owl & crow

stephanie anderson ladd

Priestess Pilgrimage


It has been too long since I posted here. I find that when I am holding space for my Goddess Temple e-courses, which I did over three moons this summer, and traveling to faraway places, it is not easy for me to gather my thoughts and emotions in writing as I need contemplative time.

My friend, Susan Wells, a magical potter who has been channeling Mother Mary as she works her alchemy with clay, posted a new offering of a “Contemplative Cup,” and I knew I had to have one. Sure enough, drinking my new favorite tea, Iron Goddess of Mercy (She is Quan Yin, another form of Mary) in this wood-fired vessel has helped me ground into my being. I am starting to make sense of the many images and ideas, forms and feelings, that have been bubbling in the cauldron in both my waking and dreaming state. So please, pour a cuppa tea and join me in my reminiscing…

At the end of my New Moon Goddess Mystery School in early October, I jetted off to England on a two-week journey with 11 sisters. As with my Goddess Pilgrimage last year to Greece, once I had arrived, I crossed the threshold into liminal space. A sense of timelessness set in, where past, present and future meet at the crossroads. This is the Crone Goddess Hecate’s hangout, where I seem to find myself again and again at this stage of my life.

It seemed no accident that these particular women were also meeting at the crossroads at this particular time to walk upon the soil of our ancestors and to revisit the sacred sites of England we knew in our sense memory. As I had felt on last year’s pilgrimage, I had been here before as a priestess and I am returning to remember, to be the hollow bone for spirit to flow through, to move through the spiral dance of life on the body of the Great Mother. For that is the job of the priestess: To act as mediator between the human  and the divine, to hold sacred space, and to be a vessel of transformation for herself and for others.

The journey began with a reunion with my dear friend, Sarah Jane, in London and a visit to the British Museum, where we beheld these goddesses, all sacred to me. Meeting them in the whirlwind of the first three days in London was an initiation of sorts. They seemed to give us their blessings for the journey ahead…

Sekhmet, Fiery Egyptian Crone Goddess of Destruction and Healing

Inanna/Ishtar, Sumerian Queen of Heaven and Night, an Underworld traveler

Golden Tara (one of 21 Taras), Tibetan Bodhisattva who enables us to manifest and fulfill our life’s purpose

 Aphrodite (Venus), Mother Goddess of Love and Beauty

Nine of us (two would meet up with us along the way) set out for the standing stones, first Stonehenge and then Avebury, on our way to Glastonbury. Stonehenge is stunning, but it felt removed, as it has become more like a museum now. When I first visited these stones in 1976, there were no ropes or barriers and I could lean my back again the sarsens and watch the sun came up through a stone gateway. Now they are protected and must be viewed from afar. Still, I can easily imagine how these magnificent stones once provided an outdoor arena, of sorts, where people gathered millennia ago, performing rituals of celebration, worship, or perhaps burial. It is clearly a monument to the earth and sky, the sun and moon, and the great wheel of the seasons.


From there we traveled to Avebury, the largest group of existent standing stones (actually comprising three stone circles) that surround the quaint village of that name. These we could walk amongst, touch, sit on, and feel their warmth, the subtle vibration of lifetimes lived here. The day was spent ambling around the village, stopping in a grove of beech trees whose roots were exposed in a dazzling display of interconnectedness.

Late in the afternoon, we gathered on the top of West Kennet Barrow, a long mound that housed a tomb. We sat on top of it in a circle, sharing our stories and what brought us to this point. Then we formed a line and entered the tomb, circling underground, offering prayers and songs of gratitude to the ancestors who whispered their thanks to the priestesses who honored their all-but-forgotten labors.

From Avebury we traveled to Glastonbury, the heart of our pilgrimage, where we stayed at the Chalice Well Inn for four days. The Inn is like a small monastery with a beautiful well-tended garden where the Chalice Well is nestled, fed by an iron-rich, red spring, that produces a delicious, iron-oxidized water, that I believe had a healing effect on me. On the first night there, we circled around the chalice well and offered blessings and prayers for the healing of our Mother Earth, to the wounded feminine and masculine, and to the energy of the Well Maidens who once guarded the waters and provided sustenance from a golden cup to wayfarers who happened upon them. These Goddesses of the Wells were considered sacred and the kings and knights of old Britton were bound to protect them in a chivalric manner for thousands of years until one day the tradition was broken by a king named Amangon. He and his men raped some of the maidens and took the golden chalice, symbol of the divine feminine. The maidens disappeared, the kingdom became a wasteland, and thus the search for the Holy Grail began.

We learned that there were two springs here, the red and the white, that once joined and flowed together, but that have since been divided. Their source was the tor, the hill that overlooks Glastonbury. The tor is an unusual geological formation, a rain-fed aquifer that formed a type of underground vessel like the alembic of alchemy. In the bottom of the alembic, the heavier shale and limestone holds the iron-saturated water of the red spring. The top of the alembic contains the calcium-rich waters of the white spring, whose flow fluctuates much more unpredictably than the steady surge of the deeper red spring. Both flow in the same direction towards the Chalice Well, but the white spring has been diverted by man so that it no longer joins the red spring.

As Nicholas Mann and Philippa Glasson describe it in The Red & White Springs of Avalon, “The Red and White Springs, emerging out of their never-failing, world-mountain source, added to the potency of the extraordinary, otherworldly landscape [of Avalon]. The great mysteries of life and death, of the divine masculine and feminine, of queenship and kingship, the nature of goddess and god, and of the journey between this world and the next–are all evoked by the striking polarity of the two springs. Through them, the pilgrim can connect with powerful initiatory symbols: the Philosopher’s Stone, the Holy Grail, the Cauldrons of Plenty and of Rebirth, and Excalibur, the Sword of Sovereignty. Most importantly of all, the Entrance to the Otherworld was said to be located on this ‘Fortunate Isle,’ the mysterious ‘Isle of Glass’ that became known as Avalon.”

