I don’t really like visiting the local garden centre: the coffee is fine, the staff are friendly and the environment is bright and inviting….but it feels like you start to prematurely age just as soon as you’ve taken a seat. People always accuse me of exaggerating, but I once left that building with a full beard after going in only an hour before, clean-shaven. I’m not saying that there’s something in the plants like – oh I don’t know – a sort of spore cloud miasma that withers the flesh, but I did see an attractive, redheaded woman of youngish middle age turn into a blue rinse bingo-winner just by sniffing a purple rose. It happened right in front of my eyes, and three staff members had to help the poor cow back into her car.
On the subject of curious and ancient enchantment, I’ve come to the garden centre to meet three of the area’s most powerful witches. No, seriously. There are three local witches who meet up at the garden centre for a monthly consultation. Unlike the Shakespearean crones or Pratchett’s Discworld witches, these three are quite young (for a given value of young), adorned from head to foot in some seriously fashionable clothing and are, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit on the sexy side.
Wicky-wow-wow type witches. Is that a thing?
When I was invited to join them for coffee, I was faced with a bit of a conundrum, not merely because I’ve written quite a few posts gently ridiculing Wicca and the ‘the craft’ but also because, since becoming a Master Mason, I’ve found myself a bit more interested in ancient practise and the art of ritual in general. No, please don’t touch my nipples: I hate that.
Plenty of people reading this are already shouting at me for describing Freemasonry or Wicca as ancient (many argue that true Freemasonry only dates back to the 1800s and that Wicca was entirely invented as a pagan sub-religion by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s….but as both are mere extensions of a series of genuinely archaic rites, I tend to see arguing the toss on these things as a bit like arguing that any given god or gods are the ones that everybody should be worshiping. You can’t really say that my Magic Toad of the Crooked Staircase is any less holy and powerful than your Scarecrow of Lightning without then being asked – very politely – to prove it.
Nevertheless, here I am at the garden centre to meet up with three serious, genuine witches. They’re not the only local bunch practising the art of Wicca, as I’m told that at least one other group meet (or met until recently) at the Red Lion pub, but as far as I know the Red Lion doesn’t do cappuccinos so I’m meeting up with this bunch instead.
I’m in trouble only five minutes after sitting down with them, as I fancy the one sitting opposite and I’m so mind-meltingly shallow that this fact is strongly affecting my desire to start the meeting with some of my more challenging questions.
Yes, I know….but I’m a young(ish) full-blooded male, and I don’t get out much (unless you count my daily trips to Costa or Harris & Hoole).
These women are absolutely not what I expected, and I mean that they don’t seem to fit into any of the established categories that I’ve foolishly come to associate with the dreamy practitioners of witchcraft. They look more like Carrie Bradshaw’s support group from Sex and the City. I expected Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick: I’ve got Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson and (yeah, okay – admittedly) Katie Hopkins.
After introducing myself and my little friend (wait – I’m getting to that), I ask them to tell me about themselves.
There’s Mary, whose real name is apparently Meredith, Beth, whose real name turns out to be Suzanne and Shelley, whose real name – rather disappointingly – turns out to be Shelley. The older two are somewhere in their early to mid thirties, but Shelley looks considerably younger.
Mary is single, runs an online witch forum and hangs out in Second Life, the internet’s leading virtual world, but not with (and I quote) ‘any of the established groups’. Beth seems like a member of what I tend to think of as the ‘range rover gang': her husband works in publishing while she spends a lot of time ‘sorting out the stables’. Shelley is a complete mystery, and gives away very little about herself beyond admitting that she owns a ‘shop in Maidstone that isn’t easily classified’ (I’m translating that as ‘one of those shops you stand outside for ten minutes before deciding that nobody is really in the market for a banana shaped backscratcher or one of those ugly punch dolls that sit on mantelpieces for thirty years and scare two generations of children).
I want to ask some really challenging questions, because I love the craft and have dabbled around the edges of it for years without ever really becoming a true solitary practitioner or joining a local coven. However, I also want to take a light-hearted look at what on the surface appears to many to be a very strange pursuit so….
….wait for it…..because there’s something I’ve left out….
I’ve actually brought along my most juvenile friend, a guy who – despite his big heart and puppy dog eyes – just has absolutely no idea when he’s overstepping the mark, upsetting people or generally putting his foot into any given situation, usually up to the knee. I know he’s going to ask some really ignorant questions, and that’s exactly why he’s here. I don`t set out to make fun of people, but this is a blog about the oddities of life….and sometimes you have to hold firm to the mast on that one.
These ladies turn out to have a wicked sense of humour: they’re all really clued up and within a few seconds have reduced both myself and my mate to dust. Due to the fact that they asked, politely but firmly, that I be sure not to pass on any of the specifics they gave me regarding their work in the community or the makeup of their particular order, here’s a choice selection (presented as a Q&A) from the battering we took in the conversation relay:
“Honestly, do you think Gerald Gardner made the whole thing up?”
“People believe lots of different things. We are not Gardnerian witches, but we do believe that Gerald was himself initiated by a much older coven of genuine witches. So the short answer is ‘no’.”
“I understand that the main witch group in the UK has a High Priest. Gerald Gardner was a witch. Is witchcraft basically something men join to get girls? I would.”
“It has been suggested that the coven who initiated Gardner was mostly full of quite elderly women.”
“Maybe he was into that.”
“You must draw your own conclusion, but we believe it was the rites, the rituals and most importantly the Goddess that enticed Gardner to adopt Wicca as his religion of choice.”
“Have you ever successfully healed the sick?”
“We have aided in the healing of others, both individually and as a group.”
“Does there have to be three of you? We’re asking because the world knows that there can only ever be two Sith…”
“The goddess has a triple aspect, but we meet together here because we run the working side of our own Coven. Oh, and the Sith have a stupid rule: if there were more of them they would have wiped out the Jedi before the end of the first episode.”
“Who is the most powerful witch you know?”
“We don’t say her name, but she’s Scottish and she writes children’s books.”
“A serious answer?”
“It’s not a serious question, as power is a term that we would see very differently from you, but our most successful member is a witch called Hilary: she has done more for the craft that anyone else locally that we’re aware of.”
“Can she ride a broomstick?”
“Do you do your rituals skyclad? That’s witch-speak for naked, right?”
“Yes: we do, and the photographs are £10 each or three for £20.”
“Have any of you ever done really dark magic?”
“Not with any great results: Nigel Farage is still alive and well.”
“Can you reverse a curse?”
“Occasionally, but I’m afraid that we can’t do anything about ginger hair. The dark power that creates it is beyond any of us.”
“Would you say Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter) is a traditional witch?”
“No. Hogwarts is described as a school for witchcraft and wizardry, but all the pupils and teachers are what you would traditionally think of as wizards. The boys and the girls. We do use wands, but we seldom point them at people and shout things: Kent Police frown on that.”
“Do any of your rituals involve sex?”
“Sadly not, but even witches believe there should probably be a lot more of that about. It doesn’t look like either of you two are getting nearly enough yourselves.”
It was a good morning’s chat. All in all, I’d say we learned a bit about witchcraft, a lot about the garden centre and maybe even a small amount about the way that those with very individual pursuits have become accustomed to dealing with the ignorance and bumbling sarcasm of outsiders.
Incidentally, it’s worth pointing out that I asked one of the ladies to heal a really bad bruise on my knee: when I got home, the purple patch had gone and the skin around it no longer hurt when I pressed down on it.
I only wish I was joking.
NOTE: If you’re interested in studying Wicca or Witchcraft, whether for genuine worship or academic endeavours, The White Goddess Pagan Portal can be found at http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/