In the Nature of Avalon
The many faces of the Goddess in Glastonbury/Avalon
As well as the Nine Morgens who dwell upon the Isle of Avalon, there are other goddesses who are strongly associated with both Glastonbury and Avalon. They make their appearance in legends and folk tales, in the topography of the landscape and sometimes they are associated with particular places. Their qualities and attributes can be traced back to ancient goddesses who were once honoured everywhere in Brigit’s Isles (the British Isles). Research has revealed lots of information for some of them, but for others there is still little, perhaps only a name and a faint echo of their presence, the perfume of their passage. As we make our present day goddess pilgrimages across the sacred landscape we are invoking their presence, calling to them to return to consciousness so that they become more visible to us, and known in the outer, as well as the inner worlds.
Our Lady of Avalon – Brigit Morg Ana
Our Lady of Avalon is the goddess who rules over Avalon. It is in her service that we who love her, live and move and have our being. She is the one revealed in this sacred place by the many. She is Queen of the upper, middle and lower worlds. She is Sovereignty, Goddess of the Land and of Nature. She is Lady of the Waters, of the Springs and Wells, and Lady of the Lake. She is Mystress of the Underworld of Annwn and Queen of Heaven. She is Brigit Morg Ana, from Brigit the Fiery Arrow, Mor meaning Great and Ana the originating goddess whose name appears in many forms throughout the British Isles (Spinning the Wheel of Ana by the author, Ariadne Publications).
Mari0n Zimmer Bradley wrote eloquently of the Lady of Avalon in her great novel, The Mists of Avalon and in The Lady of Avalon. These books speak deeply to many women, triggering memories of past and future incarnations lived here, celebrating women’s truths, bringing them on pilgrimage to Glastonbury in search of the goddess and her priestesses. It is Our Lady of Avalon who calls us to Glastonbury, where in her sacred landscape we can experience the beauty, wisdom and power of her transformative nature.
Brigit, Bridie, Bride, Brighde or Bridget is one of the most well known of Glastonbury’s goddesses. She is the ancient triple fire goddess in both Ireland and Brigit’s Isles. The Hebrides in Western Scotland are named for her, HeBrides, and she was widely honoured there until the end of the nineteenth century as Bride and as Mary of the Gael. She is also Brigantia who was once loved throughout western Europe, whose name became Britannia or Brigit-Anna, a combination of Brigit and the Great Ana. Britannia is goddess of the grain whose picture still appears on British bank notes. Today’s martial images of Britannia show her with a sheaf of grain in her lap or on her arm, a sun disc which has become a shield, and a spear as her secret consort. The elements of the earlier bountiful and peace-loving goddess are still there in the image for those with eyes to see.
Bridie is goddess of healing particularly connected to sacred wells and healing springs, and there are many healing Bride’s Wells throughout Britain and Ireland. Bridie is goddess of poetry and inspiration often received and spoken outdoors in nature or beside the tinkling waters of holy springs. She is goddess of the sacred hearth found at the heart of all homes and her sacred fire is renewed annually at Imbolc, the Keltic festival which falls around February 1st. Brighde (also pronounced Bridie) is goddess of smithcraft, the alchemical art in which metallic ores are heated in the fire until the impurities slough off, leaving pure metals, like gold and silver, which are transformed into articles of great beauty. As an allegory of the alchemical process smithcraft describes the means by which we as human beings are purified by the goddess’s fire to reveal the beauty of our souls. Bridie is thus equated with Sophia, goddess of wisdom, whose presence is sought by all those who follow the alchemical quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone – to earth the wisdom of Sophia.
Bridie is particularly associated with Glastonbury/Avalon through the natural swan-shape of the island, the swan being one of Bridie’s totem creatures. In the landscape the swan can be seen flying from the northeast to the southwest, across the flat Somerset levels, her outstretched body encompassing all of Glastonbury’s hills and vales. Wearyall Hill is the swan’s extended neck and head, and the Tor, Chalice Hill, Windmill Hill and Stonedown form the rest of her body and wings. In folklore Bridie is a Swan Maiden, who flies from the emotional waters to the heavenly spaces, transforming herself from the beautiful Maiden whom men adore on sight and wish to marry, into a snowy white swan. Among Bridie’s other totem creatures are the White Cow with red ears, the Snake and the Wolf.