Could it be that the duality that we have known since the end of the goddess-loving times and the beginning of the patriarchy will be resolved when the two springs run together again? In alchemy, from the black nigredo of the earth comes the white albedo of the water, which, when mixed with the red rubedo of fire creates an interplay that results in the sacred marriage of the divine feminine and masculine, the magnum opus that is the Philosopher’s Stone, the Holy Grail, or the Divine Child. As Mann and Glasson put it, “By hastening the release of human consciousness from identification with dualism, and by learning to transmit radiant streams of the elixir-like energy of love-wisdom from the portal opened by the opus, the alchemized soul learns to connect with and honor all beings.”

The beautiful wrought-iron lid of the Chalice Well contains rich symbolism of these two worlds meeting in the form of the vesica piscis, two overlapping circles that form a mandorla, or almond-shaped yoni in the center. This is the vulva or birth opening of creation, where opposites unite, and which is, in itself, a portal to the Otherworld that Avalon represents.

From the Chalice garden, the tor can be seen rising up from what once was an inland sea, known as Ynys Witrin or the “Isle of Glass,” thought to have been the center of the mystical Isle of Avalon.

We struck out in the early morning, shrouded in mist, able to see only a few feet in front of us as we climbed higher into the clouds, seemingly compelled by an invisible force urging us onward.

It was easy to see how this nemeton could be perceived as the axis mundi, or world axis, which connected the above and below, and from which the cosmos revolved. As Mann and Glasson describe it, “The implicit invitation to the Avalonian pilgrim [is] to be guided by this sacred geography towards a profound understanding of the place of humans within the cosmos. When these natural and man-made features are considered in their entirety, they reveal that the Isle of Avalon possesses an extraordinary genius loci, a spirit of place where the veil between the worlds, between the solar, the terrestrial and the daemonic realms, dissolves; a place where the anima mundi or world soul, connects with the life of the individual soul to provide healing and initiation.”

After our magical time here amid much tears and laughter, a smaller group of us continued on to the wild coast of Cornwall, a region I have longed to see since I first read the gothic fiction of Daphne DuMaurier as a young girl. We stopped in the picturesque town of Boscastle to visit the Museum of Witchcraft, where my favorite exhibit was a dark mirror that seemed to hold an infinity of dark reflections. What stories could it tell, I wondered. Could this have been the mirror that the evil queen in Snow White used to ask, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, Who’s the fairest of them all?”

 And then on to Tintagel Castle on the high cliffs above the Celtic Sea. This is where King Arthur was said to have been born. And Merlin’s Cave beneath it, where priestesses gathered and looked out to the sea on one side and the sand on the other, glimpsing fairy lights and rainbows about us. Was that the chuckling of Merlin we heard or the lapping of the sea upon the stones?

And finally, one last magical day in St. Nectan’s Glen, a place where fairies and spirits abound, and where I sensed the presence of my mother, who met me in the realm of the imagination and encouraged me to believe in things unseen, and my father, who also stoked the fires of my imagination and taught me playfulness.

The seven of us priestesses who were left were like little girls playing in the forest on the last day of our journey. We reluctantly said good-bye to this ancient land and spirit and stepped back across the threshold toward home.

I’m ready for another cuppa tea. How about you?

Much love and gratitude to my priestess sisters, Pixie Campbell, Sarah Jane Owen, Christine Mason Miller, Clarity Beaumont, Jennette Nielsen, Latisha Guthrie, Erin Faith Allen and Poppy, Lisa Wright, Katariina Agnes Fagering, and Sara Eliason.

About The Author

I am in a stage of new beginnings, of starting over on the other side of the continent from California, where I spent 38 years of my life. Moving to North Carolina was a bit of a shock to my system. Not so much culture shock but the shock of transplanting myself and starting over as a therapist, artist, and wild woman. I had to figure out how I was going to do it differently than I had been doing it. Because I knew I needed to change the way I worked outwardly to match the way I was feeling and moving inwardly and make it more playful, and at the same time, deep and meaningful. I knew I wanted to work with women primarily, to help them find their way on the heroine's journey to wholeness. I knew I wanted to bring more creative expression to my work because that was what was working for me--a way to bypass all the analytical thinking, perfectionism, and psychological paradigms largely created by men, and find more more intuitive ways of Being, Creating and Flowing with Life, in keeping with the Divine Feminine. I like working with the triple goddess: maiden, mother and crone, which describes the three stages of life as well as inner states of being--the innocent/adventurer; the nurturer and active doer; and the wise being who has the advantage of overview and doesn't care as much what others think of her as long as she is being true to herself. The triple goddess is found in most all cultures and traditions and helps us move out of dualistic thinking patterns and find our way to a more integrated and balanced way of life. As I forge a new path, I want to connect with women all over the world, to help women own their power, and to both explore and offer tools for self-discovery and self-care. Creating my interactive e-book, "In the Lap of the Goddess: Connecting With the Divine Feminine," and my Goddess Temple e-courses based on the workbook are my offerings, a way to share with women the knowledge and wisdom we all hold within us, reflected in the goddess throughout history, across time, and in every corner of the world.


2 Responses to “Priestess Pilgrimage”

  1. Lisa Wright says:

    A beautiful history of our trip – with all the magic captured perfectly.

  2. Susan Wells says:

    I’m catching up on electronic reading, so happy to spend some time with your trip and yes! tea and my kitty and warm sunshine. I especiallylove the illustration of the clear and red water and their containers.

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