It's damp, misty and wet in Glastonbury. The fields are looking very soggy and interminable rain shows no sign of clemency. The trees are now adorning themselves in their finest of colours, exquisite against the grey canvas. Even on days like this, there is much beauty and spirit to be enjoyed. Personally, October and November are magical months being the time in the seasonal year when it is easier to feel a little closer to the golden spirit of Avalon, a little closer to connection with the divinity within this landscape. It also serves to link me with the energies of my beloved Yorkshire moors above the Calder Valley, something not often felt during the warmer months.
My roots and bloodline are Brigantian and there is a well-known statement, usually spoken by Yorkshire folk and being one not many will venture to disagree with or challenge, “You are in God’s own country now”. This popular idiom refers to the legend that as a boy Jesus visited England with his great-uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, inspiring the musical prelude to William Blake's poem Milton. Considered England’s unofficial national anthem, the piece ‘and did those feet in ancient times’ fondly known as "Jerusalem" asks ‘did Jesus visit England and, in so doing, create the New Jerusalem, heaven on earth? To idealists, “New Jerusalem” is not so much a physical place rather a state of being, expressed through spiritual harmony and understanding in the hearts and the minds of all humanity; thus creating heaven, on earth.
Rising above the ‘dark satanic mills’ in the valleys, and wandering the wild moors of Yorkshire, often in solitude and grey mist, ‘escaping’ from the real world, it was easy to feel that the next step up from being on top of the world was to step directly to some place not of this earth.
Glastonbury too feels this same anthem is its own and asks the question, ‘Did Jesus come here?’ Certainly, a fair amount of people undoubtedly feel so and the legend is indeed persistent. There is something to be said about the sheer strength of stories, perhaps changed in many forms yet still based on a central ‘truth’ to withstand the death of time and pass down through generations. Combined with the numinous ‘feel of the place’, the enigmatic Tor surely sparks, regardless of our beliefs and backgrounds, a powerful connection to something so much bigger than our little ordinary selves and suggests that here be something very special indeed. During this numinous time of year, that connection, and feeling, is so much stronger and easier to access.
This ‘New Jerusalem’ (to me) represents a place where, despite the differences, all can recognise the one-ness in their common humanness and where kindness, love, care, support, encouragement, peace and unselfishness reign sovereign. Where the physical earth is cared for and nurtured to the best of our abilities. ‘Heaven on Earth’........Spirit and Matter together in Harmony..........Paradise. That vision doesn’t seem anywhere like near a reality right now though does it? In fact, it’s pretty hellish for so many and very easy to despair. The dark of Winter rolls in, even in the sunniest places around our world. Chaos, anxiety, confusion, fear and anger is becoming a normal part of the group mind. Friends are turning on friends, sides are being taken, each withdrawing into isolation from perceived enemies. A wet, grey insular Glastonbury, enclosed in mists, reminds me of that. So, what can I do?
On the moors of Yorkshire, I step up…In Glastonbury I step side-ways…and into the mists. Suitably attired, head up and back straight, striding onto the land gives me an opportunity to truly connect with the elements, ancestors and the many legends that abound here. Listening, and sensing, can bring insights and understandings.
Here is a wonderful route around the town, starting at the Peace Pole outside Glastonbury Information Centre,
I head towards and up the High Street. I love how the brightly painted buildings remind us that even in the darker, greyer times, there are still many hues and shades in the world around us and how, not misplacing sight of that seems even more important in these social climates of extreme polarisation. Heading to the staggered crossroads at the top of the High Street I continue up Bove Town and when the road bears right, step into Wick Hollow. The trees, in this very Fae corner of Glastonbury, and their complex, visible root systems, serve to remind me of the network of diverse healthy roots that are needed to underpin a strong society.
If you are following this route with me, keep going up until you get to a T- junction. Continue forward, through the gate and onto Paradise Lane.
Wick Hollow, Paradise Lane…and soon Gog Magog and Stone Down…how can it be possible to not get transported into the magic through these names alone? Wandering along this old lane, through the trees and the gates, I marvel at an often-unseen view of the lie of the land itself - its contoured shapes, suggestive of water lapping and shaping, and the view over to ‘dragon hill’, knowing it as a place with its own mythology of a time where dragons roamed the land and the locals appeased.
