Around the World: Paganism in Australia

Cosette Paneque —  August 15, 2014 — 25 Comments

[Around the World is a monthly weekend column. It features different Pagan and Heathen writers from outside the U.S.A. bringing varied perspectives to The Wild Hunt. Today we introduce Cosette Paneque, a blogger and Priestess in the Georgian Wicca Tradition, who lives in Melbourne, Australia.]

Greetings from Down Under!

I’m an immigrant twice. The first time, I emigrated from Cuba to Miami in 1980. In 2012, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to be with my Aussie partner. I left behind an incredible spiritual community. I belonged to Beachfyre Coven and to the Everglades Moon Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess through which I held ministerial credentials. I was involved with Cherry Hill Seminary and the Pagan Newswire Collective. I belonged to an ilé. I went to Florida Pagan Gathering and PantheaCon. I am Wiccan and I counted Santeros, Druids, Heathens, Hellenists, and various other kinds of polytheists as friends and acquaintances. I expected that Australia would have the same kind of vibrant community, but, if it does, I haven’t found it.

Australia has a smaller population than California spread across a vast and diverse country roughly the size of the United States. The Pagan pool is much smaller here. In the 2011 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 32,083 Australians identified their religion as a Pagan. Pagans are also widely dispersed, but no one is ever too far when you have the Internet. I made contacts and met some people and, eventually, made some friends.

Great Ocean Road [by C. Paneque]

Great Ocean Road [Photo taken by C. Paneque]

My experience with Aussie Pagans has been delightful. They are intelligent, talented, caring people with a hunger for knowledge and community. But many of them – in fact almost every Pagan I’ve met – have had extremely negative experiences with other Pagans, which has left them deeply wounded and suspicious of each other.

The negative experiences fall within a few categories. There are those who know very little and place themselves in positions of leadership, the responsibilities of which they are unable to handle. They are quickly challenged by others or they burn out. There are those out to make a quick buck and manage to succeed for a while before they acquire a terrible reputation. Some groups are little more than cliques. The worst are the stories of abuse – of initiates coerced into getting tattoos as a sign of membership and allegiance; of priests who accept only young women as students; and of priestesses who make sex a requirement for participation and twist sacred rituals into something sordid.

Even organizing a casual lunch can be challenging because Pagans are afraid of running into someone who has hurt them. There are a few well-regarded groups such as Reclaiming and ADF, but covens remain largely hidden. Most Pagans that I’ve talked to prefer to remain solitary.

Many, however, express a longing for community and access to teachers. They seek information and a sense of kinship on Facebook and other online sites. I’m primarily speaking of Wiccans, Witches, Druids and other kinds of eclectic Pagans. I haven’t met other kinds of polytheists and, if there is a community of African diasporic religions such as Vodou or Lucumi, it is deeply hidden.

Blue Mountains National Park [By freeaussiestock.com / CC lic.]

Blue Mountains National Park [By freeaussiestock.com / CC lic.]

Contemporary Paganism has been in Australia for a long time. By the 1970s, Alexandria Wicca was established and came to be the most popular initiate tradition in Australia.* And yet Australia has since developed very little infrastructure to support and connect Pagans. The most well-known organization may be the Pagan Awareness Network, but it’s difficult to say how active the group is or what its impact has been. The media release on the website’s home page is dated 2012, and my attempts to get an interview with a representative have gone nowhere. There are few festivals, but most of these suffer from organizational problems. The most well-known festival may be the Mt. Franklin Pagan Gathering, a casual weekend camping event that has been taking place for over 30 years.

Legally, Aussie Pagans don’t fare very well. The 1901 Constitution of Australia prohibits the Commonwealth government from establishing a church or interfering with the freedom of religion. However, none of the Pagan religions are legally recognized. Here in Melbourne, I’ve met three Pagans who are marriage celebrants (marriage is a civil act) and none who are clergy. Although I do know of at least one Pagan church, the Community Church of Inclusive Wicca Incorporated (CCIWI)in South Australia. Strict weapon laws generally mean that athames are illegal and difficult to purchase even from abroad.

When it comes to rituals and magick, a major struggle is that much of the Pagan material comes from the Northern Hemisphere, primarily the U.S., and it doesn’t easily apply here. Our seasonal cycle is opposite; some of us just observed Imbolc while our friends in the Northern Hemisphere celebrated Lughnassadh.

