Quest: the world’s oldest pagan conference?

[Editors Note: Due to a delay in our independent editorial review, the story on CAYA has been postponed by one day.]

BRISTOL, England — This Saturday saw the 51st Quest Conference, one of the oldest Pagan conferences in the world. Held annually in Bristol, the conference is regularly attended by many of Britain’s Pagans, but people also come from all over the world – North America, Europe, and Ireland.

Run by author Marian Green, Quest works in ‘old school’ means. It does have a minimal website, but otherwise people must sign up via a mailing box address, and the conference communicates with attendees by letter.

Green is a British author who has been working in the fields of magic, witchcraft ,and the Western Mysteries since the early 1960s.

In addition to the conference, she has edited the magazine Quest since founding it in 1970. She created the Green Circle, a network of Pagans and magicians, in 1982. And, she was previously a council member of the Pagan Federation and the editor of Pagan Dawn.

Green’s books include A Witch Alone, Everyday Magic, Magic in Principle and Practice, and many more. She has a book on charms coming out spring 2018.

The seeds of Quest began over one evening at something called the Pentagram Dinner, held at the Rembrandt Hotel in London in 1963. Doreen Valiente and other Pagan personalities of the 1960s were in attendance. In 1965 that dinner was held again with occultist William Gray in attendance.

In 1967, the dinner became a conference and moved to the Ivanhoe Hotel near the British Museum, charging half a crown as an entry fee. Occultist and writer Elizabeth St George (1937 – 2007) was also attended.

Eventually the conference moved to the Kenilworth Hotel but continued to be regularly attended by esoteric luminaries of the day, including people such as Gareth Knight.

Elizabeth St George, a student of W G Gray who also worked for the London bookshop Atlantis, was in possession of a duplicating machine and thought it would be nice to have a newsletter in between meetings. The name ‘Quest’ was chosen. And it became more than just a magazine: a small press was started, bringing out the works of perhaps more obscure writers who did not want to be in the public eye.

The Quest conference celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, and it is now held in the Southville Community Centre in Bristol, featuring speakers from across the Pagan community. In recent years, speakers have included Ronald Hutton, who regularly attends the conference, hedgewitch Rae Beth, herbalist Val Thomas, historian Karen Ralls and many more.

The Quest quarterly journal is still published, containing material on magic, witchcraft and practical occultism, along with personal experiences and reviews. It has been published continuously four times a year since its inception, and is one of the longest-running regularly-published magazines in Britain.

Esoteric practitioner Pammie Couchman says:

I think I have been attending The Quest Conference for 20 years, although I have missed the odd one here and there.

When I first starting attending it was before my own internet days and social media was in the realms of the Kether pea soup abyss. Well it was for me anyway. I found out about it from word of mouth and contacted a P.O Box number and waited for a reply. In due course correspondence came and a ticket was purchased by cheque. All very quaint you may say, but in truth you really needed to want contact others on a similar path and go out of your way to make it happen. I can remember my excitement and nervousness on my first venture into The Quest Conference , which was then being held in the Round House in Bristol.

My over riding feeling about my years at Quest are really like a Quest, the knock of change. In fact when I have physically opened the door of the venue and entered, I have often opened the door to change in my own life and spirituality. The people I have met, the spoken words in some of the amazing talks. Or like minded people I have chatted too, have at times touched my soul and started a process that was not even thought of before I walked into that room. Of course not very thing or everyone inspired me, in fact some things I thought I might be attracted to turned out to be quite the opposite. But in truth the wealth of knowledge that Quest has held in its arms over the years is just awe inspiring and the gateways to so many realms over the years.

So Quest and Marian have been a big part of my esoteric life, along with many other characters who have walked the venues of The Quest Conference. Here is to many more.

Conference attendee Lynda Woodhead comments:

It would be around 1985/6. I was working in London – at that time information on pagan moots/events etc was via the various publications available. Trying to remember my first point of contact is difficult but I must have purchased one of them from a bookshop – I think Quest had its own publications out, as did The Cauldron and through them I joined the Pagan Federation in about 1985. They were fab – lots of really good articles, and also “real” magic – stuff that you live, which is part of everyday life – not just a hobby!

I remember my first conference, feeling quite nervous, on my own. I sat down, and shortly after someone asked if the seat next to me was taken and as it wasn’t she sat next to me. We chatted and found that we worked for the same company (the BBC) but in different buildings across the road from each other! I can’t remember a great deal about the conference. I only have the impression that it was very enjoyable and I found Marian to be very down-to-earth, and sensible, and I subsequently went on to attend several of Marian’s courses on Natural Magic. From the Quest conference I felt confident to attend other esoteric/pagan events such as the Merlin Conference with Caitlin and John Matthews, and Geoffrey Ashe, and some PF events – even travelling as far as Bristol!!

And the person I met at the conference? Thirty odd years later we are still the best of friends. She was with me when I had my two boys, and I have visited her as she has lived in different parts of the world (Africa, America). Without the Quest Conference I may never have met her and to be honest my life would have been very different.

In the write-up published for last year’s 50th anniversary, organizers concluded, “And so the next 50 years of Quest commences, and who can imagine what the world will be like in 2067?”

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