Abracadabra, maleficarum, zoophilia: a compleat A-Z of British witchcra ft

They're getting on their broomsticks and coming out of the coven. This week, witches went legit in Milton Keynes. Vicky Ward looks back over a pagan 1 994 and sets the record straight after centuries of occult misunderstandings
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Church of England is worried about it; Leeds University students adore it; Milton Keynes council has just given in to it: witchcraft. After 300 years of persecution and 200 years of near-invisibility, it is all the rage again.

The maligned myth of the evil, ugly woman in a dunce's hat (an image invented by the established church) is now being explored and exposed for what it is - a fallacy. In its place is emerging the picture of a pagan religion, full of mystical beauty and ancient truths, whose secrets have been passed down throughout the ages.

Increasingly Britain's young, disillusioned by the inefficacy of the Church of England are flocking to it. There are no official records, but some number Britain's witches at more than 1 million - and growing.

Abracadabra: Perhaps the most popular myth relating to witchcraft, now a favourite of magicians at children's parties. Although witches did chant unintelligible rhymes to assert their superiority and supernatural powers, there is no record of witches ever using the word Abracadabra. which is based on an Arab word used in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. They do, however, cast spell as part of a healing process.

Lois Bourne, author of Conversations with a Witch (Robert Hale), recommends the following spell to get rich: Use shortly after a new moon, no more than once a quarter Ingredients: 7 tsp dried parsley 1 tsp ground cinnamon 1 tsp ground nutmeg 1 tsp brown sugar 2 pints boiled water, cooled Method: Mix ingredients in bowl. Strain into half a tub of bath water. Bathe for seven minutes, while praying for an increase in finances.

Broomstick: Superstitiously considered to be the witch's main method of aerial transport to and from her coven meetings; in fact, it was used to vault over puddles en route. Traditionally a symbol of fertility, broomsticks were reputedly used by witches as they danced around fields, encouraging corn to grow to the height of the broom's brush. Today, the broomstick or besom is used to cleanse a sacred space and is just one of many magical tools used to create a mood or attitude. Other vital tools includea pentacle, a thurible of incense, bells, candles, bells and wands.

Coven: Derived from the word convent; a small group of witches, numbering 13 - six women, six men and a priestess, known as a magistrar. Under 18s will not be initiated. Before being admitted, novice witches must train for a year and a day. Covens meet regularly at midnight, "the witching hour", in a consecrated, ritual space outdoors, marked out as a sacred circle, to perform rituals and worship. A designated room in a witch's private home may also be used for worship.

Demons: Witchcraft is often erroneously associated with demonology and Satanism, both Christian concepts. Accusations of devil worship were first levied by the Christian church circa 1500 in a desperate attempt to impose religious conformity on Europe. Thereafter witches often confessed to demonoligical practices under torture. Modern witches ask to be carefully distinguished from such practices, not least because they do not believe in the Christian devil and the notion of evil. They belie v ethat evilrebounds three-fold upon the evil-doer, so taking away all motivation for evil.

Endor: The first witch to be recorded in print. The witch of Endor appears in the Old Testament to raise the spirit of Samuel at the behest of Saul. However both the Latin and Greek descriptions of the woman translate, literally, as medium or ventriloquist since, in those days the cult of witchcraft did not exist.

Feminism: There has always been a "witchy" tendency within the feminist movement, celebrating the secret power of women, women's innate wisdom and the importance of women-only gatherings. High priestess of this tendency is Mary Daly, author of The First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Women's Press). Virago, the pioneering feminist press, is a slang word for witch.

Garter: A traditional hallmark of a witch. Edward Prince of Wales (later King Edward III) once hosted a royal ball during which the Countess of Salisbury's garter fell down half way through a dance. The prince stepped forward, picked it up and placed it around his own leg, defying anyone to brand the countess a witch with the words: "Honi soit qui mal y pense."

Halloween: The New Year's Eve of the witches' world, it is also the Celtic "Night of the Dead" or year-end, when the worlds of life and death become as thin as veils, allowing the dead to walk among the living. It is one of the Craft's eight festivals celebrating the seasons and lasting from sundown to sundown. Many traditions have been secularised, such as pumpkin pie and apple-bobbing.

