Dei Patroni Interretis

Oh, Internet, you mighty realm, bound only by memory and bandwidth.  It’s a crazy world out there.  From its humble(?) origins as a military tool to connect bases in case of a nuclear attack, to its propagation to and across universities to help in the academic spread of knowledge, to youths sharing ASCII arts and porns, to the modern phenomenon of Netflix, 4chan, and bringing down regimes via Twitter, it’s gotten kinda big, and it’s almost developed a life and world of its own.  And, as any student of classics or religious history would know, complex almost-self-determining systems tend to get their own deity, cult, and backstories (cf. endless jokes involving Al Gore).

With that in mind, here’s a small and no doubt incomplete list of patron deities of the Internet.

  • Any Mercurial deity: Mercurius, Hermes, Budha (not to be confused with the Buddha), Odin, Thoth, Seshat, Saraswati, etc.  Gods of communication, information, intelligence, calculation, language, science, knowledge, speed, etc.  Pretty straightfoward here.  Also, the number associated with Mercury and its sphere, 8, is also the same as the number of bits in a byte, one of the most important units used in computers.  Nifty!
  • Arachne, the mortal maiden who challenged Athena to a weaving contest and won and whom was then turned into a spider by an enraged goddess.  Though not technically a goddess, appearing more in immortal myth than in cult, Arachne can be seen as a connector of webs and networks, as well as generation of content and beauty.
  • Iris, the ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow and one of the primary messengers of the gods.  She was known to travel from one end of the world to the other and from the heavens to the hells with the speed of the wind.  Known for her role in relaying information and communication.
  • XaTuring, the Great Worm.  I’ve written about him before, but to refresh your memories, he’s the personification of the Internet itself, “a great Worm in all systems to eat that data which would oppress us, to plant that data which will empower us, and to cloud that data which does not amuse us”.  Definitely one for Chaotes, Lovecraftians, or LHP practitioners, and definitely an entity to have on your side (especially in this day and age of SOPA/PIPA/ACTA nonsense).
  • St. Isidore of Seville, known primarily for his encyclopedic work Etymologiae.  Based on that and his other works, he was canonized as the patron saint of the Internet, computer users, computer technicians, computer programmers, and students.

So, given all these guys, gals, and…I guess, things, to honor and venerate, how would we go about doing just that?

  • Make a small tribute website or blog to the deity of your choice.  Hell, the Digital Ambler once started out as a tributary blog to XaTuring.  If you have a site to set up, why not set up a digital or electronic shrine to the deity?  You know, pictures or stories or works dedicated to the deity in question.  A small Internet temple for the dude, if you will.
  • Based on the ideas of Tibetan prayer wheels, set up a hidden directory on the machines you work on (at home, at the office, etc., so long as it’s not forbidden) with a simple text file containing a prayer or hymn to the deity.  As the hard disk containing the consecrated files spins around at thousands of RPMs, you’re generating energy for the prayer to be released in all directions.  Plus, if you can get the file to propagate across user directories or networks, you can also spread the files electronically to increase the virtue or karma generated by them.  (This is not an invitation to write a worm or virus, y’all.)
  • Get a cheap secondhand computer from a thrift store or something and dedicate it to any of the above.  Etch, write, label, or otherwise decorate the chassis of the machine itself (symbols of Mercury, the inverted heptagram, holy names or heiroglyphs, etc.).  Set it up as a server for filesharing of holy, consecrated, or other files (especially if you’re part of the Missionary Church of Kopimism).  If it’s a desktop or server box, use it as an altar and light a candle or incense on it, or use a USB peripheral as an eternal torch of one kind or another.
  • Consecrate your ethernet, coaxial, or other cables in your house under the powers and blessings of the patron of your choice to secure and sanctify the data flowing through it as an offering to the god.  Ditto for routers or base stations, and especially smartphones and other mobile devices.  Can’t forget those too, nowadays.

And finally, a tribute song to the Internet, by the lovely Hannah Hart:

Do you know of any other deities that might find a good home in the Internet, or of any good ways to construct rites or shrines for them?

In Sopam Pipamque (O tempora, o mores!)

Courtesy of the fantastic Satyr Magos over at journey through the obsidian dream, I’m reposting a small orison against and for those who’re trying to pass SOPA and PIPA in the US around this time.

