John Belham-Payne is perhaps best known as the last working High Priest of Doreen Valiente, England’s most famous contemporary Witch. he is founder of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, and a co-founder of the Centre For Pagan Studies (CFPS) and custodian of Doreen’s extensive collection of artefacts, which together with Gerald Gardner’s original “Book of Shadows”, are considered to be modern witchcraft’s most important documents.
Biog: John was born on the 05th January 1952 in Dudley near Birmingham, England. During his youth John showed a keen interest in music, and encouraged by his theatrical parents, was working as a musician playing drums by the time he was 11. After leaving school he studied photography at College, before moving to Italy where he worked as a musician and ran a bar on the Italian Riviera Del Fiore. On his return to the UK, he took employment in the marketing department of Dudley Zoo and Castle, rising to the position of assistant general manager before leaving after a public disagreement concerning animal welfare policy.
After leaving Dudley Zoo, John again took up music and throughout the 1970’s played with a number of prominent group/bands as a drummer, and as a professional session player backed numerous recording groups of the same era. Later working as an executive for the EMI record company, he lived for a time in San Diego, California, while working in Hollywood. Returning to the UK, the last band he played with was a Brighton based post-punk group called The Piranhas, who during their hay-day recorded two Top Twenty hits in the UK. Sadly however, while returning from a late-night gig in 1982, a serious car accident on Hove Seafront resulted in John breaking his back, which ended his days as a working musician.
After the accident John began to focus more on his spiritual and religious beliefs. During his earlier years at school while attending his local church services, he had often felt the pull of a spiritual calling, but soon became disillusioned with formal religion. After leaving school he also left the church, and had since been studying alternative religions. His studies eventually led him to Paganism and Witchcraft, but like many choosing this as their path, he found it difficult to find someone to teach him. He prevailed however, and at Samhain (Halloween) in 1973 he was initiated into a traditional Welsh coven headed by Patricia and John Edwards. In a later interview with TWPT (The Wiccan Pagan Times) John states:
“Like many new to the studies of the Old Ways I was desperate to be initiated and when I was, it soon became obvious that these people knew a lot less than I did. For me casting a circle seemed a natural extension to my arm. They seemed to be more concerned with getting the words right. They had a lineage, but I felt there was little in the way of content. I did go through a full traditional year and a day before initiation, but I now believe that I should have waited until the right teacher came along”.
Moving to London shortly after his initiation, John worked solitary for a number of years and eventually found another teacher. He met Ralph and Audrey Harvey who ran the well-established Gardnerian Coven of Artemis in Brighton, England. After a period of study with them, John was initiated into their coven. John met Doreen Valiente when she became involved with the Centre For Pagan Studies in the 1990′s.
He also works as an interior designer and home improvements specialist in Spain.