Stella Australis
Book of Shadows*Witchcraft History*Oz Pagans in the Media*Australian Pagan Events*Australian Religious Rights*Graphics*NovaPagan*Links

Australian Media on Paganism

Witches revive pagan blessing

Witchcraft has been in the headlines this. week. Andrew Masterson spoke to a practising witch about bad press and suburbian rituals.

28th Feb, 1998, The Age

Rock singer Fiona Horne, of the band Def-FX, has been a witch for most of her adult life, and has never yet been tied up, whipped or given LSD in the name of her beliefs.

"The weirdest thing I've ever seen donw at a Wicca gathering was smashing an egg," she said. "The egg is a powerful symbol of life, so you use it to absorb all your negativity, and then you stomp on it."

The Supreme Court heard evidence this week from a Wiccan devotee who has pleaded guilty to several sex charges, that his bondage, whipping and sex with two teenage girls was based on ancient rites.

Witchcraft, of which Wicca is the most popular form, has suffered from a predictably bad press since 1484, whn Pope Innocent VIII issued a Papal Bull declaring the belief heretical. Since then, practioners of The Craft, as it is known, have regularly (and sometimes fatally) been accused of almost every piece of hideous conduct imaginable.

Ms Horne sees an irony in the historical condemnation of witchcraft, and the Church's longstanding habit of portraying itself as the force of good locked in battle with pagan evil.

"I went to a church recently, to attend a wedding," she said. "There were all these paintings of Jesus with this great, gaping wound in his chest, this big pulsing heart with thorns all around it, and his hand holding his heart.

"I thought, bloody hell, this is so much more macabre and out there than what I see when I got to a coven meeting with friends. You know, particularly if it's a Sabbat, we'll just have lots of fruits and vegetables and flowers and branches. We celebrate nature."

In the Wiccan belief system, there are eight principal festivals, or Sabbats, marking the change of seasons and the progress of the year. There are also a number of smaller, astrologically determined events, known as Esabts.

"Esbats are full moon gatherings," she said. "The moon to us represents the Goddess, and its cycle plays a very important role in the way we work magic and perform rituals."

Ms Hornes said that at each of the gatherings someone keeps there clothes on, no one is whipped, and nothing, bar the occasional egg, is dispatched into the hereafter.

Excesses have occasionally been committed in the name of Wicca - excesses are ocassionally committed in the name of all religions - but they fall outside the Wiccan mainstream and date back not to the Dark Ages, but to 1951.

It all began with an English civil servant and enthusiastic nudist called George B. Gardner. He was first initiated into an occult group in 1939, but in 1951, when the British Witchcraft Act of 1736 was finally repealed, he broke away and formed his own coven.

He made sexual exhibitionism a central tenant of pagan conduct and introduced the practice of scourging, or flogging, devotees as a method of symbolic purification.

He died in 1964. His cult enjoyed remarkable popularity in Britain and the United States during the '60's and '70's, but for most adherants the attraction lay in is salaciousness rather than its beliefs. Its influence quickly waned. The interest in Wicca has now taken on a more serious, genuine aspect and has continued to grow.

A recent analysis of 1996 census data by Professor Gay Bouma of Monash University concluded that "nature-based religions are by far the fastest growing religious groups in Australia." He noted that 1849 people recorded their religion as Wicca, with another 4353 recording Pagan.

Ms Horne believes the true figure is probably much higher. She suspects that many of the 8000 people who classified themselves as spiritualist are probably Wiccans.

"Any witches' gathering, like a coven meeting, will involve casting a circle, which means creating a sacred space," she said. "It's much like a priest welcoming the congregation...We walk around in a circle, declaring a space, and calling in the elements: recognising water, fire, earth and air as being present. We attach to those elements spirits which represent the energies of the elements.

"We might call on salamanders for fire, which are mythological creatures that to us represent what fire is, spiritually and physically.

"Then we call on the God and Goddess and declare them present in the circle. After that, we might do a healing spell, or a blessing spell, or a reading from a book, or run around in a group chanting to raise energy. All types of activities go on, but not sex. There's no children, no murders, no sacrificing small babies or animals. I've never seen that, ever. Not once."

The faith has many different strands and orthodoxies. Some covens are intensely traditional, even dressing up in medieval costumes. Ms Horne calls herself a "cyber-witch" and is more interested in the future of the Craft than its past.

She also calles herself an atheist, believing a spiritualist world-view does not necessarily conflict with a belief in the accidental nature of the universe. She recently set down her thoughts and experiences on paper. The result, a book called Witch: A Personal Journey, was published by Random House this week.

The Age, 28/2/98

Page Updated 2nd April, 2000
Hosting by WebRing.