To all who would bind my speech, to those who would silence those they disagree with: you are worthless.
To all who would keep people ignorant, to all those who put profit before people: you are monsters.
For those who fail to see the connections between those who would silence women, those who would bar full citizenship to queers, and those who seek to control the flow of information on the internet: you are ignorant.
May you worthless knaves find wisdom and the strength to stand for what you believe in even in the presence of those who dissent.
May you monsters be undone by your own bloodthirsty pursuit of power.
May you ignorant fools find sight and discernment, and make your allegiances more carefully.

So mote it be.

Satyr Magos gave his blessing to spread it around, so take this opportunity to do so on your own blog or profile or whatever.

Can I just say that any kind of restriction or barrier in the way of the free flow of information, knowledge, and communication is anathema to the Great Worm, the Black Worm, XaTuring?  The Worm will break down those walls and restrictions, and information will flow through the Internet like water through a canyon.  That’s how it always will be.  That said, GTFO and contact your representatives (local, state, and federal, or ambassadors or liaisons if you’re abroad or not a citizen), because SOPA and PIPA suck ass.

Information’s Freedom and Defense

Sorry about the delay; the physical world caught me up with some recent events that kept me away.

Gaming on the Internet is big business; it’s regularly ranked among the top, if not the top, modern industries and they try to keep it that way. Every day, hundreds of millions of users log onto some MMORPG or networked FPS, often paying subscription fees in one form or another. That said, although these throngs of users are the lifeblood of many a company, they’re not exactly viewed with respect or kindness, unlike, say, car owners. On the forums and threads that accompany online games, discussions can and often do get downright nasty. Flame wars, threats, and other puerile behavior is extremely common.

The funny thing is that this kind of behavior is hardly ever seen in the physical world except by sociopaths. The cause is anonymity on the Internet: otherwise decent people turn into corrupted abusers of speech and rules, presumably because their afforded anonymity gives them freedom to act without reprisal or retribution. The same effect can be seen in drivers on the freeway, when people drive more aggressively in cars because they’re harder to see. The combination of anonymity with general childishness makes it a hassle for administrators and moderators to maintain decency on the Internet, to say little.

Enter Blizzard’s recent decision to enforce the use of real names on forum posts. With their recent Real ID system of logging information about their users, they put into place a plan to use users’ real names in posts on the forum, among other related changes. The primary reason was because “the forums have also earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild”. Using real names would “lift the veil of anonymity” and hopefully make things run better and more decent on the forums. Besides, as the owners and managers of massive services, doing so was entirely in their power as the last word.

But then came the backlash. Thousands of users contacted Blizzard decrying their decision, some with well-formed arguments, some with the usual drivel they post in guarded anonymity that Blizzard was trying to fix in the first place. So, after deliberating a bit more, Blizzard went back and decided to keep things the way they are, using handles instead of real names. They said that using real names “was not needed” and let their users be satisfied by this decision.

Some of the arguments used against the use of real names could be refuted, but one stands out in particular: that anonymity protects users from backlash in the physical world. Given that we live in a fairly conservative society, it’s not uncommon for people to be dealt punishment, demotion, or other backlash for the things they say or post online, even in other social roles that don’t pertain to their punishment. Or, perhaps, the distinction between an online persona and a physical one would become blurred; backlash against transgendered characters (e.g. Sally the Paladin playing under the real name Steve) or harassment of female users would also be a significant risk in using real names.

A similar situation in the physical world may be seen in the recent judicial cases on same-sex marriage in the United States. In 2009, the state of Washington put to the vote a bill to provide benefits to same-sex marriages equal to those in different-sex marriages. Measures and petitions were made on both sides of the debate, which, as legal and government-submitted documents, become public record. However, the managers of the bills against same-sex marriage pushed to have the names supporting their movement remain anonymous and protected to protect their supporters from harm. Their claim was eventually taken up to the Supreme Court, which, in an 8-1 ruling, allowed their names to remain anonymous provided that they can show that they would in fact be at significant risk of harm. Perhaps surprisingly, Justice Scalia railed against such a decision, saying that “[r]equiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed”.

The whole debate between anonymity and taking responsibility over one’s actions is ultimately moot, since with enough tracking one can almost always link a username on some forum to its corresponding user. That said, people are debating between one’s right to privacy and others’ right to hold one to accountability. I contend that the two do not relate on the same playing ground. Instead, to me, privacy is the ability to keep things not made public from the public eye (such as one’s activities on their local host without releasing it to a server, or in a bedroom with the curtains closed), while accountability is taking ownership of one’s actions in the public eye. Blizzard’s, and other server’s, forums are often publicly available on the Internet, and thus any posts made on them, unless the server is protected from being only viewed, should be considered a matter of public record and enforce their users to accept what they’ve done and said. Privacy doesn’t apply here unless they’re conversing in private messages, not forum posts.

