Understanding the immense legacy of John Belham-Payne

Doreen Valiente's Altar
© Doreen Valiente Foundation

With the Doreen Valiente Exhibition still on schedule for a 2nd April opening in Brighton, PD talked to the Doreen Valiente Foundation’s Ashley Mortimer about the Exhibition, John Belham-Payne’s untimely death, and the Foundation’s plans for the future.

PD: How is the Exhibition shaping up? Are you still on target for an April opening?

Ashley Mortimer: John was our chief carpenter for building the physical displays and of course he was giving his labour for free. But, after much juggling and the support of the community, not least the generous donation from the PF, we were able to find a solution that has now put us back on track so we are very much on target for opening as planned on Saturday 2nd April.

PD: John’s death was a deep shock to the Pagan community. How has it impacted plans at the Foundation?

AM: The impact is almost incalculable, but in creating the Foundation in the first place and donating the entire collection and legacy to it John was, in fact, paving the way against exactly this sudden, tragic and terrible day. John and I spoke many times about what he wanted for me and from me in the event of his passing. And with the messages of support I’ve received from so many in the Pagan community, my fellow trustees and I can confidently predict a bright and exciting future continuing to ‘do the right thing’. We hope to be revealing some of our plans for during this year.

PD: While we know that the Foundation now owns the physical artefacts Doreen passed on to John, he was still seen very much as the spiritual custodian of Doreen’s legacy. How will you continue this work in the future?

I think John would tell you that Doreen has always very much been the spiritual custodian! As initiates of the Craft, John and I talked often of our spiritual journey and the responsibilities that such a journey brings, particularly in light of our work at the Foundation. It would not be untrue to say he was a mentor to me in many different ways. One thing we both noted is the tremendous growth of support and cohesion from the Craft itself in recent years and we have also nurtured the notion that people in the Pagan community are all very much connected to the legacy and to Doreen whether or not they are initiates. John would be quick to say that the work itself is far more important than the people who do it and I will certainly see to it that the work we began together continues long after both of us are gone as well as honouring my friend and fulfilling my own promises to him as he did for Doreen.

PD: Brighton seems to be a bit of an epicentre for events in 2016 (the forthcoming play about Doreen’s life, Witchfest etc, and plenty more). What further plans does the Foundation have for events both now and in the future. Is a permanent home for the archive possible, for instance?

Yes, Brighton is a very natural place for all these things, Sussex has a long history of Paganism and is a thriving part of today’s Pagan community. The world is a big place though and we do have very big plans. Certainly each project we complete brings us closer to our eventual goal of the establishing of a permanent home for both the collection AND the archive, a physical “Centre For Pagan Studies”, and that horizon is now very much closer. I won’t say more than that right now, except that there IS more, very much more, you will just have to watch and see . . . .