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Goddesses, Sacred Water and a Somerset Pilgrimage

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Glastonbury - the Isle of Avalon


I couldn't believe that it took me so long to discover this sacred place - but in many ways I'm glad that I hadn't found Avalon sooner since it appeared just at the right time. Being in Avalon has helped me to understand so much about myself, the conditionings of my ancestors and this land and the return of the divine feminine - the goddess which was lost many centuries ago and had been honoured at temples across the UK including Avalon and Bath. This was a topic explored in the book Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I would urge people to read the book before reading about the life of the author in order to treat it as a separate piece of art, and thereby free from judgement. The book explores the ancient goddess culture of Britain in the time after the Roman invasion and during the Saxon raids with its druids, earth rites, priestesses and beliefs in the otherworldly Isle of Avalon that was entered by magically parting the mists within Glastonbury.


I visited this town in July, August and September 2019 and had the opportunity to visit the Goddess Conference for a couple of days. The energy of the divine feminine is unbelievably strong here and people from across the globe come to Glastonbury in order to bring these energies within themselves back into balance. These were some places which particularly inspired me during my time in Avalon:


Chalice Well Gardens


There are two famous springs in Glastonbury and it is said that the waters of the Chalice Well is for healing the divine feminine and the waters of the White Spring is for healing the divine masculine. I was originally drawn to the waters of the Chalice Well gardens and spent many days visiting and sitting by the well where I felt incredibly peaceful and as if a great healing was taking place in my energetic field. The gardens contain many 'rooms' each with their own energies and purposes. The charity which maintains the gardens was established by Wellesley Tudor Pole in 1959 who bought the private lands and opened them up to the public and preserved them as a sacred place.

For £4.50 you can visit the gardens, yet if you are staying for a while in Glastonbury it is worth becoming a companion of the garden for just over twenty pounds which allows you to have free access of the gardens.


I often enjoyed sitting at the wellhead - this photo was taken on Lammas day and includes decoration around the well. The wellhead contains the symbol of the Vesica Piscis of two interlocking circles symbolising the coming together of spirit and matter. The sword intersecting the circles is a possible reference to excalibur from the Arthurian legends since it was believed that King Arthur was buried on the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey.

The Lion's Head Fountain - here the healing waters can be drunk which are reddish in colour due to the iron content. The Holy Thorn Tree can be seen in the background - legend says that this tree took root when Joseph of Arimathea pushed his staff into the ground at the well. I often enjoyed bathing my feet in the cool waters of King Arthur's courtyard and eating my lunch on a swinging chair in the meadow and enjoying views up the Tor.


White Spring


Although I ventured into this cave-like temple early on in my pilgrimage, I did not feel called to venture into the waters until the end of my stay. I had felt to nurture my divine feminine energies and build them in strength before making this 'leap' into the divine masculine waters of the white spring - the locals believe that the Chalice Well embodies the divine feminine with its red, iron-rich waters and the white spring nourishes the masculine energies. I eventually took the plunge and stood in the cold waters and a lady near me began singing, making sounds which seemed to pour from her heart and I joined in with her.  As she left, I felt to plunge into the deeper pool, and felt as if I was a new-born and I submerged myself completely.  The waters were highly rejuvenating and strengthening and for a long time I stood in these waters and felt myself come into balance.

This water temple is open every-day except Wednesday and Thursday from 1.30pm-4.30pm and includes candle-lit altars and artwork inside. The tap outside, where drinking water can be collected, is accessible at all times and on the opposite side of the road, water can be collected from the chalice well spring.


The Goddess Temple

This temple is the first officially recognised British goddess temple in what is believed to be 1,500 years and it is dedicated to the Lady of Avalon who is considered to be the goddess of the Sacred Isle of Avalon - the mystical otherworld of Glastonbury.

The temple is open everyday from 12pm-4pm and visitors can receive a sacred blessing or smudging from the Melissa of the temple.

Lady of Avalon by Caroline Lir - artwork in the temple.


Glastonbury Abbey

The abbey was founded in the 7th century and is associated with various legends including those of King Arthur and Joseph of Arimthea.  A signpost marks the proposed site where it was believed that King Arthur and his wife Guinevere were buried in a tomb which was discovered in 1191 along with a cross bearing the insciption: Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia ("Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon").


