The fair witch project

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PLACENTA and petroleum, mares' urine and powdered hoof; nitrates and formaldehyde, dolphin fat and... the bizarre ingredients we choose to smear on our faces in our endless quest for beauty would satisfy the most morbid of magicians.

Many of us zap ourselves with electric pulses, burn ourselves with lasers and put our faith in the goddesses Elemis and Clarins. But, in one part of Scotland at least, some women are looking to an altogether more ancient method of boosting their attractiveness - witchcraft.

Alongside the manicures, waxing, fake tans and holistic therapies such as hopi-ear candles, Reiki and reflexology on offer at Bewitching Beauty in Glasgow's south side, Pauline Reid, practising witch and high priestess of the city's Hearth Coven, offers clients a spell clinic.

In establishing her beauty salon, Reid, originally from Ayrshire, is following a career path very much in the witching tradition: one that dates back hundreds of years to when wise women, learned in herbs and the powers of nature, first started to offer poultices and potions to tackle problems - all wrapped up in a tidy little spell.

But can witchcraft really have a place in 21st-century beauty?

Passionate as Reid, 35, is about witchcraft and the efficacy of spells, she does not aim to magically turn Ugly Betty into Kate Moss.

"Love. Most people are looking for spells to find love," says Reid, who adds that, generally, her customers are seeking to become more attractive rather than a future as a supermodel.

"Often though it is to do with self esteem, when people think they need a love spell, what they really need to do is learn to love themselves."

For those looking for specific beauty cures she provides spells, but also suggests a more physical type of magic in the form of her own, newly launched, skin products the Celestial Range, to which can be added her own "prescription" magical ingredients.

"It's about combining, say, my aromatherapy knowledge with magic. So I might use tea-tree in a cream for bad skin or essential oils that are known for their anti-ageing qualities such as rose and frankincense and then that would be 'charged' under the full moon to give it power.

"I use magical ingredients and then my coven will stand around and direct energy into the product."

This aspect of mixing the practical powers of natural ingredients with magical powers is very much what Reid is about and for those concerned her

"A lot of my friends are vegan, so it was important to me to be able to create something they would be happy to use," says Reid, dispelling any notions of eye of newt or toe of frog.

Reid, who has been a practising witch since her teens, and a qualified beauty and holistic therapist for 15 years is not herself beautiful in the cat-walk sense of the word, but she is definitely pretty. And, in a persuasive advert for her craft, could easily pass for a decade younger than she is.

Apart from using her own products, Reid says of her beauty regime: "I ALWAYS wash my face in the morning dew on Mayday, this has always been said to make blemishes vanish and help to retain your youth.

"I also make a beauty altar at my dressing table by placing pink roses there as they are believed to bring the look of beauty. I also place a picture or figurine of a goddess such as Isis, Titania or Venus to attract love and beauty."

Another of her tips is to "charge a jug of mineral water by placing a rose quartz crystal in it and chill over night. Remove the crystal in morning and drink, this helps reveal inner beauty, promoting love and healing."

When people want spells, Reid insists they do them themselves - "You know that magic works on the three times rule. What you send out comes back at you three times more powerful, good or bad. I don't want to take that on board for someone else."

Spells for beauty and love are best performed on a Friday at the new or full moon, she recommends. "I can advise clients how to perform their own beauty spells such as 'Blodewedd's Bath.' She is a Welsh goddess made of flowers representing natural beauty who will help you realise your own beauty.

"You would fill a bath and add rose petals as well as a favourite essential oil such as rose or jasmine, light vanilla candles and the bath water should be coloured pink if possible. You would then bathe and meditate on the image you would like to project, focus on all your positive points and ask that others are able to see your inner beauty."

The incantation, she says, would be something like: "Goddess Blodewedd, Goddess divine, Let my inner beauty shine, let your beauty shine through me, if this harm none so mote it be."

Comparing the positive thoughts she recommends and the incantation to the affirmations used in more modern self-help programmes, I ask Reid the difference between intention and magic.

"The intention is the magic," she says simply.

