It may even be inevitable with the pronounced overlap between pagan folk and members of the computer guild: the marriage of pagan ritual and virtual reality to create "ritual reality".
Just imagine, the ceremonial magician could sonorously intone the correct invocation, and the pentagram would flame before him just as real as the floating knife in a bad movie version of Macbeth. Gods and goddesses could be invoked and would appear rendered in three dimensions, and in good detail. The misty curtains would waft and waver in sensurround, realistic phantasmagoria could dance like visions of sugarplums, and the full moon could beam through the ancient forest while the half moon shines ruddily through the smog outside the window.
Could there be some problems with this scenario? Would virtual ritual expand our magical prowess? Would we reap untold benefits from the brave new world of advancing technology?
Some technopagans find virtual reality quite alluring and are convinced that it's the Next Big Thing. There is a whole cyberpunk movement that sees virtual reality as the wave of the future. However, this computer programming pagan is not impressed.
There is a sickness at the heart of this whole virtual reality concept that would undermine our efforts at positive, evolutionary magic if it became too mixed up with our spirituality. A fundamental notion of virtual reality in science fiction is that there is this pure mind that can be detached from the mere body and fed into a computer. This concept of pure mind comes from a culture that is already too alienated from the physical, from nature, and from our own bodies.
Another problem with virtual reality is that it is detached from the seasons, from nature, and from those not in the virtual mini-world being created by its participants. It is too easy to create an experience of beautiful scenery, peace, and harmony while ignoring environmental destruction outside, and forgetting about the legions of underpaid third worlders that make the infrastructure on which virtual reality depends possible. This is a fallacy that the "New Age" movement has already fallen into enough times, that if only one creates the perfect experience for oneself, everything is OK. Extending the ability of a few privileged computer users to create experiences only amplifies this basic fallacy. The cyberpunk movement has been very self absorbed and solipsistic, with an inflated sense of self importance fed by their privileged ability to create their own reality, free from the challenges of working changes in the real world. More sophisticated illusions are a far cry from moving beyond illusion toward consciousness.
Virtual constructs are also limited to that which can be represented by information. Throwing more information at this problem, or creating false chaos through fractals does not overcome this limitation. Virtual reality is an inherently dead, mechanistic space, a ghastly echo of the stilted thinking of the "Age of Reason". The mysteries are not information. They cannot be duplicated or transmitted in any storage/retrieval format, even with the express written consent of the powers that be.
Beyond the superficial fabric of reality are amazing realms that no computer could create. Computers and virtual reality seem to be irrevocably of that fabric, and are swept away with it when the veil between the worlds parts. The power to journey between the worlds lies within us, not in our computers, and the authentic messages from the realm beyond are not reducible to data.
In my view, computers for pagans are useful for recording lore, games and amusements, disseminating subversive literature, or producing newsletters. Virtual reality is best left in the realm of games and amusements, or perhaps even art or self help. It does not serve us to reduce our workings in the web of the real universe to computer data constructs, however intriguing they may seem.
Magic is about making changes in the real world, not only creating experience. If it's magic you're looking for, try actual reality. The art work is incredibly detailed, the special effects quite realistic, and it comes with full sensory interface capability. Why, gosh, it's almost like really being there!
(c)1994 Ian D. Anderson
This article has appeared in Green Egg magazine.