The Goddess in Glastonbury
Chalice Well is to be found at the foot of Chalice Hill where the Red Waters of Birth and Menstruation flow from Her body at a constant rate of 25,000 gallons an hour and at a temperature of 52 degrees F. Full of the iron of Her blood these are healing waters, which in the 18th century brought people in their thousands to drink and bathe in search of miracle cures. For a time there was a deep and cold healing pool in which the sick could immerse themselves. It is now covered over.
Chalice Well lies in a beautiful garden cared for by the Chalice Well Trust and founded in 1958 by Wellesley Tudor Pole. The Red Spring fills a five-sided chamber and flows underground to the Lion’s head, where its water can be drunk. The waters flow down through the gardens splashing into a large Vesica Piscis shaped basin, near the gate, before flowing out beneath the town, along Chilkwell Street, and to the Abbey.
In the lower part of the Chalice Well Gardens the red Blood waters of Birth and Menstruation flow through the Yoni of the Goddess, symbolised by the Vesica Piscis.
The Vesica Piscis is the symbol of the Chalice Well, which decorated the wrought iron well-cover given by Frederick Bligh Bond, who first excavated the Abbey. The Vesica Piscis symbol is composed of two interlocking circles, whose overlapping arcs form the Yoni or Vulva of the Goddess. This symbol represents both our birthplace into earthly existence from the Womb of the Goddess and the gateway to spiritual knowledge through Her Yoni, through sexual union with Her.
On the Well cover this Vulva is pierced by a sword, a violent metaphor for the Phallus of the God. It is time that such swords were turned into ploughshares.
“Plough my Vulva,
man of my heart,
plough my Vulva”
sang the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld.
In the lower Chalice Garden it is the Red Blood water of birth and of menstruation, which as we all know, flows through the Vulva.
Yew trees have long been associated with the Red Spring. The remains of ancient yew trees at least 2,500 years old were found around the well and today large yew trees still grow in the gardens. The yew tree is sacred to the Triple Death Goddess, Hecate. Its bark, sap and berries are red. Its place in the Celtic Tree Calendar is the day before the Winter Solstice, the most deathly day of the year.
In women the red blood of menstruation marks another cyclic death. The monthly sloughing off of the red blood cells of the womb is death to the egg or any new life that may be hidden there. Menstruation is a time of dying, at the same time releasing the creative energy of the life that has been lost. Menstruation also indicates fertility. The menarche, the onset of menstruation in young women, indicates the beginning of the physically fertile phase of life as the menopause indicates its ending. So the blood of menstruation signals both physical and psychic fertility and death.
The Red Water which flows continuously from the Womb of Mother Earth symbolises birth, fertility and death. The Blood Spring is dedicated to the Death Goddess in three aspects, as the Maiden, Mother and Crone.
Chalice Well is the Well of the Grail, the Chalice and the Cauldron, the three kinds of Feminine Knowing – the Grail of the Maiden, the Chalice of the Mother and the Cauldron of the Crone. It is the perfect place to let things die, to give them away to the water and to the earth, to experience Her fertile Nature in the beautiful elemental gardens and to be reborn.
THE ISLE OF APPLES
Avalon means the Isle of Apples, a fruit sacred to the Dark Goddess. Celtic Kings received the Goddess’s magical apples of immortality and went away to live with Her in the Hollow Hills. An apple was given to the Kings of Britain to signify their sacred marriage to the Goddess of the land. The apple which Eve gave to Adam was the maligned Goddess’s sacred fruit of eternal life.
Cutting an apple across reveals the magical pentacle of the core, the Virgin Kore, Morgana, the underworld Goddess hidden within Demeter, the Earth Mother. This five-pointed star in a circle was the Egyptian hieroglyph for the underworld womb of transformation. Avalon is such a place of transformation.
Apple games are played on Hallowe’en at the end of October, during the Samhain Festival, which is sacred to the Crone Goddess. In patriarchal folklore apples were dangerous fruit, the Old Woman’s apple was often poisonous.
Today many small apple orchards are still to be found covering the lower slopes of the Isle of Avalon.
THE CRONE GODDESS
The Goddess appears in many forms in Avalon. From the flat Summerland meadows She is the Mother giving birth to her daughter the Maiden. But looking down from above at the contours of the island, She is the ancient Crone Goddess riding on the back of a Swan, bringing with Her death and regeneration into the future.
