Column: Global Goddesses in Glastonbury 2017

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[Today we welcome Wild Hunt team member Yeshe Matthews as a guest writer. This year, Matthews attended the Glastonbury Goddess Conference 2017 and offered to bring back a report on what this unique event is and what it has to offer. Matthews is a Priestess, a pilgrim, and Goddess devotee who travels the world visiting sacred sites and learning about Goddess culture. ] For 21 years, Priestess of Avalon Kathy Jones and a team of dedicated co-creators have presented the Glastonbury Goddess Conference in the heart of Avalon (Glastonbury, Somerset UK). Born during a difficult time in Jones’ life as she was recovering from cancer, the conference has grown and thrived since 1995, and has been a beacon of creativity, devotion, and magic in the global Goddess community, inspiring numerous students, temples, and mystery schools worldwide.

At the end of the 2016 event, Jones announced that she was passing on the threads of the conference and its future to her colleagues Katinka Soetens and Marion Brigantia Van Eupen. Van Eupen wrote of the exciting development:

The closing of the Glastonbury Goddess Conference is always a significant moment, but this year it was even more significant than other years as Kathy Jones was handing over the ‘threads of the Conference’. It was a incredibly moving and energetically powerful moment as we were energetically handed over the Key to the Mysteries of the Lady. As we pledged our devotion and commitment to Her and the Conference, as the place that is the birthing of so many connections to Her, to Her Land and to each other as a worldwide community of Goddess Loving People!

One month after the close of each Goddess Conference, the team begins planning for the coming year with weekly meetings and creative sessions. Soetens and Van Eupen dove into their new leadership role with gusto and determination, pulling together the threads of the past to weave a new vision.

Each of the priestesses who serves on the core organizing committee for the conference takes extra care to create specific ritual items, to acquire or craft significant articles of clothing and jewelry that she will wear during the conference, and to memorize original songs and chants that overlap, layer, and harmonize throughout the many different rituals and events associated with the event.

[Courtesy Y. Matthews]

The care and attention that goes into each aspect of the conference, its ceremonies, and its sacred activities creates a stunning, lush experience for attendees, who range in age, gender, and nationality. For the past several years, the Goddess Conference was thematically built around the 9 Morgens of Avalon, 9 cloaked figures who range in depiction from Maiden to Mother to Crone.

In 2017, under its new leadership, the Goddess Conference’ theme took a new direction. As it was described in the program:

As part of this expanding of Goddess consciousness, we have chosen this year’s Goddess Conference theme to be ‘Goddesses of the World, A World of Goddess’, envisioning Her people from all continents, backgrounds, colour and culture coming together to celebrate Her in all Her many forms.

The Conference will now follow a new 5-year plan going forward with future themes being: 2018 – Moon Maiden, 2019 – Sun Lover, 2020 – Earth Mother, 2021 – Star Queen, and 2022 – Otherworld Crone.

During the opening of this year’s conference, the Mayor of Glastonbury showed up in full regalia to formally inaugurate the event. Mayor Emma George spoke about how, looking at the photographs lining the walls of her office, there were not many female faces among the past mayors of the town.

She spoke passionately about the need for a balanced, representative government in which women’s faces are more frequently seen in public office and positions of authority. She acknowledged that events like the Goddess Conference can help to create that reality by inspiring women to step into their power.

[Courtesy Y. Matthews]

The opening ceremony concluded with the organizers inviting attendees to stand and be acknowledged based on their various continents of residence. Every continent on Earth was present, including someone standing up representing Antarctica.

Among the attendees at the Goddess Conference were Priestesses of Avalon from all over the world, as well as artists, dancers, musicians, and presenters representing diverse approaches to Goddess spirituality. A chant sung at many different points throughout the week was a litany of goddess names: “Gaia, Dziva, Mazu, Diana, Isis, Durga, Allat, Ma, Matka-Ziemia, Pachamama, Izanami-No-Mikoto, Nolava.”

One of the main ceremonies featured a beautiful dedication of the new World Goddess Temple in Avalon. Attendees of the conference were instructed to bring a statue representing a local goddess from their region, or a goddess who was important to them. A large, circular altar was placed at the center of the room, and as participants presented their statues to the Temple, each statue was held aloft by a Priestess, the name of the Goddess was proclaimed, and the statue was added to the altar.

Come As You Are Pagan Congregation’s Mothers of the New Time represented the United States as presenters at the 2017 Goddess Conference. Bringing both a Fringe workshop (adjacent to the Conference and open to attendees) as well as a Conference workshop (their Love Songs of the Goddess ritual that has been popular in past years at PantheaCon), the Mothers of the New Time represented a diverse pantheon of goddesses, including: Inanna, Artemis, Sheila-na-Gig, Brigid/Brigantia, the Deer Mother, Santissima Muerte, Hekate, Persephone, Freyja, and Lilith.

The Mothers of the New Time were also invited to sing a song as part of the ritual Lammas bonfire that is an annual tradition associated with the Conference. This bonfire, which is customarily about 6 feet tall, burns during a rollicking, fun ritual that the entire town may attend in the middle of a large field called Bushey Combe just off the main road.

To get there, participants pass through a cattle gate and walk through a working farm to the bonfire location. A tall stack of wood is built, slowly.

Purposefully and hauntingly, the Priestesses of Avalon process from the woods above the field bearing long, flame-tipped torches. They sing or chant, circling the wooden structure, and when the moment is ripe, they simultaneously ignite the pile with their torches.

Participants sing, dance, and circle the fire, mesmerized by its warmth and beauty. This year was especially touching, as attendees from around the globe were welcomed to offer blessings in their native languages. As the fire burned down, people spoke from the heart again and again, in dozens of different languages and dialects. Although very few, if any, attendees could understand everything word for word, there was a palpable joy and a love of Goddess that was understood by all.

The conference week, which typically runs Tuesday through Sunday, whirled by with a dizzying array of presentations, performances, installations, and rituals. From Carolyn Hillyer’s haunting poetic recollections of indigenous nomadic women’s meetings to Bilawara Lee’s presentation on Aboriginal Spirituality to Luiza Frazao’s scholarship on the Double-Faced Goddess of Portugal, there were dozens of opportunities to learn, deepen, and connect with the many faces and facets of Goddess.

On the final night of the conference, attendees were invited to attend a masquerade ball, and instructed to dress up as the goddess of their choosing. Fantastic costumes and the pulsing drum rhythms of Seventh Wave Music, along with a coincidental fireworks show at the Glastonbury Abbey next door, made it a night to remember.

[Courtesy Y. Mathews]

The last event was a festive, banner-laden march through the streets of town and a brisk hike up the Tor, where songs, final messages, and a fruit feast were shared. With the beautiful banners that are the legacy of Lydia Ruyle flapping and scattering their colors in the crowd, dozens upon dozens of people of all ages made the trek up the steps, which are cut into the side of the hill.

From the top of the Tor, the crowd enjoyed the view high above the Chalice Well and the White Spring. With the winds whipping their hair and faces, attendees cheered and celebrated yet another year of sacred communion with Goddess. As for Katinka Soetens and Marion Brigantia Van Eupen, the two gave themselves a few weeks of rest after a successful first run, then got back to work. As of Sept 19, Van Eupen posted on Facebook:

Tuesday is conference day, every week on Tuesday Katinka and I work on the weaving of next year’s Moon Maiden Conference… Which presenters will be sharing their deep wisdom…Which artist will colour the town…Which priestesses will do what ceremony…So much to weave to create the most beautiful moon tapestry! I love Tuesdays!

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.