Latest of my new editions being put out by Skylight Press is TAROT & MAGIC – THE TREASURE HOUSE OF IMAGES – a book which came out of a number of workshops I did in the late 80’s and is now supplemented by a further six chapters on The Mystical Tree of the Tarot; Images and Number in the Lesser Arcana; the Fourfold Structure of the Greater Arcana; a Narrative Approach to the Lesser Arcana, Preparation for Divination; and Divinatory Methods. This just about sums up everything I have had to say about the Tarot since writing my Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism some fifty years ago. How time flies when you’re having fun!
Also of note is a book just published by an old colleague and student of mine, Coleston Brown, former principal of Sun Chalice books in the USA. SECRETS OF A FAERY LANDSCAPE throws new light on the Glastonbury Zodiac which he reckons might better be termed the Somerset Faery Ring on account of the faery landscape being a place that merges the energies of the deep earth and shining stars, empowering the whole area. Lots of ground maps and star maps to ponder over. [ISBN 9780986591228 – Green Fire Publishing]
Whether we love it or loath it, Glastonbury plays an important role in the esoteric traditions of Britain and I append here some of my recent thoughts about it, commissioned by Michael Howard in whose excellent veteran journal of witchcraft, paganism and folklore, “The Cauldron”, (established 1976!), it recently appeared. www.the-cauldron.org.uk
The Different Faces of Glastonbury or The Myth of the Loathly Damsel
The first time I saw Glastonbury, as I have recorded in my esoteric autobiography I Called It Magic, was as a romantic young RAF corporal astride my motorbike looking down at the Tor from the Shepton Mallet road, in 1953, imagining myself to be some kind of knight errant. A view, as I said “once seen, never forgotten”.
I came to know it better, as indeed I came to know myself better, over the years – but in both cases no easy answers are forthcoming. We are all of us, more complicated creatures than we easily realise, and so is a sacred site and west country town like Glastonbury.
Indeed, at times I have been led to think, that if this is “the holiest earth in England” I would hate to see the tackiest! Although I suppose it depends upon how deep one wants to delve.
On the surface show, the last time I was in Glastonbury attending a spiritual event, as we debouched from our high minded gathering I heard a local resident referring to our like as “the scum” that besmirched his fair town. And I suppose he had a point. I am old enough to recall the time when it had more the ambience of a charming west country backwater without the pervading atmosphere of joss sticks and spliffs. Although even in the 1960’s it was not uncommon to see signs up at public house doors – “No Hippies!” The hippies have I suppose now come and gone but have nonetheless left, I suppose, a kind of cultural imprint of sorts.
Not of course that the place was not always considered a little bit “odd”. For the upside of that, one can do hardly do better than consult Peter Benham’s excellent book The Avalonians. And this goes back to the 1920’s and even further – although in those days they were perhaps a little more genteel about it.
As far as Avalonians go, I have to say my own particular esoteric mentor, Dion Fortune, was something of a late comer. She fell in love with the place, put down roots at the foot of the Tor, and wrote a virtual love letter about the place, somewhat inaccurate in parts as love letters tend to be, but nonetheless moving, published in 1934 as Avalon of the Heart. She certainly mixed a heady cocktail out of the place with evocations of Merlin, the Holy Grail, the Celtic saints, Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Thorn, the Abbey, the Tor, Chalice Well, King Arthur, Morgan le Fay, even the lost continent of Atlantis.
And she demonstrated an early exercise of her psychic faculties in company with Bligh Bond at the Autumnal Equinox of 1921 with a paper that became the core of inner work with her Fraternity for many years. That there was an unbroken line of descent of spiritual power connecting directly with the elemental powers of the soil, in which are the roots of the soul of the nation, that is to say, of those who inhabit the land. And that which was noble in the pagan was carried on into Christian times. Head in London, heart in Glastonbury was how she tended to express this in her practical work, with headquarters in Bayswater and hightailing it down the Great West Road, possibly in the side car of Thomas Loveday’s motorbike, to her chalet at the foot of the Tor, where she wrote amongst other things, her magnum opus The Mystical Qabalah and supporting novels.
