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Photo by Rhea 1984 - (Glenda and Dale)


by Julia Phillips & Rhea Shemazi

Travellers have a different perspective on places and their energies.  In this article, two priestesses who have swapped hemispheres discuss their experiences. Published in Shadowplay #25

IN THE LAND OF OZ - Julia Phillips

I thought for this issue of Shadowplay (#25), I would write about the concepts and practices of Pagans in Oz, rather than a summary of "what@#146;s on" the public scene. I know from my own mail bag that many people in the northern hemisphere are curious about the way Ozzie Pagans practise their Craft, and how we relate to the different seasonal cycle here.

Firstly, the seasonal cycle is really no different to anywhere else in the world. Depending upon where you live in Australia, you may have very short Springs, or very long hot summers, or warm wet winters, but essentially, the seasonal cycle is still determined by the effect of the sun upon the earth, and it is still a continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Before going any further, I would like to emphasise that I am talking about the practices of (essentially) European Pagans; not those of the native people who live here. As a non-Aboriginal immigrant to this land, it would not be appropriate for me to write about native customs and practices. I would also like to make it clear that I have a non-Australian background, and that unlike most other Pagans in Australia, I was initiated and trained as a Wiccan and magician in Britain, and spent a number of years practising there, before moving to Australia in 1988. This gives me a slightly different perspective upon the practice of Paganism in Australia.

I live on the eastern seabord, in Sydney, where the climate is typically "mediterranean", and there are four fairly distinct seasons. Canberra, further inland, has a more northern European type of climate; Melbourne is noted for its worship of the rain gods (!), and all the other cities have their own characteristic weather patterns. So far, we could be talking about any large country anywhere in the world. Where Australia does differ is in its vast interior, which is mainly arid desert, and in its sparse population, which is widely dispersed.

Because of the inhospitable nature of the interior, most of the population live in towns or cities clustered around the natural bays around the coast. When you consider that the entire of Australia has a population not much larger than London, and that its land mass is roughly the same size as the USA, it brings the sparsity into perspective. This means that although in size Sydney is one of the largest cities in the world, its population is relatively small, and people may have to travel some distance to find a coven or group with whom to practise. In one of our covens, members live up to 70 Kms away, and we have been contacted by others who live anything up to 150 Kms away from us.

In terms of traditions here, there are groups which practise Runic, Wiccan, Druidic, Celtic, Shamanic, and generic "Pagan" paths, and the whole spectrum of the New Age movement, which has as many followers in Australia as anywhere else in the western world. Most of the practitioners have learnt their skills and techniques from books, published by northern hemisphere writers, and this leads us nicely to one of the biggest problems encountered by Australian Pagans and Occultists.

The seasonal cycle may be no "different" here in its essentials, but it is six months@#146; adrift from the northern hemisphere. That means that Midsummer in Europe is Midwinter here, and so on. Having a sound practical grasp of the Wheel of the Year before I ever moved here, this didn@#146;t really present me with any problems. Well, actually that@#146;s not quite true. I do have problems, but they are related to the name of the month. I have no problem at all celebrating Beltane between spring and summer; where I have a problem is in calling that month October! Similarly with birthdays; I can never remember birthdays anymore (including my own!) because they fall at the "wrong" time of the year according to my inner calendar. Imagine, for over thirty years my birthday fell at Lammas; then all of a sudden, it started falling at Candlemas! Bizarre, to say the least.

Where the major problems occur are with those people who have never really had the Wheel of the Year explained to them, or who learnt about it from a book, written by a northern hemisphere author. They were told, right from the word go, that "Beltane is celebrated on 30 April", or "Samhain is celebrated on October 31", without any explanation of why, or the context in which those festivals should be seen. No wonder that some Australian Wiccans celebrate Samhain at the beginning of summer! Some even celebrate the Solstices and Equinoxes on their northern hemisphere dates; now there@#146;s an example of concentration; to imagine that it is Midwinter, when you are sweltering in 35 degrees of heat! But the vast majority have made the necessary adjustment to "what the book says", and have switched the festival dates around to the time of year in which they fall (ignoring the "dates"). However, the Sabbat timings, which most northern hemisphere practitioners take for granted, can still be major stumbling blocks for many Wiccans in Australia.

