Acts of kindness and love: Australian Pagans respond to the bushfire crisis

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VICTORIA, Australia – As bushfires continue to burn out of control across several Australian states, there have been many gestures of support from Pagan organisations and individuals across the country.

At the time of writing, there are still more than eighty bushfires burning on Australia’s eastern coast, and more than thirty of those are burning out of control. Twenty-nine people are confirmed dead, along with over a billion animals. Over 25 million acres of land have been burned so far. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes, often in the dead of night. When the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota was cut off by bushfires on all sides, the Australian Navy was called in to evacuate over 4000 people by ship.


Afternoon sun in Gosford, New South Wales, November 2019 [Rob Russell, Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0]

These bushfires have been caused by long periods of drought, and fire crews have struggled to contain blazes as they have amalgamated into “megafires” in some regions, growing so large and burning so hot that they create their own weather patterns. These weather patterns include dry thunderstorms and lightning which produces even more bushfires in the tinder-dry landscape.

Smoke from the fires can be seen from space and has reached as far as New Zealand and South America and has blanketed many parts of Australia for weeks now: facemasks have become commonplace in cities such as Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney as thousands experience respiratory and other health issues. So much smoke has been produced that it’s expected to travel all the way around the earth and return to Australia.


Disaster areas

Hundreds of homes and buildings have been destroyed, including entire streets and parts of towns. This has prompted some areas to be declared disaster zones.

Oleander, a Pagan elder who lives in one of these areas, posted on social media:

…one of the major impacts of the bushfires and living in a declared disaster area is that I don’t think I will ever feel completely safe again.

Everything is topsy turvy, every day is Groundhog Day,” Oleander wrote. “I struggle to manage the most basic things. Decisions and responses that were once almost reflex are almost impossible. My mind and emotions are paralysed. I have seen the best and worst of human nature. I have seen and experienced things I hope I never see again. The ongoing effects, subtle and not so subtle are mind blowing. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you can just come to terms with a new mindset.

Things we in Australia take for granted, safety, professional help in dangerous situations, civil order, access to electricity and clean water, food and petrol supplies … none of it can be guaranteed. At the end of the day we only have our own capabilities and the good will of neighbours and the immediate community to survive. At the end of the day we are alone.


Endangered trees and some Ligurian bees saved

As the Gosper’s Mountain fire burned in New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, a special team of firefighters was deployed to save the only known stand of Wollemi pines remaining in the wild. Fossil records show that the pines existed up to 200 million years ago. They were thought to be extinct in the wild until the stand was discovered in the 1990s.

Gosper’s Mountain bushfire, December 2019 [Meganesia, Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0]

NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Service worked together to arrange air tankers to drop fire retardant and specialist firefighters being winched in by helicopter to set up an irrigation system in the gorge. Helicopters doused the fire edge as it approached to reduce the impact of the grove of endangered trees. Later assessment found while some of the trees were charred the species would still survive.

This news has been a small relief to many Pagans witnessing the large-scale devastation of animals and their habitats across Australia during the fires. “We see so many instances of society disregarding the environment,” ADF’s Regional Druid in the Asia Pacific, Shaz Cairns, told The Wild Hunt, “Looking at photos of the fire lines shows the battle faced by the Rural Fire Service to save the last surviving Wollemi pines, I am in awe.”

When the bushfires affected Kangaroo Island, in addition to taking the lives of two people, they eliminated about one quarter of the Ligurian bee hives. Ligurian bees were first brought to South Australia in 1885 from Italy.

The Ligurian bees found on Kangaroo Island are believed to be the last population of the species that are genetically pure. Italy’s Ligurian bees have been affected by disease and interbreeding with other species, so are no longer considered to be genetically pure. No other bee species are allowed on the island and it is considered a sanctuary for them.

While a good portion of the bee population survives, their main food source, the Sugar Gum tree (Eucalyptus cladocalyx), has been decimated. Honey producers say that there will be no honey from those sources this year, and it will likely take 15 years before the tree population recovers.


Pagan organisations respond

This week the Pagan Collective of Victoria released a statement about the bushfires on its website and social media platforms. This statement has been shared widely in online Pagan spaces in Australia and around the world.

