There are more than 3,000 pagans in Ireland, and a number of different strands of paganism are practised here. The largest and most popular is witchcraft, or, as its followers call it, Wicca – and within that, there are many different variations in beliefs and practices.
It is officially defined as a religion influenced by pre-Christian beliefs and practices of western Europe, that emphasises ritual observance of seasonal and life cycle, and that affirms the existence of supernatural power as magic. 'Weekend' met with four Irish witches for an insight into their lives.
Janet Farrar (63) was born in Clapton, England, and moved to Ireland in 1976. A former model, receptionist and window dresser, she is known as the Mother of Wicca in Ireland and is a leading lecturer, author, medium and tarot reader.
She has had a huge influence on the development of the modern witchcraft movement here in Ireland, along with both of her husbands – the late Stewart Farrar, whom she married in 1975, and Gavin Bone, whom she married in 2001, following Stewart's death.
I would call myself a priestess above all else, even before calling myself a witch. My life is about service to the divine, dedicated to the gods, to serving spirit and to healing others – I trained with quite an eminent psychologist apart from my witchcraft training.
A lot of people come to Gavin and myself for healings and readings, and, within our group we do healing circles. It's not 'spellcraft' as such, but more a form of controlled distance healing that any spiritualist would recognise.
A spell is really a way of focusing psychic energy in a ritualised way. All ethical magic for us is about healing. We don't do love spells, and we're more likely to do a spell for physical healing or to help someone get a job or new home, rather than one for money.
Gavin is a spiritual healer and does hands-on healing with clients – he has a reputation locally for 'having the cure' for sinus problems.
I was brought up in quite a strict Christian household, and later became a Sunday school teacher. I was spiritual from my early years. In my teenage years this included dreams, including one of the Virgin Mary who later revealed herself to me and pointed me in the direction of witchcraft.
I met Alex and Maxine Sanders in 1970 through a friend who had become interested in exploring Wicca. I accompanied her in order to keep her out of this 'weird cult', but instead became so interested that I was initiated into Alexandrian Wicca.
My mother died when I was very young, but my father wasn't worried at all. He used to come to circles when we were doing healing work and take part.
My late husband Stewart and I brought Wicca to Ireland in 1976. We developed a way of practising that combined Irish tradition within the Wiccan framework we learned with the Sanders. With a few recent exceptions, nearly all of those who classify themselves as Wiccans in Ireland and their associated covens can trace their origins back to Stewart and myself.
We have written many books, the most influential of which are 'Eight Sabbats for Witches' and 'The Witches' Way'. They are now compiled as 'A Witches' Bible', which has been translated into at least four different languages and has become the standard reference book for Wiccans around the world.
As well as having an open group here in Ireland, Gavin and I have a regular study group in Italy and groups linked to us in the United States. I'm also a legal religious solemniser of marriages and perform passage rites for birth and death.
Our group, Teampall Na Callaighe, is an open training and support group for like-minded people. What's important to us is spiritual connection, so not everyone in it would classify themselves as a witch.
Gavin and myself have been in a normal, monogamous relationship since Stewart's death. When he was alive, there was a polyfidelitous relationship between myself, Stewart and Gavin. It was Stewart's decision to have this form of relationship because of the age difference – he was 83 when he died in 2000 and wanted to make sure I was looked after following his death.
In the past 10 years, we've been involved actively in public ceremonies, such as the annual torch-lit procession to top of the Hill of Ward, Tlaghta, every Samhain. While we're just as likely to do magical work in everyday clothing, we wear ceremonial cloaks and robes for particular occasions.
I believe in 'God,' but believe it/he/she is impossible to understand. I personally connect with the old northern European goddess Freya, the goddess of witchcraft practitioners, shamans, love and healing.
I don't believe in the concept of heaven and hell as you find in Christianity, but in reincarnation. I have memories of several incarnations. I do believe there is a reckoning when you die, but it's about your higher self deciding what you need to learn in your next life and what you owe to others.
I believe in psychic ability and the power of love to heal others, and that there are many paths to God.
I feel fulfilled in what I do, and know my life has a greater purpose. I also have no fear of tomorrow; I know that the universe always unfolds as it should, and by serving spirit I will always be looked after by the powers that be.
I've come across very few negatives. Generally, these revolve around misconceptions over what being a witch is all about, both from those who are interested in it and think it's about getting some sort of magical power for selfish reasons, and from those who think that it's connected with Satanism.
Ireland is an incredibly open-minded country. The biggest problem I have had is people turning up on my door and expecting instant magic, normally to get riches and love. I have to politely explain to them that the universe doesn't work that way.
Contact Janet Farrar through callaighe.com or facebook.com/janetfarrar.gavinbone