GLASTONBURY GODDESS RELIGION TIMELINE
1983: Glastonbury Goddess group founders participated in the anti-nuclear protests at Greenham Common Peace Camp, Berkshire, England.
1996: The first Glastonbury Goddess Conference was held, co-organised by Kathy Jones and Tyna Redpath. First procession.
2000: The Glastonbury Goddess Temple was created in the form of a “pop up” Temple at several locations around Glastonbury. It was said to the be the first Temple dedicated to a Goddess in the British Isles in over 1,500 years.
2002 (February 1- 2): The Temple was opened at Imbolc.
2003: The Glastonbury Goddess Temple became the first officially registered Goddess Temple in England and recognized as a place of worship.
2008: The Temple changed from an Association to being a “Not-for-Profit” Social Enterprise, enabling the group to purchase the Goddess Hall.
As a local organisation, the Glastonbury Goddess religion’s history is complex and varied, and can be situated within the wider spiritual feminist movements that began in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and gained popularity throughout the United States, Europe and Australasia. Influential to these movements were the writings of authors such as Monica Sjöö, Maria Gambutas, Lynn White, Starhawk, and many more, all of whom lead to a variety of political and spiritual critiques of mainstream Western society and its style of thinking) that highlight the ecological, social, and personal damages done by a perceived patriarchy responsible for modern neoliberalism, capitalism, and industrialization. At the heart of many, but not all, of these critiques rests the thesis of a perceived pre-Christian past where the monotheistic male God replaced, by way of force and domination, female Goddesses at different sites throughout Europe and beyond.
The wider feminist eco-spiritual wider movement within which the Glastonbury Goddess movement sits is significant to understanding the motivations of the founders and foundation of the Glastonbury Goddess religion for two main reasons: First, the origins of the Glastonbury Goddess movement can be traced to the anti-nuclear protests that took place at a site called Greenham Common in Berkshire, England, in the early 1980’s protest and to Kathy Jones’ involvement in the protests. According to Christina Welch: “At Greenham common there existed among the protestors the ‘not uncontroversial existence of an ancient matriarchal religion was, and still is, understood as important in reclaiming both the land, and the power of women, as well as the Goddess (Mother Earth) as a signifier for the importance of both’” (Welch 2010:240-41). “Healing” the land and emotional wounds inflicted by perceived patriarchy-colonisers is also a significant part of this movement and drives much of the reason for its foundation.
Second, in line with eco-feminist movements in Europe, the Americas, and the Antipodes, the Glastonbury Goddess religion is motivated by acts of “reclaiming.” This reclamation focusses on the land in and around Glastonbury, female bodies, and the historical (or herstorical) and mythical narratives that surround Glastonbury. The Glastonbury Goddess group actively challenges neoliberal attitudes toward the planet’s natural resources. This has led to the development of their corresponding, localised eco-matriarchal spirituality that recognizes the Glastonbury Goddess as both the land itself around Glastonbury, and Mother Goddess who takes the place of a monotheistic God.
Although there are many significant figures and events in the creation, success, and continuation of the movement, the more recognizable origins of the religion as it manifests contemporarily in Glastonbury can be traced to three main elements: one particular person, Kathy Jones; one successful event, the first Goddess Conference held in Glastonbury in 1996; and the establishment of a fixed Goddess Temple in 2002.
Kathy Jones has been hugely significant throughout the movement. Marion Bowman tells us that “Kathy Jones has been particularly influential in promoting the vision of Glastonbury as an important pre-Christian site of Goddess devotion, and is extremely keen to help others ‘rediscover’ and promote the Goddess in their own locations” (2009:165). Jones has written several works based on the Glastonbury Goddess. She has also written books such as The Ancient British Goddess (2001) where she acknowledges a few of her sources of inspiration. These include Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, Marija Gimbutas’ Language of the Goddess and Civilisation of the Goddess, Caitlin and John Matthews’ Ladies of the Lake, and ‘Michael Dames for his Goddess inspired views of landscape in The Avebury Cycle and Silbury Treasure’ (2001:ii).
