21 Years of Glastonbury Goddess Conference
by Kathy Jones
What can be said about 21 years of the Goddess Conference? 21 years of my life and the lives of many women and men, that has changed and transformed us all. I could write an article that is a list of the names of the hundreds of people who have contributed to the Conference over the years. I am so grateful to so many people, without whom none of our adventures in Goddess would have been possible. There is so much I could say about every individual Conference – too much for one short piece, so many extraordinary experiences of Goddess, so much colour, the wealth of women’s creativity and the abundance of Her love.
So I shall go back to the beginning, because often when we start a new Goddess project, there is opposition – personal, internal, energetic, external, societal and communal opposition. How do we overcome the tides of thousands of years of patriarchal oppression that exists within and all around us, an oppression that wants to stop us doing anything differently? Over 21 years I have understood that the opposition we experience is in fact an invitation to continue what we are doing, and that what we are doing definitely needs to be happening.
In the 1980s there was a Goddess art exhibition with talks in the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms, with artists Monica Sjöö, Jill Smith, Chesca Potter and others. Asphodel Long, one of the foremothers of the Goddess movement in Britain gave a wonderful talk. I remember creating an event where we threw old crockery, a symbol of women’s domestication, at a wall, and watched it smash into pieces. It was liberating.
In the early 1990s I had an idea to create a Goddess Conference, in the style of the ‘Conference of the Birds’ from the poem by the Sufi poet Fraid ud-Din Attar. A Conference where everyone would come to honour Goddess, to speak, to listen, to display their plumage and to learn from each other. The plan was to bring together British Goddess artists, writers, speakers, musicians and performers as there was nothing like this in Britain at that time.
In the summer of 1995 as I was leading a group around the great 3-D labrynth that encircles the slopes of Glastonbury Tor I once again dedicated my life to the Lady of Avalon, surrendering everything to Her. “My will is your will.” As I came out of the labrynth I knew that the Goddess Conference should take place the following year at Lammas, the festival of the abundant Great Mother Goddess. I went to tell Tyna Redpath who owns the Goddess and Green Man shop in Glastonbury, who had shown an interest in creating a Goddess Conference. She said she would like to help bring Goddess artists together, and organise the Conference Melissae, who would do the practical work of the Conference in exchange for a ticket. We were both very excited and began to talk about all the possibilities of what we could do.
Within 2 weeks of making the decision to initiate the Goddess Conference and beginning to invite presenters and artists to come and take part, I found out that I had an aggressive and dangerous form of breast cancer. I needed immediate treatment and it was a frightening blow to our plans.
But I had made my dedication, I had made the decision to begin and Goddess took me at my word, ”My will is your will.” Over the next nine months while planning the first Goddess Conference I underwent surgery, horrible chemotherapy and radiotherapy, followed by slow recovery. In the winter while floored by chemo I lay in bed addressing envelopes with Conference brochures inside them. The story of that journey is told in “Breast Cancer, Hanging on by a Red Thread”, [Ariadne Publications].
The carrot at the end of the year was the Goddess Conference, something amazing to look forward to. Despite this massive challenge Tyna and I had a magical time creating the first Goddess Conference. Through it all we were inspired by our love for Goddess to create an amazing gathering of wonderful Goddess women and men. We shared a similar sense of humour and laughed a lot. When the Conference arrived we were very excited and decorated the walls of the Assembly Rooms with beautiful Goddess artwork. People came from all over Britain and also from abroad to celebrate Goddess here in Glastonbury. It was really wonderful and exceeded our expectations as Goddess-loving women, including Monica Sjöö and Asphodel Long shared their gifts in the Conference.
But in that first Conference there were other challenges. Not far away in a Women’s Camp on the land, a group of women discussed how terrible it was that we were charging money for a Goddess event – it should be free. On the Saturday evening of the Conference, Elizabeth, with helpers, created an amazing sit-down Goddess Banquet for everyone, with Goddess food – breast shaped blancmanges, et al. As our participants arrived for dinner, dressed in beautiful finery, a protest procession came singing down the High Street to the Assembly Rooms, “You can’t buy the Goddess….”
We agreed with them, but it costs money to put on any event. The group pushed their way up the Assembly Rooms steps, and after resisting them for a while we decided to let them come in and see the beauty of the Temple space we had created. They shouted aggressively at everyone and frightened our women. They climbed on the altars, knocking things over, haranguing us. It was awful. It was women attacking women. That was the unbelievable part of it all. When there was the whole of patriarchy all around us to attack, why attack other women who were doing their best to bring Goddess back into the world again?
After a short time as they saw the main effect of their anger was to frighten other women, they began to feel bad about what they were doing and started to leave. We gulped, and pulled the energy back so that we could continue with our specially prepared feast of Goddess food and music, which many people had helped to create. It was shocking and not what anyone had come for, but somehow we managed to retrieve the evening.
The first Goddess Conference was on the whole wonderful, extraordinary, and Tyna and I decided that we would do it again the following year. There were more Goddess-loving presenters, artists and performers to invite to delight everyone. There were more ideas we had to develop. However we were anxious about what awful shocking thing might happen the following year. Over the next 12 months Tyna and I were repeatedly attacked in “From the Flames”, a women’s magazine. No-one ever spoke to us directly, or asked us any questions about what we were trying to do in the Conference. They weren’t interested in solutions, only in undermining what we were doing as the only Goddess event in the country at that time. We were just a target to be attacked and it was hurtful and painful.
