The most recent Australian National Census was in 1996 and revealed 9,865 practitioners of Nature Religions such as Witchcraft, Druidism and Neo-Paganism in Australia. This may not seem to be much out of a population of 19 million, nor does it take into account those who chose not to reveal their Pagan religion to the Census. Nevertheless, Neo-Paganism is a popular and rapidly growing alternative religious practice in Australia today as witnessed by the hoards of enthusiasts attending gatherings all over the country and the many magazines dedicated to furthering informed discussion and opinion on Paganism and Witchcraft in general.

Being an imported religion originating in the Northern Hemisphere, many aspects of Witchcraft, such as its reliance on the Seasonal calendar or Sabbats, are topsy-turvy when applied to Southern Hemisphere conditions. Most Occultism, including Astrology, originated in the Northern Hemisphere and the majority of books on the subject of Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism are written by authors from the UK and the USA. Australian Witches have to juggle the dates, directions and symbolism prescribed in these books to fit them into Antipodean conditions which, judging by the ongoing queries appearing in local Neo-Pagan journals, is often a confusing process.

According to the Collins English Dictionary, the word Austral means “coming from the South.” The word Australia comes from the Latin Australis deriving from Auster, the South wind. Rather than only reversing the Northern Hemisphere Sabbats to fit the Australian calendar, Australians need to look at the Indigenous Seasons, Southern Hemisphere Astrology, the Sacred Directions and different Latitudes within Australia, all of which affect the practice of Witchcraft in this unique part of the world. Being an Earth-based religion, with a calendar that aligns to both Earthly and Celestial events such as the local Seasons and the Lunar cycle, Witchcraft’s festival year is a reflection of its environment - that environment being Australian, not British or American.

In the Northern Hemisphere, where the Western Magickal tradition originated, generally East is ruled by Air, North is ruled by Earth, West by Water and South by Fire. Australian Witches, practicing Magick in the Southern Hemisphere encounter various differences when applying a Magickal theory that originated in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, East is the direction of birth, beginnings and initiation, South is the direction of victory, adulthood and community involvement, West is the direction of old age, death and transformation and North is the direction of the abode of the Gods. These Elemental attribution’s of the directions are based on the movement of the Sun through the Northern Hemisphere’s sky, for example; when facing East in the Northern Hemisphere, the Sun rises and travels through the sky slightly to the right of someone standing there watching. It reaches its zenith in the Southern part of the sky before sinking in the West and therefore, in the Northern Hemisphere, South is considered the Direction of Fire.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the Sun rises in the East but then travels to the left of the observer achieving its zenith in the Northern part of the sky. Australians therefore attribute Fire to the North and Earth to the South, South being the cold area where the Sun does not venture. East and West are generally kept the same as the Northern Hemisphere, being the areas of Air and Water. Thus we end up with our North and South Elemental attribution reversed; South ruling Earth, East ruling Air, North ruling Fire and West ruling Water. Some Witches localise their Directions even more, for example on the East Coast of Australia many attribute East to Water, because the Pacific Ocean is at their East, West to Earth, as the whole remainder of the continent is in the West, North to Fire, for the reasons explained above, which leaves South ruling Air. West Coast Witches usually do not reverse East and West as the Indian Ocean lies to their West and they tend to leave East to Air, although theoretically they could attribute East to Earth as the rest of the continent spreads out towards their East. Like the Magickal Circle, Horoscope charts as maps of the heavens calculated for the Southern Hemisphere, should really have the Ascendant position, which represents East, on the right of the Zodiac wheel rather than the left where it usually is because if the Midheaven of the chart represents midday and North in an Australian chart, then the right side of the chart is where the Sun rises, not the left.

The movements within the Circle to the left or the right, Deosil and Widdershins, are also reversed in the Southern Hemisphere. Deosil means “with the Sun” and Widdershins means “against the Sun.” If we are going to follow the Sun to move Deosil in Australia we will move to the left, not to the right as in the Northern Hemisphere. Invoking, represented by Deosil movement and Banishing represented by Widdershins therefore change directions compared with the Northern Hemisphere. The words “clockwise” and “anticlockwise” are irrelevant for Circle Casting in the Southern Hemisphere as clocks were invented in the Northern Hemisphere and the movement of a clock’s hands in a “clockwise” direction are modelled on the movement of the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere sky. If clock makers in Australia were aware of the reason for the direction of the movement of the clock’s hands, I would like to think they would make a Southern Hemisphere clock! Another example of Northern centrism are the words Sinister and Dexter which are the Anglicised version of the Latin words for the directions left and right. Sinister has connotations of evil and Dexter has connotations of good, witness the reputations of “The Left Hand Path” and “The Right hand Path.” To get more technical, if Sinister is associated with “leftness” and Dexter is associated with “rightness” then we Australians are all travelling on the Left Hand Path and obviously something very sinister is going on!

