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PFDCI Spring Conference 2016

A report by Alan Jones from the Cornwall School of Mystery and Magic

Many congratulations and warm wishes must be sent to the organisers of this event for not only once again providing a varied array of knowledgeable speakers; ensuring that traders were booked but for coping with the additional challenge of a power outage during the afternoon session.

A fallen tree had damaged a power line and the electricity board had wanted to cut the power in the morning to repair it. The organisers in tandem with Penstowe Manor staff worked their magic (or made an offer that could not be refused) so that the power only went off for a short time during the afternoon coffee-break.

Ronald Hutton was happy to stay later and so although the start of his talk was delayed, he assured us we got all of the best bits and most of the rest.

Minerva: Magic, Mysticism and Food

Minerva, an experienced and practicing Wiccan confessed her foodie heritage at the beginning of her talk and then went on to demonstrate her passion for all things gastronomic.

Making the observation that whilst we, as practicing Pagans, often spend a lot of time in preparing our altars for festivities we could be accused of perhaps devoting less time in thinking about the food which forms a core part of the gathering. She quipped that often the question was ‘who’s bringing the potato salad’ rather than what would be the most appropriate food for the season, the festival, the intention.

Minerva’s assertion was that eating is often seen as a grounding activity could be considered in terms of revering nature (and the source of our food) as well as recognizing the religious, social and bonding nature of feasts.

We were treated to a whistle-stop time travelling journey in which the diet of people in the Neolithic, the Romans and peoples of the Abrahamic Old Testament was mentioned. In particular sections within Leviticus (Old Testament) which outline the kinds of offerings that could be made to God – be they burned offerings of the whole or part animal or grain offerings.

(If you want to read more on this here as a useful starting point: http://www3.telus.net/public/kstam/en/tabernacle/details/offerings.htm )

What was particularly interesting in this part of the talk was the idea that the role of the priest in the preparation and making of such offerings could be seen as being one which oversaw the transformation of the food into an offering for the deity. It is likely to be the case that food offered to God was not believed to be eaten, or taken, in its entirety, but that it was the fragrance of the food as it was ‘transformed’ (cooked, burned) which was pleasing to the God.

A key point in Minerva’s presentation was her personal discovery that it was in the growing of crops that some deeper learnings about nature and her cycles was revealed. The link between survival and the weather is the link between crops and their growing conditions; the balance between drought and rain; heat and cold. It is for this reason, Minerva seemed to be promoting, the use of foods that were in season for the festivals and by paying attention to this we could bring and additional layer of intent/intention to our working.

The final part of Minerva’s presentation dealt with the complex issue of correspondences citing the work of Galen, Paracelsus, Agrippa and Culpepper. The notion of the four humours and their relation to the elements; the idea of degrees of moistness, dryness, cold and heat and so forth being a somewhat of a big topic to deal with in such short a time.

It is this writer’s assertion that the Doctrine of Signatures expounded by Dioscorides and later by Galen is and of itself a fascinating topic for further research (especially by those interested on magical herbalism) relying as it does much earlier ideas of sympathetic magick. Moreover, when linked to the Arabic philosophies of Jabir ibn Hayyan and the elixir theories these early works of correspondences are worthy of a talk in and of themselves.

Minerva managed to whet the appetites of those fascinated by such ideas as she concluded her presentation.

Penny Billington: Cauldrons, Kettles and Cultural Heritage

Anyone involved within modern Druidry will be familiar with Penny’s work. As editor of OBOD’s magazine, author of “The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew” and “The Path of Druidry” or as a celebrant or speaker.

This was an incredibly powerful, wonderful and sobering presentation. Starting with the statement that there is a symbol which unites ‘us all’ (Pagans, Wiccans, Witches and Druids) and moving through a no-nonsense, very practical response to walking the spiritual path.

Exploring the definition of magic as being the ‘concentrated effort to make harmonious the feeling of self and the outside world’ (from William G Gray) Penny emphasized the experiential nature of the magical path; the idea that it’s not about worship but about relationship – a living, evolving path in which we are co-creators with ‘God’.

A notion, which particularly resonated with this writer, was that we are exploring the mystical and the inexplicable through the experience of the practical; the assertion that those who move from tradition to tradition are not magical tourists but are on a magical quest. During her presentation the seemingly ubiquitous PowerPoint was replaced with an internal power-point in which Penny asked us to consider perspectives.

