Rise of the modern witch: They're educated, have good jobs - and think they can get whatever they want...by casting spells

When civil servant Louise felt a bit short of cash, she didn't just tighten her purse strings.

Instead, under the light of the full moon three months ago, when her two young children were tucked up in bed, she padded barefoot to the end of the garden with a green candle, a bunch of herbs and a glass of wine.

Carefully placing the wine on a tree stump she used as a make-shift altar, Louise offered it as a gift to the Moon Goddess. Then, as she sprinkled the bundle of sage and heather into the flame of the candle, she repeated the short incantation: 'Every day, in every way, prosperity come to me.'

Louise, 37, signed off her spell with the words: 'So mote it be' - an ancient way of saying: 'So be it' - before returning to her sitting room to catch the 10 o'clock news with husband Jonathan, an IT consultant. Louise, who works in admin for the Ministry of Defence, claims it was not long before the cash rolled in.

'A few weeks later, Jonathan's work share/save scheme matured and we got nearly £1,000 more than we were expecting.

'An antique toy we found in the attic made £40 on eBay - double what we'd hoped - then our insurers sent Jonathan £1,900 to replace his broken laptop, instead of the £500 we anticipated.'

Proof of the magical powers of spells? Or a series of lucky coincidences that Louise has seized on as evidence that she can harness the power of the universe to bring her money?

Either way, Louise is one of a growing number of professional, university- educated women who believe they can use 'white' witchcraft to attract everything from weight loss to career success.

According to the 2011 census, there are 53,172 pagans, or people who believe in something other than a conventional god, in the UK and evidence suggests modern witchcraft is on the rise.

Forget Harry Potter, witchcraft is no longer just for kids. From the film, The Witch, recently shown at the Toronto Film Festival, to the bestselling book series A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness, it is clear that 'magical practices' are experiencing a resurgence among educated women.

Certainly, the huge range of spell books and websites now available offer help for modern problems, ranging from how to get the person in front of you on a plane to pull their seat forward (imagine waves of light surrounding them, then silently ask them to do it) to finding a lost mobile phone (visualise a ball of pure, white light surrounding your phone and say: 'My phone is safe and sound, it is returned to me now.').

Although the wording of many spells is free on the web, there is a growing industry of 'witches' offering online consultations for up to £50 on how to choose the most powerful incantations. There is also a roaring trade in spell kits, containing tools like coloured candles, herbs and crystals to help spells work better.

Louise's interest started two years ago after she heard from a friend about evening classes in spell casting, led by a white witch where she lives in Falmouth, Cornwall.

Since learning her craft, she has used magic only sparingly, when money is a bit tighter than usual, and stresses that in order for a spell to work you have to perform a selfless act soon afterwards. 'After my last spell, I baked some cakes the next day and gave them to my neighbour,' says Louise. Of course, some people say: "Why stop there? Why not ask to win the lottery?"

'But spells are about balance. You get back only what you need. So I only cast a prosperity spell if I need to clear a few debts or need cash to get the car through an MoT.'

She admits her husband Jonathan was dubious at first. 'He'd make the odd cheeky comment like: "Are you off to the shops on your broomstick?" But when the money started rolling in recently, he told me: "Maybe things are perking up. Your spell seems to be working!"'

Kirsten Riddle is a former university administrator who became interested in witchcraft 20 years ago when a friend taught her to read tarot cards. Since then, Kirsten, 43, from Nottingham, has written six books on the subject, and gets up to 50 letters a month asking for advice on spell casting.

'Most are from women who usually want help with their love lives or careers or even to get more confident.'

Demand is rising as witchcraft starts to lose its negative black magic image, she adds. 'There are still those who are wary and believe witches consort with the Devil. That's far from the truth. A witch believes that what she sends out will return to her three-fold, so she will never perform a spell that could harm anyone or change another person's will.

'For instance, you can't cast a spell to make someone fall in love with you, as that is taking away another person's choice.'

It's mainly women who are drawn to spells because it's about feminine power, and witchcraft taps into the basic forces of nature, says Kirsten.

'Magic can help you take control of your life because it's about doing something positive to bring about change. In essence, when you cast a spell, you're making a wish.

'By doing something physical, even if it's simply lighting a candle and making a statement out loud, you're re-affirming that intention subconsciously.'

Julianne White, 47, is a screenplay writer who is married to Jeff, a construction manager. She is also a part-time witch who trains other women to cast spells. Women of every age attend, ranging from events organisers to teachers.

Indeed, Julianne used a spell to secure her dream cottage near Truro when it came up for auction nine months ago. 'There was a lot of interest in the property and I desperately wanted it. When I viewed it, I drew an invisible pentagram - a five-pointed star - with my finger on the wall of each room to secure it for me.

'Once I had marked the house as mine, the four viewings arranged by the estate agents failed to show up. The auction was cancelled and the owners accepted our offer. In return, I thanked the universe by making a donation to charity.'

Professor Chris French, who studies the psychology of paranormal beliefs at Goldsmiths, London University, believes all this is little more than wishful thinking.

'It's highly likely there are lots of other plausible explanations for spells appearing to work,' he says. 'Many times thinking like this turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.'

Deborah Hyde, editor of The Skeptic Magazine, which looks at pseudoscience and the paranormal, says that while asking for a spell may help you focus on what you really want in life, she queries the benefit of using them as a 'cosmic wishing well'.

'We live in a world where there's a shopping basket approach to spirituality. When someone performs or pays for a spell, it is obvious they are focused on their desired outcome.

'In a way, practising magic is probably a useful focus for many people, like meditation with bells on.'

Louise admits her spells have become a way to focus more positively on things she needs.

'I'd say to anyone who is dubious, have a look at what you do in normal life - it may not be that different.

'People are happy to go into a supermarket to buy peppermint tea to ease a stomach upset. That's also what being a witch is about - looking for natural remedies to improve your life and harness the power of nature. A spell is a powerful prayer.'