Image: Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia
Wiccans have long been called “the hidden children of the Goddess”. Over the years, however, Wiccans and other kinds of Pagans have stepped out of the broom closet wanting to dance in the sunlight as well as the moonlight. We want to know each other and we want others to know us too. We want to share our history and dispel negative myths and stereotypes. One Aussie Pagan is hoping to add to this positive discourse with a new documentary exploring the lives of Pagan and Witches in Australia.
Brittany McCowan is a young aspiring documentary filmmaker from Lennox Head, Australia. Brittany graduated from the Foundation Diploma at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). She is currently working on directing her first feature length documentary called Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia.
I was fortunate to talk to Brittany about her project.
Let’s talk about the documentary first. What is your film about?
Modern Witches and Paganism in Australia is a film that explores the diverse lives and ideologies of Witches and Pagans including Druids, Shamans and many other nature-based beliefs in our contemporary Australian society. The film will give an insight into what goes on behind the closed doors of covens and other Pagan groups which usually remain secret.
What inspired you to want to create this film?
My three older sisters and I grew up in the country near Byron Bay on a small hobby farm where we had milking cows, hens and an assortment of other animals. We tended the vegetable garden and ran around the paddocks barefoot and semi-naked all the time. I believe this early connection to nature was probably a subconscious initial inspiration.
My first conscious inspiration was my sister Stacey, who at fifteen started to adopt Wiccan practices and her bedroom was a divine and spiritual place to be. She became interested in Wicca after reading a fictional Wiccan series and after years of research she was lead to the Pagan path, which she now embraces in her everyday life.
After realizing I was not interested in becoming a psychologist or a sociologist in my Bachelor of Arts degree at Sydney University, I considered the fact that my passion in senior high school in Art was filmmaking. I enrolled at Australian Film, Television and Radio School at Moore Park. During this film degree I made a short film called The Witches and filmed a Full Moon Ritual in my own apartment. After I had great feedback and reviews from peers and my teachers, I wanted to extend my short film into a feature. I became good friends with the group I filmed in my house and I still meet with a few of them regularly. The group of witches I meet with inspired me to make my short film into feature.
What aspects of Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia will you be exploring in your documentary?
The documentary has only just begun and I have had so many people messaging me from all over Australia with ideas and feedback asking if I am going to include this or that in the film and if they could be interviewed. Several Pagan groups from as far away as the UK and USA have responded with encouragement and kind wishes and they have all shared my website. My main focus is to show how people have brought the ancient practices back into our contemporary society today, but who knows where this documentary will lead me? All I know definitely is that there are some amazing stories out there that people want to tell and I want to be the person to document them and show the mainstream population how this growing minority group live their lives.
What do you hope to accomplish by making this documentary?
The main aim is to spread awareness and break down misconceptions. One of the most frequently asked questions about Wicca and Paganism is “but don’t pagans worship Satan?”. I want people to know when I complete this film that Paganism and Wicca have nothing to do with devil worship and is all about a connection to the earth and nature. The lack of knowledge on this subject with the majority of people in our society has caused false assumptions, which stem from the idea that if you are a heathen and do not worship a monotheistic God, then you must follow Satan. It couldn’t be further from the truth as Pagans follow the principles of affirmation of life, healing from the natural world and the connectedness of all life.
What do you want Pagans and Witches to know about Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia?
For anyone who is already in these communities, the documentary isn’t about teaching new facts or history as most Pagans are already very well informed, so my aim is to spread stories and expose the different ways groups and individuals have incorporated the ancient traditions into their lives and how people are doing this all over Australia. Witches and Pagans within Australia do not all know each other or what they are doing so I want to show a broad range of solitary and group practices, festivals, gatherings and workshops.
What do you want the general public to know about Paganism and Witchcraft in Australia?
For the people who don’t know very much about Witches and Paganism, I want them to learn who these people are and what they actually do. Not what blockbuster movies and fiction books have taught them. I think the magical theme has become quite popular in recent movies during the past few decades with movies such as Harry Potter, Practical Magic, The Craft, and even Twilight, but these movies are destroying the image of what real Pagans are doing in their everyday lives.
What is your connection to Paganism and/or Witchcraft?
I don’t think I can really elaborate on this question as I am still evaluating and investigating my own spirituality. I would definitely call myself a Pagan, but I’m still picking and choosing what suits me best. I’ve been meeting regularly with a group of witches to practice ritual so if I had to put a label on my own beliefs I would best be described as a Hedgewitch. Hedgewitches combine herbalism, healing, Shamanism, and a deep love for nature. It is based on the ancient wise woman tradition, so I would say my connection to Paganism is still in infancy. A great influence on my journey has been the time I spent with Joanne Cause, a Pagan crone from Glen Innes in Northern NSW, whose wealth of knowledge is immeasurable and she has been invaluable to my spiritual growth.
Tell me a little bit about your team, the people who are helping you make this film.
I believe I have an amazing team behind this project. Not only do I have a group of filmmakers who are enthusiastic and very skilled who I graduated with from AFTRS, I also have my pagan friends who are helping me in so many different ways such as marketing, designing, researching and allowing me to film them. On top of all this I have my family who is supporting me in any way possible. My mother especially has been a huge help with her broad knowledge being a librarian.
How can people support your project?
The most important thing people can do to help is by spreading the word. Tell your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, dentist and local butcher. Secondly, any input or unique research on the subject you can give or if you know someone who would be fantastic to interview or meet, please don’t hesitate to message me. And lastly we have a Kickstarter campaign, which is a fan-funding website that allows people to donate money for the documentary to cover costs like equipment and travel expenses. If you want to support this project you can donate as little as $1. Every dollar counts to help make this project succeed.
Is there anything else that you would like to say that I didn’t think to ask?
I do not intend to portray the Pagan or Wiccan community in any specific way. My intention is simply to create awareness in the general population who are unknowing that these age-old beliefs exist in renewed forms all around the world and in growing numbers. Each group, coven and solitary practitioner has a spiritual connection, no matter how they practise, to the earth and to the ancients.
To find out more information about Modern Witches and Pagans in Australia, please visit the film’s website here. To support the film, please visit the Kickstarter project here. You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.