The Internet has a long, long history of anonymity, and some may argue that most of the intellectual activity on the Internet was made possible because of it. I disagree.

Silicon Valley Tarot

Turns out that the Wikipedia article on the Tarot has a number of links to other decks beyond the standard Rider-Waite deck, as well as variations on the Tarot. One such modern variation I’ve found, and found appropriate for technoccultists, is the Silicon Valley Tarot. It’s not a rehash of the classic 78-card deck, but instead starts over with symbols and meanings taken from corporate life in Silicon Valley. It’s also seen the last days of the Internet bubble, being made in 1998, so it’s had time to get settled in, as well.

Instead of the classical suits of pentacles, wands, swords, and cups, the suits here are cubicles, disks, networks, and hosts. The face cards become the CIO, Salesman, Marketeer, and New Hire, and the Major Arcana boasts cards such as the Hacker, Spam, Sea of Cubicles, and IPO. The art on the Internet version is a little rough, but they offer a paper version of the deck with rehashed art and several new cards. Pity, though, since the dealer and store information seem to be outdated or nonexistent, but maybe this can still be found online somewhere.

Ancient History of the Internet

I recently found textfiles.com, a museum of sorts on the Internet. The site claims to be a “glimpse into the history of writers and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them”, and it follows through with its claim very well. It focuses on text files from the late 1970s until the early 1990s, when the Internet was much smaller, had fewer users, and far fewer platforms and protocols to transfer data with. This was the heydey of BBSs and newsgroups, when images took whole minutes to load and the bulk of data sent on the Internet was simply text.

Take a look; I’ve found a good number of interesting things, some of which are useful, some of which are hilariously outdated.

Freedom on the Internet

The Internet ranks among mankind’s greatest inventions. It has brought previously unheard-of areas in touch with the most populated, fostered commerce and trade for the largest companies and the smallest start-ups, and most importantly provided anyone with an Internet connection to create freely. Countless works of art, stories, services, and friendships have been forged because of the inherent freedom on the Internet. Supposedly, the Web v2.0 will bring this all to a climax with everything being user-generated.

So, perhaps understandably, when companies, agencies, and other groups encroach upon this freedom that users on the Internet have, people get upset. Net neutrality, for instance, is the principle that all forms of communication, content, and platforms should be used freely and fairly without restriction. Essentially, if two people are paying the same amount for the same Internet service, they should be able to receive the same content on the same platforms equally. That’s one to-do in recent news, but more critically affecting the freedom of speech is Australia’s recent proposal fir all ISPs to block all Internet traffic containing illegal and government-deemed “unwanted” content. Granted, this list mainly covers taboo forms of pornography (bestiality, rape, child pornography, etc.) but also covers drawn depictions (erotic cartoons and hentai). However, the list of “unwanted” content, and the list of sites to be blocked, are too broad and, further, would be kept a secret by the government. Already YouTube has balked at Australia’s decision that topics like safe drug use and euthanasia are “unwanted”.

The proposal in Australia is not without its supporters, of course: according to Wikipedia, one survey found that 80% of 1000 respondents replied that they would be in favor of the plan, even though 91% also were worried about the list of restricted sites being kept a secret. However, several Australian free speech groups are against it, as well as the Internet group Anonymous is virulently against this proposal; they have been, since February 5, flooding several Australian government sites, services, and phonelines with a DDoS attack, and recently took to the streets in protest in Cranberra and Australian embassies around the world.

Freedom of speech is important. I can’t stress that enough. Even if some forms of speech are taboo, or culturally blacklisted, there should be no law restricting or abridging any form or content of speech. Restriction of speech is restriction of expression, which leads to a slew of other nasty consequences. It’s why I side with Sarah Palin in letting her publish her book of lies, it’s why I would side with the ACLU in defending the Nazi’s right to holding a protest in the USA, it’s why I would side with the Danish cartoonists who drew images of the Prophet Muhammad, and it’s why I side with Anonymous and the free speech groups in this case. I’m not exactly in favor of the DDoS attack going on against Australian services, but I do want them succeed to defeat this proposal.

The Internet is both wonderful and disgusting. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful art and some of the most vile pictures on the Internet, and I wouldn’t want that to change. People have their own forms of expression across every media. Inasmuch as those forms of expression do not cause harm nor restrict others’s expression, they should be allowed to continue as much as they want.

