The Goddess in Glastonbury
Now available free (online only)
All you ever wanted to know about the Goddess in Glastonbury, finding her in the landscape and legends of the Isle of Avalon. Including many beautiful drawings by Diana Griffiths and with many photographs.
This book is now virtually out-of-print. It has been re-published online to read for free – click on the cover to read. If you seek one of the last few copies of the printed book, please contact Kathy for information.
Printing single copies of this book for personal use (only) is permitted.
In celebration of our two unborn Ancestors
From time immemorial, the Isle of Avalon, in the Summerland (Somerset, England), has been home to the Goddess. This ancient sacred place is the legendary Western Isle of the Dead. Dedicated to an awesome and powerful Goddess, this Island lay far to the west in a shining sea. People were called here to die, to be transformed and to be reborn.
By tradition, a group of nine, thirteen or nineteen Maidens or Faerie Queens live, some say even today, upon this mysterious Western Isle. Skilled in healing and the magical arts of creation and death, they are the Keepers of the Mysteries of the Goddess. Their names come to us as those of Goddesses Anu, Danu, Mab, Morrigu, Madron, Mary, Arianrhod, Cerridwen, Rhiannon, Epona, Rigantona, Bride, Brigit, Hecate, Magdalena, Morgana, Gwenhwyfar, Vivien, Nimue.
The Isle of the Dead is the gateway to Annwn, the Underworld of the Goddess, where the souls of the deceased await rebirth. The guardian of its entrance is Arawn or Gwyn ap Nudd – Gwyn son of Nudd or Ludd, the annual year king sacrifice now united with His Goddess. Gwyn is also Heme the Hunter, the Oak King and Cernunnos the Stag God. It is said that on Midsummer Night’s Eve Gwyn rides out across Glastonbury Tor with the red-eared white dogs of the Wild Hunt of Annwn, sweeping in the souls of the dead to the Cauldron of the Dark Mother.
Today the sea and tidal lakes which once surrounded the Western Isle have been drained away. The seashore now lies 18 miles away to the west across the flat Summerland meadows, which are criss-crossed with rivers and small drainage canals, known as rhynes.
But when it rains heavily, the water in the rivers and rhynes rises quickly, spilling over the low banks and flooding out into the pastureland. The sea returns once more and again this Western Isle of the Dead rises out from the water and is visible for all to see.
THE GODDESS IN THE LANDSCAPE
Glastonbury is one of those places where the very shape of the landscape speaks to the people who visit or live upon Her slopes. For it is here that the Body of the Goddess can be seen outlined in the contours of the small group of hills which rise out of the flat Summerland meadows.
The Goddess appears in different forms to different people and as Her Nature changes with the seasons, She presents Her many faces to those with eyes to see.
For some people the whole Island is Her spread and Birth-giving body.
THE BIRTH GODDESS
Approaching Glastonbury from the southeast and the direction of Baltonsborough and Butleigh, many people have noticed that the side-view of the Isle of Avalon presents the profile of a giant Goddess lying down lengthways before them across the moors.
Stonedown is the head of the Goddess, sinking back into the landscape. The Tor rises up as Her left breast and Her rib-cage. Chalice Hill is Her pregnant belly. Bere Lane marks Her hips and Wearyall Hill is Her left thigh and leg, Her foot sinking into the ground towards the nearby town of Street.
The Great Mother is the primordial aspect of the Divine, celebrated and revered throughout the ancient world. As all human life is born from a woman’s body, so the Goddess was known to be the Source of all life. The earliest known sculptures are of the Birth-giving Goddess. The squat all-seeing Venus of Willendorf, which is 30,000 years old, is one example out of many.
As the Earth Mother She is Gaia. For the Celts and those who came before She is Anu-Danaa, the Good Mother, Goddess of Plenty. She is Madron, Mother of All. As a Moon Goddess, She is the Full Moon, shining radiantly to lighten the darkness of the night-time landscape. She is experienced by women when they are pregnant and during the fertile phase of the menstruation cycle.
