torment each other and who often attack viciously and accuse without provocation repeat the mistakes of Tempest's tormentors? Is that how we best honor her life? How can we teach others that this is so terribly wrong, how can we ensure that there are no more Tempests when we can be just as cruel to one another, fighting wars of words that may wound just as deep? And will we continue to defile the medium that has brought us this gift of her lessons by using it against one another?
It is not simply a computer. It is not just an email. It is not just a mailing list. It is not just a web site. Each one of these things, each word that is typed is a thread that is woven for good or ill into our own tapestry, into our history, and into our future.
I hope that each and every person from this day forward will think of that twelve-year-old girl the next time they lash out in anger, or make a public accusation, or attack someone for something they think that person may have done. I hope that each and every person touched by this tragedy will ask themselves if what they say and the way they are saying it adds to a world and a community in which she would have wanted to live. I hope that we, as a whole, can be aspire to be the type of tribe that Tempest would have found shelter within.
We are taught that words have power. It's the basis for so many of our practices, from chants to spells to books to songs. Expressions of honor and of faith are created from the weaving of words and motions and movements and Will. Demonstrating again its power, the Internet is where so many of our words are being written, where so many of our tapestries are woven.
This is what I wish we could all remember when we boot up our computers, when we dial in on that modem, or when we fire up that browser or email client. This is what I wish people would aspire to when they make a post, when they email a list, or when they put up a web site. I wish everyone was aware of what thread they were weaving into the tapestry.
We can and do and have changed the world behind monitors and keyboards. We have taken this tool and stood upon its foundations to launch real change and create real beauty. It has power, it has meaning, and when directed properly there is nothing so great that we cannot achieve it with enough hard work, steady control, and purity of heart and mind.
The Choice Is Our Own
We can use this technology as a sacred and magickal tool that will help propel this community as a whole to even greater things. We must remember, always, that it is a magickal tool and when not treated with respect and used properly it will turn against us. Trust me, I speak from experience here.
Always remember, words can hurt. Just ask Tempest Smith, who died on February 20, 2001.
Blessed be, Tempest.
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