Which way to cast a circle, is another hotly debated subject here. Most of you will be aware that instead of a clockwise motion, the Sun in the southern hemisphere appears to move anti-clockwise. It still rises in the east, but then passes through north to west, where it sinks below the horizon. South here is the dark quarter where the Sun never shines. Those who live in Australia@#146;s northern latitudes (eg, Darwin) see a far less obvious solar path than those who live in say, Tasmania, but it is still a noticeable arc.

Now consider how many books about Wicca and magic say, "the circle is cast deosil, i.e. clockwise". Of course that statement is factually incorrect, for "deosil" actually means "with the sun", NOT "clockwise". This is immaterial in the northern hemisphere, where those motions are of course the same, but imagine a would-be Wiccan in Sydney, who picks up a book about Wicca, and follows the instructions: and casts his or her circle clockwise, not realising that this is actually the opposite of what the book intends to describe. In fact, they have probably taken to heart the dire warnings about working widdershins, and are carefully making sure that every motion is clockwise - which is widdershins!

The other major difficulty to resolve is the orientation of the Quarters. This is not only an issue in the southern hemisphere. I have seen a debate recently in the USA (on PODSnet) where some writers have described placing "Water" in the east, as they live on the eastern seabord, thus placing Air in the West. The theory they support is that the quarters of the magic circle are related to the nearest physical representation of that element on the Earth.

This can of course be the case for a circle working which is set, and operated, in the terrestrial sphere. But many magical operations within Wicca take place in the celestial ("astral") sphere, and are then brought through to manifestation on the Earth plane (terrestrial sphere).

Wiccan rituals in the northern hemisphere attribute the elements to the quarters as Air/East; Fire/South; Water/West and Earth/North. These attributions were established in ritual practice over many hundreds of years - not Wiccan practice, of course, but in the classical traditions of magic. Much of the technique used today derives either directly, or indirectly, from the practices which were used in the Middle East and Egypt, and is generally focused upon either solar, lunar, or stellar, cycles.

Whether consciously or not, most people who practise Wicca have an association of the Quarters and their respective elements with the passage of the Sun. In the Gardnerian tradition, "The Initiate@#146;s Ceremony of Illumination", which follows the 1st degree rite, makes this association quite explicit. In symbolic terms, we are in darkness; our mind functioning in its basic, instinctive, mode. Then with the rising of the Sun in the East, we have the awakening of the rational mind, symbolised by the dawning of light, and attributed to Air. From East, the Sun makes its way to the North, where it reaches its zenith, and pours its fiery energy upon the land. This Quarter is attributed to Fire.

The Sun now begins to fall, and eventually passes from our view in the West. This slow sinking back towards darkness allows intuition and emotion once more to eclipse the rational, intellectual mind. And finally, South; the place of mystery and darkness, where the Sun never shines. Here lies the unknowable, and unfathomable; the Mystery which cannot be explained. Even with our instincts and intuition, we cannot fully apprehend this mystery. Our rational minds cannot even approach it, and if we try to force our way through in a blaze of fiery light, we see nothing but shadows.

This is the Quarter where we learn the lessons of Earth; silence, patience and fortitude. And it is the place where in some traditions, a gateway is cut in the circle, "wherein may enter our beloved God and Goddess". For of course the place of Mystery is the Domain of the gods.

Before moving here, orientation, circle casting, festivals, were all things I took utterly for granted. But if my Craft was to be relevant to this land, they had to be re-considered, re-evaluated, and re-arranged, to suit the conditions in which I found myself. My husband, a sixth-generation Australian, was of considerable help in my quest to understand this land, and its energies. His purely instinctive knowledge and empathy with the land energy made him the ideal guide for me. It was also a very useful learning experience, for it put to the test all those principles which I had simply accepted in the northern hemipshere. And most importantly, it made me realise how very profound is the mystery upon which Wicca is founded.


Julia's comments (sent to me - (I admit it) - half a Wheel ago) prompt me to also put fingers to keyboard as I approach Beltane. I, too have experienced a kind of seasonal jet-lag in moving from the Southern Hemisphere to the North, prompting me to re-examine the assumptions I make about the Wicca and my magick. I concur that the birthdays are the hardest to remember - mine now falls at Samhain instead of Beltane, still in November, but the energies of Samhain give an entirely different perspective to the time of year; moving into winter now, rather than into summer.

