Pagan Federation Conference Devon, Cornwall and Channels Isles
Penstowe Manor, Kilkhampton, Bude, 8th March 2014
It was a lovely drive to North Cornwall on Saturday to attend the Pagan Federation Cornwall Devon and Channel Isle Conference and the warmth of the welcome inside the venue matched the warmth of the spring summer air outside. This was my (Alan’s) first Cornwall PF meeting but Sue has been several times before. For me, then, the venue was unknown and I must say ideally suited for the days events. The venue staff were excellent, the facilities superb and a BIG vote of thanks must go to the organisers who put together the event.
I was very much looking forward to two of the speakers on the programme, simply because I knew of their work and was intrigued by the topics of the other two speakers – so had high hopes for the day, which for the most part were well rewarded.
I sincerely hope the following overview of the speeches does them the justice they deserve…
After a gentle opening ceremony Greywolf Phillip Shallcross took the stage…
Greywolf is the head of the British Druid Order, of which I am proud to be a member, and presented a delightful talk about his personal journey as related to what he called “Shamanism from the Edge”. Greywolf spoke about the idea that many ‘Pagans’ have had personal experiences which somehow set them outside of the mainstream. Having some kind of ecstatic or mystical experience can be labelled as some form of psychoses by some and treated with cynicism by others. For this reason, Greywolf argued. many of ‘those on the edge’ lack a context within which to understand their experiences – shamanic, pagan and magical traditions can, he suggested, provide this framework. Greywolf’s talk was illustrated with paintings and music of his own creation (if that is the best word to use) which set to exemplify what, in Druid tradition, is known as the Awen…. that moment of inspiration, a mystical state where reality, imagination and metaphor merge into an ‘otherworldly experience’ through which understanding can be felt.
Greywolf shared a story of how we came to lean a ‘wolf chant’. For many pagan and shamanic practices (and indeed broader spiritual practices) a ritualised ‘chant’ is used to help shift consciousness. Greywolf was taught a Seneca song or chant relating to the wolf at a gathering he was part of. Later upon repeating the chant to those he had learned it with he was told that he had learned it incorrectly, so was retaught the Seneca original. Once again on a later re-sharing of the learned chant he was told by others that what he was chanting was NOT what he was taught and so he came to recognise that his chant had been inspired by the Seneca original but was now very different from it – he had been inspired to create a chant which resonated with him. It was during the sharing of his, re-created, chant that I had an interesting personal and totemistic experience which I am still reflecting upon. So thank you for that – and so much more, Greywolf.
After a short break Christina Oakley Harrington came to the stage…
Now whilst I was not familiar with Christina’s work I was and am familiar with Treadwell;s bookshop in London of which she is a co-founder. She is a
respected historian, researcher and academic commentator on the history of Paganism and Witchcraft in the UK and Ireland as well as being a Wiccan High Priestess. Her talk was fascinating dealing as it did with the foundation of The Golden Dawn, She spoke of her initial reaction to perceptions that The Golden Dawn was a pompous, establishment secret organisation and indeed how she herself, as a wiccan, whilst recognising the importance of the movement, did not feel much of a connection to it…. that was until she really looked into the origins of the society within the framework of Bohemian and socialist ideals and the journey of four friends – Mina, Florence, Will and Annie.
As Christina told the stories of these four friends we were all taken on a journey back to the origins of the Golden Dawn; through to its early growth and indeed even the membership of a forceful young man she called “Al”…. from the perspective if Christina’s retelling the muse became the instigator and the friends became the ethos of the original association. For me there were several revelations for me, of those which struck immediately was the connection of Annie (Horniman) and Florence to actress Ellen Terry (to whom I think I am related) and more interestingly the fact that Pixie, in Christina’s ‘story’ is better known to us as Pamela Colman Smith the artist who created the so called Rider Waite Tarot.
