Archives For Australia

[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.

61-Uvb4mjgL._SY428_BO1,204,203,200_

  • 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.”

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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.

One of the biggest discussions among Australian Pagans is how to celebrate the Wheel of the Year. In the Southern Hemisphere, we are largely working with material crafted in the U.K. and America. Comparatively, there’s been little research, and even less writing, on the subject of the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere.

Billinghurst_Frances

Frances Billinghurst [Courtesy Photo]

Long-time Witch and priestess, Frances Billinghurst is the author of Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats. We sat down to have a chat about the challenges that Aussie Pagans face, and how we can create a unique Wheel that is better suited to Australia.

The Wild Hunt: For Pagans that observe the Wheel of the Year, many of the ritual myths associated with the Sabbats don’t apply easily to areas beyond where these traditions were born. Even within Australia, just as it is within the U.S., the climate varies tremendously from one end of the country to the other.  That may be the most obvious challenge to celebrating the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What are other challenges do Aussie Pagans face?

Frances Billinghurst: There seems to be an increasing number of people that have a vague understanding of various myths that have found their way into modern Paganism. They don’t know the myths in their original forms, where they originated, much less develop a deeper understanding of them. I believe that developing this personal knowledge base assists when looking at the deeper meaning of the myth and attempting to adapt that to one’s own environment.

As a lot of modern Paganism seems to have European roots, it is important to realise that the myths vary across the European continent with many areas also incorporating their own localised versions or interpretations. It’s not a case of one size fits all. Also, as these myths often told a story, it is important for us to gain an understanding of that story and an interpretation from the peoples who it related to.

When we have developed this knowledge base then we realise that the myths form part of a bigger story and, whilst on the surface this story may not fit exactly into our own environment, when we begin to strip back the layers to expose the underlying symbolism, then this does.

Naturally, of course, this also depends greatly upon one’s own spiritual path and how that is developed. Mine, for example, is one built on symbolic meaning and myth where the journey through each cycle of the Wheel reveals a different level to the previous one.

One of the biggest challenges around the Wheel of the Year is this lack of poetic or symbolic understanding – where things are merely look at from the surface or superficial level, where people tend to take things at face value (often based on assumptions), and are not encourage to explore things for themselves. For us living in the Southern Hemisphere, we have long been told by Northern Hemispheric writers that we only need to move the Sabbat dates around by six months. That assumption is grossly incorrect. There is more to working with the Wheel of the Year than that.

You raise one issue as being climate. While the variation of this may appear to form stumbling blocks, again if you familiarise yourself with the seasonal myths and in particularly, the underlining psychological meaning,  then more often than not the myth can be adapted in order to create something that reflects what is occurring within our own environment at that particular time. Changes in our climate are always going to play havoc to our interpretation of the original myth. However, we need to keep in mind that four of the Sabbats relate to the cosmic relationship between the earth and the sun, whereas the remaining four are agricultural. Depending on what tradition you follow, there may not be four agricultural markers in your area.

Coming from a more traditionally-based tradition, my personal preference is to adapt as opposed to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, should one prefer to follow a more eclectic form of Paganism, there are no reasons why they need to stick to the traditional Wheel of the Year.

Billinghurst_bookTo answer your question about other challenges that face the Australian Pagan, I guess the apparent lack of published information or at least the accessibility of such information about the Wheel is a big one. Despite modern Paganism having been practiced in Australia for well over 40 years, there are still very few books that have been printed solely on this topic, resulting in the majority of information that seekers first come across being from the Northern Hemisphere.

Further, due to the smaller population of Pagans that are scattered (many extremely isolated) across a country the same size as the USA, there is not the availability or accessibility to teachers and/or those who have been confident enough to explore this area properly. I have met with a degree of resistance from my Northern Hemisphere-based elders in my desire to adapt my tradition more to what is happening within my local environment. Yet it needs to be done. If I am to work with the energies of this land, then I need to understand its underpinning cycles, which is what the Wheel of the Year is. When I am able to do this, then I am able to adapt the traditional or ritual mythos more appropriately to each Sabbat.

