Archives For Australia

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman [Publicity Still]

“Firstly, it’s The Dreaming. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as Hairypeople are not bound by what is,” says Waruu West (Rob Collins) in ABC’s latest original Australian drama Cleverman.  Found in the second instalment ‘Containment,’ this moment stood out. Collins, playing an Indigenous spokesperson on a TV news panel discussion, delivers the line with acid on his tongue, shifting in his seat and barely able to maintain his countenance to suit the panel’s format, which is supposed to represent the epitome of polite society in serious discussion.

In the world of Cleverman, the Dreaming is mentioned here with the same condescension it might be on an actual TV weekly news and current affairs panel. I’ve seen enough Aboriginal Elders and commentators on such shows to know that Collins did not have to look very far to inspire his character’s reaction in this moment. As an Indigenous man himself, Collins probably didn’t even need that.

In the make-believe dystopian near future of Cleverman, not six months before the action takes up with the first episode, the Dreaming just materialised in the form of the Hairypeople. What was once thought of as just an Aboriginal story and a monster to scare children, is now flesh and blood. They are an entirely different species of human that is stronger, faster, harder, covered in hair, and absolutely not a figment of some distant story derived from an uncivilised past. This narrative fact makes the host’s condescension in this scene all the more misplaced, purposefully nasty.

[Above: Q&A Monday 09 June, 2014. Aunty Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ “I am not the problem” speech, in conversation regarding John Pilger’s Utopia.]

This point in the show also created a moment during which, it was white Australian viewers’ turn to shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they had not already. In that scene, with its similarity to real day-to-day viewing, it felt like director Wayne Blair, and writers Michael Miller and Jon Bell were speaking directly to us. And I confess: it was my turn for a little bit of solidarity with my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters fist pumping. Waruu’s statement contained within it something that could easily translate to my own experience as a Pagan and a Witch: Our Mythos. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as the Otherworlds are not bound by what is.

Cleverman is a futuristic sci-fi narrative told using the contemporary language of television and chocked full of very real and very current issues. Included in its themes are Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, forced imprisonment, our nation’s crimes against humanity, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional trauma suffered at our hands by those most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, immigrants, and refugees. Additionally, the show includes the Scientific Frankenstein, the Shady Media Mogul, themes of fear, terror, racism, bigotry, atrocity, isolation, desperation, violence, and police brutality.

These details are all woven together in a sprawling story that we should in fact not be confused about at all. However, it is the twist with which it’s told that is the real highlight. The fictional Hairypeople are lifted directly from several Aboriginal Dreaming stories. They speak Gumbaynggirr, a language from northern New South Wales, as is the Namorrodor, the monster stalking urban Sydney. Indigenous actors dominate in both the Indigenous and Hairypeople roles. The Cleverman is a cultural facticity.

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman show poster

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman [Publicity Poster for SundanceTV]

Our reluctant hero Koen West, is Aboriginal, a refreshing change from what we so often see highlighted by Australian and international news. Koen, an opportunistic young Indigenous man who refuses to choose a tribe, has suddenly had the Cleverman superhero powers thrust upon him. The power is real and present in this show’s world. It is manifest in Koen, Waruu, in the Hairypeople, and in the short (but always sparkling) performance of Jack Charles as Uncle Jimmy the Cleverman who passes the nulla nulla (or waddi a warrior’s club) of the Cleverman onto Koen.

If Koen stands as a proxy for young Indigenous viewers, then the narrative comes with a dare: Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Dreaming is not static. None are left to wonder about the nature of that strength and power. It’s Indigenous and it comes from a very real place.

In this way, Cleverman is the Dreaming. The show is Indigenous story soaked with a real Indigenous past and a contemporary Indigenous experience. With the help of CGI and special effects, the show demonstrates how the Dreaming contains within it the ability to confront new issues and problems with no less potency. The Dreaming refuses to stay static.

The Dreaming is not at odds with western science, political systems, media, or indeed, the future. Rather, here, the Dreaming uses all these modern ideas and formats to its own end. Standing alongside these contemporary mainstream Australian institutions as equally valid and powerful, the show tells a story of change, of how it is made manifest in those who engage with it, and how it can reclaim itself – its Indigenousness – from those very institutions who have sought to diminish it. The Dreaming claims itself, as strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, in the now.

It is here, precisely at this moment, that Australian Pagans and Witches should feel the pangs of empathy. This is art as story magic.

In the first place, we should be familiar with the historical arc that underpins the show. In summary, cultural practices, myths and stories are outlawed, then, after a time, they are repackaged as oddities from a distant past for children’s entertainment. Then, finally, adults start taking these “oddities” back.

Pagans around the world know this story. In recent times, we have seen a major resurgence in many myths and folktales. Appearing on the small and silver screens alike, these stories are being torn apart and remade with entirely relevant themes and contemporary issues, and very often strictly for adults. Examples range from American Horror Story: Coven‘s unabashed, subversive femaleness in all its complicated and messy glory; to the miraculous image at the end of The Witch showing power embraced as the young protagonist is liberated; to Michael Hirst’s Vikings in which a historical Pagan worldview is given prominence over early Christian ideas. Even at Disney, the early and mid-20th Century children’s stories are being approached anew, with the likes of Angelina Jolie’s turn as the Mistress of All Evil in MaleficentWe get this.

However, these things – our myths, reimagined in the mainstream, artistic, and pop culture spheres – can serve to be a hindrance to the legitimisation of contemporary Pagan and Witchcraft discourse. They can be wildly disrespectful and further propagate tired tropes and negative stereotypes that influence the very real lives of the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities. These things do not exist in a vacuum. But at their best, they can serve as a powerful quickening to such communities, who, in turn, find the inspiration to readdress the magical and mythical narratives within the ritual space itself.

These modern retellings can normalise themes and ideas in the mainstream, which can then further legitimise those same ideas as they are contained within our contemporary discourse. The young and aspiring seeker of the Craft, for example, can find heroes and heroines in these places, urging them to look further.

Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Myths are not static.

As a story and as a Dreaming narrative, Cleverman excels at demonstrating that power is best realised through the creative vision, voice and bodies of those who are living a direct experience of it already. Inside contemporary culture, it further demonstrates the power of community support and participation required to push forward with these new narratives. Cleverman‘s mainstream success and positive reviews are a testament to two hundreds years of fighting to legitimise Indigenous voices.

This is a lesson Pagans in Australia can take away. It is a salient reminder that our own myths are strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, now.

Especially as Australian Pagan communities begin to increasingly realise their social and political voices, it is this thought that should stay in the back of our minds when we engage with Pagan discourse, writing, art, and craft, and reimagine our stories inside our ritual space to confront and work with contemporary and very real social and political issues. It is important to promote that same creative talent inside our communities in order to achieve change, justice, fairness, highlight social issues right now.

These ideas and concepts are all on top of the stand-alone joy of engaging with Australian Indigenous voices and creative talent as found through Cleverman. The final episode of season one was aired Thursday, July 7.  This particular episode felt like one giant teaser for season two. It left me wanting much more.

We left our anti-hero, Koen, much less “anti” and coming finally into his own, as all sides are baying for war. I agree with AV Club‘s Brandon Nowalk, whose review pointed out the first season was more promise than delivery in terms of story.  It was a season of exposition that has left a carefully crafted set of characters ready for the real meat of season two.

But that exposition can be easily forgiven. After all, there would only be a handful of people on this continent with enough knowledge of Aboriginal Law and Dreaming not to require background information. I can only imagine the culture shock and complete lack of context for those watching in the US and, shortly, the UK.

Thankfully, for those interested, there are a few helpful guides that wade into the dystopian near future of Cleverman‘s Sydney. This includes Zebbie Watson’s guide at Inverse, and The Guardian‘s episode by episode recaps. For some extra fun, check out the behind the scenes video with Adam Briggs and, one of my favourite Australian voices, Gurrumul Yunupingu and the inspiration for the Cleverman theme song.

Behind the Theme Song – “Cleverman” from Goalpost Pictures on Vimeo.

Paganisms and Witchcraft traditions in Australia are no less subject to the times as they are anywhere else in the world. While we draw vast inspiration from the past of Europe, Christian and pre-Christian, we are subject to the influences of contemporary pop-culture, public discourse, prevailing political paradigms and social trends as they are manifest in post-colonial Australia. This influence can go one of two ways in terms of our practices. First, as a minority spiritual school(s) of thought, as a sub-culture, or indeed, a counter-culture, standing outside the square and looking in on society writ large, modern Pagans and contemporary Witches can be deeply progressive, revolutionary, subversive and flat out contrarian. Or, our practices change according to the influences of the over-culture.

