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Building Bridges between Spirituality and people through the use of language and the Internet

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Building Bridges between Spirituality and people through the use of language and the Internet I was born in Argentina and I live there till I was 23 years old when I moved to the US. As a child, I was raised Roman Catholic because that was my family’s religion. At that time, Argentina was divided between Catholics and Jewish people, there were not many other spiritual paths one can choose from. There were some Buddhist temples where people practice meditation but that was about it. As I grew older, I started noticing that Catholicism wasn’t the right path for me. I did not feel like I connected with that religious path and I started searching for a different direction but there wasn’t much out there. I looked for books and I could only find a few books about mysticism and alternative spiritual paths. There was almost nothing about the pagan path except for Mythology books. Luckily, I was studying to become an English teacher so I was proficient in that language. Computers were just in the beginning stages in Argentina and the internet was limited to the modem that made the funky noises… do you remember those? I bought my first computer when I was 21 and that was the beginning of the most amazing times in my life. I started having access to information about paganism, wicca, and many other spiritual paths. As I said before, I was quite proficient in English so that also opened many doors to knowledge that I did not think I could access. There was an ocean of information out there and I was swimming in it, basking on the excitement of being able to see there was a spiritual path for me among the many paths that were available online. In 2003 I had the opportunity to move to California and my spiritual journey continued. I was able to meet many of the teachers I read online while I was in Argentina and participated in many classes. The US provided more opportunities for spiritual development than Argentina did. I was ordained as a Priestess of Isis and Sekhmet in 2009 and since then I’ve been working on finding ways to connect the Spanish speaking community with the Goddess Spirituality. I created Circulo de Isis in 2010 as an online community that would provide a platform for people from all over the world to access materials in Spanish. In this community, we provide rituals for people and circles to use as well as information on different aspects of Goddess Spirituality. Today Circulo de Isis has over 2000 members that benefit from the information the platform provides. As part of my Priestess work, I also started translating the Fellowship of Isis Liturgy to Spanish with Lady Olivia Robertson’s permission. My mission as a Priestess is to be able to solve for two of the problems I encountered in my spiritual journey. The first one was the lack of material available in general and the second one was the lack of materials available in Spanish. I can only talk about the religions I know and when I compare Catholicism with Goddess Spirituality, the first few differences I notice are that the bible is translated in multiple languages and available everywhere while Goddess Spirituality does not have one book that provides the foundations for all practices like the bible does, most of the materials that can explain how to follow this path are not available in book stores or libraries and the language availability is also limited. You may only find certain materials in one language, usually English, and not in all languages. This situation limits the extent on how a person can follow this path. Spirituality is the path of the heart and we usually want to use our mother tongue to practice it. Practicing a spiritual path in a different language can be challenging, as the person is not really connecting with the material or the deeper meaning of the teachings as they are trying to decode as they are practicing. When it comes to places of worship, we can also see that churches are usually spread all over the world providing a physical space for people to go and practice their spiritual path. People are also able to go to these places and talk to the priests or spiritual counselors and learn more about that specific religion. In Goddess Spirituality, we face the limitation of not having many physical places of worship. I am blessed with living in a State that has two physical Goddess Temples I know. One is Isis Oasis in Geyserville and the other one is the Goddess Temple of Orange County in southern California. It is not as common to find Goddess Temples as we would find a Christian Church. This situation also limits the access people have to this type of spirituality because they do not have a physical place to go or they may not see a physical icon that will prompt them to reasearch this path. It’s hard to find a way to practice if there are no materials or physical places that will allow people to become aware of this path. I am sure this happens to other spiritual paths that are not popular or well know so how do we solve this problem? How do we bridge people and different spiritual traditions when materials and physical space is limited and the resources are not vast to be able to expand globally? Well, we live in the age of technology with the internet, social media and video conferencing being available everywhere in the world. There are very few places that do not have access to the internet. Even when people may not have access to a computer at home, they can go to libraries where they can access the internet. This situation allows for resources to be available to everyone and people being able to access them wherever they find themselves at any certain time. New technologies are also providing electronic translators that allow people to turn any material into their mother tongue. I don’t say this is the best translation possible and I know there are things lost in translation but it’s better to have some information than nothing. That electronic translation gives the person the opportunity to grasp the meaning of the material and then they can turn it into their own and practice that path instead of having to deal with foreign language that does not resonate with them. The internet provides several