John Belham-Payne, High Priest to Doreen Valiente
Founder of the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation
1952 - 2016
John is best known for his important contribution to the history of modern pagan witchcraft, although at the time of his initiation in 1973, he was working as a professional musician. Born near Birmingham in 1952, John was school friends with John Bonham, a fellow drummer. Playing in many bands (he drummed on the recording of “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman while still a school boy) he toured extensively and became an executive for EMI in the US.
Following a 1982 accident in which he broke his back, John left the music industry and focused on his spiritual path. John and his wife Julie established the Centre for Pagan Studies, in Sussex in 1995. The Centre attracted the attention of Doreen Valiente, arguably the most important woman in the history of modern witchcraft. Valiente was a poet, author and Wiccan High Priestess who had worked with Gerald Gardner and helped him to develop the movement and religion known as Wicca. She became good friends with John and Julie, asking John to become her High Priest and willing him her magical legacy after her death in 1999.
Importantly, rather than keeping the priceless collection of artefacts, papers and documents for himself, John formed the Doreen Valiente Foundation, a charitable trust which is now the legal owner of the legacy and has the goal of preserving these and other historical items for future generations while making them accessible to all for education about witchcraft and paganism. John’s fellow trustees are his wife, Julie, Ashley Mortimer, Rufus Harrington and Professor Ronald Hutton.
The foundation campaigned successfully for heritage blue plaques to be awarded to Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner, published some of Doreen’ Valiente’s previously unpublished books and recently commissioned a biography of Valiente which is published this week and is working with Royal Pavilion Museums to put on two exhibitions of artefacts from her legacy this year, all of which are down to John’s tireless energy and drive.
John was working very hard on every element of these exhibitions, which he saw as his final tribute to Doreen. The Foundation will continue his work and ensure that not only these exhibitions go ahead as planned, but that Doreen and John’s legacy will endure in the form of more and hopefully permanent exhibitions.
John was a driving force within the lives of everyone who knew and loved him. An engaging raconteur with a wealth of stories both funny and insightful, he will be profoundly missed by all who knew him publicly or privately as he takes his place in the ongoing history of Wicca.
In keeping with John's wishes, his family and colleagues have set up a John Belham-Payne Memorial Fund. The fund will be put to immediate use by the Doreen Valiente Foundation to establish the first of the public exhibitions of the Doreen Valiente Collection opening in Brighton in April 2016. John dedicated himself so completely to this project for the past few years of his life and the fruition of which was his dearest last wish: