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.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.
Rhiannon 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
Douglas 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.
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.