When Paul Blanchard opened the door to his wife Heather's study, it was immediately clear that she wasn't just keeping books in there. "We moved to a bigger house, and there was space for me to have my own second room," explains Heather, a 35-year-old author. "So I set up an altar with my tarot cards, crystals, and cauldron."
Heather is a practicing witch. However, her husband of 15 years is not just an atheist but, as he puts it, an "evangelical fundamentalist atheist"—a former trustee of the British Humanist Association and a secular activist who campaigned against the Pope's 2010 state visit to London.
"I never sat down and 'came out of the broom closet,'" says Heather, who was initially interested in witchcraft as a teenager before rediscovering it a few years ago. "It just became quite obvious as I started going off to magic retreats and, of course, setting up a dedicated witchcraft room in the house. But he's pretty open-minded and happy for me to do what I want to do."
Relationships between those of different religions are probably as old as the concept of religion itself, yet even now they still cause potential headaches. Although organized religion doesn't have quite the grip on society it once did, many of us still hold complex spiritual beliefs that can be of great importance to us. We're also more likely to put our own personal spin on them, rather than taking the line handed out by a cleric, making it all the more likely that you'll date someone with opposing views at some point.
"Spiritual and religious beliefs are part of our core values," says Natalie Lue, a relationships expert and founder of Baggage Reclaim, a blog about dating and romance. "At the dating stage, we don't usually think too deeply about how these will pan out, or sometimes we'll even downplay the importance of them. But once you look at deepening the commitment and building your lives together, it's possible to run into problems.
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"However, if people can put their judgments to one side, have respect and understanding of where the other person is coming from, and still want the same things out of the relationship, then it can work out. Our character and direction are ultimately more important."
Heather and Paul say they never discussed their beliefs in great detail when they first met. "I was more agnostic at the time," she remembers. "I knew he was an atheist, and although he never encouraged me to be one too I saw the kind of books he was reading, such as Richard Dawkins, and I read a few myself out of interest. But to be honest, I'm not bothered that he's not interested in witchcraft."
However, it's one thing to develop new beliefs while already in a relationship, and another to be single, spiritual, and navigating the dating realm. Tamara, 33, believes she manifested her boyfriend Martyn, 30, in a ceremony just before meeting him at a house party. "The night we met, all my friends were like 'She's a witch!' and he was like, 'What does that even mean?'" she laughs.
"He was a bit freaked out. But we sat and had a more in-depth talk about our beliefs, and although he identified as atheist, he understood where I was coming from."
Martyn has since dipped his toes in Tamara's practices. "He asked me for a tarot reading a few weeks after we met, and I saw lots of good signs for our relationship. But I told him to look the card meanings up himself as I didn't want to sound like I was being manipulative.
"I use rose quartz at home to bring loving energy to the relationship. And we're currently trying to buy a house, so we did an abundance spell together to try and manifest the home we want. He sees how much it helps me so he naturally becomes curious and wanted to try it out."
It's a separate interest we have, in the same way that we watch different TV shows.
Lue says that it's important to establish boundaries before involving the other person in any kind of spiritual practice. "If, for example, you're going to do a ritual that impacts them—such as in a space your share—then a conversation needs to be had. Don't impose yourself on people."
However, if your partner actively suggests joining in, then it can be great for the relationship as it'll deepen the respect you have for each others' beliefs. "Just don't assume that because they've consented to one activity they've automatically consented to a thousand—you need to keep checking back in on what they're comfortable with." And remember it's a two-way street—if you're feeling pressure from your partner to join in with something, that's not OK.
Heather doesn't do spells or magic work around Paul, as she knows he's not interested "plus he hates the smell of essential oils." But she did take him on a witch-run tour of Salem while on vacation, which involved partaking in a simple ritual. "I found it interesting, in the same way as visiting a museum and learning about another culture is interesting," he says. "I gained more respect for witchcraft too, as I realized it's largely about love and positivity. But it's a separate interest we have, in the same way that we watch different TV shows."
Ultimately, Lue says that, if everything else is aligned, then being with someone with a different belief system can help deepen your own—and just because someone can read tarot and knows their rising sign, it doesn't automatically mean they're the right person to weather the next retrograde with. "If you think going out with someone with exactly the same beliefs as you will make life easier, you're wrong," she states.
"They can have the same views as you but approach it from a totally different angle. You need to look through the surface beliefs, and get to the person below."