In the landscape of the Crone, the Tor with its ancient terracing is Her ever-pregnant womb. Chalice Hill is Her soft nourishing breast. The Red waters of Chalice Well are the constant bloodflow from Her womb. The White Spring is Her fertile essence. Her head with its crown and pointed nose is Windmill Hill where many people live and there is a good view in all directions. Her crooked body is formed by the undulations of Stonedown.
The Crone is the Death aspect of the Goddess, full of the wisdom of age and the nearness of death. Goddess of the Waning and Dark Moon She is the Hag, experienced by women as heightened psychic sensitivity during menstruation and after the menopause. Sometimes beautiful, often ugly, She is frightening to many. She rules over Annwn the Underworld. She is known by various names, such as Morgana, the Grandmother Goddess Ana, the Invincible Queen Death. She is the Triple Goddess Hecate and the black screaming hag Cerridwen. She is the Morrigu, the Death Goddess appearing in battle in the form of a raven.
In the legends of Glastonbury She is Morgan le Fey or Morgan the Fate, sister to King Arthur and Queen of the Dead. She was one of three Faerie Queens, who ferried the mortally wounded King Arthur in their Moonboat, to the enchanted Isle of the Dead. Sometimes She is a Ninefold Goddess. Nine Sisters called Morgen who rule the Western Isles of the Dead.
Morgana as Mother Death cast the destroying curse on all mortals, though Her favoured lovers were promised immortality in Her paradise. Morgan sat at the head of the table of the Green Knight presiding over the death and resurrection of the year Gods as they beheaded each other in due season. Gawain’s shield bore the pentacle of Morgan, the underworld Kore on a blood-red background.
As Hecate She is the darkness before the New Moon appears. She is the Moon Goddess of the Witches and Queen of all Hags. Statues of the Triple Goddess have three heads of a dog, a serpent and a horse. She has six arms carrying Her sacred symbols – three Torches to illuminate the Way in the Underworld, Her Athame of Ritual, Her Key to the secret passageways, and the Scourge with which She whips souls into Her Underworld realm. When souls arrive at the triple cross-roads of the Underworld it is Hecate who decides which realm they are fit for – the Asphodel Meadows of the Grey Annwn, the dark waters of the Black Annwn or the Apple orchards of the Middle Light. As an archetype She is vital to the understanding of our unconscious natures.
The Crone is also Mary Magdalena in Her role as the Death Goddess. It is She who anoints the Chosen One with oil, signifying the Sacrifice to be made. In paintings and sculptures the Magdalena often appears with a skull at Her feet. For many She is the main incarnation of the Black Goddess, the Sophia or wisdom of the Gnostics.
FESTIVAL OF THE DEATH GODDESS
Samhain is the autumn Feast of the Dead coming at the midway point between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It is celebrated on Oct 31st, Nov 1st and 2nd. Echoes of this ancient festival come down to us in Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night. Samhain is the Celtic New Year when the shortening days and dying vegetation mark the end of the old year and the beginning of the new and a time of dormancy and hidden changes.
On Hallowe’en children dress as witches, crones, warlocks and demons. Pumpkins, shaped like cauldrons are hollowed out and given Her face to ward off evil spirits. We bob beneath the water for Her magical apples of immortality. This is the night when the veil separating the visible and invisible worlds becomes thinner and the whole supernatural force is attracted to this seam between two years. It is now that we must face our demons and our fears. It is a time when anything can happen.
The ancient feast of the Death Goddess still includes the ritual burning of the annual Year King sacrifice, now known as Guy Fawkes, but continuing an ancient tradition. We throw apple halves marked with the Dark Goddess’s magical pentacle, to our loved ones across the Bonfire – Her good fire. It is in our relationships that the Dark Goddess often shows Her power confronting us with our hidden darkness.
As Cerridwen, the Death Goddess is the fearsome corpse-eating Sow, which is the waning Moon. It was into Her Cauldron of Regeneration that the Celts believed all souls must pass before re birth. This Cauldron was also a Cauldron of Inspiration. One of Her sons, Gwion received his inspiration through drinking three drops of the mead of wisdom, brewed in Her Cauldron. He became the poet Taliesin.
