Fiona Horne: Keyboard-playing witch Fiona Horne first came to prominence in the 1990s as a member the successful electro-band DEF-FX. Since then she has written several books of witchcraft and now offers a one-on-one Skyping service at $US200 per hour. Photo: The Age Wendy Rule. Melbourne singer-songwriter Wendy Rule carved a strong niche for herself in the 90s on the small-but-passionate pagan indie music scene, releasing several albums. Ms Rule now resides in Portland, Oregon, and this month will perform shows in Chicago and New York. Photo: Logan Penney & Redden
Described as ‘Australia’s celebrity psychic’, Lizzy Rose (centre) claims to be the go-to witch for the rich and famous. Photo: Craig Sillitoe CSZ
Conduct a random trawl through the 200 public submissions to Senator Cory Bernardi’s current project, the Senate Standing Committee on Economics’ inquiry into the third party certification of food, and you might conclude that those who oppose halal branding do so on the basis of cost.
“Please arrange for an end to this Muslim tax,” says the author of submission number 18. “How is it that the followers of Islam expect me to pay for Halal certification?” asks submission 139. “I strongly object to having my food prices increased due to costs involved in satisfying the requirements of a religious group,” thunders submission 191.
Any conclusion that anti-halal sentiment is driven by a sense of thrift, however, is incorrect. And it remains incorrect, even if you leaven the mix with suggestions of fear, ignorance and bigotry.
The witches of Australia, it turns out, also oppose halal certification. Some of them, anyway. On purely practical grounds.
Submission number 50 is from an anonymous “Goddess worshipping Witch” who laments loudly that she has often purchased meat only to discover that it had been prepared in accordance with halal or kosher protocols.
This, she says, is “utterly devastating”, because it results in cosmic inefficiencies.
“Thinking it was secular,” she wrote, “I had been dedicating and offering it to my Goddess, which is important to my magic and my spiritual path. To dedicate and offer food to her that has been previously used in a religious ritual for another deity is an insult to my Goddess. It diminishes her energy, weakens my connection to her and thus my magic.”
In other words, the Goddess is not very impressed when presented with a lamb chop that already has another Holy Being’s gob on it.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the 2011 census recorded approximately 40,000 people who identified their religious beliefs as ‘pagan’, ‘Wicca’ or ‘witchcraft’. The question thus arises: is the concern about the spiritual efficacy of kosher or halal products shared by the rest of the witch population?
“No,” said David Reilly. Mr Reilly, with his wife Penny, run a pagan-themed business in central Victoria called The Daylesford Tarot Readers. As well as card-and palm-reading, the pair offer courses in “lunar magick, ritual and hedgewitchery.”
Mr Reilly was quick to point out that he doesn’t offer meat of any kind to the Goddess, being a vegetarian. If he were to do so, however, he wouldn’t buy it at a shop.
“The provenance of an offering can matter if you believe it matters,” he said. “Any belief you have actually affects what you offer. If the witch who wrote the submission was fair dinkum she would be slaughtering the animal herself. Everything I understand about ritual slaughter starts with the idea that the slaughter is done by the person doing the ritual.”
There is a danger, of course, that in making her position known, the anonymous witch might be regarded by the members of Senator Bernardi’s committee as representative of pagans in general. “That’s like the Catholic Church or the Uniting Church or the Anabaptists speaking for all Christians,” said Mr Reilly.
Indeed, for such a numerically small community – just one-tenth the size of the Muslim community, itself comprising a mere two per cent of the total population – the witches are a schismatic bunch.
In the first and so far only academic book of the subject, Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia (1997), anthropologist Lynne Hume notes that “there is much controversy within the Australian pagan community over the definition of Paganism”. Ms Hume refers to “the multitudinous nuances of adherents’ practices and their self definitions” and predicts that the community will “fragment into various subdivisions”.
Fewer than 20 years down the line, her prediction seems validated. One internet directory of Australian witch societies lists a total of 58 groups, with names such as The Celtic Barbarians, Temple of the Silver Oak, Lightningbird, Witches Downunder, Order of the Fringe Dwellers, Circle of Elders and Symposium Illuminatum.
Doctrinal differences are plain, with various groups identifying as druids, shamans, parapsychologists, metaphysicians, the spawn of Lilith, Gaelic traditionalists, devotees of Discordia, and worshippers of Isis (no, not that one).
There are groups for pagan parents and pagan teens, and a pagan sewing circle called Witch’n’Stitch’n’Bitch.
Brisbane-based pagan publisher Leela Williams sees the variety of groups and denominations as positive. Ms Williams produces the annual International Psychics Directory, and used to publish SpellCraft, a magazine covering the Australian pagan community.
“All the groups are aware of each other,” she said. “They are all part of the pantheon. There’s strength in that diversity.”
The various branches of paganism share more similarities than differences, she added. “There’s definitely a degree of healthy debate, and there’s certainly some who don’t like others, but that’s healthy. Even infighting can be healthy.”
The number of pagans and witches recorded in the last census was a good 10,000 higher than the 2006 result. In part that was because of a campaign run in Ms Williams’ magazines, but it might also indicate, perhaps, that there’s a substantial Goddess revival under way. All of the modern day witches, whatever their doctrinal stance, make offerings of some kind to the supernatural.
Senator Bernardi’s anonymous witch cannot speak for the whole mob, but she has perhaps raised a matter of universal importance. Rather than recommending fewer food certification stamps, as expected, the Senate Standing Committee may feel the evidence compels them to add another.
Perhaps it won’t be long before you pick up a pack of beef snags in Woolworths and notice a sticker saying: “Suitable for Pagans: no deities were invoked in the preparation of this item.”
Famous Australian witches
Fiona Horne. Keyboard-playing witch Fiona Horne first came to prominence in the 1990s as a member the successful electro-band DEF-FX. Since then she has written several books of witchcraft and now offers a one-on-one Skyping service at $US200 per hour.
Wendy Rule. Melbourne singer-songwriter Wendy Rule carved a strong niche for herself in the 90s on the small-but-passionate pagan indie music scene, releasing several albums. Ms Rule now resides in Portland, Oregon, and this month will perform shows in Chicago and New York.
Lizzy Rose. Described as ‘Australia’s celebrity psychic’, Lizzy Rose claims to be the go-to witch for the rich and famous. In May this year she performed an exorcism live on Channel Nine’s Today Weekend.
Stacey Demarco. Presiding over the successful website, themodernwitch苏州美甲美睫培训学校, Sydney’s Stacey Demarco is the author of several Wiccan self-help books, including the business-booster, Witch in the Boardroom. A frequent talk show guest, she appeared as a judge in Channel Seven’s psychic talent quest, The One.
Rosaleen Norton. Dubbed “The Witch of Kings Cross”, Rosaleen Norton was a notorious and glamorous figure in who moved in Sydney’s bohemian circles in the 1950s. An artist and coven leader who died in 1979, she has been the subject of several books.
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