For more than twelve months I, along with a circle of friends, have been hard at work attempting to bring a quality Traditional Witchcraft event north, away from the London centric south of England. I cannot possibly express the workload that this has entailed and this was not my first event. Having spent ten years with the Pagan Federation (England and Wales) I have some experience and a faint glimmer of understanding, as to what such an event involves.
From the very beginning however, we have faced enormous challenges and surprising difficulties. The Witan is a symposium of Traditional Witchcraft and Folk-magic, yet what we considered to be an easily understood description, remained unclear for some. I had no idea for example that in some parts of the United States, the term witan refers to a teenage wiccan. This total misunderstanding of the word and the origins left me quite speechless when I was first told of the new, invented meaning.
The Anglo-Saxon terms Witenagemot, Witanmoot or Witan are all historically attested, even though their use and meaning is regarded as controversial. The origins are Germanic-English and predate the Norman settlement. They describe an assembly of advisors. These advisors would gather at a significant place called a 'Thing' to offer advice to their Overlord or in the case of the Lords, to advise the King.
Whether the etymology of Witan is linked to the word wit and therefore wise, is at times questioned but the generally accepted etymological roots are linked to wisdom. Witan may mean wiseman or wise counsellor and this leads to a rather interesting and unusual usage, in which the person attending a Witan (shortened) is a Witan themselves. We can suggest therefore that by implication, a Witanmot is a gathering of wise persons and it is in this latter context that we choose to use the Anglo-Saxon word Witan to describe our symposium. The Witan is a gathering of the Wise to discuss the Craft of the Wise.
All this seemed perfectly natural and clearly apparent, particularly to those of us living in northern Mercia, a land far more northern focused than southern. Yet this was not so and the unexplained misunderstanding that this was potentially an event of a different type, persisted for some months.
Dealings with the venue were fraught with difficulties in communication, leading to a great deal of unnecessary stress. It was soon apparent that choosing speakers and chasing sponsorship was the least of our troubles. A programme of planned maintenance work on the listed building itself, work that was not fully disclosed at the time of our booking, became delayed and began to impact upon our planning strategy.
Miscommunication and misunderstandings between members of the planning committee, escalated beyond accepted boundaries. The result was not only damaging to our working relationships but far more seriously, the loss of friendships. Never before had I faced so many difficulties in organising an event and as we entered autumn, I seriously began to think the event was cursed.
Finally over Yuletide the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place, tickets sold and merchants booked their stalls. We could look forward to a potential revenue large enough to break even and allow us to make a donation to charity. This would have assuaged the difficulties faced and the time spent on the event to the detriment of other projects.
Then on the 23rd of January 2019, the bomb dropped or to be more precise the ceiling. During the night parts of the building damaged by damp, actually fell down. Several pieces of plasterwork from the ceiling landed in the stalls where our ticket holders would have been sitting. Unsurprisingly this has led to the building being declared unsafe and closed for a protracted period. Derby Live the department running the theatre on behalf of Derby City Council had very little choice, other than to announce the forced cancellation of over one hundred events. The Northern Witan is only one of those events and the Guildhall Theatre is not expected to reopen until September 2019.
Some of us involved in the organisation of the event have taken the cancellation badly, particularly those of us already facing personal difficulties. Although it was hoped that we could find an alternative venue, it was judged that with only eight weeks to the actual date, this was impractical. Many organisations have now made the same decision. The closure of the Guildhall is a blow to the arts and entertainment scene in Derby, as there is a dearth of comparable quality venues.
Although it was a difficult decision to make we hope that, by announcing our official cancellation at the eight week point, those who have booked transport and accommodation will be in a position to claim refunds. If we had left the announcement later, this would not have been so.
Despite the great and deeply felt disappointment, we the planning committee are now in discussion as to whether a reschedule of the Northern Witan is viable. It is too early to say for certain whether we can resurrect the project for later this year or early next. However, we have yet to give up hope.
My Bittersweet Start To 2019