Halloween: An insight into the life of a professional St Albans witch
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Every year, for as long as I can remember, Halloween has struck me as a non-event. Trick or excuse me? Go buy your own sweets.
The lead-up to October 31 is normally spent cobbling together costumes in a last minute panic, repurposing that five-years-old birthday bee costume as ‘spooky’ by splattering it red - that sort of thing.
However, there is a whole sub-culture in St Albans and Herts for which Halloween is a big deal. For practicing witches, the pagan holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-inn) is like New Year’s Eve - the biggest party of the year, the night everyone is waiting for.
More than 56,600 people identified as pagan in the 2011 census, and 86 of those were in St Albans. This makes paganism the largest non-mainstream religion at that time.
On Samhain these people believe the veils between the world of the living and the dead are at their thinnest, a magical time to oust the old and bring in the new.
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A professional witch who lives on Coopers Green Lane, Dee Johnson, will celebrate Halloween with Ashridge Coven - a small group of close knit fellows who cast spells together.
New members must be personally invited into these covens to preserve the sanctity of the group’s energy.
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Dee, who is an elder and high priestess with three degrees of witchcraft, has brought me to Camlot Moat in Barnet to perform a ritual.
She has been teaching witchcraft for more than 10 years and can boast a handful of unnamed celebrity students under her belt.
Unsure what to expect, I am only slightly surprised to meet Dee in full classic witch dress, complete with pointy hat and cloak. I’m pleased to see she does not do half-measures, with her car number plate W22TCH.
It is gimmicky and for the photographer’s benefit, she acknowledges - normally Dee would cast spells in normal day-wear from the 21st century.
We walk into the forest and in high autumn the ground is blanketed in a beautiful array of orange, yellow, and brown. The setting lives up to its name, with a winding path leading to a small island surrounded by a wide path of water.
The site is a favourite among witches and druids, Dee explains, and there are often traces of spells left behind for observant visitors to find.
“Yesterday has gone, you can’t think about that, and the future will never arrive,” Dee begins. I’m intrigued. “I only think about now. I think the now has such an impact on your thoughts tomorrow, I chose good thoughts yesterday so that today is blessed. Nothing is perfect but as much as you can, I keep negative thoughts away.”
As an ethical witch, Dee would never cast a bad or harmful spell. She uses her connection with the natural world to better the lives of those who seek her help.
Witches answer to five elements, represented by each point on a pentagram - earth, water, fire, air, and the spirit. To start the spell, Dee turns clockwise and welcomes all five elements to her altar, which includes five candles, a small cauldron, an apple, and some rose petals arranged on an earth mound.
She also hails the moon goddess and the sun god, and we begin.
Writing down my wish, Dee burns it in a tiny cauldron and asks me to imagine what it would be like to have my desire.
Now, I can’t tell anyone what that is because it will ruin the spell - sorry.
All I will say is that I was surprised how specific and material it could be - a new house, handbag, or chocolate bar.
After chanting together to “cook up the spell”, Dee breaks the bubble of energy she has created by releasing the five elements in an anti-clockwise circle.
Not sure how I’m meant to feel, I’m beginning to think I might not be harbouring an inner witch and am slightly disappointed.
Dee on the other hand, as all witches are, was born into the role - realising from a young age that things she wanted always seemed to happen.
She said: “You can usually tell by looking at someone if they are a witch by feeling their energy.
“Personally I have been very blessed, people are drawn to me because I am very caring and help them with their problems. I have never experienced negativity, it’s never stopped me.”
There are more witches and druids out there than one might expect, Dee said, speculating that maybe Kate Bush dabbles.
Dee came to witchcraft herself at 18 years old, after reading a book called Winning with Witchraft. For me, I’m simply intrigued to see whether my wish comes true.
Sessions with Dee are around £60 an hour. Visit www.themodernwitch.co.uk to find out more.