Bridie is also associated with Glastonbury in Christian legend through St Bridget, who is said to have lived here for a time in 488CE staying in a hermitage dedicated to Mary Magdalene on a small mound to the southwest of the town, which today is known as Bride’s Mound. It is also called the Salmon (after its fish shape) of Beckery, or Little Ireland, named because of the numbers of Irish folk who stayed here. A church was later built there to St Bridget, which now lies beneath the surface of the mound. Not far away beside the River Brue (a name also derived from Bride), there is a small carved stone which once marked the site of St Bride’s Well. As has become clear through feminist scholarship and research where there was a saint there was usually a goddess there before. Where we find St Bridget we know that the goddess Bridie once was honoured.
In the present day in Glastonbury Bridie is particularly celebrated at the festival of Imbolc at the beginning of February. Bridie Dolls are made, ceremonies are held at the White Spring and Chalice Well, and in the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms. A pilgrimage is made to Bride’s Mound located in what is now a derelict part of the town. With complete disrespect for the ancient sanctity of the Mound the town’s sewage farm was built upon its slopes.
The Friends of Bride’s Mound are attempting to save the mound as a sacred site for the future.
The Crone of Avalon
Viewed from above at a higher contour level in the Glastonbury landscape, a second figure of an Old Woman seen from the side, is visible. She kneels upon the swan’s back in a contrasting Picasso-like image. This Crone of Avalon has a hunched back, sagging breasts and womb and a crown upon her head. Her breast is Chalice Hill, her ancient womb is Glastonbury Tor, Stonedown is her bent and hunched back and Windmill Hill is her head with its starry crown. She is the Old Woman of Avalon, the Dark Goddess whose image signifies the powerful underworld forces which can be experienced here in Glastonbury. She is a Morgen – Tyronoe the Crone, who rules the Western Isle of the Dead with its gateway to Annwn, the Underworld of the goddess, where souls await rebirth. The entrance to the underworld is located on Glastonbury Tor. It is guarded by Gwyn ap Nudd, the white son of Nudd or Nodens, who is Lord of the Underworld and guardian of its gateways. On Midsummer’s Eve Gwyn can sometimes seen riding across the slopes of Glastonbury Tor with the red-eared dogs of Annwn sweeping the souls of the dead into the Dark Mother’s cauldron.
On this Isle of the Dead we are taken down into the depths of our own unconsciousness to explore all that has been repressed and forgotten. For women this often happens through our relationships with individual men who play for us the role of Gwyn ap Nudd, leading us through love towards the entrance to the underworld where we must face our fixed animus shadows. For men it is often women who play out the role of the bad Morgen la Fey, seducing them with beauty into a dark and anima ridden world.
Once in the Underworld Tyronoe holds a minor to our shadows, bringing us face to face with our darkest deepest secrets. As we slowly begin to recognise them she keeps us imprisoned in her depths, watching silently as we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into the darkness, until finally we reach the river of creativity that lies beneath the bottom of her realm. Only then does she allow us to return with the treasures of her world, gleaming like jewels, revealed by the light of consciousness. Hers are the initiations of the heart, asking us always to expand and grow, to become more inclusive and more loving of ourselves and others. Her presence in the landscape warns of the deeply transformative processes which await those who venture into the heart of Avalon. She is not to be taken lightly as she brings death to our illusions before our rebirth into a more loving world.
The Great Mother
One of the glories of the goddess is that she is mutable, ever-changing, presenting different faces to each person who goes in search of her. She is one and she is many, and within each of the many the one is also to be found. So too when we look at her sacred landscape we can see more than one image of her in the same physical location. Just as we can see the outline of the Swan Maiden and the Crone in the topography of Glastonbury’s hills, the third goddess in the triplicity of Maiden, Mother, Crone, is also visible. As many people have noticed the Great Mother appears in the form of a giant woman lying on her back on the flat Summerland meadows. In this goddess image her head shoulders and right arm sink back into the earth as the folds of Stonedown, the lower hill on the northeastern side of Glastonbury Tor.
The Tor itself is the Great Mother’s left breast reaching up to the sky with an erect nipple created by St Michael’s tower, visible from miles around. And just like any woman who lies on her back the Great Mother’s right breast has slipped round to the side, becoming flattened and not so visible as the left, but still there. Chalice Hill is the Mother’s pregnant belly, a soft and dreamy hill filled with all that is new and awaiting birth. Wearyall Hill is her left leg with its knee slightly bent, the foot sunk down into the earth near Bride’s Mound, while her right leg is tucked under as St Edmund’s and Windmill Hill. As she lies on the earth the Mother Goddess continually gives birth to the town of Glastonbury from her vulva beneath Chalice Hill.
In the Trioedd Ynys Prydein, the Welsh Triads, translated by Rachel Bromwich, there is mention of a Mother Goddess Modron, mother of Owain and a daughter of the lineage of Avallach, out of Avalon. I like to reclaim this Modron or Madron as Mother of the lineage of Avallach, she who is also known as Mystress Glitonea, one of the Nine Morgens and as the Great Mother in the landscape of Avalon.
As Geoffrey Ashe noted Glastonbury has long been a place where the new is born, from Christianity to the New Age. It is a place where ideas and spiritual impulses are brought to birth out of the Great Mother’s dreaming womb.
The Lady of the Lake
In legend as well as in present day experience the Lady of the Lake is connected to the waters which once surrounded the Glass Isle and Isle of Avalon, as well as to the sacred springs which flow from the slopes of the island. In the Arthurian legends she is named as Vivienne, who gives the magical sword Excalibur forged on the Isle of Avalon to King Arthur, who is also the foster-mother of Lancelot. But she has other names given in Caitlin and John Matthews’ best written book Ladies of the Lake (Aquarian Press), where she is Igraine, Guinevere, Morgen, Argante, Nimue, Enid, Kundry, Dindraine and Ragnell. As Lady of the Lake she is keeper of the treasures of the emotional watery realms. She is guardian of the heart, of the contents of the Holy Grail of Innocence, of the Chalice of Love and all the magical Cauldrons of Plenty, Regeneration, Poetry and Wisdom. In legend all of these evocative and symbolic wombs of transformation are carried and guarded by women, some in groups of nine like the Morgens and others by individuals, such as the Grail Queen, Morgen la Fey or Keridwen with their Cauldrons of inspiration and regeneration.
In the winter months floodwaters frequently overflow from Bridie’s River Brue which passes around the southern flank of Glastonbury’s low hills, and also from the many rhynes which crisscross the Somerset levels. Glastonbury’s hills become almost completely surrounded by water reminding us of the time when Ynys Witrin was a physical island or peninsula surrounded by tidal waters, lakes and marshland, where the Lady of the Lake was honoured for her bounteous nature. Then the rich waters teemed with fish and fowl and safe refuges were created in Lake Villages, built on timber and brush wood platforms above the tidal pools. The oldest wooden trackway across the lake marshes has been found here preserved in the peat dating from the 4th millennium BCE. It is also from that time, that a goddess dolly was found buried in the peat bog. Originally named by archeologists as a god dolly because there is a lateral protrusion, she actually has large discernible breasts.
Perhaps then the lake peoples living in the Summerland took the bodies of their dead to the sacred Isle of the Dead for sky burial, leaving them on top of the Tor, the only high ground for miles around, to be eaten by carrion birds, vultures, eagles, buzzards, ravens and crows. The latter still fly here today.
This goddess of the waters is also the Lady of the Wells and Springs which flow from her body. She is Lady of the Red Waters of the Blood Spring and Lady of the White Tor Waters, who is also Bridie. Today deep springs still pour from the slopes of the island. Two of them are particularly honoured: the strong iron-rich red waters of Chalice Well which arise from beneath Chalice Hill and flow out through the beautiful and peaceful Chalice Well gardens; and the clear sweet waters of the adjacent White Spring, which arise from beneath Glastonbury Tor, coming to the surface in the dark cavern of a stone building which was formerly a reservoir. These two, the red and the white springs are the ancient colours of the goddess, representing both her powerful menstrual blood and her white fertile vaginal essence, colours of creation and regeneration. Red and white are also the alchemical colours of feminine and masculine potency which when brought into balance within human beings, bring the gifts of wisdom. At the present time the Red and White Springs are separated from each other by Wellhouse Lane, the road up to the Tor, and many of us await the day when the two springs which arise so closely to each other will flow once again within a single garden.
