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Cosmopolitan Witchcraft: Reinventing the Wheel of the Year in Australian Paganism

Douglas Ezzy

Paganism, by virtue of its polytheism, is inherently pluralistic and sensitized to cosmopolitanism. One practitioner’s gods are not the gods of the next practitioner, and most Pagans think this is as it should be (Ezzy 2014b). There are instances of fundamentalist Paganisms that resist pluralism and act disrespectfully toward those who follow different Pagan paths, but these are in the minority. It is very common for individual Pagans to be involved in multiple groups and traditions. They might, for example, at the same time be part of a group working with Egyptian gods and another honoring Norse deities. In this context, Pagans develop various practical techniques and repertoires for managing such pluralism respectfully.

Skrbis and Woodward (2013: Loc 608)1 argue that cosmopolitanism is both an idea or value and a practice, and is integrally performative: “Cosmopolitanism therefore involves the knowledge, command and performance of symbolic resources or repertoires for the purpose of highlighting and valuing cultural difference.” The abstract princi-

D. Ezzy (*)

University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia © The Author(s) 2017

K. Rountree (ed.), Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56200-5_10

ples that may inform some types of cosmopolitanism are less important to forms of cosmopolitanism that “find their expression in a range of everyday fields which are grounded in repertoires of practical thinking rather than abstract philosophical principles” (Skrbis and Woodward 2013: Loc 565). In this chapter, I argue that it is precisely these sorts of repertoires of practice that nurture a cosmopolitan Paganism.

The relationship of Pagans to their gods is one that encourages the practice of respect toward others who are “different.” In monotheistic religions, practitioners are expected to obey their gods. Many, if not most, Pagans have a more ambivalent relationship toward deity. They honor, but do not necessarily obey, their gods: “The relationship between participants and the deity honored is complex and ambivalent because Pagan deities do not necessarily act in the interests of humans” (Ezzy 2014a: 128). As such, Pagan worship is often a practice that integrally invokes an etiquette for negotiating relationships with a multiplicity of others (gods, animals, humans, the land and other actors), many of whom do not share the same purposes as the Pagan practitioner (Harvey 2013). For example, a practitioner may respect and honor Hades, the Greek god of death and the underworld, but he or she probably does not feel the need to obey all the imperatives associated with the dark and sometimes morbid motivations of Hades. A sensitivity and openness to a multiplicity of voices and traditions is central to most Pagan practice. This is also central to cosmopolitanism:

It is not that we are without culture but we are drawing on the traces and residues of many cultural systems, of many ethical systems—and that is precisely what cosmopolitanism means. It means the ability to stand outside of having one’s life written and scripted by any one community, whether that is a faith or tradition or religion or culture—whatever it might be—and to draw selectively on a variety of discursive meanings. (Richard Sennett, quoted in Vertovec and Cohen 2002: 4)

Sennett’s point is apposite, if somewhat linguistic in emphasis. Australian Paganisms draw on the traces of European Paganisms in the context of an Australian landscape that both resonates with and resists these European repertoires in complex ways. Part of the process of developing a mature Australian cosmopolitan Paganism has been the development of etiquettes for negotiating the tensions between these various repertoires, and to forge a meaningful and robust ritual practice in this context. At the heart of this mature Australian cosmopolitan Paganism is an adaptive response that is inclusive of both the European mythological heritage and the Australian ecological context.

The geographical and ecological contexts are central to the practice of Pagan ritual, and profoundly shape the nature of Pagan cosmopolitanism. Following Lamont and Aksartova (2002), Skrbis and Woodward (2013: Loc 609) argue that cosmopolitan dispositions need to be grounded “in everyday experiences: what people eat, watch, listen to, shop for and buy and dream about.” This list of everyday experiences needs to be extended to include the seasons, and the ecological and geographical nature of an individual’s physical location. Experiences of heat and cold, dry and wet, long and short days, and the position of the sun are central and framing experiences for Pagans.

Australian Paganisms have moved through three distinct phases in the development of a cosmopolitan approach. At first, Australian Pagans simply imported the rituals and practices of European Pagans. Second, they mirrored these practices, slightly changing and contextualizing their practice to reflect the geographical location of Australia. Finally, they adapted the rituals and practices of European Paganisms as they developed a mature cosmopolitan practice. The final phase of adaptation involves the development of a practical etiquette of relating to the “otherness” of the Australian seasons, geography and landscape. I demonstrate these stages through an analysis of the practices of Australian Pagans from the 1980s to the present.

Cosmopolitanism is typically a highly anthropocentric concept, concerned with the “otherness” of human persons. For Australian Paganisms, it is the otherness of other-than-human persons (Harvey 2005) that is most confronting. Or, as Ingold (2013: 214) puts it: “a focus on life processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials.” As the myths, traditions, practices and rituals of European Paganisms were imported to Australia, they were confronted with the otherness of the Australian seasons and landscape. It is through the development of an etiquette of practice of relating to this otherness that Australian Pagans have developed a mature Paganism, one that is cosmopolitan in relation to both humans and other-than- human persons.

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