2002 Goddess Conference|
Posted: September 20th. 2002
Times Viewed: 9,000
Event Date(s): August 2002
A Pilgrimage to Avalon with the esteemed tour group Sacred Journeys for Women opened my life to some of the most interesting and innovative people of our time. On my most recent Pilgrimage I had the privilege to meet three of the most staggeringly remarkable women, all who have made changes in the Goddess movement by their own unique approach. These women have been instrumental in the reawakening of the Goddess, helping the concept and word become more and more synonymous with the Earth, community and our "selves". This Lammas in Avalon was a most magical summer, where I had the honor to witness the Triple Goddess at work, embodying Her different aspects in them.
A series of synchronicitous events led me to the website of Sacred Journeys for Women, and ultimately to its owner and proprietor Alaura O'Dell. She is the embodiment of the Maiden Goddess, the woman who inspires adventures, newness, risk, and enchantment. She is an ever-young Priestess who gives us a taste of the delights and wonders of life, inspiring creativity and potential.
Born and raised in Britain, Alaura has been exploring the sacred sites of our Earth for over 20 years. In 1996 she founded Sacred Journeys for Women, a tour group that was founded to address "the need for a new social paradigm". That paradigm is the Goddess Movement, and Sacred Journeys for Women fiercely took on the challenge to address the pilgrim in each of us, to tap the Goddess on the shoulder and let her know we're here.
The first time I traveled with Alaura, on the "Mists of Avalon Pilgrimage", I remember feeling a sense of home and awe. This all-encompassing spiritual familiarity with the sites that we honored brought a deep connection to our group. As we traveled to Chalice Well, the Tor, Stonehenge and other sacred sites, we sang, danced, held circle and healed. Alaura has made it possible for women to create a safe and sacred space to honor the Goddess; at the very places we openly and secretly have done so for millennia.
If you look at the Sacred Journeys for Women website or brochures, it reads like a "Who's Who" of the Goddess Movement. It boasts facilitators such as Joan Marler, official biographer of Marija Gimbutas; Vicki Noble and Karen Vogel, co-creators of the Motherpeace Tarot Deck, singer/songwriter Jennifer Berezan; and author, publisher of Goddess Alive! Magazine and Sacred Sites Committee member Cheryl Straffon. These among other womyn of the healing arts, ceremonialists, teachers, musicians, and artists are who make up Alaura's cache of skilled staff that help create the experience of a lifetime on her journeys.
Presently, you can find Alaura and Sacred Journeys for Women traveling to Ireland, England, Crete, Malta, Hawaii and Alaska for Goddess-honoring retreats and Pilgrimages. The "Mists of Avalon Pilgrimage" has become so popular over the short time it has been offered, she has had to make multiple Pilgrimages in one summer, and has added on another Beltane Mists Pilgrimage in addition to the traditional Lammas Pilgrimage.
On the "Mists of Avalon Pilgrimage", our first week is spent in a magical 14th century farmhouse in the countryside just outside of Glastonbury. For the next week we made that our home base for tours to the sites in the book. As an added bonus, during our week in Glastonbury we have the honor to attend the Glastonbury Goddess Conference, a weeklong conference full of workshops, rituals, speakers and exhibits centered on the Goddess, each year in a different aspect of Herself. This year's conference was focused on bringing the whole event into a pilgrimage experience where through the course of the Conference everyone makes a personal and collective pilgrimage to the Goddess hoping to come to meet Her face to face.
Co-founded by Kathy Jones and Tyna Redpath in 1995, the Glastonbury Goddess Conference is the heart-child of a passionate woman inspired to manifest her praise of the Goddess in a community setting. The Conference began as a Goddess-Day in the early 1980's where Kathy and others, including Monica Sjoo and Jill Smith got together at the Glastonbury Assembly Rooms to bring reverence to the Goddess through their works. In the early 1990's Kathy says, "the Goddess began to whisper in my ear the idea of holding a Goddess Conference bringing together Goddess Women, speakers, artists, performers, and ceremonialists to praise the Goddess and present our work to the wider world." In 1995 she says the Goddess spoke to her, saying it "had to happen next year". She called Tyna Redpath and they started to plan, creating what was the very first Glastonbury Goddess Conference.
Two weeks later in the throes of harried planning, incubating her new creation, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says, "Over the next nine months while planning the Conference I underwent surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy (losing my hair), and every kind of alternative therapy I could try. In the middle of the winter ill from chemotherapy, I addressed envelopes and filled them with Conference flyers. I wanted to be better for the first Goddess Conference and the Goddess brought me through." But nine months came and went, and the Goddess Conference was born, despite the challenges. Kathy Jones embodies the Mother aspect of the Goddess, not a martyr, as some religions represent, but as the fierce creatrix that nurtures and protects her young. She is the mature woman who takes on responsibilities, manifests births. Through her illness, and her life's daily challenges, she continues to recreate the Glastonbury Goddess Conference every year. With a growing number of attendees and esteemed speakers, it just keeps getting better and better. The highlight for many at this year's conference boasted a special lecture/ritual by Starhawk, who I was lucky enough to meet and talk with about her current work.
