What the media say…

Stephanie Thobald

Stephanie Theobald

Divine Darling

Stephanie Theobald, Sunday Times Style Magazine, September 5th 2010

WHAT POSSESSES LEGIONS OF WOMEN TO DRESS UP IN FLOWING ROBES AND SPEND A WEEKEND WEEPING AND WAILING AT A GODDESS WORKSHOP? IT’S MAD, SAYS STEPHANIE THEOBALD, BUT IT’S MOVING

As we headed up a muddy track to the Welsh mansion where the goddess workshop was to take place, the woman next to me in the cab muttered : “My boyfriend reckons it’s going to be one big slumber party.” We tittered nervously.

It was my hippie friend Pincus, a former hairstylist for Comme des Garçons, who had told me about the goddess workshop. “Babe,” she said. “Forty-plus women like us are at our most potent. You can make yourself look sexy, but there are other ways of showing your power.”

You can laugh. But the goddess thing is already mainstream.

Kelly Cutrone, the New York fashion impresario , openly embraces eastern mysticism and goddess worship in her new book, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside. Kylie, meanwhile, has re invented herself as a Greek goddess for her latest album, Aphrodite.

Courtney Love recently likened struggles with her daughter, Frances Bean, as her “Demeter and Persephone moment”.

And everyone, from presidents to re branded hippies of the anti consumer movement, is hammering home the importance of listening to mother nature . Avatar, the highest-grossing fi lm of all time, has this idea at its centre, and it’s not a god but a goddess who is worshipped as the ultimate source of strength.

From what I could work out from Pincus, goddess workshops are confidence-boosting weekends; feminist jamborees with a spiritual twist. You immerse yourself in different female archetypes, from Aphrodite to Hecate, goddess of magic and crossroads, which enables you to “shift stuff ”, as they say in therapy . You go back to the city recharged and feeling that beauty might be more than some flip, external thing.

Anna Ziman is a big name in the goddess world.

Ten years ago, the former actress, who is also a trained counsellor, decided she’d had one too many parts in The Bill, and created a type of apotheosis therapy to cater for a growing clientele that ranges from architects, bankers and human-rights lawyers to designers, ex-offenders and actresses. Ziman thinks the crash of the boom years is responsible for the rise in female-orientated pagan worship.

 “We’re so busy wanting everything to be out there for us , we’ve lost the sense of what mystery is.” she says.

When I get inside the mansion, I’m slightly worried that the weekend might turn into an all-female Lord of the Flies.

There’s the hill-walker type, the silent Japanese beauty, the Vita Sackville-West look alike, the unemployed Welsh woman who claims birds talk to her  and the blonde actress whose constant hugging is already starting to do my head in. Luckily, the goddess card-choosing ceremony begins. You have to “embrace” whoever you pick. I get Corn Woman, a Native American figure who represent s nourishment. Hill- walker gets Baba Yaga, the Russian crone who, before she was turned into a crow, was known for her wildness and wisdom. My 37-year-old taxi companion gets Pele, a Hawaiian volcano goddess who represents awakening. (I’ve noticed a few “ shall I have a baby?” issues, so this could be a good one for her.)

Ziman gets out her drum and says that she’s going to drum us “down under the earth to meet your goddess.”

We lie down, close our eyes and the drumming begins. It feels a bit like hypnosis. Ziman talks us through a visualisation and I go into a trance-like state, and imagine myself being underground. Soon I have a picture of Corn Woman in my mind’s eye —she’s swarthy and sweaty, with strong thighs clad in a short green skirt. I recently watched One Million Years B C starring Raquel Welch, so this might be affecting my visuals.

Looking at Corn Woman, all powerful limbs and green robes, it strikes me how much I love the country and how shallow my party lifestyle has been for the past few years. Before I know it, I’m crying in front of these women. (All of us cry before the weekend is over — it seems to be a kind of initiation. Once you’ve gone through embarrassment, you’re ready to go to the “deeper place”, as Ziman keeps calling it.)

Later, we go outside to the lake for a “ritual”. This involves dressing up, and, to start with, I’m a bit reluctant. There are lengths of Indian fabric, so I tie some sparkly green cloth around me to try and get in the mood. There is a lot of drumming, and once again I go into a sort of trance. The next thing I know, it’s 15 minutes later and I’m scattering corn meal into the lake, with all these women bowing down before me.

It’s magical realism meets all your birthdays come at once. It’s so mad, it’s moving.

As the weekend progresses, it strikes me that this is like group therapy with dressing-up. You choreograph your own psycho drama by channelling the goddess on your card, picking people in the room to represent your fears and hopes, and using props to take you to a place of catharsis. “When you let go in ritual, you let go in a huge unconscious place in the mind,” Ziman says.

And when the endless Enya-style music starts driving you crazy, there ’s the gruff, sixtysomething cook who’s great at behind-the scenes gossip. “The last lot we had, the rituals were all about food — milk and honey, almonds and dates around goblets. I had to send out for more shopping. Still, live and let live.”

As the weekend progresses, we get used to playing in the middle of nowhere with lambs, birds, fields, streams, mud and strange outfits from the dressing-up box, and we start to relax into the madness.

I float back to London, feeling as if I’ve been to the most incredible rave.

My other half says I look “possessed, but in a good way. ” It’s hard to explain what I was doing all weekend, but it’s strong stuff.

Weeks later, I’m still getting flashbacks of oily thighs, and a sense persists that I ’m merely a dot in a big universe, which is not a bad thing to hang onto.

Stephanie Thobald, Sunday Times Style Magazine, September 5th 2010