Social Media Influence on Paganism

Introduction

Social media impacts us every day. It can introduce information whether it be true or false. It can connect people together and change communities. It can influence an individual’s worldview. Whether it is bad or good, Modern Paganism has changed through social media.

There is little evidence or study in the impacts of social media on Modern Paganism. This study will give evidence of the influence of social media on non-Abrahamic faiths, which will illuminate Modern Paganism.

By standard definition, paganism is any non-Abrahamic religion. According to Google dictionary, a religion other than one of the main world religions, specifically a non-Christian or pre-Christian religion.

In the book written by Michael York, Paganism as a World Religion, paganism is an umbrella term that covers many different contemporary religions such as Wicca, Druidism, and revivalism.  It can cover reconstructionist polytheism such as Heathenry, Kemeticism, Hellenism, or other ancient religions in the European-Mediterranean-Near East cultural basin that were displaced by Abrahamic religions.

Pagans often define Paganism is the worship of nature and the Earth. They worship entities that they believe represent the Earth. Technically, Hinduism and Buddhism are Pagan religions but developed independent from the American/European Paganism we know today. Therefore, they aren’t typically deemed Pagan. Pagans can worship one, two, multiple or no gods at all. Modern Paganism is eclectic and diverse, allowing an individual to really personalize their practice, spirituality and religion. Many draw inspiration from ancient paganism such as Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American, Egyptian and Norse. Shamanism is a certain branch of Native American culture, just like how Druidism is a branch of ancient Celt.

Underscore the importance and relevance of the topic for social media and communication. Religion and culture are deeply interconnected and often reflect each other. Communication is the best way in which humans can connect to each other and express themselves. Communication typically expresses culture. Analyzing this communication allows us to understand the Modern Pagan religion and its culture.

Background and Research Process

There is little research on the impact of social media on Modern Paganism. There are not any known studies on the topic.

For our project, we created a Google Form where we asked several questions.

  1. For the first question, we asked whether or not the individual is a pagan. There is an option for the individual to say that they are something other than “Pagan.”
  2. The second question is “Do you use social media to connect with other Pagans?”
  3. The third question is “What type of social media do you use?”
  4. The fourth question is “How do you use social media to connect with other Pagans? For example, do you write a blog, chat with other Pagans in a chatroom, or make videos?”
  5. The fifth question is “Do you use social media to educate and enhance your experience with Paganism? How so?”
  6. The sixth question is “Do you think that social media has changed Modern Paganism?”
  7. The seventh question is “If you answered yes, why?”
  8. The eighth question is “If you answered not, why?”

Some of the key concepts that we used in our study were social presence, platforms, and user-generated content. Social presence was prominent in chat rooms and blogs. Social presence is “the degree to which the medium permits users to experience others as being psychologically present” (Humphreys, Social Media, 25). The results suggest that Pagans today live far away from other members of their community. Thus, chat rooms and blogs allow a place for them to express themselves and get information from other Pagans.

Since Pagans use social media, we gathered results on the social media platforms they used. Platforms are places within which social media is presented where users exchange information with each other (18).

The results suggested that many Pagans make user-generated content in which they create the content of the social medium such are blogs and chat-rooms (11).

Analysis

The major part of modern paganism is that community engagement is mostly in social media. In the world today, it is very difficult for Pagans to meet each other face-to-face. Since this is the case, many people who identify as pagan or have paganistic habits, will choose to write blogs, or communicate with one another through chat rooms. This has allowed them to feel they are not only part of a community, but also a family.

Most people were on either blogs, or chat rooms, but the most common social media platforms, were Facebook and Twitter.

It provides both negative and positive effects on the worlds communication today. On the positive side, people have a better way to build strong communities, and stay in touch, even if they cannot meet face to face.  People can remain anonymous, however, and the other users may not know who they are. For example: a 30-year old hairy guy named Johnny, could be pretending to be a 19 year old named Lily. No one would be the wiser.

Previous to the survey, Pagans were asked on Discord Server how social media has changed paganism. One of the responses told us that paganism was created out of social media:

“I think social media made modern paganism. Not just recent stuff like Tumblr and Facebook, but extending back to the dawn of the internet, with message boards and forums and stuff. It seems like that ability to find each other when we’re so thin on the ground must have been so important for how things have developed. [Italics are her’s].”

This person is right in how thin we are on the ground; there were no churches for Pagans to gather. The general idea of a Pagan is still a rough subject, it makes people uncomfortable to discuss sometimes because of the taboo and that is why Paganism has really bloomed with the internet and social media, just like many other topics that aren’t as readily accepted. The ability to connect and discuss a very important and large aspect of a person’s daily life is not only important but necessary for the mental, emotional and spiritual well being.

