Back From a Spell
July 4, 2000 The Age
By ANITA CHAUDHURI
Something most irregular is occurring in the world
of pentagrams and pointy hats. After 2000 years of persecution
and bad publicity, witches have finally been rehabilitated
as icons of female power.
Don't believe me? Switch on the television and there's
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch
and the sisters of Charmed acting as unofficial pagan
ambassadors. Visit the newage section of any bookstore
and behold how the shelves are crammed with dozens of
glossy tomes devoted to spells and magic.
On the Internet, ecovens and Wicca mailing lists are
a growth area.
It is a curious phenomenon, this resurgence of interest
in the dark arts, particularly among otherwise rational,
21stcentury women. Is it a quest to reconnect with an
authentic, intuitive inner goddess or another manifestation
of an innate sense of powerlessness?
Certainly the idea of being able to wave a magic wand
over a particularly trying situation has great appeal;
the thought that a spell might exist to turn a frog,
if not into a prince, then into Dr Kovak from television
series E.R., is positively intoxicating.
"Women want more control over their lives, that's why
they are turning to magic," says Gillian Kemp, author
of The Good Spell Book. "All women are witches and everybody
can do magic, simply by accessing their intuition,"
she insists. "What makes a spell work is the emotion
you put into it. So if someone wants to get their husband
back, there isn't much point getting an official witch
to do a spell - it's far better to do it yourself."
This is where her book comes in handy, containing as
it does spells to cover most of life's more pressing
requirements, including To Get a Lover to Call, Eternal
Triangle and To Communicate with an Absent Partner.
There are also spells for avoiding divorce, dieting,
finding a job and winning the lottery.
My favourite was To Deter Straying, until I discovered
it was a spell for pets and involved burying a lump
of the animal's fur in a hole in the garden. Would it
work as effectively if you used a clump of an errant
spouse's hair? Kemp thinks not, but then the effectiveness
of her enchantments is dubious to begin with. After
all, why has she not won the lottery herself and retired
"A spell is like a driving test," she says. "They don't
always work first time. You need perseverance."
With this in mind, I search for a suitable spell. The
section on love looks promising, but they all seem to
demand ingredients more appropriate for a forensics
lab than a romantic encounter - lumps of hair, fingernails,
clothing samples. If we had access to such intimate
parts of our chosen love god, would we really need spells
to entrap him?
Some of the incantations are a bit worrying, too. "May
the flame of passion burn within your heart/From me
you will not part" reads a spell To Attract the One
You Love. But what if I get sick of him? Even the author
admits her spell To Rid Yourself of a Persistent and
Unwanted Lover is "more complicated than most".
Kate West heads the Hearth of Hecate, a coven in Norfolk,
in the UK, with 20 members. She believes women are embracing
"the craft" in droves, not because they need miracle
spells but because they want to form more profound links
with nature and their own unconscious. "Ultimately,
it's about the belief that you can change the world
around you - that's a nurturing, female concept. It
is also liberating to accept that there is a goddess
protecting us and our Earth."
Every week, West is inundated with requests for spells,
or "magical assistance", and for advice, both from the
local community and the Internet. "There isn't exactly
a poster in the window saying Witch Lives Here, but
people do know. There's a lot of fear of us, particularly
from men, but that has ever been the case. I get email
from worried parents about daughters who have just got
Now she is writing a handbook for young witches for
the postHarry Potter market, offering stepbystep guidance
to becoming a witch. "There are a lot of misconceptions.
People think magic will solve all their problems and
it won't. Most of my work is used in healing. I do 10
to 12 spells per month but I don't charge. Often I do
them for people who have done my babysitting.
"Money spells are the hardest because you have to be
really specific - there's no point in just asking for
cash or you'll wake up to find a 5p piece on your doorstep.
Love can be tricky, too, because I think it's immoral
to tamper with the emotions of a third party."
West is adamant that the vast majority of witches use
their power to good ends. Even her own principles have
their limits, however. "I'm not ashamed to say I often
cast spells to find a parking space in a hurry."
West claims not to have read Harry Potter, probably
the real source of the current boom in bewitchment.
"I'm not sure if Harry Potter is a good thing," says
Sally Taylor, a thirdgeneration witch who has read the
books. "It makes magic seem too simplistic."
Taylor should know; she previously ran a school for
witches, the Kent College of Magic and Metaphysics,
which sounds suspiciously like the Hogwarts School of
J.K. Rowling's fiction. "There are fake covens around,
people with plastic bats nailed to their doors - we've
got a real bat cave here. There's a lot of hypocrisy,
too, particularly when dealing with kids. Most children
are taught their first spell at the age of three - blow
out the candles and make a wish. Then it's all stamped
out of them."
Taylor, now 60, is pragmatic about the use of magic
in women's lives. "Most witches I know have to combine
their day jobs with the craft, which can be very stressful.
They're not all going around with pointy hats, you know
... I even go to church, which freaks people out. I
think they're scared of what a witch represents."
It is interesting to examine why witches have historically
been outcasts, while male practitioners of pagan rituals
have by and large been allowed to conduct their business
without fear of the ducking stool. Some of the unease
clearly stems from a universal fear of female power.
Wiccan lore celebrates the triple goddess of maiden,
mother and crone, three archetypes of womanhood.
"The crone is the most feared because she is postmenstrual;
the mother is feared because she has the secret of reproduction,
a form of immortality she is withholding from men; the
maiden is feared because of her suppressed power," says
Shahrukh Husain, a folklorist and editor of the Virago
Book of Witches. Her own research among teenage witches
explores links between witchcraft and adolescent sexuality.
"Being a witch is about embracing your dark side, which
women are not supposed to accept. It lets you celebrate
the part that's a slut or that has a foul mouth. Ultimately
witchery is all about accessing one's own power, dressing
up outrageously and showing off." With a manifesto like
that, what woman could resist? - GUARDIAN