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Australian Media on Paganism

Pagan Power

by Chris Griffith - Sunday Mail, 4/5/97

Pagans are coming out in Queensland. A once-secretive national pagan organisation has appointed a public relations officer to dispel myths that equate paganism to salacious sex, blood sacrifices and bizarre rituals and worst of all, satanism.

These days, druids are greenies and 20th century witches practice a code of ethics.

While many Australians last Thursday were getting ready to celebrate Labour Day, Australia's pagans celebrated Samhain (pronounced saa-ween), an ancient Celtic ritual with strong parallels to America's Halloween.

Formed in 1991, the Pagan Alliance has given many Australian pagans a unified voice - although it is one of several representitive groups. There are hundreds of pagans in Queensland, concentrated in Brisbane, far north Queensland, Toowoomba and Ipswich.

Some practise alone, but many are found in groups of about 12 called covens.

They draw together people from different pagan strains, except in Brisbane where the main teaching coven is wiccan.

Many call themselves "white" pagans, although groups such as the Ipswich-based "Coven of the Solar Orb" are described as "left-hand path" or "black" by other pagans.

Alliance Queensland regional councillor, labourer Andrew Kettle, 27, said many of the council's 42 members were high priests and priestesses who ran covens.

Pagans are concerned with nature, healing and meditation. They believe in reincarnation, and they draw on many gods and goddesses during their rituals.

There's a variety of strains - nordic and celtic paganism, druidism, wicca, witchcraft and magick, to name some. All are practised in Australia.

Pagans don't believe in a single god and in satan. Most frown when equated to satanists and devil worshippers.

Toowoomba masseuse and social worker, Andrea Carpenter, describes herself as a qabalistic magician who practises wicca.

Her magick was based on ancient Jewish mysticism.

She said most people whould be disappointed to learn mainstream paganism did not mean wild orgies and drugs. But all religions, including Christianity, could attract extremist groups.

"Pagans believe sex is a natural thing, a creative force," she said. But some wiccans will do their circles naked which causes problems with people who don't understand. "But the reason they work naked is that it brings everybody down to the same level. People might put sexual connotations on that, but there are none."

"As a magician I don't work naked unless I'm doing a real and proper sex rite,, and then there are only two people there, the male and female."

She said a sex rite involved "drawing in together a god and goddess, like tantric sex - physical and spiritual".

"As a magican I don't ever work unrobed because in magick we believe the robe and all our paraphernalia are psychological tools."

"It separates us from the everyday". Andrea first became interested in paganism when a teacher "came into my life". She was 24.

"In those days you couldn't access books easily, being pagan wasn't talked about and there was nothing in the media. Through him I learned about reincarnation, and the multiplicity of godhood. He taught me that between us and a god there are others."

She said she had lived about a dozen times before.

"Some of them are very ancient, Atlantis Lemuria (in the Pacific in the Easter Island region) and I have memories of forest scenes in England and Europe."

"I get glimpses."

"One past life I do remember was when I was a concubine for (16th Century) Mongol chieftan Taras Bulba and died at a young age giving birth." Andrea has a grown daughter and loves animals.

She rehabilitates birds and has three dogs and four cats.

She has run pagan weddings and once performed pagan counselling in a Queensland prison. But as a magician does she cast spells? "The magicians the public know practise sleight of hand. All they do is play tricks. My ability is to change my consciousness and brain waves at will which opens your mind up to larger things."

She said paganism meant being responsible for one's actions.

"We believe what we do is our own responsibility. A lot of pagans believe sin as defined by Christians is a cop-out."

Andrea joins pagans for the eight celebrations in the "wheel of the year".

Four are called "sun rites" and coincide with the summer and winter solstice and the equinoxes.

Because these ceremonies are seasonally based, most Southern Hemisphere fesitivals occur six months from their Northern Hemisphere counterparts.

Samhain represents the closing off and the dying as winter approaches. A Brisbane-wide celebration took place at Caboolture a week ago.

Pagans say during Samhain "the vale" between life and death is very thin. They communicate with the souls to come and those that have been.

To mark this, a traditional circle is consecrated, and pagans gather around and talk to the souls.

But unlike a seance, the souls don't talk back.

Instead, these souls wander around the earth and play practical jokes and tricks - akin to the "trick and treat" fun associated with Halloween.

Pagan children in Australia are known to "trick and treat" in May.