To the Welsh She is Arianrhod, High Fruitful Mother. Ariadne, our Kretan inspiration, means High Fruitful Mother of the Barley, derived from the same root as Demeter, Barley Mother – De meaning barley.
Moving round to the West of the Island in the direction of Meare, the spread body of the Goddess can be seen from the banks of the River Brue. The pregnant womb of Chalice Hill is in the centre, with the breast of the Tor rising behind. Her right breast is flattened falling down to the side of Paradise Lane. Her right leg is tucked beneath itself as St Edmund’s or Windmill Hill. The left leg of Wearyall stretches down to the right. From here the head of Stonedown is not visible. From above Her whole body is visible.
In the landscape of Glastonbury, below Her womb lie the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, site of the first Christian Church in Britain, prominently situated in the Vagina of the Birth-Giving Goddess. The remains of the Mary Chapel in the crypt of the Abbey, lie in this potent and creative part of the Goddess’s body.
Within Christianity, the Virgin Mary, the pure and spotless Mother of God, is the only nearly-acceptable face of the Goddess to be found. She is as yet unrecognised as the Virgin (One unto Herself) Mother Goddess. It would seem however that the first Christian builders must have been aware of the significance of this sacred spot when they planned their sanctuary. The Virgin Mary was often honoured in sites which are sacred to the Goddess.
The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey lie in the Vagina of the Birth Goddess in the heart of the town of Glastonbury. Volumes have been written on the Abbey and its place in Christianity and there are many guide books available which describe its history. For the lover of the Goddess there are a few interesting details in this takeover of one of the main Goddess sites in Britain. For as with all places where the patriarchal religion of the one male God sought supremacy, it built its phallic extravagances in the Vulva of the Goddess, thinking thereby to crush Her.
Glastonbury Abbey was erected upon the site of the first Christian church in Britain, built by Joseph of Arimathea in 63AD. According to William of Malmesbury’s De Antiquitate Glastoniensis, Joseph and his friends were told by a vision of the Angel Gabriel to build a church in honour of the Holy Mother of God – the Mother Goddess, and the Virgin Mary – the Goddess Mary, in a place shown them from heaven. This they did, building a small circular wattle church, which they dedicated to the Mother of God. For the early inhabitants of the Summerland the Virgin Mary was the Triple Goddess Brigit, who was the Goddess of Childbirth. At a later time St. Bridget was said to have been the midwife to Mary and wet-nurse to Jesus.
One of the most potent places in Glastonbury is the ruined Mary Chapel or St Joseph’s Chapel as it is sometimes known, in the Abbey. The proportions of the existing Mary Chapel are based on the gematria or sacred proportions of the Vesica Piscis, in which two interlocking circles overlap to form the Yoni or Vulva of the Goddess. It is from Her Vulva that we are born into the world and it is through union with Her, spiritually, emotionally and sexually that we shall return to Her.
These proportions were re-discovered by Frederick Bligh Bond, the architect and clairvoyant, when he excavated the ruins of the Abbey, beginning in 1908. The study of the sacred geometry of the Abbey has since been developed by John Michell and Keith Critchlow.
Bligh Bond also found an Omphalos or egg stone during his excavations. This beautiful Omphalos now lies behind the Abbot’s Kitchen in the Abbey grounds, its significance forgotten. The Omphalos is a universal representation of the Goddess as Egg of Life, Womb and Tomb. Shaped like an egg it has a depression in one surface. Here the menstruating Oracle of the Goddess would sit, Her holy blood collecting as she gave voice to the Word of the Goddess. This was the blood of the Goddess Charis, Aphrodite, Venus, Goddess of sexual love, from which the word Eucharist, meaning communion, comes. This blood was used in healing.
There are many descriptions of famous Oracles dedicated to the Word of the Goddess in the ancient world, and no important decision would be taken without listening to Her Voice. Many choices today could benefit from time spent sitting upon Her Stone.
There is another depression in the Glastonbury Omphalos where the monks tried to christianise the egg stone by mounting it with a cross of sacrifice. This stone still gives off powerful vibrations and is a wonderful spot for a menstruating woman to sit.
