This was my 5th year – and the 10th Anniversary of the Glastonbury Goddess Conference – and what a celebration! This year’s theme was LOVE! Celebrating our Goddess Rhiannon in all her pink and red glory with passion. This year I had a Priestess ticket which meant I was asked to participate in many of the events. I had also written a short play which was being performed on the opening night, which meant that once it had been performed my nerves could relax and enjoy the rest of the Conference!
The wicker Rhiannon
All the presentations and events took place in and around Glastonbury, centered mainly on the Town Hall, with fringe events on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, including Walking the Tor Labyrinth with Brian Charles, and Kathy Jones’ tour of Avebury. For me, the week started on the Tuesday with Carolyn Hillyer’s Workshop “Inside the Winter House”. For the last two years Carolyn had been painting the nine primordial Grandmothers, the Udgens or Grandmother Witches of the Arctic. Each Udgen had her own story to tell and song to sing. Set in the dark Assembly Rooms, with subdued lighting, the Grandmothers met together for the first time. There was a Lavo, an arctic tipee with skins of reindeer and deer. The atmosphere was amazing, and the beautiful singing voice of Carolyn Hillyer transported us back 25,000 years to the Ice Age. We were shown how to make small reindeer leather pouches, which we filled with arctic incense and drank arctic berry and pine tea.
Other workshops that took place were equally thrilling. Clare Campbell set the scene with a great workshop on “Celebrating your Wild Passionate Self”! Annie Spencer explored women’s menarche, motherhood and menopause, honouring a woman’s cycle in the 21st century. A belly-dancing workshop with Anita-Christina Calcaterra & Cathy Moore was a wonderful sensuous and empowering experience, with exercises to awaken the senses, including hand massages with lavender lotion, being stroked with feathers, adorning oneself and each other, dancing blindfold to tune deeply into hearing, and taking time to appreciate the beauty of each other. And there was an opportunity to join Jana Runnalls to dance, sing and drum Sacred Love and Divine Union, using ancient ceremonial practices of Wicca and Druid ancestors. And that was just the Tuesday!
Wednesday saw the Town Hall decorated in red and gold with the beautiful wicker Rhiannon in the centre, created by Sandra Brant, decorated with gorgeous sparkly beads and ribbons.
The Conference was officially opened by the Town Mayor, and everyone was introduced and welcomed. Then in the afternoon there was the usual cleansing ritual of visiting the four elements in the groups of 13, this year organised by the Priestesses of Avalon. Air was held in the Assembly Rooms with Carolyn Hillyer’s installation. As the groups passed through, Carolyn, Sally Pullinger and myself, with the help of Melissas, chanted and drummed the songs of the Udgens – a wonderful deep and peaceful atmosphere. Fire was in the Town Hall, where each person was invited to leave their inhibitions behind and write a prayer on a long strip of cloth (which was later taken up Chalice Hill). They then danced into a fire spiral to music and at the centre made an offering to the fires of sexuality, by throwing a pinch of herbs into a cauldron which were then burnt. They then danced out with their ribbons, which were tied on to poles to build a fire of sexuality. The room was very dark with the wicker Love Goddess in the centre, so there was an atmosphere of whooping and screaming and ecstatic dancing. Earth gave everyone the opportunity of painting designs on pebbles around a living altar of plants and pebbles in St. Benedict’s Hall, and then to take them away as a memento. And Water had a room cocooned with subdued lighting, where everyone had their feet ritually wetted with bundles of sage sticks dipped into a pool, caressed by slender female fingers and then carefully dried. Everyone then stepped into a pool, and droplets were shaken over them, and blessings spoken. Their auras were caressed and dusted with gold glitter, and then each person entered a secret bower framed by the woven forms of four Priestesses, their flowing silk drapes, falling flowers and dimpled white face-masks speaking of tranquility and timelessness. There was a personal blessing in the bower, and finally a drink offered of icy cool water from a conch shell.
The evening started with a lovely Opening ceremony: the Ceremonial Group of Priestesses invoked the nine different Goddesses into the circle with spontaneous passion, poetry and song, and the evening then progressed with chants from Sally Pullinger, songs and drums from Jana Runnalls, an exotic sea anemone dance from Anita and Cathy, and the story of Rhiannon by Pamela Gaunt, which held everyone spellbound as she took us on a journey filled with many different emotions. There were also songs from Manon Tromp, Oshia Drury and a newcomer to the Conference, Eva van Nieuburg. Rose Lewis delighted us with some of her poetry, and then there was my little play on “Loving Yourself – in celebration of my Beautiful Body”. It was a play written about my life, and my struggle of being overweight and all the emotions held within Mind, Body and Soul and how they all eventually become one and learn to love with each other in honour and love. The icing on the cake was Julie Felix singing at my feet! And Katinka Soetens raised the energy at the end with a wonderful belly dance, teaching everyone how to wiggle the hips and body in the most sensual way. Gosh! is it still only Wednesday? Thursday became even more hot! And I don’t mean the weather!
