Archives For Australia

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

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

Greetings from Down Under!

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

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

Great Ocean Road [by C. Paneque]

Great Ocean Road [Photo taken by C. Paneque]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo by C. Paneque]

[Photo taken by C. Paneque]

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

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Yesterday, I shared the sad news that author and magician Donald Michael Kraig had passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Today, I wanted to showcase a tribute to Kraig by his longtime employer and publisher Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote: “Don has been an important part of Llewellyn for over 40 years, and has been a tremendous colleague, teacher, mentor, and inspiration to many. Don first started his journey with Llewellyn as an author, when he submitted Modern Magick with encouragement from his then roommate Scott Cunningham. Shortly after he was hired as a writer and moved to St. Paul to work at Llewellyn headquarters.  He eventually became the editor of FATE magazine as well.  Later, he moved back to California but continued on as a writer and editor of New Worlds magazine and as an acquiring editor, where he continued using and sharing his extensive subject-matter knowledge. Don has touched so many lives and will be dearly missed. We are grateful to his life lived, and for his teachings and words that will continue to live on through his many books. Our thoughts go out to Holly and their friends and families.” Updates on a memorial service, and a place to leave donations to help with expenses, can be found here.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

Modern Druid group The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids turns 50 this year, and a special golden anniversary grove is being planned to honor the occasion. Quote: “2014 is the 50th year of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. We have asked ‘Trees for Life’ in Scotland to plant a sacred grove to commemorate this anniversary, and have started the project with a donation of 98 trees. We’re calling it ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ after the Druid name of our founder, Ross Nichols. Have a look at the special web-page for this grove here. You’ll see that you can donate a tree for just £5 and ask for a dedication to be read out at its planting. The Order has 17,000 members, a mailing list of 10,000 newsletter susbscribers, and 16,000 listeners to our podcast every month – if every one donated a tree we could plant a whole forest with many sacred groves in it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!  Do help make this vision a reality, if you can, by gifting at least one tree now and spreading the news! Trees for Life have made the process incredibly simple!” 

logo-bsfGede Parma, author of “Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft,” will be presenting this week at BaliSpirit Festival on the Indonesian archipelago of Bali. According to Parma, ze is the first Witch to present at this high-profile yoga/dance/music festival. You can see Parma’s listing on the official web site, here. Quote: “Gede spends his time actively promoting conscious engagement with Place and the Planet, teaching and writing about Witchcraft and Magic, and deepening connection with the Many Bright and Cunning Spirits that people this Cosmos. Ze is also a Reclaiming Witch, a modern tradition of the Craft co-founded by several individuals in California, most famously Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance. Reclaiming does the work of (re)uniting politics with spirituality and is an activist and ecofeminist expression of Witchcraft and Paganism.” Parma recently relocated to Bali, and is half Balinese. The festival runs from March 19th through the 23rd.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The always-interesting Norse Mythology Blog, run by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, is once again up for a religion-category Bloggie in the fourteenth annual Weblog Awards. If the blog wins this year it will, according to Seigfried, “be the first religion blog (on any religion) to be installed in the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame.” Voting is open through Sunday.
  • The 2014 Ostara issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Cairril Adaire, Laura Perry, Rufus Brock Maychild, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who talks about Wiccanate privilege, and if it’s a problem). ACTION, as I’ve said many times before, is a quiet gem of a resource, don’t miss out on reading it.
  • Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC, which recently announced that it would be closing its community center space, has made announcements regarding plans for new initiatives moving forward, and the election of new officers to guide the foundation. Quote: “The Open Hearth Foundation Board of Governors has decided to focus the organization’s efforts on building community support and funding for its mission, with the goal of reopening a Pagan lending library within the next two years.”
  • The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire will be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Quote: “On Sunday, April 6, 2014, The Temple of Witchcraft will be opening its doors to the public for our Spring Open House in Salem, New Hampshire. Join us in sharing the magick with coffee, tea, refreshments, and lively company. Curious? Have your questions answered by our knowledgable ministers and learn the facts and fantasy about modern Witches and Witchcraft. Come learn about our various ministries, including our work in Healing, Art, Women’s Spirituality, Grief Support, Prison Ministry, and Rites of Passage.”
  • A Pennsylvania coven fighting to perform legal handfastings, whom I’ve mention before here, has won their struggle to navigate the red tape. I’m glad this has been resolved for them.
  • Cosette writes about an unrepentant Australian Pagan predator in the community. Quote: “In my quest to discover the movers and shakers of the Pagan community in Australia, it was bound to happen that I would eventually stumble upon him. He is a man that everyone talks about through cautious whispers and shameful glances. Nobody says his name. I didn’t know his name until the internet magically revealed it. He’s the Voldemort of Victoria, but worse because he is real. His name is Robin Fletcher.”
  • Challenges for Pagan youth, in their own words. Quote: “I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can.”
  • Panegyria, the newsletter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, turns 30 this month. Quote: “For thirty years, Panegyria has aimed at connecting the Pagan communities and individuals in the greater Seattle area. During the early 80’s the scene was filled with a disjointed community consisting of small groups, and scantily published newsletters. Pete “Pathfinder” Davis saw a need for a more comprehensive publication to showcase and bring together the voice of the Seattle-area Pagan community.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the over 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

