The Internet and Public Witches
In my day to day life I chat to a lot of people online these days. There are forums that I have joined, e-mail lists that I subscribe to, blogs that I follow and then there’s the social networks like Linkedin, Google+ or Facebook. Although I talk to people from all walks of life and all corners of the world there is a disproportionate number of witches and other occultists with whom I have regular contact owing to the nature of my written works. Most of these new age seekers are open, honest, sharing folk who are keen to meet new people that share the same or similar interests. Now and then it is inevitable that I will meet one that isn’t particularly friendly and I usually just take it on the chin and move on but just occasionally the witchy world produces a real gem of a personality witch who makes it her mission to take witchcraft to the world, usually via the mainstream media, and who treats us with a stream of unoriginal books, expensive workshops and overpriced occult paraphernalia for sale on their websites. And such a woman is Madam S.
Even so, normally a simple case of crossed swords (or is that wands?) with the latest celebrity witch wouldn’t stir me to action but what makes this case so entertaining is that the spat wasn’t over anything esoteric, it was about Facebook etiquette or something… According to Wikipedia the word internet is a short form of the word internetwork and the internet is a network of networks that began in the 1960s to establish a stable and secure networking facility for computers. From this simple definition it would seem that the internet is all about networking and readers of this blog may remember a previous post on this blog entitled Spiderbots are Crawling Through My Relationships in which I explained that these links in the network were cyber expressions of the physical links that we make in the real world and so online cyber relationships can be as real or as false as the ones that we have in meat space.
In this physical existence if you want to meet new people you go out and socialize but online you go to Facebook. With over 600 million members it is the largest social network ever conceived of and connects people across the globe in real time, allowing them to maintain, or create, relationships with people everywhere no matter how distant. So not only is Facebook about networking, it is also all about relationships. The OED defines a community as a fellowship, or as social intercourse, so community is also about relationships whereas the venerable dictionary defines network as an interconnected group of people which seems to me to be all about relationships. It might even seem to me that a community is an interconnected group of people that network to share things that they have in common. So it would seem that if you are looking for fellowship with others that share similar interests, such as witchcraft, then going to Facebook to network might be a reasonable way to go. Mostly it is, but then there is Madam S.
Madam S is one of the rising stars of the celebrity witch world who has been around for a few years, written a few inconsequential books on witchcraft, does psychic readings and the usual witchy hocus pocus while selling overpriced gems and massage oils online. Because she has had the opportunity for exposure in the mainstream media lately she has a bevy of star struck acolytes who coo and bill at her on her Facebook page while they snap up her trinkets and sign up for weekend workshops. All good business really, if that’s what you are all about; and Madam S is, very much so…
The Facebook Exchange #1: An Introduction to Society
A friend gave me the link to her page a few months back and as I have some sort of contact with pagans everywhere I sent her a friend request which was mutely accepted and I really didn’t take much notice of her after that. An acquaintance was following her and made a few remarks about threads on her page that piqued my interest, after all she is professing to represent the witches of the world by her public stance, so I jumped into the sharkpool of her Facebook thread when I saw her post this:
“New people to my page: Again I remind you that the rules of my page state that you are not to promote yourself, your business or your products on this page without permission. It’s manners to simply ask.”
intrigued by the reference to the ‘rules’ of her page I simply asked:
“How would I go about getting permission to promote myself from you Madam S? I have written a book about magick and numerology that may be of interest to many of your followers- of course it is easy enough to just click on someone’s photo and be taken to their page- but I agree that it is polite to ask, so what is the protocol?”
I would invite my readers to point out what I said in that short 65 word post that was offensive, I can be an insensitive bastard but I really was on my best behavior there I think. But Madam S seemed to think otherwise and what followed astounded even an old wizard like me. She answered:
“Like many many other folks David- a private message normally starts off the conversation. As people who have been on this page for a long time know, I regularly promote people and their work or organisations that I have experienced…” and she listed links to a number of things that she supports to the general applause of her adoring fans. She ended by suggesting that I get my own Facebook page so I answered:
“I am already doing all of that- I was really more interested in the networking opportunity than in trying to sell books. I actually give away most of my instructional material and I saw that there may have been an opportunity here to share it with a wider network of people. I generally don’t sell things on FB I give them away. I certainly never ask for any sort of payment in exchange for spiritual instruction.” I think that I explained my motives, I only wished to share a link to material that I want to give away for free, I stress that I want no payment, and that I am merely looking to expand my links in the internetwork. Her answer befuddled me:
“Well then Im sorry, my page isnt a ‘networking opportunity’.”
