It was more than ten years back in 2004 that I traveled to Sydney, Australia. I was travelling this time not on a family vacation or a holiday, but on work. I was there on a software consulting project (don’t want to go into more of this boring topic), and this was my second trip to the absolute beauty of a city. In the earlier phase of the project I had spent three months in Sydney, but due to work-pressure, I was hardly able to explore the charms of the city; neither did I get a chance to really meet any of the local population there. So this time I wanted to see around the city and make some local friends there. Hardly did I know that I would be soon meeting and making good friends with a witch in Australia !!
Yahoo messenger was in vogue those days, and with some searching and visiting the local chat rooms, I was able to connect to a lady who living in Sydney. She appeared much older than me, but was fun chatting. So when I told her that I’ll be travelling to her city in a week and was looking to find a friend there, she was game.
I was booked for stay at the Travelodge Macquarie North Ryde Hotel, near the Macquarie Shopping Center in North Sydney. After I had joined office there, I updated her so, and we fixed a time to meet. She came down to meet me on a Saturday morning at my hotel, dressed in black from head to toe. Additionally she had pitch black hair and was wearing black shades over her eyes. We met down at the Hotel lobby, and then after we were acquainted a bit, she offered to drive me around the suburbs of Sydney to which I readily agreed. We set out on our day trip, me absolutely overjoyed to travel around town with a Sydney-ite. While I was boarding her car, I noticed a little sticker on the boot of her car. It read,” My other car is a broom !!” That amused me a bit, as I couldn’t understand the psyche behind the tagline.
The insides of her car had a little of everything, from used coke cans to heaps of cigarette buds in the ashtray. There were stacks of papers and a few books, dress items, pillows, additional slippers, a towel and a couple of small cardboard boxes on at the back seat. The front seats were full of ash and the car reeked of cigarette smoke. I understood that she was a chain smoker, there was no missing that. Additionally, I also noticed that the side view mirrors of the car had cobwebs on them. This fueled my inquisitiveness. Hesitating a bit , I asked her.
“Looks like you haven’t used this car for some time. There are cobwebs .. ”
“No,” she replied, “This is my only car. The spiders love me” , she replied back , smiling mischievously.
I was a bit puzzled with what I was observing around me, as we began chatting. The topic moved on from the local weather to the city and then about life in Australia. I learnt that Sydney was the first port where the British initially docked and ultimately built the western civilization that we see now, in the last two hundred odd years. We also spoke about India (my country), its mysticism and spirituality, and then about my religion – Hinduism. Irreligious or agnostic that I was, didnt dampen our discussion in pursuit of knowledge. She said she knew about Kali and Krishna ( which are Hindu Gods and Goddesses) and said she also worships them. Most things were beyong my grasp, and the bewilderment continued with the way the discussion kept progressing.
“Aren’t you a Christian ?” I asked with some perplexity.
“No, I am a Wiccan . Do you know what is Wicca?” She asked me.
“Well, no,” I replied, though somehow the word seemed to be known to me.
So she explained about the Mother Religion that was in practice before Christianity came to Europe. The religion which is connected to the fables of King Arthur, his Excalibur, and Sir Lancelot and the “Round Table of the Knights”. She spoke about a mystical kingdom called “Avalon”. She explained how the concept of Wizards and Witches transformed over time, how they had been given different flavor as Christianity rose to power and popularity, and started to spread all over Europe and the European colonies.
We were cruising all across the Northern beaches of Sydney along the coastline of the Pacific. She picked her own routes and I kept absorbing the beauty of one of the most scenic cities in the world. At times we were quiet for long stretches of time, as she drove through the highs and lows across town, with a clear blue sky and a bright sunny day following us everywhere.
“Wizards are good people. They are liked. Harry Potter is a wizard and everyone loves him. But witches are bad, aren’t they ?, ” she asked me quizzically.
“Well I guess so,” I replied with absolutely no idea of why it is so.
She smiled and told me that their’s was a neo-Pagan, matriarchic religion where it was the women who were considered the superior sex in society, because of their grasp of science, religion, medicine and astronomy and everything divine. They were the pillars of knowledge in the society during this Wiccan Era, and men flocked to them in times of need for guidance, blessings and support. But when Christianity swept parts of the continent, it faced difficulty in converting these erudite and knowledgeable women, and failing so Christianity ultimately gave them a bad name.” She drew a deep breath as she spoke and her face turned sad, and her eyes focused somewhere far away.
“Since then we have been in the receiving end, my friend.”
Since then, these witches and the wiccans bore the brunt of the Christian ire and then slowly perished over time. “Even Joan of Arc was canonized in her times, burned to the Cross for not falling in line with the religious dictate, ” she said.
We went on driving along the beaches and coasts of North Sydney, stopping at many of them for a breather. Sometimes in the afternoon, we broke for lunch. The discussion went along, and we kept chatting about our customs, traditions, society, and religious views. She was equally interested to know about our traditions as I was about hers. We seemed to gel quickly with each other.
As late-afternoon approached, she asked me whether I want her to drop me off at my hotel, or would I like to go over to her place for a bit of rest and refreshment first. By then I was so much interested about her and her way of life that I immediately agreed to visit her place. We reached her home in about 20 minutes from Coogie Beach.
