Reconciling Pagan and Indigenous Culture in Australia

This article by PCV committee member River Fireseed will appear in the next edition of our newsletter. We have posted it here as National Reconciliation Week begins today.

I write this on the eve of National Reconciliation Week sitting on land of the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin nation (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) who were the original custodians of this place and who are still workingand waiting for us to catch up, so that we can reconcile our injustices towards the many nations of this land.

The maxim of Reconciliation Australia is “Reconciliation is at the heart of our nation’s future”.

As witches and Pagans in Australia, we were born, we live, and we practice magic on stolen land. (Some of us migrated here, but we still practice magic on stolen land),

So how do we reconcile that?

We know that the bones of our ancestors older than 200 years are all buried on far flung lands. Most of them in Celtic (and I use that term broadly) or northern European lands. We also know the bones of the ancestors of the people of this land for upwards of 50,000 years lie here in this Southern land.

Many in the Pagan community are humbled by that knowledge and wish to find a way to work toward a deeper appreciation of the past so that healing and true reconciliation can begin. There are some in our communities who are uncomfortable with hearing the truths because they or their familial line wasn’t directly involved with the atrocities of the past- believing we need to move on and stop being ashamed of our past.

Whilst it may be true that we need to move on -it is the privilege of the oppressor that makes us able to say that.

Many of us have growing edges around accepting that we are born of privilege. For no matter how diverse our genders may be, how economically, socially and educationally deprived we may feel, or indeed how hard it was for our parents or our parents’ grandparents to struggle to make it in “The Lucky Country” we still have privilege.

We can acknowledge the mythos of the very hard lives that some of our ancestors had; be they convicts, farmers, merchants, fortune hunters or the religiously persecuted- often economic refugees-all escaping to find a dream where gold, food, amnesty, religious and economic freedom abound-if you work for it.

But we have difficulty acknowledging that even our oppressed ancestors were more advantaged than the Aboriginal peoples of the many lands we now call Australia.

Until we have a deeper understanding of the truth of our past and come to terms with the fact that our recent forefathers and foremothers symbolically, and sometimes literally, were involved in genocide of the original people and the theft of their land and culture, there will always be a skeleton in the closet. It is only our privilege that gives us the luxury to ignore the past.

The notion of cultural non-appropriation is close to the hearts of many members of the Pagan community. It is important that we always acknowledge the people whose land we work on in our public rituals. Some of us have sought permission from elders to practice magic on their lands- which thankfully has always been given.

When we work magic on indigenous land (remembering that all of this land we call Australia was Indigenous land 220 years ago- Terra nullis was and is a myth to ease the heart, minds and legalities of colonisation); we need to be respectful of the people whose land it is. In all my rituals, public and private, I acknowledge the ancestors of this land, as well as the ancestors of blood and the ancestors of the craft.

Indigenous people of this land always proudly state where they were born and where their father’s and mother’s ‘countries’ are. So perhaps we also need to learn to acknowledge our own heritage, where we were born and where our parents were born, using the indigenous name of place if we know it -or researching to find it out. As Pagans we know there is power in a name and power in the spoken word. I believe that when we acknowledge who we are and where we come from with compassionate understanding of our own rich heritage we won’t need to appropriate the culture of a living people.

That being said we do need to build bridges between our communities, but not on our terms. We need to take the time and make the effort to build relationships. Perhaps we need to find an indigenous fund that we can donate a tithing to from any magical workshops we have on indigenous land. Perhaps we need to be prepared to share something of our culture instead of expecting Aboriginal people to be the ones who always share their culture. Perhaps in reconciliation week we could make an effort to recognise indigenous people, or recognise an indigenous person, knowing that Aboriginal people are not recognised in our constitution.

As Australian pagans if we desire a connection with the knowledge and magic of the first culture, we must learn to find a way to align our magic to the magic of this land and to begin to build relationships with Aboriginal people, that are not conditional on what we receive from them.

River Fireseed