First there was journey in which we were invited to reflect on our place within the cosmos and perhaps consider the notion that the Gods and Goddesses were ‘lenses the wise have named to focus the creative energies of the Universe’

In this context magic cannot simply be seen as the act of ‘bossing the universe’ around in order to manifest that which is willed, but as gaining and framing a perspective form which we can view our relationships – our actions, our inactions. Quipping that a relationship with nature does not give us a ‘get out jail free’ card, Penny reminded us respecting Her power and understanding our own physical limits was an important lesson – like King Canute exploring the boundaries of material power.

The notion that the Body is the bridge between the worlds was a key point in Penny’s presentation. Whilst there are several spiritual systems which promote transcendence, her vision of the path of the Nature or Green magician, is one in which we experience and give witness to sunsets, moonrises, snowfalls and so forth. In doing so we connect and expand. It is through the tides of our lives we understand our relationships and inter-relationships.

Penny noted that perhaps the most effective climate change conferences are not those held in ‘hermetically sealed’ hotel suites but in the middle of the Scottish moors.

In Druid, and other Pagan thinking, there is the notion of people and non-human people. This is not Disney style anthropomorphism, but a recognition of the differing natures and expressions of all life.

In essence Penny was asking us to ‘turn-up the volume on nature’ and in doing so recognize that we are the genius loci was the protective spirit of a place; to realize that ‘YOU are enough’ and the ‘WORLD is enough’.

In Penny’s second internal PowerPoint we were asked to consider the nature of The Cauldron; this is the universal symbol she referred to at the start of her talk. The Cauldron, the Chalice are shared symbols for those who walk the Pagan path.

They are magical containers for brewing, incubation, nurturing, sustenance.
They are symbols for the home and the hearth.
They are symbols of authority.

Penny reminded us that we are more than the constructs we use in ceremony, so we too are the cauldrons of our own incubation, transformation, sustenance, authority.

This then led us onto the Druidic notion of the Three Cauldrons as outlined in the Cauldron of Posey by Amergin (possibly 7 th Century and later recorded in the 16 th Century). These Cauldrons further emphasize the nature of connectedness and relationship .

(If you want to read more on this you might like to visit


In all, Penny’s talk was inspiring, free flowing, engaging, entertaining and, for my part, a celebration of our personal, experiential journeys across a spiritual/material landscape.

Win Scutt: Place-Names, Landscape and Language in Pre-Historic Britain

Win is an archaeologist, Assistant Properties Curator for the West at English Heritage and broadcaster on BBC Radio 5, Radio Cornwall and Radio Devon where he provides regular features on World Archaeology. These are impressive claims to fame, but perhaps his most relevant in terms of this presentation is that he is an archaeological maverick!
To adequately summarize the details of his hypothesis in such a short report would not do Win the justice he deserves – and is also perhaps beyond this reporters’ capability, having heard he core of his argument only once.

When looking at the Pre-History of Britain most of us will remember being taught that present day Britain was the result of a series of invasions.

First the arrival of the nomadic hunter gatherers and then around 4000BC the Neolithic immigrants arrived. This ‘invasion model’ then sees the arrival of:

  • The Beaker people (2300BC)
  • The Iron-Age Celtic Peoples in the first millennium
  • The Roman Conquest
  • The Anglo Saxons (5 th Century AD)
  • The Vikings (8 th – 11 th Century AD)
  • The Normans (1066 and all that)

For the main part this model proposes a series of invasions which have led to the shaping of the British population and the evolution of the British language.

Now viewers of the Time Team programmes, and more relevantly Francis Pryor’s Britain BC series will immediately note that this invasionist model can be challenged. Indeed, one way to view the various occupations of Britain is not about conquest, but about immigration and more relevantly the establishment of administrative areas and leaders sympathetic to the cause of distant Emperors (in the case of the Romans) or the mercenaries who answered a provincial rulers call to service (in the case of Hengist and Horsa of the Anglo-Saxons) and then stayed!

So as to Win’s archaeological heresy (if that’s what it can be called?). Win identified the work of John Beddoe (1826 – 1911) as being an interesting starting point for his developing hypothesis. Beddoe was an ethnologist who in The Races of Britain: A Contribution to the Anthropology of Western Europe, (1862) suggested that eye and hair colour were valuable evidence in the origins of the British people.

In this work Beddoe wrote that all geniuses tended to be "orthognathous" (that is, have receding jaws) while the Irish and the Welsh were "prognathous" (have large jaws). Beddoe also maintained that Celts were similar to Cromagnon man, and Cromagnon man was similar to the "Africanoid" race. Celts in Beddoe's "Index of Negrescence" are very different from Anglo-Saxons.