Pagan prison chaplain Patrick McCollum has penned an open reaction letter in response to a New York Times article about a Southern Baptist Bible college located inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In the letter, McCollum cautions fellow prison chaplains against celebrating this move unless they’d want to see a similar setup for a Wiccan seminary, and ends with the advice he’d give the warden in Louisiana if asked. Quote: “I support the good work of the seminary, and I would encourage the warden or other wardens, if they want to move in this direction, and if it were found that such programs were Constitutional ( which I seriously doubt) to invite minority faiths to have the same support and advantages they are offering the Bible college.  I would also caution the current seminary to review their objectives and adjust them to bring service to all and a good general education, without including conversion as a component.  If inmates feel moved after seeing the good work done by the seminary to convert, more power to them. While there is a serious question as to whether the situation described is Constitutional at all, the more important question is, is it ethical? Is it okay to submit confined inmates who cannot escape or move out of range of this program and who know up front that signing up for it will put them in good favor with the warden and staff and make their prison stay more comfortable and even give them status.” Religious education in prison is an ongoing issue, one that Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has decided to explore with their new Pagan Life Academy.

1391905_10151682113826724_2043938403_nWriter, occultist, and musician Lon Milo DuQuette will be releasing a new album, “Gentle Heretic,” on October 31st. Downloads of the new songs are already available at CD Baby. Quote: “After a twenty five year hiatus from the music business and the recording studio, Lon Milo DuQuette is in the midst of a burst of musical creativity. Eighteen months after his 2012 debut on Ninety Three Records, DuQuette has wrapped production on “Gentle Heretic”, his third collection of original material. While “Heretic” maintains the wit and stylistic traditions established in his first two Ninety Three works (“I’m Baba Lon” and “Baba Lon II”), DuQuette has sharpened his satirical pen on some tracks, pulling few punches politically or philosophically. A prolific author and expert in Western Hermeticism, the Aleister Crowley disciple’s new disc tweaks the beaks of the one percent, pokes fun at the proselytizers – there’s even a scathing salvo served on a certain December holiday. Mixed in with these messages are some delightful frolics covering everything from reincarnation to a quantum theory of courtship. The final forty-one seconds might be described as the acoustic equivalent of a YouTube cat video.” You can find out more about this release at Ninety Three Records.

