From persecution to profit -- the life of a professional witch

Had she been alive half a millennium ago, Eli Karine Pedersen would probably have been burned at the stake, but today the self-proclaimed witch says her sorcery is making her a pretty penny.

"My professional title is witch. That is my job and that is my life," Pedersen told AFP as she attended northern Norway's first ever witch conference in the small town of Vardoe, just over 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) from the North Pole.

Pedersen, 44, hasn't always been a witch. In fact, up until four years ago this tall woman with tousled black hair with white stripes, flowing black skirts and black pointy boots worked as a psychiatric nurse.

"In 2000, the witch came to me," she said, insisting however that hers is not a story of dancing with devil in the moonlight as so many women were suspected of doing in the past.

About 50,000 people, nearly all women, were killed as witches across Europe between the 15th and the 18th centuries, and northern Norway appears to have burned more than its share. In this small town of Vardoe alone, which had fewer than 300 inhabitants at the time, nearly 30 suspected witches met fiery deaths.

Pedersen herself, who has set up shop a little further to the south on the tiny island of Dyroeyshamn, went through her own "trial by fire" when she first realized she was a witch, although for her, she said, the trial ended in salvation.

"I usually say I tumbled off my broomstick and fell down where I was supposed to be," she said.

Everything started after she moved into a farm she had bought on Dyroeyhamn.

"I found pictures of my family in that house, and it turned out that my extended family, through marriage somewhere, was actually related to the old owners of the farm," she said.

But then, Pedersen began to clash with "power and men and authorities", as her neighbors pressured her to sell her farm to make room for a new fish factory.

"It was very painful ... lasted many years and included many trials. I just wouldn't sell my property and allow it to become an industrial area. I said no, never ever, that would have to be over my dead body.

"Everyone made me out to be this really ugly, evil, local witch who was stopping industry and development. When this had gone on long enough, it suddenly hit me like a bolt of lightning that 'they're right. That's what I am'," she added.

So she started her "witch business", opening her farm up to groups interested in a magical experience out of the ordinary, including witch massages in the icy water near her home and the use of stones to cast off worries and sorrows.

As the years passed, Pedersen said, the fishing industry that had been so important for the island disappeared.

"Now I'm the only one there who actually has any form of business, and my greatest enemies back then have today become my best partners," she said.

The groups that come to visit "the happy witch", as Pedersen calls herself, often stay for several days, combining their "witch experience" with meetings, conferences and even Christmas banquets.

"I am fully booked all year long," she insisted, pointing out she earns about 500,000 kroner (72,500 dollars, 60,000 euros) in sales each year.

The witch experience part includes picking out a stone that represents a problem that needs to be "cast off".

The stone "represents the worries and everything that makes your existence seem grey and sad ... So I tell my customers to throw off their sorrows and worries near the likberget", or the ancient burial mound on the farm, Pedersen said, explaining that there is an old cemetery at the top of the hill where the son of the man who arranged Norway's last witch burning in 1695 lies buried.

"So I stand there with the customer holding whatever the customer needs to throw out, and then we throw the stone to the ocean, and thank the sea for swallowing our sorrows. Then we ring bells," she said, insisting the process really works.

"Most people think this is really funny to begin with. But 99 percent of all the times I've been there, something happens to the group as we stand over there," she said.

She admits that not everyone believes she is a witch at first.

"Children do tend to come up and be very skeptical. "They come in and tell me 'Huff, I really don't believe in any of this at all!' And the skepticism shines out of their eyes.

"But once I've talked to them for a while, when they're ready to leave, they go pull on their father or mother's sleeve and say, 'hey, maybe she's a witch after all'," Pedersen said with a wink before getting into a small plane to fly her closer to home.

Dyroeyhamn is after all a little too far to fly to on a broomstick.