AUSTRALIA, WITCHCRAFT IN PRESENT-DAY

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When modern Australia came into being, peopled by emigrants from
Europe, it was natural that the old beliefs of witchcraft should have
travelled with them.
Nevertheless, a considerable sensation was created when a wellknown Australian artist, Rosaleen Norton, publicly admitted to being
‘The Witch of King’s Cross’, the Bohemian quarter of Sydney. Lurid
and sensational allegations were made against her and her associates,
which led to her arrest in 1956 ; but at her subsequent trial she was
acquitted.
In previous and subsequent interviews with the Press, Rosaleen
Norton spoke frankly of her life as a witch. She was born in Dunedin,
New Zealand. Her father, a captain in the Merchant Navy, was a
cousin of the composer, Vaughan Williams. From her earliest years, she
felt herself to be somehow different from most other people. Being a
witch came to her naturally. At the age of 13 she took a private and
personal “Oath of allegiance to the Horned God”, in a ceremony which
involved the burning of a joss stick, and the use of some wine, a little of her own blood and some green leaves. She had never been taught this
ritual ; it came to her instinctively.
Miss Norton’s own description of herself contains certain small but
significant physical peculiarities which in former days would have
been regarded as evidence of the Devil’s mark. These include two small
blue dots on her left knee, which appeared when she was 7 years old ;
a pair of unusual muscles down her sides, which are not normally found
in the human body ; a rare formation of the upper ears, known as
‘Darwin’s Peak’ ; and the ability to see clearly in semi-darkness, like a
cat.
Add to these an extraordinary talent for drawing and painting the
fantastic and weird conceptions of her own inner mind, from the beautiful to the horrific, and it is easy to see how she caused consterntion
among the respectable bourgeoisie of Australia. An exhibition of her
pictures was alleged to be ‘obscene’ ; but again she fought the case and
was acquitted.
She said in 1955 that her coven in Sydney consisted of seven persons;
but that it was only one of half a dozen covens in that city, and she knew
personally about thirty people, men and women, who were witches.
They met at various places, sometimes outdoors.
Witchcraft was known as ‘The Goat Fold’. Her coven invoked the
pagan gods, who were sometimes called Pan and Hecate. A splendid
mural painting of Pan presided over a little altar in her Sydney flat, with
a motto written across the lower part : “I ‘Psi’ with my little ‘1’.” (“Psi”
is the psychic researchers’ term for supernormal faculties.)
Like modern witches in Britain, Rosaleen Norton denied being a
Satanist or devil-worshipper. For her, she said, the God Pan was the
spirit of this planet, Earth and of all aspects of Nature which pertain
to it. His name in Greek means ‘All’. His horns and hoofs are emblems
of “natural energies and fleet-footed freedom” ; his pipes “a symbol of
magic and mystery”. Only people who projected on to him their own
malice and frustration regarded him as the Devil.
Her coven sometimes worked naked, and sometimes wore robes and
hoods. They also made use of masks, representing various animals; a
practice that was found in some of the old European covens. Each
initiate took an oath of allegiance to the deities of the coven in an old
ceremonial posture, kneeling with one hand on the crown of the head
and the other beneath the sole of one foot. A new name was given to the
initiate, together with a talisman to wear, and ·
a cord known as ‘The
Witches’ Garter’.
Incense was used freely in the ceremonies, and sometimes infusions
of herbs were prepared and drunk. An invocation of the Four Elements,
earth, water, air, and fire, also had a place in the ritual.
Pictures of Pan’s altar in Rosaleen Norton’s flat showed it decorated
with stag’s antlers and pine cones, and bearing candles, incense, ritual vessels, and a spray of green leaves in a vase. Miss Norton, slim, dark
and attractive, was posed beside it.
Witchcraft was in the Australian news again in 1 961, when another
coven led by Anton Miles was described and pictured in the press.
Miles was stated to be an Englishman, who had come to Australia after
travelling in Asia and the Middle East, where he had studied magic and
the occult. In 1 959, according to Miles, he had been initiated as a witch
while on a visit to Britain, in a coven that met in the Watford area,
north of London. He returned to Australia, and started his own cult in
Sydney.
His coven danced in the nude round a candle-lit altar. Wine and cakes,
as symbols of the gifts of Nature, were placed on the altar, and incense
was burned� Music was provided by a record player as an accompaniment to the dancing. The object of the rites was to bring the participants
into harmony with Nature. The male aspect of Nature was called Pan,
and the female Diana.
This coven practised a kind of pagan marriage ceremony, called a
‘pairing rite’, in which a man and a girl, both nude within the magic
circle, would leap hand in hand over a broomstick, which was held by
two other members of the coven.
Anton Miles admitted that his rites were newly imported into Australia ; but Rosaleen Norton and her associates claimed that their basic
rituals had come to Australia in the nineteenth century, with early
immigrants from the country districts of England.