Glastonbury, the ancient Isle of...
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Glastonbury, the ancient Isle of Avalon, is known worldwide as a holy shrine, ancient sanctuary and sacred centre overflowing with history, myths and legends. For the visitor, armchair traveller or the reader who simply wonders what attracts so many thousands to this ancient sacred place, this guidebook provides an inspiring introduction.
Within its landscape are hidden tales of ancient fertility rituals and a neolithic labyrinth, the Cauldron of Inspiration, the Holy Grail and the elixir of life; a faery castle, a magic mountain and lights in the hills; King Arthur, the Round Table of the Zodiac and the story of creation; the oldest church in Britain, the coming of the saints, and the chalice of the Last Supper; secret passages, healing waters and inexplicable shafts of light; lines of energy, a hidden egg-stone and a prophecy yet to be fulfilled.
First published in 1982, this new edition of an old favourite has been substantially updated and redesigned, and new chapters have been added as more information and research has come to light. This new edition also looks in depth at Glastonbury today with its changing population, its pilgrims, problems and plans.
The legends of Glastonbury are closely interwoven with its landscape, monuments and natural features. They come to life in their natural setting, whose subtle beauties are illustrated in this helpful companionable guide to Glastonbury's shrines and secret places. – John Michell
FRANCES HOWARD-GORDON has lived in Glastonbury for over 35 years, after growing up in Notting Hill, London. where she worked as a film director for BBC-TV and as a freelance journalist, then living in Morocco for several years. She owns and runs Gothic Image bookshop, publishing and tours with her partner Jamie George. She is a Russian speaker and periodically organises tours to Russia, the Caucasus and Siberia.
Prehistory, Celts and Druids, Arthurian associations, Archaeological chronology, Tunnels and waterways
Prehistory and Celtic associations, Medieval, Christian and Arthurian associations
Prehistory, Celts and Druids, Arthurian associations, Christian associations
THE SWEET TRACK and THE LAKE VILLAGES
The Discoveries, Celtic, Christian and Arthurian associations
Prehistory, Arthurian associations, Archaeological chronology and Christian associations
THE WHITE SPRING
GOG AND MAGOG
THE SEVEN SACRED ISLANDS
Prehistory, Christian associations and chronological history, Arthurian associations
THE ABBEY BARN
ST MARGARET'S CHAPEL
THE GLASTONBURY ZODIAC
Associations with the Zodiac, The Signs in the landscape
THE GEORGE & PILGRIMS HOTEL
THE CHURCH OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST
SAINT BENEDICT'S CHURCH
SAINT MARY'S CHURCH and the cult of Mary
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND INDEX
Glastonbury: Maker of Myths
THIS GUIDE TO GLASTONBURY is for those who want a simple, brief outline of what makes this small country town so special. It is also intended as a companion to walks around the hills and ancient buildings so that the myths and legends, history, beliefs and personal experiences associated with each particular site can be consulted along the way.
However, because Glastonbury is not necessarily what it seems and there are many layers and all kinds of mysteries and meanings here, I would encourage you to look and see with an open mind and experience this place for yourself. What you read in the following pages is merely a taste, a very brief and undetailed study to help you on your way.
There are three books which I seriously recommend for more profound insights on Glastonbury. These are New Light on the Ancient Mystery of Glastonbury by John Michell, Glastonbury Abbey: The Holy House at the Head of the Moors Adventurous by James Carley, and The Avalonians by Patrick Benham.
Glastonbury is overflowing with fantastic tales of magic, mystery and imagination, quite apart from its rich and colourful history. Indeed, Glastonbury has something to suit every taste. There are ancient fertility rituals and a Neolithic spiral maze; the Cauldron of Inspiration, the Holy Grail and the elixir of Life; a faery castle, a magic mountain and lights in the hills; King Arthur, the Round Table of the Zodiac, and the story of Creation; the oldest church in Britain, the coming of the Saints, and the Chalice of the Last Supper; secret passages, running water and inexplicable shafts of light; a megalithic moon-observatory, lines on the landscape, and a sacred egg-stone...
