A conversation with Ayn Cates Sullivan, Ph.D. Author of the Legends of the Grail Series

What inspired you to write the Legends of the Grail series?

The Legends of the Grail series began thirty-five years ago as a personal journey to find the Sacred Feminine. It came in the form of a spiritual quest while I was living in Britain. I visited hundreds of sacred wells, stone circles and thin places in Britain, Ireland and Europe. At first I sought the stories of Mary Magdalene, then the heroines of Arthurian tradition. My travels and research led me even more deeply into Celtic and pre-Celtic territory, to the Druids, and an ancient Irish Goddess known as Danu.

I am not certain why the Goddess tradition was so severely oppressed in the west. Perhaps it was simply the time for an age of darkness, chaos, illness and despair. But a new time is dawning, and the threads that lead us back to the true nature of the Goddess are everywhere. I think of Her as the Consciousness of Awakened Life, the Flower of the World. It is time for the feminine psyche to bloom again. This is the Age of the Divine Feminine.

What inspired you to write the books? A person? An event?

In 1985 I was granted an Overseas Research Award by Kings College London to study the work of Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory at a doctoral level. Lady Gregory was a true inspiration. She was the patron of the famous Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, who was also a folklorist and playwright. It was Lady Gregory who learned Gaelic and drove around in her pony and trap collecting folklore that was later to become material used by the Irish Literary Renaissance.

My research introduced me to a wonderful world of Celtic heroes and heroines. I was overjoyed to discover that Celtic women were considered equal to their men. These wonderful heroines were leaders, judges, warriors, healers, bards, druids and seers. Celtic Goddesses understood how to live in harmony with the Earth, and can teach us how to thrive today.

I have heard many descriptions of the Grail. What is the Grail to you?

The Grail is a great mystery and is many things to many people. For Christians the Grail is the Cup that held blood of Christ, a relic with healing power. To others the Grail is the Magdalene, and perhaps a secret bloodline that could include a daughter by the name of Saira. Yet alchemists maintain that the Grail is the Philosopher’s Stone. There is also a story that the Grail is an Emerald that fell from the crown of Lucifer and that in order to free humanity we must find this sacred stone. In the Celtic tradition there are many cauldrons of healing and rebirth. What is true in all of these versions is that the Grail is a relic of great power. It represents wholeness, and also liberation. Since we quest for what is missing, I see the Grail as the lost tradition of the Sacred Feminine.

Is the Grail relevant now?

The Grail or Goddess is more relevant than ever now. What I attempt to do in this series is weave the broken necklace of the Western Goddess tradition back together again. The Grail in my series refers to the Goddess, and the stories span 10,000 years.

An understanding of the Sacred Feminine is what the world sorely needs now in this time of climate change and uncertainty. We need to remember the stories of our women, and we need to learn how to relate to our bodies and the environment once again in ways that are wholesome and healthy. Our Earth depends on it!

I understand that Heroines of Avalon & Other Tales is the second book in the series. How many books are in the series?

The first book in the series is called Legends of the Grail: Stories of Celtic Goddesses. These are mostly stories of Irish Goddesses from the pre-Celtic time of the Tuatha de Danann. Danu and her children became the gods and goddesses of the Celtic people.

The second book in the series, Heroines of Avalon & Other Tales, is set in Britain. It begins with three Goddesses that know how to weave the strands of life together. There are also Arthurian stories about women who are Grail Champions.

I am currently working on two more books in the Legends of the Grail series. One is called Kings, Heroes and the Goddess of Sovereignty, which focuses on the way in which the Goddess imbued kings and heroes with magic, so that they could rule effectively and unify the people. The idea is that both the masculine and feminine are necessary in a balanced and healthy society. The other book is a novel called Nimue: Freeing Merlin. This is a fast paced fantasy adventure that moves between modern day Manhattan and London to the 1st -5th centuries, when the sacred feminine was beginning to leave the land.

Both published books have sold out of several printings and have won over a dozen literary awards. I love watching women’s faces light up as they discover there are Goddesses and Heroines in the distant past that can still be called upon for inspiration. Follow these links to visit the book pages:

http://ayncatessullivan.com/legends-of-the-grail/

http://ayncatessullivan.com/heroines-of-avalon/

I see that your books are illustrated, who is your illustrator?

Belle Crow duCray is the magical and marvelous illustrator. We have a great relationship. I write and then she draws what comes to her in dreams and meditations. I love what she comes up with.We have also co-created a series of award-winning children’s books, which include Sparkle & The Gift, Sparkle & The Light, Ella’s Magic, The Rainbow Dragon’s Emerald, and our best-seller, A Story of Becoming.

What compels you to study Heroines and Goddesses? Are you continuing to visit Britain and Ireland to discover more?

I feel my calling is to re-weave the Western Goddess tradition back together again. I do continue to visit Britain and Ireland regularly and other places. Recently I was pleased to learn that there is an 18,000 year unbroken worship of the Goddess in Tibet.

In 2001, I visited India during a Durga Puja, where people had taken to the streets to honor and celebrate fierce Goddess Durga who rides on the back of a lion and is known as the protector of the universe. I had read her myth before, but this was the first time I had seen an entire country out honoring a Goddess. There is an unbroken Goddess lineage that runs through the eastern religious traditions, including Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. In Taoism, Qwan Yin (Gyanyin) is revered as an immortal.

