This guide is for journalists and other media industry professionals, public servants and law-makers, school teachers, clergy and chaplains, and the general public: essentially, anyone requiring fast, up-to-date and reliable information on nature-based religions in Australia.
The word comes from the Latin, 'pagus', which was something like a city ward. A 'paganus' was a local in the sense of "an inhabitant of a local place". This contrasted with 'alienus', "a person from elsewhere" – as Christian missionaries were. 'Pagan' was initially a label applied by Christians within a specifically European context, and it is one we have reclaimed.
Today, Paganism is an umbrella term that covers a large range of spiritual beliefs, practices and traditions. There are five broad categories within the Pagan community in Australia:
This category includes Wicca, Goddess-worship, Druidism, Animism, most forms of modern witchcraft and cunning-craft, and eco-spirituality – this is by far the largest grouping. Practitioners in this category tend to draw upon a wide variety of sources in order to reinvent their beliefs and practices.
This category includes groups seeking to reconstruct the indigenous religious practices of the pre-Christian era with a degree of historical authenticity – for example, worship of Greek, Roman, Germanic, Celtic or Egyptian gods and goddesses. Many Druid groups can be placed in this category.
This category includes ethnic spiritual paths that have been revived from existing European folk traditions. Examples include Romuva, which is native to Lithuania, and Asatru, a tradition practiced by people of Nordic ancestry. Some family-based traditions of witchcraft and cunning-craft from remote areas of Cornwall, Scotland and Wales also claim to be centuries old, but the provenance of their traditions is often difficult to verify.
This category includes those who research and practice traditional techniques in order to induce spiritual awakenings via trance and altered states of awareness. Practitioners of modern shamanism can employ imagery and techniques from across the world, but those who work specifically within the indigenous European context are likely to self-identify as Pagan.
This category includes those who perform ceremonies and rituals derived from the 19th Century Golden Dawn movement, as well as Egyptian, Chaldean and Hebrew recensions of the Kabbalah. Not all who practice this type of spirituality consider themselves Pagan, but many do.
The beliefs and practices of individual Pagans and groups in Australia may overlap into any or all of the above categories.
Please note: Satanism does not fall under the modern Pagan umbrella, as it is historically and culturally linked with Abrahamic (Christian/Jewish/Muslim) religions rather than indigenous European traditions. There are distinctly different forms of Satanism and information on these is best sourced from the relevant organisations.
Pagan women outnumber Pagan men approximately 2:1. The statistically average Pagan living in Australia is female, in her early 30s, university-educated, living in a de-facto partnership, working, with one child.
Pagans don’t segregate themselves like some small religious communities. Pagans live in all states and capital cities of Australia, and also in rural and regional areas.
Despite repeated requests by the Pagan community, the Australian Bureau of Statistics refuses to change the way it categorises nature-based religions – giving the impression that the overall numbers are smaller than the reality. The true number of Pagan adherents must be calculated by adding together the following ABS-defined categories: Animism, Druidism, Nature religions (nec), Paganism, Pantheism, Wiccan/Witchcraft and Nature religions (nfd). In fact, all of these categories come under the umbrella of Paganism in Australia.
PAN believes that the true number of people who practice a nature-based faith in Australia is under-reported due to fears of discrimination and stereotypes about Pagans.
By contrast, there are believed to be more than 1 million people in the U.S.A who identify as following Wicca or another Pagan spirituality. Some estimates have Paganism as being the 7th largest religion in the U.S.
A number of public holidays, including Easter and Christmas, have their origins in indigenous European festivals, many of which were later appropriated by Christianity.
For a response to breaking news stories involving Wiccans or other Pagans, contact PAN’s Media Officer. (Please note that content for early editions or breakfast radio before 9am will need to be arranged in advance.)
Contact details for academics in Australia who study Paganism and other alternative religions can be provided upon request.