The Cauldron of the Crone – a Cauldron of Death. Regeneration and Inspiration
Glastonbury is the Cauldron of the Crone, a great melting pot of regeneration and inspiration for the people who come here.
This is the time of year when the clouds roll in across the flat Summerland and the mists thicken, shrouding the magical island and its secrets, concealing the landscape. Winter is approaching with its short cold days, bare landscape and darkness.
THE CRONE AND THE SWAN
In the landscape of Glastonbury the Crone Goddess rides on the back of a Swan flying to the South West. Wearyall Hill is the Swan’s outstretched neck and head, while the town and the lower slopes of the island form Her Body. The South West is the direction of the Dream, where the Kachinas, who are the Keepers of the Sacred Dream, live. To fly in this direction is to touch the Future.
The Swan is the ancient Bird and Snake Goddess in one form, with Her bird’s body and Her snake-like neck. Her presence is felt everywhere – on earth, in the skies and beyond the clouds, beyond the upper waters where the primordial Waters of Life lie. She rules over the Life-giving force of water. Swans have always lived in the rivers and rhynes of the Summerland marshes. For human beings they symbolise a life-long devotion that continues through the years.
Brigit is known as the White Swan. She shows by example the entrance into the Future. By following the Swan, we descend to the Dark Goddess whom She carries on her Back, to be reborn with inspiration and renewed creativity. As the Crone governs Samhain and the White Swan governs Imbolc, we meet this powerful combination of Goddesses during the winter months in Avalon.
THE TOR GODDESS
From a distance the most noticeable feature on the Isle of Avalon is the Tor as She rises out of the flat Summerlands. She sits like a Great Goddess, a huge bounteous female figure in the middle of a landscape bowl or Cauldron. To see Her is to love Her. To the north the Mendip Hills form the rim of the Cauldron while smaller hills lie to the south and east. Stretching out towards the west the land is below sea level.
Her Body is bounteous, fleshy, full of dips and folds. Her large belly, hips and thighs emphasise Her full sexual nature. She is the fecund Goddess of Love, Rhiannon, Aphrodite, Venus, the Morning and the Evening Star. She is Kundalini, rising Serpent Goddess of sexual energy and wisdom. She calls all to union, at-onement with Her. She is Goddess of the waxing Moon. Experienced by women during ovulation, She is full of desire, wisdom and creative potential.
There are many legends surrounding the Tor. It is one of the Hollow Hills where the Faerie Folk now live with their Queen, forced into exile when human beings forgot to acknowledge them. It was around such a Hollow hill at Beltane, that Pwyll, King of the Summerland adoringly followed the Goddess Rhiannon, as She rode on Her white horse. No matter how fast Pwyll rode, Rhiannon always remained the same distance away from him, until he said the right words – “Rhiannon, stop for me”. Rhiannon was then happy to stop for him. Their love for each other became legendary.
Rhiannon of the Birds is the Virgin (meaning complete within Herself) Goddess of sexual love, tied to no man, free to love whom She chooses.
Veiled in white She rides a white horse. She is the original powerful sexual image for all brides, now degraded in the patriarchy to symbolising a non-sexual virgin bride who loses her right to sexual freedom when she marries. She belongs to her husband. Rhiannon is also the archetype for Lady Godiva, the shameless woman who rides naked beneath a veil upon a white horse.
“Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see afine Lady ride on a white horse
With birds as Her halo
and bells on her toes,
She shall have music wherever She goes”
Somewhere upon the slopes of the Tor lies the entrance to the Underworld of Annwn and the Cauldron of the Dark Goddess. It may be near Her heart or through Her Yoni. There are tales of subterranean tunnels and caves where strange apparitions lurk, of people who went into the Tor through the hidden entrances, only to return years later old and white-haired or mad. On the north side of the Tor is a manhole cover, where the sound of continuously roaring water can be heard. Beneath this cover is a room belonging to the Water Authority, full of dials and wheels which control the water flow in the reservoir beneath the Tor. Seeing this room makes the idea of underground tunnels seem real.
It is not only the underground world of the Tor which holds a mystery. Upon the surface of the Tor there are seven levels of terracing, some easy to see and some lost in part by erosion. These are the present remains of a great three-dimensional maze based upon the same pattern as the ancient Kretan Labrynth of the Goddess. This pattern appears on coins from Krete, one of the major civilisations of the Goddess in the ancient world, on rocks at Tintagel and is found among the Hopi Indians as a symbol for Mother Earth.