tools for those of us who want to help expand the reach of spiritual materials and information to areas that have not had access before. Today, I want to introduce you to some of the tools I’ve used to develop my community during the past 5 years, some of the benefits that some platforms have over others and some of the challenges that come with online communities and online information. Please note that all the platforms I mention are platforms I have used or experienced. I am not being sponsored by any of these platforms and my opinion is just my opinion only based on my experience using those platforms. There are multiple platforms you can use today such as Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest to mention a few. When I started, I tried to use several platforms at the same time to find out that only a few really worked for the type of community I was building and my mission. I realized that the more flexible a platform is, the better it becomes because it allows members to participate and feel the connection. I realized that mailing groups such as yahoo groups or google groups did not allow people to really feel the connection as much as facebook did where people could post pictures of their altars or information about their practices and others could see it. When you decide that you want to bring your community to social media, make sure that you evaluate what type of activities you want to be offering with that platform. Do you want to offer events and be able to track attendance? Is your material mainly images? Do you plan to share videos or audio with that community? Depending on your goals for the group, you may be better off with one platform versus another. For example, Instagram provides a great platform for images and it also links with other platforms such as Facebook so if you post some materials in one platform it will automatically feed into the others. This feature is great for those of you that would like to be active in several platforms but do not have the time to be posting in each platform individually. If you limit the number of platform, you are also limiting amount of people you touch, but it is also important to take into account that the more platforms you are part of the more time and dedication you will need to devote to your social media reach effort. Once you choose a platform, be sure to check the different options it provides. For example, Facebook provides different types of choices. One of them is opening a group. You can have an open group or a closed group; the difference between the two is that one will require your approval for a person to join. Facebook also allows you to do a private or secret group that can only be found upon invitation. Groups allow people to share materials, pictures, and also documents. It also provides the option of conducting surveys, and creating events. In group events, you are able to track attendance if necessary. Another option that Facebook provides is to have a public page. The difference between a public page and a group is that the public page does not track membership. It´s only based on people liking your page so it is best used for announcements and sharing information but not for group activities or community building. As I said before, it always depends on the type of community you want to build. Once you decide that, then you can find the best platform and the best option within that platform. Some communities choose to use paid platforms and they may charge an annual fee to cover the cost of the platform such as ning.com. I know several pagan communities that use this platform because it allows the users to have a similar interface as of facebook where members have their personal page, they can post blogs, they can create events and it also allows to create sub-groups within the group. It´s like a private facebook and it is limited to members only, what gives people privacy and safety that their information and pictures will not become public information. If you feel like your community needs this type of privacy, you may want to look into a paid platform to hold your online group. You could also considered having a public page in Facebook that attracts people and then have a private platform for those who want to become members and then pay the annual fee. By doing so, you do not limit the reach to a members only but you can have materials that are only shared in the members’ only section. Besides having a group in social media, you can also expand your spiritual reach by offering classes online. I remember when I was in Argentina and I had no access to people to train me and at that time, I was not aware of online classes; I would have given anything to be able to get some training at that time. Today, the internet allows you to take a class anywhere in the world as long as you have access to a computer. When developing or offering classes online, you also need to take into account the level of involvement you want to have after the person signs up for the class. Do you want to provide the materials for them to work at their own pace and be able to ask you questions if they have any? Do you want to be hands off after you deliver the materials? Will you include audio or video in your trainings? Will the training be mainly written? I have participated in several types of online classes and I also created my own. The classes I offer are usually email base and after sending the materials, I am available for my students to ask questions. In those classes, I have also incorporated audio files and video. These two options allow you to have a closer connection with your students as they are seeing you or listening to you as if you were in the same place. Lately, I´ve been participating in some classes where the materials are delivered as soon as you sign up for the class. It´s mainly videos or audio and you have no access to the teacher or you are able to ask one or two questions via email. Another option for classes is video conferencing using skype or other video conferencing provider. This allows you to have a one on one experience with your students where they can ask questions and share their experiences with the materials as a group so they can have a group experience. Another benefit of online classes is that the student can work on the class in their own time so if they work full time or