Words || Rhiannon Williams
The first thing I notice about Veronica’s house is the sizeable collection of cauldrons in the corner. Veronica guides me to the kitchen and offers me a cup of tea while we wait for the others. By 7pm, all of the women have arrived, and we make our way out into the bitter cold evening swaddled in blankets.
Holding hands, we form a circle around a flickering fire, and one by one the women begin to sway, and then sing. The lyrics centre around the four elements; ‘earth, water, breath and light.’ The opening song is followed by a welcome to country, and ‘Circle’ begins.
The focus of this evening is the archetype of the ‘Queen’. Stories are told, both fictitious and real, about strong and intelligent women in all realms of life who rose to power on their own merit. It is an inclusive place where all female-identifying individuals are welcome, and femininity is considered powerful.
Afterwards, we head back inside, drink wine, and share a hot Lebanese meal. Veronica is wearing a Hogwarts alumni t-shirt.
Veronica Scoot is the treasurer, web manager and publications officer for the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN), an Australian-based collective that strives to dispel misconceptions regarding pagan subculture and to help it become an ordinary and accepted facet of everyday life.
Growing up in a Catholic family, Veronica attended Sunday mass every week and was heavily involved in youth group. She recalls having had a very close relationship with Jesus, but this began to weaken with the more questions she asked. In her early twenties, she read a book by Barbara Thiering which un-deified Jesus and set Veronica on a different spiritual path. One Christmas, when looking for bath-bomb recipes online, she came across dozens of Wiccan sites. The more she read, the more she realised that pagan beliefs suited her best.
Paganism is a nature-based belief system, focusing on the importance of the planet and the importance of self. There is a specific focus on the qualities of the elements and how they affect everyday life. Many pagans believe that we have become distanced from nature in the modern age. This is not the result of unkindness, but rather a level of unparalleled ignorance. People don’t know where food comes from or where our waste goes; Pagans therefore stress the importance of recycling and being environmentally conscious.
Objectively speaking, or as objective as seems to be possible, paganism ideals seem to be mostly level-headed and sensible. Wiccans do not understand the world through a moral binary, placing deeds into firm categories of virtue and sin. Pagans, however, walk a grey path – one of balance. Sometimes you do good, and sometimes you do bad, says Veronica, all you need to do is to make amends and try your hardest to maintain balance in your life. Despite a belief system founded in respect and compassion, misconceptions remain regarding paganism, specifically concerning Satanic practices and naked sacrifices. “We don’t go around slaughtering children or sacrificing goats or doing bizarre sex acts in the forest,” says Veronica. “Well… some of us do.” Rather, pagans are mostly ordinary people – they work ordinary jobs, pay their taxes, and go grocery shopping.
Veronica has an eclectic style of witchcraft, and a specific patron deity to whom she attributes her success: Sekhmet, depicted as a nude woman with a lion’s head. The most impressive aspect of her life attributed to Sekhmet is her husband of eleven years, Alan, who she met after asking for a life partner. The two met on Yahoo chat while Veronica was writing Harry Potter fanfiction about Professor Snape. His name is Alan, like Alan Rickman. He is an organic chemist (potions master?), and his birthday is January 9th, 1961 – the same day as Professor Snape, just one year apart (Snape was 1960). Now, you can be as sceptical as you like, but in my opinion that’s pretty wild.
One of the key focuses of PAN is assault education and self-care, informing newcomers on how to stay safe and make informed decisions. There is heavy emphasis on the establishment of ground rules for yourself and the importance of empowerment; if you’re uncomfortable in a situation, you can leave. It’s continuously emphasised that you must be responsible for your own safety and comfort as well as that of others, which is a pretty cool religious attitude.
Today, many people’s perceptions of witchcraft revolve around the New Age trends of crystals and incense. According to Veronica, this is more or less a commercialisation of the traditional pagan witchcraft, and while there’s nothing wrong with people wanting ‘good vibes’ from these things, it leads to a lot of misunderstandings about the religion. Indeed, when this is accepted instead of actual pagans and witches who are perceived as the weird Satan-loving cousin at the BBQ, it’s a bit unfair.
That’s why PAN exists, acting as moderator and educator for the wider community, helping change perceptions about paganism and its core values – environmentalism, inclusiveness and self-care.
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