Pagans from around Australia
will gather in the South Coast town of Merimbula this
month to practise bizarre rites and celebrate the dark
side of life.
The ceremony of Yule - at the winter solstice on June
22-23 - will involve tree decorating and gift giving just
like Christmas celebrations.
The major pagan organisation, the Pagan Alliance, was
formed in 1991, giving many Australian pagans a voice
for the first time.
Once a secretive group, pagans have even appointed a
public relations officer to dispel myths equating paganism
with salacious sex, blood sacrifices and Satanism.
Members are keen to set the record straight on their
Masseuse amd social worker Andrea Carpenter, 52, describes
herself as a cabalistic magician who practices wicca.
She says most people would be disappointed to learn that
mainstream paganism does not mean wild orgies and drugs.
"Pagans believe sex is a natural thing, a creative force,"
Ms Carpenter, who became interested in paganism when
she was 24, claims to have lived about a dozen times before.
"One past life I do remember was when I was a concubine
for (16th century) Mongol chieftain, Taras Bulba and died
at a young age giving birth," she says.
Ms Carpenter has run pagan weddings and performed pagan
counselling in a Queensland prison.
But as a magician, does she cast spells?
"The magician the public knows practise sleight of hand,"
she says. "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."
Pagans do not believe in a single god, nor in Satan,
and dislike being equated with satanists and devil-worshippers.
Their rituals include Samhain (pronounced "saaween"),
an ancient Celtic rite with strong parallels to Halloween.
Pagan children in Australia go trick or treating in May.
Ms Carpenter joins other pagans for eight celebrations
in the "wheel of the year". Four are called "sun rites"
and coincide with the summer and winter solstice and the
Druid witch Ioho works as a nurse in one of Queensland's
largest public hospitals and is a member of Brisbane's
Coven of the Enchanted Cauldron.
Ioho says she is able to cast spells and curses, but
is limited by natural law and a witch's "code of ethics".
Witchcraft is more than spells, she says. It involves
complete "self transformation" and getting in touch with
But does witchcraft involve travel on a broomstick?
"Broomsticks have their place in witchcraft," Ioho says.
"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."
The Sunday Telegraph, 18/5/1997