Laws relating to witchcraft in Australia


You no longer have to swear on the Bible when you go to court in Australia. We have such a range of spiritual beliefs that changes had to be made. Now you can swear on any book that you believe to be a book "of truth".

If in any doubt, seek professional advice!!

Laws Relating to Witchcraft in Australia 
Under the Australian Constitution Section V chapter 116: The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. This means that no religion can be recognised and no religion can be made illegal. This is for all religions including the organised ones. The government can however enact legislation in regards to religious  institutions and bodies.

if anyone has any updates on these laws please contact me.

Australian Capital Territory 

The Discrimination Act, 1991, makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of a person's religious convictions.

Discrimination Act, 1991

New South Wales 

The Witchcraft Act of 1735 was repealed by the Imperial Acts Application Act, 1969 (NSW), 

The offence of fortune telling, [Section 4(2)(n) of the Vagrancy Act, 1902 (NSW)] was through many submissions and changes  finally repealed by the Summary Offences Act (Repeal) Act, 1979 (NSW).

Northern Territory

Thorough searching has failed to reveal any equivalent laws which affect religious practices.

Queensland  The Criminal Code -Section 432 This was repealed on 10th November 2000 Vagrants, Gaming and Other Offences Act 1931 The Queensland Government recently repealed the Vagrants Gaming and Other Offences Act 1931. The Summary Offences Act which takes it's place has been enacted effective 21st March 2005.
South Australia

The Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Public Offences) Act, 1991 abolished the Witchcraft laws in SA

However the 1991 Act came with a new section Section 40. A person who, with intent to defraud purports to act as a spiritualist or medium or to exercise powers of telepathy or clairvoyance or other similar powers, is guilty of an offence.

Summary Offences Act as Section 40.


The Constitution Act 1934, Section 46, provides for freedom of religion.

Constitution Act 1934
This document includes a legal guarantee of the religious liberty and equality of Tasmanians. Every citizen is guaranteed freedom of conscience and the free exercise of religion under Section 46(1) of this Act. Section 46(2) declares that no person is required to take any oath on religion or religious belief, and that no religious test is required for any public office.


Section 13 of the Vagrancy Act 1958 which is entitled 'Fortune Telling and Pretending to Exercise Witchcraft, etc': 

Any person who pretends or professes to tell fortunes or uses any subtle craft means or device by palmistry or otherwise to defraud or impose on any other person or pretends to exercise or use any kind of witchcraft sorcery enchantment or conjuration or pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner any goods or chattels stolen or lost may be found shall be guilty of an offence.

The Pagan Awareness Network Inc made a submission amongst others to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee in Victoria during 2002 in the regard to supporting the repeal of this act. 

On the 3rd of September 2002 it was recommended to the Attorney General by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee in Victoria that this law should be repealed. The status of the repeal is not known at this time. When this law is gone there will be no standing Witchcraft laws in Australia

In July 2005 this law was finally repealed with the "Vagrancy (Repeal) and Summary Offences (Amendment) Act 2005". There are no standing Witchcraft laws in Australia now.

Western Australia

To date I have not been able to find any information about laws that may affect Pagans or Witches past or present.


Religious Rights in Australia

Pagans and the NSW Knife Laws

The following information is offered as a guide and is not to be taken as any sort of legal advice. (I didn't write this, there was no attribution on the copy forwarded to me)

This article is in response to a number of pagan friends who've expressed fears as to how the new N.S.W. knife laws impact on their possession of ritual blades (athame). This article was prepared using the Act itself, a government information kit, the police services own internal training package, and the assistance of a Senior Sgt. Police trainer including discussions with police who will be enforcing this act 'at the coalface'.


'But constable, it's not a knife it's my Athame.'