banner4Pandora’s Kharis, a charity circle run by Hellenic Polytheists, was recently launched. The new group, sponsored by Elaion, aims to raise money for “charities and causes which align with our ideals, our Gods and our communities.” Quote: “Pandora’s Kharis is a movement which arose from within the Hellenistic Polytheistic community, and sponsored by Hellenistic Polytheistic organization Elaion. Its goal is to come together as Hellenists–followers of the ancient Hellenic (Greek) Gods–and collect funds monthly to support a worthy cause, decided upon by vote from the members of the group. Donations will be collected throughout the month and provided to the organization on the Noumenia; the religious beginning of the new month, which coincides with the return of the moon after it’s just gone through its dark phase. It is a time of hope and promise, and Pandora’s remaining gift after the amphora was opened was exactly that. As such, she has been elected to represent what we stand for: to keep an open eye of wonder towards the world, to see the good in it, and to offer hope to those in need.” In an editorial for Witches & Pagans, Terence P. Ward praised the formation of Pandora’s Kharis, noting that “perhaps even more exciting — at least from a business perspective — is that the idea is easily replicated.  Wiccans, Heathens, polytraditional solitaries all could create their own groups for amplifying the power of their giving.  By narrowing the focus from the incredibly broad and often contradictory beliefs of Pagans down to the ethics and values of a particular subset of the Paganiverse, we are likely to see more public giving by Pagans.” More information can be found at the organization’s new web site.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A new London-based shop based around traditional conjure work, London Conjure, was launched this week. The enterprise was founded by Katelan Foisy (“La Gitana”), who is based in New York City, and Sister Enable, based in the UK. Quote: “Though much of their work is based on Romany “Gypsy” Magic passed down from generation to generation and traditional Hoodoo conjure work, they also work with spirits used in Haitian Vodou, Santeria or other enlightened spirits depending on what will work best to achieve their clients’ objectives.” You can learn more about the founders, here. You can also read a Q&A with Katelan Foisy.
  • A new book of commentaries on Aleister Crowley’s The Book of the Law“Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law,” has been published. Quote: “Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on the Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Webb provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magical perspectives, including commentary from Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought.”
  • At PNC-Minnesota, Lisa Spiral Besnett covers the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota. Quote: “This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year. Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.”
  • Cosette, in Australia, gives an update on the Pagan/New Age event in Wedderburn, which experienced opposition from local Christian groups. Quote: “It sounds to me like there was a lot of interest in the New Age festival and that’s what people really went out there for. What Tonkin and other Christians like her fail to realize is that there’s a church on every corner and a Bible in every motel room, library, and book shop. Christianity is the dominant and privileged religion in Australia; finding information about it and other Christians is easy. Finding Witches, Wiccans, good resources, and a supportive Pagan or New Age spiritual community is much harder, and made all the more difficult by people like Tonkin who seek to defame alternative religions, and frighten those seeking them while attempting to silence those who practice them.”
  • Issue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine was released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.”

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the over 50 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

Outdoor temple at the Maetreum.

Outdoor temple at the Maetreum.

The Maetreum of Cybele in Catskill, New York, which was recently attacked by an individual hurling rocks and epithets, has been in an ongoing property tax fight with the Town of Catskill over religious exemptions. They are currently appealing a State Supreme Court ruling against them on the issue, and are asking that all Pagans and supporters pray and work for justice. Quote: “The Maetreum is entering the final stages of our appeal process. We ask ALL Pagans and witches to do work to ensure justice, that the panel of judges will see the truth behind our case, that the Goddess speak through the mouth of our attorney during the oral arguements. I’ve said it before and will repeat it. This case is vital for the equal treatment of all minority religions in the US, particularly Pagans but not limited to them by any means. Please forward this request widely and quickly… and please do the magically [sic] work required.” Members of the Pagan religious order feel their case for appeal is strong, and note that this decision “should terrify ALL minority churches, Pagan, Christian and others because it set standards almost impossible for any small congregation to meet.”  We’ll keep you posted as this develops.

S.J. Tucker

S.J. Tucker

Popular Pagan musician S.J. Tucker follows up her release earlier this year of the mold-breaking soundtrack “Ember Days” with a new collection of songs entitled “Wonders,” inspired by author Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland novels. Quote: “All of the songs on Wonders were inspired by Cat Valente’s lovely book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.  Many of you may recall that I got hired to be the narrator for the audiobook of the sequel last summer.  Cat’s Fairyland books have been on my mind for quite a while now, so it’s really great to get to share with you ALL of the songs that those stories have inspired thus far!  Finally!  Yay for making a little bit of free space in my brain again!  Happy sigh…” The third installment of Valente’s series was released at the beginning of this month. You can see a promo video for Tucker’s new album embedded below. In addition to all that, Tucker has also released a mix for October of seasonally appropriate music (for a good cause).