Incantation: Spells and chants, such as the famous "Hubble, Bubble'' verse in Macbeth, are indeed part of the coven ritual, although the words of worship today are thought to be far more lyrical - in the "Queen of the Moon, Queen of the Sun' vein. Their

actual content, however, is a closely guarded secret.

James I: The only Royal demonologist, and the man for whom Shakespeare's Macbeth was written. In the early 17th century James I wrote a book called The Demonology, calling for the punishment of all witches. (He had a particular grievance against the North Berwick witches, whom he believed had sought to achieve his death by conjuring a storm.)

Knife: All witches carry a knife called an Athame, which is black-handled and has magic signs on the hilt. It serves not only as a tool but as a holy object. It may be disguised to maintain secrecy.

Law: The Witchraft Act was repealed in 1951 when 20,000 British witches were left to live in peace. The most viciously anti-witchcraft law was the Malleus Maleficarum of 1486, under which hordes of people were executed without even the interrogation of witnesses.

Magic: Derived from the word Magi, meaning the wise; witches still believe they are capable of superhuman powers, especially when worshiping together in their covens. Many hint that the magic is derived from natural body rhythms.

Nudity: Covens perform their rites in the nude or "sky-clad" while others wear long white robes in Druidic tradition. The body's natural powers are thought to be impeded by clothes. Modern witches play down this aspect of their gatherings, saying that the nudity is entirely spiritual.

Occult: From the Latin "hidden or secret". Witchcraft has always been associated with the occult because witches believe in what might now be termed parapsychic and paraphysical power. People are not readily admitted into modern covens, unless they have a strong belief in the paranormal.

Pagan: Witches are - and were - pagans, from the Latin paganus, meaning country dweller. Witchcraft was originally the mystical religion of the fields, and christianity of the towns (though nowadays many witches are forced, by dint of circumstance to meet in rooms in towns). The focus of modern witchcraft's worship is a goddess - who may not be named for fear her power should be weakened, but it is thought she is a Mother Earth figure. A priest or priestess leads the worship ceremony.

River-dunking: One of the better known methods of testing whether a witch was the genuine article. The suspect's right arm was tied to their left leg and vice versa, and they were lowered into a river three times; if they sank on each occasion, they wer e innocent; if they floated, they were a witch. This was one of the more painless tests: truly terrible forms of torture included the lowering of a heavy weight on to a suspect crushing them into either admittance or death.

Sex: Witchcraft is a religion in which sex is seen positively as an expression of the forces of nature, not solely for sinning or procreation. The magical tradition of Tantra, studied by witches today, is designed to make women sexually dominant because,according to Shan, a 45-year-old witch living in south London, a "woman's experience of sex is deeper and more powerful".

Transvection: The term used by "witchcraftologists' to describe the imagined magical practice of transporting oneself by broomstick or animal. Allegedly, the only thing that could bring a witch out of the air was the sound of church bells ringing, so so m e churches rang their bells all through the night.

Unguent: An ointment smeared on the body to aid flying. It was thought that witches used rub-on ointments as cures and poisons far more than brews.

Witch: Referred to in witches' circles as the W-word, according to Dr Vivianne Crowley, a 37-year-old witch who works for a management consultancy, because it conjures up images of old hags, black cats and creepy graveyards. Recalling the persecution of witches over the centuries, they prefer to be referred to as Wiccans, after Wicca, the anglo-saxon term meaning the "craft of the wise" and the derivation for today's "witch".

X: Marks the cross for Christianity, witchcraft's ancient enemy. The only way Christianity could eradicate witchcraft was by taking on board some of its properties - smells and bells, for example - and slowly diluting them before rejecting them altogether. Ironically, young people are now seeking the liberating, ritualistic side of witchcraft once again in the form of the ever-growing New Age movement.

Youth: The great majority of witches were sent to their deaths by the testomonies of young children. The Salem witchhunt of 1692 was started when two children claimed to have been possessed by the devil. Paranoia broke out and all those the children indicated were tried and, unless they admitted to witchcraft, executed.

Zoophilia: The practice of copulating with the devil in the form of animals or familiars, to which many of those tried in the witch hunt did confess. Modern witches would be appalled at the suggestion of the continuation of the practice.

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