Saturday, September 3, 2016

England, 2016, Part 13: The Wild Side of Glastonbury

Well, Glastonbury had certainly delivered: Our WITCHCRAFT B&B was an occult delight, Karen’s adventures with THE TOR were invigorating, the ruins of the ABBEY had been inadvertently entertaining, and the CHALICE WELL, was, well, the Chalice Well.

We’d done the Biggies. We’d checked off the Rick Steve’s Must-Sees. Now it was time to go off the grid and dig a little deeper. 

The reason why the Red Spring at the Chalice Well is set on a slight hill is that the locals built a room around it in the 1,200s to ‘protect’ the Spring. The
Entrance to the White Spring (formerly
the entrance to the Municipal Reservoir)
(photo from cromwell-intl.com)
sediment then built up behind the stone chamber and formed the side of the hill that we find today.

THE WHITE SPRING

The same thing happened 700 years later to the White Spring, the flows out from the base of Glastonbury Tor. A drought in the 1920’s convinced the locals that the thing to do was to encase the well head in a brick room, and let the water well up in a series of terraced reservoirs.

When I visited in 1996 the building that housed the White Spring was a cafe with live Jazz at night. There were some tables and chairs strewn around, and about an inch of water that pretty much covered the entire floor on its way outside and down. Only a few of the tables were occupied and the whole set-up looked sad and wrongity-wrong-wrong. 

Such a celebrated and historic water feature deserved better!

And 20 years later, it has! The brooding municipal building is still there, the terraces of welling water likewise, but the corners of the place - the only dry parts - are now a series of permanent altars. Lighting is provided by a selection of large candelabras…..and thats it. Its just a shrine.

His Altar
But not in the orderly, refined, keep-the-hedges-trimmed way that the Red Spring across the alley is. The White Spring is much more wild and free-form. It is the dark counterpoint to the sunny Garden next door. 

We looked at the altars, splashing our way around in the thin sheen of water, and then just sort of sat back against the cool, brick wall and watched a couple of people slowly swimming in the main tank. The only sounds were from the Spring. The water held the floor, literally. 

And then the woman next to us started a wordless song, her strong voice echoing off of the stone walls and blending perfectly with other voices that now joined in to this multi-layered chant. Eyes closed and smiles widened, and I began to really comprehend the untamed, untapped Power that this bizarre little building could generate.
Her Altar and the main pool. (Photo from BridgetNeilsen.com)

And, then a whole family with several bubbly kids entered and the spell was broken. Ah, well. I went around to the other side of the tank to see where a shaft of light was coming from the ceiling, and while I was lining up a picture to show that side of the room, an entirely naked woman rose up out of a small side tank and proceeded to casually towel off.

Nice. I liked this place. But right now, I liked the thought of lunch even more. So Admiral Karen and I sloshed our way past the rambunctious children and emerged back into the bright sunlight of this late July afternoon. 

Stay wild, White Spring;  Gwyn ap Nudd is well pleased.

TEA TIME

High Street
I knew just the place. We hiked up the right side of the Abbey grounds, sitting with its back to us behind its forebidding wall, and then across the top of the square, past all of the lovely pagany stores, each with its unique blend of odors and scents pouring out of them. There are a LOT of oils and soaps in this town.

At the intersection of the Top and the left side, the upper left hand corner of the town, next to the spire, is a tea shop.

I know. Hold on to your hats: In a small town in England there is a tea shoppe. Really. And its the same shoppe that inspired THIS rhapsody about High Tea, one of the most popular posts on Angus-land. (Its a top 10 list - skip to #8)

God Save the Queen!
We had a delightful lunch, full of scones and jam and clotted cream and the serious hold-on-to-your-hats-again Tea, loose-leafed with milk and sugar. 

Now what? We are chock-full of sugar, caffeine and lovely fats. Climb the Tor again? Visit the druid oaks just outside of town? Dive into the Witchy World of the High Street shops?

Nope. Naptime. It’d been one hell of a day so far, and remember that I had just landed in this time zone three days before. Still a bit wimbley-wobbley. So back to Herne’s Hideaway and under the 40lb fur comforter. Mmmmm……..
Subtle is not an option at the Covenstead.

