City Woman: Who is the goddess?By Leigh Mencarini
October 10, 2009
Wife, mother, daughter, friend, colleague... today’s woman fulfils a variety of roles every day.
As society has changed and developed over the decades, being a woman has changed, too. Most of us find ourselves being many things to many people; the boundaries blur and we’re often juggling our responsibilities all at once.
It’s not a bad thing – most of us thrive from our ability to multi-task. But meeting those demands can occasionally mean one role is sacrificed more than the other. It’s a challenge to strike the balance.
I was interested to learn of a series of workshops taking place in Caversham that focus on celebrating womanhood.
Vicky Brierley leads the ‘goddess’ workshops. A married mum-of-two who lives in Burghfield Common, Vicky trained at the Isle of Avalon Foundation, near Glastonbury, and self-initiated as Priestess of Avalon in 2003.
The Isle of Avalon, an ancient sacred place in Somerset, has long been celebrated as the home of the goddess. Arthurian legend has it that a group of goddesses lived there, skilled in the art of healing, creation and death, where people would go to die, to be transformed, and to be reborn. Even today, some say the landscape itself represents the body of the goddess.
I have always been intrigued by ancient British traditions such as Druidic and pagan cultures for their appreciation of the earth and elements, especially since some still appear in our culture today.
So discovering the goddess and her relevance to women today seemed fascinating.
Vicky told me she is deeply passionate about bringing the identity of women as goddesses themselves into public consciousness, on a spiritual level. So, the Saturday before the Autumn Equinox, in a light, spacious room filled with incense, I was introduced to the Wheel of Brigit-Ana, which represents the goddesses.
I arrived at the Crystal Dragon in Caversham with little idea of what to expect.
As interested as I am by ancient faiths and rituals, I wasn’t really sure how the identities of goddesses celebrated in the 500s could really relate to the 21st Century woman.
The workshop was held in a hall at the back of the shop on Prospect Street, where I met Vicky and a dozen other women taking part. It was a sacred place, so we removed our shoes, and at the centre of the room was an altar which I was soon to know as the Wheel of Brigit-Ana.
It was a circle sectioned off into eight with coloured material; each representing the goddesses. Tokens, figures and statues were placed on the section relevant to each.
At the centre was the figure of a woman, her belly swollen with what looked like the earth from above. She represents the Lady of Avalon – her colour is violet and she stands for all women’s mysteries.
The wheel, as well as representing the goddesses, can be seen to follow the cycle of the seasons and the changing stages of a woman’s life. Vicky explained each section’s relevance to the group.
The section facing the northeast represents the maiden goddess, Bridget. Her colours are white and her time is celebrated at Imbolc, around January 31. A poet, healer and a goddess of smithcraft, she is celebrated for her inspiration as spring is on its way.
Next, in the east, is Grainne, mother of fire. Her colours are green/gold and she brings warmth. She is celebrated at Spring Equinox (around March 21) and represents passion and creativity, bringing light and warmth.
Facing south-east, is Rhinanon, the goddess of love. Her colour is red and she represents sexual energy. She is celebrated at Beltane, around May 1, when nature wakes up to creation and instinct.
To the south, Domnu, mother of water. Her colour is blue-green and she is allied with the Summer Solstice, around June 21. She represents the flow of emotion and expression.
Facing the south-west is Ker. She is celebrated at Lammas, around August 1, and is known as the fruitful mother. Her colours are golds and yellows and she is connected with cultivation and nurture.
To the west, is Gaia, mother of earth, whose time it was we were celebrating – Autumn Equinox (around September 21).
Gaia’s colours are browns and oranges. She represents the part of us that appreciates the land, which provides food and harvest, but also the sanctuary of home. One of the ladies placed unopened conkers on the section; a symbol of the time.
Cerdiwen, the crone, is the goddess celebrated at Samhain, around October 31. Facing northwest, her colour is black and she represents wisdom, death, and the underworld.
Facing north is Danu, the mother of air. Her colour is silver-grey and she is celebrated at Winter Solstice, around December 21. She represents stillness, wisdom, and purity.
Vicky and others in the group called out to each goddess, clockwise, and thanked her for her gifts and qualities. Some of us placed tokens such as photographs on parts of wheel, and shared their significance with the group.
We then paired off to perform tarot readings. I’d never had a reading before but surprisingly – and perhaps because I’d become familiar with the symbolism and meaning of the wheel – the images on the cards made sense.
We returned to sit around the wheel and discuss our feelings about our readings as a group, before making salt dough talismans to hang in our homes as charms. We threaded rowanberries on to red silk, the berries being representative of the season, and rowan wood being traditionally known for its protective qualities against evil spirits.
Finally, we ‘closed’ the wheel, bidding farewell to each goddess, having already sang our thanks (I tried my best but; goddess I may be – singer? Not so much).
By that time we’d all shared such a lot about ourselves, it didn’t feel strange to hug when we said our goodbyes.
I feel there’s still so much I don’t know about each of the goddesses or the myths and legends around them. However I do feel I’ve a greater appreciation of the stages we go through as women.
The idea we make the transition from maiden, to lover, to mother, to crone – which doesn’t sound like a positive term but actually, the crone is celebrated for her wisdom in age – really strikes a chord.
That each phase should be celebrated and identified as having strengths and powers in its own right is a positive thing; and the concept of these phases moving with the seasons, in sync with the elements, to me, helped it make sense.
It may be that nowadays our phases are mixed, and we find ourselves being many goddesses at once.
But appreciating each phase might help us realise what fascinating, complicated, powerful creatures we are – wherever we may be on the wheel.
The next workshop celebrates the goddess Cerridwen at Samhain on Saturday, October 31, from 10am until 4pm.
Readers are offered a 10 per cent discount to the workshop; please mention getreading/Reading Post when you book by calling Vicky on 07792 279789.
For more information, visit her website www.sacred-isle.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.