At the end of Paradise Lane, fields open before me and I descend the line of trees on the left, through the field towards the next stile in the hedgerow at the bottom. Now on an old medieval road, here I can hear footsteps from a distant past as shadowy shades pass by me.
Passing over the stile, through the next field, I travel on down to another stile in the hedgerow. Once through, and turning left, I come to the two old Oaks of Avalon, known as Gog and Magog on my right. After taking my time and paying my respects here, I retrace my steps but continue along the lane, through the next gate and turn right into Stone Down Lane. Up, up I go, until I come out at the foot of the Tor. Another climb beckons.
The summit of the Tor can often be shrouded in grey mists during these months; the magnificent views obscured from view. It is at this moment when the Inner Eye, which looks beyond the concept of time, can be employed. Now, I am also on the moors of Yorkshire, knowing that here is the closest point for me to be next to ‘heaven’ in ‘God’s own Country’. In the grey of the mists, I am blinded to the world around me. It would be entirely forgivable to want to simply be in the moment, blanketed in the almost-conscious mantle of grey, listening to the sounds around me but if I continue to look outward on my Inner, I see a world filled with colour, diversity, a multitude of magnificent sights and ventures. Hopeful visitors, pilgrims, all journeying towards ‘something’. People doing all they can to create their own little versions of heaven. All over the world. 'May Peace Prevail on Earth' - the message of the Glastonbury Peace Pole, where my journey began.
Descending the Tor and stopping to take the benevolent waters running freely outside the White Spring and Chalice Well, I bless this journey of mine and ask that all I do be to serve the higher good. In these chaotic times of fear and anger, we can all endeavour to ‘do our bit’ and if, just for a wee while permit ourselves to travel into those numinous spaces, these places where we can feel a connection to All that is Good. Perhaps in doing so, we can help to anchor ‘Heaven’ to ‘Earth’ and reach that place of true peace that we all aspire to experience. Even if we cannot create it in the wider world and bring it only into our own lives, it is surely still a wonderful gift and a further stride towards creating Something Very Good in a world that is going to hell on a handcart.
Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea made frequent visits to the area and is reputed to have been accompanied by Jesus as a young boy. The image above is a banner and can be seen in St John the Baptist, parish church of Pilton, formerly known as St Mary's and renamed after the Reformation. It was embroidered in the early 1930's and shows Joseph and Jesus arriving at Pilton 'harbour'. Formerly known as Pooltown, the village is on the edge of the Somerset Levels, which formed a vast tidal lake in Saxon times.
“And did those feet in ancient time" is a short poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton a Poem. The date of 1804 on the title page is probably when the plates were begun, but the poem was printed c.1808.Today it is best known as the anthem "Jerusalem", with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.
The poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant, travelled to this area and visited Glastonbury during the unknown years of Jesus.
Google the hymn and you will find many versions. However, I rather like the one below, Emerson Lake and Palmer giving their own tribute to the hymn and to the Tor.
On the 26th April, just before the Beltane weekend, our ancient tree guardian, known as Gog, was set aflame. More than 2000 years old, Gog is partner to Magog and this is a plea to all those that that have ever used a candle (and ribbons) out on the land. There is someone out there, possibly still in the Avalon landscape, sitting with the knowledge that, in their misguided understanding of ‘honouring the trees’, they instead have burnt the bugger down.
These two ancient oak trees –with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – stand in one of the further reaches of the sacred Avalon landscape, where they are in a relationship of alignment with other aspects of the sacred landscape such as the nearby Tor, Chalice Hill, the Abbey and Wearyall Hill. The Oaks gained their names from a legendary race of giants who, save for Gog and Magog, were slaughtered by Brutus and his Trojan army. Gog and Magog, marched to London, were held chained to walls of the city palace and their effigies can still be seen in the Guildhall to this day.
Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are said to be a traditional point of entry onto the island, and part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond. Gog has been dead these past ten years, and indeed has burnt once before, [Edit: It was Magog that was previously set alight] but stood strong, keeping vigil with Magog as she too let go of her long life. To make a pilgrimage to these two sentries is to take a walk through time. They have stood witness to ever-changing populaces, beliefs and cultures, and watched whilst individual humans, long forgotten, have come and gone, passing beneath the leafy canopies fed by roots reaching deep into the sacred land. Nowadays, a conscientious visitor, paying homage to the Oaks, is shocked to see spent night-lights placed at the base of the trees, some even in the bowls of the tree themselves and it took such foolish actions to turn Gog into a funereal pyre for 2000 years of myth and history.
Hey folks, have a care! Consider how leaving behind a metal casing, harmful to both flora and fauna and something that ‘hangs around on our planet’ for a very long time, can ever be considered ‘honour’. Muse a while also on how placing a burning flame at the foot of a tree, especially a 2000-year old dead one, is up there with the most stupid of actions. JUST. DON’T. DO. IT! Leave nothing behind save your love.
I might as well mention that the same people who leave their night-lights might also be about the landscape tying ribbons to a tree. DON’T DO THAT EITHER! This particular practice stems back to pilgrimages to holy wells, often places that would always have a tree growing by the side or nearby. The pieces of cloth, known as clooties, were dipped into the water before being tied to a branch with a prayer, often to cure an ailment, believing that as the rag rotted away, the ailment would disappear with it. Our forebears would use natural fabrics such as a strip of cotton petticoat and these would quickly rot away without harming the tree. Modern day ribbons are made from plastic and take an extraordinary amount of time to break down; tied to the branches of a tree, they strangle and prevent new growth whilst leeching chemical dyes into the wood.
I'm asking, as I am sure you are too, are both of these acts of ‘homage’ something to be undertaken by one who professes to care for the land and its spirit? No way, Jose! They are entirely selfish deeds, symbolic only of our own needs and desires. There are hundred’s of different ways in which we can serve those, but proclaiming that we are also working for spirit is to make a complete error of judgement. We are not serving anything, other than ourselves. This is a one-way street. We are no more re-enchanting the land and connecting with the Spirit of Place than we are when we drop litter. Leaving non-biodegradable products of the modern age is about as non-magical as it gets and, if we claim to be ‘of the land’, should these ever really feature in our thinking?
The careless act of the person that lit and placed a flame within the dead heartwood of Gog is hard for some to bear. Grief strikes at our own hearts and if we allow it, sinks into the soul. In 2010, another hallowed tree was destroyed in these sacred precincts when the Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill was chopped down, by persons unknown, in an act of wanton vandalism. A community came together and wept. Bridges across voids were built. Pagans and Christians held each other and mourned…and a shift of consciousness took place. In the seven years since the Thorn gave up its life, understanding, acceptance and mutual explorations have taken place. Bridges that didn’t exist previously have been created between secular and spiritual communities. The death of the Wearyall Thorn can, if we wish, be seen as an emblem of new understanding arising out of the collapse of an era. A new period where possibilities and positive actions are born out of the desire to connect and give way to a time where the re-connections of a community give rise to the re-enchantment of the land.
More than 2000 years ago, a seed in the ground reached up towards the light. It grew into a mighty oak that people named Gog. Saddened though we are in this time, what a privilege it is to be the ones bearing witness to 2000 years of presence becoming the fires of transformation. On a practical, outer level, it is a timely reminder, as we draw ever closer to war, not to be careless in our own conduct within our own environs. On an internal level perhaps it can be seen as a timely reminder of who we might be becoming. Destroyers? Or those that construct? Builders? Or those that tear down? Perhaps we are both? These are our choices to make now and our application of conscious thinking and learned wisdom will help us to plot our course. A funeral pyre made of the heartwood of ancient Gog marks a transition and, as we move into a new era for the world, let him be a reminder that only from death, can a new beginning be wrought. How those beginnings play out, is up to us, as is our own interpretation of the burning of Gog.