In the West, the Goddess tradition was broken. Although there is much controversy around the subject, there is archeological evidence that a Goddess culture existed in the Upper Paleolithic sites around Europe. The most famous relic is the Venus of Willendorf (Austria), a full-bodied Mother Goddess. Another Goddess statue discovered in the Dordogne region in France dates back 32,000 years. The pregnant figurine was carved from the antler of a reindeer, connecting her to one of the oldest Goddesses of the area, Elen of the Ways. When we learn to work with our mythic imagination, it is the Elen (the Shakti of the British Isles and France) who can help us journey to the places that still hold the secrets of the Goddess.

In the West the Goddess tradition was almost destroyed. We all know of the witch trials and burnings. Women were thrown into water to see if they would sink or swim. If they swam they were burned and if they sank, they were innocent but often drowned. Sadly we lost millions of good wisdom keepers. However, if you throw a pearl into the ocean that doesn’t mean it is lost, it just disappears under the waves for a while. Perhaps spending time in the sand makes the pearl even more beautiful. A new wave of consciousness is rising, and the wisdom that was kept for safe keeping at the bottom of the wells, lakes and even oceans is surfacing once again.

In Ireland a flame was recently relit in honor of the saint/goddess Brigit. With the relighting of her flame, warmth sweeps across Ireland and Britain. A Druid revival is awakening the old indigenous European Gods and Goddesses who no longer need to hide. The stories of some of the most ancient ones (such as Elen and Cernnunous) have almost been lost. One way to rediscover them is to go and stand on the ancient sites where they were once honored, to listen to the Earth in that place and to allow their dreams to come to you.

How is the Heroine’s Journey different from the Hero’s Journey?

The heroes’ journey is about self-discovery. A heroine’s journey is different in that is not so much about obtaining a relic as it is about learning to listen to the great mystery. It is about emptying out and becoming receptive. On a heroine’s journey a person might become increasingly intuitive, more clairvoyant, clairaudient and/or clairsentient. Basically a woman, or man, on a heroine’s journey is opening to creativity and the ability to consciously dream with the Earth. A heroine’s journey is about remembering your ancient magic and becoming free.

Is this a series for women, or are men also interested in this book?

When I wrote the book I thought it was a book for women, but I have discovered that men also love the book. In fact, my best book review was written by a man: http://www.sanfranciscoreviewofbooks.com/2019/08/book-review-heroines-of-avalon-and.html?m=1

Why are ancient Heroines and Goddesses important now? What do they offer us?

Thirty-five years ago a dream began to visit me nightly in which a woman was standing with her back to me staring at the ocean. She had a dark green cloak that blew in the breeze. As I watched her she started to wail. Her shrieking was disturbing and even in the dream I tried to comfort her. No words or gifts would pacify this woman. One day a friend sent me a photo of the embodiment of Ireland, Eriu. It was the woman from my dream. In the drawing she was looking at me as if to say, “There is work to be done. Come.”

These ancient deities seem to be concerned about the Earth. They come to us in dreams and visions. They whisper messages to us so that we will have the courage to go forward in the face of those who say the world is coming to an end. But we do not need to destroy our home.

If you walk down the road to the bend in the river, you might see the Round Tree far off in the distance. Grandmothers whisper that the ancient Mother Goddess lives in the Oak, but no one has seen her in a very long time. They say that when the Goddess of Sovereignty disappears then life goes out of balance and there is a danger that all things can come to an end. Other folks say that the Goddess is still in the tree waiting for us.

Why are wells, lakes and other bodies of water important and how do we go about recovering the voice of the lost feminine?

In the Celtic tradition, fire and air relate to masculine qualities, while water and earth are considered feminine. When we peer down into a well, or into a dark cave, we might have the sense that we are peering into the mystery of the Goddess. Once there were maidens who protected the wells and springs. They were dishonored and so they went underground. In Arthurian legend we learn that when the masculine and feminine are out of balance then the world despairs and becomes a wasteland.

We are made up of at least 70% water. If we look at our waterways and oceans we can see that we have forgotten that water is sacred, and yet our lives depend on it. All indigenous cultures know that water is life. In the Legends of the Grail series, I offer many practices and visualizations to help the reader get in touch with the element of water and re-discover the voice of the Sacred Feminine once again. At the end of Legends of the Grail: Stories of Celtic Goddesses I offer a 33,000 year “Her-Story” (instead of a history). This is my attempt at recovering the voice of the lost feminine.

Why is the Celtic 8-Wheel Calendar important now?

There is no mistake that we are here at this pivotal time in history. We have ancient tools that can help us solve the challenges that we currently face. One way to start remembering the elements and how to work with them is to explore the Celtic Wheel of Life, or the 8-Wheel Calendar. When we learn about our right relationship to the elements, the sun/moon and the seasons, we might discover a natural harmony and balance within ourselves. A description of the Wheel and practices can be found in Heroines of Avalon & Other Tales.

Do you believe that the world is animated? Can you really walk through an Oak?

This is a great question. You have to use your mythic imagination to walk through a tree otherwise you might wind up with a very large knot on your head!

The Druids are known as the wise people of the Oaks, and they knew how to journey through trees. If you use your mythic imagination as you walk down the road to the bend in the river, you might see the Round Tree far off in the distance. Grandmothers whisper that the ancient Mother Goddess lives in the Oak, but no one has seen her in a very long time. They say that when the Goddess of Sovereignty disappears then life goes out of balance and there is a danger that all things can come to an end. Other folks say that the Goddess still visits in the form of a white swan, and if you are lucky she will take you flying between stars.

So if you learn to dream while you are awake, then yes, the world is animated and the Oaks might just share some of their ancient wisdom with you!

Why do you write?

Because I have to.

Thank you Ayn!

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