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Australian Media on Paganism


October, 1998 - Australian Womens Weekly

By Nicole Silverman

Meet a white witch who aims to bring witchcraft back out of the broom closet

There is no black cat in the driveway, no broomstick by the front door and no pointed black hat in sight. However unlikely it seems, though, this simple fibro house in Sydney's western suburbs is home to a coven of modern-day witches.

Surrounded by their much-loved familiars - two cats and three dogs - the group conducts rituals and casts spells around a cauldron, often under the light of a full moon.

Despite the normal facade, once you step past the garden gnomes on the porch and meet Pamina Dent, a witch who has earned the honour of Crone, it's clear the craft is alive here.

Dressed simply in a purple cloak with a shock of short, black hair kept neatly in place, Pamina is free from any warts and her kitten, Neo, is more interested in playing than perching on his mistress's shoulder. Only one thing - her jewellery - shows she is a witch.

Pamina's earrings, necklace and rings are each designed as a pentacle - the five-pointed star surrounded by a circle, which represents the horned god and goddess which followers of witchcraft worship. Outside sit huge stone blocks resembling Stonehenge, which Pamina and her coven use as a backdrop for gatherings.

With the support of her husband, Don, and their six children, Pamina is doing everything in her power to bring witchcraft out of the broom closet and into the present.

In a bid to dispel the misconceptions that plague witches, Pamina recently established the Free Pagan Church of Australia (all witches are Pagans). Pamina and Neo

Pamina and her cat, Neo, are perfect examples of a witch and her familiar.

Paganism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, so it's not surprising Pamina's church membership is growing.

Despite its popularity, Pamina says many witches keep their craft a secret. "Witches have been persecuted for centuries and, unfortunately, the stigma is still there and that is why so many practising witches today keep it quiet," she says.

"Many are afraid they will lose their jobs or the next-door neighbour may throw a dead cat onto their verandah.

"Witchcraft is not related to Satan in any way - we don't even recognise a devil exists. Hopefully, the Free Pagan Church will clear up these myths."

The Free Pagan Church is one of many paths open to followers of witchcraft, traditionally known as Wicca. The freedom of the late 20th century is a far cry from the notorious Middle Ages, when scores of so-called witches were burned at the stake, though many were simply widows branded as "devil worshippers" by opportunists wanting their land.

Today, witchcraft is flourishing. Anthropologist Dr Lynne Hume, of the University of Queensland, estimates there are at least 2000 witches in Australia and more than 4000 Pagans.

Followers revere life, acknowledge they are part of the earth and the earth is a part of them, share affinity with animals and are responsible for their actions. They don't recognise the ethos of guilt and sin preached by Christian doctrines.

Pamina says she was born a witchand will never forget her first spiritual "experience". "I was only about six when my mother took me along to a seance in the basement of a picture theatre in Melbourne," she recalls.

"I could actually see a spirit. I remember telling my mother I could see a ghost behind her.

"Years later, my daughter, Pegie, introduced me to someone from a spiritual church. Our family visited the church .the next day where we met someone involved with magic. I guess it all evolved from there."

So what does a modern-day witch look like?

"They come from all walks of life, may be male or female, and look just like anyone else," says Pamina. "You could live next door to a witch and have no idea, unless they are a particularly rowdy group."

While they wear ordinary clothes most of the time, at coven gatherings and during rituals witches wear long, flowing robes.

And every witch worth his or her salt has a set of tools.

Canberra high priest witch, Alan Moyse, who practises the traditional form of Wicca, says most witches have eight tools.

"The most important is an athame, which is a double-edged knife used in rituals. It is the most potent method of directing your will," he says.

Other tools include a sword, challis (cup), incense burner, pentacle (usually a copper disc with a fivepointed star inscribed on it), wand, a set of cords (traditionally red, white and blue, but this can vary), and either a wooden staff or scourge (a whip with three strands) to symbolise authority within a circle.

"The tools are usually placed on an altar at the beginning of a gathering and used during rituals as required."

Alan says the broomstick is used to sweep away malignant forces when witches cast a circle (a sacred space to pull energy and protect witches from evil). Step over the broom and into the circle, and you are in another world.

He believes the myth that brooms were used for flying originated in the 1500s, when witches performed a crop fertility spell in the fields.

"As part of that ritual, witches sit on their broomsticks and jump as high as they can to encourage growth," he says. "It is highly likely a drunkard saw them and staggered back to the pub to tell his mates that witches were flying on broomsticks." Cauldron Fire

With the cauldron blazing and their robes glowing in the dark, the witches hold their gathering.

The cauldron also has its place in modern witchcraft. Pamina uses her cauldron to burn fires and as a focal point at gatherings.

"It is particularly useful on cold nights because the fire is so warming," she says.

"There is nothing quite like dancing around a cauldron and using our energies to make the flames dance, whirl and twirl. You watch it grow bigger and smaller. It is fascinating."

Like her predecessors in the Middle Ages, Pamina's coven practises magic and casts spells. Every witch has a Book of Shadows (spell book) which they write themselves. Although it is for personal use, spells and magic may be shared within the inner circle.

While Pamina refuses to divulge specific spells, she explains they are used to create positive changes and to help save the environment.

"We use magic for a range of things. These may include spells to save the planet from further global warming, make people better themselves by creating positive forces in their lives, help them come by more money and heal the sick and injured," she says.

"Magic is basically channelling your own will and energy into the universe towards a particular purpose.

"The difference between white magic and black magic depends on whether it is used in a positive or a negative way. Most witches only use positive magic because we do not believe in harming others."

She insists magic is not all "hocus pocus". Pamina says her coven, which meets every two weeks and also celebrates eight major Wicca festivals during the year, has achieved many successes with spells.

At a recent weekend gathering, Pamina and two other witches injured their legs and ankles. The coven members conducted special healing rituals and, by Sunday morning, Pamina claims they were all walking without pain.

Traditionally, there are three levels of initiation to become a Wiccan (witch). The first involves attaining a basic understanding of the craft. The second takes your knowledge and experience a step further, allowing you to teach and assist in the running of a coven. The third level is initiation as high priests and priestesses. At that stage, witches can leave the coven and start their own.

A formal initiation ceremony is held at each stage.

For any would-be witches in the community, read widely and go into it with your eyes open before signing up with any church.

As the Crone Pamina says, "If it feels right, go with it."

Australian Women's Weekly Oct, 1998

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