Antipodean Witch: Weaving the craft down under
General Blog Description: Exploring Southern Hemisphere neo-pagan practice and culture from the point of view of a progressive witch living south of Perth, Western Australia.
I think I am a little ill.
I've noticed my ailment when I have been visiting the shops recently (the local shopping mall, for those playing in the U.S.A). Rather than sneer or glare at the usual proliferation of Christmas decorations that are decking the halls and the delicious treats (Pfeffernüsse! Get in me) that are sitting on shelves in early October and November, I've been smiling to myself. Smiling! Carols are playing over the speakers and I don't mind at all. In fact, I'm trilling the yuletide carols. Where did the Grinch go of Christmas past?
I've got the fever. Xmas fever!
Christmas is an awkward celebration whichever way you turn it when you live south of the equator. For starters, those snowglobes become a little irrelevant and more than a few items from traditional Christmas iconography is rendered obsolete in the Australian context. I'll allow my dear readers to connect the dots and refer you to some of my previous blogs about the Summer Solstice and how it collides with Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Most Aussies grin and bear it. We throw a few prawns in the barbie, sit in the 40°C heat and whinge a little and carry on with the commercial abomination of Western Christmas over-indulgence. Many of us, including me usually, absolutely hate it. It's crass, it's inconvenient, and it's often overrated. The expectations culminate in a hangover of overeating, exhaustion, and familial resentment.
This year, I'm really enjoying it, and I'm really looking forward to Christmas. I can't pin down exactly why. After a year of largely stepping away from the Wheel of the Year, I'm ready to launch myself straight back into it, and I'm ready for a little bit of anarchy while I'm at it.
This is going to take the form of indulging a 'flipped' Wheel but spreading it thick with a little applesauce that only a Discordian can bring. Some demons are coming to the party and I am going to embrace all environmental aspects of the season. This includes the natural environment: the Summer Solstice, and the fey energies that are embedded within. An acknowledgement of the polar opposition within the Winter Solstice, and the time of turning inward and contemplation that this time of year brings. We live on one planet and to dichotomise things is starting to serve me no longer, and I am beginining to look at things from a more global perspective. The cultural environment, too, will play a significant role: my black Christmas tree will receive a heap of trimmings this year that are going to be a little unexpected but a whole lot of fun. Beginning with Jack from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
My plan is to both observe and celebrate the opportunity for revelry and retreat that this time of year brings for me. Sumsol celebrations will be held at my home with my coven, and I am really looking forward to some dastardly plans that will be enjoyed with much merriment, a lot of the colour red, and maybe a little bit of sun, sand and surf.
Wish me luck as I move on from my self diagnosis and jump into the treatment that holiday fever demands!
Upon my first flush of dedicating myself as a witch, the very first sabbat I celebrated as a solitary practitioner, before I had found my coven, was Imbolc. I had done enough reading of neo-pagan literature after poaching the stacks in my local town library and I was keen to get my Wheel of the Year on. Bright eyed, and very bushy tailed.
It was most of a decade ago now, but I remember the little ceremony well; it involved a small paper clay boat with a ram's head that I had carved and fired, dipped in a golden butter-coloured glaze that seemed to perfectly suit my purposes. In the boat I placed some offerings for the sabbat; there were some white chocolate dipped raspberry licorice bullets, some sprigs of red geranium, and a splash of strawberry port from a berry farm in the south. I 'launched' my boat into my front garden which had been freshly planted with some baby rosemary and sage and protected with moonstone which glimmered in the early morning sunlight. I burned candles and meditated and felt a flicker of something that has stayed with me and returns every August. My practices ever since then have always been as eclectic, and sometimes just as elusive: but the whimsicality and solemnity of the ritual permeates my memory.
The return of Spring is not felt with obvious sign or herald in my home country as it is in other lands. The climate here is Mediterranean and warm most of the time, and the temperatures on a sunny August day could possibly be mistaken for a heatwave in some Northern Hemisphere climes. This year, thankfully, we have received some rain and Winter feels like she has finally 'arrived' after a long, and dark, wait. There is certainly a change to be felt in the air, though. A Quickening. The land stirs beneath my feet with a note of potential that was not there before, and the feelings of dormancy have been banished as the downhill push into warmth begins. Nights will be cold, if not the coldest, of the year, but there is still a sense of 'spring' under the earth and birds begin to be a little bit more noisy than usual. The rains have freshened the landscape and weeds and winter grasses are flourishing with abandon. Very soon, the land will burst forth with every colour of the rainbow as if the rainbow snake of ancient dreaming has pierced some crystal somewhere and has shattered into a million pieces and scattered across the land. The magic will sing again, but until then, we wait. And watch.
Photo credit: Cowslip orchard from Western Australia, retrieved from http://ournomadicways.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/wildflowers-of-wa-part-3.html
Before one decides to make the big leap and attend their first pagan event, one's imagination conjures up all sorts of images about the sorts of people they will meet and the experiences they will have. If you're prepared to eliminate any romantic notions and be realistic about the people you might meet, you will do well. An open mind and tolerant spirit is the best attitude to adapt as there are going to be people who, regretfully in some ways, snugly fit into stereotypes which might be a little too familiar. For the Australian pagan that stereotype is going to be: the bogan. Bogans love witchcraft, Wicca and paganism and are drawn to it, like moths to a flame. Because of this, you might find you are swamped by bogans at pagan events, a horrifying prospect for an inner city, soy-chai-latte-sipping hipster witch.
Bogans are firmly entrenched in Australian culture and their kin are the 'rednecks' in the U.S. or perhaps 'chavs' in the U.K. They are symptomatic of middle-class white cultural cringe but mostly I think bogan identification is harmless and taken with a good shake of humour. The Things Bogans Like website tells us that "the bogan today defies income, class, race, creed, gender or logic". The negative aspects of the stereotype, such as willful lack of education or general racism (in the form of cultural appropriation) and bigotry, unfortunately does make an appearance in the pagan bogan, or as very artfully coined by Galloway of the excellent blog Galloway & Daracha, the 'pogan'....
For many witches and pagans, one's practice is deeply connected to the land. It is in this that the oft-used, and sometimes contested moniker of 'earth-based spirituality' originates, and whilst I have a lot more to say about the idea of what 'earth-based' actually means in the context of witchcraft, for many, it has literal interpretations.
The turning of the Wheel and the observations of the Sabbats as framed by contemporary neo-paganism is one that links in movements that are both solar and earthly. Cultures live and die by the weather and the elements, even today in our world of modern conveniences, and this is something that many neo-pagans seek to tap back into, in order to weave meaning into our lives and to join in the dance that strums throughout the All. We gather on the Sabbats to celebrate the changes and to honour the deities who stride the land with us, and we feel and honour a connection that is deep and sacred. The waxing and waning of the planet matches the waxing and waning in both our lives and in the cosmos; in the Beyond, and Between. As the veils shimmer and lift, rise and fall, we dance in our circles and break bread with each other and with our Gods, however we view them to be....