Whoever you are, that happened to light a small flame in a tree - your guilt will be a heavy burden to bear. Take heart though and learn from your error of judgement. Mistakes are something we all make, how we rectify them is the key to how we grow. Leave these sacred precincts now, plant seeds wherever you go; kernals of Hope, Awareness, Consideration, Understanding, Love and all those qualities that help humankind to grow. Plant a new tree and dedicate it to the memories of Gog and Magog. Remind yourself that it is the Light within your own self that is the True Flame, the Divine Spark that links us all. From this place, everything is possible. For the rest of us, perhaps Gog can serve to remind us of how our own actions can have an effect we might not intend and incite us also, to have a care.
In the comments below is a message from a member of the family who are the guardians of the land on which Gog and Magog stand. I post it here for your reference.
"Around 10 years ago, when Magog was set alight (not Gog), the tree expert dated it at around 500 years (and not 2000 as is being bandied about). My in-laws have been looking out for Gog and Magog all of their lives (the trees are within the boundaries of their land), and as such, you might call them guardians of the trees. However, often they have been accused of being the opposite of that, by many a misguided soul, which is such a shame. Not only was Wednesday another very sad night for our family (and many others), the brave fire crews had to be called on 3 separate occasions, for something which could have been avoided. And low and behold, just the very next day, there was another tea light left inside the trunk. As advised by the fire brigade and Mendip Council, the area has been fenced off in the interest of public safety, while Gog is assessed." Tara White
The 2000-year old reference is an anecdotal one, and can be be found in Glastonbury: Maker of Myths, by Frances Howard-Gordon. Published by Gothic Image. (ISBN: 9780906362730)
‘This avenue was cut down around 1906 to clear the ground of a farm, but someone from the timber firm remembers one of the oaks being 11 feet in diameter and more than 2000 season rings were counted."
Glastonbury has been held to be a sacred place back through the mists of time and is steeped not only in history, but has a rich, deep well of myth and legend. Here, all three have been muddled and often become intertwined so it's a wise head that seeks to work out what is what.
Legends and Glastonbury
A legend usually includes an element of truth, or is based on historic facts, but with 'mythical qualities'. Semi-true stories are passed on from person-to-person and carry important meaning or symbolism within the background from which it originates. Legends often involve heroic characters or fantastic places and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of a culture.
Examples of these in Glastonbury include the story of Joseph of Arimathea, bringing the young Jesus with him and building the first small wattle church. The tales of King Arthur and Guinevere being buried in the abbey grounds, and of St. Collen banishing Gwyn ap Nudd and the fairy realm from Glastonbury Tor, are other examples.
Myths and Glastonbury
Myths are archetypal stories of the human journey through life, based on tradition or legend, which has a deep symbolic meaning. A myth 'conveys a truth' to those who tell it and hear it. Although some myths can be accounts of actual events, they have become transformed by symbolic meaning or shifted in time or place. Myths are often used to explain universal and local beginnings and involve supernatural or special beings. Glastonbury examples are the stories of the wounded Arthur being rowed to the Isle of Avalon, the nine Morgens, and the fairy kingdom of Gwyn Ap Nudd under the Tor.
What's the difference?
Legends and myths can sometimes be difficult to classify and often overlap. Visual a line with an historical account based on facts at one end and myths or cultural folktales at the other; as you progress towards the mythical/folktale end of the line, what an event symbolises to people, or what they feel about it, becomes of greater historical significance than the facts, which become less important. By the time you reach the far end of the spectrum, the story has taken on a life of its own and the facts of the original event, if there ever were any, have become almost irrelevant..
...it is the message that is important.
My experiences are as yours - filled with challenges, pain, joy, laughter and love.
The settings of our scenes might be different but along our journey together, we will discover similarities and shared experiences.
Adventure with me for a while, for it is in the Journey, we become One.
High Sierra Winter Solstice
Postcards from America (1)
God's Own Country
An Avalonian Anniversary
..'And did those feet?'
Glastonbury/Avalon of the Heart
Finding Colour in the Grey
Lessons from Morocco
Under African Skies
The Earth Mother
The Glastonbury Unity Candle goes to Knight's Enham