By Galloway, Daracha and Cecily M-B, with contributions and meddlings from Mary, Jan and Esther.
We have a vast and varied cross-section of paganism here in Victoria (or, as an overseas friend of mine recently put it, “the bottom right corner of Australia, before you get to the floaty part”). Below are just snippets of our favourite things about being pagan in Victoria. What are yours?
A is for Andrew
Nestled amidst the beautiful Yarra Ranges, Saint Andrews Community Market has been running for more than forty years now. It now runs weekly, and its eclectic and relaxed atmosphere makes it one the most pagan markets in the state. We especially recommend the drumming workshops on every second week!
B is for Beltane
The Maypole at Mount Franklin. Photo courtesy of the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering.
The Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering, which turned thirty-two years old in 2013, is the oldest pagan gathering in the Southern Hemisphere, and possibly the world. We love its rich history, acceptance of all pagan faiths and the community atmosphere of the weekend.
C is for Castlemaine
This picturesque town in the goldfields of central Victoria has been home to many witches over the years, and is still popular with witchy folk today. Highlights of the town include the Theatre Royal, the oldest continuously operating theatre on the Australian mainland, and Wesley Hill Market, another gloriously eclectic experience.
D is for Druid
E is for Euphoria
The Euphoria Pagan Gathering until 2009, and was a long weekend of challenging and extremely transformative rituals, dealing with concepts such as the “shadow self”, facing fears, encountering guides, etc. We look back at these rites, organised by the iconic Seline and Hawthorn, with great fondness, and were absolutely thrilled to discover that the organisers have decided to present the “Rites of Euphoria” again in 2013 and beyond!
F is for Full Moon
Esbats are well and truly celebrated all around Victoria in different rituals, both public and private. One of the most notable gatherings is the one held by the lovely Seline Cardamon-Cairns. These circles provide a friendly and welcoming environment for both beginners and the more adept. You can find out more about them here.
G is for Greenery
Dandenong Ranges National Park
In Victoria, the winters bring harsh frosts, and even snow in places. Summers are long, dusty and dry, and some places don’t see rain for months at a time. But as the days slowly start to warm after the frosty months, and as the ground softens again after the harsh summer sun, we see the green coming back. Grass peeks out of scorched earth and leaves begin to appear on skeletal trees. Vegetable patches take off again, shoots pop up their heads and leaves unfurl. Victoria is a state dotted with state forests, national parks and conservation areas, and many of our small towns’ main streets are lined with oaks, elms, conifers or eucalypts.
H is for Heathen
Norse Paganism is also strong here in Victoria, particularly in the areas of Asatru and Odinism (though we have heard of smaller numbers of practitioners of Theodism). There are hearths, garths and kindreds far flung across the state, and the most active public group seems to be the Melbourne Heathen Moot.
I is for Ireland
Around a quarter of Australians with Irish Ancestry reside in Victoria today. In the early days of white settlement, many of the convicts and labourers who made homes in Victoria were also from the emerald isle – a legacy which lives on today through distinctly Irish place names like Koroit, Belfast (now Port Fairy), Portarlington, Coleraine and Maryborough. Little wonder, then, that so many new Pagans first find an affinity with aspects such as fairies or the ancient Celtic Wheel of the Year, and that so many Pagan meet-ups take place in Irish pubs!
J is for Jonquil
These sunny little chaps are usually the first inkling that Spring is on the way in Victoria, and by early Spring they are prominent in many gardens across the state as the first splash of colour. Jonquils and daffodils feature across a number of cultures and mythologies such as that of the Ancient Greeks, in which Persephone was lured to the Underworld by Hades while she was picking one. In further Ancient Greek ties, the Latin name for the standard Jonquil is Narcissus Jonquilla.
K is for Korumburra
This wee town, nestled in Victoria’s southeast, is also popular with the witchy folk today. Rumour has it that some of Victoria’s first Strega and related groups began in the east of the state back in the seventies (or maybe even earlier?), and little wonder – while many towns in the west of the state were predominantly English and Irish for many years, Korumburra and other places in the east have a strong history of migration waves from all across Europe.
L is for Lindsay
Norman Lindsay was born in Creswick in Central Victoria in 1879, dying in 1969 at age 90. Lindsay was famous for his paintings, etchings and sculptures, many featuring nude women. He also wrote novels, children’s books and essays, and illustrated many of them, too. A lot of his artwork was very pagan – scenes of Bacchanalia, Dionysian revelry, costume parties, half-human half-animals, sphinxes, fauns, decadence, lust and reverence. Lindsay’s artwork was controversial for his time. Some pieces were banned, destroyed or rejected by art galleries: pieces that explored sexual adventures or lusty pagan trysts full of nudes. The nude women in his paintings often held a regal air of authority, power and confidence. Infamous King’s Cross artist Rosaleen Norton also modelled in his painting ‘Crete’ as a nude riding a black bull. Lindsay’s art is still celebrated by many pagans today.
M is for Mysteries
Wherever there is Paganism, there are rumours, and Victoria is not spared from this. Sometimes a few are true, and help us steer clear of the many unsavoury characters that seem to be drawn to Witchcraft and Paganism. But most are untrue and are created out of spite or misunderstanding.
Then there are those rumours that create outright panic. In the 1980’s there were a number of books, such as the one titled Michelle Remembers, published, alleging a worldwide satanic abuse and conspiracy. Despite claims in these books being proven untrue, satanic panic exploded worldwide. Throughout the eighties and nineties, many Pagans and Witches in Victoria and the rest of the world were harassed, lost their jobs and had their homes vandalized as the moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse spread to Australia. In the papers at the time Victoria was described at hotbed of Occult activity, and to this day rumours circulate about a black coven up to no good somewhere in the Dandenong Ranges.