It is an interesting way of looking at it and, for cynics, one which academics believe may not be entirely without scientific merit. Caroline Watt, a senior lecturer in psychology at Edinburgh University, suggests that, while positive-thinking may not be able to change the body, "magic" could produce effects.

"There is not yet well-established scientific evidence that intention alone can have physical effects. However, if a person believes in 'magic', and knows of the intention, then it is always possible that one's own belief could act as a kind of placebo effect," says Watt.

"For instance, if a person believes in voodoo and knows that a hex has been put on him or her, then that person could become extremely anxious and become ill simply through stress." Referring to research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, which shows links between the mind - in terms of emotion and conditioning - and the immune system, Watt suggests belief in a spell's efficacy could produce results.

"Knowledge of an intention could produce physical effects through mind-body interaction," she says.

Reid says that most of her clients know of her powers before they come to see her. "Often people will book in for something like a leg wax, and it is only after they get here they tell me they are looking for a spell."

The spell clinics are held once a month, or a client can have a private consultation by booking an appointment. Clinics and advice are free, although she accepts donations as it is traditional in witchcraft that an "exchange" should take place.

Apart from love and looks, Reid's clients also seek her help with work, home life and fertility.

Margaret McGee, a care attendant from the New Gorbals area of Glasgow, had been a client of Reid's for many years. When she was selling her house in February she was concerned it might take a long time to find a buyer, so Reid offered her a spell.

"She gave me a little bag which had seeds and a potion in it. It gave an ambiance and, when people came round to see the house, they said it felt very special. The very next day someone wanted to buy it."

McGee says she hadn't had many thoughts about magic before she met Reid, but now believes in it far more than before.

"That's the first time I've had a spell from Pauline, but I would definitely go for another one in future. I think her new products will go down a storm."

Reid's enthusiasm for her work is, quite literally perhaps, charming. As well as setting up the salon and creating her new range of products, she has been helping organise 2007's Witchfest Scotland - the annual event for witches and those interested in Wicca taking place at The Arches in Glasgow next month .

Dressed in black, but a smart salon tunic rather than the flowing robes of witchy stereotypes, Reid proudly shows me round her salon, which has three main treatment rooms, each with a specific theme - sun, moon and stars. The salon has already recently been blessed by her coven, and the rest of her staff and business partner, none of whom is a practising Wiccan, but all took part in the ceremony.

To give me an example of her work, she tells me to lie down on the treatment table, where she uses a crystal to check for blockages in my chakras - key energy points in the body, according to Indian tradition - before placing other crystals on me and performing a short "balancing treatment", a presumably magical act, that she does not explain in detail but says is "similar to Reiki".

She then starts what is a truly relaxing hot-stone massage, which, she explains later, also ties in which principles of magic because of the use of ancient rocks, which are also purified between uses.

As she works she tells me about the effect that being a witch has had on her life.

She has faced prejudice. Her old coven broke up in the face of harassment after details about it appeared in a tabloid newspaper.

"We don't believe in the devil. He is a Christian concept. So how can we worship something we don't believe in? The only person who could be a devil worshipper was a Christian who had got strange ideas."

But despite some people's negative attitudes, she believes being a witch has been an absolutely positive force in her life and she runs a monthly meeting in a local bar for those who are interested in Wicca and witchcraft.

"You do get some young people coming along out of curiosity. Especially after Harry Potter, but those types tend not to keep coming for too long."

After my treatment I definitely feel as if all my stress has lifted and have a very pleasant sense of calm. I am no closer to resembling Kate Moss, but when I meet my sister later that day she comments on how good I look.

On the way home I am struck by an odd thought. I had found out about Reid in a free magazine I picked up just a couple of days after deciding it might be interesting to find out about current witchcraft in Scotland. At the time I had thought it was a case of serendipity, life providing me with the information I needed for my work.

But, having met Reid and heard about the spells and blessings she has carried out over the past couple of weeks in order to bring success to her salon and her new products, it does occur to me that a feature on her work in a national newspaper might be just the kind of thing that could help.

And now I can't help but wonder - was my fortuitous discovery actually someone else's magic working out - or was it just a happy coincidence for both us?