Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Cyberhenge Review

Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet
by Douglas E. Cowan
Routledge, 2005
ISBN: 0-415-96911-5; $35.95 CDN

Written by a non-Pagan religious scholar, Cyberhenge explores contemporary Neo-paganism through its presence on the Internet and looks at the Internet as a modality for modern Neo-pagan innovation.

The vast majority of the book is handed over to examining the way Neo-pagans view the Internet and how it appears to have impacted Neo-pagan belief and practice. To do this Cowan draws on Internet sources as well as books written by Pagans about Pagans and the Internet (some of which are reviewed in this issue). He examines computer-mediated community, cyber-covens, virtual reality versus online activity, online ritual and its evolution over the past few years, online teaching, cyber-identity, and Neo-paganism as an “open-source religion.” To my surprise, I personally found it made for fascinating reading.

Cowan also examines a variety of different types of Neo-pagan web presences, from virtual covens and discussion groups, to personal pages and resource-based websites. He observes that there is an “appearance of far more activity online than the substance of that activity warrants.” (p 116) Although there are some well-run and maintained resources, he finds that much of the Pagan web consists of vast wastelands of outdated websites, unused discussion groups, and the beginnings of projects that never really got off the ground. He also describes the content on many websites as “shovelware,” a term used to describe unoriginal and generic content simply used to fill up a website or CD-ROM (ie, quantity over quality).

Cowan does not assume that the reader is intimately familiar with either Paganism or the Internet. Throughout the book Cowan takes the time to discuss contemporary Neo-pagan culture as well as technology terms in sufficient depth that the reader is able to understand the concepts being examined without feeling lost or overwhelmed. The result is that Cyberhenge gives almost as much insight into Neo-Pagan culture as a whole, as it does into Neo-paganism on the Internet. Highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in the Midsummer 2005 issue of WynterGreene.

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