MHARA STARLING - INTERVIEW WITH A WITCH
Posted on October 15 2021
INTERVIEW WITH A WITCH is a brand new series created by Yalu Natural Perfumery + Witchery founder, Rhiannon Mapstone. She wanted to create a space within her 'Hey Witch' blog to introduce you to her favourite Witches from across the cosmos. Helping you to feel inspired and connected to the greater witchy community and celebrate our uniqueness and diversity. So without further ado, let's dive in and get to know the effervescent witch and story teller that is Mhara Starling..
Mhara Starling is a Welsh Witch and Swynwraig, Author of Welsh Witchcraft (releasing 2022). She specialises in Celtic paganism, folk magic and all sorts of fairy shenanigans. You may have seen Mhara on WitchTok spinning the most delightful and insightful tales while she walks around ancient sights of Wales and England. She has also recently filmed a documentary for S4C in Wales all about Calan Gaeaf - the Welsh Samhain or Halloween. Which will be aired this Halloween! So make sure to follow Mhara for all the links.
She is an absolute treasure! I love her and I'm sure you will too!
What's your sun sign, moon and rising?
I am a Gemini sun, Virgo moon and Scorpio rising.
- Where do you dwell?
I currently live in a small city in the North-West of England called Chester. This city is rather ancient – having originally been a Roman fort. Chester sits on the border of England and Wales. In Welsh, my native language, this city is called ‘Caer’, which means ‘fort’, or ‘stronghold’. I grew up, and spent most of my life in a rural part of North Wales, on the Isle of Anglesey. Living in a city in England is strange, as I had a very deep and strong relationship with the spirit of the landscape upon which I was raised. This city has a very different spirit, but I am growing to love it too.
- How did you get into witchcraft? and what age were you?
Growing up in Wales, and speaking Welsh as a first language, mythology and folklore was an intrinsic aspect of my upbringing. I grew up on the legends and lore of the land. Stories of magic, giants, fairies, heroes and other worlds always fascinated me. I also had a grandmother who read tea leaves and the crystal ball. It feels as though I was always surrounded by magic, and I always joke there’s no wonder I turned out the way I am. However, my first real introduction to modern Witchcraft came about when I was 12 years old.
I was dragged by my mother to Llangefni, a small town on Anglesey, for a day out shopping. While there, I went into a little second-hand charity shop, in the children’s book section I found a rather peculiar book. The book was called Spells for Teenage Witches. I stood in the charity shop reading through some of the spells and rituals. I was deeply intrigued, and my mother offered to buy the book for me. When I got home, I read the book cover to cover. That book still sits on my bookshelf today, and though when I read through it now, I laugh and shake my head at the contents…it was the book that unveiled a world of Witchcraft and paganism to me. After that, I began calling myself a Witch. I set up an altar in my bedroom, and would venture out to the woods, meadows and beaches surrounding my village to perform spells and rituals by myself. I found out at this age that an old art teacher of mine from primary school who lived in the village was also a practising Witch. I would venture up to her little cottage on the outskirts of the village, and we would chat for hours upon hours about magic. That lovely lady became a mentor of mine for many years, and she pointed me in the direction of the Anglesey Druid Order. At the age of 16, I began looking up the Druid order, and found contact details for the chief Druid of the order, Kristoffer Hughes. I sent Kristoffer an email and found out he lived basically down the road as well! And so, we met up.
Kristoffer introduced me to a stream of Paganism that was rooted in the culture of Wales. That is when I feel my path truly began. Before I met Kristoffer, my practice was very generic and a bit of an eclectic mess. Narrowing my path down to focus on a connection with the land I lived upon, the spirits of that land, the culture of the land and my ancestors, and the stories woven into the landscape allowed me to delve deeper into my magic.
I then became curious about the Welsh history of folk magical practices. Today, I see myself as a Swynwraig, a Welsh practitioner of folk magic. I am inspired and informed by the historical folk magical practices of Wales, the mythology and lore of the land, and the magic of folklore. All that led me to where I am today.
- Can you define what kind of witch you are?
A term I use often to describe my Witchcraft is ‘Folk Witch’. As I said above, the older traditions of folk magic from Wales’ past is what predominately informs my practice. However, I am under no pretence that I am practising exactly what the old folk magical practitioners of Wales practised centuries ago. I am very much a modern practitioner, living in a modern world. Being a folk Witch however means that I have a healthy respect for tradition, and my magical workings are often community-based. When I lived in Wales, I would often give readings, and offer magical services to my community. People would come to me to have their Tarot cards read, or perhaps if they wanted help that they believed my magic could help with. When I moved to England, I continued this community-oriented magical work. I now run Pagan events and gatherings, as well as spiritual development classes in the city, and still offer readings in a little shop in the city centre.
