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