Went to the Pagan Network Convention yesterday, it was excellent.
Went to a talk by Steve Wilson on Archaic Witchcraft (a reconstruction of what witchcraft might have been if it was chiefly concerned with the Fair Folk). Very interesting and atmospheric, and steeped in folklore (excellent), but I'm not entirely sure that I am ready to have a lot of contact with Them. I have explored the subject to a certain extent, but it's quite risky. There were some interesting similarities with the Cochrane Tradition as well (in terms of both atmosphere and content), which was interesting.
After that I went to a talk entitled "Granny takes a trip" by Jeremy Harte (formerly involved with 3rd Stone magazine), about the concept of flying ointment in historical accounts of witchcraft. It appears that this substance was largely fictitious, derived from the ointment employed by the witch in The Golden Ass to turn herself into a bird. Medieval scholars got into some very convoluted discussion about the whole subject. Because Christian doctrine holds that the soul and body are inseparable, that ruled out out-of-body-experiences, so they decided that the experience of flying to the Sabbat must have been a delusion produced by devils. Then they thought that perhaps the flying ointment was a hallucinogen, but still thought the hallucinations were the the work of devils. He also pointed out that modern rationalists like the idea that all shamanic experiences are attributable to drugs, because it keeps the boundaries of reality nice and sharply delineated. Some neo-shamans also like this idea, because it means that they can “do” shamanism at weekends and live a normal life the rest of the week.
After that I went to the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram workshop with James Butler. It was excellent. First of all he demonstrated it (powerful stuff) and then had all the workshop participants doing it by the end. It was a bit like learning T'ai Chi – building up the form gradually. He built up the various components (visualisation, physical movement, and words) gradually, so people could remember them. Also it was really great to meet him at last, as not only is he very clever, erudite and gorgeous, but also a really nice chap.
We also got chatting to some really interesting people: Andromeda, the people from Hedingham Fair, the Libra Aries bookshop from Cambridge (caught up on lots of gossip about old friends in Cambridge, which was nice), Anna Franklin, and a working class Pagan (you don't get many of them to the pound – there are more working-class Pagans these days, but on the other hand there's a decline in the numbers of working-class people), and also bumped into old friends and acquaintances, and various choral people.
Nick went to Steve Wilson's talk on Archaic Witchcraft, Anna Franklin's talk, "What is ritual?" and Andy Worthington's talk about Stonehenge and Avebury.