Witchfest – 26th November 2016, Brighton.
Leaving work at noon and having to quickly dye my hair before setting off for Brighton at two left me feeling rather rushed but thankfully my driver, the ever-obliging Mr H, was happy to take charge of the journey so I could relax for the next couple of hours. I also spent some time fretting, if I’m honest. I’ve been doing talks, large-scale rituals and workshops on witchy subjects for around twenty years across the country including things like Pagan Pride, Pagan Federation conferences, summer camps and the Artemis Gathering, this would be my first time as a speaker at Witchfest.
Mr H and I got settled into our little B&B then headed to the Marlborough Theatre for an evening performance of Doreen – An English Witch. The cast were just marvellous and the play itself a joy to watch. Mr H has less of an interest in these matters than I but he too thoroughly enjoyed the play. The script, the cosy atmosphere and the actors all gave justice to the life and times of Doreen and I am not ashamed to say I cried at the final scene.
The following morning, we arrived at Witchfest only after I had checked for the twentieth time that I had the notes for my talk and a box of my books to sign. The Dagda, as always, did a great job of ushering everyone around the staggeringly large venue and as a speaker, we didn’t need to queue up, although we did stay outside with the crowds until Rumpledrumskin had finished their set in front of the entrance. They set the tone of the day for me with their upbeat energy. The Brighton Centre proved to be the perfect place for Witchfest, light and airy with enough space for the fantastic market and plenty of speakers and workshops. Catering was over-priced but we knew it would be, so had come prepared with a few snacks. The main foyer of the centre was home for the day to the community stands where I caught up, albeit far too briefly, with Sarah, Ashley and Sophia from the CFPS and Caz and Esme of Pagan Pride. The stalls were tucked away towards the back a little though, along with an independent veggie/vegan catering stand. We did wonder if perhaps they might have been more visible further forwards. I caught up with a few friends in the main auditorium for a bit.
Very kindly, Philip Heselton signed a copy of his book for me as a gift for a friend. He’s nice like that!
I rejoined Mr H and our new friend Shaun to listen to Kate West’s lovely opening blessing and then stayed for Rufus Harrington’s talk on Spell Casting. I found this particularly interesting and caught myself nodding and agreeing at particular points as Rufus talked about his early journey practicing solitary spell craft (nice to hear I’m not the only one who made mistakes in their early days) through to his discovery of Alexandrian covens. I then sloped off for my own talk to find the room filling up. Mr H, my friend Karen, Kevin Groves and other friends from various situations were waiting along with everyone else and when I began to speak, all nerves disappeared. I had fourteen pages of notes but only looked at them twice and still covered pretty much everything I wanted to say. My theme was independent witchcraft and the subject seemed to be well-received. I cannot thank you enough, all of you who gave me your time, asked questions and applauded me. Thank you. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
I had a welcome break in the member’s bar over-looking the sea with fellow speaker Philip Heselton, whose talk I had missed while doing my own. I was keen to attend a talk by Kate West after that and had nearly an hour to wait but it felt like a rush to get there as everywhere I turned I was greeted with old friends and new ones to exchange a few words. I was brimming with excitement and gratitude as people stopped me to say thanks for the inspiration or just to say hello or pass on snippets of news. One lady with fabulous red hair commented that for the first time in twenty years she’d been able to see an aura. Mine, while I was talking. She described it as beautifully gold in colour. There were hugs and smiles a-plenty as well as a tiny bit of retail therapy in the market. Mr H found himself a beautiful drinking horn while I treated myself to a portable glazed pottery altar set, courtesy of Wyn Abbot Ceramics. The traders were all unique with displays of brightly coloured clothing and robes, jewellery and elaborate head-dresses, leather bound books and all kinds of athames, statuary and tarot decks. Enough shopping!
Kate West asked for volunteers during her session on raising power and, as always, I my hand shot into the air without me really thinking about it. Raising power with three other women, dancing and whirling around and around while the witches gathered in the meeting room chanted earth my body, water my blood… We were exhilarated and grinning like the best of friends when we took our seats once more and though I didn’t bump into them again, those three women and I had something very neat going on right then! This witchcraft business is powerful stuff indeed. Kate was funny, interesting, down to earth and friendly as well as very knowledgeable.
I was delighted that although no photographs are allowed (very rightly) at the venue, a free fun-photo booth was on offer. Brill!
Guess what though? A gigantic advert for The Artemis Gathering was on display in the foyer and I was a little overwhelmed to see my name alongside some of the pagan community’s leading speakers and experts. Being a speaker and writer is weird… people pay attention to my words, they laugh raucously if I say something even mildly amusing and sometimes people even take notes. I meet the most lovely and interesting people as a result of what I do and I am awed by this, truly thankful that I have such a positive response. I feel very lucky.
