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Australian Media on Paganism


Sydney Morning Herald, October 14th 2000

It's not only cleavage that has Daphne Guinness entranced by this former prime ministerial witch.

Eight of us are at Deborah Gray's photo session. First the star, smoothing on eyeshadow, curling her lashes. Then her husband, Giancarlo, hairstylist to the social set, TV artistes, models and so on. He makes coffee for a finance journalist pal and they disappear. That leaves six: the photographer, who drops and breaks a flower pot, Helena, the housekeeper, who cleans up the mess, Bella the shih tzu/ maltese dog, Misha the chinchilla/ abyssinian cat and myself.

Gray erupts into the trompe l'oeil Noosa courtyard with a swoosh of blue and red chiffon. "How do I look?" she cries, blonde hair swinging like silk in the ads.

"Fabulous," we chorus, eyes glued to her deep cleavage.

At one point she worries if the sun is too harsh. "I photograph better in the shadow." One mustn't forget she had a career in modelling, television and entertainment. Covergirl for Dolly, Cleo, Cosmo, nubile blonde in Young Doctors, sex-bomb Abigail's replacement in Number 96, jazz singer and songwriter in New York. Her confidence came as assistant to Ainsley Gotto, then prime minister John Gorton's private secretary, and stints as junior to Gorton and former PM the late Sir William McMahon.

But that's all history because - no joke - Gray has become one of Australia's most prominent full-time witches. And she's making a bundle out of her spell books. Her first, How To Turn Your Ex-Boyfriend Into A Toad (co-authored with Athena Starwoman; "her astrology, my magic") sold $250,000 worth of copies. Her second, The Mini Book Of Magic Spells (handbag-size for easy reference), was reprinted twice. Her Nice Girl's Book Of Naughty Spells was translated into French, German, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Malaysian and reprinted twice. Now comes The Good Witch's Guide To Sexy Sorcery. It is "good", she explains, because what goes around comes around and no bad spells will rebound on her, thanks very much.

We first met in her gloomy, chaotic eastern suburbs office. Wearing a plunging crushed velvet jacket and flares, blonde hair frizzed, she giggles. "My husband will be livid if he finds out I brought you here." But where else to discuss witchcraft? Privacy is essential for spell talk. And there's much to sort out.

Why, for instance, do so many sexy, intelligent chicks complain they can't find a man? "How's your love life," I ask a savvy, 27-year-old moneyed blonde in advertising. "Terrible, I'll die an old maid. He's gone." So, quick, a spell to put this woman out of her misery.

"Maybe she doesn't really want a man," Gray suggests. But she does, I protest. More than anything. "OK, tell her to do Siren's Song, page 82. And do it 7 o'clock on a Sunday evening." I pass it on, instructing the woman to report if it works*.

"It will," Gray says. "Maybe not overnight, but it will. I've given that spell to countless men and women and they've found their soulmates."

How on earth does she know? She's a witch. Of course she knows. "And I've had thousands of emails telling me so." But does her magic really work? "Absolutely. I have a best-selling book to prove it." Really, really work? "It has to; I get hundreds and hundreds of letters from satisfied people. I use it myself. When I made up my mind I wanted a soulmate I cast a spell for him and we met within hours." This sort of talk makes a sceptic's jaw sag.

It's weird to be in the presence of a witch (the finance journalist laughs at the idea of disappearing like a warlock in Charmed, but it's laughter tinged with worry). Gray's credentials are impeccable. Coven-educated with Edgar Pielke, the Darlinghurst druid master who "came out" in 1971 when the witchcraft act was repealed. She is into her third level after 26 years of study. This means she can teach, hence her books.

So what's it like to be a witch? "Well, it's hard work. I throw around herbs and spices, bits of glitter and fairy wands and the astonishing thing is it succeeds. I don't want to become a guru or cult figure. I just pass on the information. It's like I am the book."

And, when the action gets rough, what then? She spends hours at the computer working on her Web site, sending newsletters to members of her Magick Club (the "k" separates her spiritual mysticism from the David Copperfield illusion type of magic) and she gets exhausted. "Sometimes I have to force myself to get going. If I get up in the morning feeling a big uggggggh, I don't want to get on with the book [she's doing her autobiography] or meet that person, I do a ritual. Certain techniques work."

Oh, good. Tell on. "I have a shower, light some mint incense, stand naked in front of the mirror and say 'You are a goddess, your body is your temple', then do deep breathing exercises." She hugs trees. "I'm a great tree-hugger. Whenever I see one I hug it." Whatever for? "I'm saying hello to the spirit who lives inside." Then what? "It picks me up. Gives me energy."

I keep thinking she will pause for a question, but she never does. She maintains a constant chatter (she's not called Ms-Have-A-Chat for nothing) about casting spells at age four with her grandfather's pipe-cleaners, her parents' psychic abilities, Celtic mysticism, bardic traditions, her philosopher father, her bohemian mother, druidic style, mind and metaphysics, ancient pantheons, ancient Crete and Mesopotamia, Palaeolithic, Neolithic, post-Palaeolithic, Palaeolithic Indo-European migration, Wicca (meaning witch meaning wise one). On and soporifically on.

It all blurs incomprehensibly until the fascinating information drops about her time in Canberra with two prime ministers (as well as serving tea and Iced Vo-Vos to Labour leader Arthur Caldwell).

"I'll go down in history as the only witch in Parliament," Gray says (they never knew). At the time, a picture of her in hotpants as Teenage Model of the Year appeared under the headline "Look who the Prime Minister [McMahon] has working in his office" - and her political career ended.

"It didn't go down too well so I moved to Sydney to study with Edgar Pielke." "We've been waiting for you, Deborah," the druid master said.

What puzzles me about Sexy Sorcery is, who is it for? Believers, sceptics, the lovelorn? Gray hates the publisher's reference to the lovelorn and says, crossly, "It's for everyone. I deliberately didn't want to be elitist. Witchcraft is one of the few mystical paths where sensuality and sexuality go hand in hand."

But the love goddesses she mentions, aren't they a bit, well, suspect? For instance, isn't the love goddess Tauropolos a shade too obvious for Taureans? "There are lots of love goddesses. But relating them to star signs has never been done before. My mystic friends are intrigued I've done that."

Before we part, she's happy to pass on a personal short-form spell, free. "Friends nagged me to find a soulmate, so I filled my glass with crushed ice and sliced orange and wrote down the words 'I am ready'. I bit the orange, focused on the ice and within two hours Giancarlo walked through the door. Six months later, we married." Witch finds wizard. Doesn't get spookier than that.

The Good Witch's Guide To Sexy Sorcery (HarperCollins, $19.95) is released on Wednesday.

* "He's back. Very attentive, phoned me four times in one day, so who knows? I'll do the marriage spell next week."

Page Updated 2nd April, 2000
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