Ley lines are also thought to pass through the Abbey grounds which are believed to be particularly potent in the Lady Chapel. Below this ruined chapel in the crypt can be found an old well which was used historically for healing although it is now sealed off.

There is a beautiful medieval garden in the abbey grounds which has been well-researched and I have written a little article about the kinds of plants and herbs which were grown in monastic gardens here: https://www.waterofawakening.com/post/old-english-homes-gardens-a-list-of-herbs-and-vegetables


The abbey also houses an ancient omphalos stone which is egg-shaped and situated next to the Abbot's kitchen building.


Glastonbury Tor


The ruin of the second St Michael's church, consisting of a single tower.


The centre point of many ley lines, including the Michael Line, this is a powerful place of manifestation and energy. I camped nearby and would often venture up early in the morning for meditation and qi gong, finding the energies very strong there. I felt called during this time to journey up the Tor, yet on some occasions, when I was releasing, I felt to avoid it and spend some time in more gentler spots such as the Chalice Well gardens - the energies can be intense and I tried to be as mindful and respectful as I could with my thoughts here. One morning as I was meditating, a boy who was perhaps ten years old rushed up to the top of the Tor and shouted "Morgana! Morgana is here," - referencing Morgan le Fay who is a goddess of the faery/priestess of Arthurian legend and the Tor is mentioned in Arthurian mythology.


Due to the low-lying damp ground around the tor, mist can arise creating an affect known as Fata Morgana where the Tor seems to rise above the mist. A Fata Morgana is a type of mirage which is seen as a band above the horizon and is an Italian term taken from the priestess Morgan le Fay due to the belief (particularly in the area of the Strait of Messina) that the mirages seen were fairy castles.

There is believed to be a labyrinth on this ancient site and further information about this pilgrimage route can be found in books by Geoffrey Ashe and Kathy Jones.

Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (1864)


Gog and Magog - the Oaks of Avalon

In 2017, Gog was badly damaged by fire caused by a left candle, although the tree had already died by this point.

The great oak, Magog - named after apocalyptic figures in the bible - these trees were thought to stand at the entrance of an ancient ceremonial procession towards the Tor. This avenue of old oak trees was tragically cut down in 1906 to create farmland and included a tree which held over 2,000 growth rings. I visited this site with a man I met by chance at the Wishing Well launderette where we shared our washing together. He was from Switzerland and cycling through the UK - by chance we both wanted to see the trees that day so we went together and had a lovely peaceful meditation at the site.


Wearyall Hill and the Glastonbury Thorn

The Glastonbury Tor can be seen in the background and the remains of the holy thorn tree can be seen in the foreground, now decorated with ribbon, crystals and incense. The original tree was associated with legends of Joseph of Arimathea and it was propagated several times and grown in various locations such as Glastonbury Abbey. The original tree was burnt during the English civil war as a superstitious relic and this tree was planted up on Wearyall hill in the 1950s although its branches were cut down in 2010 by vandals and as soon as new saplings would appear they would mysteriously disappear days later and so the tree was completely removed in May 2019. I have seen it written that this hill was the site of the castle of the Fisher King in the Holy Grail and Arthurian legends. According to this myth, the land was ailing and the king was wounded and it was said that he would be restored to health when asked a certain question - 'Whom does the Grail serve?'


The Marshes of Avalon

When needing some quiet time to contemplate and integrate, I appreciated walks in nature including the atmospheric marshes of Avalon. The beginning of the walk is not so pleasant since it starts through the industrial area of Glastonbury, yet the path up from Middle Drove lane leads to the first RSPB nature reserve called Ham Wall which has many hides, including a hide which overlooks the Tor where I saw a bittern. There is a small visitor centre here which has a tea and coffee machine and simple cakes. The second nature reserve continues adjacent to Ham Wall and is known as Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve and also has many bird hides.

Ham Wall nature reserve - the marshes of Avalon, looking towards the Tor in the far distance.


