Reviewed by Myfanwy Ashley
I turned up to the registration queue for this year’s Glastonbury Goddess Conference on the first morning with the mild worry that the conference proper was about to begin and I still didn’t fit comfortably into any of the ‘thirteen clans’ we participants were supposed to choose from. Luckily, it turned out that this was simply a way to help organise large numbers of people effectively, and to make sure that any ‘conference virgins’ - whether you take that to mean first-timers or independent (read: lone) participants - didn’t get left out in the cold. As a double conference virgin myself (participant-wise), it made the conference a more friendly affair for me, and enhanced the evening’s ceremony greatly. It felt wonderful on Wednesday night when we all came together and everyone could take part in calling in the nine ‘Clan Grandmothers’; each direction, including the centre, on the wheel of Avalon having its own crone Lady. Picture a hall full of women and men, many of whom had only met that afternoon, co-creating sacred ceremony; instead of being passive spectators, we called the Grandmothers for ourselves… and then became passive spectators. Happily, the Grandmothers were worth watching – and well worth listening to as well.
After the opening ceremony the conference priestesses began to lead everyone in some dancing, and I fled with my two left feet back to my B&B. I heard from a friend the next morning that there had been some belly dancers later on and I wished, not for the last time, that I could be as lively at ten in the evening as I had been at ten in the morning while singing along with Julie Felix. I had not heard this lady’s music before, but it was instantly likeable, and very singable, as many others who were there could also attest!
Morning person that I am, I was up for Emma Turnball’s 8am Goddess Yoga sessions to get the day off to a good start. A few yoga mats were provided for people like me who hadn’t expected to need their own at the conference, and Emma had tucked a Goddess Oracle card under each mat as a ‘card for the day’ for us; a thoughtful touch which I liked and which turned out to be quite accurate, for me at least. The yoga moves seemed to have been well thought out. Some were adaptations of familiar postures and some were new to me. After a bit of mantra-sounding, I was ready for the daily opening ceremonies.
On Thursday and Friday the day’s events are ‘launched’, and the altar candles are lit in the town hall by a brief opening ceremony designed and performed by the first year trainee priestesses of Avalon. It was inspiring to see them putting both their training and their abilities into practice, and it helped me to be mindful of the sacred focus of the conference as I enjoyed the Thursday and Friday morning talks.
This wide range of short talks turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the whole conference. The talks themselves were intelligent, insightful, well presented and often very moving. The breaks between the talks provided precious minutes for catching up with friends I don’t get to meet for much of the year. There was so much going on at the conference that I didn’t have nearly as much spare time as I had expected. For someone with the energy (and, I suspect, a faintly masochistic streak) it would have been possible to be busy from 8am until late into the night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and nearly as busy on Wednesday as well.
On Thursday afternoon I went to Jane Meredith’s ‘Diving Deep: Listening to the Dark Goddess’ workshop. This was a good workshop which unfortunately suffered from one serious flaw; there were simply too many people there. As far as I’m concerned, a large hall full of unfamiliar people is far too public a place for me to feel comfortable exposing the deep fears and pains that the workshop aimed at dealing with. The result was an unsettling afternoon, without any sense of resolution gained by the end of it. I wasn’t up for another bout of communal wound probing on Friday afternoon, so I gave ‘Transforming Deep Wounds to the Feminine’ a miss and took my wounds up to the top of Glastonbury Tor instead for a restoring, if solitary, afternoon of watching the crows air-dancing on the wind.
Friday night was my last night at the conference, and what a night it was! The ‘Heart of the Mysteries’ ritual gave everyone an opportunity to speak with one of the Grandmothers. I’ve never been quite sure what to make of ‘embodiment’ of the (or a) Goddess by a priestess. Where is the line between drama and expression of the sacred? Where does one end and the other begin, and how do you really know which side of the line you (or the priestess) are on? It seems to me since my limited experience of it at the conference that there is no continuum between drama and embodiment, but two entirely different activities: you are either experiencing the Sacred, or you’re not. Full blown sacred dramas still leave me cold (and puzzled) but I was touched by, and a little in awe of, the Grandmothers.
I was sad to leave the conference early, especially after such a beautiful night, but the happy duty of a family birthday called. If I had the conference to do over, I might try sleeping the afternoons away and making more of the evening ceremonies and festivities instead. Perhaps next year I’ll make it to the bonfire in Bushey Combe.