The Pagan Awareness Network inc (PAN) recently celebrated 21 years’ service to Australia’s Pagan community. Our Australian Correspondent Josephine Winter recently sat down with president and founder David Garland as he reflected on the organization’s many achievements over the years, discussed the current climate of the community and looked to what comes next for the Network, which has become a cornerstone of Australian Paganism.
The Wild Hunt: Tell us a bit about your path and practice. To what extent is community service part of your spiritual path?
David Garland: My beginnings were as a solitary, skirting around what I later found out was Stregha, from my grandmother. I then started training as a Gardnerian Wiccan at 29, leading to me being mostly eclectic in my practice now. I still swap hats as far as traditions go when the need or circumstances or people require.
Having run PAN inc since 1997, service to the community has not just been in my spiritual life but at times has consumed all of my life.
TWH: PAN inc has certainly shaped the landscape of Australian Paganism over the last two decades. What was the Australian Pagan scene like before PAN?
DG: When I started in the Pagan community, there was two organisations in Australia that I knew of, The Pan Pacific Pagan Alliance (now defunct) and The Church of All Worlds. I was very close friends with one of the founders of CAW who I met in [an occult shop called] Mysteries in Balmain. I also met Mathew and Julia Philips [founders of the Pan-Pacific Pagan Alliance] in the same shop, when their book The Witches of Oz was an A4 book printed on a photocopier.
The community was not a happy place: there were many issues going on. Robin Fletcher [a notorious paedophile who drugged and abused his victims under the guise of “witchcraft”] was in the news and in court finally being sentenced to gaol.
I was part of the Witches League for Public Awareness with Laurie Cabot, Fritz and Wren, who went on to found The Witches’ Voice.
“Pagan Police” was a catch cry that was often being bandied about, and a lot of people were still “in the broom closet”. Back then, people had to have a public name and a craft name, especially if you worked in a sensitive job or with children. There are people out there who still call me mine, but not many.
TWH: How did PAN get started?
DG: The Pagan Awareness Network Inc was started when Laurie Cabot found out that she was responsible for all the representatives of the WLPA around the world and wound the organisation up because of the liability. So PAN was born as I had already started to do the work of making it official in Australia. WitchVox.com was born at the same time.
PAN started out with a website and information pamphlets to inform Australia about Paganism.
On March the 23rd 1997 PAN held its first Public Full Moon Circle, which was very successful. In the June of the same year, as part of Servants of the Elder Gods (SOTEG), the first public ritual was held at Yule. A huge success – almost 200 people turned up, along with a Channel 9 film crew.
On the 30th of September PAN split with SOTEG Inc and became an entity in its own right, incorporating on the 15th of October 1997.
We have responded to many issues and had our responses published. We have an ongoing relationship with many reporters to keep the correct information about Paganism in the public arena.
TWH: Was there a specific reason or event that inspired you to begin?
DG: The main reason that we formed was because of the collapse of the WLPA and the need for Public Liability Insurance to run the Full Moon Circles in Sydney’s Seven Hills.
The other reason was I didn’t want to see what was happening to Pagans in America happen to Pagans in Australia. The PPPA had pretty much collapsed, and I was an unknown boy from Seven Hills, New South Wales to stick his hand up to run such an amazing organisation.
TWH: What have been some highlights and lowlights for you?
DG: Being involved in three standing committees’ investigation into Freedom of Religion in Australia, being involved in the repeal of the Anti Witchcraft Laws in QLD in 2001, and the repeal of similar laws in Victoria in 2005.
Another highlight would be the hundreds of articles published all over the country, being on a Current Affair, Today Tonight, Sunrise, the Lifestyle Channel, National Geographic… all with positive outcomes, and a photo from Sydney’s Seven Hills Full Moon Circle taking out a best photo award in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Like every organisation we have had our issues on the committee, and with members not being happy, but the dirty laundry doesn’t need to be aired.
The scariest thing was when one of the people involved in the Casey “Witch Trials” sent individual letters to each person on the committee threatening to sue for defamation. It never got off the ground but made great news.
TWH: What would you say have been PAN’s top three significant achievements to date?