Rainbows End cafe

Over 25 years old, this is Glastonbury's first vegetarian cafe and it is simply amazing! The gardens are lovely and atmospheric with a fountain and goddess sculpture and the people who visit and work there are very friendly - overall the place has a homely and warm vibe and I love coming here, it's my favourite place to eat. I enjoyed the dish of mushroom and chashewnut flan with two salads including a delicious side-meal of cauliflower in peanut sauce. The cakes and puddings also looked amazing: https://rainbowsendcafe.com/menu/


Excalibur cafe

This independent cafe has a different, more sophisticated atmosphere and its own charm and has some great options including a veggie buffet which you can pay for by weight or as a set amount.   It includes lovely roast vegetables and wild foraged salads.


Dance Church at Pendragon

This ecstatic dance event happens every Sunday from 11am-1pm at Pendragon Community House and there is often a community lunch available afterwards for a £3 contribution. The dance event costs £5 and it is a lovely way to meet some nice people in the local community: https://www.facebook.com/PendragonHouse/


The Goddess Conference

This takes place every summer and draws on a different theme each year. In August 2019 the focus was on the Sun-Lover Goddess and I attended a lovely talk by Terence Meaden in which he discussed the topic of stone circles and the marriage of the land and a sun-rise drumming ceremony on the Tor with the Priestess Völvas of Freya. More information here: https://goddessconference.com/

Altar for the Sun-Lover Goddess - the lions symbolised the Lion's Gate Portal (8/8/2019.)


Wells

The coat of arms of Wells - the wells refer to the water in the city and the tree image is taken from an old seal which depicted a stream springing from the roots of a tree. The Latin phrase 'Hoc fonte derivata copia in patriam populumque fluit' means 'Wealth, drawn from this spring, flows forth unto our country and our people' and it is a paraphrase from Horace's Ode 6, Book III.


The city of Wells is also full of sacred water and springs and a monastery was eventually built up around these waters - in 705, King Ine of Wessex donated land by Saint Andrew's Well to his bishop, Aldhelm and a minster was built just south of the present-day cathedral. A stream from this well flowed by the minster and water may have been used for church ceremonies. The water from the wells is unceasing, falling down from the Mendip Hills and may have seemed spiritually significant to the people in the middle ages - the wells, springs and pools arise from an underground river which forces water up to the surface through weaknesses in the ground and a huge quantity of water rises up here. It is easy to see how the city was given its name.

Saint Andrew's Well at the Bishop's Palace


Wells, despite being a city, is a very grounding and nourishing place to be. It has a calm and gentle energy and there are ley lines connecting it to Glastonbury - it is full of old stone walls, quaint small doors, old buildings, country cottages, idyllic gardens and there is lots of nearby forest to explore including the caves and forest at Wookey Hole. The shops, however, are not the most inspiring and tend to be quite mainstream. It certainly doesn't have the wild, independent and creative streak of Glastonbury but it has a quiet charm and I have found this place to be very nourishing for integrating the powerful energies of Avalon.


Places to visit:


The Bishop's Palace - over 800 years old, this palace was built in the 13th century when Bishop Jocelin Trotman received a crown licence to build a residence and deer park by the cathedral which became home to the bishops. The beautiful gardens are full of wells which are believed to have held spiritual significance for thousands of years, especially the well of Saint Andrew - stone age flints have been found near the waters and Roman pottery was found near the springs.

The ruined great hall - a great entertainment and dining hall of two storeys, built in the 1280s at the time of Bishop Burnell. The cathedral can be seen in the background.

The huge holm oak (Quercus ilex) in the East Garden.

An old yew surrounded by roses in the East Garden.

Entrance to the Great Hall with sculptures.


Wells Cathedral - it's incredibly beautiful and it is possible to enjoy evensong here each evening at 5.15pm (check times when you arrive.) There is a lovely clock, installed in 1390, where jousting knights go round in circles every quarter of an hour.  The scissor arches, built in 1338-48, are an ingenious architectural design for sinking tower foundations.

The abbey is full of mystery, symbology and spiritual presence.


A video made in the Chapter House, which was completed in 1306 - an octagonal building it was originally used by clergymen to conduct cathedral business, yet it is now used as a space for concerts due to its beautiful sound dynamics.

