Australian Media on Paganism
Witches, Rituals and Spells
By Bill Ayres
Mt Franklin rises out
of the horizon in Central Vctoria, a dark, menacing shape with
a dense covering of pine trees. It is to this mountain that
the witches come.
Fires are lit, there is chanting and singing and plenty of
energy generated around a circle they form as they and their
followers pay reverence to the god and the goddess, the earth
There are rituals, spells, potions and secret ceremonies, but
they do no harm. They anger at suggestions of human or animal
sacrifice at any of these ceremonies.
But when a nearby grave was desecrated recently and the hand
of the 98-year-old female corpse severed, there was an automatic
link with the occult.
While there is a dark side to witchcraft and there can be little
doubt that such shocking incidents do take place in the name
of the Antichrist, people such as Phillip Day try to distance
themselves from such sinister events.
Phillip is a witch. Being a witch in the Wiccan tradition is
a title men or women can hold. He lives in the tiny town of
Newstead on the banks of the Loddon River near Castlemaine in
central Vctoria, part of the Golden Triangle of sorcery.
Phillip doesn't own a black cat; he doesn't even like cats.
He wears the circle and five-pointed star that symbolises his
religion around his neck and shudders to think anyone could
contemplate violence, bloodshed or vandalism.
Wicca, which Phillip follows, is a modern revival of the ancient
folklore and magical practices of Europe. Wiccans generally
perceive divinity in the form of a goddess and a god, who have
many different aspects.
"Any form of abuse is an anathema to us," he says in an exclusive
interview with New Idea. "Paganism, which is what we practice,
is not a bloodrelated religion at all."
He also explains that police ruled out any link with the occult
when the grave was desecrated at nearby Dunolly. A marble slab
was removed and the coffin smashed open with a crowbar. The
body was mutilated and the right hand severed before the body
was returned to the cofffin and re-buried.
Spiritualists pointed out that it was similar to a satanic
ritual where the hand of an executed thief was cut off, embalmed
with wax and turned into a candlestick to ward off any thieves
from entering the house.
Two youths have been charged with unauthorised exhumation and
criminal damage over the Dunolly incident.
Yet there has been a series of incidents in northern and central
Victoria that has terrified traditional church leaders.
Three years ago at Glenlyon, near Daylesford, an alternative
festival was organised and local pastors heard that witches'
covens would be meeting there. Three pastors from the town went
to the local oval where the festival was to be held and conducted
a prayer meeting and claimed the area in the name of Jesus.
One minister, who asked not to be named, said the festival
went ahead but it was a financial disaster and has not been
Other incidents include the theft of crucifxes and candlesticks
from churches, animal blood smeared on altars and altar cloths,
and candlesticks that have been filled with blood, the candles
replaced and then lit. An ox tongue was found in a convent's
The Assembly of God pastor at Daylesford Rev Jim Fisher says
occult activities are flourishing in the district. He believes
the area's geography, the natural mineral springs and lakes
of central Victoria are important to the spiritual beliefs of
"I have a knowledge of its presence, but it is difficult to
come up with specifics,'' Rev Fisher explains. "We are aware
of it and we are aware of its opposition to the word of God.
"We have had 'Satan rules' graffitied on our church walls and
a black cat spreadeagled in front of the church, pointing in
the direction of the altar."
The former Church of Christ minister of Castlemaine Rev Peter
Haylock conducted regular prayer meetings to rid the area of
There is a proliferation of alternative religious groups throughout
Australia, but there is a large concentration of them in places
such as the coastal areas of northern NSW, the hills surrounding
Canberra, the Adelaide hills, north Perth and in various parts
of coastal Queensland.
A clairvoyant in the central Victorian town of Taradale, Michelle
Maher, says if any of these people are tending towards evil,
she is able to sense it.
"We have to be careful of groups like this,'' Michelle says,
"but it should also be pointed out that it is not always evil.
"The black side is totally wrong and these are the people that
I sense around me. I can centre on them. I have very strong
connections on a spiritual level.
Concentration of energy
"People who form these groups like to meet on mountains because
of the concentration of energy found there.
"A lot of people have lost the spiritual side of life and are
seeking an alternative. I find people are coming to me to be
centred in their life again."
Phillip Day stands out with his long, grey hair, full beard
and piercing eyes. He is a regional official with the Pan Pacific
Pagan Alliance and says it is time witches came out in the open
and put an end to people's fears.
"The local people here are tolerant of us," he says. "They
see us and raise their eyebrows and walk on by.
"Some will say this area is significant because of the hills
and geography, but there is also a strong artistic community,
there is a big gay community and a strong alternative healing
and agriculture community.
"All of those are close to the concept of what pagans believe,
so there is some crossover. There are also fewer rednecks per
"And what makes an area grow is you will find someone with
a reasonable amount of charisma who will attract people to them
and it becomes part of the local area."
There are many forms of paganism, including Asatru, Celtic,
Dianic Witchcraft, Druidry, Environmental Paganism, Shamanism
Most Wiccans celebrate eight festivals each year, including
the summer and winter solstice and even a form of 'witch's new
Marriage is recognised and, while most remain monogamous, it
is not demanded of members.