Another person said, “I would like organization and coherence in a religious group, which can almost never be found online without others insisting that they’re being exclusionary, which is just the reality of actual real-world religious groups. I think that it’d be helpful to determine a line in the sand which defines whether or not someone is a Hellenic polytheist, because as it stands, you can worship the entire Egyptian pantheon + Dionysus and call yourself a Hellenic polytheist.

It’s good to be able to reach out to multiple people and to seek out a diverse set of beliefs and practices. I see that as a good thing. But social media communities can only go so far in the building of an actual defined faith. Smaller online groups with rules and shared theology fair better in building a practice resembling a communal religion.”

Social media communities seem to best serve solitary practitioners only. And by that I mean open groups and communities like that found on tumblr or public facebook pages.”

This person is talking about how social media has allowed words that Pagans use  to become vague. Additionally, he talked about how solitary Pagans use social media to connect more than Pagans who have a localized community. The person talked about how social media isn’t a good substitute for a community where people meet face-to-face. The positive aspects of social media is that it allows us to understand multiple paths in Paganism, but it doesn’t help Pagans clearly define their faith like Abrahamic religions.

Another person talked about how rules are not a part of most people’s religion. She said, “I agree, I think social media has been a wonderful boon connecting people with information and with other Pagans, but I’ve written before about how the extreme diversity can be damaging to personal practices, because it’s all too easy to go from ‘your practice is different from mine but still valid’ to ‘nothing is wrong why should I bother figuring out what my own structure and rules are.’”

A lot of Modern Pagans do not have rules and since social media attracts solitary practitioners, most of the Pagans who are in social media, feel that they don’t need rules for their faith. Instead, they adopt other people’s beliefs and throw away the rest.

Personal Experience

In a personal experience with social media as a pagan, I’ve experienced the change that social media has on my religion. I am a Dodekatheist, where I worship the Greek Gods, but I wasn’t always in this particular sect of Paganism. I grew up pagan. In my early twenties, I got into the online pagan community, I discovered that most of the books I read about paganism had inaccurate history and information. It was a huge surprise to me and I had to reevaluate my beliefs. When I was twenty-seven, I found Dodekatheism. I didn’t know of its existence until then.  

During my time online, I found that that Dodekatheists tend to use academic sources. I also noticed, during my time online, that stratification occurs in the chatroom among people. A person who is well-known becomes an influencer on other people. This person teaches new people and answers any questions in the forum.

In the beginning, I noticed a very positive impact that social media had on my religion. For example, the myth of Zeus becoming king of the gods involved his father, Cronus, eating all of his wife’s babies including Hesta, who is the goddess of the home and hearth. In the myth, Hestia is born first, but got regurgitated last when his wife, Rhea, tricked Cronus by substituting Zeus with a stone.

There is no evidence that ancient Greeks worshiped Hestia first in ritual and last in ritual, but it caught on in social media. Most people from my religion who I come across do this in every ritual they perform.

Another social media tradition involves something called Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) where a worshiper discovers something that they feel is true that is not canon in regards to worshiping the gods and shares that information on social media. It is possible for that UPG to catch on through social media. Knowledge that Aphrodite loves the color pink or that Hermes loves strawberries as offerings are UPG.

Conclusion/Discussion

The findings allow for not only an understanding of how Pagans operate on these social media platforms. It also allows an individual to see the community aspect that makes the community strong.

The larger implications are showing that even if people cannot meet face to face they can still build lasting relations on social media. Although there could be some danger with anonymity.

The results allow for not only an understanding of how Pagans operate on these social media platforms. It also allows an individual to see the community aspect that makes the community strong.

The rise of the internet and social media really allowed modern paganism to flourish. The community continues to grow in size due to its accessibility and wide variations of traditions.

The larger implications are showing that even if people cannot meet face to face they can still build lasting relations on social media. Although there could be some danger with anonymity.

Our results suggest that Pagans use social media for community and a safe place for discourse, but we think that there are some remaining questions that our study did not answer:

  1. What are some other sites used for paganism, and other forms of gathering; outside of platforms like twitter and facebook?
  1. How does using social media to connect with other Pagans affect an individuals personal life?
  1. How does a solitary practitioner versus a smaller organized group use social media in their practice?
  2. How do different types of Pagans use social media? Eg. What are the most popular media sites for hedge witches to use versus native american shamanism? And why?

Doing an ethnography, or gathering research, to see how various communities are built and are operated on social media platforms and other sites.

In-depth study on solitary practitioners and their social media usage – specifically the controversy of using technology to religiously practice; eg. Tumblr spell posts, tarot card reading apps.

References:

  1. Humphrey, Ashlee (2016). Social Media: Enduring Principles. New York: Oxford University Press. Print.
  1. Merriam-Webster (2018) Retrieved April 2018 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paganism
  1. Google (2018) Retrieved April 2018 from https://www.google.com/search?q=paganism+define&rlz=1CAASUF_enUS791US791&oq=paganism+de&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0j69i57j69i60l2j0.2305j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  2. York, Michael (2003). Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University. Print.
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