That one is easy, but others things are sources of conflict. For example, the sun travels from the east to the west through the north, as opposed to through the south. There are countless arguments among circle-casting Pagans about the direction in which to cast the circle and whether the elements should be associated with different directional points. It’s the old debate on whether to use what we inherited from the symbolism in the Western Mystery Tradition or to apply a geographical interpretation. When it comes to correspondences, there has been little work done with Australia’s unique flora and fauna, and many Australians have simply been working with material developed in the U.S. and England.

There’s a great divide among the Pagans that I’ve talked to regarding what they want. Some just want to be alone. Some want community, but they don’t think it’s possible to achieve it due to previous negative experiences.  Therefore, they don’t support efforts to develop it. Many others want to develop friendships and networks, build infrastructure, and establish festivals that could create access to teachers. Many Aussie Pagans are familiar with well-known American Pagans, especially authors, and bemoan the fact that they have neither the means to bring them to Australia, nor the funds to travel to the U.S. to see them at events such as PantheaCon or Pagan Spirit Gathering.

I am thrilled to know some wonderful Pagans doing great work here in the Lucky Country. More groups, publications, and festivals are popping up every day. I know Aussie Pagans who are podcasting, writing, facilitating public workshops and rituals, and doing research on Australia’s unique plant and animal life. Many are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture, but that presents its own special challenges.

[Photo by C. Paneque]

[Photo taken by C. Paneque]

As for me, I’m in the curious position of being well-versed in a particular form of Wicca from the Northern Hemisphere and being a complete beginner Down Under. Everything is different here – the land, the spirits, the wildlife, and plants. I have a lot to learn. After being unable to find my niche, I decided to create it. After two years of networking and five months of teaching an introductory course on Wicca, I have formed a coven. I am excited and privileged to be working with such bright and talented people, to re-introduce the Georgian Wicca tradition to Australia, and I look forward to learning as much from them as they might from me.

* Reference: Douglas Ezzy’s essay “Australian Paganisms”, Handbook of Contemporary Paganism edited by Murphy Pizza, James R. Lewis

Send to Kindle

Cosette Paneque

Posts

Cosette Paneque is a priestess in the Georgian Wicca tradition and a daughter of Ogun. She is also a blogger, a birdwatcher, a photography enthusiast, and an amateur drummer. Born in Havana, raised in Miami, she currently resides in Melbourne, Australia.
  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    Thanks; these discussions of Paganism in different places are really interesting.

  • Eleana

    It would have been great to hear from an actual Australian pagan rather than an expat. Why one earth would one expect to find African religion in Australia?? A lot of broad conclusions drawn from cursory research conducted within one city after a limited time living in Oz. Ugh.

    • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

      I’ll second that. I’d go further, though. Australia has an amazing indigenous culture with its own religious world views. Would have been great to hear about that, rather than an incoming religion.

      • Andrew Rolfe

        A lot of the Aboriginal stuff is only for initiates and is also divided along gender lines so is impossible to talk about w/o giving offence.

        • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

          That does make things problematic.

    • Raksha38

      Why can’t we have articles by both? I think an Australian’s and an expat’s experiences with Paganism are equally interesting to read about.

  • Jocelyne Houghton

    Cosette, I wonder if you have come across Glenys Livingstone’s Pagaian Cosmology. She holds seasonal rituals at the Moon Court of “Bru-na-BigTree” in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

    http://pagaiancosmology.com/

  • Andrew Rolfe

    There are a few resources for Aussie Pagans but they can be hard to find. Scott Alexander King’s book Animal Dreaming is the Aussie version of Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. King is a bit of a wanker but it’s a good start. There are also PAN Pagan in the Pub moots in most states and capital cities. The Mind, Body Spirtit Festivals of Melbourne and Sydney are also good places to meet like minded people but they can be a very very flaky bunch. There’s also drum circles scattered about the place and various shops in the big cities. In Melbourne there’s SpellBox, in Royal Arcade,and Witchcraft Emporium in Camberwell, just two that I know of. And of course the Theosophical Society Bookshop.

    • Deborah Bender

      In the US there are not many federal regulations about edged weapons, but many localities outlaw double-edged daggers. Enforcement is spotty and they are easy enough to buy, but getting caught with one when out and about can result in arrest and confiscation of the weapon.

  • Raksha38

    Yay! A new Walking the World column! I love reading about people’s experiences in places I’ve never been and, sadly, will likely never go.