The N.S.W. Public Safety Act came into force on the 1st of July 1998. The new Act permits police to demand the name and address of any person, to search any person and confiscate any knife or weapon found in their possession. The possession of a knife in any school or public place without a lawful excuse is an offence. Refusing a second request to be searched is an offence. Previously, searching was legally restricted to persons who had already been arrested. The type of search permitted is a pat-down (or metal detector) only, however, you can be asked to remove your over-coat, or coat. If you refuse they will ask again under this Act. A second refusal will probably result in arrest. As a person in custody, a strip search at a police station is then mandatory. Refusing to provide personal particulars is an offence. Whether or not one agrees with these provisions, the act exists and much of the advice given in the 'know your rights' booklets produced in the 1980's is now obsolete. So, what is a lawful excuse for carrying a blade? The Act specifies five exemptions:


  1. Genuine occupational use. Abattoir workers, chefs, carpet layers etc, all have very expensive knives and generally take them home. Carriage to and from work is legal.
  2. Legitimate sporting/recreation activity. Martial artists, metal weapons re-enactment groups, campers, fishers etc. may all possess blades to indulge in their sport/hobby.
  3. Food preparation. This law will not impact on people using knives to cut fruit, spread butter & generally prepare food on a picnic, street stall etc.
  4. As part of a uniform. Scottish pipe bands wear a dirk in theft sock. Prison officers carry a small 'noose cutter'. Members of the Armed Forces often wear a bayonet for public parades.
and finally,

  1. Genuine religious purposes. Every Sikh male is required to carry a knife to symbolise his willingness to defend his faith. (Although in practise this usually manifest itself as a small symbolic blade). The Athame or ritual blade of the pagan is most definitely covered by this exemption.

However... the Act places the onus of proof on the accused, and it appears that the key to these exemptions is context. So while a butcher needs his knives whilst working and commuting, he would be hard pressed to prove occupational necessity whilst sitting in a pub. Likewise a martial artist can posses a samurai sword, but if training nights are Mon.& Wed., and the sword is found in his car on a Friday night, then his exemption probably won't hold water. This was the actual circumstance of the first charge laid under the Act. The guy didn't front court and was fined in his absence - (Sword to be destroyed.) The same may be said for a picnicker using a bowie knife to butter saos. The picnicker may have some difficulty justifying their choice of cutlery.


So while there is no legal impediment to a pagan transporting their Athame to & from circle or festivals, if they stop off at time-zone, or the pub, the context would suggest that it is not being held for a genuine religious purpose and they leave themselves vulnerable to, at the very least, confiscation. While this law may prove inconvenient, it's now a fact of life that an extra burden of responsibility is placed on the owners of legitimate blades.


While the law doesn't differentiate between wearing a blade and having one in your bag, (both being possession) I would suggest that wearing it on your belt publicly is tantamount to erecting a neon sign asking the police to question, search and possibly confiscate it. Not everyone has that much time to waste, which brings me to my next point.


Dealing with the Police

This law was introduced (hurriedly) following the stabbing murders of two police, and the less publicised non-fatal stabbing/cutting of a number of others. The new law gives them sweeping powers. How they use these powers will depend to a great degree on your reaction. For the purpose of this exercise we will assume the police has stopped you on your way to/from circle. Your blade will of course be snugly wrapped up in your bag in company with other ritual items (clothes, cord etc). As well as placing the item in its proper context, this will later be evidence that the blade was being carried for the stated ritual purpose. Police have been instructed to introduce themselves, and advise you that they wish to question you under this new Act.



Avoid becoming emotional. (A magical practitioner should be able to exercise control). It may be that you have been targeted through a combination of your appearance and the personal prejudice of the officer. On the other hand an old lady may have just been killed nearby and they're questioning as many people as possible. Now while your not obliged to tell them any more than your name and address, it is probably in your interest to eliminate yourself from their enquires at the earliest possible stage.  Telling them where your going to/coming from will also validate your reason for possessing the blade, which they are about to find. If you refuse to provide your name and address, you may be arrested.


The Search

An initial request to search will generally be casual eg: '..well we'd like to look in your bag' or 'Are you carrying anything you shouldn't be?' (A formal request will follow any refusal.) At this point be up-front and honest. You have the blade for a legitimate purpose and are within the law. A good response would be "No, (ie' nothing I shouldn't) but I do have my ritual knife in my bag" Ask them if they would like you to remove it, or if they would rather do it themselves. Criminals often plant syringes, razors etc in their bags as booby traps for police. On the other hand if someone actually has just been found murdered, they may be disinclined to let you reach into your bag for a knife. While this action may seem insignificant it will help by sub-consciously taking some of the tension out of the encounter.


