Since we’re fast approaching Halloween and we’re all friends here, I have a confession to make. Dramatic pause — I believe in witches.
And I’m not talking about witches as in practicing Wiccans, or modern-day gals with their tarot cards and New Age crystals. I’m not even talking about the women who were drowned or hung or burned alive for practicing ‘witchcraft’, which seems to be code for ‘living on the margins of society’ or ‘refusing to buy into traditional patriarchal religions’ or ‘possessing some knowledge that would make other women’s lives better like herbalism, midwifery, or abortion’.
No, I believe in actual witches — the Sabrina Spellman, Sanderson Sisters, Nancy Downs from The Craft, type of witch. (Yes, all my popular culture references are from the 90s, what of it?) The flying on broomsticks and throwing frogs into bubbling cauldrons and the casting spells type of witch.
I haven’t seen any evidence of such beings, of course, but I am eternally open to the possibility that they might exist. It’s not just witches. See also — vampires, ghosts, fairies, mermaids, angels, Santa Claus and his elves, any and all monsters lurking in the depts of Loch Ness. I believe in it all.
I admit I have always been like this. When I was a child, I was convinced the Devil was watching me at all times, waiting for me to commit a sin so egregious (i.e. stealing penny sweets, the greatest misdemeanour my six-year-old self could conceive of) that I would be damned to hell.
When I was running out the gate to collect the cartons of milk, I would play a game of ‘Race the Devil’ on the way as nothing could make me run faster than the fear of Lucifer himself, hot on my heels. When strangers came into the house, I would check their shoes for fear they concealed hooves — everyone knew the Devil had hooves rather than feet, obviously — and one night, when the radiators began to gurgle, I screamed bloody murder because “the Devil is in the walls!”
A few things to note. 1) I was an incredibly strange child, I was destined to become either a storyteller or a stone-cold sociopath, 2) why did my parents not seek the advice of a child psychologist? and 3) this is what happens when you bring impressionable children to Mass every week and they hear tales of fire and brimstone.
My grandmother also had this excellent illustrated bible and the picture of Jesus being tempted by the Devil was a fairly glamourous one; the Devil was wearing lots of eyeliner and a rad cherry-red robe. He was depicted — although I wouldn’t had the language to express it as such then — in a rather sexy manner, for one so malevolent. No wonder I was half obsessed with him.
Jesus, on the other hand, looked extremely tired and dishevelled in the illustration, as befitting the whole ‘forty days and forty nights in a literal desert’ thing the poor man had just been subjected to, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite as intoxicating an image.
I wish I could tell you that this was just a phase I went through when I was a child but readers, I cannot lie to you. I have a vague recollection of suddenly feeling like there was Something Bad in the house and phoning my godmother — my parents were obviously refusing to entertain my nonsense anymore — and begging her to rescue me.
She, being a very patient woman, looked underneath every bed and behind every door and in all the wardrobes to make sure there wasn’t a — I don’t know, ghost? Intruder? Stowaway? — hiding there. Here’s the shameful part — at the time, I was at least thirteen. I was a teenager. In secondary school. Begging my godmother to come over and check under my bed in case a boogeyman was there.
Of course, I’m an adult now and things are different. Well, they’re different during the day! During the day, I am very brave and daring and nothing scares me, I am a Big Girl now. But at night time, when the darkness falls around us and I’m alone in the house and the floorboards are creaking, the house stirring, settling into its bones, as if it were a live thing, then I am what the kids might call a scaredy-cat.
I phone my boyfriend, whispering into the phone in case I am overheard.
Me: There’s something in the house, I can feel it.
Him: Wait, are you saying someone has broken in? Louise, phone the guards right now.
Me: No. I’m pretty sure it’s just a ghost.
Him: I … I don’t know what to say to you right now.
I suppose I could try to spin you a story about how my imagination is delightfully child-like. I could make the argument if we’re encouraged to believe in God (and angels!) why is it so different to believe in ghosts and fairies?
I could say it’s important to be open to the possibilities of the unknown, that the world is too full of things that we cannot possibly understand and explain.
But really, that would just be me trying to make myself seem philosophically minded rather than what I actually am — a very odd woman who is still afraid of the dark.
LISTEN: Thanks A Million. The new podcast by the effervescent Angela Scanlon is exactly what we need in these bleak times. The series explores what a host of guests, from Aisling Bea to Stacey Dooley, are most grateful for, and it makes for incredibly uplifting listening.
DOWNLOAD: City I Love U by Clara Belle. Clara is a young West Cork woman with one of the most distinctively unique voices I’ve heard in a long time. This song is a beaut and it’s available on iTunes now. Support Irish music!