Candles_at_a_graveyeard_on_a_Christmas_Eve

[Photo Credit: Pöllö / Wikimedia Commons]


Our collective strength is in our ability to inhabit the Janus Head and look both ways, drawing inspiration from that past and being completely free to adapt it according to our present needs and into the future. We are not beholden to a dogma, our focus in on praxis, on the demonstrable, the experience of the individual such that the modern Pagan, or Witch, is free to completely re-examine our relationships with spirit, and indeed, notions of belief entirely. A literal reading of our collective myths is not required as it is in Christianity, nowhere is it written that we must subjugate our Will.

This is particularly true of Witchcraft. Here, the key lessons pertain to power; who has it, what doesn’t, how the web of Wyrd subtlety connects us all and moves us, how to see what has power over us, and how to diminish that influence, and exert our own, according to our Will. This key ability or fundamental lesson is not boxed in and cut off from any sphere of human activity or thought, we can, and do apply it broadly and examine power structures and influences in the broader culture as well.

It is precisely these freedoms and considerations that mean, in Australia, most Pagans and Witches celebrate Samhain at the end of April. Anyone with eyes can see that Samhain is linked to a particular power structure in Nature – a particular shift that allows a moment we often describe as the thinning veil between the Worlds. And anyone with eyes in Oz knows that shift in power doesn’t happen at the end of November, it happens on or around April 30.

That is a kind of power that one does not need to be a Witch to see. Everyone in the Southern Hemisphere is well acquainted with it, as is everyone in the Northern Hemisphere.

In Australia and New Zealand though, something else happens in late April: ANZAC Day. Increasingly, it pops up in reference to Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve. And in terms of mainstream Australian culture and dominant political paradigms, it has become extremely powerful and, at the same time, increasingly contentious. The question I find myself asking is simply this: How well have Australian Pagans and Witches considered the influence and power of ANZAC Day to either the growth or detriment of the aims of our ancestral based practices at Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve?

Online advertisement for ANZAC Day 2016 including specials for restaurant Bivianos in Dural in regional NSW.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day falls on April 25, the anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915. Historically, it marks the operation of the Allied Forces in WWI designed to capture the Gallipoli Penisula and open the Black Sea to the Allied navies. In terms of engagement, ANZAC Day completely overshadows November’s Remembrance Day, which is the day to commemorate the end of the First World War as well as a day to honor all who have died in war.

In terms of the place, one might be forgiven for thinking Australians had a hand at winning the battle fought on the Gallipoli beaches. But, we didn’t. We lost; the Allies never took the Cove and Çanakkale Savaşı (The Battle of Çanakkale) remains one of the most celebrated WWI victories for the Ottoman Empire.

Since 1990, the annual pilgrimage to the Turkish shore has only increased, and the land suffers yearly from Australians’ collective rubbish, which is particularly lovely given the area is a National Park. The bones of the fallen are exposed due to foot traffic, and various efforts have been made to develop and redevelop the area to accommodate the yearly tourist visits. This big business is threatening smaller local enterprise.

At home, it has become acceptable to crack a tinny (open a can of beer) directly after an ANZAC Dawn Service, which is early even for most Australians. This has somehow become a patriotic duty according to both beer companies and former military leaders who advertise the very tinny that one should patriotically crack. And while Australia’s alcohol problem is conveniently forgotten for ANZAC Day, we also blatantly change the rules regarding gambling, so we can all partake of the (illegal every other day)  “Australian Diggers’ Game” of Two-up. While my tone may suggest that we have a serious gambling problem as a culture, fear not. In 2004, during a debate regarding the legalisation of Two-up, the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, told the House:

One of the charities most involved in problem gambling, the Wesley Community Legal Service, a body dealing with problem gamblers, has confirmed it has never encountered a problem gambler addicted to two-up. That is an interesting bit of trivia for everyone to take home with them. If anything, a slight extension of two-up to other days of significance would fit in with the Australian commemorative tradition when we remember our war dead not with strident nationalism but with a beer, a laugh and a few of these harmless games.

Perhaps that is the story of how Australia came to be known as “the lucky country.”

To many an Aussie, my complaints may just be examples of a lack of honour, duty, and the increasingly sacred tenet of Australian society; mateship. This is symptomatic of the fact I’m not a “digger,” not a patriot, and most definitely un-Australian. Peter Cochrane gathered a litany of such criticisms in his article for The Conversation’s article ‘The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac.‘ Included in this piece is a quote from The Australian, originally published April 26, 2013. It reads:

The best advice we can offer is that they ignore the tortured arguments of the intellectuals and listen to the people, the true custodians of this occasion. They must recognise that the current intellectual zeitgeist is at odds with the spirit of Anzac. It recognises neither the significance of a war that had to be fought nor the importance of patriotism. Honour, duty and mateship are foreign to their thinking. They may be experts on many things, but on the subject of Anzac, they have little useful to say.

Arguably, ANZAC Day has become a leviathan of government and privately funded advertising, and the furtherance of an erroneous myth of Australianness that supports and underlies an increased sense of Australia as a military nation. It expresses a nationalism that feeds troubling social trends and promotes Anglo-centric white Australian patriotism.

ANZAC Day is supposed to be a remembrance, not just of the Gallipoli Campaign, but of all wars in which the Australian military have engaged, from the Boer War to Afghanistan. But we must not be confused, ANZAC Day is not for everyone.

The above video shows Murrawarri man Fred Hooper – a man who usually marches in official parades with his non-Indigenous Navy colleagues. Hooper’s grandfather served in WWI, and his great uncle was Harold West, who inspired ‘The Coloured Digger,’ a famous poem by WWII soldier Bert Beros. The poem was written while Beros and West were still on active duty, and it tells of the bravery of Private West, who attacked a Japanese machine-gun pit “single handed.” The final two stanzas read:

He’d heard us talk Democracy –
They preach it to his face –
Yet knows that in our Federal House
There’s no one of his race.
He feels we push his kinsmen out,
Where cities do not reach,
And Parliament has yet to hear
The abo’s maiden speech.

One day he’ll leave the Army,
Then join the League he shall,
And he hopes we’ll give a better deal
To the aboriginal

In 2015, Hooper decided to make the trip to Canberra to lead the ‘undeclared Frontier Wars’ march. As the Australian Federal Police Officer pointed out, “this day is not for you“, Mr Hooper.

In case you thought the AFP officer was just being nasty, or worse racist, he wasn’t really. They are, after all, the undeclared Frontier Wars. Wouldn’t it be disingenuous of us as a nation to recognise an Aboriginal military force as being raised and active at a time when we didn’t actually consider them a people; during a time when we didn’t consider them civilised enough to have so complex an institution as a military or even a guerilla force? Such things would fly in the face of terra nullius.

As Alan Stephens wrote for ABC s ‘The Drum’ in 2014:

According to the Australian War Memorial Act (1980), the AWM’s purpose is to recognise “active service in war or warlike operations by members of the Defence Force”. The act then defines “Defence Force” as “any naval or military force raised in Australia before the establishment of the Commonwealth”.

That definition allows the AWM to commemorate the wars of choice fought by white “Australians” in the Sudan, South Africa, and China before Federation, but excludes the war of necessity fought by Indigenous “Australians” for Australia itself between 1788 and the 1920s.

In other words, pre-Federation white volunteers who chose to fight overseas for the British crown and its commercial and colonial interests have been legally defined as “Australians”, while pre-Federation Indigenous warriors who fought invaders for their homeland, their families, and their way of life, have been officially defined out of our war commemoration history.

Samhain and All Hallow’s Eve have always been a way through which the neo-Pagan and Witch engages directly with the Ancestors. We actively feed them, their memory and propagate their wisdom, keeping that which enriches our lives. Not the positive and the happy memories alone, but also the negative, the difficult things as well. We recognise within these lessons and wisdom, which, by keeping, we strive against repeating mistakes of the past, in order to live more whole, healthier, and happier lives.

As ANZAC Day exerts its not so subtle influence on our lives and increasingly becomes associated with our Sabbat, what powers and structures are we feeding alongside our Beloved Dead? Are we so certain that “lest we forget” as a catch-phrase represents a concept wholly aligned with our goals at All Hallow’s? Here are some quotes:

Calypso Apothecary writes, “Today is Anzac Day. Gathering at dawn, today is a day to show respect and honour the men and women that served and died at war, fighting for our freedom. For me, this day also marks the beginning of Samhain. The decent into the dark part of the year and with the whole of Australia honoring those that have died, today they begin to walk among us.”

Coralturner writes, “In Australia Samhain occurs around the same time as Anzac Day. I find this significant as Anzac Day is the time of year that those from Australia and New Zealand remember those who died prematurely in war. Anzac Day is Ritualized across the country with services, parades, people getting together for meals to remember their deceased friends and relatives. Anzac biscuits are eaten and the game of Two-ups is played.”

