Pilgrimage for the Goddess…or God…or Whatever Your Preference May Be: Being a Pilgrim on a Glastonbury Pilgrimage

By Crystal Dicks

As a pilgrim it is only logical to look up where one is going on pilgrimage aboard. Many pilgrimage areas have websites dedicated to the learning and figuring out what to do and which routes are best for pilgrimage. However, the Goddess Temple website for taking a journey to Glastonbury is the most interesting one that has appeared. As soon as one gets on their page its states “The Goddess is alive in Glastonbury, visible for all to see in the shapes of the sacred landscape. She is soft as the rounded hills of Her body and sweet as the apple blossom that grows in Her orchards”[1]. Then the page dissolves into a picture of a cat that has really nothing to do with the website. But, the website is well organized for the audience visiting the website. The website reaches out to the Neo-pagan and Wiccan community and tourist. However, the Christian community is completely wiped from the history of the temple and area of worship. The reason that this is interesting is because pilgrimage to Glastonbury is made up of many groups that are not widely known or scholarly articles are not focused on these groups as much as they are focused only on one group and only their actions with other groups.

Neo-paganism is a diverse term used to group many different spiritual and religious groups under one category. However, when speaking of pilgrimage to Glastonbury, the term Neo-paganism will be used in this essay to describe the Neo-Druids. Neo Druids are one of the groups that have developed out of the more general New Age Movement[2]. The New Age Movement is a religious and spiritual movement that developed out of many peoples’ dissatisfaction from their way of life and the ways in which the major religions were heading[3]. Wicca is also a religious community that developed out of the New Age Movement in the early 20th century. Wicca is very similar to Neo-druidism; however, wiccans worship a god and goddess only (there are many other forms of Wicca than just this one) whereas Neo-druids worship deities from the Arthurian mythologies (like Wicca, they also have many levels of worship and beliefs)[4]. From these newer forms of religious and spiritual worship, pilgrimage has evolved to having a space that has to be shared with others. From the researched presented, the more the communities has in common, the less chance of the communities having conflicts. This brings in various Christian communities who also have their history incorporated into Glastonbury. While Neo-pagans and Christians seem to hold very different spiritual beliefs, some crossing over of important figures does occur. For instance, some Neo-druids believe that Jesus actually attended a form of druid worship (in observation of course) and accepted the beliefs and the people who worshipped in this manner.

This essay offers another example of how Glastonbury pilgrimages by various groups are slowly becoming overlapping pilgrims. Marion Bowman and others have studied in great detail the relationship between Christian pilgrimage and Neo-pagan pilgrimage and the evolution of religious worship at Glastonbury. Based upon their studies, it can be argued that pilgrimage spaces at Glastonbury are becoming more infused together between different affiliated religious communities. In what follows, I will illustrate the overlapping relationships between Wiccan, Neo-pagan, and Christians through, analyzing of the pilgrimage websites used by both communities. The website gives off a very different interaction than what actually happens in Glastonbury. The essay then illustrates the community’s identities over a brief survey of Neo-pagan pilgrimage to Glastonbury then; analyze Wiccan pilgrimage to Glastonbury and then Christian pilgrimage to Glastonbury. Through the first three parts it will be argued that through mutual understanding of the sacredness of Glastonbury, the groups are able to form a pilgrimage which allows for the groups to become tolerant of each other.

Now let’s back track back to the beginning with The Glastonbury Goddess Temple website. The site may be busy with events constantly being updated and it may seem cluttered at all times even though it is only targeted to the Neo-pagan (Neo-Druids) and Wiccan community. When one gets onto the website, the first part of the website is a poem to the Goddess and the website is built as if the pilgrim (or tourist) could not be anything else but Neo-pagan or Wiccan. If one is feeling like they have come in contact with the Goddess or deities that one worships during pilgrimage, the website gives the person a place to train themselves to have that experience again after the pilgrimage. The website is very much about the before and after of pilgrimage. The website shows the viewer that they understand the need to have a relationship with one’s deities and the builders of the site wants to make sure that one does not have to go on pilgrimage all the way to Glastonbury to achieve that. The website allows pilgrimage to Glastonbury and the temple to be felt in other areas of the world. The website actually lists other pilgrimage sites based around the Goddess in Europe, North America and Australia and have critiques about each site and their background. Unlike other pilgrimages which can be critical of how one is to journey to a sacred space, the Glastonbury Goddess Temple website lists a detailed way to the temple taking into account of the difficulties of people with problems walking. The Glastonbury Goddess Temple has an organized way of journeying all the way down to have an area to learn more about other pilgrimages that connect to the Goddess pilgrimage and gain a welcoming community; even for the Wiccan community. The website states that they want to gain a community where one is allowed to be themselves no matter the background of said person on pilgrimage. The website is very much about building a community and a family with its pilgrims.

For the Wiccan groups that go on pilgrimage with the Neo-pagan community, the website allows for the communities to both worship their own individual Goddess and allows for the same ceremonies during the pilgrimage to be for everyone and not just closed off to one community. For instance, the Wheel of the Year[5] is one part of both communities that allows for the groups to worship and go on pilgrimage together. The pilgrimages are yearly for the Glastonbury Goddess Temple and therefore they are always celebrating a holiday that encompasses both communities. However, the most interesting part is that during said holidays the Glastonbury Goddess Temple sets aside time to celebrate those that have no affiliation with the beliefs of the communities or religion and are not a part of the pilgrimage at all. During the pilgrimage, if one is not Neo-pagan or Wiccan, the temple will ask if the group that is attending the pilgrimage would like to do a ceremony of their own in worship[6]. It is very different than other pilgrimage areas because one is not obligated or one does not feel forced to participate in worship during pilgrimage. The pilgrim (from the perceptive of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple) is just to have a moment to be at peace with one’s person and to have a place to celebrate being one’s self. Due the acceptance of different religious and spiritual beliefs at the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, Glastonbury becomes a comforting place for pilgrimage and pilgrimage groups that shares history within the area, like many Christian groups that also go on pilgrimage to Glastonbury.