The first Goddess Conference was co-organised and founded by Jones and Tyna Redpath, owner of one of Glastonbury’s hallmark High Street shops, “The Goddess and The Greenman.” First held in 1996, the Goddess Conference has become an annual event in Glastonbury that brings people from all over the world to experience a host of events that include a variety of workshops involving ritual making, the production of Goddess religious material cultures, healing ceremonies, and priestess trainings. These events culminate in the colour and vibrant event of a statue of the Glastonbury Goddess being processed through Glastonbury’s High Street, around different significant sites, and up to the Glastonbury Tor. According to Marion Bowman, the Goddess Conference:
has not only been important in the consolidation and celebration of Goddess spirituality in the town itself, it has become influential in Europe, the USA, the Antipodes and elsewhere. Speakers, writers and figures inspirational to the nation and international Goddess movement, such as Starhawk, come to Glastonbury for the conference. The conference has created a number of ‘traditions’, and has proved a great forum for creativity in relation to Goddess-related music, drama and material culture, as well as ritual and myth, which then gets disseminated by attendees (Bowman 2009:165).
The Goddess Conference is a hugely significant for the group’s foundation and current success. As Bowman suggests, this is the site where people, who come from different parts of the planet, are able to experience and take away a localised and specific form of Goddess devotion with clear instruction on how to erect temples and bring back the Goddess of attendees’ own lands, thus inspiring movements in other parts of the world.
From the time of the first Goddess Conference in 1996, a few “pop up” Goddess temples could soon be found around Glastonbury. This eventually led to the opening of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple in a prime location off Glastonbury’s High Street in 2002 and served to root the temple to Glastonbury itself. [Image at right] The Glastonbury Goddess Temple is currently a “welcome to all” fixed site within which to attend group events and gatherings, make offerings at an altar, seek healing services, and meditate.
It was, therefore, the combination of the initiatives of a core group of founders, the efforts of Kathy Jones and her particular vision, and the opening of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple that has led to the group being what it is today. It is a successful, localised new religious movement that is both situated in its place while being a powerful inspiration for the growth of a wider emergence of similar movements, all of whom creatively interpret ancient links to the past while firmly rooting themselves as active participants in their localised present.
The Glastonbury Goddess Temple religion is a materially rich, colourful, and vibrant, traditionally non-doctrinal, new religious movement. It has claims on Britain’s ancient past whose beliefs, narratives and practices are bound up explicitly with the land/landscape features, historical, mythical and newly creative narratives. Glastonbury’s specific interpretations of the contemporary Pagan ritual “wheel of the year” mean that festivals and events are organised around equinoxes, solstices, Imboc, Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain. The Glastonbury Goddess movement is not, however, a ‘native faith’ movement as neither ethnic connections with Glastonbury nor Somerset are sought or claimed. In fact, the devotees themselves do not necessarily claim to be indigenous but focus outwardly on the Goddess who is claimed to be indigenous to Glastonbury, and devotees report a sense or feeling of “coming home” to Glastonbury.
On the whole, the Glastonbury Goddess group tends to distance itself from Wicca and practice forms of spirituality that are found most commonly within the “holistic milieu” (Heelas and Woodhead 2005:1, 31). The primary emphasis tends to be on healing, as well as psychic and personal development, only here the focus is on healing from patriarchal damage and “male-inflicted” wounds. Cynthia Eller says,
In spiritual feminist thought, it is a given that all women need healing: if not from specific illnesses or infirmities, then from the pains suffered as a result of growing up female in a patriarchal world. Spiritual feminists aspire to healing themselves and their sisters through a variety of less than medically and psychotherapeutically orthodox techniques, including homeopathy, chakra balancing, massage, Bach flower remedies, acupressure, and so on (Eller 1995:1096).