The grounds of Glastonbury Abbey are now a green and peaceful parkland with many unusual species of trees, including a small cider apple orchard. It is as if the Mons Veneris of the Birth Goddess were once again being allowed to sprout Her pubic hair.
FESTIVAL OF THE MOTHER GODDESS
Lammas is one of the four ancient Fire Festivals of the year, which come at the cross-quarter points between the Winter and Summer Solstices and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. These festivals mark turning points in the relationship between the Earth and Her fiery Mother, the Sun, revealing the different aspects of the Goddess. Lammas marks the midway point between the Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox and is celebrated on July 31st, Aug 1st and 2nd, between the hay and corn harvests.
Lammas is the time of celebration for the fertility of the Mother Goddess and the fruits of Her body, the Earth. For the Celts, it was the feast of Anu Danaa, the Mother Goddess, of Madron and of Arianrhod, the Birth Goddess. The first sheaves of ripened corn or other appropriate cereal are still made into a Corn Doll, or Barley Doll, in the image of the Mother Goddess, who is also Ceres, Demeter, Goddess of the Grain, the Barley Mother, Mistress of Earth and Sea. The Corn Doll is blessed and kept beside the hearth through the autumn.
At Eleusis an ear of corn symbolising the inherent life lying dormant in the fruit of all plants, played a central part in the Mysteries of Demeter. At Lammas Her special drink of barley, water and mint is drunk. This is the Kykeon, the sacramental cup of the Eleusinian Initiates.
Cornucopiae are goat’s horns of plenty overflowing with flowers and fruit, which are brought to the Goddess’s shrine in thanksgiving. It was the horns of the Goat Goddess Amalthea, which suckled the young God Zeus, saving his life, in the cave on Dicte on Krete. In Britain several sculptures have been found of the Deae Matrones, the Celtic Triple Mother Goddess, depicted as three robed figures, each carrying a cornucopia. Lammas is their festival, a celebration of human fecundity and the fruits of the Earth.
The name Lammas come from Lugh nasadh – ‘Commemoration of Lugh’ or Llew, who was annually sacrificed as the Corn King to ensure the fertility of the crops. In mediaeval times Lammas was a Festival of mourning for Lugh and for all dead kinsfolk.
These are known in the north of Britain as Wakes weeks, some of which are still celebrated at Lammas, as summer holidays. It was a time to visit the home of your Ancestors to give them due respect and honour. Glastonbury has long been a place of pilgrimage for people of all faiths. Many people visit Avalon, the Isle of the Dead, in the summer.
The dried ears of corn from the Corn Doll are planted in the earth at the following Imbolc in February, returning the Daughter seed to Mother Earth. The dried stems are burned and the ashes spread on the earth, the fire releasing the life of the previous year’s harvest back into the Earth. So the cycle of the Goddess is renewed.
The last sheaf of corn from the end of the harvest is hung above the fire through the autumn, containing the life inherent in all fruit. This sheaf will be made into a Bridie Doll at the following Imbolc.
Echoes of the Lammas festival come down to us in the Christian harvest festival when the fruits of the harvest are brought into the church in thanksgiving.
THE CHILD OF THE GODDESS: THE MAIDEN
All Great Mothers must have a child and the Goddess in Glastonbury is no exception. To the southwest of the Island at Beckery, in a forgotten, derelict, industrialised area of Glastonbury, covered in part by the town’s sewage works, lies Bride’s Mound. This large mound can be seen as the emerging head of Her Child being born from between the spread legs of the Goddess. To stand or sit on Bride’s Mound is to feel embraced by the landscape of the Birth-Giving Goddess.
From archaeology, from The High History of the Holy Graal, written in the 13th century, and from legend, we know that a community of women lived on Bride’s Mound. Even today Bride’s Mound is a large mound which would easily have supported a group of women with their own vegetable and herb gardens and chickens, even a cow. This was the women’s sacred space with its own now lost Bride’s Well.
Until quite recently the Mound was surrounded by the tidal waters of the River Brue, which could be crossed at Pomparles Bridge or the Pons Perilous in the Grail legends. Visitors to the sacred land would cross this dangerous bridge to spend a twenty-four hour vigil with the women, before being allowed to enter the island. During this time they would have a vision or a dream of spiritual significance to take with them unto her Body.
Excavations on the Mound have revealed the remains of an early chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the unrecognised Dark aspect of the Triple Mary Goddess. This chapel was part of a Mary Magdalene hermitage. It was here that St Bridget lived when she came to Glastonbury.
According to legend King Arthur came to the Magdalene Chapel at dawn one Ash Wednesday, to find the door guarded by fiery swords, so no-one unworthy could enter. Within, an aged priest begins to say mass. The Virgin Goddess Mary appears with the baby Jesus in Her arms. The child is taken as the sacrament and his flesh is eaten, but afterwards he reappears whole and unharmed. At the end of the ceremony, the Mother Goddess gave Arthur an equal-armed cross of crystal, which was reputedly kept in the Abbey for many centuries and may still lie buried there. In memory of this vision Arthur changed his standard from that of a dragon to a silver cross on a green field, with the Mother Goddess and Her Son in one quarter and three crowns in the others. These later became the arms of Glastonbury Abbey.
Bride’s Mound takes its name from Bride, Brigit, Brighde – the Triple Goddess of the Celts. A chapel dedicated to St. Bridget was built on Beckery or Little Ireland, in the fifth century. The nuns who lived here were said to celebrate Easter at the Aries full moon, no matter what day of the week it was. They lived in tune with the cycles of the Moon Goddess. St Bridget’s emblem as the nurturing Goddess, of a woman milking a cow, is still visible on St Michael’s Tower on the Tor and around the doorway to St Mary’s Chapel in the Abbey.
The Goddess Brigit is the Triple Goddess of Brigantia, the ancient Celtic nation which included the British Isles, Brittany and parts of Spain. She is the Brigit of Poetry and Inspiration; the Brigit of Healing through the reciting of poetry at sacred Wells and Springs, and She is Brigit of the Flame, Hearth and Smithcraft. She is Goddess of the New Moon, experienced by women as a wave of renewed creativity and wellbeing after menstruation. Her symbol is a White Swan. Her flower is the snowdrop.
The perpetual flame at Her shrine at Kildare in Ireland was said to have been tended by nineteen Virgins (One unto Themselves), symbolising the approximately nineteen-year (metonic) cycle of relationship between the moon and the sun. Brigit is also known as Bride of the Golden Hair and Bride of the White Hills. For the Irish She is popularly known as Mary of the Gael, equated with the Virgin Goddess Mary as Muse and inspiration.
FESTIVAL OF THE MAIDEN GODDESS
The Festival of Imbolc takes place half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and is celebrated on January 31st, Feb 1st and February 2nd. It lies opposite to Lammas, the festival of the Mother Goddess, and can be seen as the Festival of the Daughters of the Goddess. Where Demeter is the Mother Goddess, it is a festival of Kore, the Maiden.
In Glastonbury Imbolc is the Maiden Brigit’s Festival in which the Light of Illumination from Her perpetual flame is brought into a darkened room, heralding the coming of spring. Small honey and barley cakes are eaten and milk drunk in Her honour. On the first day, the ears of corn from the Lammas Corn Doll are planted in the ground and the dried stalks are burned, the flame releasing the life back into the earth. The ashes are spread upon the ground.
In the evening a Bridie Doll is made from the last sheaves of corn harvested in the previous summer, which have hung by the hearth through the autumn. The Doll is made in the image of Brigit. Like the Corn Doll of Lammas She is decorated with love and good wishes for the coming year. Through the night the Bridle Doll is laid in a manger next to the fecundating flame.
On the following day, the Maiden Bridie Doll is taken with Her Mother and Grandmother Dolls from previous years to the Sacred Well to receive Brigit’s Blessing. Brigit’s Healing aspect is celebrated through Poetry spoken beside the Sacred Spring. Unlike the Lammas Corn Doll, who returns Her life force and seeds back into the earth each year, the Bridie Dolls symbolise the nature of the Triple Goddess as She moves from Maiden to Mother to Grandmother.