"Celibacy is very rare," says Phillip, who became a witch more
than four years ago. There is a ritual called 'handfasting'
during which a couple pledge themselves to one another for a
year and a day.
"Their wrists are bound and the priest and priestess call on
the four elements - air to bring intelligence, rationality and
reason; fire to bring creativity and emotion; water to bring
sexuality and love; and earth for a solid grounding.
"The couple then go and jump over a broomstick to indicate
to others present that they are housekeeping together, so the
witch and broomstick do adually have some significance."
They pledge their love for one another for a year and a day
and thereafter for as long as love lasts. If they want a divorce,
they attend a ceremony in which they stand back to back and
"We believe in the sacredness of the earth, of the mother,
of the fad that we, as creatures of the earth, are bound to
the cycles of the earth, the seasons, the moon cycles, perhaps
even the stars," Phillip explains.
"There is a very strong ecological basis to most modern paganism."
Another festival, Beltaine, is, according to Phillip, a joyous
"Not that we wander around having orgies, but it is one where
sexuality and a recognition of the joys of sexuality is a very
Beltaine celebrates the marriage of the young sun god to the
love goddess, who teaches him the mysteries of love.
Apart from Beltaine, which is celebrated at the summer solstice
and one or two other ceremonies, Phillip generally celebrates
in private, setting up an altar in his home, lighting candles
and incense so each time he enters the room he is reminded that
it is a special day.
"Most of us are solitary, but some of us celebrate very formally.
There are groups of Wiccans who have rituals that are well planned,
rehearsed and worked to a specific pattern.
"Some covens just go into a circle and let the energy lead
them. For others it's almost a scripted psychodrama. I've been
to both kinds and I get things out of both."
Local police generally turn a blind eye to the various ceremonies
and rituals, provided no laws are broken. One senior officer
says he is aware of people who claim to be witches but they
are usually law-abiding citizens who keep largely to themselves.
"I guess we have to keep an eye on what's going on in the area
and we soon get to know what's happening. But we leave people
alone if they are not doing anything wrong or anything against
the raw,'' the senior officer says.
But cult-buster Natalie Gilby, who has worked with many families
of people caught up in withcraft, says that while these various
organisations may seem harmless, a careful watch needs to be
kept on their activities.
"People, especially young people, are seeking a bit of excitement
and something different in their lives these days and these
groups are offering that change," Natalie says.
But I believe it is a lot like the first alcoholic drink you
take. You aren't an alcoholic after that first drink and you
aren't addicted to smoking after that first cigarette, but that
can happen further down the track.
"With cults, covens and these other fringe groups, it might
look exciting on the surface, but there is always a chance that
people can be brainwashed into doing all sorts of things.
"What people need to know is that people like myself are in
the community and we can help them come out of these sorts of
groups if they do need any assistance.
"You generally find they are secretive organisations and there
is a lot they are not saying. I just urge people to be extra-cautious
before they go ahead and join these groups."
Queensland academic Dr Lynne Hume believes discontent with
religion over the past 20 years might be behind what appears
to be a resurgence in paganism.
She was reported recently as saying: "If one looks carefully
into the background of some members, it might be discovered
that they are far from being lunatic, but are simply dissatisfied
with religions that have not been able to consider the demands
of a new era."
She says the image of the evil old witch dressed in black is
left over from the Middle Ages.
"They are people who have some very interesting practices,
and it's a very agriculture-based society,'' she says.
"Followers of modern paganism say it is a nature-based religion
concerned with the environment and getting back to the mother
It is this very philosophy that forms part of the beliefs Phillip
and his friends live by.
"We have a community-based lifestyle, believing in a fair day's
pay for a fair day's work, but believe that wealth is irrelevant.
Consumerism is wrong because it is such a waste of the earth's
"We are different, but I don't know too many pagans who are
particularly anti-Christian," Phillip says.
"The only time we really get annoyed with some forms of Christianity
is the concept that 'my way is right and you will follow it
Casting a spell
Phillip says ceremonies do take place on hills, some witches
use potions and some cast spells.
"A spell is really a concentration on something that you want.
It isn't much different to a prayer.
"Asking people if they are a black or white witch is the equivalent
to asking them if they are good or evil. Any individual can
be neurotic or psychopathic in any religion. Evil exists and
people can pervert anything they want.
"I don't know anybody who works what is popularly perceived
as black magic. We have a three-fold law of retribution. Whatever
you do to someone else will then rebound on you three times.
"The only curse I would put on someone is, 'May you get everything
"I know of one definitely evil person by repute who is also
a suspected pedophile. He keeps trying to get recognised by
the pagan community to legitimise his actions, but I have warned
people in the community to be wary of him.
"We do not abuse children. It is contrary to everything we
Phillip, a musician, travels to most of the folk and Celtic
festivals around Australia, where he also conducts workshops
and gives information about his beliefs.
"Many people have thanked me for putting a name to where they
belong," Phillip says. "People have nothing to fear from us
except fear itself."
Pictures: Bruce Magilton
New Idea, 15/7/95