UK — The organizers of Britain’s biggest Pagan event, Witchfest, announced last year that it would not be hosting the festival in 2018. The announcement was made in October during the 2017 event, and it was stated that the cancellation was due to financial constraints.
Merlyn said an “unexpected and sharp decrease in attendance was to blame for a lack of funds to finance the conference for 2018.”
He told TWH: “Final numbers aren’t in yet, but we think our losses are in the thousands [of pounds].”
Witchfest itself is run by its parent organization, the U.K.-based nonprofit organization Children of Artemis (CoA). The festival, which has been a staple of the British Pagan scene for a number of years, was originally held in the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, just south of London.
CoA also has held other events around the country, Wales and Scotland being just two of the outlying sites. In May, there will be a daylong Witchfest Midlands, for example, held in Rugeley. The late spring event, which was once the Staffordshire Pagan Conference, has reportedly already sold out of tickets.
Part of the remit from the CoA has been to appeal to young people and to allow them to explore Paganism within a safe and informative space. Many of the younger generations of British Pagans came to the path via Witchfest.
The CoA, which describes itself as primarily Wiccan, is run entirely by volunteers. It began as a ritual group in the 1990s, becoming a public membership organization in 1995. The CoA assisted the U.K.-based Pagan Federation in organizing its conferences in 1997 and 1998 and, then, held the first Witchfest in 2002.
The organization’s official remit includes the promotion of an understanding of Wicca in accordance with the Wiccan rede. And, in addition to Witchfest and other events, the COA publishes the magazine Witchcraft and Wicca.
Since its early days, Witchfest has grown significantly from an event numbering hundreds of people to thousands. Most recently, after a break lasting several years, the festival found a new location in the seaside city of Brighton, which was originally home to well-known witches such as Doreen Valiente and Ralph Harvey as well as a number of Druid groves and covens.
Over the years, Witchfest speakers have included Ronald Hutton, Damh the Bard, Kate West, Ashley Mortimer, and international figures such as Phyllis Curott.
Whilst Witchfest in 2016 had around 3,000 attendees, attendance at the event dropped dramatically in 2017, due apparently to a number of factors, including transportation issues, weather problems, and the change to a bigger and perhaps a more impersonal venue. Whatever the reason, the conference had become financially nonviable, as Merlyn explained last fall.
The cancellation caused a degree of consternation among the Pagan community. Damh the Bard stated that such events are a “service” to the community, and it runs the risk of losing them.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that the cancellation of Witchfest International 2018 might be a wake-up call,” Damh said. “It’s a reminder that we can’t take these events for granted. That if we wait for the next one, there might not be a next one.”
However, organizer Merlyn commented, “The event will bounce back twice as strong.”
CoA’s main event has, to some extent, reinvented itself already by announcing a fundraiser for a 2019 conference. This upcoming fundraiser is taking the form of a new event: the Witchfest Market and Hallowe’en Ball. It will be held at the Rivermead Centre in Reading, just outside London on Nov. 3.
In a recent email response, a spokesperson for CoA told TWH, “This is a market organised on a true Witchfest scale, the intention is to have everything the Witchfest visitor could possibly want to buy all in one place.”
Markets have always been a big part of past Witchfests and, for this event, the focus will be on the market itself, but will include a series of talks. Hutton is scheduled to speak, along with Damh, Kate West, Barbara Meiklejohn-Free, and Gemma Gary. There will be music by the Dolmen, Damh, and Perkelt. The event is also offering spaces for readers and healers.
Organizers added, “A major departure from all previous Witchfests is that entry to the market is completely free, making this the most affordable Witchfest ever held.”
In addition to the new fundraiser, the CoA is also organizing a series of local moots, currently at 17 locations around the country. It will also be hosting the Artemis Gathering in Oxfordshire in August, which takes the form of a Pagan camp and it will continue to support Pagan Pride.
CoA organizers added, “Our expectations for this [new] event are two fold, first and most importantly, as a non-profit Pagan organisation our objective is to offer the Pagan community the best events and services at the lowest possible price, we hope this event will raise funds to allow us to continue to do that. We have promised our members and visitors that Witchfest International will be back in 2019 and we intend to not only deliver on that promise and make it the best ever.
“Secondly Witchfest International has been a constant in the Pagan calendar for a decade and a half, with 2018 cancelled it left a void and we had considerable demand to do something to help fill that gap at that time of the year, so while it is not Witchfest International, Witchfest Market does have some of its features and will satisfy the many who would miss their annual Witchfest International excursion until it returns in 2019.”
Members of the British Pagan community hopes that the CoA will run a successful fundraiser and be back up to full strength for its planned event in 2019.