It was funny. The irony was clear.
“Is this how it feels to be inside a cauldron?”, wondered Zena.
“Na! This is damp, wet – not toasty and dry”, said her friend, Nellie.
“Anyway”, continued Zena, “if it’s true that our blessed matriarchs were chucked in here, they’ve tidied up – left no bone unturned!”
“Hmm! And I can’t sense any souls”, said Nellie. “But”, she added, thumbing skyward, “from the number of departed spirits tumbling about me as we ran here, you’d think some blundering idiot had punched a hole in the fabric of the astral plane. None of this is how two nice Wiccan girls should spend Halloween”.
“You’re right. Meanwhile”, giggled Zena, “we’ll have to manage until dawn, then squeeze ourselves back through the hole and scoot home. But why am I laughing? For the first time in 330 years, it’s dangerous to be a witch”.
“Everything’s beyond awful”, agreed Nellie. “We’re living through a waking nightmare. Who could have imagined hiding like feral animals in our own village?
“I’ve even heard rumours about the reinstatement of the British anti-witchcraft laws that were repealed in 1953. A blissful 61 years of freedom – our own lifespans - all being snatched back on a bureaucrat’s whim”.
“Don’t think it’s without foundation”, said Zena. “Folk who hate us – that’s almost everyone – have been cooking this up for ages”.
“You’re talking about Ilyse Robens and her boycott augury? She warned that’s how things would start. But no-one listened”.
“A great lady who’d learned the lessons of history. We should remember her as a woman who fled Holocaust Europe and whose surviving family spurned her when she followed Gerald Gardner. Oh, the pride she took in her Wicca badge! ‘A yellow star was forced on me in Leipzig’, she’d say, ‘so I’ll never be seen without my pentangle here”.
“Indeed”, said Nellie. “I’ll always regret dismissing her so coolly when she described her vision of the windows of Jenny Alton’s herbalist shop being shattered”.
“Now it’s happened. Three times”, said Zena. “Then the self-appointed War on Witches brigade drew crude broomstick cartoons on the main door; smashed her healing crystals and threatened to report her ‘criminal activities’ to the police.
“As a trained pharmacologist, they said, she had to choose between her professional work and her links to the International Society of Alchemy. So she’s shut the shop and judging by her appearance, has aged ten years almost overnight”.
“It’s another horrible story”, said Nellie. “Jenny’s so decent. I’d noticed that her premises had been boarded up, but didn’t know why.
“Everything gets worse each day. I read in The Guardian and Moralist that Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible has been deemed ‘too sympathetic to witches and witchcraft’, so a proposed West End staging has been cancelled and the producer has been arrested on charges of intended ‘incitement to hate’”.
“But who is hating whom? Ridiculous and unjust”, sighed Zena. “This sounds like another War on Witches publicity stunt. They’re looking for any excuse to attack us.
“And it’s not only here in England. Europe, Africa, the Middle East, even American university campuses are astir with anti-witch protests of the type not seen for generations.
“Much of the frenzy has been whipped up by international news services like The G and M, especially since the outbreak of the Weevila pandemic. Well- respected witchcraft practitioners everywhere have been accused of infecting water supplies and of gratifying the most hideous sexual perversions that their accusers can contrive”.
“Of course”, said Nellie, “the situation’s being made much worse by a few genuine wrongdoers and it’s difficult for outsiders to differentiate. There have also been stories about ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft, with allegations of drownings and rapes as part of attempts to ‘drive the devil out’ of small children”.
“But surely”, asked Zena, “even if these bizarre rumours had the slightest substance, they couldn’t have anything to do with our members?
“All I read and hear is: ’Put the witches on trial. Prick them! Burn them! Bring back the Witch Finder General! King James I was right!’
“But hardest to believe or comprehend is how a baying mob of protestors found their way this week to a pre-Samhain gathering in the woods outside Heaton-Under-Mallows. It’s claimed that the rioters tormented the worshippers about their ‘asymmetrical’ numbers. “Only thirteen?”, they chanted. “Unlucky for some!” Who told them about the meeting? We can only guess”.
“It was an ‘insider’ – of course”, said Nellie, beginning to weep. “I know. There’s nothing – no-one – like an apostate to cause trouble between heaven and earth. You must have read the rubbish spouted online by members of ‘Sword and Shield Ministries’”.
“What are you saying?”
“It’s my son, Adrian who’s behind much of the terror. I’ve carried the burden of this terrible secret for too long. I must speak now, Zena. You’ll know him as ‘Father Johnny Spicer’. But I don’t believe he’s been ordained.
“We’ve had no contact since he left home aged 16 after a row that almost killed my Cecil. A long time later we learned that after living rough he was given shelter by a well-meaning charity. Then he fell in with a bunch of bigoted do-gooders, had his head turned and decided he loathed everything about witches and our craft”.
There was a long silence. One that frightened Nellie more even than the screams of the mob that was thundering down the path towards the well.
Then Zena spoke.
“ I understand now, Nellie; why Spicer’s so-called ‘sermons’ start with “speaking as a former Wiccan and as the son of a practising witch …’
“But don’t blame yourself. There must be something wrong with his wiring. Adrian’s no son of yours, darlin’. He’s just a sad, mad traitor. And a fool!”
(© Natalie Irene Wood – 24 October 2014)