She took me to her home, which house dropped down a few steps from the motor able road at a quiet neighborhood after she parked her car. The wooden steps leading down to her main door from the rickety wooden fence were adorned with miniature dolls and figurines of toads, bats, rabbits and cats. Some of them made a mechanized sound, activated as we approached. As soon as she opened her main door, a couple of cats and a one-eyed puppy nuzzled up to her and started to meow and woof around her feet. She lovingly hushed them up as a mother would do to her kids. I could also hear fervent cries of cockatoos coming from some other room too, and I understood that they have all become aware of their mistress returning home after along absence. The house had a strange heavy smell, one of heady incense, and a fumigator was blowing fumes from a corner of the small passage. The little foyer also had a huge rectangular glass box of about 2 mts long and I noticed something moving inside it. As I peeped into the box, the forked tongue of a python hissed at me and I sprung back a foot or two in dismay. She smiled at me, and said that all of these were her children. I later found that she had two dogs, three cats, two cuckatoos, a few toads, four gold-fishes and this huge python.One corner of her foyer also had a large full-size mannequin of LILITH ( an Egyptian Goddess, as she told me later !!) . There was a full sized bookshelf, stuffed with books and magazines, and I understood that she was a voracious reader. Myself being a lover of books, I stopped in front of the shelf and peeped into it. There was a large collection of books on magic, spells, love potions, divine connections, spirituality, witchcraft, Psychic fore-telling, charms and Wiccan worship rituals. I just became more interested and attracted to this completely unknown world of knowledge, wisdom and wizardry .
“What do you do with all these kinds of books about witchcraft?”, I asked her in my perplexity.
“I am a Witch, I need them “, she smiled with a twinkle in her eye.
She slowly showed me around her home, a very nice looking house having two bedrooms, a guest room a dining and a study with a basement. I saw dozens of small statutes and masks around her house, with VHS cassetes and audio and video CDs , books and small items of interest strewn all around her house. She had shelves of small miniature clay heads, from The Beatles to Michael Jackson which she said she had made and painted on her own. I was burning with curiosity now and my interest in her grew. She prepared a cup of coffee and brought out some cookies, and we again begun to talk. She took me back with her, through the absolutely colourful and fascinating years of her life, from the adolescent years spent around London, to the escapades in Greece during her youth. She spoke of her marriages, the deaths of her husband and father, her rainbow child, the years she spent with him, the struggles and the challenges in her life, and the later phase of ultimately moving here to Australia where she went through two other failed marriages. She spoke about Rex, her fourth husband whom I would meet later. Time rolled off and soon the clock ticked 9 in the evening. I understood it was already late to go back to the hotel she invited me to stay over at her place, and got busy in preparing dinner. Post dinner, we again sat over with she filling up our glasses with red wine from the casket. We kept chatting, I kept hearing about her life, her friends, her beliefs and her practices of witchcraft.
That was how I came to know Carole Chapman, one of the most wonderful persons I have met in Australia. In the coming days and months I came to know her quite closely. Most weekends at Sydney, I left home and stayed over at her place. We developed a friendship of sorts over the next few months of my work there . I still remember the long stretch of holidays in end December where I was the only one of my IT team who stayed back to support our client onsite. She was the one who gave me company, drove me around to see the Three sisters and Blue Mountains, took me over to meet her nudist friends at Rainbow Reach Resort along the pacific highway, and introduced me to some of her friends there at Sydney. Those days when she broke her wrist and struggled with the nuances of daily life, I had tried to give her some support in being with her on weekends, cooking up and storing for her some Indian curry, doing a bit of local shopping too. Her friends and coven members were also a constant support. I saw them dropping in on most days that I was there, enquiring about her, coming to her for her advice, and relating to her their problems in their lives. She was patient , wise and caring with every one of those souls. As I came to know her more, I found her to be a very humble, warmhearted, and a generous person. She was a champion of humanity, through the struggles of her life, with her ill-marriages and her personal challenges. Her care for the animals and birds, the sick ones who found a safe haven inside her home was a mark of her kindness towards all. She was immensely knowledgeable, wise in her vision and philosophy, deep in her understanding, happy as a child and true to her own self. She was also witty, in tune with the world around her and a very outspoken person. She changed a lot of ways in perceiving life for me too.
During the next few months of my stay there at Sydney, I came to know her more intimately. Certain events which took place at her home and especially one where me and my friend , Amit Roy caught the ritualistic fire in one of her pagan rituals still bug me as I try to find the rationale behind them and how they occurred. There was surely something mystical around her and her place. She explained me the practice of Witchcraft for the Mother Goddess that they all perform for the betterment of the lives and of everyone around them. I still remember those days at her place, chatting till the wee hours of the morning, drinking her wine, discussing life over a myriad of topics. She became family. I also came to know her coven, a few of her friends, of which I am still in touch with one lady named Mara Carter , and participated in a couple of local events and get-togethers with her friends in the Wiccan community. It was a rare occasion for me to know people from different walks of life. I also found that she was one of the few direct students of famed Wiccan teacher, Alex Sanders, who was consulted during the making of the movie ” The Wickerman”.
Please click below to check her interview :
“You know it seems that the almighty works in mysterious ways,’ she said once, ‘else how would you and me connect over the digital divide?” That is a question I still ponder over today after all these many years, as we had so much in common on our philosophies of life.
She has sailed out of this world into the land of sunshine, or Summerland as the Wiccans lovingly call it, in July 2011. Her absence is still felt as I understand by a bevy of her friends, her disciples and students for sure. Carole Chapman’s Facebook profile can be viewed here. She was an authority in Witchcraft, Wicca, and Wiccan teachings as I found out later. She was also affectionately called the Dame Witch of Australia by friends and people who knew her. A person with a heart full of humanity, a religion above anything else.
Stay happy my friend where ever you are. And keep a loving eye over all of us down here. 🙂