In her capacious mind there was no great divide between the pagan and the Christian, which she felt confirmed at Whitsun in 1926 when a spiral power had them all spontaneously dancing on the Tor along with an unequivocal call from the Elemental kingdoms “Come from the depths of your Elemental Being and lighten our darkness – Come in the name of the White Christ and the Hosts of the Elements.” Just what was meant by the “White Christ” – who apparently entered the Underworld to preach to the Elemental Kingdoms during the first Easter – has recently been further explored by Wendy Berg in Red Tree, White Tree (Skylight Press 2011) along with the current revival of interest in the faery tradition. Married up to the symbolic objects allegedly brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea. Red and white cruets that have some connection with the Grail tradition and other weapons of Arthurian tradition which, like Excalibur, originally came from faery sources – otherwise called the Lake. (Odd that Glastonbury was pre-historically a lake village!) Powers that originally came from the faery world being duly returned to it.
There are obviously deep matters here that tend to go rather deeper into magical and mystical territory than is commonly supposed. What we might regard as bubbling away at the bottom of the cauldron. Although the superficial view may only see the scum that floats on the surface.
This at times can have its amusing and disconcerting side. I recall a visit to Glastonbury to show some Greek friends over the Tor, which happened to coincide with an official religious ceremony of sorts. This was accompanied by holy music blaring from loud speakers, along with the unusual sight of nuns scurrying up and down the Tor, rather as if an ant hill had been disturbed. And one was reminded that the orthodox religious like to make a claim on the place that is every bit as important as the neo-pagan or the esoteric.
The whole situation was amusingly encapsulated for me by the sight of a somewhat prim and proper religious procession proceeding toward the Tor which was spontaneously joined by a young lady, bare foot and festooned with wild flowers, stoned out of her head by God knows what, attracted out of Chalice Well gardens to dance alongside and within and the more staid procession. That, in a sense, was a caricature, to my mind, of Glastonbury all over!
However, there is of course more to it than that. And it seems to me that Dion Fortune had it about right in crediting the place with being a harmonious meeting point between many strands of the spiritual powers of the land. (Well perhaps not too harmonious!) There is a certain great mystical peace manifest among the abbey ruins just as there are about the town points of stimulus to the ancient powers of the land, and there need be no conflict between them. Although I suppose, a certain amount of effervescence might be expected in the confluence of the red and the white. Dragons fighting, but not in anger. Even if we humans do like to take sides like supporters at some cosmic football match.
Something of this effervescence comes out in unexpected ways. One such being the attack on the Glastonbury thorn on Wearyall Hill. Who knows what is at the back of all that? And I do not suppose that even those who perpetrate it know. Even if they think they do.
Glastonbury has a way of coming back at you, even when you least expect it, even if you want to pretend it isn’t there. It has a certain powerful magnetism. I have found it in my own affairs. Helios Book Service, which I launched with my old partners John and Mary Hall back in the early sixties, up near Cheltenham, ended its days in Glastonbury. Sold up when John and Mary retired, it showed a brave face at a corner site at the bottom of the High Street for a couple of years before going to the wall. And on a more positive note, when invited to give a talk in the Assembly Rooms at a Dion Fortune memorial conference in 2007, a young lady came up and started a conversation that ended up with my being persuaded to write my autobiography. Something I swore I would never do as I always preferred looking forward to looking backwards.
However, looking backward does have its points. The subject of my talk that day was on the Faery Tradition in Arthurian Legend, which somehow seemed to strike an octave with Dion Fortune’s introduction to faery in 1920 at the performance in this same hall of Rutland Boughton and Fiona Macleod’s The Immortal Hour. What goes around, comes around. And particularly in what Dion Fortune described as a “three ring circus” such as Glastonbury. From faery rings, to the ring of the Glastonbury zodiac first noted by Dr John Dee, to the continuing ring on the inner of the Abbey bells, there is something for everyone there. Even Tescos.
As Sir Gawain, and other heroes like him found, when confronted with the prospect of embracing a loathly damsel, you only have to take her on her own terms for her transformation to take place. But it is all in your own mind!