The next ceremony is Yule, at the winter solstice on June 22-23. It involves Christmas-like activities such as tree decorating and gift giving.

This year Australian pagans will gravitate to Merimbula in New South Wales for this event.

Their Northern Hemisphere counterparts are celebrating "Beltane", which promotes fertility and the growth of crops in spring.

It includes the fertility dance of young women holding streamers while dancing around the maypole, a giant phallic symbol.

One pagan who last week celebrated Samhain vigorously was Morgan, a celtic pagan who is the alliance's new public relations officer.

Apart from lighting a small bonfire in the park near her house, Morgan decorated her front window with Samhain greetings.

As PR lady, she plans to make the religion more open than before.

"We've learned that secret societies attract unwanted press," she said.

But she admits the issue of openess was a delicate one in pagan circles.

"Alot of wiccan like to be secretive. And even in this age of multicultralism, there are alot of problems with tolerance."

Morgan admits she is more "politically oriented" than most pagans.

She said she was the first person to teach children paganism as a religious elective in a NSW primary school.

Later she was banned from the practice.

Australian pagans include scientists, solicitors, students, health care professionals, teachers, farmers, soldiers, engineers, public servants, librarians and psychologists.

Druid witch Ioho works as a nurse at one of Queensland's largest public hospitals.

She said her "great leap" into paganism was when she was 22. A friend taught her numerology, then it was tarot cards, then witchcraft.

As a druid she works with whole magical system based on trees and their meaning."

She said druids were commonly regarded as male witches, but both sexes could be druids and witches.

As a witch, she was capable of casting spells and curses.

But natural laws and a witch's "code of ethics" limited her.

For example, take love spells.

"If I'm asked to put a spell on someone, and it affects their free will, the witch's law says any harm you create will come back into your life three fold.

It's inappropriate to force someone to love somebody because you're possessing or limiting someone's free will.

But it's OK to cast a spell to attract love into your life.

So I do that and tell them to go out and bloody socialise hard."

She said witchcraft was more than spells. It was a complete "self-transformation" and getting in touch with nature.

"An ecological view is very important. You can't be a witch and not be a greenie."

But does witchcraft involve travel on a broom?

"Broomsticks have their place in witchcraft. They are used for ritually sweeping the circle before a ritual and also in fertility rites.

"And they're pretty good for sweeping the floor, but I don't fly around on them."

She said she didn't tell the patients she nursed she was a witch.

"I think some people would feel uncomfortable regardless of who I am or what I am."

But her coven's most senior witches, high priest Uther and high priestess Shavarnni, were happy to oblige for our cameras.

Fact File
Paganism is an ancient religion concerned with nature, healing, and meditation. Most pagans believe in reincarnation, male, female and androgynous deity. Paganism has no founders, no earthly leaders, no prophets, no messiahs and no saints. Most pagans don't believe in heaven or hell.
Strains of Paganism
Asatru/Norse paganism: From northern Europe and Scandinavia.
Celtic paganism: From Scotland and Ireland.
Dianic Witchcraft: Celebrates feminine divinity.
Druidism: Emphasises skills like poetry and music.
Environmental paganism: Seeks to save the earth from desecration.
Ethnic paganism: Hellenic, Roman, Egyptian, Voodoo, even Aboriginal lore.
Male mysteries: Emphasises sacred manhood and spiritual growth.
Shamanism: Emphasises spirit realms, tree lore, herb lore and totem animals.
Wicca: Follows ancient folkloric and magical practices of Europe.
Witchcraft: Ancient fertility religion that honours the Horned god and goddess.
Most pagans celebrate eight major festivals: Samhain (Halloween), Giuli (Yule), Imbolg (Candlemas), Spring Equinox (Eostre), Beltane (Fertility), Litha (Midsummer), Lughnassad and the Autumn equinox (Mabon)
Incantations which focus psychic energy. Visualisation and repetition of words focuses the witch's desire and intent. Used mainly for healing, love and proserity.
The Coalition Government (QLD) has retained witchcraft as a crime. The law forbids witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, fortune telling and pretending to use occult sciences to locate lost and stolen objects. Penalty: one year's prison.
A Wiccan Love Spell
(by Francesca Dubie)
Get five red roses, go about a block from home and drop one rose.
Drop three more on the way back home.
Drop the fifth at your door. While doing this, chant: "Oh, this is the path of love. My true love will find me."

Sunday Mail, 4/5/97

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