The Glastonbury Goddess group employs these methods, but believe that the damage is personal, as well as social and cultural, and is a result of the wider, damaging effects of Christianity. The group carries out cultural work whereby new Goddess oriented traditions are created and ritually maintained. A significant aspect of the work rests on the establishment of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, which claimed to be the first Temple dedicated to an indigenous Goddess in Britain, indeed in Europe, in over 1,500 years. At the heart of this community lies the belief/understanding that both women and the Goddess of the land have been suppressed and oppressed by the onset of Christianity, and it is their mission to restore Her, not only to Glastonbury, but to all parts of the world.
Locally, however, Glastonbury itself is a small town in the South West of England with a population of around 9,000 people, but with many names: the “Isle of Apples,” the “Isle of Glass,” the “Isle of the Dead,” and most famously, “Isle of Avalon” (Glastonbury’s mythical counterpart). Glastonbury Goddess group members assert that there are certain sacred places in the world where the upwelling of Goddess energy can be felt strongly. One of these places is Glastonbury, which is a gateway to the mythical Isle of Avalon (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019). The word “isle” is used due to the prominence of the Glastonbury Tor mound which, along with Chalice Hill, Wearyall Hill, Windmill Hill and Stone Down, stands out amongst an otherwise flat range of levels that were once covered by water.
The Glastonbury Tor is the most iconic feature in Glastonbury; it sits atop a large mound with naturally occurring spiral-shaped tiered pathways that lead to its summit. The Tor itself is the tower remnant of a Catholic chapel that was burned down during King Henry VIII’s desolation of the monasteries. Dominating the Somerset Levels, it can been seen from as far as South Wales on a clear day, and has served as a visible land marker for those making religious pilgrimages to Glastonbury for centuries. The Tor is both a famous visitor’s attraction, and the focus for many of Glastonbury’s alternative religious activities, including that of the Glastonbury Goddess religion. However, according to Bowman, for the Goddess religion the Tor mound forms part of the larger body of the Goddess that devotees discern in the land (Bowman 2004:273). Therefore, if it were to have a doctrine per se, the doctrine would be carved into the landscape where the body of the Goddess is discerned in its features. When asked in an interview with the BBC: “How does the Goddess relate to Glastonbury in particular?” Kathy Jones reported that the Goddess is found
through the shapes of the hills and valleys. Glastonbury is a town situated on a small group of hills, composed of Glastonbury Tor, the Chalice Hill, Wearyall Hill, Windmill Hill, and Stone Down. These hills rise out of the flat lands surrounding Glastonbury, and when you look at the shape of them, you can see different outlines from the contours of the hills. One of the forms that we see is the shape of a giant woman lying on her back on the land. She is the mother Goddess in the landscape (interview with Kathy Jones, BBC 2005).
A further indication is revealed by a priestess of Avalon who states: ‘Our Lady of Avalon, keeper of the mysteries, and Lady of the Mists of Avalon presides over the lands from which the Tor is visible to the naked eye’ (Anonymous 2010).
As for the mythic narratives that inspire the beliefs of Goddess devotees, the links with “Celtic Christianity” and stories connected with St Bride also play large roles in the current construction of the movement (Bowman 2007). We might, therefore, begin to learn about the beliefs of the group with a story of St Bridget. Bowman writes: “It is said that St Bridget visited Glastonbury in 488 and spent time at Beckery or Bride’s Mound, an area on the edge of Glastonbury where there seems to have been a chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalene” (2007:24). And, “In the late nineteenth century John Arthur Goodchild claimed that there had been in Glastonbury the survival of an ancient Irish cult venerating the female aspect of the deity which became attached to the figure of St Bride (Benham 1993; Bowman 2007: 25). Kathy Jones, one of the group’s founders, along with a core group of other devotees, such as Tyna Redpath, adopted this idea of a surviving “cult” dedicated to the feminine divine as the foundation upon which the contemporary Goddess movement in Glastonbury was created. Jones claims, for example, that “Where we find St Bridget we know that the goddess Bridie was once honoured” (Bowman 2004: 281, citing Jones 2000:16). This forms a kind of Glastonbury Goddess mission statement that underpin strategies of reclamation and restoration of the Goddess to the land, as well as to the adaptation of the narratives found in Glastonbury’s history, legends and mythologies in an attempt to re-present “Herstory.” Kathy Jones writes,
The Lady of these islands who was lost in the mists of history is being rediscovered and brought back into the light of day, wearing new clothes, shining with renewed radiance. She is whispering in our ears, appearing in our visions, calling to us across time to remember Her and we are responding. All over Britain thousands of women and men now celebrate the Goddesses of this land in ways which probably haven’t happened for a thousand years or more (2001:i).
