ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Housing Benefit Hill: Witch Way out of Here?

Updated on February 14, 2018
CJStone profile image

CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.

When Vera talks to you, it's usually to cackle viciously at someone's stroke of ill-luck. You get the feeling that she's wished it upon them. But there can't be anything in this magic lark, or they wouldn't be stuck in this place...

I SHOULD call this place Housing Benefit Hell. Okay, maybe it's not as bad as that, but it certainly seems like purgatory at times. There's an element of degradation here, living - literally - on top of one another; too many people in too small a space, where children kick about in a nest of derelict garages, scattered with broken glass and knackered car-parts, and where broken furniture moulders in the scrubby hedgerow out the back. Almost every family is a Single Parent. This place is on the edge, in more ways than one.

If there are any Christians here I certainly haven't met them. There's little room for forgiveness as Our Father Which Art In Heaven is manifestly ungenerous with the Daily Bread. Those who profess any belief at all - and there's only two - are naturally prone to the lure of blasphemy. Lucifer, after all, was also cast into the depths.

Fred and Vera are self-confessed witches. They call it "The Craft" and invite me to one of their ceremonies. Well, why not? I can't see how it can do any harm.

Fred makes ritual equipment - swords, wands, crowns and the like - as well as finely-crafted silver jewellery. Vera makes the robes, and the two of them spend much of their time collecting poisonous plants from the nearby woods.

Fred is quietly frustrated, Vera aggressively so. Her throaty growl echoes around the close - shouting obscenities at the children and the dogs - and is one of the daily entertainments. When she talks to you, it's usually to cackle viciously at someone's stroke of ill-luck. You get the feeling that she's wished it upon them. But there can't be anything in this magic lark, or they wouldn't be stuck in this place. Or maybe it's that the spells only work when guided by a malevolent spirit.

But at the time I witnessed their ceremony, I was keeping an open mind. I was hoping to cast a spell over my ex-lover.

The Congregation consists of two people: myself, nervously contemplating the possibility that parts of the ritual may be performed "sky-clad" (naked), and a sad young man with the raw, red scales of eczema all over his hands. Was this Divine Punishment, or is he here hoping for a cure? I'm made even more nervous at what any sky-clad developments might reveal.

Theirs is a typically tatty council flat, but it's remarkable how effectively it's transformed. The settee is pushed back. Candles are lit, and one of the sideboards is miraculously converted into an altar. Fred and Vera descend dressed in tight white robes that show the stretch of their paunches. We daren't think of them as Fred and Vera anymore: they are High Priest and Priestess - sorcerers, practitioners of the dark arts.

The ceremony begins. The High Priest inserts a dagger into a chalice of wine, while intoning some ritual formula under his breath. Unfortunately, we are almost immediately interrupted by a knock at the door. Fred is annoyed (do Christian Priests ever suffer such humiliation?) and insists on starting again. He breathes deeply and rolls his eyes heaven-wards as he re-inserts his dagger into the chalice in what, at that moment, looks like peevishness. All the time the two of them indulge in whispered directions as if this is the dress-rehearsal for some greater show. There's certainly a high degree of theatricality about the event.

They are creating a sacred circle in ritual space. Earth, air, fire and water revolve in the form of salt, a smoking censer, a candle and a chalice of wine. The High Priest faces the Four Quarters and calls on their respective Guardians (they all have impressive, if forgettable, demonic names), and then revolves his dagger to create the last barrier in ritual space.

There's another hint of irritation as they've forgotten to bring down a sword: the sad little dagger makes a paltry circle by comparison. The two of them link hands and begin to spin; slowly at first, but with increasing abandon, chanting more and more frantically as the gyration grows wilder. Finally the Priestess orders "Down!", and they both drop, the Priest resting his head on her feet. Fred suffers a head-rush and has to lie in this position for some minutes. Finally he forces himself, panting, to rise. He stands with his little dagger erect (how much better a full-sized sword would have been) while the High Priestess kisses first his feet, then his thighs and then (uh-oh!)... but no, she passes on to his belly, his chest, his lips. For one brief, unnerving moment I'd pictured them taking the phallic symbolism to its logical conclusion.

There were other parts to the ceremony. At one point the High Priestess was on her knees, chanting to a candle flame that was serving for the bonfire they might have used in open space. Oh, the limits of a council house invocation.

It is interesting to note that most - if not all - of today's witches follow a tradition that goes right back to the Thirties; and that the rituals, chants and names are gleaned from such diverse and unrelated sources as Egyptology, Celtic legend and the kabbala. No ancient religion, this. What knowledge there is is entirely book-learned.

FINALLY, the ceremony over, the congregation are invited into the circle to eat corned beef and pickle sandwiches under the protection of the goddess. By this time, numerous cats are happily dragging morsels of marge-flecked corned beef from between slices of bread. Vera tells me that animals are given special privileges on these occasions. Fred uses this as an opportunity to launch into his philosophy. Life is the passenger, he tells us, and we are the vehicles. You can't expect the bus to drive itself.

Vera tells us a very revealing story. Once, on acid, she managed to convince a fellow tripper that the only candle in the room represented his body, while the flame was his immortal soul. Having drawn him into this mysterious reflection, she promptly nipped out the flame. The man screamed, genuinely shaken. When sufficiently recovered, he protested that Vera wasn't playing by the rules. "What rules?" she laughed. "There are no rules."

I left soon after - pleased that we had at least retained our modesty.

I might add, however, that there were no lasting after-effects. I didn't go mad, and I wasn't drawn into the labyrinth of their dreadful plottings. The word "dreadful" is apt here, not in the 17th century sense, but in the modern usage - meaning, simply, "naff". The whole spectacle was ludicrous, not frightening; drab, not evil. The only slightly perverse element came in Vera's numerous references to scourging. But I guess middle-aged people are often in need of a bit of spice to liven up their flagging senses. And who can blame them?

I have purposely not used real names in this piece, and have restrained from identifying the town. I believe I am immune to curses. But you never know....

Illustration by Steven Appleby
Illustration by Steven Appleby

© 2009 Christopher James Stone


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • earnestshub profile image


      12 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      People are very funny when they take absurdity and then embelish it with there own "style" A bit like a fat Elvis doing ballet really.Very good fun.

    • LondonGirl profile image


      12 years ago from London

      SO what spell were you hoping to cast over your ex? Did you? Did it work? Tell!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      12 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Ditto to what Misty said. I may be a lapsed Wiccan, but can't recall any ritual that involved kissing body parts after whirling and dropping to the floor. Don't know how you kept from busting out laughing, Chris. I certainly would have. That is if I weren't already ROTFL from the two of them decked out in skin tight "robes". What a pair!

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 

      12 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      LOL CJ, I found this really funny to read, even though I am a Wiccan myself, (albeit I don't perform rituals as life too full of other stuff now). Gave me a wonderful vision in my mind and a great chuckle at what you experienced. :)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)