Death of a Priestess by Geraldine Charles
Dusk was falling and mist rising as I drove sadly across the Somerset Levels – a liminal place which once formed the huge marshy lake out of which the Isle of Avalon majestically rose. When I rounded a bend to see a large swan walking straight up the centre of the road in the same direction I was going, my first thought was for its safety. I expected it to take flight or veer off at any moment, but the swan continued on its path, seemingly determined to walk just where it was. The road was narrow and all I could do was respectfully follow until it widened a little, eventually managing to squeeze carefully past before starting to flash my headlamps at oncoming traffic to warn them of the swan’s unlikely presence.
Only later that evening did I remember the last time I saw such a stately walk in front of a moving vehicle – when a formally-dressed funeral director led off the hearse which carried my father from his home and on his last journey in this world. I was thunderstruck. Could the swan be marking this new loss, making me mindful and slowing me down?
Koko trained as a priestess after moving to Glastonbury in around 2002 and quickly became an indispensible part of the annual Goddess Conference, acting as Melissa Mother (organising the many helpers) and thus ensuring its smooth running. Koko could, it seemed, manifest anything needful, sometimes apparently out of thin air. But in September this year she took part in a charity raft race, where she hit her head on something underwater when the raft collapsed, but thought little of it at the time. Tragically and completely unexpectedly, though, she died a few days later from the injury.
It saddens me that I have to leave out so much, for I would love to tell you more about Koko, but here and now I’d like to write about her funeral, which was held on 4th October. Possibly a unique event in Britain – I’m aware of no public priestess funerals having taken place in the recent past and probably there have been none during the last few thousand years. This funeral, then, would not only celebrate Koko’s life and uncountable contributions to the Goddess community in Glastonbury, but would also act as a precedent for ways to mark such passages in the future. It showed that we truly can honour and love the Goddess and support and cherish one another in so doing, from cradle to grave and beyond. Paradoxically, this ceremony seemed to mark a “coming of age” for our growing Goddess Community.
The night before the funeral, and with the permission of Koko’s family, who even in their grief were loving and supportive, her coffin rested in the Goddess Hall in Glastonbury and priestesses sat in vigil with her throughout the night. The next day rose petals were strewn before the procession carrying Koko to the nearby Town Hall, all accompanied by slow drumming and singing. We also carried some of Lydia Ruyle’s beautiful and colourful Goddess banners.
Almost 300 people crowded into the Town Hall for the ceremony – by no means all family or members of the Goddess Community; Koko had made friends wherever she went. They had come from as far away as Canada and distant parts of Europe to mourn and celebrate this beautiful and loving priestess. Even her little dog Charlie attended – I suspect I was not the only priestess trying to keep a brave public face and failing utterly once I saw this little creature trotting along in her wake.
Priestess of Avalon Kathy Jones, the creative director of the Goddess Temple, was the main celebrant, supported by other priestesses. Tears and laughter mingled throughout the ceremony, at which the Avalon Free State Choir sang beautifully and there were moving readings and reminiscences from members of Koko’s family and from a sister priestess. Interspersed with these were blessings of Earth, Water, Fire and Air, the elements we celebrate and praise as Goddess-given necessities for our lives and the life of the Earth herself.
Finally, after the Blessing of the Air, Julie Felix, who has attended almost every one of the seventeen Glastonbury Goddess Conferences to date, sang “We Wish You Love” and then we left the Hall singing “May the Road Rise Up”, an old Irish farewell and blessing.
Koko was a great traveller, so I was delighted to see that the vehicle taking her on her very last journey on earth was no black and solemn hearse but a shining white converted VW Camper – driven by a woman. As it drove off a nearby bird flew up and away, leaving us earthbound and sad at our loss.
It’s hard to write, laugh and weep all at the same time! For now, I can think of no better way to end than with an affirmation written by Koko, and shared with us by her family at the funeral:
I commit to love and accept myself, to celebrate my body with perfume and sensual silks. I will not compromise my divine energy. I will live in the moment and trust my path.
Koko, you did all of that and more.
Priestess of the Goddess
Geraldine Charles is the founder and editor of Goddess Pages magazine. She is also a Priestess of the Goddess, a founder member of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple and a former Glastonbury Goddess Conference ceremonialist. A web designer and all-round computer person, Geraldine is responsible for a number of websites. The day job involves working as a computer consultant, and in such spare time as remains she writes articles and poems, loves researching Goddess in mythology, and produces artwork on her beloved computer. She also runs an online correspondence course called “Getting to know the Goddess“