London conference focuses on Magickal Women

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LONDON – The first Magickal Women Conference was held in London on June 1st. Organised by Sue Terry and Erzebet Barthold, the Conference was situated at Queen’s Gate in Kensington and was attended by around 300 people. Attendance was mixed but all the speakers were female/non-binary.

The Conference had an ambitious program, with 41 items across different streams during the day and there have also been some fringe events, with walks around esoteric London and the British Museum.

Sue Terry is a PhD candidate at the University of Surrey: her research area is witchcraft, occultism and the magical imagination in Modernist fiction by British female authors. Erzebet Barthold is the founder of Hadean Press, which publishes occult books, journals, and pamphlets. The Conference has a range of sponsors, including Treadwells Bookshop and Scarlet Imprint.

Conference Organisers Sue Terry and Erzebet Barthold

The lecture streams were divided into Women and Magick, Women and Literature, Women and History, and Women and Practice. There were also workshops, an art installation, and an artist-in-residence as well as a storyteller-in-residence. Speakers came from a range of areas, including the academic, independent scholars, authors, artists, practitioners, adepts and teachers.

The team says that:

The Magickal Women Conference pays homage to the women of the past who challenged the status quo by embracing mysticism, esotericism, and occult teachings, and to the women who continue those rich traditions through lived practice, performance, and adeptship.

The conference opened with a speech from Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Dolores trained with Walter Ernest Butler, a member of Dion Fortune’s Fraternity of the Inner Light (est.1928), and thus Dolores is part of a living magical lineage within the Western Mystery tradition. Dolores succeeded Butler as Director of Studies of the Servants of the Light (SOL) in 1976 and served for forty-two years; she retired in 2018 and currently runs her Solar Light Video Club, continuing to instruct seekers in the Western Mysteries.

Headline Speaker Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki [Courtesy Magickal Women Conference]

Her conference speech featured the central theme of survival – Dolores herself has been a refugee and experienced hardship – and she drew upon her substantial esoteric experience to illustrate the capacity of women involved in the occult and paganism to endure.

Following this, there were talks in the main hall by Caroline Wise on Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis, Elaine Bailey on Anna Bonus Kingsford, your correspondent on Jane Ellen Harrison, and Madeleine LeDespencer on fin de siècle French occultist Berthe de Courrière. Elsewhere, there were lectures by Brontë Mansfield on Margot Adler, K A Laity on Leonora Carrington, Rebecca Beattie on Sylvia Townsend Warner and Mary Webb, and many more. Workshops included Sian Sibley on The Descent of Inanna as a Woman’s Alchemical Initiation, and Laura Tempest Zakroff on Sigil Witchery.

The Conference was fully catered and lunch was served on the roof terrace, followed by a keynote speech from Christina Oakley Harrington, founder of Treadwells Bookshop, on some of the economic underpinnings of women’s involvement in the occult world: female members of the Golden Dawn were often lease-holders of its temples, and Dr Harrington elaborated on this to explore concepts such as domestic power and authority.

Keynote Speaker Christina Oakley-Harrington [Photo Credit: Caroline Wise]

She also commented that, in late-stage capitalism, much magical involvement has gone “pocket sized” and relocated to the internet, particularly among the younger generation, and she encouraged the audience to listen to podcasts and read online journals as ‘this is where magic is happening.’

The afternoon saw a series of further lectures: including talks by Caitlin Matthews, Deja Whitehouse, Amy Hale, Alkistis Dimech and others. The day was rounded off with a Q&A session.

Victoria Musson ran a workshop on making a corn goddess:

I am a folk artist; a student of the old path and traditional ways, a rural folklorist and teacher of straw craft and natural fibre art. I work closely with and in the rural landscape and the changing seasons. My work is a reflection of what I feel and find and touches a nerve of something ancient, indigenous, tribal and sacred.

And further to the artistic input of the day, Sara Hannant’s evocative installation featured a cauldron and a broomstick, and attendees were encouraged to tie ribbons (“clouties”) to the besom, after dipping them in the spring water from Sancreed Well with which the cauldron was filled.

This body of work grew from visiting Holy Wells in Cornwall and researching the seemingly mysterious removal of many offerings left by visitors. Traditionally in Cornwall, healing of an illness can be affected by tearing a strip of cloth or ‘cloutie’ from a person’s garment, dipping this into the well, making a wish, then hanging the cloth on a nearby tree. As it falls and rots, it is believed the illness will disappear. The cloth acts as a charm connecting the person to the numinous – divine power or spirits thought to inhabit the sacred place.

There was also a small gallery space in which participants could feature their own work, and a variety of vendors, including bookshops and publishers.

From first-hand reports and subsequent social media, the sold-out Conference has been deemed a great success.

Writer and scholar, Dr. Amy Hale, attended and praised the conference.   She commented “The Magickal Women Conference was quite an amazing day. It was incredibly smoothly run given all the moving parts and so many speakers. The international turnout shows how hungry people are to hear about women’s magical history and practice.”  Dr. Hale added that “It was so refreshing to be in a space where we all knew that the emphasis was on women’s voices. No jockeying for position with men, no quietly standing to the side. Our history, our practice was front and center. I would love to see even more of an emphasis on diversity at the next event.”

A publication is set for next year and the next conference is scheduled for 2021, make sure you buy tickets well in advance!