If they ask you to unpack it don't whip it out and pass it to them. Unroll it in front of them. State that as it's a religious accoutrement, you'd prefer that they didn't touch it. (They probably will anyway but you are establishing that it is a genuine religious article and not just another shiv). The questions will then revolve around why you have it with you at this time. If you answer that you're commuting to/from circle, you should have no problems. (If you add" .... and to defend myself with." then you have just invited old man trouble to stay for the holidays.) At this juncture they may make some notes, check your story, and that should be the end of the matter. However,

What if the cop in question is a religious bigot? What if they were away sick when the new law was explained. What if the old lady' s body had a huge pentagram carved into it? In that case the police might:


a) Confiscate the blade


b) Arrest you AND confiscate the blade.



If your Athame is confiscated, you have 28 days to attend a police station, fill out a pro-forma application stating your details, the name rank & station of the officer and the reason why your blade should be returned. The local commander has the authority to return the blade. Should return be refused, you then have a further 28 days to appeal to the local court. A decision is made by a magistrate sitting alone. If you do not so apply the blade is then disposed of.



If you are arrested there is no mileage to be had in throwing a tantrum. Even though you were within the law and the police are in error, the arrest alone is not necessarily illegal. It is pointless stating your objection to being arrested, (this goes without saying, no one wants to be arrested), and the subtle difference between objecting and resisting (another offence) are usually lost on the average copper. I've never yet known a copper to 'unarrest' someone. The place to argue the matter is in court. The same holds for friends accompanying you whom may be tempted to play tug-of-war with your body. They will be far more use to you taking notes (notes made at the time are good evidence) and arranging bail than sitting next to you charged with hinder/obstruct police (another offence).



Unlike the sheriff in old movies about the Deep South, police don't want to keep you in custody a minute longer than it takes to identify and charge you. For starters they have to allocate someone to watch over you, and secondly if any harm comes to you in custody the guy in charge usually wears the blame. However, before they give you bail they need to satisfy a few criteria.


1. That you'll turn up to court.

You can satisfy this condition by having an address (or the address of a friend if your from out of town) and no prior instances of not turning up to court. (I've assumed from the outset that you're law abiding.)

2. You'11 commit no further offences whilst on bail.

If they've confiscated you blade you can hardly re-offend with it.

3. The seriousness of the offence.

This is not held to be an offence without an assumption in favour of bail.

Any assistance you can give them towards achieving bail will save you an uncomfortable and depressing night. Steadfastly refusing to give your name and address guarantees that they have to hold you.


The Charge

On arrival at the station you should ask to speak to a senior officer about the charge. Explain to them what has happened and that you believe you have a lawful excuse to carry the blade, and if possible give them the contact number of a responsible pagan where they can confirm your story. Advise them that you explained this to the arresting officer, but do not engage in blaming, or complaining about the arresting officer's prejudice. Now is not the time or place. Above all remain calm and in control. You might well be released without being charged. If so and you've been calm and co-operative you will quite possibly be given a lift back to your destination.


If not, your next step is to have your solicitor approach the police prosecution branch to drop the charge. These people are experienced professionals trained to recognise a charge destined to fall on its arse. In the unlikely event the police do go on with it, a magistrate will determine the matter. Remember though that the act states that the onus of proof is on the accused to prove the validity of their exemption. Your solicitor will tell you what kind of evidence is required. Eg: testimony of circle members, encyclopedia references, photos of the Athame in use.


Pagans come from all walks of life. We vote, we work and we pay taxes. We have the same responsibilities towards, and are entitled to the same protection from the law as any other member of the community. The Police Service has carefully briefed its members as to the purpose of this Act, and how it is to be utilised. Their oath of office contains the phrase "... without malice or ill will..."

If an officer makes derogatory or insulting comments about you faith, or worse, arrests you for carrying an Athame in clearly legal circumstances, lodge a complaint with their station commander (usually an Inspector). There is also the police integrity branch and the Ombudsman. The State Ombudsman has been specifically charged to oversee the use of this Act. The law was gazetted for an initial period of 12 months, with the Ombudsman to report on any police abuse of their discretionary powers.


**** If you get arrested while hooning around a public place with your Athame hanging off your belt then your buggered and nothing that I've written will be of any help to you.

from Lynne Hume. 1997. Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia