The Return of the Goddess
The Glastonbury Cup is a potent symbol of the rise of feminine spirituality after thousands of years of one-sided masculine dominance. This cultural sea-change began when spiritually oriented Victorians—noticeably in England and Northern Europe, the Protestant countries - became aware of a growing need within the collective psyche for the feminine aspect of the divine. They felt more than ready for her return to a world that had been in a sorry state of imbalance for centuries in terms of religion and culture, particularly in the last two hundred years of arid scientific materialism and soulless industrial development.
Dr. John Goodchild was one of those who staunchly believed that the sacred feminine should be restored to Western religion and culture. He expressed his beliefs in a book, The Light of the West, published in 1898, in which he set out to show that the Celtic peoples were originally matrifocal and that ancient Ireland was the center of a religion that venerated a Great Goddess. The leader of this cult was the Mor Rigan, or Great Queen, whom Goodchild viewed as a historical person rather than a mythological figure, as she is usually portrayed. He believed all the wisdom teachings of the druids and bards stemmed from this goddess, and that her cult later became attached to the figure of Bride. Bride became the personification of the Gaelic “folk-soul,” one who integrated ancient pagan ways with the new religion of Christianity. Let us take a look at this ancient aspect of the divine feminine who is so intimately associated with the Glastonbury Cup.
Bride, or Brighid, is a later name for Brigit, who was originally a Celtic goddess. Her name comes from the Sanskrit, meaning, “the Exalted One,” from the root bríg: “flame, force, and vigor.” She was associated with the life-giving qualities of both the sun and the Earth. She ruled over everything that fostered human life and happiness: crops in the field, dairy animals, brewing and weaving, the shelter of the home, and the warmth of the hearth-fire. Her festival is in early February when the days begin to grow longer after winter and the sun brings back life to the Earth.
Brigit was said to have “two sisters” of the same name, which points to her originally being a triple goddess. The first was the patron of smithcraft: transforming ore into valuable weapons and beautiful artifacts was very important to the Celts and regarded as a magical craft. The second was the muse of poetry and prophecy, the mantic arts of the druids. Brigit’s third function was healing; she was said to have made the first cloth in Ireland into which she wove healing threads.
In the Christian era, the universal adoration given to Brigit was transferred to a holy woman of the fifth century, whom today is known as Saint Bridget or Bride. This flesh and blood woman may have originally been named after the goddess, since it seems likely that her family belonged to the tribe of the Brigantes, whose tutelary deity was Brigit. Pagan elements weave through many of the stories of her life. She is described as the daughter of a druid who founded a religious community in Kildare (“the Church of the Oak”) under a sacred oak tree, which was quite likely the site of an earlier pre-Christian shrine. Here a perennial sacred flame burned in a fire sanctuary, tended only by women, recalling the Vestal Virgins of Rome.* Devotion to the goddess-saint continued undiminished throughout the centuries, and as late as the nineteenth century in Scotland and Ireland, Saint Bride was called “the Mary of the Gael,” or “Foster Mother of Christ,” for in many ways she was still regarded as the Great Mother of her people. Many holy wells were dedicated to her, some of which became known as “Brideswells.” Pilgrims have visited these wells for centuries and many are still sought by those in search of healing and blessings. It was within one such well Dr. Goodchild hid the Glastonbury Cup.
Since one of Bride’s cult centers was Glastonbury, this confirmed Goodchild’s theory that the deepest roots of Western spiritual life were in the West rather than in the East, a concept that was in part a reaction to the recent fashion for all things Eastern cherished by the Theosophists and their offshoots. In The Light of the West, Goodchild explains why the sacred feminine is so crucial to the world: “The Light of the West is the beauty of womanhood. It inculcates the hatred of warfare, and of empires established by the greed of nations or rulers. It preaches woman’s desire for the empire of love.”
William Sharp was another believer in the redemptive power of the Goddess. Coming from Scotland, where Bride was still loved and revered by many of the country people, (especially in the Roman Catholic communities of the Highlands and Islands) it was natural enough that he should regard her as the supreme embodiment of the divine feminine. He was well aware of Bride’s ancient lineage which predates the saint of popular Scottish tradition. In his view, her legend: ". . . goes further back than the days of the monkish chroniclers who first attempted to put the guise of verbal Christian raiment on the most widely-loved and revered beings of the ancient Celtic pantheon. Long before . . . ever the first bell of Christ was heard by startled Druids . . .the Gaels worshipped a Brighde or Bride, goddess of women, of fire, of poetry. . . . one whom the Druids held in honor as a torch bearer of the eternal light. . . .
Writing as Fiona Macleod in his book, The Winged Destiny, he described this longed-for event as likely to happen on the Scottish island of Iona, with which Glastonbury is said to have strong psychic and spiritual links:
I believe that though the Reign of Peace may be yet a long way off, it is drawing near; and that Who shall save us anew shall come divinely as a Woman—but whether through mortal birth, or as an immortal breathing upon our souls, none can yet know. Sometimes I dream of the old prophecy that Christ shall come again upon Iona; and of that later prophecy which foretells, now as, the Bride of Christ, now as the Daughter of God, now as the Divine Spirit embodied through mortal birth—the coming of a new Presence and Power; and dream that this may be upon Iona, so that the little Gaelic island may become as the little Syrian Bethlehem. But more wise is it to dream, not of hallowed ground, but of the hallowed gardens of the soul, wherein She shall appear white and radiant. Or that, upon the hills, where we are wandered, the Shepherdess shall call us home.