Mr H and I trundled up to the market place where the Children of Artemis had laid out my books among others and I sat beside David Wells for our joint signing session. Of course, when I say ‘joint signing’, we just happened to be doing this in the same time-slot. David was just super, he was inundated with questions and adoring fans, of course, and while I had more reserved numbers, everyone who came to speak with me had something lovely and kind to say about my talk or my book which was fantastic. The Witching Path still has my old name, Moira Stirland, on its cover and I cannot wait until the (now imminent) release of The Witches’ Journey and Living Witchcraft (and Poppet Magic, currently being written) which will feature my real name. David himself was a very happy, friendly and witty man, happy to share his insights with everyone and I came away with one of his books. Interestingly, another Moira asked me to sign my book for her, which I thought was just brilliant. After a break for something to eat in Brighton, Mr H and I returned for the music and mayhem. The Daughters of Gaia’s opening number was theatrical and dramatic, complete with plumes of smoke and an impressive sword-balancing dance.
Mr H and I really loved listening to Damh the Bard’s set, outstanding as ever, with a rousing rendition, his first live solo attempt, of Sabbat. Damh was incredible and by the end of his set the atmosphere was humming with electricity.
Both Brighton Centre and our guest house were jammed packed with stairs and after a full day on my feet, my gippy hips could not take anymore and we decided to give The Dolmen a miss as I can’t resist having a good jump about when they play and I didn’t want to add to my aches and pains. We are looking forward to The Artemis Gathering where we can see The Dolmen and Damh the Bard once more at a more relaxed pace for a good boogie.
Remember that I had dyed my hair at the last minute on Friday? Unfortunately this leached out on my pristine while pillow-slip as I slept and I went to apologise and offer recompense to our host before leaving. The gentleman on reception seemed glad to see me. ‘I’m sorry about the pillow,’ I told him. I explained it was only hair dye but he waved away my apology saying, ‘A person’s life is worth more than a pillow’. Oops! I realised that on seeing it stained with dark red, the poor chap must have thought I’d been attacked in the middle of the night and was grateful to see me still in one piece!
Before leaving on Sunday, we strolled around the Lanes at Chris’ request. He used to regularly visit the area some years ago so was keen to see how it had changed over time but though the Lanes were quaint, I had another place on my mind. Brighton was home to our spiritual ancestor, Doreen Valiente, and I dragged Mr H to see the blue plaque put up in her honour at her old apartment building on Tyson Place. There may have been another minor leaky-eye episode as I posed beneath it. We decided to save a few pounds and miss the exhibition at Preston Manor. Living in Nottingham, we have seen some of the exhibit on previous occasions as Ashley Mortimer of the DV Trust is a regular figure on our local scene and has been kind enough to share some of the artefacts and information at our pagan speaker’s group, Empyrean, as well as other occasions.
Witchfest isn’t only about the talks, the stalls and the music. It is the fun of the photo booth, the adorable children who run about laughing and giggling and making me smile, the stunning costumes, and the interesting talks. It’s all those short, rushed conversations as we reconnect with old friends, sit beside a stranger and strike up a new friendship with them, it is the waves and smiles from across the hall to someone I just didn’t quite have time to see properly. Witchfest is about the people, the community – our beautiful, big, bright, bold and incredible community. It is gatherings like this, people like this, moments of joy, moving meditations and vital, life-giving connections that form our community. Thank you, Witchfest!
To all who came to hear me speak and those who thanked me afterwards or went away with The Witching Path, I can’t thank you enough for your kindness – you do know it’s just little ol’ me, don’t you? I am grateful to you all.
As a slight aside to this, I have been looking for years, literally dozens of them, for hag stones, and have succeeded in only ever finding two. One large specimen I found was lost decades ago and the other one is so tiny I keep it in my purse. Brighton beach is a pebbled one and I was delighted to walk along there searching for hag stones. ‘Ooh, like this one?’ Said Mr H. ‘Yeah, thanks, Chris.’ I fumed. ‘Just like that one.’ Understandably Mr H is feeling smug as he reaches down to pick up another one. Right! War! I hunted high and low and after around twenty minutes it paid off. Except the one I found was somewhat old and crumbled as I held it. ‘Here,’ Mr H piped up, smugly holding another perfectly formed, smooth, hag stone! However, he did drive us home while I read my copies of Magical Times and my new book so I can’t complain really, can I?
What a fantastic weekend!
A special thank you Mr H, the eternally happy Kevin Groves and Cathbodva & Merlin for your support and encouragement, and thank you Nikki, even though you couldn’t be there this year, I know you were wishing me well.
Thank you to everyone involved in making Witchfest 2016 so memorable.