Thursday was opened by the first-year Priest/esses with a sweet ceremony to start the day. This year also saw the return of a Young Person’s workshop faciliated by Priestesses, which they were able to enjoy and be entertained with creative fun. Kathy Jones started the Main Event with a journey of the Wonder of Love, and then we all settled down to Annie Spencer’s storytelling and wise words. Klara Adalena, a Priestess from Holland, gave an interesting talk on ancient Goddess cultures of the Mediterranean, and there was a welcome return of Kelliana with new songs of the Goddess and chants for us all to join in.
There was an hilarious surprise from three Priestesses who raised their skirts and revealed their wondrous yonis, painted with faces! They were definitely brought back for an encore! It was then time for the Conference attendees to create a little magic of their own. Meeting in their circles of thirteen, they were asked to create a ritual, each focusing on a different Goddess, which was subsequently woven into a whole poem, and performed on Chalice Hill.
Thursday afternoon saw a selection of different workshops. Carolyn Hillyer did more “Sacred Drums from the Winter House”; Caitlin Matthews explored the role of spirituality in “The One Who Walks With You”; Brian Charles facilitated a workshop for men on “Embodying the Goddess in a male body”; Annie Spencer worked with the 4 archetypes of “Amazon, Priestess/Seer, Lover and Mother”; Clare Campbell led an afternoon of chocolate, glitter and giggles with “What Is Your Passion?”; Hazel Loveridge and Katka Kramolisova explored the “Yoni Mysteries” through dance, breath work and meditation; Jaine Raine and Sally Pullinger presented “Menstruation, Fertility and Sexuality”, a safe and welcoming ritual space for girls aged 8-18; Kay Allen and Vanessa Hedley offered a workshop on “Body, Blood and Breath, Flesh, Form and Flow”, which allowed women to explore their menstrual cycle in a creative way; Klara Adalena’s workshop on”The Age Old Path to Venus” journeyed with the aid of slides, chants and dance to the different Grandmother Goddesses in order to meet the inner Priestess; and Liz Perkins and Helen Anthony moved through “Menopause, Fairy Godmother or Crone in Training”, an opportunity to explore the emotional and spiritual issues around the life changing transition of the menopause. A great cornucopia of Workshops to choose. And it’s still only Thursday!
There was no let-up on the passions and the emotions either – for the evening held further excitement. It started with a variation of the the Vagina Monologues, inspired by Eve Ensler’s original play. The Priestesses and some of the Conference regulars had come together to write and create their own Yoni Chronicles. This wonderful drama, directed by Aine Carey, was staged perfectly with honour, love and respect. It consisted of portraits of different women through different stages of their lives with their own tragic and funny stories to tell. All participants deserve a special mention, but for me, the outstanding performances were from Katinka Soetens naked on stage embodying Rhiannon, who was inspirational and outstanding, demonstrating great courage and true love; and Sally Pullinger, who brought laughter and tears as a sad and aging woman still seeking love and companionship. There was something for everyone, to touch their heart and emotion.
The evening ended with a rousing concert from Julie Felix, raising the energy to joy, fun and song, with favourite songs of the Goddess and from her native Mexico. Exhausted we retired. Thursday had ended! And we wondered what on earth was in store for Friday?
Friday – for the early birds was a 7am call for a ceremony at Chalice Well. Surprisingly, I didn’t make it this year(!), but those who did were delighted by Lynne Orchard, the co-guardian of the Well at that time. The Young People’s Workshop met again in the George’s Room to create some new magical delight, and the Trainee Priest/esses opened the main event with a short sweet ceremony.
We were then taken on a wonderful journey of the vagina, given by the delightful Dr Catherine Blackledge, based on her book “The Story of V”. This illustrated talk was funny and informative, and included views from history on how women could repel armies by lifting their skirts and revealing their yonis. Caitlin Matthews then explained the mysteries of the male part of women, the Daimon, and how to embrace it. Rita Hraiz, a successful business woman famous for her Seriously Scrumptious Cakes, gave us a talk on the sacred alchemical marriage and the merging of the inner male and female union. Brian Charles & Mike Jones then gave us an insight on how they came to the Goddess. Brian told of his personal painful journey that led him to loving the Goddess and how he now teaches others of Her magic; and Mike had us in giggles as he related the story of how he met his partner Kathy Jones and his journey to the Goddess.