Indication of the word “strategy” above is deliberate. I have argued elsewhere (Whitehead 2019) that the Glastonbury Goddess religion employs the use of a series of strategies intended to restore the Goddess the land, and to missionize about Her “return” and Her healing benefits for Mother Earth, communities, and to women and men generally. As outlined above, there is an activist element to the group that is not only politically and socially engaged but is fully active in its efforts in spreading the religion worldwide. Therefore, actions such as the establishment of the Goddess Temple, the annual Goddess Conference, the Goddess processions, [Image at right] the crafting of its material cultures and rituals, the training of priestesses in a particular fashion, performances, healing events, and more are created in such a way as to set an active example to people from different parts of the globe. They exemplify how Goddess religions (starting with temples) might be established and take root and grow in relation to their own land and localised female deities who may have also been suppressed or mostly forgotten.
These local actions with deliberate global consequence can be understood through what Gilles Deleuze and Pierre-Felix Guattari (1972) refer to as “reterritorialisation.” Kellie Jones builds on this, saying: “Reterritorialisation includes recapturing one’s (combined and various) history, much of which has been dismissed as an insignificant footnote to the dominant culture” (Kellie Jones 2007). In the case of the Glastonbury Goddess religion, “reterritorialization” is part of an initiative to “reclaim” the land from the patriarchy, i.e. male dominated Christianity and oppression where the Goddess is perceived to have been deliberately suppressed and destroyed. To Glastonbury Goddess devotees, reterritorialisation also takes the form of “re-membering” their ancestral heritage, and “re-turning” to the Goddess’ “loving embrace” (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019).
Reterritorialisation also takes place through belief in claims to authenticity, i.e. Christianity is the later arrival to Glastonbury, and the Goddess was “there first.” “For the Goddess religion, a link to the past has been created that establishes a valid, authentic claim to Glastonbury where the Lady of Avalon can be championed and restored to her rightful place. This reclamation of the feminine satisfies the need to celebrate that which had been previously overlooked, forgotten and/or oppressed” (Whitehead 2013:71).
A sub-set of the strategy of reterritorialization in the Glastonbury Goddess movement is that of “indigenizing.” Building on Paul C. Johnson’s assertion that “indigenizing” is a style of relating (Johnson 2002), I wrote: “Indigeneity is used as a central identifier from which clear relationships with Glastonbury as a geographical site are claimed, expressed, and stylized, communities are “imagined” and built, and the movement’s religious material cultures are crafted” (Whitehead 2019:215-16). Belief that the group are indigenizing, reterritorializing, re-inventing and restoring the Goddess to the land manifests materially through the purchase of several properties in town (See, Timeline), the preference for the use of indigenous materials to make the statues the Temple, and the visibility of colourful vibrancy with which the religion is expressed. Jones says, “Together we are bringing the Goddess alive once again through our worship of Her, through spiritual practice, ceremonies, actions, creative expression, study, writing, artwork, music, dance and in our daily lives’ (Jones 2001:i, in Whitehead 2013:70).
For most Glastonbury Goddess devotees, the Goddess is “everywhere and in all things.” Therefore, in terms of analytic categories, locating the Goddess is a complex undertaking. Accounts from group members reveal that the Goddess can be framed as monotheistic, duo-theistic, polytheistic, and animist, and can be all of these things at once, or none of them at all. She is also known by many names and through a variety of different manifestations, locally, and in different locations globally. She is represented in Her Temple through a variety of female deities that have associations with specific aspects of Glastonbury’s surrounding landscape (springs, wells, groves, hills, the Tor mound). These are all “aspects” of the “one.” It can be suggested that when one refers to “the Goddess” in Glastonbury, either one is referring to all of them as one, a particular face” of the Goddess that “resonates” with an individual devotee, or with the goddess that is being celebrated at that particular point in the wheel of the year.
