Words by Guy Kennaway, Portrait by Dimitris Koutroumpas
Reproduced here with kind permission from Haruka Magazine
I must admit to feeling some nerves as I climb the wooden steps in the Glastonbury Experience courtyard to meet Kathy Jones at The Goddess Temple. I ring the bell and wait, looking down on crystal shops, a book-stall and people chatting in the Blue Note café. To me, meeting Kathy is akin to interviewing St Paul in the early days of Christianity, or the Jamaican Leonard Howell who in 1960 was proselytizing about another new religion that nobody knew about, called Rastafarianism. To my simple mind, the narrative goes something like this: millennia ago, humans worshipped nature, then they moved onto animals, and then with the discovery of monotheism came up with a single all powerful male to worship: Jehovah, Buddha, Allah, Jah, God, call him what you will. All were also white skinned, before the rastas got a say. The huge omission, and injustice, was that there was not a female god of any significance. Religions had had a crack at a female deity, but it had never caught on. I always thought that modern feminist thought was surely at some point going to be reflected in theology. But the Catholics have done nothing. The Muslims are not exactly pioneers on the subject of women’s rights, and the C of E have done too little, too late, with their one, or is it now two, female bishops. Step forward Kathy Jones, head priestess and guiding light at the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury.
She opens the door, an elegant middle-aged woman with a fine smile and shrewd eyes. I actually feel awed in her company. She welcomes me into the Temple, a modest upstairs room filled with art work and cushions with gold the predominant colour. Kathy explains that décor changes each season. Lammas, the season of the Great Mother, for instance, ends at the autumn equinox and is followed by Mabon. For me, the iconography of the Temple is a welcome relief from the imagery of churches. I have always thought the sight of a priest kneeling in front of a semi-naked man nailed to a cross looks like something in a bad leather bar – but the Roman Catholics have rather lost their way.
‘I have always been a spiritual seeker, but for the first twenty eight years it was all He, Him and His.’
We settle down to talk, she on a sheepskin, I with my less flexible joints, on a chair. I start by asking where things started on her theological trajectory. She answers me carefully, measuring her words and I get the impression she is used to being misquoted. ‘I have always been a spiritual seeker, but for the first twenty eight years it was all He, Him and His.’
She pauses, to give me time to write down her words, and stands up to tidy some out of place books. Under her breath I hear her murmur, ‘There are some people who don’t know how to clear up in here.’ There is a sternness to her. And steeliness. No question. But if you are kicking off a world religion you aren’t going to do it just by being nice.
She was born in the North East, a geordie, and in her 20s moved to rural Wales ‘where there was nothing else to do but read, draw water and cut wood.’ Those great centering activities. This I see as her time in the wilderness. ‘Some man must have brought me to Glastonbury,’ she says, ‘I didn’t realise it at the time, but remembering it now it was the only place it could possible be. The cows on the Tor could go into the Tower then, I thought why would anyone want to come here? It’s so disgusting.’
But she returned in her late twenties and settled. ‘As the writer Geoffrey Ashe says, Glastonbury is the birthplace of new ideas. It is not a place for fruition. Ideas begin here and they spread out.’
Kathy’s own ideas were cohering. She began to write sacred dramas with the aim of reintroducing the feminine back into our myths. They were performed at the Assembly Rooms. ‘They were part of the the fabric of Glastonbury at that time.’
From the success of these plays was born The Goddess Conference, which brought devotees of the Goddess to Glastonbury annually for a few days of seminars and ceremonies and much more. I remember the first time I visited Glastonbury happened to coincide with the Goddess Conference and I walked the High Street and sat in the Pilgrim astonished at how many confident and indomitable women this small town seemed to have. The Goddess Conference weekend is a great treat for those both at the conference, and for those spectating from the side-lines. Powerful women from all over the world come together to reclaim their spiritual future.
All this doesn’t happen without a lot of organization, and there is something of the brand manager about Kathy Jones. There is a Goddess shop, for instance, where you can buy Goddess associated products from books to candles, the profits of which go to the organization. But a new religion needs some financial management and hard decision making. The Priestesses have a huge mountain to climb. And I am proud, but not that surprised, that it is starting here in an upstairs room in Glastonbury.
‘For your ceremonies,’ I ask, ‘who writes the rituals? Who creates the prayer book?’
‘There is no book and there are no rules. Then we are free.’
‘Nobody writes the prayers,’ she tells me. ‘There’s a framework. There’s a pattern. But we ask people in their own way to be present. Nothing is written. Nature is our text. We celebrate eight different seasons and we honour Her in each of them. The point is to empower everyone to find their own personal and community connection to the Goddess. There is no book and there are no rules. Then we are free.’
She pauses again to make sure I get her quote down accurately. Kind and firm.
This liturgical flexibility allows those who follow the Goddess (and they come from every continent in growing numbers to the conference each year) to create the ceremonies and events that are most meaningful for them in their place of worship. Ritual is not handed down in a patriarchal fashion from above.
‘When did the Temple come about?’ I ask.
‘I was at Mount Olympus in Greece with Mike, my partner.’ This is Mike Jones, editor of the brilliant Oracle magazine. ‘We were standing at an ancient site, when I felt such an overwhelming sadness at another goddess temple in ruins. It was there that I got the idea to open a pop-up temple in Glastonbury. I remember we served strawberries and champagne at Beltane in 2002. And celebrated the summer solstice. We moved into this permanent Temple in 2006. Now this place is a registered place of worship. We already need a bigger place. We are treading a big path.’
A big path indeed.
Let me make a prediction: In five hundred years time, when pilgrims and tourists will still be flocking to Glastonbury, the greatest attraction, along with the Tor, will be the Goddess Temple. It could even have the status that Bethlehem does to the Christians. The courtyard will be a World Heritage site and on certain significant days thousands of people will flock there to pay homage at the wellspring of their religion. And remembered and revered – I believe – will be Kathy Jones.
To those who are visiting Glastonbury today: tour the ruins of the Catholic Abbey, that place run by monks for their God, to see the past, and then go to the small upstairs room of the Goddess Temple and see the future.