Now in view of what I just went through above, and in light of the fact that Madam S is selling trinkets and adventure weekends on Facebook by networking herself, her statement is a bit erroneous. Perhaps because she had omitted any thought of an apostrophe in her post, she carried on and offered this sage advice:
“David- if people like what you contribute on a page I find folks will naturally friend you. Thats what happened to me. I dont ever ask for friends.”
Again we didn’t manage an apostrophe and I overlooked the veiled jibe at my social standing and replied:
“Everything in life is about relationships Stacey- making them, not making them, FB is just a huge networking opportunity.
People are interested enough in what I am doing, I am not looking for friends, merely looking for people to connect with and perhaps even to recommend to others myself.” With that I thought that the final salvo had been launched, but really it was just the end of the beginning.
“Really David? I see networking and building relationships as two completely different actions. If you wish to “network” I dont think this page is for you. If you wish to build real relationships, I suggest that building this powerfully from your own page, contributing in honest ways on others are just two ways of attracting people to you- and your work.” So, a quick scan between the lines and I see that she thinks that I can go now, but then the third shot over my bows landed square in my notifications list:
“So far David, I dont know you at all. All I know is that you say you have something you want others to know about and that you want to pass on. Great! But I cant have you posting this on my page because I dont know what it is…” To this point all I have asked is what the protocol for asking permission to promote something would be, I haven’t said that I wanted to, and at this point I knew that I didn’t want to. I answered her rather brusquely thinking that she would go away, but no!
“Building relationships is networking- you create a network of relationships on different levels in different situations. Anyone that promotes themselves as a professional at anything is networking, are the relationships that result not valid? Don’t we all count on a network of family and friends at some time in life? Networking with people is the way to build relationships.
If I have offended you in some way I apologize, but your original comment implied that you do network with people in order to establish relationships with them. I was merely asking what the protocol was for that.” she shot back straight away with:
“I disagree with your definitions. No you havent offended me- we are simply having an explainatory discussion! David I hopped over to your page. You have less than 100 people on it. Unless you have a professional page, this is the “networks” you have built thus far. Do you understand why, with my network being much larger and very active, that I must protect them from people just popping on and taking advantage of the “networking opportunity?” I do not see this page as a networking opp. I just dont. I see it as a community. I take that seriously. There are people on here that I am very very close to and folks I hardly know- yet they all are party to what I say and what I do here. Its real. Its not some thing I do to sell stuff.” Here we come to the crux of it; my tiny Facebook presence compared to her much larger fan base that she needs to protect from wolves like me- it’s her job.
By this time Madam S’s crowd were stirred to complain that I shouldn’t have put my ad on her site without asking. The IQ on the thread plummeted as the whole conversation twisted off topic (don’t you love Facebook sycophants?) and I gave what I hoped would be the last reply:
“My FB page is a few weeks old and I don’t accept friends on my personal page very often. I keep a .com blog and have pages with my publisher. I also use Linkedin because it is a strictly professional social media site. My FB page is really just a medium to communicate with my family in the US and a few friends and other interesting people that I meet. I may use FB Ads but trying to sell stuff on a FB page is a waste of time. You can find links to my blogs and other pages on the FB page if you are interested.” The finality of my answer must have shown through but she persisted, feigning an academic friendliness:
“Well then David- why worry about posting on my page if FB is really the least of your concerns? Truely, it matters not how many friends we have on FB- I used this as an example to my point only. What matters is the quality. I too have pagan connections all over- but never ever have I asked to post my work on their profiles or on websites. If its there, its because they simply liked the work or what I had to say. Just curious now, really curious…” So I gave the standard reply that I always give to why I bother to try and disseminate the Key to the Order and Value of the English Alphabet:
“I have undertaken to find as many people that may be interested in my work as possible in order to fulfill an obligation that I have and your FB page has potentially many people that I couldn’t otherwise find. I am not selling anything and in fact the crux of what I have to offer can be downloaded for free from my Scribd site. If your FB friends are interested in magick and associated topics then the Qabalah of the English Alphabet might be of use to them, even if only for simple numerology. It is a unique discovery that I am obliged to share- that’s the only reason that I asked at all.” Surely that was the end, but no:
“Actually David your FB page goes back way longer than that. I just checked, but I do understand entirely that you do wish to as you posted on Nov 10- “I am setting up a FB page to sell my books to all of my fans out there.” So clearly you dont think selling of FB is a waste of time. I regularly post magical items for sale here and regularly tell others about other peoples products and we all know that you can sell from FB very well!” Having lost the relationship networking debate she changed topic like a panther stalking a gazelle so I kept my head down, telling myself that only a bigger fool argues with a fool:
“Brilliant-David- Im glad you told us you arent selling anything- after posting what you did on your own page!” So obviously having set up a Facebook business page to advertise my writing is potentially selling on Facebook, but I don’t hawk the latest batch of my books in the news feed every day. The distinction may be fine but it is valid so I answered:
“I set up the FB business page so that I can use Facebook Ads, the ones that appear in the right column, they are cheap, easily targeted to exact demographics, CPC ads that I can use to direct internet traffic to my book sales page.