However, the main sources for “who the Goddess is” within the Goddess religion at Glastonbury come from founding member, Kathy Jones. According to an online article from the BBC titled “Goddess Spirituality in Glastonbury” (BBC 2008), Jones states that the main Goddesses worshipped are the Lady of Avalon (who is Morgen la Fey), the Nine Morgens, Brigit or Bridie of the Sacred Flame, Modron who is Great Mother of the lineage of Avallach, Our Lady Mary of Glastonbury, the Crone of Avalon, the Tor Goddess, Lady of the Hollow Hills, Lady of the Lake and the Lady of the Holy Springs and Wells. The roles of the Nine Morgens specifically can be best described as healing Goddesses who are connected to different parts of the landscape around the town such as springs, mounds, and groves. Kathy Jones says that the Nine Morgens are a ninefold Sisterhood who “rule over the Isle of Avalon surrounded by the Lake of Mysts” (2001:213). The names were recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini in the twelfth century as Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliton ea, Gliten, Cliton, Tyrone, Thitis, Thetis and Morgen La Fey’. There were also nine legendary ladies of the lake named by John and Caitlin Matthews as ‘Igraine, Guinevere, Morgan, Argant, Nimue or Vivienne, Enit, Kundry, Dindraine and Ragness, who derive their powers from the Otherworld (Jones 2001:213). The Nine Morgens play a significant role in Temple life (See, Rituals/Practices).
“MotherWorld” is a vision that is held by the Glastonbury Goddess group that mobilises its members into social justice activism and sums up the group’s beliefs and motivations. According to the Glastonbury Goddess Temple website, the primary values for the MotherWorld vision are:
Honouring Mother Earth as a living being. Taking care of Her world. Love for each other, kindness, support, respect, care and compassion. Honoouring all forms of mother, honouring fathers, and the celebration and nurture of children and young people. Protecting and taking care of the earth, water, fire, air and space in Her world’ (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019).
In addition to the values found in the MotherWorld initiative, the Glastonbury Goddess movements’ situatedness within wider eco-matriarchal feminist movements in North America, Europe and Australasia can be gleaned through this statement:
MotherWorld is the society where the patriarchal structures and values of dominance, power-over control and coercion, greed, excessive profit, destructive competition, violence, rape, war, slavery, suffering, hunger, poverty and the pollution of Mother Earth and Her atmosphere, are recognized as shadow expressions of humanity, which need to be challenged, deconstructed, transformed and healed. In MotherWorld healing practices for individuals, communities and for the Earth Herself are encouraged and made readily available to all (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019).
This statement both reflects the anti-nuclear sentiments of earlier Greenham Common protestors in Berkshire, England in the 1980’s, one of whom was Kathy Jones, and signals a continuation of such sentiments into the beliefs, practices, mission, and motivations of the movement in its current form.
Ritual creativity sits at the heart of Glastonbury Goddess ritual practice, and ritual practices are entangled with belief, as well as with the strategies of reterritorialization and indigenizing outlined in the previous section. As change, renovation, innovation and devotion are encouraged, countless forms of volatile, votive expressions, ad hoc rituals are continually carried out. Outlined here are a selection of two such “ritual zones” where different rituals take place: the annual Goddess procession that takes place during the Goddess Conference and the veneration of the Goddess figures (and the Nine Morgens, see below).
In order to gain ground and prominence, the Glastonbury Goddess religion has established itself as a visible and active force in Glastonbury. This is most visibly performed in the Goddess processions that take place once a year, around Lammas (August 1), and during the time of the annual Goddess conference, the first of which set both the Goddess and the movement in motion in Glastonbury in 1996. This first procession is significant because it ritually marked off territory and re-staked a claim on the land that is Glastonbury, publicly signalling that the Glastonbury Goddess movement was back in the running.