they have other commitments; they are still able to take the class and study the materials. Online classes are usually bought for a lifetime so students can redo the class as many times as they want without having to pay again again. This provides an additional bonus as it takes usually more than once to learn some of the materials. Once again, it will depend on how involved you want to be, the topics you are covering and the method of delivery you will use whether you use one option or the other. The benefit of online classes is that you can give access to the knowledge regardless of location so even people in remote areas can access it and there are no traveling costs involved making it easier for those who are not able to travel to be able to take the class. Besides classes and social media, there are also two other tools that are important when disseminating information. One is online radio also known as podcasts and the other one is blogging. There are a few online radio stations that offer free spaces for different programs or you may need to pay a small fee to have your station. One station that I have worked with is blogpost radio but there are several providers out there. The benefits of doing a radio show are vast and go from having a live person talking about the topics of interest to the fact that participants can ask questions and it is interactive. In the past, I participated in a radio show that took place every two months or so where I would talk about the Wheel of the Year and the Pagan festivities. During the show people were able to ask questions and it built a report. The radio shows were also archived so people could access those shows that contain information they were interested in. You don´t need to conduct a show every week or even every month, you can develop a schedule that suits your needs or that suits the type of topics you want to discuss and schedule it for your audience. Having a podcast can give your spiritual path more recognition. A few months ago, I started listening to Hay House Radio which is an online radio platform that allows you to listen for free or you can pay a nominal fee and have access to the archives. After listening for a couple of months I can say I really enjoy the platform and it has helped me get to know some authors I was not aware of before. If you are interested in conducting a radio show, I suggest that you do some research on the different platforms available so you find the one that is best for you. Blogging is the new way of writing books and I am not saying that you should not write a book if you want to but blogging allows your writing to be more fluid and available in social media expanding the reach of your message. People usually start a blog about a topic they like and write different entries. You can start a blog about spirituality or any other topic of interest. The entries in blogs are usually shorter than chapters in books and most of the blogging platforms allow for people to follow your blog so they receive an email when you post new entries keeping the connection between your readers and you. Blogging also introduces your writing to a population that may buy your books in the future so if you haven’t written a book yet but you are planning to do so, blogging may be your first step towards that goal. Another idea is combining some of your best blogs for one year in an annual publication that you can offer to your readers and followers. In this publication you can also add writings from other people or pieces of art or other collaborations for the annual publication. This publication can also be done as an online magazine. If you would like to print this magazine, you can always look for a self-publishing or print on demand provider. Lately, I’ve also seen some people doing video blogs. They use providers such as vimeo or youtube and they record short videos about a topic and they publish it in their pages. I believe this is a good way to connect with your audience as they get to experience you and it gives a closer feeling than reading a blog. Then you can have people liking the video or following your youtube channel or vimeo account. Besides blogging, another way to promote your work is online magazines, these are also a good medium to disseminate information about your spiritual path and since there is no printing cost involved, the cost of producing the magazine is not very high. You also avoid dealing with the cost of printing inventory to have it sitting in a store and not selling as well as having to manage the printing side of your publication. If you do wish to have a printed copy of this magazine, you can always engage a print on demand vendor or self-publishing company that may take a percentage of your cover price as their cost plus the cost of printing. If you are interested in this option, I recommend you do some research on e-magazine platforms and on demand printing. E-magazines allow you to work with other authors and artists so it can become a collaborative process that provides your community and readers the ability to know different people and get a feel of each contributor’s style and way to work with their spiritual path. Apart from blogging and e-magazines, another option is to do a newsletter. These publications demand less energy on the writing front as they are smaller in size compared to a magazine but they can provide a way for you to reach to your followers on a regular basis. Some people choose to do newsletters quarterly while others do it semiannually or if you wish to do them more frequently, you could do them monthly. In Circulo de Isis, we do our newsletter monthly and it is usually composed of an article about Goddess Spirituality and an Oracle. Newsletters are also good ways for you to promote your community, your activities and the services you offer because you can always include information about your services in that newsletter. Another way to promote your community is having a mailing list in events where people can provide their email address to receive the newsletter, this also expands the reach of your community and message. If you are interested in creating a newsletter, there are several platforms that can help you. The one I am familiar with is mail chimp and they are a very user-friendly platform that allows you to keep mailing lists and you could also select parts of