Author: Lisa McSherry
Trade Paperback, 192 pages
Publisher: Weiser Books
Publication date: 2002
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The Virtual Pagan, by Lisa McSherry in spite of the titling is a fairly decent reference for anyone looking to begin exploring and discussing paganism via the Internet. The attempts at explaining computer basics are a bit outdated and geared towards a user with little to no experience. It applies mostly to yahoo users, or ez-boards, touching briefly on newsgroups but if you can hang on through the remedial computer lessons (or skip them!) And move on into the chapters on netiquette, it is well worth it for its discussion of some of the most common mistakes and misunderstandings that can happen when you begin to network on the world wide web.
The most helpful section was the section on group dynamic, what a coven or e-group is, isn't and some of the signs of a dysfunctional group; such as abusive language, a power structure that resembles a dictatorship, excessive sexual referencing, and other cult framed warning signs. It also includes some questions you may want to ask yourself before beginning to interact in a group setting be it online or off. Some of the recommendations for phrasing of posts and e-mail are well heeded pieces of advice; Make I statements instead of You statements, avoid generalizations and absolutes, think before you hit post and remember that there is another person who will be reading your message, speak as you would like to be spoken to. It also recommends choosing your arguments as that arguing with some types of people will just bring you to their level where there will always win based upon experience.
The defining of commonly used terms such as LOL and ROTFLMBO seemed a bit unnecessary for someone who has already posted on a message board for more than a few months, but someone new to message boards and forums would find the explanations of flaming, spamming, why typing in all caps is rude and how emotes and spelling can affect the tone of a message informative and may make understanding and being understood easier. It may also help prevent or explain acceptance or lack of acceptance from a group through reminding the would be member that a group is about interaction, and if you aren't contributing and showing interest in members other than yourself then other members may not show much interest in return.
It also has some paganism 101 chapters that touch on the directions and who is who in ritual. It assumes the reader has only a basic understanding in some sections, but then jumps ahead into discussing ritual structure in a way that would be confusing if this were the only book you had read.
The sections on cyber ritual were a bit saccharine, but not being a fan of cyber anything I find it hard to imagine covens meeting in chat rooms and conducting serious ritual on a regular basis, or using the Internet as the primary place of practice. The book includes some exercises, meditations and a glossary of terms which includes some computer speak as well as the context which terms are used in throughout the book.
There is useful information in this book and a couple good exercises, but overall it is a better social guide than paganism primer.
Reviewed by Seichi