Frances Billinghurst‘s, author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, wrote,On the eve of 30 April those of us south of the equator pause in silent contemplation and remembrance of our ancestors. Following on the heels of Anzac Day (the day when those fallen in combat from Australia and New Zealand are remembered as well as the increasing number of victims of war), the timing for the Southern Samhain could not really be any better.”

The following was published on Spheres of Light: “It is a time to honour those who have gone before us and it is a poignant co-incidence that Australia and New Zealand’s day of Remembrance for their fallen in war, ANZAC Day on April 25, should be so close to the southern Samhain.”

Venerating the war dead is not new or unusual. Indeed, there are many military uniforms present on my own shrine to my Beloved Dead, and each serves to remind me to be thankful that for two generations, and counting, my family has not known war.  It is never a bad activity to remember the one thing that all wars have in common is a body count. The fact that, as a nation, Australia has troops currently deployed in conflict zones should be more readily discussed. History is written by the victors and we should examine how that fact has resulted in the otherwise contradictory nature of, on one hand, unabashed celebration of a mammoth defeat in a battle in a war we ultimately won, while on the other, denying completely the existence of a war fought on our own soil.

Another quote comes to us from writer Lee Pike, who lives in Perth. Ruminating on Samhain and ANZAC Day together, Pike writes:

I have been thinking a lot, too, about the role that my ancestors have on how I have been shaped and who I am today. How much are we products of our blood or of our soil? Do the dead remain on this plane or another? What can ancestor work offer a magical path? What would the Anzacs truly think about these ‘festivities’? I am sure the answers would be as diverse as they were. War is complex and so is the notion of sacrifice. When remembering the dead, the last thing we should do is boil it down to simple, digestible, and marketable slogans… and brands.

Lest we forget.

[Today we welcome columnist Inga Leonora Westerberg. In January, The Wild Hunt said goodbye to Cosette Paneque as she ventured off to engage in new and exciting personal projects. However, while it is sad to see someone leave, it is also nice to welcome a new voice. Westerberg will become our new Australian writer within our monthly Around the World column. Today she introduces herself.]

Hello, good Wild Hunt readers! I’m pretty excited to be part of the team here at the Hunt, and particularly because I get to share all things Straya and Pagan – two of my most favourite things. I’ve been writing specifically about both for some time. Who needs another internet forum to do just that? Inga does!

Drooping She-oak Photo A J Brown (Source)

Drooping She-oak Photo A J Brown (Courtesy Photo)

Before doing that, I want to take a moment to send some love to the wonderful Cosette Paneque, the former Australian “Around the World” contributing writer. Cosette’s stepping down from this role has left me with some big shoes to fill. I enjoyed her posts, not only because she is a talented and insightful writer, but also because she offered a unique perspective on the Australian Pagan community having lived and participated in such communities in the U.S. An outside-the-box perspective is always welcome.

As Cosette moves forward on her personal journey, I wish her every blessing and send many thanks for her contributions here and for the conversations generated inside the broader Australian Pagan community.

It is fair to say that Aussie Pagans can be a bit of a strange lot. Probably because we start everything upside down and backwards. While the majority of TWH readers have just come from Imbolc (Candlemas) celebrations, we’re hot on the back of Lughnasadh (Lammas) and the weather in February is the usual melting high summer, bushfires and a little less harvest.

Here in fair Hobart Town, we’re experiencing lovely 25+°C (77°F) days, which is sort of laughable to the rest of the country as the mainland braces for the coming days tipping 40°C (104°F). The difference does not aid me with my current sunburn after a weekend in the north of the Tasmania in Launceston. This has something to do with our proximity to the hole in the Ozone Layer over Antarctica. No Australians are safe!

Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar said it best when she wrote: “I love a sunburnt country.” That is probably also the most well-known line from her celebrated poem ‘My Country,’ first published when she was in England in 1908. But it is the lesser-known lines that have always spoken to me particularly.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

Australian Pagans are for the most part European, chiefly British descendants. Our country has a difficult history and our Land an Ancient Spirit that has often felt veiled, inaccessible, if not seemingly non-existent to us. There are no Gum trees in the old myths and, at times, our seasonal celebrations feel almost comical atop the Australian landscape.

What is a Pagan to do whose veins run with violent bush and chaotic eucalyptus?

Such was Mackeller’s love, and my own. Simply “flipping the Wheel” does not suit for a continent with five, six, and seven seasons, all of which refuse adamantly to comply with the imposed European order. Australian Pagans of all ilks are slowly coming to a new place. Throwing the old ways to the elements and picking up the pieces in lopsided, strange new combinations, and devoting themselves to learning the new world order as they see revealed here. Some even are turning to Indigenous wisdom to gain better insight.

Triple Goddess Symbol as it would look in Australia

Triple Goddess Symbol as it would look in Australia

It is tough work. Any new person coming to the internet seeking Pagan ways will learn very quickly about all things Northern Hemisphere. Nowhere on the lists of planetary, elemental, and seasonal correspondences will you find She-oak (Casuarina and Allocasuarina var.) or Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata). There are no writings on the magical uses for Waratah (Telopea) and Boronia.

The Sun is at its height in the South and moves North toward our Winter Solstice. Even the classical representation of the Triple Goddess is backward, reading as waning, full and waxing to an Australian eye. Slowly, the beginnings of a new corpus of wisdom are being formed – one that is inherently syncretic and unique.

Those of us who do this work are not necessarily able to be aided by others doing the same. Why? Australia is not simply a country. It is a continent and, from one side to the other, from Hobart to Darwin, there is every possible environment and season. Something as simple as the correspondence between elements and the compass points are finding increased variety. For example, in Perth, the Indian Ocean lies to the west with the land to the east. But for those people in the temperate southeast, it is the directions of south and east that herald the cool ocean breezes over the Tasman Sea and the great expanse of land reaches off into the West.

Boronia megastigma (Source)

Boronia megastigma (Source)

Additionally, from the Indian to Pacific, there are very few of us. At the last census in 2011, 32,083 Australians identified as Pagan. Distance really is a tyranny for many Pagans around the country. So we take to the internet. Our gatherings, covens and groves can be small, but online we can share across far-flung places. And, those who are the most isolated by distance can connect.

Within those small gatherings and covens and groves, new liturgy and rituals are being written. Animists like myself are invoking the spirits of the Sentinal Gums to guard our circles, calling on the Spirit of the Boronia in our spellcraft for love, switching out Pepper for Mountain Pepper Berries (Tasmannia lanceolata), and offering our Ancestors Silver Wattle resin in the censor.

To date, that subject has been the focus of my writing on my own blog Australis Incognita, and some of what I hope to share with you here. The kind of Paganisms for which there are no guides, no lists, and no books. The kind of Paganisms that are very new, with the majority of us identifying as Wiccan, and yet, older than even we realise as strange Old World habits are revealed in the walls of early colonial buildings. Paganisms that enter into Indigenous stories that are 60,000 years old, seeing them with new eyes.

What’s going on right now?

A few of us are feeling a bit jealous of those in Los Angeles who got to see Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Brothers Workshop at Art Los Angeles Contemporary in January which included two works by our very own Rosaleen “Roie” Norton, spiritual ancestor to many an Australian Witch.

On the last weekend of January in Tasmania, the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance held their annual Harvest Fest in the North West of the State, which was by all accounts a fabulous event. The following weekends also saw a collection of events as Pagans gather across the country to celebrate high summer harvests, which is all cherries and mangos.

At MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, Devil’s Kitchen Curios made their debut at MoMa the museum’s summer markets, showcasing hand made Occult curios. MONA has been a huge addition to the Hobart cultural scene and, even more fabulous, their left-of-centre thinking means some of our local witches and covens get to share their wares at one of the largest cultural attractions in the State. Devil’s Kitchen Curios will be at MoMa next on Feb. 28, Mar. 13 and Mar. 27.

As for me, I’ve just come from celebrating the wedding of one of my own students, having the happy role of offering the blessing in the ceremony. I handmade rattles of wattle, gumnuts and sea shells for each of the guests, and our Pagan friends from across the state helped me drum. The sound of them all together as our bride skipped down the aisle was a magical moment I will not soon forget. We called on Lutruwitta, as She is called by our Indigenous kin in Palawa-kani, the Spirit of our Land, manifest in the elements. Our motifs for the celebration were the Great Gums and Banksia, both protective plants, the flowers of each rich with nectar. Perfect for our newlywed couple. And this is just another example of how our unique Land is informing our rites and rituals.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a bit of true Australiana. ‘Waltzing Matilda‘ was written by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson at old Dagworth Homestead, Queensland in January 1895. Here it is sung by Ali Mills in Top End Kriol, a combination of languages said to have grown organically from the meeting of Aboriginal, European and Chinese people around Darwin.

