Australia has a very diverse and rapidly expanding number of people for whom the Goddess, however She is understood, is significant. The 2006 census revealed that there were over 30,000 Pagans or followers of other earth-based religious traditions in Australia and, given the way in which religions are classified in the census, this is undoubtedly a serious underestimation. We await the findings of the 2011 census with great interest.
Prior to European settlement in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples followed their own rich spiritual beliefs, which were based on the forces of nature, a reverence for the land and its creatures, and the influence of ancestral spiritual beings. Recently, non-indigenous Australians have become increasingly interested in the indigenous connection to the land and indigenous spirituality.
While it is important not to appropriate indigenous culture, Goddess women and men in Australia are keen to express their spirituality in ways that are relevant to this land and to the Australian culture. We recognize the need to become more attuned to the ways of Australia, to her seasons and her natural cycles, and we can learn from the experiences of indigenous peoples, garnered from millennia of living on and with this land.
The emerging Goddess community in Australia also reflects a number of other influences. The first Europeans to come to Australia were from Britain and Ireland, and they brought Christianity with them. While Protestants had no tradition of a female deity, Irish Catholics brought with them a number of female figures including Mary the mother of Jesus and St Brigid (Bride in the old tradition). After the second world war, immigrants from Italy, Malta, Hungary and Germany added new dimensions to the various Christian traditions.
Over the past fifty years Australia’s population has become increasingly diverse, with people from every continent and major cultural grouping now represented. Although the majority still have a European background, there are significant groups from India, the Pacific, south-east and eastern Asia and Africa. Many of these ethnic groups include or worship a Goddess as part of their regular spiritual practice; recent immigrants from south-east Asia have brought with them goddesses such as Kwan Yin, Tara and Mazu.
The spiritual traditions in Australia today which hold the strongest links to a female deity are Hinduism, Buddhism and Paganism, although the monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – each have some female aspects (not always easily identified). Some western women have adopted Hindu and Buddhist practice and have thus been introduced to female deities. However, it is more often the case that the female deities of these traditions have been adopted and/or integrated into an understanding of the Goddess as many-faced and multi-faceted
The contemporary Goddess tradition in Australia is also heavily influenced by the work of international writers and practitioners. Australia’s historical links to Europe, and particularly to Britain, are reflected in the strong connection many feel to the Goddess(es) of Ireland and the British Isles. The work of Asphodel Long and Monica Sjöö was highly significant in earlier decades as, today, are the Avalonian tradition articulated by Kathy Jones of Glastonbury, and the work of Cheryl Straffon. In addition, the multiple manifestations of Goddess spirituality emanating from North America continue to inspire the Australian Goddess community; the influence of foremothers like Starhawk, Z. Budapest, Carol Christ and Vicki Noble cannot be underestimated.
More recently, new scientific and cosmological insights, such as the ‘Gaia Hypothesis‘ and the ‘Universe Story‘ have significantly influenced the beliefs and practices of many members of the Goddess community in Australia. The Reclaiming Community, a strongly earth-based Pagan tradition committed to all forms of justice, and whose membership overlaps with that of the Goddess community, is growing in Australia.
In the last ten years there have been a number of key developments in the Australian Goddess Community: the establishment of an annual Australian Goddess Conference in Queensland, and of an annual Goddess Gathering in Melbourne; the formation of the Australian Goddess Association and of its publishing arm Gaia’s Ink; the creation of several Goddess spirituality and priestess training courses, both face-to-face and on-line. Australian scholars, authors, performers and artists regularly contribute to and participate in overseas conferences and academic discourse.
In addition a number of home-based temples or sacred spaces have been established where women come together to share, learn and celebrate. The first of these was established by Anique Radiant Heart on her property in northern New South Wales. More recent developments include Gaia’s Garden in Victoria, Moon Court in New South Wales, Temple of the Living Goddess in Western Australia, and the The Goddess House in South Australia.
In the research for Gaia Emerging: Goddess Beliefs and Practices in Australia one theme dominated: the absolute centrality accorded to the Australian land – in all its vastness and magnificent diversity – in Australian Goddess spirituality. Respondents spoke of the need to ‘listen to the land’; for it is in and through the land that the Goddess is revealed. It is in the land – the land on which we live, our land, Australia – in the seasons and cycles of nature as we experience them where we live, and in the mystery that is life on planet earth, that we come closest to the essence and meaning of Goddess spirituality.
Despite the great distances that separate us on this huge island continent, the Australian Goddess community is small, relatively close-knit and well-integrated. It is agreed on the centrality of the Australian land and landscape to Goddess practice, and of the importance of developing rituals and seasonal celebrations appropriate to Australia, but it is not without differences, some more significant than others. The community includes pantheists and panentheists; monotheists and polytheists; those who have a deep personal relationship with the Goddess, those for whom Goddess is another name for the mystery of life, those for whom the Goddess is an integrated whole, those who see the Goddess as part of a Goddess/God pairing, as well as a myriad other ways of understanding Goddess.
One of the strengths of Goddess spirituality globally has been the way in which it has been able to accommodate a huge diversity of beliefs and practices. As the Australian Goddess community grows in size and maturity it will need to develop ways in which people with very different frameworks of belief and practice can engage with each other in celebration, discussion, theorising and visioning for the future. Perhaps the Australian land itself, with its enormous geographical, climatic and biological diversity, will inspire, model and nourish this process.
Patricia Rose is an independent Australian Goddess scholar and this guest post draws on the findings of an indepth study of the Australian Goddess community by Dr Patricia Rose and Dr Tricia Szirom, recently published as Gaia Emerging: Goddess Beliefs and Practices in Australia (available from here or here).