Pagan Federation Conference
Devon, Cornwall and Isles 2018
Penstowe Manor hosted the Devon, Cornwall and Isles Pagan Federation Conference last weekend (10th and 11th March). It was the 20th Anniversary of this conference and along with the retrospective, there was some very interesting news about the future of this popular event.
A super array of speakers did not disappoint this very busy event.
Julian Vayne, who has been described as magician, psychonaut, author and psychedelic explorer, opened with an erudite, compelling and fascinating talk on changing perspectives in paganism over the last twenty years. Starting with the statement that ‘paganism was part romance, part inspiration and part imagination’, Julian raised a number of questions about the changing landscape of paganism.
Suggesting that Paganism lives within the culture it inhabits, then this discourse was as much about changing cultural values of our society.
Rae Beth was scheduled to speak, but unfortunately, she has been ill, so Penny Billington had been drafted in last minute to talk about Magick and the power of story. As ever Penny brought a refreshing practicality to the proceedings. Asking the question ‘why should ritual be hard work?’ she noted that if ritual is about changing consciousness then why could we not view it in the same way as sitting down to read a story. Penny reminded us that when we read a story we tend to settle, focus and allow the words to take us to another time and place.
Penny closed by suggesting that putting on robes and carrying our ritual tools was not about stepping into a role but collapsing into our authentic selves.
The theme of magic being about the experience was echoed by the next speaker by Marian Green. Needing little introduction, this influential pagan writer, spoke freely about her approach to working. She emphasised the need to pay attention to what is happening outside rather than relying on dates and times defined by ‘the books’.
Suzanne Rance presented an interesting overview of the English, Anglo-Saxon runes, with the comment that there are no records of the Elder Futhark (the most well known of the Runic Alphabets) being used in England. Anglo-Saxon runes are runes used by the early Anglo-Saxons as an alphabet in their writing. The characters are known collectively as the futhorc (or fuþorc), from the Old English sound values of the first six runes. After the 9th century, they were gradually supplanted in Anglo-Saxon England by the Old English Latin alphabets introduced by Irish missionaries. Runes were no longer in common use by the year 1000 and were banned under Cnut the Great (r. 1016–1036).
A new feature of the conference was a Question and Answer session with the speakers, Levannah and Damh the Bard, Dave, responding to questions from the audience. It was an entertaining and informative session.
The final speaker was Ronald Hutton, who in keeping with the theme of the day, offered his thoughts about changes in Paganism over the last twenty years. Ronald spoke of changes we could celebrate in the terms of acceptance of the pagan path within society then recounted his own professional experience of some of the resistance and prejudice he had faced academically and personally. This was straight from the heart talk that was punctuated with Ronald’s precise and incisive observations. His conclusion was that although the pagan community has come a long way, there was still a long way to go.
The closing ceremony was a piece of theatre created by members of Liskeard Moot. A dramatised ‘shamanic journey’ with excellent costumes and setting a scene for a compelling narrative.
Damh the Bard, Dave, was on-fire at the evening performances. The dance floor was filled with the signing, dancing and cheering pagan folk. He was supported by Blanche and Mike whose own performance was a hearty mix of tightly presented and harmonious folk music linked with Mike’s slightly irreverent ‘funny songs’ – Ghost Chickens in the Sky being one that easily and readily comes to mind.
Of course, we mustn’t forget the Friday night quiz, which as fiendish and entertaining, and the music of Arthur Billington (and Djembe playing friend) nor the Merv Davey who piped the end of the convention on Saturday.
So this was indeed a memorable day, made a little more poignant by the fact that all future Spring Conventions would be organised by a new group Pagan Phoenix SW
This group is a not for profit organisation which has been set up by the current organizers of the event.
So why the change?
Well it is a clear move away from the Pagan Federation – which raises the question ‘why would this team seek to create a new organisation?’
The answer seems to focus on changes in the PF Structure. In essence, a decision has been made at National Level to merge the PF District of Devon Cornwall and the Isles into a much larger PF District called PF Southwest, which stretches from Bath to Bournemouth. This was despite arguments against this being put forward by the then existing executive officers of the (no defunct) Devon Cornwall and the Isles branch.
This decision seemed to pass under the radar. There had been changes on the PF website in January, but up until this point, there has been no general announcement made to PF members within the original Devon Cornwall and Isle region.
This news gave a tantalising subtext to some of the comments made by some of the speakers at the conference. One of the speakers spoke of the work of the Pagan Front, the forerunner of the Pagan Federation yet there was the lingering question as to what the organisation does at this moment in time. Another speaker spoke of the need for National Representation and the fact that such national pressure groups can (could) support all pagans. However, this still begs the question as to what such a national organisation has to do – what role does it play?
Clearly if part of that role is in local area representation, then how can such a large administrative region really cater to the needs of this specific area?
More relevantly in a large organisation communication and transparency of process is essential if it is to not become self-serving.
As members of the PF we are forced to reflect on both of these issues. With a National Website that has a lot of out of date information, there is no encouragement for members to visit it regularly and with my conspiratorial head, it is such a website where vital information can be updated without much attention being paid.
Are PF District representatives elected or appointed?
How can an appointed representative truly serve a region so diverse as the South West region now defined by the PF.
The fact that those who have served the PF for many years at a regional level, the organisers of this event, have resigned their positions and set up an organisation to ensure the continuance of this conference, raises so many other questions – questions that do require some answers from the PF itself.