Now a whole range of philosophical, cultural and stereotypical ideas can arise from these ideas, but what Win noted was that Beddoes assertion, simplified as, the Blondes lived in the East and the Dark Haired folk lived in the West, hinted at the idea of two channels of post-glacial colonization of Britain.

This led Win to consider the following hypothesis: ‘Old English, as a language, evolved from an ancient language spoken before the arrival of the Romans’. This implies that it did not develop from a number of invading cultures gradually adding their language into the cauldron of the British-speak. It also implies that certain Roman place names could be English! (i.e. pre-Roman/Latin). At this point Win presented a number of examples of where place names referred to landscapes which did not exist in Roman times.

For example, place names ending in ‘eg’ or ‘ey’ may be cognate to the word ‘mere’ (lake). So if we can find such places where no lakes existed in Roman times, but did in pre-historic times, this may indicate that a proto British language pre-dates the time when Old English was thought to have arrived.

His argument is supported by the realization that the geography of these lands was very different in glacial and post glacial periods. The Doggerland area connected Britain to Europe, which is now submerged by sea-level rises under the English Channel.

Win envisages an East and West Post-Glacial group of peoples separated by the rising sea level. This echoes the east-west divide proposed by Beddoe on ethnological grounds. In short Win challenges the invasionist history and the spread of the Indo-Europeans and suggests a common language arriving in the late glacial period. Hence the oft quoted eight phase occupation of Britain is not a history of invasion but a history of change from within.

In this view, the hunter gathers arrive about 1 million years ago and, since there is no evidence of large scale invasion, there follows an influx of Neolithic peoples (supported by genetic studies); no Bronze age invasion (Celtic or otherwise); no Iron Age invasion (merely a gradual cultural shift brought about through trade).

As for the Romans, a small military force establishes administrative districts based upon the existing tribal chiefdoms. The Saxons are not so much an invasion as an invitation and the Normans, well this can be seen as the replacement of the ruling classes by a Norman elite. No invasion, as we imagine that to be in this day and age, but a gradual evolution in the same way that religious ideas and attitudes can be ascribed to the process of syncretism.

Ronald Hutton: Medea The Most Famous Ancient Witch

“I have a penchant for Bad Girls!” and with that confession Ronald began his presentation on Medea.

Medea a sorceress; the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to Jason (of Argonaut and Golden Fleece fame), with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres – and if some sources are believed a ‘very bad’ girl.

Ronald’s approach was to present Medea as a powerful woman who made choices not out of spite (as in the killing of her children) or out of jealousy (as in the poisoning of Glauce, the King of Corinth’s Daughter for whom Jason abandoned Medea)

He noted that she is the first fully formed female character in Greek literature – she has a personality, drives, power and a complex set of personal pressures to deal with. All of which makes her somewhat anachronistic in terms of the misogynistic Greeks. She was an intelligent, cunning, ruthless individual and above all she was powerful. Her power derived from her demi-God status; her embodiment of magic (a Mistress of Magic, not learned but within her); a potions mistress (in other words a learned pharmacist).

As granddaughter of the Sun (Helios) and daughter of Perse (identified with Hecate) she did not follow human rules. Yet she was, in terms of Jason and the Corinthians, a foreigner, an outsider and professional refugee. She sacrificed much (her home and land) to be with Jason; used her wiles, magic and cunning to support the Argonauts in their capture and return of the Golden (or in some sources Purple) Fleece and was then betrayed by Jason who tends to come across in some of the stories as a lack-lustre, vainglorious pretender to a throne – and for that matter anyone’s throne. Very different from the movie portrayals of this ‘hero’.

Ronald explored the differing views of Medea as offered in the writings of Euripides, Ovid and Seneca. In these writings we see a Medea driven to extremes through mistreatment and abandonment.

As she says to Jason in Euripides “My love for you was greater than my wisdom.”

And later in her comments to the ‘chorus of Corinthian women’

“For in other ways a woman is full of fear, defenceless, dreads the sight of cold steel; but, when once she is wronged in the matter of love, no other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood.”

Through her trials and tribulations; her uncompromising decisions she is seen to be, perhaps, the archetypal feminist. Her choice to kill her children not being mitigated by loathing but through love since if she failed to protect them they might die a more painful death at the hands of those who consider them (and Medea herself) as dangerous outsiders.

Ronald reminds us that to judge her actions from a human perspective is to forget or deny her divinity.

Ronald Hutton’s talk was engaging, entertaining and insightful. Refusing to speak for women, his partner Anna was invited to share the words of Medea, and so we were treated not only to a discourse on mythology, a reminder of how we interpret myth but a bit of Greek Theatre.

A thoroughly splendid end to a super conference. Some final words from Medea

“In my case, however, this sudden blow that has struck me has destroyed my life. I am undone, I have resigned all joy in life, and I want to die. For the man in whom all I had was bound up, as I well know—my husband—has proved the basest of men.

Of all creatures that have breath and sensation, we women are the most unfortunate. First at an exorbitant price we must buy a husband and master of our bodies. [This misfortune is more painful than misfortune.] And the outcome of our life's striving hangs on this, whether we take a bad or a good husband. For divorce is discreditable for women and it is not possible to refuse wedlock. And when a woman comes into the new customs and practices of her husband's house, she must somehow divine, since she has not learned it at home, how she shall best deal with her husband. If after we have spent great efforts on these tasks our husbands live with us without resenting the marriage-yoke, our life is enviable. Otherwise, death is preferable. A man, whenever he is annoyed with the company of those in the house, goes elsewhere and thus rids his soul of its boredom [turning to some male friend or age-mate]. But we must fix our gaze on one person only. Men say that we live a life free from danger at home while they fight with the spear. How wrong they are! I would rather stand three times with a shield in battle than give birth once.”

Euripides. Euripides, with an English translation by David Kovacs.


The Closing Ceremony: Penstowe Players and Merv Davy

This year, prior to Merv’s pipes enticing the conventioneers into a spiral dance, we were treated to a short mummers play.

Puck introduced the Sun who could not bring light to the spring because the Frost Queen held fast her grip on the land. Marion could not find her Robin and the Green Man (lover of spring) was summoned to drive back the Frost Queen.

As she retreated the Frost Queen allowed for the passage of Marion (Lady of Spring) and Robin (Man of the Wood) to welcome back, in their own lusty fashion, the Sun.

As you can imagine the play was replete with symbolism, suggestion and just a touch of sexual innuendo.

The Piper was summoned to lead the people in the spiral dance of the season

So here’s looking forward to next year’s event.

Alan Jones (MoonBear) for Pagan Federation 07/03/16


Conference date 2017 is March 11th. More details coming soon




Disability Access and Support

This information is for people with disabilities who wish to attend our annual conference. If you have a disability we would like to assure you that you are very welcome at the conference and that we will do everything we can to make your visit a happy one. We should like to reassure you that some members of the conference organising team are either disabled themselves or have friends and family members who are, so we hope that we have a good level of disability awareness. We will support you as much as we can and this support is not specifically for members of the Pagan Federation but offered to all conference attendees (generally 50/50 members/non-members). All Pagans are equally valued members of our wider pagan community.


Our conference is currently held at Penstowe Manor; a very Pagan-friendly holiday venue in North Cornwall. We recognise that disabled access at Penstowe is reasonable but not perfect, so we take additional measures to support you which are detailed below. The venue staff are also very aware that the building has some shortcomings and will do everything they can to help you round it.

This information relates to the support that the conference team offers people with a physical disability.

Access to the main entrance at Penstowe is ramped and blue badge holders can park immediately outside (see below). Inside the building, there is level access to the main conference room and to the restaurant, bars and toilets. Inside the conference room itself there are two seating areas for the audience. The lower one (immediately in front of the stage) provides a dance floor and seating, and has a 3 - stepped access. Depending on your wishes, our stewards can help you access this. The upper area on two sides of the ‘stalls’ seating, which has both chairs and tables, has level access from the conference room itself. The upper market stalls area, which houses 50% of the stalls has a 3 - stepped access, our stewards can help you with this if required.

Many of our audience stay for the weekend. Accommodation can be booked through the venue (Penstowe Holidays Ltd) and they have a range of accessible chalets available.

Support for You

There are some specific ways in which we will support you at the conference:

  • If you are unable to attend the conference without the help of a carer or assistant then we will provide you with two conference tickets for the price of one. Just let us know when you book your tickets in advance.
  • We can provide dedicated parking spaces immediately outside the front entrance for blue badge holders. It is essential to notify us in advance so we can reserve a space for you
  • We provide two stewards to support people with disabilities, again, please request this from us in advance and inform us of your arrival so we can action this support without delay
  • We can provide reserved seating for you and your party throughout the day, including a table if you wish, in the upper seating area, again with advance notice

If there is any other specific support which you need, please discuss this with us and we will do our very best to provide it. You can advise us about this when you book your tickets or email us on: dci.dm@paganfederation.co.uk

Nov 2014