All too soon it was time to join the Circles of Thirteen to shape and mould the dough for Lammas bread into yonis! So the competition started as to who could produce the best yoni or breast!
After lunch, the procession started with the Circles of Thirteen to Chalice Hill. At the top of the hill the Ceremonial Group formed a circle to mark out the sacred space and hold the energies, and then each of the Groups in turn performed a short ritual based on the Love Goddess they had been given. Considering the short time the Groups had had to prepare their contribution, the results were amazing, and Rose Flint pulled it all together with the poem linking all the Goddesses. It was a real cornucopia of Goddess ceremony and celebration.
Meanwhile, in the Town Hall Jacqui Woodward-Smith facilitated an alternative to the Ceremony on the hill for those who could not, or did not want to, climb it. Jacqui let each person choose Love Goddesses from the ones that hadn’t been selected for the Chalice Hill ceremonies, and then led a guided visualisation to the Hill and left each person to their own inner journey.
The Friday evening was truly orgasmic! The Priestesses formed a Tunnel of Love into the Town Hall, and people entered to take mead offered by a central circle of bare-breasted Priestesses and men attendants. This mead was made at the 2004 Conference and had been fermenting for a year and a day, so was pretty potent! This then moved into an evening of ecstatic, tantric dance facilitated by Jewls Wingfield. The vision I have is of mead-filled red-clothed people dancing, writhing and swaying to sensual sounds and music. I was responsible for being in the Courtyard with an open fire and pieces of wool for people to throw away their inhibitions, so by the time I caught up with the dance most had thrown their inhibitions away along with their clothes! And it was still only Friday! 2 days to go!
Saturday saw the Second Year Priestesses, including me, open the Day’s Events. This was followed by Lydia Ruyle who had brought her slides from around the world and beautiful Goddess banners.
Clare Campbell had us all in hysterics as she recounted the life of being an Urban Goddess in Liverpool, bringing us all firmly back down to earth. Jana Runnalls sang some beautiful songs of the Goddess and got us all to join in. Kathy Jones brought back Chocamama, along with a brave Priestess who appeared covered in chocolate – and nothing else except a smile and a mask! Lady Olivia Durdin Robertson returned to take us on a mystical tour of love. And in the afternoon Clare Campbell and Cheryl Straffon led a workshop to celebrate Lesbian Women’s Spirituality. This was the first time this workshop and space had been held at the Conference: it was very welcome and we look forward to it being a regular event in future.
The Town Hall was converted into an Abundance Fayre, with lots of opportunities to buy gifts and gorgeous yummy scrummy things made by Conference members. Then in the evening it was time to get together for the famous Masked Ball. Music from Kelliana delighted us, followed by the radical group Seize the Day. A wondrous display of fancy dress and masks were everywhere – the colours and glorious efforts made by everyone were truly delightful. Thank the Goddess it’s Sunday tomorrow! I’m shattered!
A later start of 10am began the procession through the streets of Glastonbury to Chalice Well for the annual ritual immersion, and then on to the top of the Tor for the fruit feast and spiral dancing around the Tor. This whole Procession was photographed by the local paper who did a full centre spread feature on it in glorious colour.
Finally, it was back to the Town Hall for the afternoon closing of the Conference. It always surprises me how generous people can be in the ‘giving-away’ Ceremony. Then all too soon it was the tearful time to begin the parting ritual between Kathy Jones and Tyna Redpath. Tyna has given 10 years of dedicated service to the Conference, helping make it what it has become today. It was sad to say goodbye to her, and yet a celebration of all her hard work. All of a sudden it was closing time and the final ritual was performed by the Ceremonial Group. New friendships had been forged and old ones renewed, from one nation to another, and one woman to another. I left with a renewed hope of love for the world and the human race. I can’t wait for next year! But give me 12 months to recover please!
All photos [c] Ann Cook
This year’s Glastonbury Goddess Conference will be Celebrating the Great Mother, and will include an Earth Healing ceremony on Chalice Hill, a Sacred Drama of the Creation Myth of the Isle of Avalon, talks, presentations, workshops, performances, music, art, song, poetry & dance.