3 hours later I awoke at 6pm with the realization that all of the stores close at 6pm. We flew down the stairs and out into the evening - and saw all of the store owners locking up and scurrying away to their various Lughnasadh rituals.

Sigh. I did get inside a couple of shops as they were closing, but mostly what I encountered was the overpowering stench of the New Age. Man, those white lighters love their stink-pretties! 

Buy it. Its good. (this is not a paid endorsement.)
Back by the spire though we did find one store, Happy Glastonbury, that was open until 7pm and didn’t smell like someone had dropped all 38 flower essences all over their shop floor. We wandered into the back, where the books are, and lo-and-behold the first title we see in face-out is LaSara Firefox’s “Jailbreaking the Goddess”. So nice to see a little bit of California radical activism shaking up the countryside here. 

Buy it. Its good. (this is not a paid endorsement.)
I looked further in the occult section - well, it was ALL the occult section (Hello! Glastonbury!) and sure enough, there was Jason Mankey’s “The Witch’s Athame”, written by my coven leader and fellow Pretty Hair Twin. I contributed a modest sidebar to this, the last-word, standard reference, drop-the-mic on the subject for this lifetime, and the next. So, it was nice to see, especially as Jason and Ari were due to stay at the Covenstead - in our room! - in just a couple of weeks.

Now what? More food! Its hard to imagine that our clotted cream laden scones had all been used up so soon, but we had expended a whole lot of calories this day, both physical and meta. And we had had fish and chips last night, so it was time for that other native British cuisine: Indian Take-out (Take Away).

A good place to be
We wandered back to the reading room in the Covenstead and had a simple, quiet meal, each of us full of the wonders of the day. I sorted through my photos, and Karen read one of the 30,000 books lying about. 

It was a warm, summer evening, we could hear live music down the street and no doubt the bonfires were being readied on nearby hilltops to celebrate Lammas, Lughnasadh, Gŵyl Awst, whatever they call it around here. But we were done for the night.

But the night was not quite done with me.
Out and about in the night.....

TOR TOUR

As I drifted off to sleep that Saturday night I thanked the Goddess for her continued presence and guidance in my life, and I wished that I had more quality time with her consort.

And a few hours later, at precisely 3am, He woke me up and said simply: “Now. Come to me.” I dressed in our private bathroom down the hall - that didn’t even make sense at this time of the night - and slipped out the door of the Covenstead.

This was outside one of the gift shops. Party on!
Not a soul was about - well, not a living soul, anyway - and the streets (all four of them) were deserted. The air was close and heavy and the night was warm and welcoming. I walked up High Street, noting the tubs of empty beer, wine and liquor bottles outside of the pubs, witchy stores and even some of the churches. 

Heathens - what’cha gonna do?

Turning right onto Chilkwell Street I encountered a tailwind that urged me on. Half-blind with His presence, half in this world and half across the veil I took a left onto a side street and walked on. Halfway up I walked into a empty place of deep shadow and found a car gate. I shrugged and followed it with my hand until I found the end and slipped around it. 

No. Really. This is a street name here.
Now in almost total darkness I continued up the path. I was struggling so much to see the path and keep it in front of me that I pretty much forgot that I had no idea where I was heading. Another gate, this one for hikers, and I was in a field. Okay. Now what?

I walked carefully across in the blackness, hoping I wasn’t going to step into a well, or some sheep shit. No path here, just random tufts of grass. At the far side I reached out and there was another gate in my hand. Thank you! I think I am going the right way!

More paths and roads and Y turns and guesses that weren’t guesses because I knew I was getting there, and by now, with the rising elevation, I knew was my destination was: I was being lead up to the top of the Tor.

Something like this, but 1000 times creepier.
A slow right hand turn and I crossed another hiking gate and I saw two eyes watching me across the field full of small hillocks or mounds. The eyes stayed where they were, and so did I. They watched me intently and then slowly lowered and disappeared. I walked towards them, and they rose and opened again and I saw then that I was looking at a sheep. 

I stopped then and looked carefully around me and all of the hillocks resolved themselves into a flock of sleeping sheep. The lookout watched me laconically now, and I bowed to it and quietly made my way across this woolly slumber party.

