The laid-back sorceress with uncertain spells
By Martin Flanagan
July 26, 2004
At school, she yawned with disbelief when ouija boards were brought out by the other girls but, at 18, she met a boyfriend who was into "it" - meaning witchcraft.
She had always enjoyed study, having "an insatiable curiosity, an addiction to detective work". She now found a "humungous" new area to investigate. She worked her way through areas of study such as herbs, polytheism and tarot before arriving, after 20 years, at the classical gods of Greek and Roman mythology, the ones upon which so much of Western thought rests.
Is it truth that she has found? She thinks about that and then says, quite carefully, she's not sure the word truth can be applied to religion - any religion. "Truth is what science establishes." She thinks religion is more in the nature of a poetic attempt to describe reality. Besides which, she says, if you found the truth, the search would be over. And she doesn't want that. "You've finished then, haven't you?"
She grew up in East Malvern and went to a Catholic school. She didn't like the Catholicism she encountered, particularly its element of fear, but nonetheless liked the idea of religion. She believes her system of belief is a religion and that witch is a misleading word. "It covers a really broad spectrum from vegan goodie-two-shoes with crystals to Goth vampire types. Witches fight over who is a witch and who isn't." Basically, she says, modern witchcraft is a form of nature mysticism.
She is most decidedly not a creature of the New Age, nor does she like the confusion of crystals and dietary restrictions now associated with being a witch. Some of the old witches she knew when she was in her teens ate roasted meat off the spit and clanked mugs of beer together before washing it down. "Ascetic piety has crept in," she says. "They're making it too prissy. We're talking about a system of belief that comes from pre-industrial society."
She is wearing a long black dress but her socks have bright stripes and her cardigan, while dark overall, has deep maroons and tans and rich yellows running through it. She thinks she looks better in black. "Most witches lean towards the Gothic side of fashion." If she could be bothered, she might also paint her face but says the problem with fashion is that it takes up too much thinking time. The pendant she is wearing has the head of a satyr.
She says modern witchcraft came out of Britain in the 1950s as a mixture of folk belief, ceremonial magic, secret societies and freemasonry. It received an enormous impetus in the '70s from feminists who saw it as a forbidden system of female knowledge and power. Traditionally, she says, witchcraft was equally open to men "but women love it. It has places where women can have power and spiritual authority."
She sees the figure of the Virgin Mary in Christian mythology as neutered and not very powerful. Witchcraft and paganism give women "access to their babies and their blood and their reproduction and their mad female ways". She once lost a baby 20 weeks into a pregnancy. She says witches have goddesses to help them at such times.
She believes the Christian church demonised the old pagan gods, saying the idea of the Devil having cloven hooves and horns on his head comes from the Greek god Pan. She sees Christianity as a belief system whose historical dominance springs from it having been enmeshed with the Roman Empire.
She says that pagans might deify their natural surroundings, but basically they're looking at what's around them - earth, sea, sky. I ask her about magic she has engaged in. Has it worked? "Some of it has appeared to work," she replies, emphasising "appeared". Instead of talking about making magic, she talks about probability enhancement techniques.
She sees the move to have Harry Potter books banned from school syllabuses as the stupidest thing. "Harry Potter is immensely entertaining and interesting. There's no religion in it. It's just about magic and a fantasy view of witchcraft. I don't know anyone who can do spells like Hermione Granger. If Harry Potter attracts people to witchcraft, what they find when they get there won't be what they found in Harry Potter."
She's a history buff - "A lot of pagans tend to be because their sources come from the past" - and a self-confessed Luddite. She can work a computer, but only just. She'd like to live in the country, grow her own vegies, spin her own wool. She works as a weaver and writes for witchcraft magazines.
I ask if her partner's into witchcraft and she says: "Not really." They have a small son. She'd like to bring him up as a pagan but believes it's fairer to bring him up knowing about many religions because then he can make his own choice. "He may end up believing in none of them," she says.