A new Bridle Doll is made each Imbolc, who then becomes part of the larger group of Mother and Grandmother Bridle Dolls. She brings knowledge of the present and future to them and learns from them their ancient wisdom. She represents the circle of the Ancestors who we will one day all join.
GLASTONBURY AS BIRTH GODDESS
Glastonbury is a small eccentric country town where many people come to live an internalised womb-like life for a time. It may be nine or eighteen months or more, before they are reborn, sometimes spewed out from the body of the Great Mother. As the Goddess in the landscape is ever-pregnant and continuously giving Birth, this process is repeated in the many different areas of life for those who live here. Visitors too are catalysed into new ways of living by the touch of Her Life-Giving Body.
The Birth Goddess is ever-pregnant and like Her, Glastonbury is a place of gestation, where new ideas, feelings and ways of being are glimpsed and anchored into consciousness and physical expression. It is here that dreams are nurtured and brought to birth, sometimes with great ease and at others with great difficulty, just like physical birth.
THE HOLY WATERS OF GLASTONBURY
Springs, wells and flowing water have long been associated with the Goddess as Water of Life. A woman’s pregnant womb is filled with water and water passages are considered to be the way into the underground Womb of the Goddess.
Water is often a metaphor for love held too tightly in the hand – it flows away. Water, like love, is essential for fertility and creativity, without which the psychic world as well as the physical world becomes a desert.
Goddess shrines are nearly always found near to wells, springs, lakes or the sea. In Christian times churches, hermitages and anchorages, especially those dedicated to women saints, were to be found near to a sacred well or spring.
The Lady of the Lake was revered in Avalon in Arthurian times, but was worshipped here as the Goddess in much earlier days when Glastonbury was surrounded by tidal lakes. A large lake village has been found near Glastonbury dating from 300BCE, with the earliest wooden trackway in the British Isles, dating from 3,500BCE.
Within Glastonbury Tor itself is a huge volume of water, rising at great pressure from beneath the earth. On the northeastern side of the Tor is a Water Board manhole cover where the force of water can be heard roaring under the earth. The breast of the Mother is full of the White Milk of Life.
In Glastonbury there are still many wells to be found, but sadly some of them lie forgotten and in a state of disrepair. Chalice Well is the only well which is truly honoured on the island. Here the healing properties of water and the peaceful atmosphere of the surrounding gardens are recognised.
The White Spring which flows from beneath the Tor is once more being cared for and is dressed with flowers and candles at the eight fire festivals. The White Spring flows from beneath the Tor and has a high limestone content. It is probably from this Chalk Well that the name of Chilkwell Street comes. Brigit’s healing water can be collected from inside the converted Wellhouse or from a small spout outside. Likewise the red Chalice Well water can be freely collected on the opposite side of Wellhouse Lane as well as from within the gardens, when open. These are the red and white waters of Annwn. Cerridwen, the Keltic Crone Mother can be translated as White Water Goddess.
The Holy Well on the Old Wells Road has become a fishpond. Paradise Well, which is near to Gog and Magog, two ancient Druid oaks remaining from a grove which once led up to the Tor, sits in the middle of a field covered in brambles with crumbling brickwork. St Edmund’s Well also crumbles in an orchard with trees growing up around its edges. The site of St Bride’s Well is marked by a beautifully carved stone beside the River Brue near to Bride’s Mound.
There is a lovely well at the rear of the Tribunal in the High Street. The Tribunal is a fifteenth century building which was once the Glastonbury courthouse. It now houses the Tourist Information office and the Lake Village Museum, where there is a photograph of two nuns who lived here in the earlier part of this century – holy women living by a well.
St Joseph’s Well in Glastonbury Abbey can be found beneath the Mary Chapel. It was neglected for years and has recently been covered over, so the waters cannot now be touched or drunk. This Well is the earliest structure on the Abbey site and is probably the reason why the First Church was built here. Mary’s holy waters should be available to honour.
It is time for the honouring, opening up and caring for the sacred Wells and Springs. It is important for our psyches and souls as well as our bodies to honour the Goddess of the Waters. It is important that we recognise and welcome her fluid emotion and feeling once again as part of our life.