According to PAGANdash, 32,083 Australians identified their religion as a Pagan in the 2011 Australian census. I have not been able to verify this figure, but let’s assume it is correct for the sake of discussion. It’s not a very large number for a country that’s roughly the size of the U.S. with the population of California.
Pagans already live on the fringes of society. We are a people with beliefs that not only vary greatly from those of the overculture, but whose values are often not in alignment with it. And then we have our own lunatic fringe. I’ve been in Melbourne nearly a year. I hope that the Pagans I’ve been in contact with so far are just part of that lunatic fringe and that there’s something more beneath the surface. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.
A Strong New Age Influence
A number of Witches I’ve talked to are quick to stress that they only practice “white witchcraft” and assert that the Craft is about light and being a vessel for love, peace, and healing. There is certainly nothing wrong with these values, but this is an unbalanced and historically inaccurate picture of Wicca and Witchcraft.
A Preference for Mythical History Over Historical Reality
Contemporary Paganism has a rich mythical history and a historical reality. We should be familiar with both and know the difference. It’s been disappointing to see Aussie Pagans assert the pagan origins of Valentine’s Day (there aren’t any) and perpetuate the myth of the Burning Times.
A Preference for Unverified Personal Gnosis Over Study
Personal experience should not be discounted altogether. After all, we often say that Wicca is an experiential religion, but we also look to our pagan ancestors and the practitioners of living traditions (such as Hinduism or Lucumi) for learning and inspiration and we also look to scholarship. I’ve seen a number of Aussie Pagans openly claim they don’t care about a historical culture’s relationship with its deities or ritual; they just follow their gut.
A Preference for Eclecticism Over Tradition
I’ve been flat out told by a number of people that Aussie Pagans don’t care about tradition. They prefer to follow their instincts and do what feels right.
A Preference for Solitude Over Community
I ran a simple poll on a Facebook Aussie Pagan group with over 600 members inquiring if people were exclusively solitaries, mainly solitaries but still gathered at public events or with friends, or in some kind of organized group such as a coven, grove, etc. I only received a few responses and most people voted solitaries. A couple claimed to be both solitaries and in a coven.
I’ve been trying to find news sources similar to the Wild Hunt and the Pagan Newswire Collective. There doesn’t seem to be anything like that here and one woman told me that Aussie Pagans have less of a need for community in religion than Americans do. Not surprisingly then, it’s difficult to find out what’s going on in the community, what the Australian overculture thinks of Paganism, what Pagans think of each other, and how Pagans fare legally in Australia.
There are more requests for help and healing on my Aussie Pagan feeds than anything else. This is perhaps not surprising for people who think of themselves more as vessels than as sovereign beings. Witchcraft gives its practitioners a sense of sovereignty, a sense that you are in control of your life, and the tools you need to navigate it well, but if you’ve never studied, never had mentors, and never trained, I suppose you might not know how to tap into that.
The U.S. has its share of this type of free-for-all Paganism that shows not only disregard, but also disrespect for history, tradition, and community. It’s a kind of Paganism that is practiced, if it manages to get outside head-space and be practiced at all, without challenge, responsibility, or accountability. This type of Paganism has never reflected my personal experience. The Pagans I know and that I have circled with are solitaries and group members who are inspired by magic and myth, but also value history and scholarship; who welcome innovation and change, but also appreciate the value of a study program and of tradition; who understand that the real work happens internally and that solitary work is a regular part of any practice, but who also value community and the many benefits it brings.
In Miami, it’s not hard to meet these kinds of Pagans. Check the local listings on The Witches’ Voice or simply head over to the Witch’s Meetup. In Melbourne, it’s not so easy. I suspect I will have to scratch the surface long and hard to find what I’m looking for. I may have hit a good layer already. Earlier this week, I attended a casual meetup and, for the first time since I’ve been here, I felt like I was meeting the kinds of Pagans I’m used to knowing. These friendly folks confirmed some of my suspicions: there’s a lot of tension in the Aussie Pagan community due to some conflicts that happened years ago; there are a lot of solitaries; and there are other levels to the community, but they are often cliquey and can be hard to penetrate.
I really don’t know what’s in store for me as a Pagan here in Australia. My partner suggests I start my own group and I would certainly love to bring the Georgian Tradition to Oz, but I’m not ready to do that at this time. I have a lot to learn about Paganism in the Southern Hemisphere. The Wheel of the Year alone is a completely different experience and I need to get to know this land, its history, and its spirits. For now, I am content to continue seeking out Pagans and making like-minded friends. There will always be those that want to do their own thing and be free of any responsibility or accountability and who don’t care about their place in the broader sense of things. But there are always those that want more, that want community, challenge, and transformation, and those are the Pagans I’m looking for.