I am a writer so I sell written things to make a living. I don’t sell anything on FB (yet) but I do post the links to the stuff that I give away which outweighs what I am selling by a lot. The book that I am selling took 30 years to research and write so the pittance that I get per copy sold is unlikely ever to make any sort of full restitution.
For me FB is a place to meet new people and interact with them. I have created relationships with people all over the world this way- a network. I generally only come to FB to share things.”
Having run out of time for such frivolous banter I moved on but upon my return to Facebook the notifications button was burning up with comments for me. One of the more faithful acolytes had generously offered to explain that I could get a Facebook page for myself, like she did! And if it was alright with the almighty Madam she would deign to share the link! To my utter amazement she was immediately permitted to shamelessly plug herself on the thread! Touche! My reply admitted that I had been struck a mortal blow:
“I haven’t promoted anything on anyone’s page- I simply asked how one would get the permission that Madam S implied in her post that she wanted from people before they did promote themselves. I am perfectly aware of how FB works and as my product is myself it follows that I link my business page to my personal one. I was in fact asking what the etiquette might be. I shant ask here again. :)” Oddly enough when I appeared offended Madam S rushed to assure me that she meant no offense to me and I thought that we parted equitably; but I was wrong.
Facebook Exchange #2: Miss P
The next morning my Facebook Messages told me that I had had a post on my wall. It was from Miss P, a new FB friend that had defended me on Madam S’s thread and now was offering to share links:
“Hi David, Noticed you had a nice little chat with Madam S on her site. She can be very head strong and opinionated. Feel free to share and network on my pages if you like. It is all about sharing afterall.” a very nice message so I messaged back politely:
“My regular blog posts on Magick appear in my news feed so you can keep up with what I have to say there- cheers! :)”. A new friend, lovely. Again I moved on, forgot the nonsense, and then on the morning after that was this message on my wall from Madam S herself (I feel so honored that she visited my humble FB page):
“Thanks for that Miss P. Perhas you would be wise to doa little more research on folks before you do that. Enjoy your day.” The typos belied the state of mind that our illustrious Madam S found herself in when she discovered that I had pinched one of her friends! and she let me know it too:
“I see you got the attention you wanted David.” Well I don’t know that that’s true but I was smug now, after all we were on my wall and I sensed an imminent defriending event:
“I am a magician- I always get what I want. I am quite happy for people to research me if that is what they want to do- it would be much easier just to ask me though, I am quite open about what I am doing. I am equally as certain that if you did bother to research me then you would have seen that I am offering to give away what many people charge for. I find it difficult to equate business with magickal instruction. Perhaps I am an anachronism in the online world of the quick buck.” Forthwith I was blocked, thereby denying my right of reply in a very poor display of community spirit. Again I moved on and forgot about it but Madam S went home to play up her victory over me to her simpering followers and it went kind of like this:
Facbook Exchange #3: Madam S’s Defriending Diatribe
Madam S next published a string of short posts, firing them out like torpedoes:
“If having rules to protect folks on my page labels me “headstrong and opinionated” so be it! I am proud that I have safeguards in check.”
“I am not into networking. I am into creating a community.”
