Study Released on Australian Folk Magick

In 2019 Federation University supported the Australia Magic Research Project, funded by the University of Hertfordshire and the Society for Vernacular Architecture.
The project conducted a survey on the remains of folk magic practices in colonial Australia and was a continuation of a nationwide study of folklore from the era. Researchers found a rich treasure trove of folk magic and the results of the Victorian study have been released today on the Australian Magic Research Project website, providing fascinating insights.
To Ian Evans’ report, click here:
It starts out:
“The history of magic in Australia was written in places where spiders lived: in dark, damp and malodorous cavities in chimneys, in roof spaces and beneath the floors of houses and other buildings. It was scratched onto furniture and on the walls of kitchens, barns and dairies and burned into the timber of stables.

“Magic in various forms was practised by builders, grooms, blacksmiths and foundry-men and, very probably, by numerous other groups within society.

“Just as in Britain and elsewhere, there is nothing in the contemporary documentary archive to describe the practice of magic in Australia. Generations of historians and researchers had scoured the paper archive without result. They were looking in the wrong place.

“The great majority of Australia’s practitioners of magic were the ordinary people of our cities, towns and country. They believed that there was an underworld in which demons lived and that from their dark realm they slipped into our world to do the Devil’s bidding.

Convict shirt, 1819 – 1848, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney. From under stair tread, level 3.

“At a time when medicine could do little to cure the illnesses thought to be the work of the Devil’s minions, and when prayer failed to move a seemingly indifferent God, people turned to magic. They took its power into their own hands and gained satisfaction from that when nothing else seemed to work. They used magic to protect their families, farm animals and property.

“The techniques used were ancient and believed to be powerful. They came from England as part of the cultural baggage of convicts, settlers and administrators. Among them were cunning folk, magic’s general practitioners. For a fee they would read your palm, supply love potions and magic spells and tell you where to look for your lost or stolen cow.

“It was widely believed that certain symbols placed on entranc- es to buildings would deter evil beings from entering. And so we find hexafoils, concentric circles and, right throughout Australia, objects concealed in building voids. Concealed objects are thought to have been used as decoys to lure evil spiritual beings into voids from which they could not escape.

“At last we have proof of the use of magic in Australia. It provides a new window to the past and tells us of the hopes and fears of Australians in the period before about 1930. This is the result of twenty years research by Ian Evans, author of numerous books on the history and conservation of old Australian houses. His research has taken him to medieval churches in England, a crusader fort in Syria and 1850’s stables in Tasmania. In the process Ian Evans found the magic in Australia.

Frater Lux Ad Mundi

One Comment

  1. Other prominent academics involved in the study of the phenomenon were Heinrich Schauert and Rudolf Kriss, the latter of whom collected one of the largest collections of folk-religious art and material culture in Europe, later housed in Munich’s Bayerisches Nationalmuseum .

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