Every time I speak about making a circle, my hands move in a motion that describes an anticlockwise movement; when I go to draw the Wheel of the year in a rough diagram to explain it to someone, I must stop and re-orient myself for a moment to place the sabbats in their Northern order, rather than six-month shifted from here, as I have done all the rest of my magickal life. This gets easier as time passes, though it does shift my perspective of the world. If ever I doubted the influence of homeplace, this would convince me of its power. I'm sixth (or seventh - have lost count) generation Australian, and lived my life on the South East Coast of the continent (Sydney), making and shaping my understanding of the Wicca in a place where the land meets the seashore, in the littoral places where the bush meets the urban landscape, and in the land of the heart, where I feel the thread that ties me to my Craft.

In my relationship with the spirit of the place, Terra Australis, it seemed to demand that I question every "absolute" I was taught about the Wicca, whether from oral lore or from books. And this suited me just fine, as I'd always questioned absolutes and (as those of you who know me will attest) very rarely do what I "should" or "ought" just because someone else says so. This stood me in good stead as I journeyed around America, meeting some people with even stranger ways of doing things than I'd ever imagined back home (and don't tell me none of you have ever feel that way, too!). So, when I met and came to love, people with connections with the land here in America, and especially in Seattle, I asked them LOTS of questions about why they did what it was they did.

And while many things continued to feel strange, like the land current and apparent motion of the sun moving clockwise, I began to notice some balances and connections.

It seemed to me that a helix runs through each sabbat, linking it with its opposite on the other side of the world, linking the two as if they are worlds on each side of a mirror, or a rainbow bridge stretching from dawn to twilight; that each sabbat is touched by the shadow of its opposite, and that each celebration is balanced by its shadow self. In summer, the shade of winter; at Candlemass, the shade of Lammas; at Samhain, the bright promise of Beltane to come.

Interestingly, world tidal patterns show the distinct terracentric sworls of clockwise and anticlockwise motion, flowing mostly clockwise in the North and anticlockwise in the South as influenced by coriolis force.

Here, the Pacific Ocean shows me a new mood as she rushes to meet the North-west coast, in a wild place scoured by wind and sea-wrack and storm. In the place where the land meets the sea, at a place between waves, a Pict could anchor herself and her relationship with the Land. In a sense, Pacifica (as I call my oldest friend), introduced me to the place where she meets the shore, and there, at Twilight on the Western Sea, I began to make another indwelling place, an ongoing dream for as long as I live in the Pacific Northwest.

Since that beginning, there have been as many researches and personal searches into the reasons for different Ways of magick as there were in Australia. The relationship between Northern and Southern hemispheres, the balance of energies, the links which sustain the Wheel, the origins of our understanding of the Elements, the nature of the Divine, ways of journeying between worlds and into Faerie, have all demanded re-evaluation. And, while ever respectful of other folks ways, am still the Madly Corrupt Pict, asking questions about assumptions and learning more about the world.

The principles I learned in the Southern Hemisphere are being re-interpreted in light of "Traditional" time-tried understandings from the North, greatly assisted by my lover, who has his own deep ties to this place, this time, this region of the North-American continent. For a while I borrowed from his understandings and earth-connection, waiting until I'd lived through a couple of complete cycles of the Wheel, until I could feel it making its patterns on my inner senses. Same Earth, different place on Her surface; same deep connection with the terracentric patterns, balanced by temple work with cosmic and "other" energies.

Yet, I do notice that I'm more willing to explore ALL the magicks that have arisen in the Northern Hemisphere - from Babylon to the Corpus Hermeticum; from Yezidi to Thelema; from Alchemy to Chaos (with a core personal interest in Visionary Art); from the Wicca to the Old Feri Tradition - all have their place, their values, their Mysteries both profound and profane.

Published in Australia  1984 - 1990 - In Seattle & Sydney 1990-1994 - and Sydney/Seattle Webzine 1999
Copyright Shadoplay 2000
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