At one time ‘Waltzing Matilda‘ was considered for our national anthem, because stealing sheep, anti-establishment sentiments, and ghost haunted billabongs is what we do. Aussies are a bit awesome like that.

I’m going to squeeze in as many anti-establishment sentiments and ghost-haunted billabongs as I possibly can as I share with you the crazy joys of Paganism in Australia. I’ll be honest with you though, there’s probably not going to be a great deal of sheep theft.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans and Heathens out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

This month, author and Witch Byron Ballard found herself the center piece of a mainstream news story titled, “Meet the Appalachian spell-catcher.” Local journalist Dale Neal published his article in Asheville’s Citizen-Times, the main paper for the region.

Neal wrote, “In her travels, Ballard found many people put off at first by the idea of a pagan priestess … But when she started talking about folk remedies, or bringing out Mason jars of rabbit tobacco or mica pieces, they recognized a common spirit. ‘Oh my grandmother used to do that,’ was a common theme.”

The article focuses on Ballard’s practice, her research and her new book Asfidity and Mad-Stones: A Further Ramble through Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. It captures her love of folk magic, the region and, what Neal called, “an overlooked piece of homegrown culture.”

In Other News…

  • Also making it into the media was our own writer Terence P. Ward, who was quoted by NPR in its own discussion about the use of Daesh and other names within media. He told NPR, “as a reporter covering the ‘Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities, I am privy to reports of people being questioned by law enforcement due to being known worshipers of the goddess Isis.’ “
  • In another mainstream story involving Pagans, The Guardian picked up on the brewing controversy over Alex Mar’s book Witches in America.The article titled, “Serious researcher or ‘Spiritual Tourist: How Alex Mar riled American pagans’ quotes a number of Pagan bloggers and points to various posts about the book. The writer also interviewed Alex Mar about the controversy and includes some of her reactions. We will have more on this story in the coming days.
  • And in another mainstream article examining the greater Pagan community, writer Jaya Saxena discusses the problem of sexism within Witchcraft practice. In the article titled “There’s a Sexism Problem in the Modern Witchcraft Community,” Saxena wrote, “low-level misogyny can still be a problem in these circles, in largely the same unconscious ways it exists in the rest of society.” Quoting from a number of practicing Witches both male and female, Saxena notes a number of places where problems can arise and how that is handled. She also mentions the issues that can arise for transgender Witches, saying that some groups are now “challenging the gender binary” constructions in terms of religious practice.
  • Speaking of the transgender community, in a story out of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a local elementary school banned the reading and discussion of a children’s book called I am Jazz.The book tells the story of a transgender child and is written by transgender teen Jazz Jennings. The facility, Mt. Horeb Primary Center, cancelled the reading after The Liberty Council, a Christian legal advocacy group, threatened a lawsuit. Author Alex Bledsoe‘s son attends the school, and he has been indirectly involved in the situation. Bledsoe said, “As a writer, I’m bothered when any book is censored. The list of historically censored books is also a list of some of our greatest literature. As a parent, I have no issue with allowing other parents to opt out their children, but don’t try to force your beliefs on the rest of us. A concerned parent has the right to say, ‘My child won’t,’ but not to say, ‘Your child won’t.’ That’s simply bullying, and any school system that gives into it loses the moral right to tell its students that bullying is wrong.” There will be a scheduled reading and discussion of the book at the local library today.

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  • In Tennessee, a Wiccan mother is claiming that her children are not being allowed to practice Wicca while in foster care. Anna Wood said her two children, each in a different home, are being forced to practice Christianity and denied the right to learn Wicca.  She claimed that her daughter was even baptized without her knowledge and her son’s books have been destroyed. According to the article, the Department of Child Services has denied any evidence of discrimination. Wood said that she is “seriously considering a lawsuit.”
  • Moving over to Australia, Victoria’s local news source The Age reported that Robin Fletcher, who “claimed his [Wiccan] religion endorses sex between children and adults,” was denied his request for more relaxed supervision. The judge said that Fletcher still poses a “unacceptable risk of committing a relevant offence.” This was based on letters found to men in Ghana describing what he was planning to do upon being released next summer and his desire to initiate young children into his religious practice. The Department of Justice is currently deciding whether it will extend its request for Fletcher’s supervision past the current end date June 2016.
  • Back in the Unites States, New York’s Rockland County Sheriff’s Department has said that a “suspicious,” “ritualistic,” package was left at the County Courthouse on the day before Thanksgiving. According to local media reports, “The bomb squad did rule that the package was a likely Santeria artifact and it was knowingly left at the building to create panic and fear.” But, in the end, there was no disruption to the court schedule. No further reports or corrections were available.

And one final note… 

 

Australia does not have festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering or PantheaCon, which draw hundreds, thousands even, of Pagans from all over the U.S. That’s not a criticism; it’s simply a difference, one that largely reflects numbers and processes. However, Australia does have important and meaningful festivals that continue to shape Pagan culture Down Under.

Australia is about the size of the U.S. with a population slightly less than that of Texas. According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the U.S. is the third most populated country in the world. Australia comes in at 52. A benefit of this is space. It’s not difficult to go to a park, to the beach, or to the bush, and discover you’re the only one there. Pagans can find private ritual spaces outdoors without much difficulty. The drawback is the small number of Pagans with whom to gather.

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on religion, there are over one million Pagans in the U.S. In the 2011 Australian census, 32,083 respondents identified as Pagan. In Australia, the population is small and the Pagan pool is even smaller.

[From aifs.gov]

[From aifs.gov]

Most Aussies, about 63%, live in Australia’s major cities along the coast, with nearly 40% of them in Sydney and Melbourne. That leaves a lot of people living in towns and regional areas. The more regional and remote you get, the worse the infrastructure. This can make it challenging for Aussie Pagans to travel to festivals, which are often held near major cities.

A major obstacle to the development of festivals, as well as other small events, is the “nanny state” – federal and state government policies that are viewed as over-regulating, overprotective, and unduly interfering. Small groups struggle to afford, for example, the $1200 needed for the insurance required to hold a gathering that is unlikely to attract more than 80 people. Earlier this year, administration changes at Parks Victoria threatened Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, the state’s longest running Pagan festival. Organisers called the amount of bureaucracy and red tape “simply astonishing”.

Despite the odds against them, Aussie Pagans have organised festivals that have secured themselves a place in the history of contemporary Paganism in Australia.

Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, Victoria

In 1981, Linda and Michel Marold founded Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering, and they’ve been running it ever since with the assistance of volunteers. Over 34 years, hundreds of Pagans have traveled to this mountain, which was created by a volcanic eruption about 470,000 years ago. The free weekend camping event is held at Beltaine. This year’s program included workshops, a swap/barter market, drumming, a main ritual, and, of course, a maypole.

Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering 2015 [Photo Credit: Kylie Moroney]

Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering 2015 [Photo Credit: Kylie Moroney]

Shaz Lizzy has been attending Mount Franklin for over 10 years. “When I first started going it was one of few opportunities to attend a public ritual without the need of belonging to any particular group,” said Lizzy. “At the time, being a solitary Druid, it was the only place to be amongst like-minded folk. It was very satisfying as Senior Druid of Silver Birch Gove ADF, that we were able to offer the ritual this year. It was a wonderful experience and very satisfying to be able to give back to the community.”

Australian Wiccan Conference, various locations

The Australian Wiccan Conference (AWC) began in 1984 as the Annual Gathering for the Pagan Alliance of Australia, which was incorporated in New South Wales. One of the AWC’s unique characteristics is that it moves every year and a different group of volunteers organises it. Last year, it was in Victoria. This year, it was in South Australia. Next year, Australia’s capital city, Canberra, will host the event. As of 2008, the AWC has been held in every state and territory in Australia.

The AWC is traditionally held on a weekend around the Spring Equinox, and it is more eclectic and less formal than its name suggests. Past workshops have included introductions to various Pagan traditions, advanced ritual techniques, teaching methods, divination, historical examinations, and approaches in the Southern Hemisphere. Presenters and panelists have included local teachers, well-known practitioners such as Tim Hartridge, founding figures such as Julia Phillips, and scholars such as Caroline Tully.

Eostre, New South Wales

The annual Eostre gathering took place between 1985 and 1997 and was a largely driven by the well-known Sydney-based Witch Tim Hartridge. The camping event held over a long weekend in April was designed to be a small gathering for Witches and magickal practitioners that included beginners as well as Hartridge’s students and coven members. Attendees could expect to learn some of the coven’s core ritual practices as well as other techniques, and then put it all together during rituals that included a wicker man and bone-fires.