  • Deborah Bender

    Cosette, leaders of the Georgian tradition in Southern California used to be in close touch with Gardnerian covens in LA. If that’s still the case, you could probably arrange for introductions to Gardnerian elders in Australia if you care to do that.

  • http://www.paganawareness.net.au David Garland

    Hello Cosette,

    It is an interesting view that you have formed on the whole Australian Pagan Community, although I can understand, how you would have formed the views you have especially being based in Victoria.

    Victoria is still recovering from the worst witch wars we have ever seen in Australia and a lot of people were left as you said damaged, hurt or afraid to get involved in anything, it will take a few more years for that to change. Doing what you have is probably the best thing and start your own group.
    It is a very different scene here as the laws are very different, there are no recognised religions in Australia, so there is no getting traditions recognised here. It can not be done here at all. The plus is that no religion is not recognised either.
    There are recognised institutions, and to be an institution you need money, (along with 12 active church/temples/open covens all agreeing to work under your rules) and Australian Pagans tend not to have a) any money and b) will not agree on anything :) .
    We do not have the numbers to warrant the support groups that are in the US for Pagans, when you look at the biggest pagan event ever run in Australia had just over 300 people not thousands but 300 in attendance, we are never going to achieve what has been in the US where you have thousands in attendance of events, or as members of groups.

    There are recognised religious celebrants who can perform Pagan Handfastings or weddings in Victoria, and they were some of the first to be recognised in the Country, but again, with a small community, is it really required for any more that that, I am not aware of any of them that are actively able to make a living from supplying that service.
    The majority of events that run in Australia are done so by not for profit groups staffed by volunteers and again have to be bank rolled by the people putting them on, and Pagans in Australia want a lot for as little as possible, having run events here for the last 17 years, I don’t think your comment is fair or justified.

    We have events like the Australian Wiccan Conference that have been running for over 30 years even with our limited Pagan population, some years better than others but it is still going.

    The Pagan Awareness Network Inc has been running for 17 years in Australia, and is completely Volunteer run, we have been involved in the repeal and formation of laws affecting Pagans in Australia during that time, including the repeal of the anti Witchcraft laws in Victoria in 2005 and the changes to the knife laws.
    Sorry we missed your request for an interview, however we do receive hundreds of similar requests each year for many different people for many different reasons, we do not get to all of them, due to time constraints. However all of the information on our site, especially in relation to events is updated monthly. There has not been an issue in the media for a little while here so we have not had to update any of that information of late :)

    There are some wonderful, knowledgeable people in Victoria and I do hope you meet some of them soon, Mt Franklin may be the event to attend as many of the “old guard” are usually there, and if not people there will be able to put you in touch with them, as they are not always easy to find…. or maybe they don’t want to be ;)
    Love and Light

  • Damiana Fortune

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on your experiences with the Australian pagan community, I enjoyed reading the column. Wishing you every success with your group. Sometimes when we can’t find the community we want, we have to create it – well done for carving out your own niche.

  • Kayleen W

    I’d like to thank David for his reply: he has covered a number of the points I was thinking of trying to cover, and I am pleased that the Australian Wiccan Conference was mentioned. (I was also going to suggest Sydney’s Spheres of Light as a good online resource as well.) I am also particularly pleased for David’s clarification around the topic of recognition of religious groups.

    David has also covered the issue of volunteers and community expectations quite well. I know several Australian communities – not just the Pagan communities – which have shown a tendency to burn out their leaders. Personal issues can also be an issue, of course – for example, the last few years have been very draining for me, but much of that is work and family health matters (elderly parents). All of those mean I have little energy or interest in Pagan events at the moment, and probably won’t for a few years to come.

    There are a few other points it may still be worth me contributing my two cents worth, though.

    Firstly, I have come across Vodou and Santeria, which is not surprising given the diversity of places people have come to Australia from (including Africa), but suspect they may be less open because of a fear of persecution.

    In terms of adapting to the Southern Hemisphere, my experience (which, in Paganism, started with Correllian Wicca, but shamanism, Heathenry and a bunch of other paths are also part of my background) is that very few people here use the Northern Hemisphere correspondences (mostly this is done by swapping north and south – i.e., fire in the north, earth in the south, and invoke counter-clockwise – which is sunwise here – rather than clockwise), but few have made an attempt to adapt ritual to local seasons (incidentally, here in Melbourne we’ve just passed from Waring [Wombat Season] to Guling [Orchid Season], according to http://museumvictoria.com.au/forest/climate/kulin.html).

