AT THIRTY-THREE, holistic therapist Pauline Reid feels her life has purpose.

"I get a real kick out of making people feel better, whether its physical relief through things like physiotherapy and reflexology, or support for mental stress through just being there for somebody."

But Reid's Glasgow clients - familiar with seeing a gentle, dark-haired woman without make-up and dressed in clinical white - might be hard put to recognise her after-hours.

"I suppose I do like to blow out and look a bit Goth when I'm relaxing with like-minded people," she says.
To support a growing following, a magazine is published monthly on witches and witchcraft.

More than just Goth.

Reid is a practising witch and, wearing her other "hat" as a Wiccan high-priestess, she runs a coven to instruct her sisters in the finer points of witchcraft. She also hosts monthly social gatherings for about 35 Wiccans in a south-side Glasgow pub.

"To me, Wicca and witchcraft operate from the same principles. We're working to bring the old religion into a new age."

Reid says her ancient counterparts studied the laws of nature just as she does today.

"Witches were healers then as they are now. Witch simply means 'wise' and modern witches draw their inspiration from living in harmony with nature, following the old ways that go back to the indigenous pre-Christian religions of Europe.

"Wicca is lunar-based, with eight major festivals and the solstices and equinoxes in between. The moon is powerful enough to pull tides, and since humans are 80 per cent water, it's logical the phases of the moon strongly affect us too."

The coven prefers to meet outdoors but as "city witches" they frequently have to adapt and hold rituals in a person's flat. "Outsiders" are not welcome - though nothing remotely diabolical is involved. They leave Christian beliefs like Heaven and hell and Satanism well alone.

"As we practise pre-Christian beliefs, I suppose we can all be loosely classed as pagan and we have our own sub-divisions the same way that different Churches operate under the Christian umbrella."

Nobody knows how many modern-day pagans are around the country but it is estimated there are up to 200,000. And it's a rapidly growing movement that now boasts its own Pagan Federation. Its Scottish spokesman is David Macintyre.

"We're steadily re-emerging into the public domain. You can put 'pagan' on the official census and it's accepted - which is how it should be," he says. "There's a long way to go though."
Witches, by Hans Baldung Grien, from 1508, captures a colourful look at the sisterhood from that time.

The word "pagan" comes from the Latin paganus that simply means a country dweller, he says.

"Paganism is a religion inspired by love of the living earth around us and pagans see the natural cycles of birth, growth and death as having profoundly spiritual meaning."

You won't find them shoving leaflets at you in the street. That's not their way.

"Oh no, we never seek to convert," says Reid. "We're happy to explain and to let people see what we're about, but the approach has to come from them first."

So how do people become witches and how did Reid get into it herself?

"I've just always known," she replies. "I grew up in Ayrshire and was always fascinated by nature and how everything all fit together. I had one Protestant and one Catholic parent and neither of these religions felt right. In my teens I read about paganism in the library and went out and put an advert in a paper looking for contacts."

That was in pre-Google days. Now a quick trawl under "witchcraft" will produce a curious mix of contacts from gentle nature worshippers and Green Party members to radical feminists bent on retribution for the wave of "bad press" (ie, witch burnings) of previous centuries. Many embrace Celtic beliefs, some personify the gothic, others veer towards the more mythological interpretations of witchcraft.

Meanwhile, Reid spends her days juggling work with organising Witchfest Scotland, an event that takes place in July.

"I'm working non-stop just now but it's worth it," she says. "We love getting together and swapping knowledge and just having fun. The typical Witchfest talks are very down-to-earth."

Do her day-job clients know she's a practising witch?

"Yes, they do. I'm proud of my beliefs and I see no reason to hide them from anybody."

Reid hasn't had many problems. Her clients are generally more curious than alarmed.

But the same cannot be said of the ladies of Langside. Organising the first Scottish festival three years ago, it seemed logical to hold it in Langside Hall near their regular Glasgow meeting place.

"It was the first and the last time we used that venue," Reid says. "There I was, trying to look wise and all-knowing for a BBC interview and all hell was breaking loose outside. There were women marching round the building chanting prayers and then the door would fly open and they would physically throw holy water in at us! Bizarre or what?"

Wasn't there a temptation to counter with a bit of wand-waving and a few chosen spells?

"No. That would only have confirmed their preconceived notions. We do cast spells but mostly to get rid of negative things – just like prayer. And yes, if used at the right time and in conjunction with the right elemental forces, they work."

Reid reckons her fertility spells are more powerful than IVF.

"Never failed yet," she says.