Christians in Wedderburn are accusing two Witches organizing a New Age festival of bringing the Devil to their town.
The Bendigo Advertiser reported last week that the local Christian community may not attempt to stop it, but stands united against the festival, which will feature Witchcraft, tarot readings, and crystals.
Wedderburn Gold Seeker Christian Church, the Uniting Church, the Church of Christ and the Anglican Church held a meeting this week to stand united against the festival. The Wedderburn Catholic Church did not attend.
Gold Seeker Christian Church Pastor Maxine Tonkin said the churches were simply “standing up for their beliefs”.
“This is a Christian community here and there has been a clash of beliefs,” she said.
“We certainly don’t promote the festival. We think it’s important to have a presence there. There’s a lot more I could say but I won’t. We don’t fear them but we have concerns. “
What concerns? They’re not expressed in the article and I wonder if Pastor Tonkin has approached the festival organizers about them.
The report raised a number of issues for me – the conflations of New Age, Witchcraft, and Wicca; the lack of capitalization for Witchcraft and Wicca in the reporting; how reporters use the discrediting label “self-proclaimed” to describe the Witches (nobody ever says “self-proclaimed Christians”); how the use of “white witches” reinforces the idea that there must be malevolent Witches as well; the question of whether Wicca is even a legally recognized religion in Australia (I don’t know and have been unable to find the answer thus far). This last question is important because although I suspect anyone can put on a festival, it leads to whether the organizers have the same legal rights that the Christian churches do. And finally, is there anyone or any organization to defend those rights, to assist festival organizers Jacquie Stallinga and Gaye Washington in engaging the local Christian community to assuage their concerns, and move forward in a cordial manner?
I’ve seen similar situations happen in the USA. This past May, the local Christian community of Pahokee, right in my home state of Florida, was opposing the Lake Okeechobee Summer Solstice Pagan Festival. It took about a day for the story to break to the national Pagan community through the Wild Hunt and the Pagan Newswire Collective (PNC). It took just a little longer for the Pagan community to mobilize. Representing Lady Liberty League (LLL), Selena Fox and Peter Dybing were on it. Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary and Executive Director of LLL, Fox told the PNC Florida:
This is an opportunity not only to bring about better public understanding about Paganism, but for Pagans of many paths to work together with each other and with others supporting religious freedom in Pahokee.
Dybing traveled to Pahokee and attended a Pastor’s meeting for the planning of a protest. There, in front of about 50 pastors and residents gathered to discuss the “evil coming to our town with the Satan worshipers,” Dybing confronted the misconceptions they held about Paganism.
Today I am here because our community has reacted to negative statements made about Paganism and our community. In a couple of weeks, we will be your neighbors for five days. The reaction of the Pagan community to these statements is that, while not meant to be hurtful, they represent an example of “bearing false witness” against our community. Today I am here to clear up these misunderstandings.
In the end, Dybing and the pastor who organized the meeting shook hands, the Christian community did not protest the festival, the festival went on, and the local Chamber of Commerce fully supported it.
I’m not sure that kind of support network exists for Pagans in Australia, but it’s clear that at least some of the readers of the Bendigo Advertiser think the New Age festival in Wedderburn should go on.
I hope Stalling and Washington are supported through this difficult time and that the Bendigo Advertiser continues to report on this story. Most importantly, I hope their festival goes on and is a huge success!