your mailing list if you are doing a special mailing. Again, I am not sponsored by any of the providers I am talking about today but these are the providers I have experience with. The last tool I want to talk about today is the use of video conferencing to conduct trainings or online conferences. Many times people are not able to travel to different locations to attend conferences or the cost of traveling and hotel is too great if added to the cost of the conference so for these cases, one option is doing an online video conference. I had the opportunity to participate in the Pagan Activism Conference Online last year and it was quite successful. The whole conference was performed on an online platform that allows multiple people to be using video cameras at the same time and it was very reliable. The way the organizers structure this conference was to have different panels and people were able to get a ticket for the whole conference or buy a pass for the individual panels or workshops. Everything was done online and people did not need to leave their houses but they could access the information from the different panels. The panels and workshops were recorded so people who bought the ticket would get a copy of the recording just in case they were not able to participate at that specific time due to time differences. Participating in this conference allowed me to see how important is to be able to provide these types of events so people who do not have the means or time to travel can still access the information and have this learning experience. It also allows people from different parts of the world to be able to be part of the events. As I mentioned before, when I was in Argentina, I was not aware of this type of conference or class structure so I felt quite isolated. Now with video conferencing, the world has really become a global village where we are all connected and we are all one. All these tools, social media, online classes, radio shows, blogs, and video conferences among others are just ways we can expand the reach of our spiritual paths so they can touch more lives and people can find the path that is right for them. The world has become a global village and it is time that not only businesses but also spirituality is able to go beyond the borders. I already covered most of the benefits of using the different tools to build online communities and expand your spiritual path. Benefits don’t come without challenges and some of the challenges of online activities include miscommunications and drama among members, technology challenges, copyright issues and a difficulty to establish clear boundaries. I always say that Facebook has created a new type of social dysfunction as people feel they can share anything and they do not take into account what others may think, also the fact that people may read things differently creates unnecessary misunderstandings. The other day somebody posted a note saying that they were looking for a partner so they would use the same strategy they use in facebook but in real life so they would go to a total stranger, tell them everything about them from religion to what they ate that day and expected the person not to run away. I couldn’t help but laugh at this post because reality is that sometimes people don’t realize that if they would not do something in the real life, they should not do it in facebook either. Like I said, I am not against facebook and my community is based on facebook but I do say there have to be clear rules. Before opening a community online, you should have clarity of the goals, and what is ok to do and what is not ok. You will need to set these parameters with all members and make sure that you will enforce them. This will keep the safety of the community and avoid unnecessary drama that comes from people just posting things that should not be there. Most of the online platforms offer you the option to monitor members or to moderate conversations so this is an option if you feel you may need to moderate it. In the beginning I did not feel I needed to moderate Circulo de Isis, but as we grew bigger, it became noticeable that I should moderate it, so I engaged the help of some of the Priestesses that I trained and they help me keep the group in a healthy tone. Like I mentioned before, the decisions that you make for your community depend on the time you want to dedicate to your online presence and work. If you do not have a lot of help, it may be harder for you to moderate a group that has lots of members and is active in posting and sharing information, while if you have a lot of trusted people that can help you, moderation may be the way to go to avoid issues. Some of the issues that I found with groups that are not moderated are that people tend to post spam messages trying to sell products or sunglasses. I am sure you´ve seen those. The other issue that I faced was people posting pornographic videos on our group page. This was the reason why I determined that it was time to moderate. We do not limit the access of who can join our group but we do have a structure that rules the behavior of the members. Pornography is not acceptable in our spiritual community so we avoid members getting upset with these materials by moderating messages. This means that we need to approve the messages that go into our page. Facebook offers an option to approve all messages for a certain person so if you have people that collaborate in your page and you trust them, you could set it up so you do not need to review and approve those messages. In order to keep a community healthy, you may want to create a code of ethics or a document that states where the boundaries are. What are the things that people can post? What are the things that are not allowed such as advertising in the online forum? Are there certain activities only for specific members in the community such as the clergy? How would you deal with conflict? What is the conflict resolution policy for your community? You should also create an antidiscrimination policy and a sexual harassment policy to create a safe container for everyone as you want to provide a place for everyone to participate and know that if there is any discrimination or sexual harassment or a toxic environment, that the leaders will enforced those policies and ensure the safety of all members in the community. It is