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Technopaganism Reloaded: Disk One

Of all the movements which branched out from the main body of occult practice in the modern era, few have encapsulated humanity’s obsession with their tools to a greater degree than Technopaganism.

4 months ago

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Of all the movements which branched out from the main body of occult practice in the modern era, few have encapsulated humanity’s obsession with their tools to a greater degree than Technopaganism.

Seeing its original heyday in the dying embers of the late 20th Century it would not receive any real recognition until much later, when older members of the spiritual groups that relied on Facebook and Discord to network began reminiscing about a time when it was nowhere as easy to swap ideas.

Sadly, anyone wishing to explore the history of this earliest digital paradigm will find it extremely hard to do so, not only because of the patchy preservation of original sources as servers died and web hosts shut down, but also because of it not being a single codified discipline to begin with.

It is impossible to divorce Technopaganism from the counterculture that created it.

A Neopagan heresy of sorts, this ersatz collective of cyberpunks, raver kids, urban shamans and technophiles would find common ground in a dial up world of seemingly limitless possibilities.

Luminaries such as Terence McKenna even took an early interest, hailing the onrush of digital technology as a new frontier in dire need of feminisation to soften its sharper edges. Yet while it would be attractive to see him as a Technopagan prophet, his input in the field was both slight and cut far too short.

Instead, many accept that Neuromancer, William Gibson's 1984 science fiction novel, was the call to arms that led to an interest in creating networked digital platforms for exploring all aspects of human life, including spirituality.

Though this may be true, his version of cyberspace as a computer induced hallucination akin to modern virtual reality was first mentioned in the short story Burning Chrome two years earlier.

The actual term Technopagan was popularised by Erik Davis through a WIRED article in 1995, but it had already seen limited use across the Alt.Magic and Alt.ChaosMagick bulletin boards as early as 1993.

The persistent myth that he came up with the word can be confidently put to rest.

Davis' article, seen by some as a foundation text of Technopaganism, also focused heavily on the more sensational aspects of the digital frontier, such as experimental web interfaces and elaborate public rituals, with a hint of cyber eroticism for good measure.

Sadly, while such a sweeping and fast-paced narrative is compelling, it also cannot capture the sometimes sombre tone adopted by those working on solving the problems created by digital spirituality.

We can notice this quiet confusion among existing magickians in the few remaining bulletin board conversations that survive from this period, most of which are more scholarly than artistic in tone.

Indeed, these earliest days of online mysticism seem to have been typified by an almost obsessive desire to reconcile Old Aeon magicks and the new frontier of cyberspace.

Gibson himself ruminated on this very thing in Count Zero, the second entry in the Sprawl trilogy and sequel to Neuromancer. This book, which saw print in 1986, tangentially introduced Voodoo to the virtual world and questioned the definition of what actually constitutes a god within the digital plane.

Online discussion among active Technopagans as the Millennium crawled ever closer seems to point to a grudging acknowledgement that the burgeoning digital age would not only allow for decentralised esoteric exploration but also present challenges to the established New Age movements who sought to divorce spirituality from modernity.

And they were right.

Even in the years before the Digimob movement would begin sharing bootleg PDF's of their favourite occult publications en masse, entire sections of physical books were laboriously typed and offered as discussion points via self hosted bulletin boards.

They interspersed these accepted insights with examples of personal gnosis, many of which are now sadly lost to the sands of time.

Never had the esoteric been so accessible, and much like the chaos magick movement a couple of decades before, it tapped into a desire to reclaim a joint destiny that had been locked away behind an initiatory paywall by earlier generations.

Many high achievers in the fields of computer science or academia expressed their yearning for something unreal through a spiritual relationship with the blinking screen in the room's corner. Talk would eventually turn to the taming of the internet world soul, chem-gnosis assisted interface with the great machine and a future where the digital realm functioned as a secondary astral plane.

Sadly, very little of this would come to pass.

While the movement endured into the 2000s, fuelled by underground art, dance culture, industrial metal bands, and access to the message boards that replaced the old dial up conversations wholesale, it soon lost traction as a spiritual force.

This appears to have been partly because of other more traditional systems finally realising the benefits of exploiting the digital realm, and in doing so removing the unique asset that set Technopaganism apart.

When the whole esoteric diaspora freely uses the online space to communicate and share resources, a designation that explicitly claims to exist in cyberspace via those self same technological tools becomes redundant in the eyes of those who do not understand the hidden complexity the movement actually represents.

But there are still those who claim the title of Technopagan, even today.

Spiritual nomads on the cutting-edge of digital culture, they accept the need to imbue humanity's tools with a positive spiritual essence before those ever more complicated trinkets consume us in a tidal wave of chrome and fire.

Somewhere in the farthest reaches of cyberspace, Gibson's gods still dwell, sleeping in the gaps between the code.

And they dream.


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Gavin Fox

Published 4 months ago

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