The paranormal has a pervasive pull, even if only in the form of a surreptitious glance at your horoscope or the memory of a teenage Ouija board session.
The gusto with which Halloween is embraced is testament to our fascination with the dark side.
For some, however, the occult holds more than just a passing interest; it is the driving force by which they live. Wiccan – a form of Pagan Witchcraft – is attracting growing number of followers, with an estimated 50,000 members in the UK.
Similarly, vampire-obsessed gatherings thrive in London, with unconventional beliefs and practices that owe little to Twilight’s saccharine storylines.
On November 12, 5000 witches will descend on the unlikely environs of Croydon for the International Witchfest 2011. Inbaal, 37, a psychic by profession, attended her first of these events in 2002, drawn by an interest in Tarot cards. It was there she discovered Wiccan group The Children Of Artemis (witchcraft.org), the UK’s largest witchcraft organisation. Through the group, Inbaal began to study magic, eventually becoming part of a coven.
Mental images conjured by the word ‘coven’ are not far from the reality, according to Inbaal. Just don’t expect everyone to be naked.
“In Australia there’s more nakedness in witchcraft as the weather’s warmer,” she says.
“In cold countries people tend to keep their clothes on. Also, as you’re hanging around with ritual daggers and candles, you don’t want to take too many chances. The official Wicca line is that everyone should be naked and therefore equal, but we wear long black robes instead.”
A coven is a group of about six people who have studied witchcraft and choose to practice together. Inbaal’s coven includes an artist, a PR, a TV producer, a singer and a nanny. There is a high priest or priestess who runs things, but the heirarchy is fluid as there is no central witches’ body to decree status.
Magic, however, is not confined to meetings of the coven and Inbaal says she weaves spells into daily live as common practice.
“I often go out into my garden and do a little spell,” she says.
The possibility that magic actually works is an appealing thought. Money, sex, happiness, fame guaranteed? Not quite. Wiccans stress that magic cannot be used to affect the behaviour of another person, as free will is revered. Similarly, spells should not be used to avenge a hated ex or bullying colleague.
“There’s a distinction between witchcraft and magic,” Inbaal says. “While magic can be used to hurt people, witches as a community will never tolerate harm being done to a person or animal.”
Damn. So what can be done with magic?
“You can absolutely affect your life with magic,” Inbaal says, citing the time she did a ‘work spell’; lighting green candles, burning her wishes on a piece of paper, then finding a juicy job as a TV psychic two weeks later.
But it’s not work most of us wish to alter with mysterious powers, it seems. “Anyone who says their first spell wasn’t a love spell is lying. Even in a recession, this is what people want to learn,” Inbaal says.
An easy one, if you’re interested, is to do everything in twos. “Put on two bracelets in the morning; wear two lines of eyeliner instead of one,” she says.
Wiccans accept a spell works because you believe it will, and Inbaal agrees that you can, theoretically, do the magic in your mind.
“It’s entirely possible to do a ritual in your head and with practice you learn to slip into the Beta brainwaves mode that you need to make magic, similar to when you’re falling asleep.
“It’s the internal changes that rituals bring about that are important. But rituals make it easier and also, are awesome!”
Their awesomeness is undoubtedly part of what will draw crowds to Witchfest this weekend, where attendees can learn to ‘cast a circle’, buy witchy products like ritual daggers and attend talks. That, and “the chance to be surrounded by people with an affinity for velvet and big hair!” Inbaal says.
Across town, in a north London pub, the London Vampire Meetup Group (LVMG) is not hard to spot. A mass of Victorian ruffles, pale faces, dark lips and black clothes, they cluster around a candle-lit table and spill on to the pavement, looking spectacular.
“We are a gathering of darkened souls who bear an interest in all things vampiric, from those who have a love for the literature and the movies to those who prefer to delve deeper,” the group proclaims on its website.
The delving deeper sounds intriguing. So what, apart from drinking pints and being friendly and generally pretty un-scary, do these vampire-lovers get up to?
Chief organiser of the LVMG, Thunder, 40, who changed his name to Thunder Raven-Stoker 12 years ago – “My parents were a bit off about it to begin with but they’ve accepted it now” – finishes an impressively dark DJ set and rejoins the group.
“I first developed an interest in vampires as a teenager,” he says.“I was into old, vaguely cheesy horror movies, especially those about vampires. The paranormal aspect was a key element and I was into legends and myths in general, but of all monsters, the seductiveness and romanticism of vampires resonated the most strongly with me.”
On occasions like this, Thunder and other members of the group wear fangs. These are made of dental acrylic and may or may not be permanent.
“I take mine out for work,” Thunder says. The pointy shoes, frilly shirts and waistcoats, however, remain. “I probably wouldn’t do a job where I had to wear ’office clothes’.”
For some, interest in vampires is cosmetic, a chance to imitate the most glamorous of mythical beings; for others it’s artistic, a fascination with the genre’s films and books. However, there are people who take their obsession further.
“There are members of group who practice blood drinking,” Thunder says. “This can take different forms.”
“In general though, blood play – or Sanguinarian Vampirism – is done between two consenting adults and, as it’s so intimate, usually takes place in a sexual setting. As a group we neither condemn nor condone this practice.”
So real-life blood-suckers do indeed walk among us. But vampirism, according to believers, can take other forms.
“My interest in the paranormal includes Psychic Vampirism, or Psy-vampirism,“ Thunder says. “This is based on the notion that humans are not as self-contained as the skin we live in. We have an aura and psychic vampires can draw on the energies people give off.
“As with blood drinking, Psy-vampirism should never be done without consent, although obviously it’s much harder to take someone’s blood without their knowledge!”
It’s juicy stuff, but for the most part, hanging out with the LVMG is more likely to make you feel like a Nineties teenager than a bit-part in a horror film. Just don’t mention Twilight.
“I don’t think the Twilight films do much for the genre,” Thunder advises. “If you want to watch a good vampire film, I’d recommend Christopher Lee’s Dracula.”
The London Vampire Meetup Group; various locations
Witchfest, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, CR9 1DG; November 12; from £12