Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Cancellation of the Northern Witan

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

Friday, 8 February 2019

My Bittersweet Start To 2019

The month of January 2019 has been one of joy and sadness, with challenges and unpleasant surprises that have left me shaken and at times deeply distressed. The month started well as I had enjoyed a very memorable time over the Yuletide and I had begun to write up my experiences ready for this blog.

I am eagerly awaiting publication in the next work from Anathema Publishing Limited and at the start of January the pre-order facility went live on the website. To say that I am honoured to be a contributor to PILLARS IV (Vol.2, Issue.1) ‘Circling the Compass’ which should see publication proper in February, barely encapsulates my feelings. I am ridiculously excited as I recognise the remarkable prestige that publication by Anathema represents. This announcement is a moment of pride and naturally a cause of celebration. Please view the Anathema Publishing links below for details of this publication.

The joy has however, been short and tainted. During the course of the month four persons that I know in real life, have all suffered bereavements. One such loss being close enough that I have myself, been touched by the deep sorrow such events entail. The cold winds of January have swept us in a way both undesirable and unexpected. They have left those of us affected by such losses, chilled to the bone, frozen in thought and in our emotions. Many of us have been left numb.

Towards the latter half of the month I faced a double disappointment, a personal catastrophe. The failure of the hard-drive on my laptop has resulted in a shocking loss of work. My thoughts on this are explored elsewhere (see the link to ‘Our Electronic Dependence’ below) and I will not go into details here. I will merely recapitulate that the loss of work is great. Although I have spent a considerable amount of time tracing work and recopying, much still remains lost. Many deadlines are no longer achievable.

Then as I was slowly losing my mind as I attempted to assimilate the loss of my written work, a charity event I was involved in organising was cancelled. An announcement by the venue on the 23rd of January took us all by surprise. There was an element of disbelief as we heard the news that the ceiling was unsafe and that the theatre would be closed until September. The Northern Witan 2019 is one of over one hundred events cancelled; the closure of the Guildhall is a major blow to the arts and entertainment scene in Derby.

Despite our wishes to find an alternative venue, it is clear that doing so with only eight weeks’ notice is impossible. The decision to cancel was a hard one to take and the loss of twelve months work has been a great blow to all involved. Although we hope to be able to reschedule the event for later this year or early next, we are at this time unable to state clearly whether the Northern Witan will take place or not.

As the month came to an end I felt that I could not cope with anything more going wrong. January has been the darkest of months, stained by death, equipment failures and personal disappointments. What more could possibly go wrong? Truly, I felt broken.

The winter is a testing time, an endurance of hardship and challenges. I sincerely hope that February will be a month of greater happiness and joy than January. The coming of Candlemas heralds an eventual return of light, despite the foreboding harshness of winter that is still yet to come. We can all look forward in hope towards those warmer days that are expected, once the cold and bitter winter has ended. We would all do well to remember that where there is the promise of light, then there is also the promise of hope.





January has been a difficult month for many reasons and some of these reasons will be explored in other writings. In this post I address rather our dependence upon modern technology. In the latter part of January 2019 I suffered a major and catastrophic laptop breakdown, a reboot failure leading to a vast loss of material.

I have previously taken pride following a similar event some years ago, in saving all my work to an external hard-drive regularly every three months or so. I have of late been sloppy and far less conscientious than I should be. It came as a shock to discover that my last ‘back-up’ was the summer of 2018 and that I was very far behind schedule.

The result is the loss of hundreds of photographs and tens of thousands of words. It is a huge amount of work that I have lost in the form of unfinished blogs, articles and papers. I have felt lost myself, disheartened and I have found the experience deeply depressing. I only have myself to blame.

Purchasing a second-hand laptop at a very reasonable price; a tool to maintain my connection with the internet while the main and rather more expensive laptop is sent away for repair, I have slowly begun to rebuild. It has taken more than two weeks to configure the replacement to my own personal taste. Something I will have to repeat when the main laptop is returned of course. I am not looking forward to that.

Importantly I have spent many days attempting to replace my lost work by chasing posts across the internet, whether on Facebook, my blog or via sent emails. I have tasted success and disappointment. Friends and publishers holding copies of my finished texts have been kind enough to return my work, so alleviating some of my concerns. These are actions for which I shall be eternally grateful, for it is fellow artists and writers who can truly appreciate the horror of my loss.

All of this has however, caused me to pause. I have been forced to reflect upon our use of modern technology, to consider our dependence upon the electronic environment and the internet at large. We do our shopping on line, we make telephone calls via the web and we organise our lives using electronic prompts. Yet we who call ourselves Pagans, Occultists and students of the esoteric realms, often claim an attachment to nature. Does anything represent our disassociation from the natural environment more, than our involvement and apparent dependence upon the virtual environment?

I find myself deeply resenting my own dependence, which pains me because it is not superficial. It is no secret that I dislike many aspects of the internet, including Facebook and the now necessary use of other web platforms. Yet taking a more pragmatic approach than many, I accept that as a tool it is of benefit to me. The temporary loss of access was an inconvenience forcing the necessity of my purchase of a spare or replacement machine. My ability to function in a modern, technologically obsessed society was seriously impaired.

So where does this leave me and of course the rest of us? Have we lost our way, have we failed as Pagans and as scholars of the Occult? Perhaps and perhaps not, we should embrace technology when it is of benefit to us and to society. Yet when it is no longer of benefit; when it is a barrier to living a real life and forces us instead to live a virtual one, then we have reached that point when we should switch off the computer. That is when we should step outside, to go for a walk or enjoy the garden. That is when we should acknowledge that the electronic environment is in turn dependent upon our use.