- Do you use deities in your rituals and spellwork? If so, who?
As well as being a practising Witch, I am also a Celtic polytheist. I believe in the Gods of Wales, and the spirits of the land. The main deity I feel a strong connection with, and call to the most in my magical and spiritual workings, is Cerridwen. Cerridwen is a Goddess of inspiration, transformation, and initiation. She sends us on a journey of self-discovery. Cerridwen is deeply connected to Witchcraft, magic and divination as well. Beyond Cerridwen, I also have a relationship with deities such as: Llŷr, God of the sea. Rhiannon, Goddess of sovereignty and horses. Arawn, God of the otherworld and the dead. Braint, Goddess of spring and healing.
As a polytheist, my reverence and devotional practices extend to very many deities and spirits. I am also an animist and work closely with the familiar spirits of the land.
- What is your most treasured magical item?
Out of all my magical items, the one thing I am deeply connected to, and would be in deep grief if anything were to happen to it, is my large cauldron. Not only does my big pot connect me to Cerridwen, as one of her symbols is the cauldron of inspiration, but it was also a gift from dear friends. Two of my dearest friends from university purchased the cauldron for me as a birthday gift when we were in our first year together. That cauldron has been with me through so much. I have carried it from my little city centre apartment, onto the train, and up steep hills to reach burial chambers and standing stones. I have divined so much in it over the years, by filling it with water and staring into it during a full moon. It sits proudly in my living room, always ready for me to pick it up and drag it over to the woods for a midnight rite. It’s a lovely, big old thing, and if I have any say in the matter, I will have it until the day I pass into the depths of Annwfn.
- If you could land anywhere in time, where would you go?
The island I am from, Ynys Môn, the Isle of Anglesey, was once a centre for Druidic studies. Druids from all over the British Isles and even continental Europe would travel to the island to learn their craft. The island was the last stronghold of the Druids of Britain. The Romans crossed over the Menai Strait onto the island in around 61 AD. They massacred the druids, and destroyed their sacred groves. I have always wondered what the island would have been like during the time the Druids were here. I would travel to a time before 61 AD, and explore Anglesey.
- Any advice for younger witches?
My one piece of advice that I tell all Witches new to this path, is look to what is around you. When we first find Witchcraft, we can grow so very excited by all manners of things going on across the world. Egyptian mythology, Greek polytheism, the history of the Vikings…these are all amazing things to learn about and delve into. However, don’t forget to look at what is on your doorstep. No matter where you reside in the world, I guarantee it your region is filled with folklore, mythology, spirituality, and magic. It’s a marvellous thing to look to the wider world for inspiration, but don’t be so blinded by the spectacle of far away lands…that you forget to honour and appreciate the land you are on. Build a relationship with the spirits of your locale, learn your land’s stories, and look to what the natural world offers you on your very doorstep. My practice flourished once I became deeply connected to the land I walked upon.
- Your top 3 witchy reads?
I think every Witch should, at some point, read Triumph of the Moon by Ronald Hutton. It may be a bit dry, as it is purely an academic piece of writing, but reading Hutton will very quickly pull you away from the ‘woo’ of Witchcraft and help you anchor yourself in the reality of it. So much of what we are told is ‘ancient’ just isn’t. Hutton is grounded and humbles us a little as Witches. Of course, Hutton isn’t perfect, and Triumph of the Moon was written in the 90’s, and so a lot of progress has been done since then in the field of the history of modern Witchcraft. But I still believe it is an important read for all Witches. As are history books in general. If I could give beginner Witches one piece of advice concerning books, it would be to not limit your bookshelf to books written by and for Witches. Look to historical texts, academic studies, books on flora and fauna of your region, and more.
If you have an interest in the Welsh cultural continuum when it comes to magic and paganism, I highly recommend Kristoffer Hughes’ work. Particularly, for beginners the Book of Celtic Magic is a marvellous introductory read.
Beyond that, read folklore! Folklore is so much more than just “tall tales”. In folklore can be found old magical traditions and beliefs, herbal lore, spells and charms, and all sorts of other tidbits of valuable information. Find the folklore of your region, or the folklore of the regions your ancestors come from. Read folklore from across the world! Folklore is a reflection of culture, of people, and of old customs and traditions. We can learn so much from Folklore.