The maze is a single pathway which winds back and forth seven times around the steep slopes of the Tor to the centre. The path must be retraced on the way out. There is no choice to be made in the pattern of this maze only to follow, the path and to continue when the going gets tough.
The entrance to the labrynth lies at the western end of the Tor near the bottom of Wellhouse Lane, and is marked by large fallen standing stones. The first turning of the maze is on the third level counting up from the bottom of the Tor and marked by a stone. The labrynth follows a pattern of 3 2 1 4 7 6 5, ending on the fifth outer circuit. It is here that psychically or in the past physically the journeyer in the maze, enters Her Body, near to Her heart. This maze pattern lures the lover of the Goddess to their psychic death within Her depths.
On Krete the pattern of this maze was received by the priestess in ritual communion with Ariadne as the Snake Goddess, source of inspiration and creative sexual energy. The Labrynth was laid out as a ritual dance floor and was sacred to the Moon Goddess in Her three aspects. The sacred Bull horns shaped like the Moon and symbol of the Taurean epoch were to be found at the centre. The ancient Crane dance which uses combinations of nine steps, representing the Ninefold Goddess, was danced into and out of this maze.
The labrynth took on a much more sinister meaning when the Minotaur the dangerous god/man/animal was imprisoned at the centre of a three dimensional Labrynth. The whole story symbolises the takeover of the major peaceful Goddess civilisation by the invading brutalising forces of patriarchy.
Like all mazes the journey to the centre is a journey into the Self to face the divine Goddess and/or the dangerous Minotaur. The seven levels can be viewed as the seven chakras with their associated qualities. They can also be seen as different physical, emotional, mental, psychological and spiritual states which alter as we change direction within the maze and as we climb up and down the slopes of Her Body. The Labrynth represents the fixed pattern of our destiny in Herworld. We cannot change its direction only how we live it.
The course of the Tor Labrynth is described in Geoffrey Ashe’s booklet, The Glastonbury Tor Maze. It takes approximately two and a half hours to walk into the centre of the maze and an hour and a half to walk out. Wear supportive shoes as the walking is all at an angle. It is a ritual maze and needs to be walked with awareness and reverence. It is a sacred rite of passage.
FESTIVAL OF THE VIRGIN GODDESS
Beltane is the fourth Fire Festival which lies at the midway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It is celebrated on April 30th, May 1st and 2nd. In Britain it marks the fullness of Springtime and the season of sexual love for plants, animals and humans.
Beltane is a time of celebration of the May Queen, the Virgin Goddess of sexual love, Maia. She is Virgin meaning unmarried and sexual. Holy Virgin was a title given to the harlot-priestesses of Ishtar, Asherah and Aphrodite, who dispensed the Mother’s Grace through sexual worship. They were healers, prophets, dancers, Brides of God. The May Queen is Rhiannon, Blodeuwedd or Olwen, the Flower Goddess. Under Christianity the Virgin Goddess was split into two – the non-sexual Virgin Mary Mother of God and Mary Magdalene the Whore. It was a case of divide and rule.
The Whore, who has been much maligned, is also known as the Black Goddess and the Black Virgin. She is the Sophia of the Gnostics, the Shekina of the Jews. She is the hidden, sexual, despised because She is too powerful, aspect of the Mary Goddess. It was the Magdalena who was the Lover and Companion to Jesus. The Whore is the Other face of the Crone Goddess, Her polar opposite in the yearly cycle. She is the Goddess who leads us through sexual passion to spiritual transformation. She shows the way to union with the Goddess through sexual union between women and men.
By tradition in Avalon women meet in the daylight beside the Blood Spring of Chalice Well to welcome the Goddess of Springtime. on April 30th. May Eve is Walpurgisnacht, the night when the witches fly around the Hollow Hills. It is a splendid time to walk into the centre of Her Maze upon the Tor, walking out of the Maze either with the dawn on Mayday or later at the end of Beltane. It is the night when a fire burns on the Tor and lovers jump over the fire together, pledging their faithful love for a year and a day to be renewed or abandoned on the next Beltane. It is the time for the Sacred Marriage, a union in the Sight of the Goddess.
