Five-minute memoir: Annabel Markova recalls the day her mum cast a spell on her

A knotty legal dispute is resolved in the unlikeliest of ways for the author

My mother spent 45 years in a remote part of west Dorset where everyone knew of local people, men as well as women, who claimed to solve problems in mysterious, unorthodox ways. They were usually paid, not always in money; and they seemed more respected than feared.

I don't know what caused my mother – a sophisticated woman who, though country bred, had lived and worked in London – to decide she was a witch, too. She only helped friends and claimed some success: for example, enabling a couple to buy the house of their dreams after all previous attempts had failed. On the other hand, none of her spells to bring back disaffected lovers seemed to work. As a young person, I dismissed magic as a joke.

Years later, I found myself in a deeply stressful situation caused by a legal dispute that had spiralled out of control. It had already cost far more than I could afford and there seemed no end.

"I think I should do a spell," my mother mused after I had told her the latest development. I had hoped to escape my problem for a weekend, but I couldn't; and I was so desperate by then that I would have tried anything. And so it was decided one summer evening in Dorset that magic should be harnessed to try to resolve the situation.

We were lucky that the moon was waxing, my mother observed, because this meant any spell would be at its most potent. We would have to wait until dark, though. Three teenaged girls were staying, too, and they were thrilled by the prospect of witchcraft.

We were all feeling quite bold by the time we ventured out, though I remember some nervous giggling when we noticed my mother was carrying a deer's skull. We were sternly warned that it was crucial to believe.

Being in that part of west Dorset at night is a magical experience in itself. It's so quiet that you can pick up the scream of a rabbit far away in the woods just before a predator cuts off its life; and so free of artificial light that the darkness is absolute.

But on that night, clouds were streaming across the sky and there was only an occasional wafer of moon. None of us had brought torches. It was as if we needed to pretend we were back in the superstitious past to give magic a chance.

We stumbled over tussocks and through potholes to the place where she carried out her spells. She explained that it was naturally mystical, being a circle of elder saplings enclosing a secret spring. Part of her ritual involved setting down the deer's skull so water could bubble up through its eye sockets. My mother told us that she'd learnt all this as a child from an old countrywoman who had boasted of being a witch. Magic survived, she said, when secrets passed from one generation to the next. It was almost as if she was seizing the chance to teach those young girls to become witches, too.

But by now the rest of us were terrified. The darkness seemed thick with menace. Then one of the teenagers remembered the awful story of The Monkey's Paw and suggested that any spell would have to be phrased extremely carefully so there could be no room for malicious misinterpretation.

The black shape of my mother stepped inside the magic circle and sank to the ground. She began to whisper but we all shrieked "Don't!". She hesitated and in that moment we managed to pull her away. The wind rattled the leaves and I fancied it sounded like someone in a temper who has been thwarted.

The next morning dawned peaceful and bright and the events of the previous night seemed ridiculous. Even so, I felt happier than I had for months. Perhaps, I reflected, real magic lies in the soothing power of those we trust.

"It probably wouldn't have worked anyway," I remarked to my mother as the two of us sat in the garden over breakfast.

"But something happened last night," she protested. "The force was there. Surely you felt it?"

"Hysteria," I said. "But I know you were trying to help."

At that moment we heard the telephone start to ring inside the house.

The call was for me. It was from a friend who apologised for interrupting the weekend but explained that the evening before, he had quite by chance met a man who had let slip a piece of hitherto unknown information pertaining to my problem that might, he suggested, be extremely useful.

As it turned out, that information saved me.

Annabel Markova's ninth novel, 'The Family Thief', is out now, published by Blackfriars Books

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own