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Life's a witch when trolls gatecrash Halloween

Melbourne Age 26 October, 2008, pp 3.
By John Elder with picture by Craig Sillitoe

Drew SintonTHERE'S always someone who goes "berko" at the end of the night, having partaken too heavily in a magic potion of an alcoholic variety.

But in 28 years there had never been a punch-up at the Mount Franklin Beltane gathering of witches - an event that has drawn up to 700 spell-casting Victorians.

Beltane is the pagan festival that heralds the birth of summer and celebrates life in full bloom. It's meant to be a happy time. But last year, a small group known as "the trolls" caused an upset by hanging headless dolls from trees and otherwise carrying on in a dark-hearted fashion.

"There was a nasty element we'd never seen before, and it ended in a violent altercation, and has essentially ruined what was once a beautiful event," a high-profile witch, speaking anonymously, told The Sunday Age.

"I mean, you're meant to embrace the darkness in witchcraft, but you're also meant to keep it in balance with the light. These guys were all about the darkness. It's not like there were a lot of them but they've done a lot of damage."

The Mount Franklin event - Australia's longest-running pagan festival, organised by the Castlemaine-based Celtic Heritage Society - traditionally would have gone ahead this weekend in time for Halloween. Instead, The Sunday Age has learnt there was a secret invitation-only gathering staged last week.

"I received an invitation but I didn't go," said Caroline Tully, a pagan academic who was surprised that The Sunday Age knew of the split in the witching community. "In recent years, Mount Franklin's just got too big. This is the first time it had to be divided off."

Ms Tully said the "trolls" were organising their own Mount Franklin gathering for this weekend via a Facebook posting.

The Sunday Age was told by a number of Melbourne witches they were avoiding Mount Franklin altogether this year, and opting for private gatherings instead. Pagan marriage celebrant Nicole Good is heading to the north-east of the state with 40 other people. "We'll have a Beltane fire, a circle � there'll be singing and dancing and a ritual is planned," she said. "It's all about the coming out of the quietness of winter."

Some of her chums will pack a wand, others take a blunt knife called an athame. "They do the same job � concentrate the energy coming out of your body. The easiest energy to work with is love," she said.

On Friday night, an uncounted number of Melbourne kids will put on sheets and goblin masks and go knocking on doors for Halloween bounty - as will millions of American littlies. The US witchcraft scene also will be having a Halloween (or Samhain, as the pagans prefer to call it) knees-up via fertility rites and communing with the dead spirits.

Strictly speaking, Halloween in Australia is celebrated on the last day of April.

"That's because it marks the beginning of winter," said Drew Sinton, former grotto master of the Church of Satan, owner of the Haunted Bookshop and a recipient of a small business award from the Lord Mayor.

While Mr Sinton doesn't condone violence, he has some sympathy for the dark-lighters of the witchcraft scene.

"I grew up with witchcraft in the '70s, when witchcraft and Satanism were one and the same. This was a time when the black arts were truly forbidden. Now it's all about white light," he said forlornly. "The practitioners of today almost go out of their way to remove the mystery and darker aspects of their craft."

Danae Thorpe, a witch who owns Spellbox in the Royal Arcade, promotes Halloween to children "because that's what they understand. If I talked about Halloween to my son in April, he wouldn't get it. Kids like to be part of what their friends are doing and � it's important not to take things too seriously.

"There's a street in Abbotsford that celebrates Halloween, where all the kids go trick-or-treating. That's where we'll be on October 31. It's great the wider community is embracing a magic festival."


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