Wollongong has its very own coven of witches, discovers EMMA SPILLETT.·
Have you ever blown out candles and made a wish or touched wood for good luck?
If so, according to Wollongong witch Megan*, you’ve already dabbled in a little bit of witchcraft. “These are spells; they might be as simple as repeating a rhyme or doing something superstitious but it’s still a little bit of magic,” she says.
Megan is part of a coven, teaching budding witches the ins and outs of casting spells, making candles, preparing an altar and connecting with Mother Earth.
Along with fellow witches Alison* and Sue*, the coven meet regularly to practise their craft – without a wart, cackle or evil intention in sight.
“We always get asked about the devil or 666 and witchcraft being related to Satan and it has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Megan says. “The only connection is that the Christians picked up on the homed god and used his image as their devil; there’s no relation to witchcraft at all.”
Yet witches still get a bad rap but Megan believes the tide is turning.
She came across Wicca in the UK via a friend who introduced her sister as a “witch”. After attending one of the Wiccan festivals, Megan realised she instantly felt at home among the group. “I could really see it as a path I could follow,” she explains. .”There was a lot of connection to the earth and it isn’t all that dissimilar to more prominent religions in the sense that it’s food for thought and nourishment for the soul.”
When Alison and Megan came to Australia, they left their Wiccan community and filled the void by running their own witchcraft courses. Typical workshops run for six weeks and offer an introduction to the religion, combined with lessons in history, gods and goddesses, spell casting and incense making.
The pair have already run several courses, attributing their popularity to witchcraft’s lack of preaching to practitioners.
“There isn’t that sense of my way or the highway, it’s very inclusive and it’s also very much about taking responsibility for your own spirituality,” Alison says.
Hollywood has followed the cause with TV series like Charmed and Buffy; exploring witchcraft – although in a slightly sensationalised fashion. “There are lots of special effects and people have to remember what they are watching is Hollywood witchcraft:,” Alison says. “It’s good that it’s getting into the mainstream consciousness but people need to know witchcraft is not the same as what they’re seeing on TV.”
As an earth-based religion, witches have a strong connection to nature, celebrating the seasons and using elements of air, fire, water and earth in rituals and spells.
The Wiccan calendar (the wheel of the year) follows the pagan seasons with witches celebrating eight festivals (or “sabbats”) annually. Several of the festivals are known as “harvests” and are marked at the start of traditional seasons like spring and autumn.
Megan says witches often find their life patterns start to follow the wheel of the year. “It’s particularly obvious when the harvests come around and you’ll always notice things will come and go from your life at that time of year,” she says. “It’s like you’re harvesting your life for good or for bad -lots of changes happen, you might change jobs or end a relationship and you start to notice that your life flows in a certain way.”
Spell casting is another Wiccan pastime but don’t expect covens to use spells against ex-lovers or-rivals. Alison says witches use spells for anything from finding a parking space to helping the sick.
All spells must abide by the Wiccan Rede, a code of conduct stating witches may engage in any action as long as it doesn’t harm anybody. “It doesn’t matter if you’re praying or casting a spell, you’re still fundamentally asking for help from a higher power but we don’t mess with free will and we don’t hurt people,” Megan says.
But do wands and brooms have a place in modem witchcraft?
While witches don’t ride around on ye olde broomstick or point their wand at boys and turn them into toads, Megan emphasises their importance in Wiccan rituals. “Brooms are used for cleansing spaces,” she explains. “It’s a good way of keeping out negative energy while wands are used as energy conductors.”
Contemporary witches can choose to work as solitary practitioners or as part of a coven but Megan says it is important for budding witches to find the right group. “The beauty of this path is that there is a place for everyone,” she says. “It’s a path of personal development so it can even be beneficial to work with a group that might not seem like the right one as they challenge you to think differently.”
Witchcraft tends to be perceived as a female-only religion but Sue explains that both sexes have a place – although in witchcraft, women are on top.
“When you go into a religion with men, the men are sort of idolised and the women are sidelined but sitting with the girls, it’s very equal and it’s the females who lead the group,” she says. “The men have just as much input but it’s the females who get the final say.”
While witchcraft has become more prevalent in the modem era, the coven agree there is still a stigma attached. They believe misconceptions perpetuated by the media, mainstream religions and even childhood fairy tales have made it difficult for witches to escape the evil reputation.
“A lot of people who do practise it tend to keep on their own path and get on with it, they don’t feel they need to defend their choices,” Megan says. “You don’t see the majority of people out there saying ‘you must be a witch and ours is the only way’.
“If you want to know, I’m happy to share it but we don’t want to push it on people; it’s up to them what they do with it.”
*Surnames not disclosed.