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.

Media

A Pagan practices a reconstruction, revival, or reinvention of the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe prior to the arrival of Christianity.

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:

  • Earth-centred traditions
    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.
  • Reconstructionist groups
    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.
  • Indigenous European religions
    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.
  • Modern Shamanism
    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.
  • Groups that practice Ceremonial Magic
    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.
    In the 2006 Census there were approximately 30,000 people following a Pagan or other nature-based religion living in Australia. To place this number in perspective, it is larger than the Australian Sikh community.

    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.
    Pagans possess a diverse range of beliefs and practices:

  • A relationship with the Sacred in its many forms that is based upon personal experience rather than on dogma or 'right belief'
  • A veneration or deep respect for Nature and her cycles of birth, growth, dying and renewal
  • An ethic of personal responsibility
  • An emphasis on one’s relationship with landscape or country, the idea that gods and goddesses personify natural forces, and that the Divine is embodied or immanent within the Universe.
  • That life is sacred, that everything is interconnected and interdependent, and that life-energy can be consciously channelled. The essence of a sacred life is therefore one lived in harmony with the rest of life.
  • Concern at the way large corporations are exploiting and damaging Mother Earth that feeds and sustains us.
  • Pagans can be polytheistic, pantheistic, panentheistic, monolatrous, or even (occasionally) atheist.
  • There is no central authority or hierarchy controlling what Pagans believe or how they should worship, and no accepted sacred text. There is also seldom a division between priesthood and laity – it is widely accepted that each Pagan is a de-facto priest or priestess.
  • Varying beliefs concerning life after death, although many accept the concept of reincarnation.
  • Pagans are typically tolerant and inclusive of diverse sexualities.
  • Pagans tend to practice their spirituality either on their own (known as ‘solitaries’) or within small groups. These groups can be known as groves, circles, covens, nests, temples, courts etc. Most Pagans will perform their ceremonies out-of-doors, or in private homes. Groups often meet at the full moon and/or the new moon.
  • Generally uninterested in proselytizing (trying to convert others.) Most view this behaviour as intrusive and insulting, and the common attitude is ‘each to their own’.
  • As people who venerate nature, Pagans do not condone cruelty to animals. They find suggestions that they practice ritual sacrifice or mutilations to be highly offensive.
  • Most Pagans do not observe dietary restrictions based on religious custom, but many choose to be vegetarian or avoid foods that are ethically compromised (pork, cage-laid eggs etc) or environmentally unsustainable.
  • The symbol most commonly associated with Paganism is the pentagram, a five-pointed star within a circle. The five points of the star represent the five sacred elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Spirit. Many Pagans will wear a ‘pentacle’ around their necks as others would wear a crucifix or Star of David. Other well-known Pagan symbols include the crescent moon, the Triquetra and the Ankh.
  • The following dates are considered to be common significant festivals within the Pagan calendar, especially for Wiccan and other earth-centred traditions. Sacred days typially relate to the turning of the seasons, an integral part of most Pagan spiritualities. The dates given here are applicable to the Southern Hemisphere.

  • August 1st: Imbolc - First Stirring
  • September 22nd: Ostara - Spring Equinox
  • October 31st: Beltane - The Day of the Goddess and God
  • December 21st: Litha - Summer Solstice
  • February 1st: Lammas/Lughnasadh - Harvest Festival
  • March 22nd: Mabon - Autumn Equinox
  • May 1st: Samhain - The Day of the Ancestors
  • June 21st: Yule - Winter Solstice

  • A number of public holidays, including Easter and Christmas, have their origins in indigenous European festivals, many of which were later appropriated by Christianity.

    Read our Guide to common myths and cliches about Pagans and Witches

    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.