Pagan Summer Gathering, Queensland

Since 1998, the Church of All Worlds (CAW) Australia has been holding Pagan Summer Gathering (PSG). CAW’s annual general meeting takes place during PSG, and that is for members only, but the general festival is open to non-members. Held in January, the weekend program includes workshops, rituals, and stalls. Previous workshop topics have included conflict resolution, ethics, shamanic approaches, environmental workshops, Vodou, and various kinds of rituals.

In her book Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia, academic Lynne Hume describes her experience at PSG.

An entire sensory repertoire is used to convey dramatic messages: breathing, dance movements, body posture and decoration, masks and paint, olfactory stimulation, the use of light and shadow, the mystery of foreign words, tone, inflection and even silence, all of which are fully employed to heighten activity and emotional response.

In play, there is a freedom from normative constraints; one steps out of one time into another and enters an enclave within which is seems anything may happen. Paganism is not only about play, but this is the spirit of Paganism, its quintessence, and I began to look at it more along those lines rather than taking a rational, logical approach.

Euphoria, Victoria

Since the first one in 2000, Euphoria has been Victoria’s, and possibly Australia’s, most controversial Pagan festival.

Taking place over four days in bushland near Melbourne, Euphoria has offered numerous workshops on topics such as body image and body magic, ritual techniques, sacred sexuality, and trance. Rituals have included a rite that recalls the Eleusinian Mysteries where participants come face to face with their mortality, a Dark Goddess ritual of trance, shapeshifting, and ecstatic magick, and the NOX ritual, described as a trance-dance ritual of initiation with a Thelemic and Middle Eastern feel. These workshops and rituals were meant to prepare participants for the main event, that which lies at the heart of Euphoria – the Baphomet rite.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The Baphomet rite is inspired by European records of the Witches’ Sabbats from the Middle Ages to the early modern period, down to the infamous Kiss of Shame. And, it plays with Margaret Murray’s witch-cult hypothesis. The rite deliberately draws on symbols and practices that are unsettling. Described as erotic and ecstatic, as well as liberating, it was designed to be challenging and transformative.

Melbourne Pagan Gavin Andrews attended Euphoria and was twice an invoking priest during the Baphomet rite. He said it generated a lot of discussion in the Australian Pagan community. The nudity, sexual activity, and shadow work were seen as too risky for a public festival, and there were concerns about what kind of support participants had once they went home.

“Much of the controversy centred around whether it was appropriate to present dark ecstatic rituals, with the potential to facilitate deep personal transformations, within a festival format,” said Andrews. “Others found Euphoria’s presiding deity, Baphomet, problematic – not least due to the genderqueer associations of this deity, openly contrasting with the heteronormative – I hesitate to use the term ‘orthodoxy’ – accepted within the Pagan scene at the time. Personally I found the event mind-bending, occasionally frustrating, usually rewarding, and always fascinating. It worked as well as it did because a community quickly coalesced around the ritual and the event. Magick ensued.”

The last Euphoria took place in 2009. In 2013, the Baphomet rite made a brief return. At this point, it is unknown if we’ll see it again. Sociologist Douglas Ezzy immortalised Euphoria in his book Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival, in which he anonymised it as Faunalia.

Other Festivals of Interest

There are other festivals that are not specifically Pagan, but friendly enough. One of them is ConFest, an alternative bush camping festival in New South Wales. Another is Seven Sisters, a three-day women’s festival in Victoria.

Big festivals are only one of many ways to create and shape Pagan culture. In fact, most Pagans don’t go to big festivals at all. They connect at small, local events such as the WildWood Faery Parade and Beltane Ritual in Brisbane, Pagan Pride Days, and Reclaiming WitchCamps. And Pagans work really hard to put these events on. They struggle to keep expenses down and draw enough people to make events viable.

Tasmanian Pagan Alliance Beltaine 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Tasmanian Pagan Alliance Beltaine 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

With such a small and scattered Pagan population, if Aussie Pagans want community, they have to be flexible around traditions and practices. Inga Leonora Westerberg, an animist and polytheistic Witch from Hobart, Tasmania, recently facilitated the Tasmanian Pagan Alliance’s inaugural Beltaine event attended by about 22 people.

“Some struggled with the ritual format,” Westerberg said. “For others, it totally vibed with them, and they found the sweet spot having a much deeper experience. I work a lot with Indigenous myth and story and native flora and fauna, and for some that was something entirely new. Others said how they’d often thought about it, but never knew where to start. Others confessed this was not a path they had any interest at all in. And yet, there was not a single negative moment. What a sublime creature the Pagan community can be when it is at its best! I realised that regardless of what any single person brought to the event, and how they might influence themes and rituals and talking points, which they must in such a small group, it was not possible to cater to ever path and every tradition represented there. And one didn’t need to, because all were prepared to let go and try and experience, to openly discuss their thoughts without judgement.”

It’s an approach that Combined Covens Social Club takes as well. Formed in 1996, Combined Covens is made up of covens and other groups as well as solitary Pagans and Witches. The highlight of its calendar is Spring Camp, a weekend of workshops, rituals, music, and a market. This year, it also included the first Pagan Pride Day in Western Australia.

“I really do think that festivals offer the best opportunity for people to get a better understanding of what being Pagan may mean to them in a supportive and non-threatening environment. Even better when workshops are offered so that people can learn and talk about their own experiences,” said Shaz Lizzy. “Having attended some bigger festivals, Wellspring in the U.S. and ConFest here in Australia, it would be great to have other festivals offered. Social media is helping us to communicate between groups more readily and I hope to see more Pagan festivals and Pagan Pride days in the future.”

[Our Fall Funding Drive is still going on. Your support makes it possible for us to cover the bigger stories from our unique perspective and from within our collective communities. If you like reading articles, like the one below, please consider donating today to help keep The Wild Hunt going for another year. Every dollar helps! Donate here and share our IndieGoGo link! Thank You.]

MELBOURNE, Austrailia — Hermes is a god of communication and lies; commerce and thievery; craftiness and trickery. Some people equate him with Mercury whose eponymous planet challenges communication when it moves retrograde. Therefore, it may not be surprising that Hermes is now at the center of an imbroglio that pits corporate interests against an individual artist seeking to sell drawings of the gods. In an arena framed by international treaties, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and decades of copyright and trademark law, the crux of the matter is this: can the name of a god be trademarked or copyrighted, or is it not appropriate to limit the commercial applications of such names?

There are plenty of business ventures that share the names of gods. Nike is perhaps the most prominent, but as she is less well-known people don’t always associate the shoe company with the goddess of victory. Poseidon is a more familiar deity name, but likely only divers know that it’s also an undersea equipment manufacturer.

Hermes seems to hit a sweet spot, being a god with widespread modern recognition, as well as enough commercial allure to feature him in a flower-delivery logo, and his name on a line of popular scarves and purses. It’s likely that latter usage — as the name of fashion company — that ran afoul of artist Markos Gage’s desire to create and sell art featuring Hellenic gods.

Despite the fact that Gage’s work is in no way similar to the perfumes, accessories, and luxury goods produced by the French company, he strongly suspects that brand protection is the reason some online sites have banned his use of “Hermes” to describe art that depicts the messenger god with his winged helm and shoes.Two sites, Ebay and Society6, have denied him use of the name, citing the possibility that someone else owns the rights to it.

Hermès.svg
Hermès is actually named for its founder, Thierry Hermès, who was in turn named after his own father, rather than a god. Hermes and Hermès are not unusual surnames, but this particular Hermès started a harness shop that would eventually become a large fashion enterprise with lawyers hired to protect its brand. Gage, who blogs and sells his art under the moniker the Gargarean, doesn’t know for sure that the high-fashion company is behind his woes, but he recounted some clues in one recent post:

This first started with eBay. I owned a professional store on eBay with hundreds of listings paid in advance. One morning in 2007 I woke up to find my store closed and listings removed because I infringed on a trademark.

I was shocked, all my listings were original content written by me and the artwork made, by hand, by me. After two weeks of having my business closed down, effectively losing an income, back and forth exchanges between robotic eBay customer service via email and phone I had my store restored. All but the Hermes listing.

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

Hermes, copyright Markos Gage

More recently he tried to upload some of his art to the site Society6, and the process was blocked with a message indicating that “it appears to contain distinctive words that may belong to another rights holder.” In response to his inquiry, Gage got a message, saying in part:

. . . in an effort to respect the rights of intellectual property owners, we are not able to support the inclusion of certain words, names, phrases, or combination thereof in artist submissions. In this particular case the word Hermes was used and we are not able to support the inclusion. Please replace this word to your description accordingly. All words in your listing must be accurate and refer only to the item for sale.

Frustrated, Gage blogged, “I am effectively banned from using the name Hermes in reference and correct context for devotional items designed for the Polytheist / Pagan community because the name is trademarked. I am having external corporate services recommending that I use alternative names in replacement of the deity that I have dedicated my work towards.”