As the women anxiously awaited Starhawk in the main room of the Glastonbury Town Hall, Julie Felix kept the women's spirits up by leading Goddess-honoring songs. The crowd murmured and hummed in anticipation of one of the Goddess Movement's most influential members, and author of one of the most compelling masterworks of the Goddess Movement, the Spiral Dance. She is the woman who wrote the book that made me proud to call myself Witch.
As Kathy announced Starhawk, the room went wild with applause, and a woman with unruly grey hair, eyes aged with experience walked up to the microphone. As she started speaking, just having arrived days earlier from her ecopolitical anti-war campaign in Palestine, the Crone Goddess with her dark wisdom seemed to hover around her and come through in her desperate words.She questioned the audience, compelling us: "What will we use our power for? What does it mean to worship the Goddess? Why are we here?" She talked of her work in Palestine, holding healing rituals in Megiddo (which by the way comes from the root of the word "Armageddon"), a dark place subjected to more battles than anywhere else on earth.
She talked of our strength as women, how that strength has its limits. She spoke of a woman, her womb full with a child, with whom she stayed during her time in Palestine. This woman lives in a constant state of survival, her house being ransacked every other day, her family and herself being blindfolded and bound. This woman is used to the sound of explosions and gunfire the way we may be used to hearing an ambulance or police car drive by. In the aftermath, she picks up and moves on, taking care of her family. She is a strong woman, yet even she had her limits, the result, her baby went into distress, and they had to convince the army to let her get medical attention. She talked of our earth as that woman, pushed ecologically and energetically to a major point of stress. She talked of change.
It was hard to remember during our conversation that we were, ironically, sitting over a pleasant cup of Earl Grey in the middle of one of the New Age Meccas of the world. A place where we can have a conference dedicated to the Goddess, not an entirely popular idea in Western culture. Starhawk has been to the belly of the beast and back. She has gone into dark places and found that magic and power along with action and compassion are the keys to our survival. I asked her about her recent work in Palestine. She responded by recalling a trance work ritual in the middle of the action, saying that the "density of the darkness" was so strong that she just kept going deeper and deeper, until she realized that she might not reach the bottom. We spoke of 9/11, of which her take is that it was a "huge rip, energetically".
I asked her where she thought the Craft was headed in the future, to which she replied, "Assuming there is a future". She sees Witchcraft and ecopolitical activism becoming inevitably intermingled. Because we, the earth and its creatures, are the "embodiment of the sacred, of the Goddess" we cannot separate ourselves from our actions on earth anymore. In reference to her talk at the Conference, which culminated in a huge Spiral Dance sending our healing energy to the earth, she mentions that "these ancient places are no longer museum pieces- they are part of spiritual life again· the earth energies, fairies, earth spirits, stones, they are here to work with us to heal the earth." She talked of using war and destruction as an opportunity for transformation, healing and change. Starhawk embodied the Crone Goddess that day, bringing us stories of death and transformation, urgently passing her years of experiences onto the next generations, the "wayshower" of these women and men there to honor and serve the Goddess.
Something Starhawk said about the ancient sites that surrounded us in Avalon, that they are not museum pieces anymore, struck me and stayed. The Goddess is not a statuette from an archeological dig of a long-forgotten people. The Goddess is not held behind closed doors for only the privileged to experience. The Goddess is not some intangible figment of our psyche that resides only in myth anymore. The Goddess comes alive through us, through the Earth, through our actions and lives. These women are the Goddess, Alaura with her Maiden-vivacity, adventures and innovation, Kathy with her Mother-fierceness and community creation, and Starhawk with her sweeping Crone messages of death transforming into action and life. They all embody each other, and help one another exist. They help me on my path and inspire the Witch that walks it.
- Alaura O'Dell of Sacred Journeys for Women continues to adventure out on Goddess-inspired Pilgrimages. She offers tours, circles, workshops and retreats throughout the year. For more information on travelling with Sacred Journeys for Women, go to their website at www.sacredjourneys.com, call 1-888-77-WOMYN, or stop by their booth at the Columbus, Ohio Universal Light Expo Oct. 11th-13th.
- Kathy Jones is busy writing, creating the next Goddess Conference, and leading workshops, tours of Glastonbury and lectures. The next Goddess Conference will be July 30th- August 3rd 2003. For more information on the Glastonbury Goddess Conference go to www.goddessconference.com, or email Kathy Jones at email@example.com.
- Starhawk has just proudly released her latest book "Webs of Power:Notes from the Global Uprising" and is currently preparing lectures for her booksigning tour. Look for her documentary film on Marija Gimbutas which has just wrapped production. To find out more about Starhawk go to www.starhawk.org.
Bio: Stephanie Hamberger is a Mohawk woman and Witch born and raised in Buffalo, NY where she works as a photojournalist, writer and artist. Her present work on the sacred sites of England and New York State can be seen in magazines and galleries throughout the country. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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