The stone outline of the old Lady Chapel by the cloister which was completed in 1326 and included a revolutionary octagonal design with a star-shaped vault - this quiet space of the divine feminine is nestled just next to Saint Andrew's well in the Bishop's Palace.


There are also three green men figures in the Chapter House, one of which is a woman. Green men feature in medieval churches across the UK and many pubs were named after this figure which is often depicted shrouded in leaves and it was thought to be originally a pagan nature spirit or fertility deity.


The Crown at Wells - a fifteenth century coaching inn - it has a warm atmosphere with plenty of nooks to settle in and get comfortable and they serve lunch and dinner. They have a few vegan and vegetarian options and I loved the vegan lasagne with roasted squash, peppers, courgette & garlic breadcrumb topping - it came fresh out of the oven and was piping hot, packed full of flavour. Highly recommended!


The Good Earth - a restaurant, shop and food shop, this place has great energy and is an eco-friendly shop which stocks lovely and yummy food products. The cafe/restaurant is very large and has lots of rooms to hide away in if you wish for a cup of tea in privacy or a quiet conversation with friends. In their restaurant, they work with seasonal vegetables and include vegan options and they close at 4.50/5pm depending on the day: http://www.thegoodearthwells.co.uk/restaurant.html


Springs


There are many springs around Wells and in the Mendip Hills and I camped next to a spring near Wells and another spring up near Chewton Mendip which was at the site of a rainbow gathering. Many people collect drinking water from the Coxley Well spring.



Water gushing from a spring up near Wells.

Stored water from a spring near Chewton Mendip.

Fair Lady Well, in the Mendip Hills.


Ebbor Gorge -this ancient gorge consists of a ravine cut into limestone rock which is 350 million years old and various caves here were homes to Neolithic people (beginning 12,000 years ago) and many flint tools can be found at the museum in Wells.  The site is close to Wookey Hole caves.

This region is incredibly atmospheric and I enjoyed connecting with the stone and mythos of the place which includes many walking tracks. Down the road, there is a lovely independent pub called the Wookey Hole Inn which is full of Buddha statues and interesting artwork - they have a lovely garden and have vegetarian options.


Figure with a face stone at the gorge.


The viewing point (off picture to the left is Glastonbury Tor in the far distance.)


Bath

The coat of arms for Bath including a lion on the left and a bear on the right; they are both standing on branches of oak which relates to the legend of King Bladud who was said to discover the springs when he herded his pigs. The motto 'AQUAE SULIS' was the Roman name of the city meaning the waters of Sul (Minerva.) The blue wavy lines represent the River Avon and the sword is a symbol of St. Paul, the patron saint of the Abbey and city.

A statue displaying the words 'Water is Best;' this was erected in 1851 by the Bath Temperance Association.


Forgive the unoriginality of the text here - I am mostly referencing the notices scattered throughout the site of the Roman Baths for my memory and the organisation of my thoughts but I hope that some of these writings and photos are inspiring enough to share online. Bath is much busier than Wells and Glastonbury and has more of a 'tourist' and 'mainstream' vibe going on although there are many independent cafes and intriguing little shops and has its own charm and beauty. The Roman Baths are certainly catered as a tourist destination rather than a site of pilgrimage, as the sacred waters in Glastonbury are treated - yet it is clear that goddess energy still lingers here and the waters, which can be drunk inside, have a strong vitality. The waters arise from a hot spring at a temperature of 46 degrees centigrade and the water bubbles up at a rate of 1,170,000 litres per day.

The baths, surrounded by sculptures of famous Roman emperors.

The head of Sulis Minerva.

"In Britain are hot springs adorned with sumptuous splendour for the use of mortals. Minerva is patron goddess of these." Solinus, 3rd century AD.


The presence of the goddess can certainly be felt in the Roman Baths - yet due to the busy nature of the site as a tourist attraction it is difficult to drop into this energy and I found there to be only enough time to offer my gratitude and blessings to the goddesses of this healing water. In Roman times, people came from across the world to visit the Sacred Spring, baths and Temple of Sulis Minerva and in the 4th century AD, the baths and temple were at their height.