TWH: Here in Melbourne, people like to say we have four seasons in a day. With what seems like a volatile climate, how can we celebrate meaningful Sabbats? What are some of the different approaches that Pagan communities in the Southern Hemisphere have adopted for celebrating the Wheel of the Year?

FB: In order to celebrate meaningful Sabbats, you first need to establish a basic understanding of what the Sabbat is about. Once this basic understanding is achieved, then we can attempt to adapt it into what is happening around us.

It’s important to remember that regardless what is happening in our environment that the Lesser Sabbats (Equinoxes and Solstices) were traditionally aligned on the earth’s relationship to the sun whereas the Greater Sabbats were more agriculturally orientated. This means that technically the deeper meaning of the Equinoxes (times of balance) and the Solstices (zenith power of light or dark) do not change regardless of what is happening with the climate. If you are caught up sticking with the seasonal myths from another land/culture and are getting disheartened that such myths are not reflecting what you see outside your window, then you basically have two choices: strip the myth down to what it represents to you or create something new.

In order to achieve the latter, you would need to get out into your own natural environment and see what is happening around you. If possible, get into the countryside or your closest nature reserve or park if you don’t have a garden. Get outside and observe what is happening around you. Observe significant local seasons and learn as much as possible with respect to localised folklore and or Indigenous folklore.

As to different ways of adopting the Wheel of the Year within Australia, again this comes back to environment.  In the Top End, it is pointless to follow a European-based Wheel of eight Sabbats when there appears to be only two seasons – the Wet and the Dry. Alternatively, the eight Sabbats may be highly influence by the local Aboriginal seasonal wheel which acknowledges six seasons.

Some traditions only acknowledge either the Lesser Sabbats due to their relationship between the sun and the earth, whereas others I know of only acknowledge the Greater Sabbats as the gateways to each of the seasons.

TWH: In the Northern Hemisphere, Pagans who observe the Wheel of the Year just finished celebrating Imbolc. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we celebrated Lughnassadh. What are the markers of the Summer Solstice and of Lughnassadh in Australia?

FB: Here in the South Australia around the time of the Summer Solstice, it is our grain harvest which is usually associated with Lughnasadh/Lammas. In southern central Australia, Lughnasadh is usually marked by the arrival of bushfire season. The temperatures easily climb into the high 30s and 40°Cs (high 80s to well over 100°F) and can stay there for weeks. This year, the fires arrived early and, as I write this, to date our summer has been on the mild side with only a couple of really hot days. The season is not over yet and we could be heading for a hot and dry autumn instead. In adapting the Sabbats to reflect what is happening within our local environment, we need to know what the traditional story is about and then have the confidence of being able to shape it to ensure that its underlying meaning reflects that of what is happening around us.

How my coven has been approaching this Sabbat has changed over the years. For example, within my tradition the Summer Solstice is about the bountiful Mother Goddess and the God as his guise of the Sun God. Here in South Australia this mythos can still be used yet expanded upon so that the Goddess is not only a bountiful Mother, but she also holds the scythe as she cuts down John Barleycorn, the Lord of the Grain which the God has also become along with his solar aspect.

Where I live, it is at the Summer Solstice, not at Lughnassadh, when the God offers to his abundant beloved his head, his life, and soul as the ultimate sacrifice. As the Wheel turns to Lughnasadh, as the wielder of the scythe, the Goddess starts to stalk the land in her grief and longing for the God, and in a similar manner to how when Demeter despaired for her beloved Persephone after her abduction by Hades, the land becomes dry and barren. The God, almost as a split personality, has sacrificed his life as the Lord of the Grain, but also now becomes a Lord of the Corn as Lughnasadh is usually the time when corn is ready to harvest. The Lughnasadh harvest is not always bountiful and productive depending on how hot January has become, and usually what is offered up at this time of the year is a representation of what has not been successful.