    As for indigenous spirituality, as mentioned, a lot of it is considered ‘secret business’. I know a little through one of my sisters having married an indigenous man, and that little I won’t repeat here, but it is fairly widely known that a lot of this is based around connection to the land. Given how appallingly many non-indigenous people have treated indigenous people and the land, I’m not surprised that the secrecy is maintained. I would, if I was in their situation.

    As a final comment, although we’re a small set of communities, we’ve been around for quite a while. The 1911 Census, our first National Census, counted 1,447 Pagans (and included Heathens as a sub-set of Pagan).

    Love, light, hugs and blessings

    Kayleen

    • lilithdorsey

      Glad to hear you report some Afro-Diasporan (Vodou, Santeria/Lucumi) practitioners there. I am a Voodoo priestess and a Santo initiate and I would hate to think there was a even small corner where the tradition wasn’t represented ;) I hope those practitioners and there larger Pagan community in general becomes to feel more safe and open about these religions. I have been in the Pagan community for over three decades and many days it seems like one step forward, two steps back no matter where you live. Many Blessings to You Kayleen, and Ashe and Alafia to you Cosette, Lilith

  • Dean

    Some groups are very active in Melbourne, but small. You mentioned ADF, the Druids of Silver Birch Grove of the ADF hold a monthly social Druid coffee get together and hold free public rituals following the 8 High Days (sabats) of the year and are some of the most welcoming and supportive Pagans you could ever hope to meet. The Covenent of Hekate seems quite active within it’s own community but also holds a few free open public rituals every year. In terms of other Polytheists, there are a number of Hellenists that are solitary practioners but quite willing to talk with peole here. The Melbourne Heathen Moot holds a monthly social meeting, followed by a blot. There is also a Melbourne Pagans in the Pub too. Living in Melbourne myself, I have found all these groups to be active and supportive however I find the majority of Pagans either don’t know about them, or are reluctant to make contact with or attend events. Why that is the case is hard to say, perhaps some fear persecution from the wider public, or have had negative experiences with other groups in the past, or others are simply shy about meeting new Pagans who (might) already know each other.

    I would suggest people visit public Pagan events or contact organisers of other circles or covens and ask if they can attend and observe. Most importantly, give going to groups and participating in the Pagan community a fair go first, and then you can judge how you found it for yourself. :)

  • Julia Phillips

    As an Australian who emigrated here from England in 1988 I have a very different view of the community, which I find to be healthy, innovative, and spiritually aware. Australian Wiccans are very well connected with their kin in Europe, USA, New Zealand and Canada. Indeed, I am actually typing this in Canada, staying with family, soon off to meet other family in Boston and San Francisco. Earlier this year I visited other family in Auckland – Australian Wiccans may be geographically isolated but they are certainly not socially isolated.

    Julia Phillips

  • g75401

    Good for you! I was reading your piece thinking what a terrific opportunity you have. As for adapting to Australia, do what feels right.

  • Ursyl

    Very interesting, thank-you.

    Even though I’m wholly northern hemisphere, I have really been appreciating the efforts I’ve seen to be mindful of the seasonal differences south of the Equator.

    One thing though: East and West, all the compass points, are the same in the southern hemisphere as they are here in the North. The Sun rises in the East there and sets in the West, just like here. Look at a globe if you’re not sure.
    What is different is the apparent direction of the circle it makes in the sky.

    I would see it as entirely appropriate for circles, casting and dancing, to be done counterclockwise there, as that is the Sunwise for that part of the globe. Seems only logical to me when one is practicing a Nature-based religion to flow with the Nature of one’s location. When I was at Myrtle beach oh so very long ago, I put Water to the East, Land to my West, etc, as befit my location. At our UU where our CUUPs chapter holds ritual, the stream happens to be to our West, so the “defaults” work there.

