On Saturday 11th March 2017, with a packed house at the Southville Centre in Bristol, the Quest Conference celebrated its 50th birthday in a truly fitting fashion. Professor Ronald Hutton opened proceedings by crowning Marian Green Queen for the Day with a ceremonial crown and scepter, Harry Wendritch concluded with the gift of a ceremonial sword for fighting dragons, while the centerpiece was a presentation by Val Thomas and the Norfolk group. This was of an engraved golden chalice and paten, the former magically filled with the good wishes and thanks of all present, whose gift left not a single dry eye among the assembly. Everyone felt privileged to have been present at such a significant and moving event.
Along with the usual excellent lunch, and ample time
to make and renew connections with like-minded practitioners from around the country, the day featured three outstanding talks.
Ronald Hutton treated us to a barnstorming 45 minutes on the history of magic from Ancient Egypt via Greece and Rome to the modern occult revival. Was Ancient Egypt special? Yes. The idea of Heka, as a morally neutral force available equally to gods and humans, was unique. Was there literary continuity from Egypt to modern times? Yes. When the Romans wound down the Egyptian temples, the attached magicians were privatized and established a parallel tradition that still exists. Was the Christian church the real villain of the piece as regards witch persecutions? No, it was Greek ideas, reinforced by the usual efficiency of the Romans. Where does Astral magic come from? From Baghdad via Islam. And the circle, cardinal points and pentacle? From Christianity. There is, as yet, no adequate scholarly history of western magic, Prof. Hutton believes. Did we witness a preview of such a work at the Conference? Watch this space!
In a completely different but equally compelling vein, Val Thomas then led us in the construction of Sprowl boxes. To encapture the Magic of the Land, each participant was provided with a small box in which to put items representing aspects of the conference. There was chalk from Walsingham representing the Lady of Norfolk, and flint for the Lord. There was a mistletoe leaf for druidry, an elder stick for witchcraft, a feather for shamanism and an apple pip for chaos magic. There was a rune inscribed on Rowan for the mutuality of giving and receiving, a star for astrology, a chalice for the Quest for the Grail and rosemary to stimulate memories of the event. Everyone was then encouraged to add a small item from the centre garden to personalize the box, and to open it in future to release the memories of the day.
The last talk of the day was by Marian herself, outlining the history of the conference from its inception after the Pentagram Dinner of 1964, through its inaugural meeting at the Ivanhoe Hotel near the British Museum in London, down to the present day. The Magazine followed shortly afterwards, reproduced on an ancient Gestetner as a way for people to keep in touch between conferences, and to give budding writers the opportunity to say something. Marian mentioned her early promise to serve the mysteries, and many present could bear witness to her long-term faithfulness in that commitment. Never belonging to a coven, she often felt like the Hermit from the Tarot pack, holding up a solitary lamp to show others the way. Keep it simple, she advised. Follow just one path at a time. And actually do something, rather than devoting years to the study of abstruse theory without ever trying magic out.
And so the next 50 years of Quest commences, and who can imagine what the world will be like in 2067? "Magic is the only thing which will solve the problems of the world," Marian concluded. "Magic is real." All those lucky enough to be present on the 11th March must agree, because they each experienced some magic that day.
A: When the sun or the moon or the stars direct you.
Q: What should I take with me?
A: Your courage, your love and your dedication.
Q: Will I find companions on the journey?
A: The quest is always a lonely path, but you will not tread it alone...
Q: It is my will to take up this quest. Will you give me your blessing?
A: Gladly. Blessed are they who set out upon an Endless Quest (1) ...
(1) The Grail Seeker's Companion, John Matthews and Marian Green, 1986, p. 186.