He’s contacted artist advocacy groups in his native Australia, and has also reached out to the eponymous company in hopes that someone there would recognize that his work is not likely to be confused with high-priced handbags. So far he’s at a stalemate and is resigned to seeking out sites that don’t filter out the use of Hellenic deity names.

The Wild Hunt also made a few inquiries. No response was received from Ebay or Society6 seeking clarification on their policies and whether they were vetted by any attorneys or rooted in a specific legal precedent. Additional queries were sent to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lady Liberty League (LLL), and the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Only Minerva, the LLL attorney, responded in time for this story. She immediately recognized this question as representing a legal morass. “It’s unfortunate that he’s stuck because the Hermès brand has been out there for so long,” she said, “and while it’s not his intent to do anything to besmirch trademark, it is branded and trademarked.”

She was quick to explain that she is not a copyright and trademark law specialist, “but that basics are that he can’t use that. He could change the spelling of the name, he could use ‘Mercury’ instead” — although she later recognized that the car brand might cause similar issues — “or he could say ‘in honor of’ or something like that, but the awful truth is that he can’t do it.”

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Bronze Statue depicting Hermes; Stuttgart, Germany [Public Domain via Pixbay]

Her understanding of United States law is that Gage’s right of religious expression is not being violated, but his right to name his business or products what he chooses is definitely being infringed. “It’s a fine distinction. It’s not infringing upon his right to practice, but if he were worshiping a god named Coke, he could certainly not call things he made honoring that god ‘Coke.’ It’s the same principle. It’s unfortunate, but that is the law.”

However, her research suggests that such a case has never been tested in American courts. In addition to the age of the Hermès company, the fact that it’s got a global presence makes it all the more difficult to work around. Short of legal action, all she could recommend is finding appropriate epithets of the god, or other ways to describe such art.

That’s not good enough for Gage, who had some of his readers suggest a similar approach. In response to those comments, he wrote:

The name ‘Hermes’ is the name we use to understand the god in the English language. Using an alternative is complying with the unfair trademark laws of the website and actually supporting their claim to the name. So no. It’s either they allow us the right to use the name or no service.

When asked if the lack of case law means that there would be no hope for such a case, Minerva replied, “No. There is always new ground. It simply means that the complainant must find other grounds upon which to take action. For example, in Roe v Wade, much of the decision hinged on right to privacy and not the right to abort.”

Gage has vowed to continue this fight and is waiting to hear back from the Arts Law Centre of Australia. He was referred there by staff at the National Association of Visual Arts, who warned him, “The main problem you may come across is that your dealings have been with American companies operating under American copyright and intellectual property law. What the companies are concerned about is being liable for trademark infringement as they can be considered to be infringing just by offering a way for you to sell your work using a trademarked word. These companies may have perhaps been advised by their own lawyer to not allow the use of trademarked words.”

No matter how complex this situation, it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Should there be more developments, The Wild Hunt will be there to report on this ongoing story.

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30th-anniversary-mfapg-014In late August, the Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering (MFPG) ran into a hurdle after being handed a number of new requirements from Parks Victoria. MFPG is one of the oldest and longest running ‘free to attend’ Pagan gatherings in Australia with its first event held in 1981. Named after an extinct volcano, MPFG is always scheduled for late October.

However, the organizers recently announced that they had been “informed of the changes in administration surrounding Parks Victoria …These changes impose upon us limitations and requests for documentation that are nothing less than astonishing in number and in time frame. Last year, the Gathering paid for two years’ worth of permits in full, however the requirements have now been changed significantly.” They go on to explain that Parks Victoria now requires a nine page detailed application, other fees, forms, and consultations.

The MFPG organizers’ biggest concern was in the timing of it all. Would they be able to finish the work needed to meet these new requirements in time to host this year’s festival? As they said, “The MFPG is non profit, and is organised by a very small, close-knit group of volunteers with families and full time jobs. It is a free Gathering, relying on volunteer labour

However, they have remained upbeat and now say that the gathering happen despite this hurdle. On its Facebook page, organizers wrote, “[An] an incredible amount of bureaucratic red tape is being worked with. It is challenging for all parties as it is all new, but we have every confidence we will have our 34th Gathering as usual.” The Mount Franklin Pagan Gathering is scheduled for October 23-25. Registration is currently open and admission is free.

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witch school 2

Witch School International has announced that it is closing its doors on September 30. Its sites will be handed over to the “not for profit Correllian Educational Ministries, as part of the Correllian Tradition.” These websites include Witch School, Magick TV and the Pagans Tonight Radio Network.

Rev. Don Lewis, Chancellor of the Correllian Nativist Tradition, said that the transition “will not change the focus of Witch School, which has always been open to many points of view. However as an official part of the Tradition, Witch School will be able to work more directly with Temples and groups in its clergy training programs, and as a not for profit Witch School will be able to focus totally on the needs of the student.”

Ed Hubbard, retiring Chairman of Witch School, said, “Under the Religious education banner, this will be able to continue to grow and expand, seeking out ways to provide a quality education for a lifetime.” The transition is expected to go smoothly with little interruption or problems for current members. Both Lewis and Hubbard said that more information would be provided over the coming month.

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It is that time of the year again. The 2016 GBG Calendar is available. Since 2011, the GBG calendar project has produced a full color product that includes an array of facts, photographs, quotes and other material from Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente and others. The calendar itself also highlights “hundreds of Pagan feast days from around the world.”

As noted on the website, “For each calendar sold, a small donation will be made to two organizations that help preserve Craft history. Special thanks to the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Museum of Witchcraft in England.”

The 2016 edition is dedicated to Gerald’s wife Donna Gardner, who was not involved in the Craft herself but was instrumental in supporting her husband’s work. Additionally, this year’s calendar comes with a 160 coupons from online merchants who have supported the 2016 GBG project. The calendar is currently available by mail order through its website.

In Other News:

  • The Morning Glory Zell Memorial Foundation is continuing its quest to open a school, store and museum in Northern California. It is currently “negotiating to lease a storefront in downtown Santa Cruz, to be called The Academy of Arcana.” Oberon Zell-Ravenheart said that he expects the Academy to be self-sustaining but the start-up expenses are considerable. The Foundation is continuing its funding campaign, and Oberon has just made a personal appeal to the community for assistance with these early costs. All donations can be made through the Foundation’s website. 
  • Private memorial services for Deborah Ann Light have been held in a number of locations. Quail Hill Farm, in New York, will be hosting a public memorial service on Sept. 19. Quail Hill Farm is located on the property owned by Light herself, and then gifted to a local land trust. Quail Hill was a place that held personal importance for Light and was, at one time, her home. The service will begin at 4 p.m.
  • Virgo Ministry has announced that Tim Titus will be taking over as Leader of the Temple Healing Case Study Group. The Healing Group holds events and maintains a list of people and animals in need of healing. The group is connected with the New Hampshire-based Temple of Witchcraft. In its announcement the Ministry said, “[Titus] brings to the group his experience as a healer and teacher and the skills he has been developing in his studies in the Mystery School.” Congratulations Tim Titus!
  • 9783319189222Springer International Publishing has just released a book called Pagan Ethics written by Michael York. According to the publisher, “This book is the first comprehensive examination of the ethical parameters of paganism when considered as a world religion alongside Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism … The book is aimed at both the contemporary Western pagan and anyone with an interest in the moral dilemmas of our times and the desire to engage in the global ethical discussion.” Pagan Ethics is available through Springer in hard cover or eBook. Currently, you can also purchase individual chapters or download a sample.
  • The submission deadline for the third issue of Walking the Worlds is fast approaching. As noted on the site, “Walking the Worlds is devoted to an exploration of spiritwork and polytheism from a variety of traditions, ancient and modern.” As a “serious, rigorous journal,” each issue has dedicated theme that the editorsencourage contributors to keep … in mind when submitting.” This third issue’s theme is “Magic and Religion.” The deadline is Oct. 1. All details and submission guidelines are listed on the journal’s website.
  • And now for something a little different. Laboratorium Pieśni is an all-female vocal group from Poland. They focus specifically on traditional, polyphonic singing. The group performs music predominantly from the Ukraine, Balkans, Poland, Belarus, Georgia, and Scandinavia. As explained on the Laboratorium Pieśni site, “They sing a capella as well as with shaman drums and other ethnic instruments (shruti box, kalimba, flute, gong, zaphir and koshi chimes, singing bowls, rattles etc.), creating a new space in a traditional song, adding voice improvisations, inspired by sounds of nature, often intuitive, wild and feminine.” Below is their latest video “Sztoj pa moru”

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

In 2009, the Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Melbourne, Australia. Over 6,000 people, including American and Australian Pagans, attended. The theme was “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth.” That same weekend, in Sydney, the National Conference for all Concerned Christians was held. Its theme was “Australia’s Future and Global Jihad”.