DG: One, being included in the United Nations Interfaith Council in Canberra. We meet once a year to try and find what we have in common and not what is different.
Two, getting mentioned by then Arch Bishop George Pell on his website – “The Pagan community in Sydney is small but disproportionately powerful.”
Three, being able to select Civil Celebrants to carry out religious Pagan Handfastings (this is brand new).
TWH: How many members does PAN have currently?
DG: We have around 3.5k members on our announcements page on Facebook, and around 300 actual paid members of the association: enough to keep us running. Currently, it is a common theme in the community that memberships [to non-profit community groups] are low. During the early 2000’s we were made up of around 600 members.
The committee covers all ages, sexuality and traditions, we currently have 10 on the committee, all based in NSW.
TWH: How would you describe the current Pagan community in this country?
DG: Do you want me to be honest? A mixture of jaded and apathetic to having no idea what was/is available or going on. The involved Pagan community is a very small part of the Pagans in Australia. No offence meant, but over the last 21 years, people only tend to get involved when something is wrong (Fletcher, Casey or the local witch war).
TWH: What’s changed in the last 20 years?
DG: Information is easier to get. There are so many more solitaries than we have ever had. The general public are more aware and less scared, and the media now know that if they write crap, PAN will be there to clean it up.
I think the community has settled a lot, and may even be getting to the point where we can all get along.
TWH: What’s stayed the same?
DG: The predators. Unfortunately, as I have said in previous articles, our community tends to be the perfect breeding ground for predators because of the “secrecy” around some things.
That is why PAN produced the Safety in the Circle flyer: to educate people so that they do not get caught up in predatory behaviour or groups.
TWH: What groups and events does PAN support?
DG: Anyone and anything in line with our mission:
1. Actively correct misinformation
2. Raise community awareness
4. Foster the growth of the Pagan community.
I think we have supported most of the large events that have run in the last 21 years in Australia. These have included an annual picnic, social barbeques and ghost tours.
PAN successfully backed the Pagan 98 festival in Queensland and 2002 saw us launch Sydney’s first Pagan Pride Day. Our family winter solstice gathering, Hollyfrost, first ran in 2003 and continues to be a resounding success. Our Sydney Full Moon Circles have run continuously since March 1997. They run rain hail or shine and we now support several other full moon circles running regularly around the country.
The association has a number of subcommittees that run events, workshops and gatherings to ensure the diverse nature of the Pagan community is catered for. We have continued to grow over the years.
TWH: With witches featuring prominently in pop culture again, it’s looking likely Australia will experience another witch boom as we did in the late 90s/early 2000s. What role does PAN play in a situation like that?
DG: We will continue to educate and network, hopefully avoiding any of the issues that we have had in the past.
TWH: How does PAN support young people interested in Paganism?
DG: Supplying the correct information and ensuring that there are reliable sources of information available. Trying to stay relevant.
We have for a few years been working on a youth weekend. Hopefully we will get that out there soon. Our public events allow young people to come along to a safe environment and meet other pagans. The full moon circle has been part of that for 21 years.
TWH: What changes have you had to make in terms of online presence and engagement along the way?
DG: Facebook has made a huge difference to the online Pagan world. It used to be web pages that were important, however it is all social media now. We are working towards having that covered with a new Social Media appointment happening at the AGM this year.
TWH: Earlier this year the SA Pagan Alliance un-incorporated due to a lack of new members and organiser burnout. Why do you think PAN is still going strong when other organisations are winding down in an official capacity?
DG: I am too stubborn to let it die! I am lucky enough that we have a core of people who cycle on and off the committee, which has been between 5 and 17 people over the years.
We have always managed to have enough members to pay our costs so we have continued to run.
TWH: Is there a successful formula to Pagan community work in this country?
DG: No! the famous quote I always use is “Organising Pagans in like herding cats”
TWH: Where is PAN headed next?
A very good question, the AGM is next weekend, we hope to get some guidance from our members there.
TWH: What’s your vision for PAN in the future and what needs to happen to get you there?
DG: I really don’t have a vision. I suppose for 21 years PAN Inc has been reactionary. Maybe it is time for us to be proactive. We will see. However if the community does not get involved and do more than expect things to be run for them and not by them, who knows?