The Seasons of the year, around which the Wheel of the Year or Sabbats are based in Australia, is another aspect of an imported Neo-Paganism that originated in the Northern Hemisphere and just does not fit here in Australia without modification. Thankfully the Seasons are rather obvious and most Pagans get the idea that following the Northern Hemisphere dates does not work here. At the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere the Sun is 0 degrees Capricorn, the traditional sign of Midwinter, but here in Australia, we are usually sweltering in the middle of high Summer. Australian Christians usually spray fake snow on their windows while sweating over their hot Xmas turkey, just not understanding the nature of worshipping a SOLAR god born on the Winter Solstice. Pagans know better and we ‘flip’ the Wheel of the Year to coincide with the Seasons as they occur in Australia. Thus both the Greater and Lesser Sabbats occur with a six month difference between here and the Northern Hemisphere.

According to Northern Hemisphere Astrology, Australians have Litha around December 22nd in the sign of Capricorn, Lughnasad on Februrary 2nd in the sign of Aquarius, Mabon around March 22nd in the sign of Aries, Samhain on the 30th of April in the sign of Taurus, Yule around 22nd June in the sign of Cancer, Brigid on 1st August in the sign of Leo, Eostre around 22nd September in the sign of Libra and Beltane on 31st October in the sign of Scorpio. Again, it is not that our Seasons occur at the wrong time, it is Astrology, a Northern Hemisphere art and science that does not fit with the Southern Hemisphere Seasons. In my opinion, the Zodiac constellations were named with regards to what was happening on Earth at the time that the Sun appeared in a particular sign (or was deduced to be in a particular sign as the Sun cannot be actually ‘seen’ in a sign in the daytime), for example Aries, the sign of the Vernal Equinox contained the Sun at the time that animals were mating, plants were growing and the sap of trees was rising after the Winter dormancy and thus Aries’ attributes are vitality, virility, energy, the releasing of the life force, beginnings, initiation and Springtime.

Australia still experiences the Sun travelling through the same Zodiac signs as the Northern Hemisphere, however the Season in which this occours is the opposite one to that occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. In regards to the Astrological attributes and yearly placements of the Sabbats, we know that many Pagan traditions encompass the symbolism of the Goddess-Cancer-Moon ruling the Summer months between the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes and the God-Capricorn-Saturn ruling the Winter months from the Autumnal to the Vernal Equinoxes. In Australia this too is usually swapped around, the Goddess being aligned with Capricorn and the God with Cancer as these are the signs associated with our Summer and Winter. Depending where in Australia the observer is living, sometimes the Goddess is associated with Winter, as Summer is way too dry and barren, or the Summer Goddess will be a Crone rather than a fertile Mother to reflect the appearance of that locality.

I believe that Australia should adopt a different system for Astrology; the signs are there but the meanings, based partly on the Seasonal characteristics of the signs in the Northern Hemisphere are six months out of date. Many Astrologers, unaware of the Seasonal characteristics of the Zodiac signs do not understand the idea of tailoring Astrology to fit in better with Australian conditions which would involve swapping the meanings of the signs with their opposites. If Australians had created Astrology, firstly we would have viewed the signs along the Ecliptic upside down and would not have seen them as a Ram, a Bull and so on but perhaps as a Kangaroo, or an Emu, a spotted Cuscus or a Blue-tongued Lizard and secondly we would have been seeing the same actual constellation as the Northern Hemisphere but experienced it in the opposite Season and therefore named it something that related to the Season it was experienced in.

It will take a determined effort for Australian Witches and Pagans to create a real link with this part of the world. Some Australians even insist on sticking completely to the Northern Hemisphere method, Compass attributes, Deosil and Widdershins AND even the Sabbats! Their justification is that rituals occur on the Astral Plane and so it does not really matter what direction you use or on what date the Seasons fall in the real world. Basically the Paganism which we practice in Australia IS British and many people recognise a race-bloodline affinity with their Northern Gods, however, when we create the Circle, salute the Earth and place our hands upon Mother Earth’s body, we must take into account her Gondwanan heritage.

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