“I don’t need everyone to like me. In fact I would be very worried if they did.”
and finally this old chestnut:
“Yes folks can always leave”. Of course I could no longer leave as I had been kicked out so really the issue with me had come to a natural end, hadn’t it? It seems not:
“Happy to be headstrong” Madam S seems perturbed by Miss P’s astute surmisal of her character but she also wants to share the juicy stuff so the message from Miss P on my Wall, that in no way was linked to Madam S’s FB page, was cut and pasted for all to see on her own page.
“Here’s the exact message Courtney: yes I don’t get its an insult either but hey… Saw this message from a Suzie Price on David M’s page: Hi David, Noticed you had a nice little chat with Madam S on her site. She can be very head strong and opinionated. Feel free to share and network on my pages if you like. It is all about sharing afterall. Love and Blessings :) Like I said mmm all I asked was that people stick to the rules on this page without promoting themselves. Good luck with promoting someone you don’t know who wasn’t exactly completely honest on this page about his reasons why he posted. Another two unfriended.”
a bit harsh really, and what exactly did I promote? I was lost at this stage and though that the slandering must end now, I am wicked but even I have limits, but Madam S still had a crow or two left in her. After some drivel about standing alone and a whine about how hard life is she one of her acolytes finally had an epiphany of online proportions and posted this dire warning:
“I think that it is a shame that even though Madam S didn’t except David M’s request he still received the attention he wanted. Just by the conversations that took place between the two (Madam S and David M) he may have been able to get quite a few to look at his page, he went on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. I hope you are not offended by my comment as it is just an observation xxxxxx”. In fact it was Madam S that went on and on and I was responding to her, the timestamps on the comments makes this plain, although I can’t get them now as of course I am barred. Madam S realized the truth of the remark and recovered meekly with:
“Oh no Michele- I got that. Thanks for raising it. I said it on his page before I defriended him. He got the attention he was looking for. Funnily enough though I got quite a number of private messages about him even after I exposed his little untruths. Lets all give it all no more credence.” I did find a couple of new FB friends but I still cannot see what untruths I have told and without the right of reply I can’t ask. Perhaps she worked out that I wasn’t a drooling acolyte candidate and that was the crux of my deception. If she did get the private messages that she claims to have gotten then they are from others, like herself, that have proven to be mere fluff, selling trinkets and junk and pedaling middle class enlightenment workshops for the gullible. She did dribble on though, it had been exciting after all:
“That’s the thing Julie- you don’t have to agree here. That’s the whole magic of this place. That’s the play! But if people wish to play, they need to play by the rules”
So this interesting exchange got me thinking. I was quite pleased that Madam S has been so strident in painting me with the wicked brush as my real goal is to achieve infamy, in the end fame is too fleeting, so her remarks are win, win really as I have enhanced my reputation, I have made some new friends and I won’t have to wonder about Madam S anymore. The real issues here are different though, and perhaps bear closer consideration. The general misapprehension about what the internet actually is I can live with, most people don’t know and don’t care but it is still surprising at this advanced date. The real concern is that people like Madam S attract so many followers who believe the half baked instructions that she disseminates.
The spread of so called ‘Eclectic Witchcraft’ and the rise of the DIY witch there is a growing trend for queen bee covens to grow beyond any capacity for passing along genuinely meaningful spiritual training. Beyond a certain point the people in the focus of these groups drift very close to the cult of personality instead of maintaining any traditional Wiccan values. The history of modern witchcraft is filled with such stories of the brightest stars of the witchy world from Alex Saunders himself right on to present times. With the proliferation of these kinds of groups the emergence of the first real witch cults can only be around the corner. If witches drop their traditional disciplines and symbolism do they continue to be witches? Does Wicca need superstar witches for the mainstream media to fuss over, a kind of token witch for the pagan demographic? As the traditional schools of witchcraft have become overwhelmed by the demand for membership, a right rarely granted, will their exclusionism see them be lost in a sea of ill conceived witchy cults that have more to do with Buffy than with Gardner? The lack of genuine structure (Madam S’s literary efforts show very little genuine progressive structure to the practices, which could mostly have come from a Pentecostal minister just as easily as a Witch) implies that the goals of the practices will be inconsequential, and may not offer the real support that seekers really need. The real concern is that the nonsense taught in these DIY covens will put genuine people off of the true path that would benefit them. But you can’t save the world.