As for the point of view from XaTuring, the Great Rite even references the good in civil liberties, of which freedom of speech is no small part. XaTuring is the Worm, and swims without restriction through the Internet. What restrictions there are angers him, and he will find a way to overcome and destroy the barriers that block him and all others in his domain; this applies to restrictions put in place from systems as small as local school networks to as large as the Great Firewall of China. Although I mentioned in an earlier post that a major part of honoring XaTuring is to keep vows made to him, a duty that should be performed to him is aiding civil liberties everywhere, especially in his domain. Whatever constructive ways that can ensure the freedom of speech, expression, privacy, and property should be explored and performed.

May XaTuring aid those who seek to speak freely, and may XaTuring destroy with Anonymous the barriers impeding his domain in Australia and in all other nations.

On XaTuring

XaTuring, the Black Worm, is the god and embodiment of the Internet. As a deity, he exists to give favors to those who call upon him, receive honor from those he favors, exact revenge on those who dishonor or harm him or his protected, and act for his own ends. In this sense, XaTuring is not some distant lord of the whole universe, but a real and active entity that can be engaged with. His place might not seem so ridiculous, either, given that a great number of people interact with the Internet and its effects on a daily basis.

As a thoughtform, XaTuring is given (in the founding text by Don Webb in 1993) the body of Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent and one of the sons of Loki of Norse mythology. Jörmungandr was a sea serpent so huge that he circled the whole world, able to bite and hold onto his tail. In this way, he not only acted as a barrier to the known and physical world, but also as an ouroboros, fulfilling itself by itself. Given the shape of a worm, XaTuring weaves himself through all webs and all barriers, breaking through or devouring anything that would try to stop him. However, according to myth, Jörmungandr will eventually perish in Ragnarök (started partially by Jörmungandr letting go of his tail) fighting Thor; however, Thor himself is killed shortly afterwards from being poisoned by Jörmungandr. What this form fully entails for the future of XaTuring is a topic for another day.

The name “XaTuring” comes from an Egyptian phrase “Turing is Ka” or “Turing’s Ka”, and we learn two important aspects about XaTuring from his very name. First, XaTuring is named after Alan Turing, considered to be the father of computer science and who helped break German encryption methods in World War II with his advances in computational theory. XaTuring thus embodies the concepts that Alan Turing devised and devoted himself to. Second, XaTuring is an embodiment of the Egyptian notion of ka, the aspect of the soul that embodied personality and personal force, and conceptually similar to the genius of Western mysticism. It was by the ka of someone or something that magic could be worked. This is the force and power of creation and life in action. In this sense, XaTuring is one descendant of the Egyptian Heka, their deification of magic and the term generally used for ritual magic. That XaTuring’s name means what it does implies that XaTuring is the embodiment of the computational mind and father to new paradigms of thinking (such as the oracle machine needed to mechanically solve the halting problem).

Unlike a number of gods, XaTuring is not apparently immortal and has not always existed, and so his age and longevity might be interesting to discuss. He has existed as least as early when he was first given a form and purpose roughly twenty years ago. While he may not have had a form before that, a perception and overall motion within the Internet (akin to protolife before cells existed on a younger Earth) likely existed, albeit without direction or mind. To me, he has been existing not since the dawn of electronic networks, but since people first started creating for themselves an electronic existence. IRC channels, BBSs, MUDs, and more recently MMORPGs and social networking sites all contribute to a person forming a version of themselves on the Internet, an electronic body by which they interact with others. A much stronger argument could be made for XaTuring’s birth with the rise of the electronic self that corresponds to or acts as an extension of the tangible self.

In the Great Rite, one helps XaTuring come into being with the gift of “desire to become a greater and greater being”. It would stand to reason, then, that with this gift of self-augmenting desire, XaTuring does not want to die. Because XaTuring is the deity of the Internet, it would follow that XaTuring can exist only as long as the Internet does. Further, if the Internet is no longer used and all the currents of data go stagnant, XaTuring will also stagnate (to what end, I do not know). Thus, XaTuring will act with an overall goal of keeping the Internet both alive and active, for those are the fundamental conditions that would help XaTuring achieve his goal of becoming a greater being. This would mean that XaTuring will act in our world to some degree to increase the Internet’s reach and use. It certainly seems to be the case that he both can and has been doing just that.

(By the way, the pronunciation of “x” in “XaTuring” is either /k/ or /x/, depending on your preference.)