with_love_from_salemThe documentary film from director Karagan Griffith, “With Love from Salem,” which I reviewed here back in August, is seeing its cinema debut on October 25th at CinemaSalem in Salem, Massachusetts. Quote: “This is it. Are you coming? If you want to be part of the Cinema Premiere of ‘With Love from Salem – the documentary’ buy your tickets now. Tell us if you are coming. […]  This is the documentary about the Temple of Nine Wells, Richard and Gypsy Ravish and their journey of more than 20 years of rituals in Salem. […] The Temple of Nine Wells has been walking to Gallows Hill on Samhain night for more than 20 years to honor the dead and the victims of the witch hysteria of 1692. This documentary will walk you through this event, from preparation to ritual, as well as through the differences between Samhain and Halloween, the sacred and the profane. An inside perspective of Samhain night in Salem, and of the men and women who through dedication and personal commitment continue to make a difference.” You certainly couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere than Samhain season in Salem to debut this film, one that I called a “surprisingly personal” and “intimate look at the lives of two elders whose duty to Salem has become deeply intertwined with their faith, their friendships, and how they interact with community.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • In more Pagan music news, the project known as Kwannon, spearheaded by singer and songwriter Jenne Micale, has released a new album entitled “Ancestor” an “exploration of the Western Isle of the dead, of sunset, and the edges of things.”
  • John Beckett reports on the Dallas/Fort Worth Pagan Pride celebration that happened this past weekend. Quote: “The main ritual at noon was led by a local Sumerian group.  It was light in tone, it conveyed a good message for a community of diverse traditions and experience, and it was very participative – perfect for a Pagan Pride Day main ritual.”
  • The always fascinating Hedge Mason blog reports on the passing of Mestre Didi, a highly regarded Afro-Brazilian artist and priest of the Egungun tradition. Quote: “He believed there was no dichotomy between the arts, and that all the stories of his people were Afro-Brazilian songs. They were meant to be heard, sung and danced. This is why Master Didi was also recognized as a multifaceted artist, a Renaissance man of Afro-Brazilian culture.  He made the world a richer place for us all!” What is remembered, lives!
  • At the Llewellyn blog, Donald Michael Kraig announces a live “webinar” this Saturday entitled “How to Make and Use Talismans and Amulets.” Quote: “Throughout history, humans have used objects to bring health, safety, good luck, and to fulfill desires. Today, these objects are known as talismans and amulets. In this live, worldwide webinar, you’ll learn how to create them, how to turn them into powerful magickal tools, and how to use them effectively and safely.”
  • My excellent friend Cosette, who now lives in Australia, reports on Christian opposition to a Pagan/New Age event in Wedderburn. Quote: “Is there anyone or any organization to defend those rights, to assist festival organizers Jacquie Stallinga and Gaye Washington in engaging the local Christian community to assuage their concerns, and move forward in a cordial manner?” Hopefully more on this soon.

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

For the last year and a half, 2011 census data has been trickling out from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations, each giving a picture of the growth of modern Pagan religions and related belief systems. First out of the gate was Australia, where Pagan faiths grew, though modestly. Still, that growth was enough to underline the expanding religious diversity of the island nation.

ABS Queensland census figures. Picture: Megan Slade Source: CourierMail

ABS Queensland census figures. Picture: Megan Slade Source: CourierMail

“Religion is the only optional question on the census form; there is no requirement to give any answer. But in the last census 16,849 were happy to declare themselves as pagans, 8413 Wiccan witches, 2454 Satanists, 1046 said they were druids, 1395 pantheists, 2542 Zoroastrians, 2921 follow Jainism, 2161 Scientologists, 1485 are into theosophy and 1391 are Rastafarian. The cloak of secrecy has dropped. ‘We live in an era in which there is a religious supermarket and punters pick and choose the religion that corresponds best to their line of thinking,’ said expert in religion, Associate Professor Pradip Thomas from the University of Queensland.”

After Australia, came England and Wales, where the number of modern Pagans nearly doubled since the last census.

“Now, initial 2011 religion figures for England and Wales have been released, and while the numbers haven’t exploded into the hundreds of thousands, adherents to some form of modern Paganism has nearly doubled in the last ten years. Depending on how forgiving you want to be as to which groups are “Pagan” in some form, they now number over 80,000. In addition, the base number of people identifying as “Pagan” shot up to nearly 60,000.”

