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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > Moonraking > Spooky > The Witches of Highworth

A Wiltshire witch

Sally Williams, a Wiltshire witch

The Witches of Highworth

So what exactly does the modern urban witch get up to? We find out...

Definition of a witch: Pointy black hat, cobwebs, black cat, cauldron, broomstick, hooked nose, oh and “Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble!.”

Witch's cauldron

Witch's cauldron


Actually way off… and if you're thinking wild orgies, blood sacrifices and bizarre rituals than you're definitely going to be disappointed.

In fact the modern day urban witch or Wiccan is far more interesting.

Yes, there are rituals performed sky-clad, or naked to the rest of us, yes there’s some scourging or whipping and yes there are broomsticks… but the underlying belief is based on the cycle of birth-death-rebirth.

BBC Wiltshire’s Ashley Heath met up with two Wiltshire witches, in Highworth and tempted them to come out of the broomstick cupboard to dispel a few myths.

Sally Williams has been an urban witch or Wiccan for the last 6 years and says that urban witches are far more common than you might think.  In fact witches or Wiccans can come from pretty much any walk of life.

So how do you spot them? Are there any clues?

"Well I suppose so," says Sally, "most Wiccans tend to have a love of candles and crystals.  So if you find a lot of these in a home than you could be on the right track.

"A lot of pagans wear a pentacle.  I won't say that all pagans wear pentacles and I won't say that all pentacles are worn by pagans but that usually is a pretty good indication."

But what exactly is Wicca? Is it a religion?

Witches pot

"Yes it is. It comes under the umbrella of paganism.  Paganism covers things like Wicca, druidism, things like that."

Presumably your broomstick isn't much use for travel, so what do you use it for?

"Well we use it for sweeping, as most people would, not leaves and things like that we use it to sweep away negative energies before we start a ritual.

"But the broomstick is also significant of the male and female conjoining.

Do you mean sex?

"Basically yes. The handle represents male and the twigs represent the female. One is inside the other."

Richard, a lorry driver, is another real life Highworth witch following the religion of Wicca.  With laws against Witchcraft only repealed as recently as 1951 he says that it can tend to be a little bit secretive:

"It is a secret following that stems from the burning times, a time when being called a witch meant persecution.  So you kept everything as secret as possible.

"Most of the people I know don't know that I'm a witch.  There are some that do, mainly because they've spotted signs and asked questions, and if people want to talk sensibly to me about it I'm quite prepared to talk to them.

The Wiccan Goddess

The Wiccan Goddess

"But people who just want to take the Mick out of it, I've got no time for at all.”

Do most people think that it’s all Mumbo-jumbo like turning people into frogs?

"Oh yes, people imagine that that’s what it is.  However, you'll also find a lot of people say that they don't believe in it but the minute you ask them for a piece of hair or a nail clipping they'll run a mile.

"At some level they believe. Whether they believe for the right reasons or not is another question."

What is the basis of the Wicca religion?

"Well, there’s a female goddess statue, she’s naked and she’s sat with her legs crossed with her hands on her knees suggesting giving birth but not quite.

"There’s also the statue of the god, who is her consort, who is also naked. He is holding a serpent and a torque which is a bracelet for want of a better phrase.

"And between the two of them they create all life because it creates a circle.  The goddess will create life, than life will wither and the god will than take that life away but look after the soul until it’s time to be reborn through the goddess again."

You also have a whip. Is that something you might whip somebody with?

"Yes it's only to stimulate the senses because most of what we do is about reaching the spirit plain so you have to try and get out of your body.

"In years gone by they would actually have whipped people terribly with it but these days we're all wimps we just play at it.

Witch's whip

Witch's whip

"So you just heighten your senses to allow your spirit to lift out of your body."

last updated: 28/01/2009 at 14:29
created: 26/10/2005

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

I do not think this gives the whole picture of witches today. Most, like myseld are just normal people that may preform a spell or two but do not go dancing in the woods naked. It brings a smile to most peoples face when they find out which is nice

lisa barrett
it is up to u an no one else i believe in strange things

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