Our Lady Mary of Glastonbury
Mary is the divine woman who was the mother of Jesus. After receiving a dream Joseph of Arimathea dedicated a small round wattle church to Mary the Mother of God, or as we know her, Mary the Mother Goddess who is Mother of all the Gods. The expressions of Goddess Mary as loving mother, as Mary Magdalene the healer, sacred harlot, lover and wife of Jesus, and as Black Madonna, all play a part in local mythology to the present day. As in other places many of Mary’s attributes as a goddess are hidden here beneath the layers of Christian tradition. We can still find signs and symbols of Goddess Mary’s presence as we make our pilgrimage to Our Lady Mary of Glastonbury.
Ariadne of the Red Thread, Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel
Ariadne of the Red Thread is perhaps best known to most of us through the Kretan story in which she leaves a trail of red thread for the sun hero Theseus to find his way into and back out from the centre of the labrynth, in which the frightening Minotaur Asterion is contained. In this tale she is presented as the daughter of King Minos and the Moon Goddess Pasiphae. In fact Ariadne is much more than this. Among her earliest names she is called High Fruitful Mother of the Barley, Very Holy, Very Manifest One, Wise Virgin, Mother of All and Mystress of the Moon Maze or Labrynth. Her partner is Dionysus, the ecstatic Bull God of the vine and she too is a goddess of ecstasy, of creative fire and emotion. It is Ariadne who can lead us through the inner labrynth of our unconscious minds to the core of ourselves, to face our own Minotaurs, with their divine and inhuman qualities.
Ariadne’s celestial home in the heavens is Corona Ariadnae, which is the Corona Borealis or Crown of the North Wind. This collection of stars is also know as Caer Arianrhod, the home of the Keltic goddess Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel, thus equating the two goddesses Ariadne and Arianrhod. In her mythic life Arianrhod appears as the goddess of love the Flower Maiden Blodeuwedd, transforming herself into the Owl of Wisdom and later into the Old Sow of Samhain who eats her own offspring. She is the triple goddess and a transforming and redemptive power.
In the landscape of Avalon Ariadne of the Red Thread and Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel reveal themselves to us as we journey through the huge labrynth formed by the terraces which encircle the slopes of Glastonbury Tor. The sevenfold pattern of this labrynth is based upon a universal design which is found all over the world dating from ancient times, engraved on rocks and found on early Kretan coins. To walk this labrynth in a ceremonial manner is to make a journey of transformation inwards to the self and a spiralling passage to the celestial Caer Arianrhod. On the slopes of the Tor the shape of the labrynth is elongated and in some places difficult to follow, but still possible. To walk the labrynth with consciousness is a powerful and transformative rite of passage, a very physical and yet spiritual journey into the mysteries of the goddess in the sacred landscape of Avalon.
Rhiannon of the Birds
Rhiannon of the Birds is the ancient White Mare from the Sea. Her name, like Morgen and the Saxon mare goddess Rigantona, means Great Queen. She is Queen of the threefold crossways between the upper, middle and lower worlds and she can help us to travel between these worlds. She is imaged as a beautiful woman radiant in white, green or gold, riding a white mare surrounded by clouds of small birds. She is Queen of Elfiand and a day in her world is equal to a year and a day in the human world. There are stories of seekers in search of mystery falling in love with her on sight as she rides by. Climbing up onto her mare’s back they ride away with her into the hollow hills where the faeries live, to return sometimes many years later as true poets and prophets, or white haired and mad.
Glastonbury Tor is traditionally a hollow hill with secret tunnels beneath its slopes. Here if we are lucky we may see Rhiannon riding by on her white mare.
For more information on these and other British goddesses buy this book to see the individual pilgrimages given in it, and see Kathy’s earlier books, The Goddess in Glastonbury, The Ancient British Goddess, Spinning the Wheel of Ana and On Finding Treasure (Ariadne Publications).