The Goddess at the Edge
by Clare Campbell
“I am seeking the juice and I am the juice”
As I hurtle towards my fortieth birthday I find myself looking back at the last twenty years since I said yes to a deep calling to work in the service of the Goddess. This calling has taken me to the juiciest and most alive places with the most inspiring people … although sometimes the pay has been somewhat erratic and the job description sketchy.
In my early twenties as a newly qualified artist and therapist in Inner City Liverpool I began to work with women survivors of Sexual Abuse and women who had survived the mental health system. With a degree in and passion for feminist theology I was also searching for community and connection with a tribe. I dipped my toe into Goddess Workshops and loved some aspects but found some of the approaches very white middle class and often very heterosexual. I longed for some sassy sparkly earthy grounded place to speak my truth.
By some twist of goddess fate I began running some tentative wobbly workshops in Liverpool for women from the margins of society – although I’ve always found that spirit is most at work at the edge! My Wild Woman workshops proved popular despite my unpolished rawness and I was soon invited to host them in women’s prisons, secure units, sex workers, young offenders institutes, LGBTQ communities, homeless shelters, schools, hostels etc and later in Governments, City Councils, Enterprise Agencies and Hospitals.
Somehow I was allowed in and given free reign to work in whatever way I wanted – Goddess circles, retreats, bonfires, rituals, mask making, sacred labyrinths and stirring up cauldrons of creativity and alchemy! I remember one funding manager coming in and saying ” I dont know what you are doing in there. I think it could be witchcraft – but it works so bloody well carry on!”
Over the years I worked with over 20,000 people sharing my stories and creativity, connecting communities, bringing in goddess energy and feeling blessed by the incredible stories and transformations I witnessed. I showed up where I was called and often that was in the most unglamerous and gritty settings. It was there I found pure beauty of spirit, sassy courageous human beings and so much love. I learnt so much and found in the people I worked with a magnificence and grace that humbled me and shaped my approach to my life and work. I have always danced on the edge of the established goddess communities and am grateful for the pioneering women who have gone before me to open up pathways and doors.
When the gorgeous Tyna Redpath invited me to the Glastonbury Goddess Conference in its early days she described me as “subtly subversive” . She had faith in me and offered me a stage to speak my truth. I became a voice which stirred up the soup in an irreverent way. I am grateful for my Liverpool heritage for allowing me to approach my goddess work in a way that spoke to women who wouldn’t normally attend workshops and in a voice that seemed to reach beyond the usual suspects! I always sought to create spaces for those that may feel marginalised – I wanted to hear their voices. Along with Cheryl Straffon we created space at the Goddess Conference for Lesbian, transgender and bisexual identified women to be seen and heard. I also called for a more diverse gathering, with women from all sections of society welcomed fully. To underestimate me as the glittery fluffy young woman would be a mistake and one I often made of myself!
I have loved my work so deeply and been held and supported by the Goddess at every step, including taking communities of women from housing estates to sacred sites; setting up a Goddess hotel in Greece; creating a Goddess exhibition at The Tate Gallery; casting magic and reading Goddess poetry at dull government conferences; making films that were shown nationally at cinemas; and enabling communities to stir up the status quo.
Last year I entered a dark night of the soul. While recovering from this difficult breakdown and depression I started painting prolifically again – which somehow led to 40 women joining in and painting in my tiny living room, and then 100 of us! I had always felt it was great to have these historical goddesses but that modern day women were also iconic Goddesses. So we began to paint ourselves as modern day goddesses. It was so healing that we wanted it to reach more women, so approached prisons, secure units, mental health units and youth groups, and soon 100 Women Create was born. Somehow I had created another not-for-profit social enterprise even though I was trying to take a sabatical!
We were given funding from the Arts Council and our project got incredible feedback and became a two week exhibition in The Tate Gallery. The exhibition showcased 100 life size goddess portraits, and accompanying merchandise included goddess affirmation card packs that were sold and money fed back into allowing more women to take part. We had much press interest and were interviewed for BBC Radio 4 Womens Hour – it was great to speak about the goddess work to such a broad audience.
The Tate seemed very threatened by the success of the exhibition and we were told that we were not to upstage Monet! We were tempted to make some t shirts saying “move over Monet” which we also thought would be a great name for a Hollywood movie of the experience! We received nearly 6,000 visitors from 26 countries and have been invited to roll the programme out internationally . In February we launched “100 Women Create in Vienna” and we have plans for 100 Women Create in Dubai, India and Taiwan. We welcome collaborations and contacts to help us spread this work.
During this difficult yet amazing time I also travelled to Ibiza for the first time with my circle sista Deborah Zaher. We felt called to explore the sacred caves and wells of the Goddess Tanit and to bring women to the island on retreat. My experience of the landscape and the divine feminine in Ibiza was profound and timely. She embodies the energy of transformation, death and rebirth. I felt deeply held and and healed as I began to paint Her and then fall in love with Her and the island. This year we begin to take our first groups of women to the Island who will have the chance to swoon over her magic too!
For more on the Goddess Tanit on Ibiza see Monica Sjöö’s article in GA11 (p9 – 11).