essential that every member knows their rights and responsibilities within the community and be aware of the consequences some acts may have. If the rules are clear from the beginning, there is usually less drama at the end. You may also want to review the policies annually with your members and ask them to re-certify or acknowledge that they are still complying with those agreements. I know it sounds like a lot of rules but in order to create a safe community you need to make sure that the boundaries are clear and that people follow them and know the consequences so there are no surprises when a boundary is crosses or a conflict is raised and how it will be resolved. For example, you may set up a rule that says that the first time a person posts a message that is not allowed such as an advertising, you will reach out to them and let them know that it is not ok to post those messages. The second time they do it, you can tell them that next time they will be required to leave the community. If the issue comes up again, you will need to remove the person. The same situation happens when two members may have an issue and their communications are not polite with each other, you may have a rule that you will let this situation pass once or twice but then you will need to evaluate whether these two members are bringing benefits to your community or if they are just creating unnecessary drama and should be invited to leave the group. These are decisions you need to make before you start your community because it is better to set up a safe container from the start instead of reacting to situations that start coming up in your group. Another thing that needs to be clear is the roles each people plays in the community so there are no surprises. Who are the leaders? Who are the moderators if there are any? How is the community structured? You want to avoid having members seeing that there may be favorites in your community so there should be a clear structure on how people get selected for leadership positions and how they can apply for them. If there are any studies they need to complete or any set of rules they will need to follow apart from the group rules. This structure will help everyone have clarity on who is who in your community and how they attained those roles. Another issue that the internet presents is the issue of copyrights and the fear that your ideas or materials will be stolen. First, let me tell you I am not a copyrights expert or an attorney but there are some ways to protect your materials if you are afraid they will be stolen. Even though you do not need to have your materials registered with the US Copyright Office for them to be protected, it may be a good idea to look into that if you feel like you want that additional protection. Your materials are copyrighted from the moment you write them as they are your work. You can put a disclaimer at the bottom of the material specifying that the material should not be reproduced without your authorization. You can also add the copyright symbol to your material to prevent people from stealing it. Both unpublished and published materials can be stolen although unpublished materials may pose a bigger threat. Again, you can protect them by placing a disclaimer and the copyright symbol and also looking into registering with the Copyright office. If your work is not published, you could look into self-publishing your work. There are plenty of platforms that will allow you to publish your work with them and they would offer to print it on demand for you so your book or materials will be offered online and when the person orders them, they will print them and send them to the person. Technology challenges range from a person having an unstable internet connection to the system falling or freezing as you are giving a talk. You should always be prepared for technology to go awkward. One way to make sure that you are covered is to include a disclaimer in your invitations that explains what to do if the system fails or who to contact. If you are using a specific platform, you may want to include the tech support number from that provider so if people are experiencing one off issues, they can call tech support and get the help needed. You should also have a backup plan so if you are performing a video conference you may want to also voice record so if something happens you will have the voice recording and people will be able to have access to that. It is important to test the different platforms and see which one is more reliable as well. For example, I have not had luck with skype. This system is free for people but it is not very reliable. Most of the times that I have worked with it, the connection has been cut off or it was not able to support multiple people on video conferencing without failing. I am currently using a system called zoom and that has been more reliable for me as it allowed me to have multiple people on video conferencing with a good reception. It also allows you to record the sessions so you can have those sessions archived and people can access them if they are not able to participate. Another system that I have used is Go Meetings and that is supported by Citrix, this system is also reliable but it is mainly used for presentations where you have conference call number and then you present on the screen. Like I said before, you may want to check different providers and see which one works for you or which one you find more reliable. I have noticed that sometimes it is better to go with a paid system than with the free ones because they tend to be more reliable but that is just my opinion. I think these sums up some of the challenges I have faced with my community in the past five years. I have to say the challenges were far less than the benefits and joys that leading an international community has brought to my life. I am deeply grateful for the Priestesses that are by my side in different areas in the world leading their own communities and expanding Goddess Spirituality in places that we were not able to reach before. I know my journey is just beginning and one thing I am sure of is that I will always remain open to trying new technologies if they provide an opportunity to reach more people and make Goddess Spirituality more accessible to all. It’s time to be in a world without borders where information is available to all.