- What is your most favourite witchy creation or project you've created or been part of?
Right now, I am deeply proud of the events and gatherings I am organising in my city. I run them with my partner, Matthew. I am lucky in the fact that my partner is also a practising Witch. Our home is filled to the brim with magical goodies, and when I said to him that I wanted to start up a moot he was so eager to help. Now we run a monthly moot, a bi-monthly spiritual development class, and we run open rituals and gatherings at important times of the year. We have built up a little community of Witches, Pagans and magically inclined folk. It has been positively marvellous.
- Are you working on something new you'd like to share with us?
At the moment I am very excited for the release of my upcoming book. Welsh Witchcraft: A Guide to the Spirits, Lore, and Magic of Wales is a deep dive into not only my own personal practise as a Welsh Witch, but also the longstanding continuum of magic that is part of the very soil of Wales. The book delves into the history of magic in Wales, Welsh myths and folk tales, Welsh fairy lore, and even the seasonal cycles and festivals of Wales. The book releases in February of 2022 but is available for pre-order now on most book selling sites.
- Your favourite fictional, movie or tv witch?
Growing up, I loved the book series The Worst Witch, and in the 90’s they made a television adaptation of it. I fell in love with a character named Constance Hardbroom. She was the deputy headmistress at Cackles Academy, a school for Witches. She is a very serious Witch, disciplined and traditional in every sense. I believe I looked up to Hardbroom when I was younger, and still do to this day. She inspires me to be disciplined in my practise, to do something each day that furthers my knowledge or expertise.
- If you could have one witchy superpower, what would it be?
I would rather like to fly, whether on a broomstick or not. However, I think the superpower I would choose would be the ability to move from one place to another in an instant. Teleportation, I believe they call it. Imagine how useful it would be to just close your eyes, imagine you are in the supermarket, and then *POOF* you’re there. No more carrying heavy shopping bags home or commuting on long train rides. That would be splendid.
- Something you don't do
Despite being a Witch, I have no interest really in crystals. I have a few pieces of crystal that I either bought when I was very young, or people gifted to me under the assumption that because I am a Witch, I must love crystals. I will admit, crystals are beautiful, but they play no role in my magical practise. My overthinking mind cannot help but question the ethics of crystals. How do we know for certain our crystals are not coming from mines that are destroying the natural environment? Or that pay their workers a pittance? Or who partake in child labour? Etc. I have heard tales of indigenous communities across the world being displaced by mining corporations, and of natural areas being decimated by explosives, just so people can have a pretty hunk of quartz on their fireplace. It just doesn’t sit right with me, and stores can slap “ethically sourced” on their crystals all they like, but there is no guarantee we know for certain they are. After all, ethics are subjective. Perhaps our interpretation of “ethically sourced” is quite different to the industry standard. Being a Witch whose practise is also very much tied to the land I am on, I also just do not see how a piece of Amethyst from Madagascar really has anything to do with my spiritual and magical work in Wales or England. I much prefer finding stones on the beach, or on a riverbed. Hag stones, pebbles, sea glass, seashells, pieces of raw quartz I find on the cliffs and beaches around my region…these are my crystals. Almost every Witch I know is rather crystal-mad, and so sometimes it feels slightly lonely being a Witch with very little interest in them.
- You are such a gift to the world, always offering your love and guidance, but who or what replenishes you and fills up your cup?
I am deeply inspired by my peers, mentors and loved ones. Kristoffer Hughes is a marvellous teacher, author, and authority when it comes to Welsh paganism – but I also have the pleasure of calling him a good friend. My partner, Matthew, always goes above and beyond to help me achieve everything I aspire to achieve. He would stay up for hours with me, discussing my projects, or searching for an old book that I needed to act as a resource in my book. I am also just deeply moved by the community I have around me, not just in person but online. There’s a lot of talk about ‘toxic’ Witching spaces online…but my experience has been nothing of the sort. I have met numerous kind, supportive, inspirational Witches online that have uplifted me and given me the confidence to be the Witch I am today. Beyond all that, I am also deeply touched when someone tells me that my work has inspired them in some way. That is why I do what I do, to inspire others to be the Witches they know deep down they could be.
Photo: Mhara at Bryn Celli Ddu - an ancient burial chamber on Anglesey, Wales.