Monday, October 31, 2005

Wicca in Wales

Professionals spell the end for hag-ridden witchcraft - icWales

THOUSANDS of children - and adults - across Wales will be dressing up for Hallowe'en.

But minus the stereotype of cloaks and pointy hats, Wales still has modern-day covens of witches.

They meet in forest clearings to worship pagan gods and goddesses and have been described in a TV series exploring Wales' links with the Otherworld.

Anglesey is revealed as a hotbed of paganism where witches regularly meet to call on the spirits of the earth, using symbolic props like broomsticks, daggers and cauldrons.

And followers like Kris Hughes, who holds down a professional job by day, have spoken of turning their backs on Christianity to find new fulfilment in the world of the Wicca.

The series Blas Y Cynfyd (A Taste of the Ancient World) has explored the myths and realities behind our images of witches - as evil, satanic crones who put their alleged powers to no good.

Mr Hughes, a high priest of a group of witches on Anglesey, formerly studied in Bible College but found it unfulfilling.

He has been involved in paganism for 15 years and says, "I now live as a pagan - it is my life. It was the answer to the black hole in my mind. The church could not fill it.

"To be honest I have never been so happy."

He says his beliefs revolve around cause and consequence, and adds, "We have to take responsibility in our lives, in the way we treat everything, even plants and animals."

He is seen leading a group of chanting followers, mostly women, as well as demonstrating paraphernalia like knives and chalices.

But it is a long way from when witches were burnt at the stake by church and state - although some institutions such as St David's College still refused to take part in the filming.

The image of the witch has undergone transformations over the centuries, from the wretched old hags of Shakespeare's Macbeth to the sparky Hermione in the Harry Potter books.

Eirlys Gruffydd, author of Gwrachod Cymru (Witches of Wales), said, "The traditional idea is of a witch as a haggard old lady with her crooked nose and her boils, who hates everyone and damns and curses.

"But she can also be a white witch who used potions for positive outcomes.

"Historically, witches always walked a fine line between holding the respect and the fear of the common people. They needed their skills with herbs but they also feared their powers."

The programme was produced by Michael Bayley Hughes, for Teleg TV, who said learning about witchcraft was fascinating but strange to imagine in his native Wales.

"I was familiar with witchcraft in Africa and South America but it was an eye-opener to film witches on my home island of Anglesey," he said.

"I have heard that there are around 13 covens on Anglesey alone. They still suffer a lot of prejudice. I did not know what to expect and was nervous.

"But Kris explained everything and I think we were fair in representing his beliefs.

"It is easy to be reactionary but it is what they believe; so why is that any different from Christianity?"

Blas y Cynfyd, Sundays, 10pm, S4C