Earlier this year, I put up a two posts on new media. In those pieces, my overall thesis was publishers would continue to release print material mostly for basic, 101 type material. The reason behind this was purely economic: the money is in 101 books, not more advanced material. Increasingly, the best place for 202 and 303 material- the best place for challenge- is the free new media: blogs, podcasts, and social networking.
In the last month, the vital importance of the new media has taken center stage in a hot and heavy debate that started calmly, erupted with volcanic force, and seems now to have settled down to a steady smolder.
In October, both The Wild Hunt and About.com’s Paganism/Wiccan site announced the reformation of the American Council of Witches. The original body, formed in 1973 and disbanded in 1974, lasted just long enough to compile the 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief. The U.S. Army later incorporated those principles into their chaplain handbook. The new body, originally dubbed the “US American Council of Witches,” claimed that they and their organizer, Kaye Berry of Peoria, Illinois, had been contacted by the military to update the handbook.
Since then, the three pillars of new media have scrutinized the group, expecting honesty and transparency from any council that claims to represent the Witches of America. The Council has not stood up well beneath the microscope.
The Pagan community learned about the council’s existence mostly through blogs. As I mentioned earlier, The Wild Hunt posted a story in the early days as did About.com. Reading the comments, everything started out peacefully. In general, Pagans seemed happy that there was going to be a new advocacy group to fight for their rights. They were excited about the idea of a Pagan Dream Team from all traditions coming together to forge interfaith dialogue and work for Pagan rights.
At this point, it is important to note that the Council claimed that it would represent Pagans of all traditions, yet called itself the “US American Council of Witches.” As not all Pagans are Witches, this should have sparked some suspicion.
A few bloggers were even asked to join the council, including Steve Provost at The Provocation as well as Devin Hunter of The Modern Witch. But then these bloggers started asking questions (as bloggers do). What they found was the beginning of the explosion.
The bloggers noticed inconsistencies. Most importantly, they noticed that, while the group claimed to be a 501c3 nonprofit, and had a PayPal button for donations, they actually were not in any way registered as a legitimate 501c3. Both Christina at The Caffeinated Witch and Rowan at One Witch’s Way and The Modern Witch have documented this and the rest of the bloggers’ saga very well. For even more, visit Beyond Dead
This is where it got really hairy. The Council’s only web presence, aside from Kaye Berry’s personal business site, was their Facebook page. Like the blog posts, the comments all started out supportive. Gradually, according to the bloggers, people started asking questions – legitimate questions. On October 18, the response was that the council was overwhelmed and taking a step back.
Then, last week, it became apparent that all posts to the Facebook page that questioned any activities by the council were being deleted, and those who posted their questions were banned from the group. Facebook travels fast; deletion of critical comments could only inflame the already burning questions.
Then there was Tuesday night. In the center of this from the beginning, Rowan and Devin on The Modern Witch poured gas onto the flames for their two-hour long, live podcast. In a detailed discussion, Devin discussed his experiences being deleted and banned for asking legitimate questions and Rowan went deeply into her research on the group. Their guests included former Council members Heather Killen and Kenny Klein, who exposed the inside story on the not-so-honest workings within the Council.
At this time, the Facebook page for the US American Council of Witches appears to have been deleted. Rowan’s most recent post reporting this includes comments that suggest this is not ture and that that she may only have personally been banned, but I can’t find the page anymore. When I search Facebook, I get only The Modern Witch’s posts.
This is the power of the new media in the Pagan Community. In 1974, when the original council was active, they could have been an abject fraud and it would have taken years to figure it out. In our era, with our media, it took about a month. Perhaps the Council will return revitalized and ready to represent our community in a more straightforward manner, but at this point that doesn’t appear to be the case.
As I wrote in those earlier pieces, the internet is the venue that will provide both solace and challenge for our far-flung community. Challenges, like the one endured by the US American Council of Witches, ultimately help the community by teaching us what is and is not acceptable. Maybe the next attempt will be more honorable. Maybe the next attempt will truly bring unity across our wide variety of practices. If it does, then the fire of the new media truly served its purpose.
The Facebook Page for the Council is available. I searched long and hard for it last night, but it wasn’t there. I know others who did the same. Looks like there’s more to come in this saga…