RECENT census results revealed there may be more magic practitioners among us than we think – although you probably won’t catch them wearing pointy hats or stirring a cauldron.
Revelations that Wales is home to 83 witches and 93 satanists sparked announcements in the national press that the country has become the “witch capital” of the UK.
In Flintshire and Wrexham, dozens of people subscribe to alternative religions, so they really do walk among us.
Richard Holland, of Mold, author of Haunted Clwyd and former editor of Paranormal Magazine, suggested this may be due to the history of witchcraft in Wales, where a certain amount of liberalism was extended to pagan faiths.
He said: “The witch burning frenzy that affected all of Europe in the 17th Century, including England and Scotland, had very little effect in Wales.
“Maybe that’s because the Welsh have always been a bit more sensible about this sort of thing.”
The census led one outspoken clergyman, the Reverend Dr Felix Aubel, 52, who served as a minister in Camarthenshire and Cardiganshire at the other end of the country, to warn: ‘people can still be destroyed as a result (of witchcraft). It ruins family life and careers’.
His comments were published last week.
Discussing his recently released memoir, A Rebel’s Story, Dr Aubel went on to say he had witnessed a case of the ‘evil eye’ which a jealous spinster used to punish her neighbour and her new born baby, as well as an exorcism after a witch cursed a member of his congregation.
Mr Holland argued: “You have to look quite far back to find any historic witch trials. In the 1800s, a woman near Abergavenny, who was 90-years-old, was accused by a farmer of ‘overlooking’ his cattle – as they called it, because his butter wouldn’t churn.
“She was ducked and pricked all over to find her witches mark, but amazingly she survived.
“The magistrate said he was shocked that there was anyone in the community who would hold such ‘ignorant and fool’ superstitions, and that was in 1827. It seems equally ignorant to make accusations like that now. It surprises me there’s someone trying to raise fear of the evil eye in this day and age.”
There are hints of witchery in both counties. At Flint Mountain there lies Pwll-yr-Wrach, which translates to ‘the pool of the witch’. The origins of the name are shrouded in mystery.
Similarly, local historians have been unable to verify local legends that a body of water near Gerald Street in Wrexham had once been used to duck suspected witches.
Perhaps we shouldn’t all be nailing horseshoes up over our doorways or scattering salt, both folklore methods of warding away bad magic, just yet.
Mr Holland said: “Most, if not 100 per cent of people who would have put that on the census are people who would think of themselves as nature worshippers. They may believe they can change things in a cosmic sense, but they do it for the better.
“Even those who would have been labelled witches in former times would probably have been unofficial midwives and doctors with some knowledge of herbal remedies.”
Matt Jones, 26, an artist and taxidermist in Bagillt, identifies as pagan and, for a while, as a witch as part of the Wicca faith.
He said: “I got into it because I’ve always been interested in nature. When I was about 16, I got into New Age stuff, like tarot cards and it went from there.
“I did identify as Wiccan for two years – and would have called myself a witch – but then I went my own way.
“All my friends know I practice this. When I told my dad he joked ‘are you going to put a curse on me and ride around on a broom then?’. Mostly people are just curious about it, although I did get chased down a street in Chester once by someone asking me if I believed in God.”
So modern witchcraft does not involve invoking the devil, or using black cats as familiars, and they wear normal clothes rather than a black cape or pointy hat, but the stereotype does superficially touch on the truth in one sense: witches do cast spells.
“I do rituals to draw good things to myself,” said Matt. “They will mostly be purifying rituals, like those carried out by Native Americans, where you light a sprig of sage. The idea is that the negativity floats away with the smoke.
“As part of the faith we hold festivals, like the Winter Solstice, which involves lighting the Yule Log. The tradition is older than Christmas. The idea is that even at the darkest time of the year there’s still light, and once the Solstice has passed that means spring is on the way.”
But is there any truth to Dr Audel’s dire warnings of curses and effigy-manipulation?
Matt added: “One of the most important things is people think witches do curses. I think maybe some do. Some people are bad and are drawn to the dark – but there’s something called the Wicca Rede, which says if you send out bad energy then it will come back to you threefold. So it’s logical not to do that or you’ll mess up your own life.”
In Wrexham, 11 people registered themselves as druids, while nine people did the same in Flintshire.
There were 117 Pagans in Flintshire and 92 in Wrexham, while the one person who stated they were a witch in Flintshire had four colleagues in Wrexham.
There were seven self-confessed satanists in Flintshire, and eight in Wrexham.
More spuriously, 13 Flintshire residents listed their religion as ‘Heavy Metal’, as did 25 in Wrexham.
But they were all outnumbered by the Jedi Knights, of which there are 374 in Flintshire and 300 in Wrexham.