Even though at first sight the myths and legends look like a jumble of fairy-tales, sagas, poems, inscriptions, belief validations and social morality, they turn out to have a common thread, a pattern which stays essentially the same. In the process of being passed on from person to person and from place to place, a myth is transformed, appears to be completely different, and yet retains the same structural principles.
For example, the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the inspirational Muse of the Romantic poets, the Quest for the Holy Grail, and the Cup of the Last Supper - all these are transformations of each other, written at different times by different people, with a different narrative each time, and different symbols. Yet they are all preoccupied with the same theme. They are all speculations on the insoluble problems of the human condition, and they are all asking the same question: What is the meaning of Life? To whom serveth the Grail?
The Glastonbury Zodiac and the Twelve Labours of Hercules, Goddess worship and the initiation ceremonies of the Druids, the geomancy of Glastonbury Abbey and the accumulation of magnetic energy - all these myths and rituals are striving for the same thing: order out of chaos and unity out of contradiction.
At the end of the day it appears myths are what make up the genuine process of history. Myths are the backbone of a culture, for are not the reflections on such matters as life and death ultimately more important than chronicles of personalities and events which make up our history books? And do not these myths, these experiments in ideas, actually influence society and cause events to occur? But this leads us to the great paradox. Are people themselves the creators, or are we merely caught up in a never-ending historical process of myth-making, carriers of a culture passed on to us through the centuries?
In Glastonbury myths are being transformed and re-made all the time. Ancient customs and cults are re-discovered and revived here, threads are followed, webs are woven, boundaries of consciousness are pushed. Glastonbury is a natural sanctuary where the earth spirit is teacher. It comes alive in the weird and wonderful landscape, in the peculiar shades of light, in the changing seasons, in the air we breathe...
The spiritual power of Glastonbury changes lives. But one core theme has emerged, in my experience, as a constant. When people come to live in Glastonbury, their intent is to live out the spiritual values of caring, sharing and living lightly on the land. Not everyone succeeds, for humility is required. But there is a community here, small but solid, whose participants include young and old, who continue to practise the values of goodwill and unconditional love.
Preface to the new edition
GLASTONBURY: MAKER OF MYTHS was first published in 1982, then slightly updated in 1997. It was originally intended to fill the gap as a short guidebook to Glastonbury but with as much information as space allowed for the history, myths, legends and beliefs that make up this very special place. The book sold well and I hope it has helped visitors to appreciate Glastonbury's unique spirit.
At the time of writing the first edition all kinds of new evidence was being published about our prehistoric ancestors and it was an exciting time, especially for women, as we were discovering our heritage for the first time. Where before mainly male gods and male heroes were written about in the context of history, religion and the Arts, we were finding a whole pantheon of neglected goddesses, female warriors and women artists.
There is a rich heritage of feminine spiritual symbolism and worship in Glastonbury. In my view this is one part of a greater tradition which can be found expressed in the mystery of Nature, the poetic imagination, the soaring spirit.
In this new edition I have rewritten and added quite a bit where more information has been revealed or stood the test of time. We have local folklore and several scholars and authors to thank for that as they persisted in their research and prevailed against the critics. They are all quoted in this book. In particular Geoffrey Ashe deserves praise for keeping up the fight against prejudice and misrepresentation.
Archaeologists have also become far more open to the idea of ceremonial rites and initiations, to the importance of the solar and lunar calendars in ancient civilisations, though they have yet to acknowledge the pioneering research they appropriated and previously dismissed as rubbish.
So what has actually changed in Glastonbury itself? What was previously marginalised as hippie and alternative in terms of lifestyles, eating habits, medical remedies or healing, has now been adopted nationwide as environmentally friendly, healthy and sustainable.
No doubt a new Glastonbury edginess will appear. In many people's minds, especially the young, the name Glastonbury means Glastonbury Festival. But as this ancient centre of worship settles into the 21st century, who knows what new surprises are in store? Will Joseph of Arimathea's tomb be found, thus heralding a new golden age? Will the sea reclaim the Somerset moors and levels once again? All I can say with certainty at this point is that we are game for anything and thirty five years in this small country town is still proving to be an incredibly rich and inspiring experience. I hope you will find it yourselves when you read this book.
Try a sample chapter from this book: Glastonbury Tor