Bushfire [Photo Credit: Black Saturday Bushfires.com.au]

Bushfire [Photo Credit: Black Saturday Bushfires.com.au]

Instead of celebrating the harvest and its bounty, due to the heat, lack of rain and the land often being dry and scorched with bushfires abounding, Lughnasadh becomes a fire festival of purification and also regeneration. The fires that tend to arrive at Lughnasadh reflect the regeneration that this land needs as the life of specific plant species tend to lie dominant until they are scorched. On a deeper personal, psychological level, my coven explores the purification from and removal of deep-rooted obstacles that only the force of something like a destructive fire can eradicate.

Speaking back to Imbolc, one aspect Brighid that tends to often be overlooked is her fire aspect, which is appropriate at this time of the year here in southern central Australia.

In Aboriginal lore where the solar deity is a goddess, there are a number of stories about the land being scorched by sun. The Wotjobaluk people of south-eastern Australia, for example, had a solar Goddess by the name of Gnowee whose torch was the sun, and after her young son went missing while she dug for food, she climbed into the sky with her torch in order to get a better view of where to look for him. To this day, she still wanders the world with her torch looking for her son.

From the Northern Territory, comes the story of Wala (or Walo) who was also a solar goddess who would travel across the sky every day with her sister (or daughter) Bara until she realised that the two of them were drying out the land and making it parched. Wala sent Bara back to the east so that the earth could become fertile and bloom.

TWH: A question that many Aussie Pagans ask: Why do we keep on trying to fit the European Wheel of the Year into the Australian seasonal cycle?

FB: This is a question that I have been asking myself for years and one which led me to write, Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats.  It could be simply that the majority of information that Pagans have access to is from the Northern Hemisphere coupled with the overall generalisation that Pagans within Australia are often very solitary by nature and spread out by location. There is not the access to networking that is found in other countries. While Australian Pagans don’t mind travelling, the cost of travel here is expensive as are books, so we are limited largely to the Internet and, once again, the influx of information is Northern Hemispheric and, more often than not, American.

Due to the lack of localised resources, it is little wonder that newcomers can take a while before they gain the knowledge and even confidence in trying something different. Even for those within a tradition, it can be intimidating to attempt to step outside the boundaries.

While modern Paganism has reportedly been active in Australia since the 1970s, there are still relatively few resources available with respect to working with native flora and fauna. Whether or not people have actually have explored such areas and it is merely a case of them not publishing their work, or maybe their work has been published but it is not easily accessible, who can tell. All I know is that when I was researching my book, I often had to go to non-Pagan resources and then apply a Pagan interpretation. Maybe this is how the correspondences of say the Ogham came about; the Celts looked at the oak and saw strength. Yet for a lot of us, there appears to be a hesitancy to step across that line and explore our local flora and fauna in such a manner.

TWH: Australia has fascinating Indigenous cultures and traditions. Why don’t Aussie Pagans work more with an Aboriginal understanding of the seasons?

FB: There are a lot of cultural sensitivities surrounding Aboriginal teachings. There is discomfort in using such information without the proper consent, and there is the issue of who to approach to gain the proper consent. There is not always a lot of information made available especially when it comes to localised observances as a lot this knowledge has been forgotten or even lost.

What is important to realise that in a landmass that is the size of Australia there are over 500 different clan groups or nations and each have their own stories and seasonal myths, and a lot of these clan groups were very nomadic. Some of these are better known and others have been blended into an overall generalisation.

The Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia, for example, make up some 77 family groups in an area that includes the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu peninsula and the Coorong of southern central Australia. Some of their folklore and seasonal myths can be found in A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia by Ronald and Catherine Berndt (John E. Stanton, 1993) as well as Ngarrindjeri wurruwarrin: A World that is, was, and will be by Diane Bell (Spinifex Press, 1998). Yet the works of the Berndts has been criticized and also doesn’t represent the environment away from the Fleurieu and southern lakes.

I live in the land of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains who had their culture and language almost wiped out within a short time after the arrival of the European settlement in the 1830s. While great attempts have been made in recent decades to re-establish their language and culture, a lot of this knowledge is not available to the public.

Bushland National Park [Photo Credit: Proimos / Flicr CC. Lic]

Bushland Royal National Park [Photo Credit: Proimos / Flicr CC. Lic]

TWH: How can Aussie Pagans learn to better adapt their Sabbats to the local climate and landscape?

