I was raised a Catholic, but had a variety of spiritual influences as a child. My grandmother was a follower of "Theosophy" and my father was into UFO spotting, so I was always aware of other belief systems. For many years, I didn't have my own faith. I didn't feel that Catholicism was the right spiritual path for me, as it is too male-dominated, and I couldn't find a more appealing alternative.
Then, in my twenties, I met a pagan. He described his as a nature religion, which honours old gods and goddesses equally, and pays repent to the spirits of the place. When he talked about the central tenets of paganism, it instantly made sense. After that, I found my interest in alternative spiritual beliefs growing and took a course at the House of the Goddess. Here, an experienced witch – a high priestess – taught me about circle work. This involves defining protective spaces in the ground, which you sit or stand in while performing rituals.
I didn't become a witch myself until, a few years later, I went to an open ritual at a pagan federation; a good place to observe what goes on. This particular event was a spring ritual, and I befriended several witches there who later invited me to join their Wicca coven of 10 witches, led by a high priestess. This was a particularly large coven by usual standards. With this group, I trained for a year to become a witch.
Wicca is the most common form of witchcraft in Britain. It draws on ancient sources, but most of the literature was written by Gerald Gardner and his high priestess in the mid-20th century. In training to become a Wiccan witch, I attended coven meetings once a week to learn about making incense and to become familiar with the essence of witchcraft – a nature religion that respects both the male and the female. In practice, much of a witch's work is about honouring the changing seasons, as well as doing magic.
During my training, I was educated about specific festivals, and how they are celebrated. Halloween, for example, is a time to remember the dead, to honour their spirits.
There is a big difference between working on your own as a witch and practising with a coven. The process of conducting a group ceremony is different every time. Generally, we'll meet up somewhere outdoors, and start by preparing the space for the ritual. We sweep the ground with traditional brooms and light candles to represent the different elements: earth, wind, fire and water. Then we inscribe the circle, using a ritual knife, before stepping into the circle.
To begin the ritual, we say various words to honour the time of year and the relevant gods and goddesses. We might also bring along a healing list and add chants to help heal people. At the end of the ceremony, we thank the spirits who were present. Only then can we open up the circle again.
Working on my own is not as complex. I spend time contemplating the moon, and practising candle magic, mainly for healing. For this, I write what I am hoping for on a candle splashed with various scented oils and pass my wishes through the candle as it burns.
I spend a lot of time reading literature. At the moment I'm looking at Grimoires: A History of Magic Books by Owen Davies, which talks about a range of subjects from the history of Jewish traditions to the destruction of old magic books by the Christian church. I've also started to write my own blog – badwitch.co.uk – about life as a modern-day witch. My friends all know I'm a witch but I haven't told my work colleagues – it would be easy to be teased. I don't dress like a witch and I have a regular job. I'm also a normal person.