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West Midlands PF Con

Last Saturday (26 September) I went to my first ever Pagan Federation conference, in Stourbridge town hall, of all places.This was the first time I’d been to a conference-type event for nearly a decade and I’d forgotten how tiring it can be just sitting listening to presentation after presentation. This was the “West Midlands” Regional PF Conference, so I was hoping I might bump into some of the brummie-based pagans I’d known from my Paganlink days. Alas, none of the old guard seemed to be in evidence. Never mind. I spent a couple of hours wandering around Stourbridge (tip: if you’re ever in the bar in the town hall do not, under any circumstances, order a cappucino). Stourbridge is famous for its glassware industry; Robert Plant went to school there and there is an Iron-age hill fort just outside nearby Hagley. As for the conference itself, I admit it got off to a bad start for me. An “opening” meditation had been promised but instead, we had some bloke with a beard going on about how paganism in UK had changed over the last 20 years – how 20 years ago there weren’t as many conferences, you could be sacked from your job, hassled by the media, it was harder to meet other people etc., etc. I found myself thinking, “hang on a mo’, was it really that bad?” There were pagan moots up and down the country (I went to my first moot in 1980). There were conferences & gatherings too, as I recall. It certainly wasn’t the case that pagans had to hide away in cellars because if they showed their faces on the streets they’d be marched off by the social services. Okay, there was the Satanic Child Abuse moral panic going on, and the weirdness of the police creating a four-mile exclusion zone around Stonehenge at the summer solstice in ’89 – so it wasn’t all rosy. It was also the Thatcher era and I seem to remember a lot of pagan folk getting involved in political protest and environmental activism too.

Anyhow, enough reminisciences. Back to the Con. The first speaker was Peter Nash – notable for being the last pupil trained by Alex Sanders and who wanted us to remember what Alex did for paganism, but forget about the sleaze and rumours about his sex life – in other words, all the fun bits. Nash himself made some allusion to having been in a (ooer) “left-hand path” group before he hooked up with Sanders, but did not elaborate. Anyhow, it was all very “worthy”. In fact that was my overall impression of the Con – worthy. Not much interactivity going on, and not much humour either. Isn’t there anyone who can do a “pagan” comedy turn out there? Next up was Pagan Fed President John MacIntyre on the Dionysia. I enjoyed this lecture, although I found the occasional attempt to draw parallels between the Dionysian rites and modern pagan beliefs – “they may have used some kind of sexual polarity” – a bit wince-inducing. But on the whole it was a good introduction which hopefully will encourage some pagans to read Aristophenes or even Arthur Evans? I missed out on Thorskegga Thorn’s “Heathenry 101 and the entertainment slot – singing – and went for a wander around Stourbridge with Estelle. We managed to get back in time for David Such’s The Spirit of Diogenes and the Essence of Simplicity which was a rather engaging romp kicking off with an intro to the barrell-dwelling cynic and from there looking at living without money (or not much anyway) and thereby avoiding the rat-race of consumerism – probably not the sort of thing the stallholders outside the hall wanted to hear tho’. Fun powerpoint slides too! This was good stuff – the highlight of the day for me – I’d forgotten about schemes such as LETS and David’s talk was a pretty good round-up of various projects and initiatives going on in the UK. Last on the bill was Emma Restall-Orr, who talked about modern paganism and the importance of relationships, communities and not getting stuck in the “outsider” mindset – all things I heartily agreed with but admittedly, I was flagging by the time she came on and was half-dozing by the end of her talk. The Con wound up with the usual “thanks to everyone who helped stuff” and then it was out into the (mostly deserted) town centre of Stourbridge for the trip home.