When I met Laura at a tarot course in London 2004, I knew straightaway I wanted to be her friend. I had that meant-to-be feeling, that oh, it’s you! moment you get with only a few people; like they’ve been missing from your life but you didn’t know it until that second.
At the time I was a closeted pagan witch: strictly theoretical, non-practising. I’d been a pagan since I was in my teens but I’d stopped talking about it; it was too weird, it was a skin I wasn’t comfortable with in my new bars-and-shopping life in London. I was afraid of being different, afraid of standing out.
But Laura didn’t seem like she’d be afraid of anything. In the first week of class, she drew the 10 of Swords several times – not the cheeriest of cards, even though when you read tarot you’re not supposed to say things like that. But she was typically insouciant about it. Shrugged. “Yeah, but I like my life all crazy,” she’d said, or words to the effect. Laura made mental torture sound amazing. I think I loved her from then on.
I was afraid of being different, afraid of standing out.But Laura didn’t seem like she’d be afraid of anything.
It was a long time before we became the close friends I imagined we’d be. For nearly eight years, we kept in vague touch by email and then on social media. Laura was exploring life in a London coven, living in a tiny flat in Camden, working as a TV psychic and getting up to hijinks with her tattooed, rockabilly-goth, cool-as-fuck mates. I was trying to be conventional and mostly succeeding, with a sensible boyfriend and an admin job. I was writing poetry, but I didn’t have the confidence to do what I really, truly wanted to do: write a novel.
Still, slowly, things changed. I did reiki training and really started to feel and understand energy healing. I read everything I could get my hands on about witchcraft, qabalah, astrology, and tarot. But as well as feeding my mind, with reiki I learned to trust how energy felt in my body, my heart, my dreams.
I started working as a solitary witch, feeling my way through rituals – holding sacred space, calling in the elements, communicating haltingly at first with my gods of choice, setting intentions and spells to help improve my working and creative life. I made myself observe the seasonal festivals, making seasonal altars, noticing how different I felt in different months and according to the phases of the moon. I started understanding a little about what witches (and others) call magick – the art of weaving your awareness deeper into the natural forces that pattern the world.
Some years into our friendship, Laura and I started working on creative projects together. I wrote a long poem about a mermaid, which she illustrated for a magazine. She illustrated the cover of my third, and thus far favourite, book of poetry, Spectral Emphatic. I started writing a novel about a boy witch in Cornwall and made his girlfriend, Sadie, quite like Laura.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Glastonbury, and I took a weekend trip to visit, that we really became close. We talked and drank, walked the land, hung out at the Glastonbury White Spring.
After that, we messaged frequently: me, mornings, often from a deafening kids’ soft play. With one eye on my son, I’d type rapid messages to LauraRedWitch, as she’s long been known online (a name that would, coincidentally, at my publisher’s suggestion, become the title of my second YA novel, Red Witch). Laura was more likely to message at night while she painted – portraits of gods and goddesses, magical animals and landscapes – into the early hours. I learned that she’d go for days, painting, forgetting time, hardly eating or sleeping, so when I visited I went armed with wine and chocolate.
Laura told me stories about how the studio where she shot her TV show was shared with a soft porn channel, and the toilet cubicles in the ladies’ were slick with fake tan; how she was sick of being chatted up by Glastonbury types who’d tell her they were lovers in a previous life or another dimension.
At the witchcraft museum in Cornwall we laughed at embroidered magickal sigils made by horny ceremonial magicians to deter tigers and ensure they got laid. We talked about all the normal stuff – books, music, clothes, boys – as well as gods, trance work, dreams, land, past lives. That “everything” that you talk about with those special people in your life, the ones who make the world feel amazing and magical instead of terrifying and lonely.
Sometimes Laura’s support was rows of hearts and cat GIFs that would brighten up my screen, making me smile as I scrolled on to her waiting message. Other times, we talked each other through powerful full moons and the effects of eclipse season on our love lives. We side-eyed Mercury Retrograde; hugged our way through broken laptops and phones and under-floor leaks and car breakdowns – the normal life stuff that witches have to deal with just like everyone else.
We talked about all the normal stuff – books, music, clothes, boys – as well as gods, trance work, dreams, land, past lives.
Your friendships are magick as much as casting a circle is: You weave your shared jokes, your threads of conversation, into defences against sadness and tragedy; into better worlds that you inhabit together. Good friends remake reality with us; they share, inspire, and support a vision of something greater for us, and they see in us the power we don’t always see in ourselves. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a big part of magickal thinking: The idea is that if you think of yourself as something and reinforce it, you become it. With a friend who believes in that magickal image of you, it’s power times two.
As we became better friends, I realised that the reason I wanted to be like Laura was that I already was: In my case, I just needed to give myself permission to be more wicked, to be obsessive, desiring, caustic, not perfect, not nice all the time.
I started to embrace things about myself I previously thought were dark, unmentionable and undesirable. I wasn’t a red witch like Laura, but I could be a powerful one in my own way. I could rewrite the things I said about myself, stop beating myself up for all the things that actually gave me power. I could stop feeling that power in itself was somehow wrong.
In fact, there’s a difference between what the environmental, feminist witchcraft activist Starhawk calls power-over (exploitative) and power-from-within (empowerment). Power only corrupts if it is the power-over type of exploiting others. There is no end to, and no downside of, empowerment. Friendship is empowerment: It’s power-from-within, a great and never-ending connection of one heart to another. Friendship is love, after all, and love is the greatest power in the universe.
I’ve changed from that shy, closeted twentysomething witch. Laura’s inspired me all along the way to birth the woman I am now: stronger, fitter, more honest, more powerful. Maybe it’s part of growing older, but part of it is definitely a result of supportive, magickal friendships like the one I have with Laura.
I’ll always be the sensible one who brings wellies to walk around muddy stone circles and has snacks in her pocket, and Laura will always wear deeply inappropriate unicorn shoes or else go barefoot. That’s okay. Like all close friendships, we know, respect, and love each other’s power.
I hope I’ve helped her be more herself too. Twentysomething Laura at the tarot course was sweet and a little bit crazy. Thirtysomething Laura is radiant, wise, beautiful, wickedly funny, kinder than most people have a right to be.
As a thousand people have said before now (and more eloquently than this), power only ever comes from knowing oneself; giving whatever’s already there room to breathe. Friends who see your real self and help you love it are the oxygen we need. Good friends are a magick in our lives; in that way, we’re all witches for the ones we love. ●