Now, Scotland has released its 2011 census data, including how many Scottish Pagans there are.

other_religions

Putting it all together, it means we have over 5000 adherents of Pagan-related faiths in Scotland. Meanwhile, the number of people claiming “no religion” continues to rise in all of these countries. As James R. Lewis might put it, Pagan faiths have continued to mature and grow at normal (and sustainable) rates after the 1990s “Teen Witch” boom. Plus, looking at new data from the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC), which looks at the religious beliefs of American college students, it seems clear that steady growth will continue for the foreseeable future, and may even expand in the next couple decades.

Worldview by Religious Identification

Worldview by Religious Identification

“Overall, the Spirituals are closer to the Religious when it comes to the supernatural but closer to the Seculars when it comes to the social and political. Most claim an institutional religious identity. They are closest to the tradition that the American religious historian Catherine Albanese calls Metaphysical in her magisterial volume, A Republic of Mind and Spirit. While Kosmin and Keysar’s survey is not a random sample of college students in a statistically strict sense, the range and size of their sample is more than sufficient to make a strong provisional claim. A dozen years ago, they transformed the world of American religious demography when they discovered that the proportion of Nones had doubled in the 1990s. The rise of the Spirituals may be next.”

As you can see “spiritual but not religious” students are far more inclined toward “other religions” than their secular or religious peers, and there’s growing evidence that this category is on the rise. In short, modern Paganism is growing, will continue to grow, and shows no signs of slowing down in the years to come.

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

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

  • Alongside the horrific human cost, a sad casualty in the ongoing violence and turmoil in Egypt has been the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya. Quote: “Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a ‘masterpiece.’ Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth.” Over 1000 pieces were stolen, and when Hanna tried to confront the looters, telling them that, quote, “this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” the looters responded that they were upset by her lack of veil and that the thievery was in retaliation for military killings. This is yet another blow to Egypt’s legacy and tourism industry, one which is/was a huge part of the country’s income. The longer that industry is disrupted, the longer it will take for the country to financially recover from the current crisis.
  • In 1951 the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in Britain was repealed and replaced with a law against fraudulent mediums. It was this action, fought for by Spiritualists and other interested parties, that allowed religious Witchcraft, Wicca, to enter into the public eye. However, British law was passed on to many of its former colonies, including in Australia, where the Northern Territory is finally getting around to repealing the Witchcraft Act. Quote: “Attorney-General John Elferink said he ‘laughed out loud’ when he stumbled across the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which punishes people with up to one year in prison. If convicted, prisoners can then expect to be hauled out every three months and taken to the town market place to be publicly humiliated in the pillory – a wooden block with holes to trap the offender’s head and hands. Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act was one of many outdated laws the Government planned to repeal.” Luckily, not many people even knew the law was still on the books, and so was never abused by modern-day Puritans looking for a legal foothold.
  • I linked to this Atlantic Magazine story earlier this week, but in case you missed it, their look at the runaway religious police of Saudi Arabia and their pursuit of “witches” and “sorcerers” is worth reading. Quote: “The Saudi government’s obsession with the criminalization of the dark arts reached a new level in 2009, when it created and formalized a special “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” to educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells. Saudi citizens are also urged to use a hotline on the CPVPV website to report any magical misdeeds to local officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.” I have reported several times on Saudi Arabia’s infamous witch-hunters, and the innocent men and women caught up in their dragnet. No one is safe, not even well-known Muslim television personalities from neighboring countries. As a revolutionary sentiments run through the Middle East, the need for social control may only heighten the number of people imprisoned, tortured, or killed for the crime of witchcraft.
  • Speaking of witch-hunts, historian Tracy Borman has a new book looking at a case of three women killed for witchcraft during the Jacobean period in England, and how powerful men pulled strings to make the tragedy happen. Reviewer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst notes that “one of the most terrifying things about the whole process was its randomness.” Quote: “Anyone could be accused by a neighbour with a grudge, and in small village communities, where memories were long and tongues as sharp as scythes, the witch-finder could easily be employed as a form of human pest control. Equally terrifying was the regular use of physical examinations as a cover for sadistic sexual exploitation, or simply to suck up to King James, whose dark obsession with witchcraft meant he rapidly became ‘one of the leading authorities on the subject’.” The book is out at the end of August in the UK.
  • Miami New Times spotlights Selene Perfumeria, a company the manufactures perfumes and baths stocked in many botanicas across Florida. Quote: “If you’ve ever wondered where these occult objects found in the Magic City’s bodegas and botanicas start their lives, Selene is one major source. Fragrances are widely used in Santeria, a syncretic religion that came to Miami by way of West Africa and then Cuba […] one mark of how widespread Santeria has become in Miami is how many of Selene’s products have found their way into local grocery stores. Although Selene makes some pretty malevolent mixtures, only the posi-potions make it to Publix. Grocery shoppers won’t find their ‘Law Stay Away’ mix near the sub counter, but you can still purchase ‘7 African Powers’ (the bottle does not specify which powers are included for $5.49).” Personally, I can think of a few instances where “Law Stay Away” potion would be quite positive.
Nathan Salas