Where our first year of creating the Conference had been exciting and fun, despite my illness, the second year was filled with anxiety about what might happen, who might come to attack us again. When the 1997 Conference arrived it was wonderful, with new presenters and more Goddess-loving people from everywhere. And nothing bad happened. It was a wonderful lesson in the power of negative anticipation – making ourselves feel bad, and it being such a waste of my energy. I like to look to the positive, to creating good outcomes for all.
The Goddess Conference began as a gathering of Goddess-loving creative people and over the years has developed into something much greater than we knew it could be in the begining. When we began our ceremonialists were friends and musicians who had worked with me in the Goddess sacred dramas that I had written and directed in the Assembly Rooms over the previous 13 years. They were people who knew something about holding space for groups of people, but no-one was trained or knew formally what they were doing. I had an inkling of what we were supposed to be doing, a nudge from the Lady, an intuition, but we are always a work in progress, as we open ourselves to Her ways.
After the second Conference I realised that we really needed properly trained priestesses to create and hold the Conference ceremonies, as this is when the transformative work of the Conference takes place. I began to play with the idea of teaching a training course for Priestesses of Avalon. This is a daunting title, one that has so much mythic resonance for people. Did I dare to do this? I had confidence that I could teach people as I’d been leading many day and weekend Goddess workshops and ceremonies for years, but to take on that title, that role? I dreamed about it for nearly wo years before I was Impelled to plunge forwards, and in 1998 began the first Priestess/Priest of Avalon Training course, which was a year-long training. A large group of women came together and we learned many things and self-initiated in 1999 as pre-millenial Priestesses of Avalon. Since then the Priestess/Priest of Avalon Training has grown and expanded. It is now a Three Spiral Training, where the First Spiral is now taught by Michelle Patten, the Second by Erin McCauliff and the Third by me.
Other Priestess Trainings have since been developed by priestesses who trained with us in Glastonbury – Priestess of Rhiannon with Katinka Soetens, Priestess of Brighde with Marion van Eupen, as well as upcoming Priestess of Cerridwen with Bee Baganz-Dickinson and Morgen Sybil with Mary Bruce. There are new Priestess trainings being taught in other parts of Britain. Priestesses from different traditions have always been a part of the Conference Ceremony group, which holds the Motherweb of the Conference, the energetic container for all that takes place in the Conference. In 2016 when we celebrated the Lady of Avalon the ceremony group was made up of Her Priestesses of Avalon.
Over the years we have had many incredible awesome experiences in the Goddess Conference, times when everything stood still and we could all feel the palpable breath of Goddess on our bodies, times when we danced and danced for joy, times when we were deeply moved by women’s stories and wept together.
We have walked the sacred land together, heard wonderful talks, learning of ancient Goddesses re-discovered, with inspirational women and a few men speaking from their hearts. We have had hundreds of great Goddess workshops inspiring us, giving us experiences, leading us onwards. And all the music from luminaries such as Sally Pullinger, Carolyn Hillyer, Anique Radiant-Heart, Heloise Pilkington, Kellianna, Ruth Barrett, Jana Runnalls and so many more. And of course all the beautiful artwork from so many artists whose work might never have been seen without the
All those of us who have held the centre ground have learned so much. We have learned about holding sacred space and creating ceremonies that work for big groups of people. We have learned about our own wounding as women and how to really support each other. In the last few years we have been recognising and healing the wounds between women that arise from the endings of the ancient Goddess Temples – 3,4,5,6,7000 years ago. All who are called by Goddess in the present carry those wounds somewhere deep within our soul’s carapace.
They are emerging now for remembrance and deep healing so that we don’t need to undermine and betray each other any more, so that we can really change the world for the better. This healing is perhaps the greatest gift that Goddess Conference brings into the present, so that together we can build Motherworld, the society in which Mother Earth, mothers and the values of mothering – love, care and support for each other are once again placed in the centre of society, rather than being left outside on the periphery. See the Motherworld Facebook page.
In Britain 21 years of age is traditionally the time when a young adult receives the key to the door of the house, a key to freedom and responsibility. The Goddess Conference is 21 years old and it is now time for everyone to take their freedom to be who they are and to fully take responsibility for bringing Goddess back into our world. I have passed the lineage of the Glastonbury Goddess Conference on to two wonderful Priestesses of Avalon, Katinka Soetens and Marion van Eupen. I wish them all joy as they take this precious gift into the future.
With love and blessings always
The Spirit goes on…
Marion Van Eupen writes:
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 world wide community of Goddess Loving People!
I want to thank Kathy for holding Her vision and making it real. Kathy has opened doorways for many for us and definitely for me – she is a weavster of vision because she has brought Goddess into reality and grounded Her strongly and firmly. Words are never enough, but I’m sure you know, Kathy! I thank you and love you and trust you will be holding the threads with us as we weave Her magic on…..
2017 Conference on Aug 1st – 6th “Goddesses of the World – World of Goddess”