Seasonal Salon

By Their Lives: Kay Gardner

The Goddess Sarasvati called Kay Gardner to Her service and inspired her prolific composing and her love/devotion to music. Sadly, we lost our beloved, the first Dianic elder through Z Budapest’s lineage, fifteen years ago. How can that be? Ahhh, but her music lives on…and whenever a rainbow appears, we know she is with us still.

I never knew my baby grand piano could sound so beautiful and rich and…classical as it did when Kay Gardner sat down to play in our living room at Wanderground. Through the days of the Intensive Kay presented in our home, her ten students learned about the ancient women’s scales while they created feminine music. In the evenings, we were the audience to the women’s creations. She taught about rhythms conducive to healing which followed the heartbeat of the earth and our body…as opposed to beats, i.e. rock ‘n roll, which deaden and disrupt our energy. Her teachings, as demonstrated in “Mooncircles,” resonate with echoes of classical tradition, while integrating these sounds with the material modes, instrumentation and rhythms of our obscure female heritage. Most specifically, the composition, “Prayer to Aphrodite” is based on a poem by Sappha…on an obsolete scale which Sappha herself invented.

In 1973, Kay, along with Alix Dobkin, recorded the first lesbian album, “Lavender Jane.” The LP was the first album by, for and about women.

Released in 1975, the compositions on “Mooncircles,” Kay’s first solo album, were the result of her study of the cycles of the moon as related to her own menstrual cycles. “Moods and Rituals,” “Amazon” and “Drone Zone,” “Rainbow Path” and “Ourboros”soon followed as she continued to mentor and support women creating a new genre, Women’s Music.

“Composition,” Kay wrote on “Mooncircles,” is nothing more than sinking yourself totally into your environment, pulling out and organizing the sounds that are already there.”

Alix Dobkin would later memorialize Kay in these words: “Kay Gardner changed the world with a reach extending into an astonishing variety of universes. Her decades of unique musical work stretched seamlessly from healing and women’s sacred spirit work, to symphonic composing, conducting and organizing as well as inspirational performances, and workshops.”

When Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble were in the process of creating the Motherpeace Tarot cards, they discovered “Mooncircles” which they listened to over and over for hours while they created the Tarot. “Later, we came to know Kay and her music through our contact with other artists in the Women’s Spirituality movement….” Vicki says.

For our commitment ceremony or Webbing as my spouse insists, Kay, was our “fruity flower girl” (her words…she could be ever so playful). When our guests were seated in a grove beneath the huge old maple tree, Kay led the two of us through the woods, “toodling” on her flute.

Many of us remember Kay Gardner, not only as a gifted musician, but as a troubadour for feminism as well as women’s music. As she traveled across the country, from one performance to another, it was she who spread the word of upcoming events, protests, festivals.  There was no Facebook, twitter, or email, but we could depend on Kay to know the latest news of what was happening in our growing movement.

Inspired by one of the Irish sites during the 1998 tour to Ireland and England, she wrote:

Long Gur (Long Lake)


Gentle lake, breeze in trees

The rushes bend and sway

I sit at Her feet, contemplative,

On a green and misty day


Grasses scent my reverie

Like incense of the wise

I throw back my head and taste the tears

That fall from Irish skies


And change sings high upon the wind

As ripples pleat the waters

And Knockadoon rises like a breast

Of comfort for her daughters


I can still see her standing in the mist beneath a huge old tree, gazing into the circle where we had created a simple ritual, hearing those words, creating that poem, to the sound of falling waters of a nearby Brigid’s well. 

Goddessing, edited by Willow LaMonte, dedicated Issue #16, 2002/3 as a tribute to Kay Gardner. Much of what is contained in this essay has been drawn from those rememberings. 

When told of Kay’s passing, a dear friend, Sid Reger, said, “One of the tallest trees in the grove has fallen… Perhaps those of us who treasure Kay can best honor her by becoming taller, more protective trees in the grove, spreading out and embracing new growth in her name.” 

“I remember thinking/feeling that I had never known such feminine power. That I was hearing the voice and rhythm of my own woman’s heart. That the artist [Kay Gardner]…had given me the antidote to the perverse and pervasive sexism in which I lived. Not that the music responded to that corrupt and corrupting world: rather, it was as though that world was erased, as though it had never existed.” So wrote another revered elder, the late Patricia Monaghan who a decade hence would follow Kay through the veil. 

Perhaps, in these dark times, we might heed those words while we listen to Kay’s healing music.

Holly Near wrote: “The effect Kay Gardner’s death has on the Feminist Music Community is a tribute to the effect her life had on us. Death? Perhaps it is a meditation bell that invites the living to pause and breathe in life. So we are breathing Kay. You have caused us to pause and take in the sounds of the Universe, your flute calling us forth to our greatest selves. Our songs pour out to join your divine orchestra and we forever thank you with a song.”

Mary Watkins often played piano while Kay “toodled” on her flute. Inevitably, magic happened each time they improvised together. “I first met Kay in 1979,” Mary writes, “after making my first album, ‘Something Moving.’ When we met she knew some of the music on that album, and at the first opportunity, we got to a piano, she pulled out her flute, and we played together. From that moment on, we were soul mates. It was an amazing and wonderful experience to play with her. Whenever I play solo piano I will always hear her playing along with me somewhere out there in the Cosmos.”

Kay Gardner’s was not always a popular voice. In the 1970’s she began talking about Goddess in concerts. She was often challenged, accused of being “unpolitical”. As the years passed, and the Feminist Movement became more diverse, her love of Goddess, as well as her belief in the healing qualities of sound, were more accepted. Indeed music was a large part of her love for and connection with Goddess.

At a memorial service for Kay in September at Wanderground, Indiana, Nan Brooks honored her in this way: “Kay’s many and varied works speak for her and illustrate her spiritual devotion, her discipline, her eagerness to explore, her artistry and intelligence. I like to think of that image of her now, resting in the company of Sarasvati, who surely welcomes her. Perhaps they make music together, and if we listen closely….”


We gathered at Summer Solstice, 2003 for the Viking ritual she’d described in her last will and testament. She left us with these words:

Be joyful for life is good and death is rebirth

            I am being held in the arms of the Great Mother

            I am free

            I am light

            Love each other

Her ashes were released off the coast of Maine…beneath rainbows in the sky.


Kay Gardner was a priestess, musician, healer, composer, and mother. For many of us she was both muse and mentor…and friend.



Nancy VanArsdall is an ordained Priestess of the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess. She has completed an historical fiction novel, A Thousandth Telling, based on her suffragist grandmother. She published Coming Full Circle, Honoring the Rhythms of Relationships, in 1996, available through RCGI. She has returned home to Indianapolis with her beloved.


Category: Fall Equinox 2017