  • Mel Ell

    I have to disagree with a lot of what you have said. As someone who moved from Canada into rural Australia (in Tasmania no less) I’ve found the pagan community in Australia to be very rich, fruitful, healthy and active! All it takes is a simple google search to find active pagan groups in all of the states! That is how i found the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance (Pagan Alliance has groups in every state) we have monthly, if not more, gatherings all over Tasmania. Yes we all follow different paths, but we enrich each others experiences through our sharing. Personally I’m of the shamanic, witch, ecstatic trance persuasion, but still love to catch up with my wiccan, druid etc friends to share, discuss, and debate. I have been an active Tas Pagan Alliance member for about 5 years now and have never felt us not to be active.
    The PAN are a very active group, both politically and event wise. The Australian Wiccan Conference, is ran every single year in a different part of Australia, and there is always around 200+ attendees to that and feature Aussie pagan bands like Spiral Dance. Doug Ezzy who is one of our awesome Tassie members often does talks on paganism throughout our state. Book wise you have Dancing the Sacred Wheel by Frances Billinghurst, Tricia Szirom’s goddess books, blog authors Inga at Australis Incognita about Aussie witchcraft, or Deed without a Name about Traditional Witchcraft by Lee Morgan. There is the Goddess Association that run yearly conferences with workshops. …. Basically what I’m getting at is there are MANY pagan related things to experience all over Australia, and many I haven’t touched upon. Yes probably compared to higher populated parts of the world there isn’t as much,, but really for our population there is actually quite a bit. It is unlikely that many “formalized pagan group” such as wiccan temples or druid circles are likely to get very large here due to geography, and the unlikeliness of having enough people in a close geographic location actually interested in the exact same path… not a high chance… However! There are many pagans in Australia who have developed their own, or have been taught from private less dogmatic/structured teachers about their craft/practice.
    Really in short, Yes there are active pagan related things and people everywhere in Australia, and Yes they may be spread around due to geography, but No they aren’t hidden, and No they aren’t just doing what the northern hemisphere people do in reverse… But absolutely Yes Australian Pagan things don’t search for people/you, you have to reach for them and be willing to step out there and meet and engage with people from all types of paths.
    P.S Hi David and Julia who beat me to commenting! lol!

    • SunshineMary

      I was born in Brisbane, have lived here for most of my life and can only really speak about the South East Queensland pagan community. However, I agree with Mel Ell and think that Australia dose have a vibrant pagan community (or at least I really enjoy the pagan community in South East Queensland with all its good and bad points). Other people have already spoken about what the Australian pagan community can offer and I could add so much more, however in the end I just think that the author is trying to compare 32 years of living a country and building a life with 2 years living in another country. I think it takes time to get immersed with any type of community (in my experiences, especially pagans) and its unfair to think that in 2 years, you can know what happens in the entire country. In time, I hope the Author can meet new people, connect with the community and see what amazing people Australia has to offer.

    • Mel Ell

      In addition to my post, just a specific point about craft work specific to Australian flora and fauna, Inga’s blog and shop Australis Incognita is specifically focused on Australian witchcraft using these local resources. Also Cheralyn Darcey created the Australian flower oracle which is amazing! Also there is Stacey Demarco and Lucy Cavendish who have been doing Aussie based works for ages. Great stuff out there :D!!

    • Andrew Rolfe

      Mel I’m also in Tassie, where everything is rural ;-)
      I’m not the only Pagan in my village but am likely to be the only Shamanic type.

  • Jess Steers

    As the State Coordinator of the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance Inc (which has been constantly active in our corner of Australia since the early 90’s), I very much disagree with Cosette’s dire outlook on the pagan community in Australia. Many have already commented so I won’t repeat, however I would like to say that in Cosette’s locality alone there are a group of passionate pagans doing the exact opposite of what Cosette has experienced – that is, they are wanting to meet others, facilitate networking, and organise events for the Victorian pagan community in the future.

    Those interested can find out more here: http://pagancollective.org/.

    The Pagan Collective of Victoria will join Pagan Awareness Network (New South Wales), Pagan Alliance South Australia, Combined Covens (Western Australia) The Tasmanian Pagan Alliance and many others by being part of a large, healthy and growing pagan network in Australia, which unfortunately it appears Cosette has completely missed.

    I invite Cosette to consider joining people from all around the country in attending the 2014 Australian Wiccan Conference (http://2014.wiccanconference.org/), which (despite being in it’s 31st year failed to receive a mention in her article) just so happens to be held around an hour or so’s drive from her own backyard, where she can meet and be part of the wider Australian pagan community, and gain an opportunity to develop a much better insight than portrayed in this article.

  • Herbalist Wurm

    While I have seen a little done. Check out Caer Australis and Druids Downunder. It’s not a matter of finding one group that did the work, but a group in every bioregion.

    As for African diaspora religion, keep checking. Have seen the occasional posts from at least three groups and individuals who specialize in this paradigm on variou