Victoria’s witches are rushing to get hitched following the repeal of antiquated laws banning witchcraft.
To cater for the rush, four new marriage celebrants specialising in witch weddings, or handfastings, were approved by the federal attorney-general’s department this week.
In July, Victoria became the last Australian state to revoke legislation that had outlawed witchcraft, sorcery and fortune-telling.
Pagan Awareness Network state coordinator Gavin Andrew said today the celebrants were in high demand as spring approached, the traditional period for handfasting.
“Now that the repeal of the anti-witchcraft laws is going through many witches are feeling much more comfortable about openly recognising their religion,” he said.
“One of the ways they’re doing that is by legally recognised marriages.”
And in an “eerie coincidence” the four new celebrants, the only ones in Victoria, formed a “witches compass” around metropolitan Melbourne, Andrew said.
“Either someone in the federal Attorney-General’s department has an obscure sense of humour, or the stars were very much aligned for this outcome,” he said.
In a typical pagan union, the hands of the bride and groom are literally bound together with ribbon.
The ceremony culminates with the happy couple leaping over a broomstick which symbolises fertility and prosperity.
The shape of shaft and bristles of the broomstick symbolise the joining the masculine and feminine elements, Andrew said.
Former newspaper journalist and now pagan priestess Ann-Marie Cloke, who jokingly describes herself as “the wicked witch of the west”, said she was very excited about her new status.
Cloke, who lives in Geelong, said this week already she had received requests for to perform handfastings in Sydney and New Zealand.
“The calls are coming in thick and fast and we’ve all been inundated with inquiries for weddings since we’ve been appointed,” she said.
Cloke said she was qualified to perform non-pagan civil celebrations as well as cater to the pagan community.
“It’s a thrill to do,’ she said.
“We’re not scary people. We might have our seasonal worship stuff but it’s no different from how other people celebrate Halloween or Christmas.
“It’s just that we have our own traditions.”
The latest census figures show increasing numbers of Australians are stepping out of the broom closet and declaring themselves as witches, Wiccans, heathens, goddess worshippers, shamans, druids or just plain pagans.
In 1996, less than 2,000 people identified as witches but by the last census in 2001, the number had grown to more than 8,700.
Almost 11,000 people identified more broadly as pagans.
In Victoria, there are more than 2,000 witches – three-quarters of them women.