“For so many of us as Pagans, our connection to nature is a huge part of our life and our practice.” The statement read. “So many of us have lost sacred spaces as well as homes and livelihoods. The grief for the land is ever present now, and it will be with us for a long time.

“Our hearts go out to those affected; both within the Pagan community and without, for we are a country united by the horror of this now.”

As well as offering support and solidarity with those affected by the bushfire crisis, the statement included links to a variety of charities and relevant support agencies that readers could donate to. These have been posted at the bottom of this article.

Other non-profit Pagan organisations, such as Combined Covens Social Club in Western Australia will have collection tins at their various coffee meetups, where attendees can donate to bushfire charities.

In online groups such as the Facebook group Tarot and Oracle Buy Swap Sell Australia, members have been selling items such as tarot decks, altar cloths and wands and donating money received to bushfire charities.

Many Pagans and Pagan businesses have also gotten on board with campaigns to provide resources to those working with injured animals. When wildlife rescue organisation WIRES released patterns for sewing pouches to keep injured baby wombats, wallabies, kangaroos, bandicoots, gliders, and possums safe and warm, many Witches rose to the challenge.

Melbourne shop Muses of Mystery hosted a “witchcrafternoon” for anyone interested to create joey pouches, koala mittens and wraps for smaller animals. The store supplied fabric and other materials, and attendees also donated what they could in the way of craft supplies.

“Our hearts are breaking with news and graphic images of millions of animals, birds, lizards and pets severely affected with the bushfires raging across the land,” the event description said.


Rejecting business-as-usual

In Queensland, where there is less immediate evidence of the bushfire emergency, living and working as a Pagan is still disheartening, Thr333fold proprietor Eryk Adish told The Wild Hunt.

“The people in my meet-space community are not seeing the effects of these fires in the same way as those living in the areas most impacted by them,” Adish said. “Our suburbs are not obscured by smoke and there’s no danger in going to see my loved ones. This business-as-usual mindset has left me feeling stagnant and useless. So I knew I had to do something, anything I could do.

“I’ve seen an onslaught of rain spells circulating in my online communities, those in Australia and internationally,” Adish told TWH. “To me, this feels like thoughts and prayers. We’re asking our spirits to send us rain without stopping to question why they sent us fire.

“I do not say this to discount the obvious impact that humans and climate change have had on this disaster but to make people realise that this is not something that will be solved by rain spells alone. This is broader, systemic and it calls for us to dismantle broken systems that threaten our lives and our very human existence in a real way. Of course, we’re all bound by the rules and processes of consensus reality. We have to move within them. I personally couldn’t continue to do nothing though and began to seek out the best ways I could spend my energy to help.”

David Garland, president of nationwide non-profit organisation The Pagan Awareness Network, had similar views.

“The current bushfire emergency is unprecedented in Australia,” Garland said. “The loss of flora, fauna and people has not been seen before. I have faith that the planet will recover, and hope that this tragedy will be enough for those who are in power to take not and make the changes that are required if we are to coexist on this planet into the future. My warning is that the only winner in the end will be Mother Nature, she will always prevail. Do we want to become extinct?”

Thr333fold has joined forces with the Vampire Court of Brisbane to host an open-house fundraising event at the end of February.

“Of course, everyone involved hopes that this hellish situation will come to a close before then,” Adish told TWH.  “When we see the end of these bushfires there will be much to rebuild though; homes, businesses, communities and lives have been lost. It’s our hope that the money we raise through this event will go towards healing and restoring at least some of what was lost.

“We’re not changing the world with this event but we’re using our spoons in the most productive way we can to alleviate the suffering, at least in part.”

The Vampire Court of Brisbane are currently seeking donations of prizes to be raffled off on the night, with all proceeds going to bushfire charities.


Increased fines

On last Friday, New South Wales instituted an increase in fines to $1320 for anyone who would toss a lit cigarette out of a vehicle during a burning ban. The law applies to passengers as well as drivers, and also would apply 10 demerit points to their driver’s license if there is a burning ban in effect.


How readers can help

The following links were shared with the Pagan Collective of Victoria’s statement.