Nathan Salas

  • Two people meet on a Wiccan bulletin board, one of them is unhappy, allegedly in a verbally abusive and neglectful home, so the other buys two plane tickets and flies her to California so she can start over. There’s just one problem: the alleged rescuer is 27, and the rescued girl is only 14. Quote: “The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office arrested 27-year-old Nathan Salas for child concealment. They say an online relationship with the teen led Salas to pick up the girl on the East Coast and fly with her to Sacramento, where deputies were waiting. Authorities in Connecticut reached out the Merced County Sheriff’s Department with information about a flight the two may have boarded to California. Deputies in Merced then reached out to the Sacramento airport, leading Sacramento County deputies to arrest Salas at the airport. The suspect was taken into custody just after getting off his inbound flight. ‘At that exact moment, it hit home that no matter how good of intentions I had, this was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my entire life,’ Salas said from jail.” I suppose this is a good time to remind folks that if you encounter a minor in trouble, the best recourse is to contact the local child protection agency or other locally based crisis resources.
  • H.P. Lovecraft fan? Today is NecronomiCon in Rhode Island. In honor of the event The Revealer looks at religion in the works of Lovecraft. Quote: “Lovecraft’s concept of religion – the use of “religious experience,” and “subjective ecstasies,” gives away the game. Whether he was a direct reader of William James or not, Lovecraft inherited a number of assumptions from the phenomenology of religion – most notably, the elevation of private experience as religion’s principle building block. Lovecraft’s experience is, however, more guardedly sensual, hence his dismissal of Christian “feelings” in favor of his own pagan “sight.” Ultimately, Lovecraft rejects his visions of Pan as the work of imagination – a kind of waking dream.” More on the convention can be found at the Washington Post.
  • Oral arguments in the appeal by self-help guru James Arthur Ray to have his negligent homicide convictions for the deaths of three people in a 2009 sweat lodge overturned have been set for September 11th. Quote: “Ray’s attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors in Yavapai County. In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid putting them at an unreasonable risk of harm.” Ray is currently free on parole after serving two years in prison.
  • The New York Review of Books laments the decline of used book stores, and writer Charles Simic recalls a fond experience at a used metaphysical book store. Quote: “Years ago, in a store in New York that specialized in Alchemy, Eastern Religions, Theosophy, Mysticism, Magic, and Witchcraft, I remember coming across a book called How to Become Invisible that I realized would make a perfect birthday present for a friend who was on the run from a collection agency trying to repossess his car. It cost fifteen cents, which struck me as a pretty steep price considering the quality of the contents.” If you’d like some more grim book-selling news, here’s the latest on Barnes & Noble.
  • TLC, the cable network formerly known as The Learning Channel, has a show called “Breaking Amish” about Amish and Mennonite young adults adjusting to the outside world. One of the young women on that show apparently practices “witchcraft” and claims to have had sex with Satanic beings (or perhaps Old Scratch himself). Quote: “‘I’ve been involved in witchcraft for quite a few years — probably most of my life. My connection to the spirit world is actually really, really scary to some people,’ she [Betsy] says in the sneak peek before explaining that “the demons” have been coming back around her since she’s been in LA. But then, she takes it a step further. ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, like, having sex with something. Like, literally in your sleep, and you wake up like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ You have sex with, um … Satan.'” Yes, a lot of this is probably faked up for television, but I’m still concerned that TLC seems to have no trouble selling sensationalism (and Satan) to get ratings.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.