Former mental health nurse Judith Keane has a slightly different take on Halloween than most of us.
Unlike many, 57-year-old Judith, who hails from St Helens, won’t be trick or treating or getting made up in fancy dress.
Because as the head of Wigan’s only witches coven, Judith has far more pressing matters to hand tonight.
“We will be meeting tonight where we will hold a ceremony to mark what most people call the festival of Halloween, but we call Samhain,” explained Judith, a mum of four from Parbold.
“The ceremony will involve salutations and tributes to spirits. There is an element of ceremony, where we use ceremonial swords. And it all takes place in my dining room!”
Judith, who is expecting around 10 other witches to attend tonight’s ceremony, first became interested in witchcraft as a teenager growing up in Sutton but it wasn’t until aged 30 that she meet her first real-life witch.
“My dad used to send me to get the Sunday papers, and on the way back I’d sneak a look at some of the stories,” she said. “There would be stories about people like Alex Saunders, who was in the news at the time, I was absolutely fascinated by it all.”
Saunders was an infamous figures in the 1960s who declared himself the “King of the Witches” and courted controversy by marrying a teenage girl 20 years his junior.
Despite the lurid headlines, the practice of witchcraft became increasingly fascinating for the young Judith.
“By the time I was 30, I had been reading about witchcraft for several years and knew quite a lot but had never really practised,” she said. “I started to make a few contacts within the North West witchcraft scene and once I started it just went from there. I now run my own coven and can conduct a number of ceremonies, including hand-fasting, which is the witchcraft version of a wedding, as well as initiating others into the coven.”
The origins of Halloween, or Samhain, date back to the early Middle Ages when villagers would mark the end of summer with a festival accepting the figure of death into their homes.
Visitors to Judith’s semi-detached Bankside home, though, would have few clues as to the owner’s preoccupation with witchcraft. But a more detailed examination will reveal the tools of the modern day witch’s trade: wands, swords, cords, scents and pentagons are all stored away to be brought out whenever the coven convene.
Said Judith: “Witchcraft has over the past few decades had a bad reputation in the press, and there has been a number of scare stories. But the people who attend my coven are just ordinary people who do ordinary jobs. You could be sat next to them on a bus and wouldn’t know it.
“Witchcraft is not about dark forces; it is about honouring ancestors and nature.
“My four children have all grown up knowing about witchcraft but they are very much free to decide for themselves whether they want to follow in my footsteps.”