To this day, the procession continues to be a beautifully colourful, loud, and joyful event, involving the use of flags, banners, candles, costumes, drumming, singing, and shouting to express devotion. The Goddess is processed up Glastonbury’s High Street to the Chalice Well, through the Victorian Well House that houses the White Spring, then up the hill to Glastonbury Tor, and then back down again. Bowman suggests that the procession mirrors Christian Pilgrimage processions that begin from the Tor and proceed to the Abbey (2004:283). The Goddess procession is, however, far more colourful, loud and vibrant than that of the Anglican and Catholic processions. Arguably, Goddess material culture and performances are bright, colourful, and eye-catching for this very reason. As noted by Bowman (2004), the more material and performance cultures are created in relation to the Goddess movement, the more visible the Goddess religiosity becomes in Glastonbury.
The Glastonbury Goddess Temple sits just off the Glastonbury High Street and serves as a hub of more highly ritualized activity, as well daily devotional practice. When I have visited the Temple, I have found that it is usually dimly lit and candles and incense create a mood of tranquillity and calm. Soothing, devotional “Goddess music” is usually playing softly in the background. I have also noted how the materials are in a continual state of flux and change (in keeping with the cyclic nature of this religion), and how the many of the materials used to decorate and facilitate the temple aesthetic often come either from the land, or from the homes of devotees.
In the centre of the Temple there is a main altar, on which I have documented bones, acorns, flowers, feathers, leaves, and stones. Daily ritual offerings are the source of these natural objects and are indicative of what is “acceptable” to the Goddess in terms of spiritual currency. Small clay and bronze goddess figures, such as the Venus of Willendorf, are also often seen. Plastics and artificial materials are, however, also present within the temple, despite the understanding that “things indigenous” to the land around Glastonbury are preferred (and more ecologically friendly). Further, the Goddess takes the form of different willow wickerwork statues who are venerated, spoken with, petitioned, ritually implored, and understood to “embody” Her.
The figures of the Nine Morgens [Image at right] are permanent residents in the Goddess Temple. The Nine Morgens form a protective circle around a small space in the Temple that is, according to a conversation with one of the Temple Melissas (See, Organization/Leadership), dedicated to those who want or need healing. Ritual healing is available daily in the Temple. All one needs to do is to enter the Temple and request it, and the circle is opened in order to allow access. Once the person requesting the healing is inside, the circle of statues is closed so that they can begin to do their work on the person in need.
The organisation and leadership of the Temple, although shaped primarily by the vision of Kathy Jones, now presents itself as a collective group akin to a board of directors. According to the Glastonbury Goddess Temple website, the Glastonbury Goddess Temple “is a social enterprise, a not for profit company limited by guarantee. All profits are reinvested in the Temple’s work. No profits are taken out of the Temple by any individuals” (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019c). The structure is complex, but the group members have organised themselves into “three overlapping circles” that both manage the Temple’s activity, and play key roles in Temple life: First, there are Temple Directors who ensure that the integrity of the vision of the Temple is maintained and who oversee major decisions, especially regarding finance. Second, there are Temple Tinglers who “are the circle of Temple staff and tutors…responsible for the everyday running of all Temple venues and activities, as well as Temple teachings.” Third, there are the Temple Weavers who form the “wider circle of all Temple directors, staff and volunteers that are involved in serving the local Temple community.” This group organises Temple seasonal ceremonies and online activities (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019c).
Three further groups support the inner workings of the Temple. These are the Temple Melissas who “serve regularly in the Glastonbury Goddess Temple” and hold “the space open to the public each day” (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019c). Melissas are likened to “worker bees” who work for the “queen bee” (i.e. the Goddess of Glastonbury). In order to become a Melissa, one must go through a period of training, including how to ritually open and close the Temple daily. The Melissas are also in charge of making sure that visitors receive information, and they facilitate the Nine Morgens to do their healing upon request. Melissas will also cleanse and purify Temple goers through smudging, if asked.
The second group of individuals is known as Temple Madrons. The word “madron” is used deliberately instead of “patron” to indicate those who make regular supportive donations to the Temple. The third group is comprised of trained Priestesses and Priests of Avalon, along with other Temple students and graduates. These members form “a global network of people and are bringing Goddess alive in a myriad of ways all over Her world” (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019c).
