Published: 00:01, 29 October 2015
As Halloween approaches, green-skinned witches leer from supermarket display stands.
With their pointy hats, black cats and broomsticks, for years the classic fairytale hag has been a staple of fancy dress parties and trick or treating children across the UK.
But for Kent’s pagans, being a witch - or wiccan as some prefer - is a serious business.
Ian Bullock and his wife Mandy have been wiccans for most of their lives, and for the last eight years the couple have run a coven in Broadstairs.
"It’s a way of life. It’s who you are, the way you think. It’s everything"- Mandy
“It’s a way of life,” says Mandy.
“It’s who you are, the way you think. It’s everything.
Both Mandy and Ian wear a pentacle, a five-pointed star representing earth, air, fire, and water, with the uppermost point representing spirit.
“It has become a bit of a fashion statement among the goth community,” says Ian.
“We do appreciate we may look a little bit less normal than most, but there are a lot of ‘ordinary looking’ people who are wiccans.
“It’s not a requirement of our religion that you have long hair and a beard.”
Wicca is an earth-based religion, with a number of followers in Kent, but it’s less visible than many other belief systems, and many pagans keep themselves to themselves.
Mandy explains: “We don’t have a church. We can worship anywhere. If we can get outside then that’s where we prefer, on the beach, or in the woods.”
This weekend the couple will celebrate Samhain, one of the year’s most important festivals for many pagans.
Mandy says: “Samhain is the third harvest getting ready for the winter.
“It’s the Celtic new year effectively, the end of the summer and the start of the winter - the public would know it as Halloween.”
Wiccans celebrate Samhain with offerings to the pagan gods, including fruit, cake and biscuits.
"We still enjoy halloween with the children. We decorate the garden and do trick or treat, but we don’t just offer sweets, we offer apples because they signify Samhain" - Mandy
Ian, who works for a charity, says: “The original festival was the final harvest so we believe that early agricultural communities would have celebrated the end of the harvest with a celebration."
Some pagans refer to Samhain as the festival of the dead, and remembrance is also an important part of the festival for Mandy and Ian.
Mandy says: “It’s a chance to remember those who have gone before, and what’s happened over the past year.
“That might be where the Halloween ghosty thing comes from.”
Mandy and Ian celebrate Halloween too, but admit it’s not something they take too seriously.
Ian says: “It’s a bit like Christmas, and Easter for that matter. They’ve all become big commercial things in the western world.
“We still enjoy Halloween with the children," adds Mandy.
“We decorate the garden and do trick or treat, but we don’t just offer sweets, we offer apples because they signify Samhain.
“Surprisingly enough a lot of children take apples.”
Wicca is just one of many strands of paganism in the UK, and many pagans have very different beliefs to Ian and Mandy.
One example is Kevin Groves from Dover.
From the age of 14, he tells me he connected with a presence at his parents’ house, which he refers to as a ghost.
It was only later he was able to make sense of this.
“I saw a book, the catalogue to the Tutankhamen exhibition in the 1970s.
“I saw these fantastic photos, a picture of this statue of Serket, and I thought ‘this is most beautiful object I’ve seen in my life’.
“It wasn’t for another few years that it came through that the ghost I’d lived with was actually the spirit form of this deity.”
Kevin now describes himself as a Kemetic chaos magician with tendencies for druidism.
He follows an ‘Egyptian religious magical path’ communicating with Serket and a number of other deities using statues representing each particular god.
"We’re no different. There’s police, there’s social workers there’s office workers. We’re all normal people, we’re not not special in any way" - Kevin Groves
Although far from mainstream, Kevin says he frequently finds common ground with people who practise more common religions.
“I don’t overtly say ‘hello, I’m a pagan,’ because it just doesn't matter.
“My wife is Christian, and I have a lot of Christian friends, and for me there are a lot of similarities. There are a lot of similarities between all religions.
“She’ll come home from church and say ‘we experienced this’ and I’ll say ‘we experience that too, but we call it this.’
“People sometimes use the differences as weapons, which is the bad side, but it would be lovely if we all shared this experience.”
Alongside Kemeticism, Kevin is also a believer in sigil magic, casting runes for different purposes throughout the day.
And despite runes being thousands of years old, he finds they are quite applicable in a modern setting.
He explains: “The unlock on my phone was a travel rune, to give clear travel. So what I’d do in the mornings was to put the phone into the car holder, use my travel rune to unlock the phone then I’m casting my travel rune to give me a good journey to work.”
Like Ian and Mandy, Kevin stresses there is nothing unusual about pagans, despite beliefs that may sound strange on first hearing.
“We’re the same as everybody else” he says.
“We’re no different. There’s police, there’s social workers there’s office workers. We’re all normal people, we’re not not special in any way.”
And if one thing unites all the pagans I spoke to, it’s that they take their beliefs seriously.
Kevin says: “I don’t say, ‘today I’m doing my craft, today I’m just being me.’ It’s everything. It has to be. You have to live it, it’s not just a lifestyle.”