Australia is a secular country. Australia is a Christian nation. Which is true?

AustralianReligiousAffiliation_2.svgIn his book A Secular Age, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor identified three different forms of secularism.The first is a political secularism – a strict removal of religion from the public sphere through exercise of legitimate state power. The second is social, when there is a decline in the level of religiosity of the population. In this second sense of secularism, religious communities generally cease to influence politics, education, and public life. In Taylor’s third notion of secularism, belief in God is one option of many, and religion is just one voice in the public sphere.

Whether you consider Australia to be secular depends on the definition of secularism that you use.

Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Secularism in Australia means no state church. It means people have a choice between belief and no belief, and parliament can’t discriminate against people because of their religion. Another basis for describing Australia as a secular nation is the relaxed attitude and even scepticism toward institutional religion. Although 64% of Australians check the Christianity box, attendance at religious services is declining, and people often describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

However, it should not be assumed that religion takes a marginal place in Australia’s public and intellectual culture.

In the U.S., religious freedom means rigorously protecting the boundary between Church and State. Not so in Australia. The law prevents establishment of religion. It doesn’t prevent interaction with it. There are small ways in which this happens, such as prayer in the parliament. And then there are big ways. For example, in the state of Victoria, special religious instruction (SRI) is given in public schools.  

SRI is “instruction provided by churches and other religious groups and based on distinctive religious tenets and beliefs.” Scheduled during normal class time, SRI is not compulsory, and parental consent should be obtained.

The most common form of SRI is Christian religious education (CRE) delivered by ACCESS Ministries. Between 2009 and 2012, ACCESS Ministries received almost $20 million in government grants. The parent-run, grassroots organisation Fairness in Religions in School (FIRIS) claims that alternate forms of SRI are less common and receive no government support.

ACCESS Ministries also provides chaplains for the National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP). In the 2014 federal budget, the government provided $243.8 million over a four-year period to continue this program, which funds chaplains in Australian primary and secondary schools. The 2015 budget added $60.6 million every year for four years.

In a 2008 address to the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion National Conference, Dr. Rev. Evonne Paddison, CEO of ACCESS Ministries said:

In Australia we have a God-given open door to children and young people with the Gospel, our federal and state governments allow us to take the Christian faith into our schools and share it. We need to go and make disciples.

SRI has its critics and there are allegations of proselytizing and bias. In an article in The Age, Melbourne priest and academic Professor Gary Bouma called the curriculum “appalling” and “crap” delivered by “bullies.” Mostly, it goes on unnoticed and unchallenged.

Some Pagans don’t see a problem with SRI or the Christian chaplains in public schools. The connection isn’t missed by academic and former High Court judge Michael Kirby, an Anglican. In the article mentioned above, he said:

One just has to look around at the ignorance and prejudice concerning homosexuals and women to see what damage can be done by some narrow religious instructions. There have to be viable alternatives which parents and students can consider and opt for.

Marriage equality is currently a hot topic. Australians rejoiced with Ireland and the U.S. when both countries legalised same-sex marriage. Many Australians think it’s time for it to happen here. Polls consistently show that a majority of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage.

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Australians rightly point to conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a major force against marriage equality. However, a big undermining effort comes from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

The ACL is a powerful, political organisation headquartered in Australia’s capital, Canberra. Its vision is to see Christian principles influencing government and business.The ACL successfully sways votes and controls outcomes. During the 2010 election, the ACL struck a bargain with both sides of politics not to support the introduction of same-sex marriage. The ACL is a potent political force not just because it can mobilise its supporters, but also because of its direct influence on politicians.

It is a paradox that Australians are increasingly identifying as non-religious, but don’t object to huge amounts of Government dollars being poured into Christian organisations that teach Christianity in public schools while climate change funding, foreign aid, university funding, and health care are all cut. It is a paradox that the ACL opposes same-sex marriage on behalf of Christians while most Christians actually support marriage equality.

Australia is home to many beliefs, including those of 30k Pagans, according to the 2011 census. Is Australia a secular country?

Yes, but it is one that privileges the members of one faith over others. Australian Pagans don’t need to be dismayed, however. A close examination of the Christian Right reveals a small network of prominent figures who use smoke and mirrors to create a narrative that suggests that they have widespread public support. This doesn’t mean we can sit back and relax; we should continue to engage in causes that are important to us. And, we can feel hopeful about the increasing secular ideals and values, which will bring balance and diversity to the intersectionality of religion and politics.

I’m not a historian and I don’t play one on the Internet. I do think it’s good to have some knowledge and understanding of the history and development of our religious traditions, as mysterious, complex, and convoluted as they are.

There’s an increasing number of material available around the history and development of historic and contemporary Paganism and Witchcraft in Europe and the U.S. Ronald Hutton and Margot Adler, for example, have given us valuable scholarly insight.

We don’t hear very much about Australia, and I wasn’t sure where to start looking. Thankfully, a few Aussie friends have pointed me in the right direction, sharing some fascinating stories that highlight a few of Australia’s most important and colourful characters.

[Courtesy Tasmanian Pagan Alliance]

[Courtesy Tasmanian Pagan Alliance]

The Witches

Rosaleen Norton (2 October 1917 – 5 December 1979) may be Australia’s most famous Witch. Norton scandalised conservative Australia during the 1940s and 50s. Her art, which contained supernatural and sexual themes, was treated harshly. Police removed her work from exhibitions, confiscated books that contained her images, and attempted to prosecute her for obscenity. She was arrested countless times.

When Witchcraft was still illegal in Australia, Norton openly declared herself a Witch and a Pagan. She was an occultist devoted to Pan and led a coven in the bohemian area of Kings Cross in Sydney, where she lived. She was often at the centre of police and tabloid scrutiny.

Norton died in 1979 from colon cancer.  Interest in her life and her work hasn’t waned. A number of books about Norton have been published over the years. Most recently, Sonia Bible has written and directed a new documentary called The Witch of Kings Cross. Norton remains a key influence in Australia’s Pagan landscape. For more on Norton, read the two-part Wild Hunt series published last month.

81hGHd2uexLRhiannon Ryall is the pseudonym of an English-born Australian Wiccan who established a coven-based tradition in Australia. Ryall asserted that, at the age of 16, she and other youth in her village were initiated into a local, pre-Gardnerian, Wiccan tradition in West Country, England during the 1940s. However, as I’ve been told, historians and Aussie Witches are skeptical of her Ryall’s assertion. Her tradition appears to be a blend of Gardnerian and Alexandrian practices.

Ryall published a number of books, but her most important and best known work is West Country Wicca: A Journal of the Old Religion. Like Norton, she was no stranger to the media. After the unexpected death of her daughter in 1991, Ryall and her husband abducted their granddaughter. The saga lasted for years, and the couple, already in their sixties, served some jail time. It garnered media attention and public praise for the father, the man who rescued his daughter from the Devil-worshiping witches. The event inspired a made-for-television movie in 1999.

I don’t know when Ryall passed away. Despite having been known as “a bit of a fibber,” and her legacy being tarnished by the kidnapping, Ryall was involved in several traditions and left behind a number of students and initiates. I’m told she was a lovely woman who is missed by many.

Simon Goodman (16 September 1951 – 23 September 1991) may be one of the most enigmatic figures in Australia’s magickal landscape. It’s hard to separate the facts from mythic history, but it’s safe to say that Goodman was the main promoter and initiator of Wicca in Australia in the late 1970s and 1980s.

It appears Goodman was initiated into Alexandrian Wicca in Sussex. He met and corresponded with Alex and Maxine Sanders, who gave him their blessing and a charter to initiate others. Goodman made good use of the photocopier at his workplace, copying entire books for his network of covens across Australia. When he died, he left his collection of documents to Murdoch University. According to Douglas Ezzy, in his essay “Australian Paganisms,” Alexandrian Wicca is the most numerous initiate tradition in Australia mostly deriving from individuals who trained with Goodman.

The Scholars and Storytellers

9781472522467Douglas Ezzy is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Tasmania. His contribution is mainly academic with a number of studies and essays appearing in other works aside from his own books. His work includes Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival, a look at one of Australia’s more well-known and controversial festivals, Faunalia.

Lynne Hume is a University of Queensland anthropologist who published the first and major defining academic study of Australian Paganism. Unfortunately, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia is out of print, but can sometimes be found from second-hand book dealers.

41U3NdnPE5L._SL500_BO1,204,203,200_Nevill Drury (1 October 1947 – 15 October 2013) was an English-born Australian editor, publisher, and author of over 40 books on subjects ranging from shamanism and western magical traditions to art, music, and anthropology. He has many titles worth exploring, but one book of special interest here is Other temples, Other Gods: The Occult in Australia, which is also out of print. He is also the author of “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton,” published in Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies in 2010.

