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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent