This year we have an action-packed day. We will have five speakers (instead of our usual four): Ronald Hutton, Marian Green, Julian Vayne, Rae Beth (who really are the South West Pagan All-Stars!) and Suzanne Rance who will be doing her wonderful rune workshop. Some of our speakers will give us their take on how Paganism has grown and changed since we began doing this twenty years ago and how we might develop into the future. There will be a round table discussion at the end and plenty of opportunities for questions and audience participation.The formal programme will conclude with our traditional and not-to-be-missed circle dancing to the Cornish piping of Merv Davey (Dr Folk) and the drumming of Alison Davey in which we dance in and out of Penstowe and bless it for the coming year. Merv is currently Grand Bard of Cornwall, an honour which he richly deserves. He and Alison have been playing for us for not quite twenty years. On Saturday night we have music from conference favourites Damh the Bard, Kate and Corwen on Saturday night. On Friday night we have the Fiendish Quiz and blues from Arthur Billington. Throughout Saturday you will be able to shop at our selection of Pagan stalls, with the emphasis on locally-made Pagan crafts which you can't find anywhere else.
In the past we have had every illustrious star in the Pagan firmament speaking (way too many to list), plus gigs from Martin Carthy and Robin Williamson. We grew from a first event for 95 people in Boscastle Village Hall, at which three brave women did lots of catering and sold delicious food which enabled us to make a profit and go from strength to strength. The Museum pf Witchcraft gave us the confidence to go ahead by guaranteeing to cover the Village Hall hire costs if we made a loss (which we didn't) and have been our sponsors and friends ever since. We returned the favour by raising money for them after the disastrous flood of 2004. We wandered around several venues in North Cornwall. the Wharnecliffe Inn and the Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, before finding our wonderful home at Penstowe Manor, which has to be the most Pagan-friendly venue in the country. We have survived all kinds of difficult circumstances: memorably the foot and mouth outbreak which meant your organiser had to learn to lot about bio- security and install disinfectant baths at all site entrances, and a tree coming down over a power line and resulting power cut. which was extremely atmospheric. Pine cones from the said tree were saved and seeds grown so we now have some baby trees as a result. The show has always gone on...
Every year we raise money for charity with our raffle and amongst the good causes we have supported have been the RNLI, the Woodland Trust, The Stroke Association, Devon and Cornwall Wildlife Trusts, Dor Kemmym, Shelterbox, the RSPB, Dartmoor Preservation Association, several animal rescue charities and many more. Just before our very first conference in Boscastle, the RNLI's Port Isaac inshore rib boat was wrecked in a shout a couple of miles from our venue in which three people were rescued, so it seemed appropriate that we should give something back to the community which was hosting us. A raffle was organised at a few days' notice and everyone contributed prizes. We were delighted to make a contribution to the costs of a new boat, and the RNLI logged their first ever donation from a Pagan organisation. Some subsequent donations have been in memory of dear friends who have passed on; donations to the Woodland trust mean that trees have been planted in memory of much-loved PF members at woodlands across Devon and Cornwall. We have raised approximately £10,000 for these good causes over twenty years; not bad going from an event which usually attracts about 200 people.
Various old friends have been with us since the beginning or very early days so the conference is like a big family gathering and new members, chums etc are always welcome. I have to mention the year we ran a "Come dressed as the Deity of your choice" competition and, despite a beautifully-attired parade of magnificently costumed deities, the entire thing was completely stolen by a more or less naked Cernunnos. Its passed into legend but you really had to be there to appreciate it. I can't forget the sight of the entire conference on its feet, chanting the God's name and making the sign of the horns while the the competition judge (well done, Rufus) was unaware of the magnificent figure creeping up in him from the back of the stage. We are in talks with Cernunnos and his agent about an anniversary reprise of his appearance but I can't promise anything.
This year we will celebrate all of this so if you were at the early conferences, please get in touch as we would love to hear your memories. Hopefully there will be something for everyone, whether you are an old friend or new, whether you are experienced in the ways of Paganism or encountering it for the first time, whether you are looking for knowledge and erudition, or music and laughter. Please come and join us for a great day out.
"We all meet again at Penstowe"; you are most welcome/ Penstowe agas dynargh!
Levannah Morgan (Conference Organiser).