When we think about the popularity and extend to which that particular deck of tarot cards has been copied, the fact that she was paid the total sum of £75 (which is less than £1 a card) for her work AND that she is not normally associated with it says a lot about inequalities of the times and continued inequalities in a failure to redress the balance. I was also unaware that Pixie moved to and ended her life in Bude Cornwall… as Christina told us…
In 1911, Pixie converted to Catholicism and the end of the First World War she received an inheritance from an uncle that enabled her to buy a house in Cornwall, an area popular with artists. For income, she established a vacation home for Catholic priests in a neighboring house. She never married, and she died penniless in Bude, Cornwall on 18 September 1951.
It is a sad fact that after her death, all of her personal effects, including her paintings and drawings, were sold at auction to satisfy her debts.
Christina’s talk certainly put a human face onto a history which is sometimes mis-perceived by magickal practitioners.
After lunch it was the turn of Rae Beth
I was very much looking forward to this talk as I have been a fan of her books, particularly the Hedgewitch ‘manuals’
Rae’s talk was about journey’s within the ‘otherworld’ and she spent some time describing the different ‘otherworlds’ people had written about and she had experienced. In many ways Rae’s explorations defined magic in a way that is outlined in her books and on her website ..
Magic. This is what happens when the everyday world and the world of the nature spirits, ancestors and faeries becomes one.
For those new to, or beginning their journey’s, into otherworlds Rae’s talk was affirmative and very practical; the boundary between imagination and magical reality alluded to but more, spoken about with the voice of one who journeys. Recognising the ‘portals’ and ‘portal keepers’ being a repeating theme and the real intention of “being fair and honest in dealings with the fey’ were among the key messages.
I warmed to Rae’s call of creating or working towards ‘harmony’ with and between ‘all worlds’ and the idea that many aspects of the ‘otherworld’ have a vested interest in our ‘getting it right’ – of ‘being more balanced’. Rae, on her journeys, is clearly attempting to build bridges between worlds and her own assertion that ‘my preference is for the other worlds’ could be seen as a motivational intention to create a better understanding of the worlds which are within, those which are without and those which are ‘between’ – the ‘otherworlds’ in which we are (or can be) visitors, participants, co-workers and co-walkers.
The final talk of the day was presented by Al Cummins
Al is a PhD student in Western Magical Tradition, has been mentiored (so I have been told) by Ronald Hutton and is a occultist, poet and fascinating guy.
The programme said that he would be talking on ‘scissor magic’ and dealing with the ‘folk-lore’,’talismanic’ and ‘magical use; of scissors.
From start to end I found this talk dynamic, witty, thought provoking and inspiring. He romped through a series of wonderful folkloric ideas about scissors; gave us an overview of Dadaism and Beat Poetry on a roller coaster ride of ideas, possibilities and magical practicalities that, whilst we may have considered and even engaged within, had perhaps not thought deeply about.
The whole idea of ‘cut-ups’ as a creative and transformative process within literature and art becoming a magical act within the context of shifting perspectives was exciting. When set against the ‘rebelliousness’ of W.S.Burrows and Genesis P Orridge, as an example, the re-framing of reality the practice of ‘cut-up’, or in musical parlance ‘mash up’, can be seen to have a clear, if chaotic, magical purpose. In many ways the Awen, to which Greywolf referred, could be accessed through the process of ritual disassembly and chaotic reassembly of pre-existing ‘text’.
Al reminded us that there are, perhaps, no real synonyms since each word has its own evocative power – hidden may mean the same as occult, but the emotional hook – the atmosphere created by the words – is very different. One of the reasons such reminders resonate so deeply with me is that a large part of my therapeutic work is about re-framing meaning and bringing about change through use of words (which is something we ALL do in our conversations and relationships – dialogue is a magical act).
I guess you can sense how excited I was by Al’s talk. He did tell me where I could get a text copy of what he had been saying, but in the hurly-burly of the end of the day I failed to catch the reference…. I do have his email however ….
The Pagan Federation Cornwall Devon and Channel Isle Conference organisers are to be congratulated in bringing together four really good speakers; the balance between direct personal experience and considered ‘research’ and reflection is, in my opinion, essential when walking a magical path.
The end of the days proceedings was marked by a Spring Ritual and ‘Spiral Dance’ – a fitting, relevant and celebratory end to a great day.