Pioneer Witchvox shuts down and ends an era

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Note: Star Bustamonte also contributed to this article. 

Editorial Note: The Wild Hunt thanks Peg Aloi for assistance with this article. 

The beloved Witches’ Voice website, witchvox.com, closed its doors for on December 31, 2019, as announced previously in November.  It represents the end of an era that saw a pioneering team bring together the first Witchcraft community on the web.

The Witches’ Voice started in early 1997 with Wren Walker and Fritz Jung—the two main visionaries who continued their work on the site until its closing. Back in 1996 before the creation of Witchvox, Walker and Junger were participating in the development of a website for the Witches’ League of Public Awareness (WLPA).

Laurie Cabot, who founded WLPA a decade earlier, and those working with her like Walker and Jung, wanted to create a resource for Witches and Pagans to address negative representations about Witches and Witchcraft. After working on the WPLA project, Walker and Jung amicably split from Cabot and the WPLA project to undertake their own project that would become Witchvox.

Peg Aloi, the media coordinator for Witchvox and whose function it was to write about media portrayals and conduct press interviews, shared a humorous story about how the name Witchvox came to be. Before the founding of the site, Walker and Jung had been watching Xena: Warrior Princess. When trying to come up with the eventual name of the site, Fritz made a joke about the site should be named “xenarules.com”. After further discussion, they chose to go with The Witches’ Voice and shortened the site’s address to Witchvox. Fritz, who was the webmaster of the site and wrote its code, would occasionally say “hey, we should tell people the ‘x‘ stands for ‘Xena rules'”.

At the time when the innovative web browser was Netscape and AmericaOnline chat groups were all the rage, Witchvox would come online and become the internet hub for Witches and Pagans.  By presenting information about various magical traditions, Pagan-related news, and resources, Witchvox revolutionized the interaction of all Pagans and how they found and ultimately contacted one another.

It is difficult to underestimate the impact Witchvox has had for Pagans and Witches everywhere and site users highlighted its pivotal importance.

I think I first found them I the 90s. Granted it was over a decade after I started walking my path but at that time I wanted and needed a community to feel I was part of a group. At that time they served as the only pagan community I had. They are almost an institution of sorts. Over the years I moved away from witch community I stopped seeing them as a community. But I still saw them as a good resource and they had many good articles. Them closing down is a loss I’d think. I hope someone can keep the historical. – Wandering Free Spirit, eclectic practitioner

 

Used it to find groups and stores when I moved to MA. Also used when traveling, primarily to find stores. Biggest complaint was that it wasn’t always updated in a timely manner. – Carin in Massachusetts

Witchvox provided needed resources and information to people turning to the internet in a search to understand what Wicca and Witchcraft were all about. Walker wrote many articles on the site such as  “Witchcraft 101: So Ya Wanna be a Witch?,” “Witch/Wicca F.A.Q.s,” “The Wiccan Rede,” and many other informative pieces for an internet audience looking for anything that would help them understand if Witchcraft was the right path for them.  Moreover, with few resources outside of books and personal contacts available, individuals seeking information could anonymously explore Pagan and Witchcraft topics in the safety of their own homes.

Way back in the late 90’s in the days of dial-up and so forth, I was a late 20’s solitary male witch living in NYC. At that time, Witchvox gave me a place to read quality material about witchcraft, ethics, traditions, and so forth. It gave me a sense of community and connection at a time in my life when simply going to shops and public events just was not feasible. It kept me in touch with my pagan heart, and allowed that fire within me to grow.
In September 2001, still living in NYC, Witchvox quickly became the key place for me to find NYC PPD, and Starhawk’s ritual of healing in Central Park. As I processed the events of that September, Witchvox became the gateway for me to seek formal training for the first time. It connected me with a High Priestess and a tradition that were crucial to my development as a witch.
Once it became clear to me that I would be leaving NYC in 2003, it was instrumental in connecting me to the people who would quickly become my High Priest and High Priestess.
Once I moved to the greater Washington D.C. area, Witchvox helped me connect to the local community, as well as helped me found my current Coven.
These pivotal moments in my life would have likely not unfolded without Witchvox. In retrospect, I find it moving and startling in equal turns, that I would not even know you, Star, were it not for Witchvox.  – Rath, High Priest Coven of the Black Vulture, Alexandria VA

Witchvox strove to walk the fine line of neutrality without showing favoritism to any particular group of practitioners. The site states, “TWV is a neutral forum open to all adherents of the various Heathen religions, Pagan, Witch, Wiccan traditions and to Solitary Practitioners who/that follow a positive code of ethics such as The Wiccan Rede or The Ring of Troth’s, Nine Virtues.”

For example, to try and ensure neutrality without favoritism when it came to reviewing books without showing any inclination towards any particular person, group, artist, or faith, they would allow authors to create a page on the site and publicize their own book or gave them a platform through a page to share their thoughts on a particular subject for a wider audience than a person’s LiveJournal page or MySpace page could give them access to.