For a few years, each Beltane, a branch of the Druid order laid out a ribbon Maze on the slopes of the Tor. The new May Queen danced Her way into the centre of the Maze, changing places with the May Queen of the old year, who danced out of the maze. The May Queen brings with Her flowering sprigs of hawthorn. Hawthorn blossoms were reputed to smell of women’s sexual emanations and were used in the orgiastic cult of the Goddess Cardea.
The Holy Thorn of Glastonbury which flowers in May and at Christmas, when a sprig is sent to the Queen, was reputedly brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimethea. It is probably another patriarchal story built upon an earlier celebration of the union between the sacred King and the Goddess of the land. The royal sprig is a reminder in the depths of winter of the promises made in the Sacred Marriage between King and Goddess and of the fertile springtime sexuality of the Goddess.
Beltane was the time when the Sacred Marriage took place between the Goddess and Her Chosen Consort, who would rule with Her for a day or a week or a year. In memory of this, small oat cakes are given out to the people. One is marked beneath with a cross or a coin is hidden inside. The person who bites into this cake is the Chosen One, who will carry the divine energy for the coming time. In times past this person would be sacrificed at the end of their royal reign. Nowadays to be Chosen signifies a special time of inspiration and duty to the Goddess.
FESTIVALS OF THE MOON GODDESS
The Moon Goddess is usually seen as a Triple Goddess, whose qualities correspond to the phases of the moon as we see Her in the sky. She is Artemis, the Virgin Huntress, Goddess of the New Moon. She is Anu, Isis, Cybele, Mother Goddess of the Full Moon. And She is Hecate or Hel, Crone Goddess of the Waning or Dark Moon.
The Moon Goddess could more accurately be described as a fivefold Goddess. She is Goddess of the New Moon, the Waxing Moon, the Full Moon, the Waning Moon and the Dark or Hidden Moon. In each lunar cycle of 28-29 days She presents Her five faces to the earth. The Festivals of the Moon Goddess take place at each of the thirteen New and Full Moons in every year.
The cycle of the Moon Goddess is potent because She symbolises the journey of all forms of Life, from birth to fruition and death, and then regeneration. Her lunar cycle forms the basis of all rites of passage and initiatory experiences. The Moon Goddess is a powerful teacher who has long been part of the Avalonian experience. She is easily visible from all parts of the Island.
She is particularly connected to women through the inter- weaving of the Moon and menstruation cycles. She is connected to men through the unconscious experiences of their ovulating and menstruating anima or soul.
The New Moon Festivals of the year are usually celebrated at the Sacred Springs of the Goddess. There are ceremonies in which Holy Water is drunk and the Goddess’s blessing is received. At New Moon the moon and sun are to be found in the same Zodiacal sign in the heavens. The energy of the New Moon is qualified by sign of the Zodiac into which falls. The New Moon festival is a three day experience with one day of preparation, one day of communion and one day of expression.
The Festivals of the Full Moon are often celebrated around a fire, with feasting, dancing and singing. There is communion with the Full Moon Goddess and transmission of Her energy through the group into the world. Full Moon is also Full Sun and the sun and moon are to be found in opposite signs of the Zodiac. The energy of the Full Moon is qualified by both its own sign and that through which the sun is passing.
In a more meditative phase, Full Moon festivals are five day events with two days leading up to the day of Full Moon for preparation, cleansing of the temple, meditation and prayer; the day of the Full Moon as a day of communion with Her; and the two following days for creative expression and manifestation of the energy received.
Descent to the Goddess by Sylvia Brinton Perrera, Inner City Books
Fruits of the Moon Tree by Alan Bleakley, Gateway Books
Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth by D Wolkstein and S N Kramer, Rider
The Triple Goddess by A. Maclean, Hermetic Research Series
The White Goddess by Robert Graves, Faber
The Women’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Legends by Barbara Walker, Harper and Row
Women’s Mysteries by M Esther Harding, Rider
I would like to acknowledge my gratitude for all that Glastonbury has brought to me so far in my life. My love and thanks to my children, lona and Torquil, to my lovely partner Mike Jones, to my Hag sisters, Diana Griffiths and Pauline Watson, and to all those wonderful people who have been a part of Ariadne Productions, without whom life would have been dull.
I am aware in writing this book that the emphasis is almost completely upon the Goddess and upon women. This is not to deny the inherent equality between the Goddess and the God, between women and men, but to redress an imbalance of perspective several thousand years old.