Peregrin Wildoak is the blogger behind Magic of the Ordinary. He is doing important work cataloguing material that Simon Goodman left behind, as well as recording memories and wisdom from Perth Wiccan elders from the 1970s and onward. His work will be invaluable to those collecting the history of Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia.

Brittany McCowan is a young aspiring documentary filmmaker from Lennox Head, Australia. She is currently working on directing her first feature length documentary called Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia. You can read my interview with McCowan on my blog and find out more about this project by visiting her website or her GoFundMe page.

Australia does have a story to tell. It has people worth knowing, and a history worth recording for future Pagans and Witches.

[Once again we feature guest journalist Zora Burden and resume the conversation with filmmaker Sonia Bible, who is currently making a film about Rosaleen Norton or the Witch of Kings Cross. Burden is the author of five books of poetry and a contributing writer for the San Francisco Herald and California Herald for over 15 years. This article is the second part of a two-part series. The first part was published last week and can be found here.]

Sonia Bible [Courtesy S. Bible]

Sonia Bible [Courtesy S. Bible]

Zora Burden: Do you see her as being a feminist icon?
Sonia Bible: Rosaleen Norton was at the vanguard of feminism and the counter-culture revolution. She was doing it, living it, decades before the second wave of feminism. From the late thirties, when she left art school she was living an unconventional life. She was so ahead of the times, and it is important to look at her in that context.

Women were allowed to work during the war, and after World War II, women were told to go back into the homes, get married have babies and to desire washing machines. Divorce was frowned upon, eighty percent of the population was Christian, abortion was illegal and there was no social security for women at all. In the fifties, Rosaleen was divorced, living in sin with a man 13 years her junior, had no children, was living as an artist and was a self proclaimed witch. I certainly consider her a feminist icon.

ZB: Did she have many women who admired her? Or were there mainly males in her social circles?
SB:
I spoke to Dr. Barbara Creed, author of The Monstrous Feminine about Rosaleen Norton. She told me how in the late sixties … she had heard about Rosaleen Norton. She and her friends hitchhiked to Sydney, went to Kings Cross and walked around looking for her. They had hoped to catch a glimpse of Rosaleen Norton, a woman they idolized as a feminist icon. By the late sixties and into the seventies, Australia was catching up. Younger educated women would have seen her as a feminist at that time.

Rosaleen did have a lot of male admirers in her life. In the early research stage, I appeared on the James Valentine radio show, with the aim of getting people to call in if they knew her or met her. We had a lot of callers and then people emailed later too. One woman, whose father was infatuated with Rosaleen, contacted me. She said she thought it was interesting that everyone who called in were men. Or the story was ‘My father… my uncle… or my grandfather…’ I did notice this trend as well.

But what I learned from working on Recipe for Murder, when you are dealing with history, it’s important to keep digging. Often the women were there, they just don’t become part of the history. Women of that era are less likely to come forward. They think that their story is not important, so as researchers and tellers of history we think that they didn’t exist. By digging deeper and also because the film has been a long time in gestation, I have found that there was a strong community of creative women around Rosaleen, particularly in the earlier years.

I interviewed dancer Eileen Kramer, who has just turned 100. She lived with Rosaleen in an all woman artistic commune in Circular Quay in the late thirties. There are more stories or creative collaborations in the forties. As with most people, Rosaleen had many different stages in her life. There certainly was a stage when there were a lot of men in her life. There was also a stage when there were a lot of transgender people in her life …

[Courtesy S. Bible]

[Courtesy S. Bible]

ZB: How do you feel she affected the women’s liberation movement then and now?
SB:
I admire her courage and determination. She never compromised, even though it would have made her life considerably easier. I think, in the late sixties and seventies, she would have been an inspiration to young women at university etc. I do think that she has the potential to affect the women’s liberation movement now in a more profound way.

ZB: Will you give examples of how Rosaleen was punished by the male establishment for her rebelliousness, like with her extensive arrest record and constant scapegoating in the media?
SB: Following the razor gang war of the 20’s and 30’s, when Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine ruled the underworld, the Vagrancy Act of 1929 was introduced to stem the violence. A consorting clause was designed to clean up the street gangs. It specified heavy penalties, including jail for anyone who consorts with reputed thieves, or prostitutes, or vagrant persons who have no visible or legal means of support.

Kings Cross police abused the vagrancy act to persecute artists, transvestites, musicians…anyone who didn’t have a job really. Rosaleen Norton and Gavin Greenlees were constantly arrested on vagrancy charges and thrown into jail. A couple of Catholic detectives really had it in for her, including the notorious Detective Bumper Farrell. Once the tabloid media realized that Rosaleen Norton sold newspapers, they pursued her for stories, and it didn’t matter if they were true or not. Dr Marguerite Johnson talks extensively about the changing relationship between Rosaleen and the media in the film.

ZB: Can you describe the many ways she lived an unconventional lifestyle?
SB: For a woman to be an artist in the late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s was a rarity. To be a woman artist painting occult themes was extremely unconventional. Rosaleen lived in group housing with other young women artists in Circular Quay and then in Darlinghurst. In those days, women got married young, had babies and that was it. Looking after a husband and a family was the only expectation.

ZB: What inspired Rosaleen’s infamous artwork? How did she cope with her arrest?  Please talk about the obscenity laws that they used to prosecuted her.
SB: Rosaleen Norton holds a unique place in Australian art as an esoteric artist. The late Dr Nevill Drury explains how she went on to the astral plane through trance and met the various gods and goddesses there. Her paintings and drawings are depictions of these experiences. Art curator and dealer Robert Buratti explains how her art is like the most ancient art, where the artist depicts their place in the universe as a way of figuring it out. Dr Marguerite Johnson talks in detail about the meanings and origins of the gods and goddesses in Rosaleen’s art and the notion of duality – between male and female, human and beast. The work is extraordinary and when you start to look into the symbolism in the work, it comes to life on a whole other level.

Rosaleen Norton coped with her obscenity charges with dignity. She never apologized for the work. She tried to explain it and charges were often dropped. The judges on the most part seemed quite reasonable, but it didn’t stop the police from continuing to arrest her for the same pictures over and over again. The police were the censors.

ZB: How did Rosaleen survive as a woman artist during a time when women had no real options for work, living as a single woman and was so open with her sexuality?
SB
: Rosaleen worked as a journalist, writing articles for ‘pertinent’ magazine. She and Gavin were employed by Walter Glover to create the book The Art of Rosaleen Norton. She did little paintings and drawings that she would sell at the cafés. People would bring food and coffee to the house, and she would give them a little drawing or something. I’ve uncovered quite a few of those artworks, all with similar stories. She was always very poor, but she didn’t desire a material life. She thought that people should worship nature not the dollar.

ZB: Will you describe how she influenced those around, and how her coven came about, operated and evolved? Did she prefer to work alone and the coven was more of an entourage?
SB:
The coven was made up of a small group of close friends who liked to practice magick together. The members I’ve spoken to are protective of their privacy and I respect that, so I don’t have much to offer in that area. She worked alone at times and other times with a small close-knit group.

ZB: Do you feel she was ahead of her time with her explorations of the astral plane and the occult, working with the entities she met, along with her other esoteric interests?
SB:
Rosaleen was a very studious woman. She was well versed in the works of Jung, Freud, Crowley, the Jewish Kabbalah, and much more. She developed her own unique practice while continuing to learn from others. She was a prolific writer, and much of her writing is still coming to the surface through my research…

Rosaleen Norton (1950s) [Courtesy Sonia Bible]

Rosaleen Norton (1950s) [Courtesy Sonia Bible]

ZB: Do you feel that any of her work was simply done for shock value to get media attention? Or was it a response to her villainization by society? Did she begin to consider her life a form of performance art in a way?
SB:
I think her art was a serious ritual practice and that she should be recognized as Australia’s leading esoteric artist. She did little caricatures of judges and police that were a response to what was going on. But there is a difference between the little works for bread and butter and the major works. There are comments about society in some of her major works, about censorship … She was certainly provocative and communicating through her art. She held a mirror up to society and they didn’t like it. I don’t think that she considered her life a performance, as performance art is a modern concept. She did what she did to survive and to live the life she wanted and that included managing the media. You’ve got to remember that there was no precedent. People weren’t as media savvy as they are today.

ZB: How do you see her as inspiring women today to empower themselves?
SB:
I’m not so sure that she would want to inspire women today to empower themselves. I think she did what she did, and lived the way she wanted for her own reasons. And that’s why she is an inspirational woman without necessarily trying to be. Women’s history is so important as it’s easier to see where we are now, by looking back at where we’ve come from. There’s still a way to go so let’s celebrate the things that courageous women like Rosaleen Norton did to pave the way.