FB: Simply by moving away from the computer and getting outside into their gardens, local park, bushland, whatever is convenient. Feel the sun and rain on your skin and the wind in your hair. Even in the middle of suburbia, this is possible. Take note of when plants flower, when fruit comes into season, strike up conversations with green grocers about seasonal fruits, and nursery owners about plants.  Visit the botanic gardens. Many have free walks and botany guides, especially when it comes to the local flora. This was one of the first exercises that I gave students when I ran a correspondence course in the late 1990s and early 2000s prior to online schools, and something that I still teach within my outer course classes for my coven.

Don’t only rely on Pagan material. While knowing the background and myths of the Sabbats is important, look into local Aboriginal myth and even, if possible, local folklore that can be traced back to the European settlers. This latter point may require some digging, but you will be amazed at what you discover.

When you start to collate your notes, patterns emerge and these can assist in constructing a unique Wheel of the Year.

TWH: You have written one of the few books about the Wheel of the Year in Australia. What has that process been like for you?

FB: Coming up with a Wheel of the Year that is uniquely Australian can very well be a long process and indeed one that will differ from region to region. In the eight or so years that it took me to research and write Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, one of my biggest surprises was simply the lack of information written by Pagans in offering an alternative to the traditional, eight-spoked Wheel of the Year. On Yahoo groups and now Facebook groups, despite a lot of discussion, few people have taken the bull by the horns and actually put something in writing.

My book is far from complete and, when I was finishing the second edition, I was still not 100% happy with it. The Summer Solstice and Lughnasadh are the two Sabbats that really need addressing here in southern Australia. Yet, if I wrote about dramatically changing these two Sabbats, I could be alienating some readers. Instead, I left hints to encourage readers to look deeper at the Wheel and what it means to them.

I want to publish a follow-up to Dancing the Sacred Wheel: A Journey through the Southern Sabbats, probably an anthology of what people actually do in order to acknowledge and celebrate the Sabbats in the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand, South Africa, and even South America if possible. The more writings we get out there that address the revamping of the Wheel of the Year, the more confidence people will have in adapting to find something that they personally resonate with on a deeper level.

TWH: What else are you working on?

FB: I have a number of projects that I am currently working on at the moment. The first is the editing of my first anthology, Call of the God: An Exploration of the Divine Masculine within Modern Paganism, which I hope to publish later this year.  This anthology will balance out my second book, In Her Sacred Name: Writings about the Divine Feminine, which contains a selection of articles that I have written over the years on various aspects of the Goddess.

I also have contributed to a number of other people’s anthologies which are in the process of being published this year, in particular The Bosom of Isis by Sorita d’Este and Avalonia, as well as a number of anthologies by Neos Alexandria/Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Behind the scenes, I have a further two more books that I work on when I get a bit of time that I hope to have published by the end of this year or early 2016. One is on the darker aspects of the Goddess, which is based on the workshops I have been running since 2006, as well as an instruction manual on working with respect to a modern traditional form of the Craft. Based on my own teachings and kind of a 101 book, it will offer some “meat on the bones” for the more solitary practitioner.

*  *  *

More information about Frances Billinghurst, including her books and upcoming projects, can be found on her website at http://francesbillinghurst.blogspot.com.au/.

 

In my previous article describing my experiences with Paganism in Australia, particularly in the state of Victoria, I mentioned that the local Pagans, who I have talked to, are interested in exploring Aboriginal culture and spirituality. American readers also seemed interested in hearing more about this subject as well. As I have mentioned, this subject presents some special challenges. Today, I explore some of those challenges.

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

didgeridoo [Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight CC BY-NC 2.0]

Let’s begin by acknowledging a basic reality. It is no easier or less complicated for an Australian Pagan to get authentically involved with Aboriginal spirituality than it is for an American Pagan to get involved with Native American spirituality. You’ll see this isn’t the only parallel.

While we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to refer to the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, we ought to remember that there has never been a single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. The broad term includes 900 regional groups with distinct languages, beliefs, and practices.

