October, 1998 - Australian Womens
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
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
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 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
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
Canberra high priest witch, Alan Moyse, who practises
the traditional form of Wicca, says most witches have
"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
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."
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
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
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