During the panic, some Pagans and Witches sought out media interviews to offer a contrasting view: that Paganism was a peaceful non-violent religion and that the biblical figure called Satan has no place in Witchcraft. Of course, the Victorian Pagan community is not without its own cases of real abuse and we must be vigilant. If you hear/witness abuse going on in any form under the guise of Witchcraft, please contact the police.
N is for North
The old religion(s) are alive and well far from Victoria’s capital. The most recent evidence of this is the Wedderburn New Age Festival, put on in the rural town by a local coven. The festival was by all accounts a hit, and quite popular with the locals, despite much protest and contestation by local church groups, who accused the ladies of “bringing the devil to Wedderburn“, a notion which had most Pagans either falling about laughing or wondering if they had inadvertently time travelled back a few centuries…
O is for Otways
The Great Otway National Park consists of just over one hundred square kilometres of beautiful mountains and temperate rainforest on Victoria’s southwest coast. This rugged and beautiful wilderness has attracted pagans of many walks of life for decades, and contains a number of active ritual sites for different groups and individuals.
P is for Pub
“…So I said to him, ‘not with my athame, mate!’ LOL!”
The tradition of Pagans in the Pub is still going strong as a means for Pagan folk to network, socialise and share ideas. There are pub moots happening all over Victoria’s larger towns. The largest and most well-known is Melbourne Pagans in the Pub, which is currently run by local Melbournite, Philippe.
Q is for Quercus
Victoria is dotted with beautiful oak trees across the cities and the countryside. The oak is an ancient and powerful symbol across a number of ancient cultures, and as such is still very important in paganism today. In Victoria, there are a large number of oak plantations and heritage listed trees. Among our favourites are the pair of Quercus Canariensis in the Manningham Heritage Gardens in Bulleen and the Federal Oak, which was planted by Sir Henry Parkes at Parliament House in Melbourne in 1890.
R is for Ritual
You say the Goddess and God have gone
But I tell you they live on!
For in the cities and hills
And in circles of stone
The voices of the Old Ways
The Spirit of Albion is calling you home…
(Damh the Bard – “The Spirit of Albion”)
At any given Sabbat or Esbat, or at other key times of the year, hundreds of Pagans across the state are conducting their own personal rites of celebration and devotion: in the cities and towns, in the hills and forests, in parks and gardens and on the beaches… Indoors and out, solitaries, large gatherings and everything in between.
S is for Spring
Both red and white hawthorn can be found all around Victoria in the Springtime.
Spring in Victoria is quite a sight, and usually begins with a few very busy weeks. During this time, the air seems to warm up noticeably, everything is energised after the frosty months, and there is a real “feeling” of Spring everywhere you go! Then the wildflowers start dotting the roadsides, and the hawthorn blooms happily. If you only go to the country in Victoria once a year, Spring is the time to do it!
T is for Tradition
Like the rest of Australia, Traditional Witchcraft maintains a quiet but consistent presence in Victoria, where there have been a small number of covens and associated solitary practitioners for decades now.
U is for Unexplained
With its fairly spotty history, the notion that Victoria is quite haunted in places comes as little surprise to many. Among the creepiest of the creepy are the Old Melbourne Gaol; Werribee Park Mansion; The Elephant Bridge Hotel in Darlington, Western Victoria; and Mayday Hills Asylum, which later became the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum, in the state’s North-East.
V is for Varied
People new to Paganism here are often amazed at the amount of choice they have within the community. Back in the dark days before the internet, many groups kept themselves to themselves, and it was hard for “outsiders” to get any information at all, even about Paganism in general. Now Victoria (and the internet!) is home to many active and public groups from a wide range of traditions, and witches, magicians, druids, heathens, pagans and others can network freely if they so choose.
W is for Wiccan Conference
The Australian Wiccan Conference began as an annual conference of the Pagan Alliance (PA). It started in 1984 and was originally a meeting place for the PA in New South Wales with an AGM held at the end of the weekend, until it was decided that the conference could be held in other states. As of 2008, on its 25th Anniversary, the AWC had been held in every state in Australia, being held in QLD in 2008 for the first time. It is normally held on the weekend closest to the Spring Equinox in September, and usually runs for 3 days and 2 nights. People travel from all over Australia to attend the conference, or to present a lecture or workshop. Musicians such as Spiral Dance and many other bands have performed there, and a ritual is usually conducted on the Saturday evening. It is destined to be held in Victoria in 2014.
X is for eXcellence
Yes, I know. But X is tricky!
X is dedicated to all the excellent and exceptional pagan people we have met over the years: to those pioneers who were there at the birth of new groups and ideas, to long-standing elders and members our community, to those who have visited Victoria from interstate and overseas, and to all other decent pagan folk!
Y is for Yule
We have already spoken at length in this article about Victoria’s frosty winters. The icy ground and the green grass make Yule a safe time of year for shenanigans such as big bonfires, fire twirling and more… And non-Pagan folk have started embracing these traditions, too! While the night itself is usually a doozy of a leaf-sizzling frost in most regions, it provides cold ground and a clear sky – excellent conditions for welcoming back the sun!
Z is for Zen
Paganism in Victoria has seen many allies in recent decades, and sometimes from unexpected places. The Buddhist Council of Victoria, for example, have been actively engaged in organising education and awareness programs about so-called “alternative” religions in schools in the state for many years now, as well as interfaith dialogue with many religious groups, including Pagans. There is also the Satyanada Yoga Ashram in Central Victoria which opens its doors to Pagans and people of all faiths, especially during seasonal festivals.