Monday, August 17, 2015

Dion Fortune and Glastonbury Tor

 My thanks go to David Walker who with his wife Corinne  runs the Enchantment book and esoteric merchandise shop at the foot of Glastonbury Tor for his clarification of just what is on sale for auction of the Dion Fortune associated bit of real estate. It is NOT the original Chalice Orchard but a slice taken out of it on which a very nice modern house was built round about the late 50’s. So if anyone is delving in their back pocket for something to spend at the auction, read the small print and make sure exactly what you are bidding for.

However, it is possible that DF spent some time on the space involved, depending on whether one of the original chalets, known as ‘the Shrine’ was located on that particular spot. I recall visiting the place back in 1954, as I described in I Called it Magic, and if my recollection is right the Shrine chalet was down towards if not in that area. I was shown it by Mary Gilchrist, who lived at Chalice Orchard at the time. It was in a rather sorry state, used to house what looked like old furniture, although it still had a certain amount of inner whizz bang about it, and would have last been used by Dion Fortune in 1945 following  its dedication and esoteric use by the group in the nineteen thirties.

However, the past is past, and we needs must embrace change when it is due. The Tor is still there and available to all – in recognition of which I append a little piece that I wrote a few years back, largely based on Dion Fortune’s Avalon of the Heart . It can form the basis of a pleasant little meditation whether you are physically there or not.

Dion Fortune’s vision of the Tor

If Joseph of Arimathea set his sights on Glastonbury Tor to identify the final goal of his long journey, for Dion Fortune it was above all a focus of elemental power and inspiration. Upon its shoulder she built her home, a guest house, and a sanctuary.

As she saw it, it was a Hill of Vision for anyone whose eyes have the least inclination to open upon another world. And she describes, in Avalon of the Heart, how, on many occasions, the tower is reported to have been seen rimmed in light. And she tells how a warm glow, as of a furnace, may beat up from the ground on wild winter knights; or the sound of chanting be heard from the depths of the hill; or towering forms of shadow and light seen to be moving among the ancient thorn-trees that clothe the lower slopes.

            But wonderful though the view from the Tor might be by day for the many pilgrims and tourists who climb it, far more wonderful, she says, is the sight by night for those who dare to climb it in the dark. Or most wonderful of all, perhaps, to climb the Tor at sunset and watch the sun go down over the far Atlantic, when from the Tor one may see two sunsets – the sun himself in his glory in the west, and his reflection upon the clouds in the eastern sky.

Whilst to see the moon rising through the rose-pink glow of low clouds over the darkening marshes is a thing she found never to be forgotten. As the lights come on in the town at the foot of the hill, at any rate in her day, they were seen to form a five-pointed star, for there are five roads out of Avalon – to Wells, Meare, Street, Butleigh, and Shepton Mallet – and the houses, following along these roads form a perfect star of light about the Tor with its tower.

            But there is one time above all others when it is well to ascend the Tor at nightfall, and that is at the full moon of the autumnal equinox, round about the Mass of St Michael. The nights are coming cold then, but the days are still warm with the afterglow of summer, and the cold of the darkness, chilling the warm breath of the meadows, causes a thick but shallow mist to form over the levels.

Through this the cattle wade knee-deep as in water, and trees cast shadows in the moonlight, black upon silver. As the night closes in, the mist deepens. Like a rising tide in an estuary it fills the hollows. Trees and barns slowly drown. Only the few scattered knolls like St Bride`s Beckary remain as islands in the white gloom. Gradually they too fade as the mist thickens, and Avalon is an island again.

            Local folk call this shallow mist that lies upon the levels the Lake of Wonder. And then perhaps to the eyes of vision may be seen coming slowly, a black barge, rowed by a dumb man, bearing the three weeping queens who bring Arthur, wounded unto death at Lyonesse, that he may heal him of his grievous wound in the green coombs among the apple trees.

            Into this Lake of Wonder Sir Bedivere flung the magic sword Excalibur, graven with strange runes in an unknown tongue. And the white arm of a Lady of the Lake, rising from the rushes, seized it to draw it under. And we may recall that Excalibur, was a gift to the human Arthur from the world of Faery, and to the world of Faery it was in due time returned.

But what of the other hallows of the Graal, the spear, the cup, the stone, or the cruets of white and red? Great mystery surrounds their origin as well as their fate. If we read the earliest Graal stories, we find there is much to suggest that the Graal itself had a faery origin. Was the rich Fisher King in his boat upon the waters, who directed Percival to the mysterious castle that was at first invisible to the eye, one of the Faery kind?

            In later legend the Graal winners took a strange boat, called the Ship of Solomon, in which they took the Graal to Sarras, which seems an inner aspect of the Holy Land just as Logres is an inner level of Albion. What was the mission of Joseph of Arimathea in all of this? Is the belief that he was bringing back the Graal to Avalon, a realisation that the Hallows were about to be returned to their faery origins?

            All these speculations, and many more, may come to us when, in Dion Fortune`s words, the Lake of Wonder rises from its faery springs under the Hunter`s Moon.

But, there are also visions of a different kind that can be seen from the height of the Tor by day; one of which Dion Fortune had witnessed twice and says is a sight never to be forgotten.

In the ordinary heat of day, she recalls, there are times when there falls upon the Glastonbury levels what is known locally as the Blight. A strange heaviness that will not turn to thunder is in the summer air. The sun glows dully like a copper disk through the low lying clouds, and in the oppressive dimness and heat, nerves are on edge with restlessness and uneasiness.

            On one such occasion, driven desperate by the oppressiveness of the levels, she and her companions set out to climb the Tor. Up and up through densest mist they climbed, moving in a sphere some ten feet in diameter, shut in by a white wall impenetrable as stone – until they reached the very summit. And there, from a white blindness, they came out of the mist as suddenly as a train runs out of a tunnel. For the crest of the Tor was above the cloud line.

The sky was of that deep indigo blue often seen at Avalon – a blue that should be seen through the boughs of an apple tree in blossom. From marge to marge no cloud flecked its depths, but below their feet there stretched to the very horizon a rolling, billowing sea of purest white, with purple in the hollows. While above their heads was the tower, its shadow flung far out over the cloudy floor. It was as if the world had sunk in the sea and they were the last of mankind. No sound rose through the mist, no bird circled above. There was nothing but blue sky, grey tower, billowing mist and blazing sun.

Physical though this vision might have been, and possibly because of this, I think this simple image is as important as any of the visions of the legendary tales. It is an image of the elemental powers as they exist at their most direct and most obvious way. Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Air of the inverted bowl of the blue sky above. The Earth of the stone of the tower below, its foundations in the earth. The Water heaving and billowing within the mist all about. And the Fire of the great Day Star shining on all from above.

It provides the foundation for a fundamentally important symbolic structure to link between the Powers of the Above and with the Powers of the Below. The Power within the Heavens and the Power within the Land. The Heavenly Light with the Earth Light. The Overworld with the Underworld.

If you are familiar with the structure of the Tree of Life,  you may like to experiment with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gareth, Thanks for the acknowledgement, A house called "Berachah" was built on Dions actual orchard, In the 1960`s (and possibly her temple), and is now run as a B&B by a lovely lady called Jan Billings,, she will obviously have more information about the chalet, as i believe she is selling it, Thanks again, David & Corinne