UK PSYCHICS REPORT - 9 July 2002
Australian census figures show an increasing number of worshippers are looking towards the earth, rather than the heavens, in search of spiritual fulfilment.
There are now nearly 9000 witches in Australia, up from fewer than 2000 in 1996, while the number of pagans more than doubled to 10,632.
Druids, animists and pantheists, considered to be pagan traditions, also increased their ranks between 1996 and 2001.
"I wouldn't say there's been a mad stampede, but over the past few years there's been a steady stream of inquiries," said Galen, a Victorian Pagan Alliance co-ordinator.
Religious experts said the shift towards nature religions was consistent with a growing emphasis on the esoteric beliefs in Australia.
Most of the major Christian denominations lost followers during the past six years.
Dr Neville Knight, a sociologist at Monash University, said there was plenty of religious expression on offer.
"There's certainly a smorgasboard of religious expressions out there," he said.
"There's so many different forms. You find people will be attracted to crystals and all kinds of expressions of new age stuff."
But Consumer Affairs Victoria warned that con artists were keen to profit from those seeking the divine.
It has received more than 100 complaints about clairvoyants, palm readers and astrologers in the past two years.
A quick Internet search shows there is no shortage of costly solutions to spiritual problems, such as certificates in spiritual healing philosophy for $480 offered by a Melbourne school, and a four-hour soul retrieval for $60 offered by a Queensland company.
The same company can perform a "DNA upgrade", while a NSW venture is selling a $37 moisturiser linked to a traditional Indian healing system.
Dr Steve Russell, a sociology lecturer at Monash University, said religion was increasingly mixing with marketing and commerce.
"In some ways this is a reflection of the Americanisation of the current religious scene in Australia," Dr Russell said.
"We don't follow American religious trends slavishly, but this is one way in which we do; the commercialisation of those kinds of religious involvements."