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The First Australian Witches: The 1980s

When Witchcraft arrived in Australia, the inclination to celebrate the seasonal festivals according to the pattern of the northern hemisphere reflected the culture of mainstream Australia, including the celebration of the Christian seasonal festivals, whereby northern hemisphere seasonal culture was simply imported and imposed, most notably at Christmas and Easter. Bodsworth (1999: 10) notes that Europeans in Australia have, almost without question, celebrated festivals that correspond to the European seasons: “For more than two hundred years, we have held winter Solstice celebrations, with hot roasts and Yule elves, in the middle of Summer.”

Thus, perhaps unsurprisingly, many Australian Pagans began their ritual practice celebrating summer in the depths of winter, and spring as autumn leaves were falling around them. Drury and Tillett (1980: 51), in one of the earliest published descriptions of Witchcraft in Australia, noted that the celebration of the festivals of the “witchcraft calendar ... are based upon the cycles of the year in the Northern hemisphere; for example, the summer solstice and the autumn equinox are celebrated when they occur in the North, not the South.”

One of the reasons for following the northern calendar may have been a deep sense of respect for authoritative tradition in the training of Witches during the 1980s, when people typically became Witches through developing personal contacts with other Witches and then entering a semi-formal training arrangement (Luhrmann 1989). In some forms of practice and training, Witches were warned of dire consequences associated with not following the correct procedures and practices of the established tradition.

The urban focus of the lives of most early Witches in Australia probably also did not assist in developing a localized attunement to the seasons. Kettle (1995) notes that Pagans mostly live in cities with their lives determined by the clock, which distances them from the experience of the seasons. The festivals of the Wheel of the Year are a development from and elaboration of the seasonal and agricultural festivals of Europe (Hutton 1996). Some, but probably only a few, early Australian Witches were involved in agriculture or had a strong link with agricultural cycles in Australia; most were professionals living and working the larger Australian cities (Hume 1997).

The directions of the elements in early Australian Witchcraft practice appear to have also straightforwardly reproduced the elemental directions of British practice. Simon Goodman was one of the first Australians trained in British Witchcraft, and in turn trained a large number of others in Australia (Hume 1997). His document “The Working Tools of a Witch” was written in this early period, probably in the 1980s (Goodman 1995). It was reproduced in several newsletters and magazine formats in the 1980s and 1990s and was formative on, and reflective of, the practice of many Wiccans in Australia during this early period. It retains the elemental directions of the British Isles: “South ... is the direction of the hottest wind, the burning deserts, and is the realm of fire” (Goodman 1995: 28).

Early Australian Witchcraft was not very cosmopolitan. There were several reasons for this. Early Witches had a strong sense of respect for the authority of the British traditions, often training in a context that was hierarchical and authoritarian in structure. The belief that altering rituals could be dangerous was also important in constraining innovation. Finally, it takes time and experience to have the confidence to develop and adapt rituals. A cosmopolitan openness to the Australian seasons and landscape emerged slowly out of this context. However, even at this early stage in the 1980s some practitioners were questioning the rigid adoption of northern hemisphere festival dates and practices. For example, Anatha Wolfkeepe mentions that in the late 1980s she had been at the “NeoPagan Easter Gathering” and that “no-one knew for sure whether we were celebrating the Australian autumn equinox or the European spring equinox” (Woolfkeepe 1999: 29).

 
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