The Catholic groups that go on pilgrimage to Glastonbury are unique because they have a different narrative of how Christianity came to be in the area of Glastonbury. Unlike other stories where Christians were forced into an area to escape execution or the religion being forced into the community, the Catholic groups in the community narrate a story of the ancient Druids learning of Christianity and wanting to have smooth infusion of the two; and some claim Jesus had attended a druidic university[7]. The form of Christianity that lives in Glastonbury is formed from the folklore of the Druids that came before them. This has not caused conflict which it would have in certain instances but instead created a sacred area that is Glastonbury. The Catholic pilgrims pray and are strongly devoted to Our Lady of Saint Mary of Glastonbury (a manifestation of the Virgin Mary) and Saint Bridget and have a relationship also with the Shrine of Our Lady of Glastonbury. The Lady of Glastonbury is also another form and name for the Goddess that the Neo-druids worship and pay pilgrimage for during the Wheel of the Year. However, like other shared pilgrimage sites, things are not always perfect.

The Catholic Glastonbury Pilgrimage is not as open to accepting the neo-pagan and Wiccan groups that believe that Our Lady of Glastonbury is the reincarnation of the Goddess. Unlike on the Glastonbury Goddess Temple website, the Glastonbury Shrine website is more about one being only there for one thing and one thing only. The pilgrimage is split into two group and they are pushed to only go on two routes. In comparison to the Neo-pagan pilgrimage to Glastonbury which has many routes that one can take and one is not force on one route. Another, part about the Catholic Glastonbury pilgrimage is that the directions of the pilgrimage are only for when one is actually in the area. The website does not show how one is able to get from the airport to the place of worship. The directions are stated as if the pilgrim already knows the area. The Catholic Glastonbury Pilgrimage, in comparison with is counterpart Neo-pagan Goddess pilgrimage, is more about being accepting of having to share sacred space with a non-believers but also keeping beliefs completely separated from each other. This is when the parallel starts become more detrimental for one group over the other. For instance, the websites do not touch on the fact that each group shares the area. But both groups are always in contact with the other. However, from the website of the Catholic pilgrims, there is a push for stating that their areas of worship are more important than how the Neo—pagan groups are worshipping. This is presented through the form in which the Neo—pagan websites events are shown. The Neo—pagan websites states that they are will to find a middle ground for worship and celebrates for everyone to be happy; the Catholic website has nothing of the sort.

The pilgrimages between the Neo-pagan and Wiccan are both trying to make the worship of the two a combined unit and it is detrimental to the community when the Catholic community is pulling away from the combined unit. The pilgrimages become less like a place of worship. This is because the need to push at each other becomes more irrational and more harmful. This then develops into the pilgrimages evolving into more of a battle ground of beliefs and less of a place of peace and worship for the people within the community. No one benefits from these types of disagreements and this only causes unneeded chaos for everyone.

However, for this site, it can be overserved that this problem will take time to ever come about. The communities try very hard to get along with each other and have a peaceful place of worship. This kind of unity goes against Eade and Sallnow, which argue that the pilgrim groups are always in battle with each other over sacred sites these groups really try to understand. The groups even find a common denominator which is the Virgin Mary which, the pagan groups believe to be the reincarnation of their goddess. However, Eade and Sallnow are not exactly wrong when arguing that the groups are always going to have some form of disagreement. The way in which the groups are different from each other is by their will to try and understand each other and share the sacred space. The communities are built on cooperation from the pilgrimages and the society within Glastonbury.

Bibliography

Bowman, Marion. “Going with the Flow: Contemporary Pilgrimage in Glastonbury.” In Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries Into the Sacred, by Peter Jan Margry, 242-280. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Unveristy Press, 2008.

Bowman, Marion. “Procession and Possession in Glastonbury: Continuity, Change and the Manipulation of Tradition.” Folklore, 2004: 273-285.

Campion, Nicholas. Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West: Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement. England, 2012.

Websites:

Charles, Geraldine. Glastonbury Goddess Temple. 2014. http://www.goddesstemple.co.uk (accessed March 2015).

Dunwich, Gerina. Wicca A to Z: A Modern Witch’s Encyclopedia. New Jersey: Carol Publication Group, 1997.

Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow. “Introduction.” In Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage, by John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, 1-29. New York: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Pike, Sarah M. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

[1] Geraldine Charles. Glastonbury Goddess Temple. Goddesstemple.co.uk. 2014.

[2] Michael T. Cooper. “The Roles of Nature, Deities, and Ancestors in Constructing Religious Identity in Contemporary Druidry” (Pomegranate 11, 2004). 58-73.

[3] Sarah Pike. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America (New York: Columbia, 2004)

[4] Gerina Dunwich, Wicca A to Z: A Modern Witch’s Encyclopedia. (New Jersey: Carol Publication Group. 1997).

[5] Dunwich, Wicca A to Z: A Modern Witch’s Encyclopedia.

[6] Charles, “Ceremonies in the Goddess Temple and Goddess Hall”. Accessed April 7,2015. Goddesstemple.co.uk.

[7] Bowman, “Procession and Possession in Glastonbury: Continuity, Change and the Manipulation of Tradition”. 274.

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