The Glastonbury Goddess Temple can be considered the “parent temple to the ones affiliated in England (Kent, Norfolk, Sheffield, Nottingham), Austria, Italy, the U.S. (California, Oregon, Utah), and Australia (New South Wales, Victoria) since the Glastonbury Goddess Temple has ‘trained’ many of the founding members of these temples (Glastonbury Goddess Temple 2019d). Training Priestesses and Priests in Avalon helps ensure that appropriate inspiration has been given that will continue to shape the materiality, terminology, ethos, and rituals of the movement as it goes beyond the scope of Somerset, England.
The Glastonbury Goddess religion faces a number of issues and challenges, including charges of spiritual materialism, the “whiteness” of members of the movement, and “class.” According to Bowman:
…issues related to race, class and elitism, due to the mainly white, middle class attendance of the conference, reflecting the charge that the Goddess spirituality movement is a predominantly white, middle-class, middle-aged, European/North American phenomenon, neither representative of nor involved with the less privileged women of the world (Bowman, 2005:176).
Similarly, this has been observed by other scholars such as Kavita Maya, who states that
Race has long been a contentious undercurrent in the movement: as British feminist theologian Melissa Raphael noted, ‘the perceived lack of an ethnic mix in Goddess feminism is something of a vexed issue’ (Raphael 1999:25–26 in Maya, 2019:53).
The “whiteness,” middle-age, and middle-classness of members of the group is somewhat of a shared phenomenon among similar ways of thinking, believing, and practicing in the North America and Australasia. Similar to what was observed by Eller in her observation of feminist Goddess movements in North America, the disproportionate numbers of white, middle-class, middle-aged entrepreneurs that form part of the Glastonbury Goddess movement disrupts the MotherWorld vision (outlined in the Doctrine/Beliefs section) whereby the movement aims to be globally encompassing (and economically) encompassing. Additionally, since the Goddess conference invites speakers and attendees from all over the world, many eco-feminists have argued that air travel and other forms of spiritual tourism (Bowman 2005:177) belittle the religion’s emphasis on environmental sustainability.
Following from the criticism of the predominant “whiteness” found in the movement, other criticisms involve the group’s claims to indigeneity. Arguably, use of the term “indigenous” demonstrates a recklessness or lack of awareness of the way in which the term has become politicised, the power dynamics, and struggles that many indigenous groups (for example, in Latin America, Native North America, Australia, and even Northern Europe, among many others) continue to undergo. As many aspects of Goddess spirituality form part of the holistic milieu where appropriation of different cultures forms part of a valid critique, it can be argued that those who form new religious movements in Western Europe could better problematise how indigeneity is constructed or imagined. However, movements such as these can also be seen in the more positive light of cultural and religious creativity, especially since much of the aim is to redress a cultural imbalance of injustice and marginalisation of both nature and the feminine. Kathryn Rountree writes (citing Barnard) ‘while anthropologists hotly debate “the indigenous” as an anthropological concept, the concept is “defined intuitively by ordinary people – indigenous and non-indigenous alike – around the world, it does have meaning” (Barnard in Rountree 2015:8).
Rountree has further outlined the challenges that spiritual feminist movements like the Glastonbury Goddess Temple face, which supports observations that Goddess worship is both structurally similar to and a substitute for the worship of a monotheistic male God (Rountree 1999:138). Local backlashes against the movement in Glastonbury itself have included the opening of a shop dedicated to phalluses, a reclamation of “Hern the Hunter” by male (and some female) contemporary Pagans, and Beltane (May 1 / May Day) celebrations that heavily feature phallic symbols in order to counter what is perceived by some to be an imbalance of femininity in Glastonbury.
Image 1: The Glastonbury Goddess Temple.
Image 2: The Glastonbury Tor with the Goddess during the Goddess Conference Procession, 2010.
Image 3: The Nine Morgens in the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.
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26 March 2021