England’s West Country Hosts Two Leading Esoteric Conferences

GLASTONBURY, England – The third Gareth Knight Conference took place on Saturday 9th March, at the Assembly Rooms in Glastonbury. This was organised by Knight’s daughter Rebsie Fairholm, among others of the Gareth Knight group.

Gareth Knight Conference logo

Gareth Knight was the pseudonym of Basil Wilby, born in Colchester in 1930. In 1953, he joined the Society of the Inner Light, the organisation formed around the work of Dion Fortune, and in later years edited the magazine New Dimensions and started his own publishing company, Helios Books. He worked with many of the key figures of British esotericism in the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, initiating a course on the Kabbalah with Walter Ernest Butler and having a fractious friendship (in common with most people) with occulist William Gray, whose books he published. Knight also published many works of his own, including A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, White Magic, and The Experience of the Inner Worlds with Christian priest Anthony Duncan.

The first talk, ‘A Tale of Three Nations,’ was given by Margaret Beardsley, on connecting with different regions of the landscape, such as Wales, Cornwall and Ireland. Margaret explored various explanations for our reactions to landscape, from the scientific to the spiritual, and elaborated on some of her personal experiences. Next up was conference organiser Rebsie Fairholm, also a musician, who unpacked some magical ballads for the audience, including the history and folklore behind Tam Lyn.

In the afternoon, there was a talk by author and esotericist R J Stewart, who is now resident in the US but who has long connections with Glastonbury. This lecture was based around the protective magical practice of the Arch of Heaven, and RJ kept the audience enthralled with tales of murders and ghosts in Bath and how he dealt with an unwelcome visitation in his own temple there. He included some memories of Knight and of William Gray, both of whom he knew well. RJ and Rebsie also gave a well-received concert later that evening.

The conference is becoming a well-established event in Glastonbury now and the audience is looking forward to 2025. Details relating to Knight and the work of his group can be found on their site.

Quest Conference logo

The Wild Hunt has attended Marian Green’s annual Quest conference before and this year was no exception.

Marian 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 1970. She created the Green Circle, a network of pagans and magicians, in 1982 and has been a council member of the Pagan Federation and the editor of Pagan Dawn. Her books include “A Witch Alone,” “Everyday Magic,” “Magic in Principle and Practice” and many more. The Quest conference is one of the oldest continuous conferences in the UK; it began at a dinner, entitled the Pentagram Dinner, at the Rembrandt Hotel in London in 1963. Doreen Valiente and other Pagan personalities of the 1960s were in attendance. In 1965 the dinner was held again, with occultist William Gray attending.

The Quest conference celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. For many years, it has been held at the Southville community centre in Bedminster, Bristol and this was the location for this year’s conference on 16th March 2024. The first speaker was Geraldine Beskin on “My Life in Atlantis” – not the doomed continent, but the famous London bookshop. Based in Bloomsbury, Atlantis was founded in 1922 by Michael Houghton and taken over by the Beskin family in the late 1950s. Its original premises were bombed during the war, but it has been established in Museum Street now for many years. In its early days, Gerald Gardner used it as a London meeting place for his coven and Houghton published his book High Magic’s Aid. The shop was also known to many other 20th-century occultists, including Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune.

Geraldine’s talk was both amusing and informative. Running an occult bookshop (this author speaks from experience) is an adventure: Beskin gave up the business during the hysteria of the Satanic Panic, fearing repercussions upon her family, but bought the bookshop back some years later. She now runs it with her daughter Bali. As well as selling a wide range of books, Atlantis holds regular events, from book launches to workshops, and this outpost of old-school Bloomsbury remains one of the flagships of British magic.

After lunch, which was included in the ticket price and at which we were encouraged to speak to attendees whom we did not know (Marian believes that the point of a conference is, after all, to ‘confer’), the main talk of the afternoon was by Norfolk writer, herbalist and craftsperson Val Thomas and two companions, on “The Magic of the Land,” exploring the magical practice of the county of Norfolk. Covering the plants, animals, and lore of the county, as well as historical events such as Kett’s Rebellion, this was a comprehensive introduction to the magical side of this eastern region. Val has written a number of books on the magic of Norfolk, available from Troy Books.

Finally, we undertook some community chanting, organised by Druid Adrian Rooke, before the conference ended around 5 pm.

Quest is old school and still operates mainly by post, but they do have a website and you can find details there as well as information about the Quest Magazine.

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