THE common perception of witches is that they’re into devil worship and black magic. But Celtic priestess and ‘hedge witch’, Olive de Ville, says the code for her line of work is “to do no harm”.
Olive, brought up in the Waterfall area of Cork and now living near Macroom, doesn’t fit the stereotypical witch image. When we met in a city hotel recently, her long blonde hair had braids nd she was wearing a dress and lacy tights as well as a pendant in the shape of an owl — a symbol of wisdom.
Olive, who carries out hand-fasting marriage ceremonies, coming-of-age ceremonies, blessings (including blessing pets) and rituals for the bereaved, as well as healing, wears “beautiful Celtic gowns and cloaks” when working. She explains that the term ‘hedge witch’ goes back to “olden times”.
“Most of these ladies, known as hedge witches, were midwives and no different to your modern-day complementary therapist,” she says. “But because of persecution, what they did wasn’t understood.
“They were using herbs, nature and pagan spirituality. The arrival of Christianity was a dark male-dominated force. It kind of wiped out the sacred feminine in life and society. Because these ladies were in fear of their lives — there were male witches too — they were forced out to the edges of villages and towns. Mainly, they lived outdoors on the border between hedges and villages. They were no different than anyone else. It was Puritanism that was so tyrannical. It took something beautiful and natural and turned it into something negative.”
‘Witch’ means ‘wise one’ and Olive says, who is in her mid-thirties and whose real surname is Holland, says all her life, she “was shamanic by nature”.
“At a young age, you’re only developing yourself on an energetic level. I was drawn to the stories of Celts such as the Táin and Cú Chulainn when I was at school. I was fascinated by ring forts and standing stones.”
After her Leaving Certificate, she went to UCC and completed an arts degree in archaeology and Celtic civilisation. She went on to do a Master’s degree in archaeology followed by a diploma in heritage management.
“In our house, education was seen as really important to secure your future. There was a little bit of pressure on me but I have no regrets about spending seven years in university.
“When I was doing the diploma, I got interested in heritage sites and monuments around Ireland. I’m a people person. I love to talk and for a few years, I worked as a tour guide. As well as that, I sing and write songs. The dream was to have a band and sing and write.”
As it happened, Olive walked away from tour guiding and archaeology. “I kind of lived the Bohemian lifestyle on the road, mainly in England. I had some crazy experiences but great experiences as well. That’s how the whole priestess thing happened.
“I ended up travelling in Somerset and I kept getting this call to go back to Glastonbury. It wasn’t hippies and tents. I found it a very welcoming place. I did singing gigs there. Then, I met a priestess or two and thought that sounded interesting. I delved into it and went to workshops. I decided being a priestess is part of my calling.”
Olive trained with English and Dutch priestesses.
“A lot of it was self-development. I think it’s good to get training, particularly with priestesses of Celtic spirituality who have wisdom and experience.
“But there are a lot of people living their daily lives who are probably naturally inclined towards living the Celtic pagan way of life and don’t realise it.”
Olive’s hand-fasting wedding ceremony involves binding the wrists of the couple.
“It’s the original pagan Celtic way of getting married. I also do baby naming as an alternative to christenings. I do rituals with cremated ashes. All the ceremonies are based round the elements of air, fire, earth and water.
"I recently did a ceremony with a woman whose father had died 20 years ago. She was still carrying that and had a blockage. She felt she had never buried her father because of fall-outs in her family. I did a funeral with her using the four elements, channelling energy, following Celtic traditions. The woman found it overwhelming. There was a lot of crying. It brought things up from her past. The woman contacted me a few weeks later to say she felt like a new person.”
What does Olive believe happens after death?
“There’s definitely an after-life. My faith would be that there’s a mother goddess and a father god. I believe we’re all made of female and male energy.
“The universe is yin yang. It doesn’t make any sense if there isn’t male and female energy. It’s about balance.
“After death, I believe we go to a good place, a spiritual dimension. They say your energy creates your experiences in life.”
“We all come into this world as beautiful energies. Society and life experiences kind of erode that away. I suppose I do believe in the laws of karma. What goes around comes around.”
Olive believes we have the ability to heal our own bodies. “Your body reacts to how you’re feeling. Some are stuck in a moment, holding onto a grudge or resentment. That can eat away the body.”
She doesn’t have the answer to everything, but is very positive. Both her parents are dead and never lived to see what their daughter ended up working at.
“I think my dad would have just let me get on with it. My mother would have been very supportive. She was a psychiatric nurse at Our Lady’s. She managed to introduce art and music therapy when she was working there. She also did alternative healing.”