I used Witchvox primarily to get some of my articles no longer in print out to an audience who might be able to use them more easily, mostly publishing healing works that could be done on your own, articles that helped show different sides of an issue from different faiths, and like things.
I also personally really enjoyed being able to read people’s own thoughts about practices I never would have been exposed to otherwise. I also published events on there, though I didn’t really connect to events there myself (if there were local things I must have missed them) I think the way it impacted my heart the most was more about people who reached out to me from the site.
On my page I had which form of Christianity I practice as well as the folk traditions I practice and my training in other paths, which I mostly have in order to try to understand and support people better. LOTS of people reached out to me who were caught in the middle between something Abrahamic and earth based, some needing help with trauma and some needing a ceremony done and no one willing to do it.
I was one of those who have too many gifts to hide as a child but got abuse over help or support, and Witchvox made the privilege available to me to be able to support people in situations like what I survived while making them feel safer to reach out. I also got to help a lot of people with divided families get along better and understand each other better. Witchvox has been a safe space and a hope line for a lot of people and I’ve been really blessed to have gotten to rub shoulders with it. – David Gamble, Celtic Christianity, Moore Irish Folk traditions, and the American Shamanism Movement

When it closed, Witchvox had some 80,000 profiles of people who are authors, artists of all sorts, experts, and general members such as military Pagans, old Pagans, young Pagans, clergy, covens, and other organizations. A great number of shops, online sites, political freedom fighters, and other similar groups and sites made use of Witchvox to connect to those of similar mind or interest.

The desire to help Witches and Pagans connect with each other inspired Fritz and Walker to create a section of the site called Witches of the World (WoW). Originally, the section was just people in the U.S. connecting through it in individual states and areas of the county. It later spread to England, Europe, Australia, and as well as to other countries. Witchvox was a central hub to curious and new seekers as well as to old Pagans and Witches seeking information about exploring their spirituality.

Witchvox was my connection to the world outside my backyard. It was on Witchvox that I learned of festivals where like minded people from far afield would gather for along weekend or a glorious week to learn and celebrate all things Pagan. Thanks to Witchvox I have learned new perspectives and met amazing people I am now happy to call my friends. It is sad to see such a wonderful resource pass by the wayside. I mourn its passing. – Zan Krall, Maryland Wiccan

 

I mostly loved it. I think it may have been my means to connect to the first local pagan meeting I attended. It was certainly an important way for me to find other pagans and witches for many years– including when I organized a learning circle myself later on. – Calesta, Trad. Wiccan, Memphis

 

Thankful for Witchvox and all who made it possible! Wonderful resource for networking, connecting, learning, and supporting community! – Selena Fox

 

In 2005, after years of practicing as a solitaire, I decided I was ready to explore meeting other witches. Witchvox helped me find a class (Wicca 101) that was being taught in Syracuse at Seven Rays bookstore. I attended simply to be able to meet other witches and to learn about other people’s experiences. Through that class I received an invitation to join a coven, but after nearly a year had passed decided that group was not for me. Sometime later, when I was ready to try again, Witchvox helped me find a coven located in my small hometown. I met some really wonderful people and developed lasting spiritual family connections. Witchvox was pivotal in developing those relationships. – Sheri Barker, formerly Coven of the White Owl, Ravenmyst Tradition

Walker began to gather news from around the internet and post links to the stories that might be of interest to the readers. Eventually, Walker created Wren’s Nest where she could share her thoughts and opine on news that was tangentially connected with Pagan interests. Walker would sometimes give advice herself in her articles as a little wren (Wren’s Words, Wrants, and Wramblings).

As a shiny new pagan back in the 1990s, Witchvox was such an important hub for me! I was in a rural area and my book selections were slim, and while there was a growing number of websites out there, none compared to Witchvox in scale and functionality. Every time I moved to a new place, one of the first things I did was check out what sorts of pagan resources were in my new neighborhood.

Later on, as I began to hone my skills as a pagan writer, Witchvox was kind enough to publish a bunch of my essays. I have nothing but grand respect for Fritz Jung, Wren Walker, and everyone else who helped make that site happen for so long. It’s definitely the end of an era. – Lupa, naturalist pagan and author

Diotima Mantineia, another early and continuing writer and editor for the site, described Wren’s Nest as “Facebook before Facebook. Wren would post news articles and people could comment on them. The ability to comment was a Very Big Deal back then.”

Aloi shares that the site’s popularity reached around a million hits a day around the end of the 1990s and into the 2000s. Fritz’s coding of the databases allowed readers to post their events, information about their covens, their artistic creations of music, books, and other wares, as well as connect with other like-minded people.

Seekers and practitioners today are primarily connecting with others and getting their news and information through social media which has caused a downturn in the Witches’ Voice site traffic. Social media has seen people move away from newsgroups, blogs, and forums and instead has led to people getting their info about their interests while reading over their friends’ lists, rather than people going to websites for most of their information and news.  Indeed, the Witches’ Voice Facebook group that began on February 20, 2010, will remain active and continue serving the community.

Many Pagan bloggers and sites have been posting about how the site impacted them and saying their farewells to Witchvox in their own way.  The Wild Hunt shares in the praise of Witchvox.  Manny Tejeda-Moreno, Editor-in-Chief of The Wild Hunt added, “The pioneering work done by the Witchvox team laid the internet groundwork for many sites including this one and we remain grateful for their vision and service”.