British colonisation of Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788. We don’t know with certainty how large the Aboriginal population was at that time. Some ecologists estimate it may have been 750,000 to a million (1). What followed is the familiar story of colonialism and colonisation: the spread of virulent diseases, the appropriation of land and water resources, the introduction of alcohol, opium, and tobacco, violence, exploitation, dispossession, the spread of European settlements, forced religious conversion, the establishment of racist institutions, and the general obliteration of the languages, literature and culture of native peoples.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 1900 the recorded Indigenous population of Australia had declined to approximately 93,000 and the belief that the Indigenous Australians would soon die out was widely held. While Australians are well aware of what happened next, most Americans know little about the Stolen Generation.

Up until as recently as the 1970s, the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments removed Indigenous children from their families. Newspaper articles, reports, and other documents suggest that motivations included child protection and fear over the mixing of racial groups. Aboriginals were referred to as blacks (they still are) and the government wanted to “breed out the colour by elevating female half-castes to white standard with a view to their absorption by mating into the white population” (2).

In Australia: A Biography of a Nation, Phillip Knightley wrote:

This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.

The exact number of children removed is unknown, but the Bringing Them Home Report stated that “not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal”.

On 13 February 2007, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to Indigenous Australians.

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne [Photo Credit: virginiam via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0]

Fast forward to today. Aboriginals have not recovered from the atrocities they experienced. In June 2013, the estimated Australian Indigenous population was 698,583 people. That’s about 3% of the total population in Australia. The Overview of Australian Indigenous health status confirms what many can imagine. Aboriginals live in remote communities, and have poorer health, lower education, greater problems with alcohol abuse, earn less, are at greater risk for self-harm and suicide, and die sooner than non-Indigenous persons.

It’s a bleak picture, but it’s not a hopeless one. A great number of Australians care very much about the state of Aboriginal people and there are many private and public efforts to improve Aboriginal health and well-being as well as promote reconciliation.

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

Wurundjeri: Traditional Owner Acknowledgement Plaques by ANTaR Vic

As I mentioned above, there is no single, homogeneous Aboriginal society. I use the term “Aboriginal spirituality” only for convenience. How to pin-point it? We can talk about the creation, ancestral, and totemic beings, but that misses the point. There is next to nothing I can tell you about what’s left of Aboriginal ceremonies because I am not privy to them. It is “secret business” as one reader commented in my last piece. What we’re really talking about is culture and one that is inextricably tied to the land.

Aboriginal Australian groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Their forcible removal by European settlers severed them from the cultural and spiritual practices necessary to maintain the cohesion and well-being of the group. All the Dreaming stories, the tales of timeless time, tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape and these establish the structure of their societies, the rules of behaviour, and the ceremonies performed to ensure continuity of life and land.

Many Aussie Pagans would love to have greater access to Aboriginal wisdom. I’ve met one Pagan man that traveled to remote areas of Australia and spent time with some Aboriginals and learned a great deal.  There are opportunities to visit cultural centres, public events, and there’s volunteering. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult and there is an invisible line in the sand. Aborigines are distrustful, and who can blame them. Australians are sensitive to the plight of Aborigines and often paralyzed by a sense of helplessness. I rarely hear Pagans here talk of cultural appropriation, but they all know what it means and they know Aboriginal spirituality is mostly off limits.

In Australia, we’re often working with inherited materials from the Northern Hemisphere that don’t always apply well. That’s why I love the science and technology publications from CSIRO and why one of my favourite Pagan bloggers down under is Inga Leonora at Australis Incognita who studies native Australian Flora and Fauna in her Craft. I’ve taken up bird-watching, which gets me out in nature and has helped me learn more about the native wildlife and the seasonal shifts through their migration and breeding patterns.

In the U.S., Pagans balance the myths and rites of a foreign Pagan religion with those of the land we inhabit. It’s no different here in Australia. The best way to learn about native spirituality is to learn about native land.

Sources

  1. Neil Thomson, pp153, “Indigenous Australia: Indigenous Health” in James Jupp (ed), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their Origins, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  2. C. E. Cook to Administrator of the Northern Territory, 7 February 1933, National Archives of Australia, Commonwealth Records Series, Department of the Interior file A659/1; 1940/1/408