Nature casts its spell over pagans

LIGHT a small red candle, anoint it with fennel or rosemary oil, and speak out aloud what you would like to see happen, and leave the candle to burn out.

This spell from Stacey Demarco's Witch Diary may be conducted by certain pagans over the next two weeks during the waxing or growing moon, to create positive energy for the greater good.

Examples of what they might be wishing for is rain for drought-stricken farmers, the end of suffering for animals, or a cure for cancer.

Launceston pagan Zahira Atkins said she saw paganism as a way of life.

Ms Atkins, who started pagan group Living Goddess, posted the above spell as something that all pagans could take part in, to collectively harness positive energy.

She said she often practised solo, but also sometimes joined in the celebrations of other groups, such as Pagan Alliance Tasmania, and Gai's Garden, in Victoria.

"Living Goddess is about honouring and acknowledging the divine feminine," she said.

"Many religions honour male energy. Goddess allows me to honour female energy - the divine feminine, who is Earth - Gia.

"Instead of wanting to dominate the earth, we work with it."

When practising rituals, Ms Atkins will call a goddess who is pertinent to the ritual being undertaken.

"In one of our goddess workshops around Lammas we were working with Greek goddess Demeter and we wanted to put our gratitude out into the earth and the universe, so took bubble blowers and sent our gratitude out that way," she said.

"We had a lot of fun that day, and you can have a laugh, but there was also that intent behind it as well."

Pagan Awareness Network president David Garland said pagan spells and ceremonies, such as the spell above, can be compared to the act of prayer, but are more ritualistic.

He said rather than just asking for something, pagans, either individually or as a group, will conduct rituals where they speak, act, and use various tools.

These rituals are also likely to be timed according to the Wheel of the Year, which contains eight sabbats or cycles influenced by the earth's seasons, or by other natural cycles such as the phases of the moon.

Mr Garland said pagans, in all their various forms, had a strong affinity with nature.

"Basic pagan tenants are that the sun goes up, the moon goes down, it becomes a full moon and we have the high tides - these things are all indisputable, and have been throughout human history. These were the things that pagans lived by," Mr Garland said.

"According to the seasons we plant at this time, we harvest at this time, we freeze at this time and more than likely we will die at this time ... we are interconnected with nature."

Mr Garland said Samhain marked the new year, the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter; which was seen as a time of darkness.

It is celebrated with festivals, and various rituals, like all the Wheel of the Year sabbats.

"(Samhain) was once the last feast," he said.

"The best of the grain and the best of the harvest was kept and stored and what you couldn't store was eaten in celebration of the winter. If you survived the winter, the left over grain was baked into sticky buns (in the celebration of spring)."

University of Tasmania sociology associate professor Douglas Ezzy said ritual was central to all pagans.

He said paganism, like Christianity, was separated into various denominations according to their traditions and beliefs, for example witches, wiccans, druids, heathens, and Greek or Roman reconstructionists who follow the corresponding gods and goddesses.

He said paganism was a decentralised religion; there was often no hierarchy, and individuals could practise according to their personal needs and desires.

"Paganism is the general label ... and for most pagans, but not all, there is a sense of veneration or relationship to the earth," he said.

"There is also a focus on practice. They are not worried about whether you `believe' but whether you can engage in rituals and practices in a serious way ... most of these rituals tend to be orientated towards the self in this world, not some other world, and (the issue) of what happens when you die is not particularly important."

Dr Ezzy said people were increasingly turning to alternative forms of religion and spirituality, such as paganism.

In the 2011 Census, 32,083 people identified as pagans, up from 29,391 in 2006, and the true figures are believed by the Pagan Alliance Network to be significantly higher, due to an under- reporting caused by fear of discrimination and stereotype.

"It is a return to alternative Christianity, or Buddhist, or meditation practices," Dr Ezzy said.

"A lot of people are experimenting with these things because they felt that they needed something more than the secular world is providing them.

"The interest in paganism and witchcraft is part of that trend, and by and large, it is healthy."

Jan Walker, a High Priestess in the Community Church of Inclusive Wicca, said she started practising wiccan after falling out from Christianity.

"I was in love with Jesus and thought He was wonderful and then, as I got older, I started to see that people weren't acting like Him and I became disillusioned with Him, not from spirituality, but from the church," she said.

"Half way through school I stopped going to church and started looking into other things, reading books, and talking to people. I probably found Wicca about 10 years ago and started practising solitary, doing my own little rituals."

It was not until Mrs Walker was able to make contact with other practising wiccans in Tasmania through the internet that she was able to share her way of life.

"We do rituals together. We usually cast a circle, calling up the elements from each direction, the earth, air, fire and water, and ask the god and goddesses to join us in our circle," she said.

"And we might be wanting to get rid of something that we don't like, such as a personality trait, and we write it down, do some energy rating or burn the words in a fire, which takes it out to the universe, and it is gone. Then we might act out something.

"During Samhain we might actually call our ancestors and our deceased loved ones to join us, and might have a bit of a communion with them."

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