The front of the Temple of Sulis Minerva - it was supported by four huge columns and was 15 metres high. In the Temple Courtyard, there were also carvings of the moon goddess Luna and the sun god Sol which faced each other across the great altar in the courtyard. In special temple buildings, those seeking divine help could rest overnight and upon waking the priests of the Roman god Aesculapius (god of healing) would help them to interpret their visions or dreams. There was a stone altar for Aesculapius which included a dog carved on it. Dogs were associated with many gods and goddesses including Aesculapius and Diana.  Other statues or artwork depicting gods and goddesses included a depiction of Rosmerta, a Celtic goddess and great provider with her wooden bucket which was found at the baths, along with a depiction of the hand of Jupiter and Mercury who was the messenger of the gods. In Bathwick, a depiction of the three mother goddesses was found which were worshipped throughout the Celtic lands. The temple also included a tholos and is the only one to be found in Roman Britain - this was a type of round temple which stood in the east of the Temple Courtyard.

This sacrificial altar (table in the background) was where the priests conducted ceremonies and animal sacrifces. It included panels decorated with carvings of Bacchus, a nymph, Jupiter, Hercules, an unknown god and Apollo. The Haruspex Stone in the foreground was used to predict the future by removing organs from a sacrificed animal and reading from them.

"We...erect altars at places where great streams burst suddenly from hidden sources; we honour springs of hot water as divine." Seneca, Epistulae Morales 41.3, 1st century AD

In the 1st century Roman engineers began controlling the water flow and created a reservoir around the Sacred Spring, this is a picture of the overflow where hot water was directed into the baths.

The baths with the abbey in the background.

"The picture is not complete without some quarrelsome fellow, a thief caught in the act, or the man who loves the sound of his own voice in the bath - not to mention those who jump in with a tremendous splash." Seneca, Epistulae Morales, 56 1st century AD.

The statue of Bladud, the mythical founder of Bath was constructed in the 17th century and in the 12th century the Kings Bath was built in the Roman ruins. Nowadays it is possible to enjoy the hot, healing waters of Bath by visiting Thermae Bath Spa, which is Britain's only natural, thermal spa.


Other Places to Visit:


The Jane Austen Centre and Regency Tea Room

There are many delightful places to enjoy English-style afternoon tea and the Regency Tea Room is a delight - the staff dress up in Victorian clothes and the tea sets include layered cake plates. The atmosphere in the room is lovely and the food looked great. I arrived in the afternoon so it was too early to have dinner but there were vegan and vegetarian options including a vegan roll with tea. The Jane Austen centre is situated in the city where the writer lived and set many of her stories and it includes an exhibition and a dressing up area.


Bath Abbey

It is not as impressive as the cathedral at Wells, yet its size, stained-glass windows and architecture is quite awe-inspiring - this abbey was founded in the 7th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries with a major restoration carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.

Acorn - a vegan cafe in one of the oldest buildings in Bath - this was opened at 5.30pm which was too late for me since I needed to catch a bus back to Wells. Yet the menus looked incredible and can be found online: https://www.acornrestaurant.co.uk/


There are many intriguing independent shops in Bath, including chocolate shops, cute tea rooms, unique cafes and clothes stores and a little map shop - the city is worth taking the time to explore and is full of old buildings and interesting lanes and parks.  I ended up eating at Bath Fish & Chips on Terrace Walk and ate by the waters of the River Avon near Pulteney Bridge. The packaging was eco-friendly and they make home-made vegan sausages which they rolled into shape and fried - the chunky chips were also really lovely and not too greasy. It wasn't the healthiest dish but it was very tasty and warm to eat by the river - it was a lovely end to the day to sit and appreciate the waters of Avon.

'The Lady of the Lake' illustration for James Thomas Knowles'The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights (1912)


"So they rode till they came to a lake, the which was a fair water and broad, and in the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand. Lo! said Merlin, yonder is that sword that I spake of. With that they saw a damosel going upon the lake. What damosel is that? said Arthur. That is the Lady of the Lake, said Merlin; and within that lake is a rock, and therein is as fair a place as any on earth, and richly beseen; and this damosel will come to you anon, and then speak ye fair to her that she will give you that sword." From Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.


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