Topic: Simply Supernatural by Sarah Anderson

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Archived version here.

Ten years ago I thought it was time I ran an astrology class. I’d spent many years learning astrology, here in New Zealand, in Canada and the United States. I thought I had a lot to offer people.

My friend said one of the places I should advertise was a Wiccan/witch website; he thought some of them might be interested. I didn’t know anything about witches, but it sounded like a good idea. And one of the witches on the website came to my class.

I also made friends with another witch on the website called Tracey. She was from Ngaruawahia and we started to email each other a lot. After a few months Tracey told me she had organised some famous international witches called Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone to come to New Zealand to talk at a pagan festival she was organising. Apparently Janet wrote A Witches’ Bible: the Complete Witches Handbook with her now late husband, Stewart. It was a very important book for witches.

Tracey also wondered if I could do a talk on astrology at the festival. Additionally, she wanted to know if I could have the witches to stay at my house for a few days and organise a venue and promotion for a talk they wanted to do in Wellington. I said yes, but underneath I was scared. I knew nothing about witches, what would I say to them? That night I had a dream that everything would be fine. I woke feeling good, and curious about what was to come.

I told a local community paper about the upcoming witches talk hoping they would publish something about it. But they seemed more interested in me even though I told them I wasn’t a witch. They ignored that information and soon printed a story about how a local wiccan (me) was organising a talk by well-known witches from Ireland.

Shortly after the article came out I received a phone call from my friend Mike.

‘I saw a thing about you in the paper saying you were a wiggan. What’s a wiggan?’

‘Oh, I think you mean wiccan. It’s a term for a witch.’

‘I didn’t know you were a witch. Do you cast spells on people?’

‘Don’t believe everything you read. I’m not a witch.’

The conversation with Mike got me thinking though. Maybe the witches had cast a spell on me so I’d be happy to have them stay and do all the grunt work preparing for their talk. But how would I know if I was the victim of such a spell? I guess I’d never know.

My next job was to inform the police of the upcoming talk. I told them the date, time and venue I’d found. I hoped they’d keep an eye out in case some intolerant people thought their god was telling them they had a right to cause trouble to the heinous heathens. It’s hard to believe some ‘civilised’ people can be so awful to others, but you do hear stories.

It wasn’t too long before the witches turned up. I was inspired when I heard that Janet and Gavin made their money from books they’d written, and how they travelled round the world getting ideas for new books. Imagine that! I’d love a life like that even though I didn’t know how to write. I’d have to learn how.

Their talk went well, and soon we were driving up north to the pagan festival, which was being held near the Coromandel. I’d never realised there were so many people in New Zealand with unusual thoughts and beliefs. At the festival, as well as witches, there were druids, ceremonial magicians, followers of the Norse gods, medieval enthusiasts, gypsies, psychics and all sorts of other folks. I met many new people, heard others speak, gave my astrology talk and generally enjoyed myself.

But when the festival finished something weird happened. Only me, the well-known witches and a few others were still there, cleaning up. As dusk fell we all started to hear Maori chanting coming from the forest. After awhile the chanting got louder and we wondered what was going on so we walked towards the sound from the forest.

The air became freezing cold around us. We could see no one, but the Maori chanting grew even noisier. We also started to hear sounds of footsteps and scuffling from the forest.

‘This isn’t a normal,’ said Janet.

Gavin agreed. ‘Let’s go for a drive round the area and see if we can locate where all the noise is coming from.’

So we drove and drove but found nothing. We returned to the forest to find the chanting was even louder. Janet then started chanting in Gaelic to the Maori chanters. They went quiet then chanted something back to her. Understanding neither language, I was clueless as to what either was saying.

After a while Janet seemed to get tired and stopped her chanting.

‘That had to be the most supernatural experience I’ve ever had,’ she Janet.

‘Yes,’ agreed Gavin, ‘and apart from us there’s no one alive around here.

‘You mean to tell me you’ve been chanting at dead spirits all evening?’

(This was from hippy girl who’d been helping us cleanup after the festival.)

‘Yes,’ said Janet, ‘and they were answering us.’

The next day we found out that an important Maori elder had recently died there and their house had been ceremonially burnt yesterday. So hence the chanting! The dead were welcoming the important person. We just happened to be there to witness some of it.

The next time the witches visited New Zealand was a few years later. They were running a workshop on witchcraft at Tracey’s house in Ngarawahia. Despite the fact I still hadn’t become a witch I was curious to listen to what they said and decided to go. I drove all the way up to Tracey’s to find her house packed out with people. There were so many I was asked to sleep outside in a tent with Moana, a Maori girl who was also attending the workshop.

We went to sleep around midnight and I had the strangest dream. It was so vivid, though I didn’t understand what it meant at all. I was on a tall hillside that was covered in dandelions. Half of them were dead and more death was coming towards the living dandelions that were left. Moana was desperate to stop this happening. Then I woke up.

Moana was also awake and reported to me she’d had a terrible night’s sleep. We went into the house soon after for breakfast and to start the workshop. After breakfast, Gavin looked in our direction.

‘What’s up with you two, you look terrible.’

‘I kept waking up.,’ said Moana. ‘There was this loud knocking sound that wouldn’t stop. It seemed to come from thin air.’

‘I didn’t hear that, but I did have a dream,’ I said. ‘Don’t know what it means though. It just gave me a fright.’

Then I told them the dream.

‘You’ve just described the land I grew up on,’ said Moana.

Gavin and Janet looked at each other.

Finally Janet said to Moana, ‘The spirits were trying to give you a message but they couldn’t get through to you. That’s why you kept hearing the knocking sound. In the end they gave the dream with the message to her.’

And she pointed at me.

‘And the dream makes sense,’ said Moana. ‘My people have been decimated by various things just like the dandelions in the dream. I’ve been feeling I must do something positive about the situation for ages.’

‘Yes you should,’ agreed Gavin. ‘The dream was clear about doing something now before it’s too late.’

How bemusing! I’d had many dreams that came true in the past, but it wasn’t usually a part of my life I shared. After all, I knew too many people who thought there were far more important things than dreams.

I never saw the witches again. Nevertheless I did have another strangely supernatural experience without them. What happened was I went up to Tokomaru Bay one year. My grandmother grew up there so it was a pretty special place to me. I had looked for the graves of my great-grandparents many years previously. But I’d accidentally looked in the wrong place, the Maori graveyard, and they weren’t there. I’d always felt bad about that as I meant no disrespect and didn’t mean to break tapu.

This time finally I wanted to put things right. So I was about to walk over to the Maori graveyard and make an offering and an apology when the strangest thing happened. This beautiful, otherworldly smell seemed to come from nowhere and infused the area I was in. And I heard this message clearly in my mind, ‘It’s all right.’

I had the feeling that everything was becoming OK all through me, and from that point on, that feeling has continued in so many parts of my life.


About the writer: Sarah Anderson’s work has appeared in many literary journals both in New Zealand and Australia, the most notable being Landfall. She is a Wellington-based writer, and the person who started the literary magazine Viola Beadleton’s Compendium of Seriously Silly and Astoundingly Amazing Stories, which ran for four years. Next up, a published book…

‘Simply Supernatural’ was written in 2011 for the Memoir & Local History Competition run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers.


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