This interview was done for the Australian Pagan Awareness Network’s magazine The Small Tapestry, Winter (S.H.) 2014.
Glenys Livingstone is a Goddesswoman who facilitates seasonal rituals at her home in the Blue Mountans at Bru-Na-BigTree in Springwood. Her book entitled PaGaian Cosmology: Reinventing earth based Goddess Religions is the fruit of her Ph.D. thesis completed at the University of Western Sydney: it offers a unique perspective of a naturalistic pagan that fuses the indigenous traditions of Europe with scientific theory, feminism and a deep poetic relationship with place. Together she and her partner Taffy Seaborne have created the Mooncourt as a sacred space for sharing sacred ceremony and exploring the triple Goddess as a metaphor for cosmic creativity. She is published author, blogger, workshop facilitator and active member of both the Pagan and Goddess Spirituality communities here in Australia.
Q: You use the term PaGaian to describe your approach to celebrating the seasonal festivals known as the Wheel of the year. Could you please explain what this means and why you have chosen to use this rather than the more common usage Pagan?
I had originally named my religious practice as “Gaian”, because it was always Goddess focused – She was my primary passion, and I was also very influenced by the cosmology of the Western scientific Universe story, in particular Gaia Theory. Yet I desired also to recognise that my practice of the Wheel of the Year and the format of the rituals as I composed them was based in Western Earth-based tradition. It was my partner Taffy who came up with the splicing together of the terms “Gaian” and “Pagan” into “PaGaian”: and it was essential because the synthesis is different from traditional Paganism – it is more clearly an expression and celebration of Goddess and Cosmogenesis. *
Q: Your work is subtitled Reinventing earth based Goddess Religions so evidently you see yourself both as part of Modern Paganism and Goddess Religions. Who are your main inspirations for your perspective?
My main inspirations have been:
- Starhawk – I attended her first class in 1980 in San Francisco and initially relied heavily on The Spiral Dance for story of Old European religious practice … my own Indigenous heritage.
- Charlene Spretnak – I consulted with her in 1980 as I began my Master’s in theology, which was research into the story of the Great Mother (it became titled “Motherhood Mythology”). Charlene’s book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, and particularly her telling of the Demeter-Persephone story, became key to my understanding of how we could in these times re-story ourselves, heal/whole ourselves.
- Brian Swimme, cosmologist/physicist – his DVD series Canticle to the Cosmos produced in 1990, was a delicious poetic and scientific telling of the story of the Universe. I immersed myself in this series – showing it to many groups, and his books and other DVD’s since. His mentor Thomas Berry, cultural historian and Passionist priest thus influenced me deeply also – initially also with his book The Dream of the Earth.
- The work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has been essential – her book Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe being an initial eye-opener for me.
- Mary Daly – radical feminist, and poet Robin Morgan have also been deeply inspiring, sharpening my attention to language and how we spell ourselves. Jean Houston’s experiential mythological work expanded and enabled me to carry forth the archaic/new cosmology that I was gestating.
Q: Your context in the Blue Mountains lends a particular flavour to the way that you acknowledge sacred space, particularly in terms of the placement of the elements within your celebrations. Could you explain these attributions and their meaning for you personally and how this has evolved?
When I began the Seasonal celebrations here in the Blue Mountains, I placed Earth in the South – which was a simple reversal of Starhawk’s placement of it in the North. I placed Air in the East as she does, and then Fire was placed in the North as it should be for the Southern Hemisphere, and Water in the West as Starhawk has it also. Then as I became more attentive to my actual place (which is one of the outcomes of this religious practice), I realised that Earth is really to the West of me … the whole continent stretches out to the West. And the Pacific Ocean, this huge expanse of Water, is to my East. Air then just went to the South by default … I think it is happy there: I always imagine the cold windy white Antarctic.
The Blue Mountains as a sacred place where PaGaian Cosmology has developed is also significant I feel … it could not have taken shape as it has just anywhere – the Place is always affective: that is the whole point. It is like (and the same as) Earth and Sun relationship … the chlorophyll molecule is specifically an outcome of the particularities of this planet and star.
Q: Pagans across Australia have are faced with the need to reverse the wheel of the year, how do you manage to adapt Northern hemisphere festivals to our unique context. How do you choose the dates for the celebration of your celebrations to make them meaningful in your tradition? How do localised and regional experiences of the turning of the seasons play a part in the creation of your celebrations?
I base my chosen dates for ceremony on the date and time of the actual Moment based on astronomical timings with the traditional dating of the cross quarter festivals being marked as the exact mid point between the equinox and the solstice**. I like to do the ceremony as close as possible to that Moment – taking into account what is practical for people to be able to attend, and often making compromise with that, though not always: for example, when Summer Solstice Moment falls close to Christmas, I like to challenge people’s priorities and will not compromise the date and time of Summer Solstice ceremony for Christmas. I personally find it bizarre that Pagans do Christmas and Easter – especially in the Southern Hemisphere. I have gained so much from being with the actual Season – not compromising the Poetics of Summer with Winter metaphor, or the Poetics of Autumn with eggs and bunnies: something deep is communicated by staying with the dance of Earth and Sun in this place – real Con-versation is engaged in. The Christian festivities are largely commercial at this point anyway – certainly for Southern Hemisphere people: they belong to the Consumer faith. I also understand that there are other ways to select a date for Seasonal ceremony … according to the actual flowering or harvesting of certain plants, or the appearance of certain creatures: I think that works best if you are in a close community, as Indigenous peoples have often been, and some still are.
Q: The wheel of the year is based on both agricultural and pastoral cycles of old Europe. How do you integrate what are essentially harvest festivals into an urban lifestyle within a consumer based society? Are there other modifications made to make the celebrations more Australian such as acknowledging local harvests customs or other regional/indigenous traditions?
I am a country girl by birth, and deeply influenced by the agricultural and pastoral cycles of the land: my early experiences of big sky – Sun by day and spectacular starry nights – are key to my being, and to the placing of myself, to where I understand myself to be. I am not primarily an urban person, nor do I participate very well in consumer society … I have always been a hippy. So the inclusion of agricultural and pastoral metaphor is easy and familiar for me: along with the primary base of the dance of dark and light throughout the year … Sun and Earth do this in reliable essential manner, wherever you are – urban or otherwise, and their dance expresses and manifests an essential Cosmic Creativity. PaGaian Cosmology situates each person, region, Earth Herself within a larger cosmogenetic context. And of course, the local place and harvests are always felt, and become part of the celebrations … the produce from our gardens, and any growing knowledge of the local plants and creatures.
In terms of drawing on indigenous traditions of Australian Aborigines I don’t consider these to be my own. I can only hope to deepen my understanding of what is my own Earth-based tradition, so that I may have more insight into the traditions of this Land. By deepening my own PaGaian practice I serve real relationship and perhaps then have something meaningful to share with the Indigenous people of this Land, and the capacity to hear and understand their sacred stories and places.
For more of Glenys’s work and publications please visit her website and her Facebook page:
Michelle Claire White – the interviewer, is a Witch who is deeply dedicated to the Art and Craft of all things magickal. With a passion for the re-enchantment of the cosmos and self she delves into the multifaceted world of alternative religions, Western esoteric traditions, Occultism and the richness of world mythology grounded in a relationship with nature and its cycles. As a community weaver she is a ritualist, spellworker, healer and consoler who strives to empower herself and others to build communities based on light, love and liberty. As an eclectic Witch who crafts her own practices she is influenced by Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, Ceremonial magic The Reclaiming tradition, Chaos magic & Thelema with a fundamental underpinning of a shamanic conception of the cosmos.
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