Crossing another gate put an orchard on my left, a stiff breeze to my right and nothing but a steep grade ahead of me. About halfway up the Tor I stopped and found myself next to a concrete grating. My head said that this was a tunnel, but my guide urged me on instead. Up, my lad - that path only goes One Way.
Thats it. Thats the town.

Up up up the spine of the Tor, a way that I did not take 20 years ago, and had only a vague idea that it even existed. And yet, this is the way the Karen must have taken yesterday morning. But she was smart enough to attempt it when it was light.

I finally reached the top. Glastonbury was dark below me, with only a few dim street lights outlining the Square of the Abbey grounds. The other two hills that make up the Island of Avalon were voids defined by a few more lights around their bases. The surrounding towns on the horizon were safely tucked into their beds. 11 miles away to the Northwest I could see a slowly winking light, which I think was a lighthouse. 

Aside from the wind, all was quiet. I had the place to myself. 

St. Michaels Tower in the dark
Weeelllll……lets say I was the only carbon-based life-form on the scene.

I circled around to the East facing face, where the wind was lessened, and sat down, feeling the exertion of the climb, the hour, the time zone, and just everything that had happened on this trip. And lordy, I had 5 more days of this stuff ahead of me!

Sitting on top of the King of the Fairies, I felt at peace and at home. I didn’t have any particular plan, so when I took out my phone and texted a friend back in California I didn’t question my motives, or sanity.

Of all the shallow, modern, non-devotional pass-times (I might have chastised myself). You traveled 5,000 miles to get here, and now that you ARE here, you’re just going to text somebody back home. As long as you have the Tor to yourself you might as well check to see if Pikachu is around too.

But I was being Guided. So at 3:45am I sent a note to Catherine, my partner in crime 20 years ago, and she immediately answered because it was 7:45pm Saturday night back in my beloved Pacific Time Zone. 
Texting with the Captain
  • And she was with her entire coven. 
  • And they were getting ready to go see a Drag Show. 
  • Which is why I am no longer a Lutheran.

The reason I contacted her was that I was still a little perplexed about the message I had received back at the Chalice Well. Catherine, who has made multiple trips to the Well and stayed many nights on the grounds, filled in the rest for me:

Ritual inside the Tower
“Of course you never left. A part of you changed forever once you came there.” Half naked in a hotel room in San Francisco, she elaborated. Apparently I am known as a Helper. I am Dedicated to Service, and my focus is always on the beginners, seekers, pilgrims - the newbies. Thats why I am so unimpressed by titles and pedigrees; impressive things you have done for yourself, but what have you done lately for others?

Service is why I am on the Board of Community Seed, a non-profit that puts on 30 events each year, and every one of them is designed to welcome in those who are brand new to the Craft. Being a Helper means I spend time almost every night updating websites, printing flyers and newsletters and corresponding with earnest beginners from all over. I don’t mind. I never mind. Its what I DO. Happily.

So of course a part of me never left the Chalice Well back in 1996. My energy dovetailed perfectly with the welcoming energy of the Goddess presence there, and I left behind some of my essence to help others who would come after me. 
The Magick time when the Sun and Moon share
the sky

(All of which happened in Radial Time, of course, so even though I had been linearly a Witch for about half-an-hour, across the veil I was in alltimeallspaceeveryone so I knew where I would end up and I could see the situation from a great perspective and figure out how I could assist others who would come after. Now. Before. Agh - language fails in the aetheric realms.)

Back on the Tor I came out of this revery to the sound of low chanting. I texted goodbye and thank you to Catherine and her coven, telling Jeri that no, I could not hug a sheep, as they were asleep, like the sensible mammals that they are.

I could still hear singing, however. It was coming from behind me, inside the Tower. I circled out and around, giving them wide range, and peeked in from a distance. 

Goodbye, Glastonbury Tor. Sleep well, Fairy king......
There was a small circle happening in the tower, lit by several tea lights. 12 or 13 people, the spectrum of sexes, lead by an older woman, speaking in Dutch, I think. Lots of low singing and chanting and call-and-responses. 

And one woman happily sobbing through the whole experience. Ah, someone is being initiated on Lammas Morning. Blessed Be.

Around me the first lights of rosy-fingered dawn were creeping up from the East. It was time to leave this lovely Sunday Service and take the proper way down to the toe of the Tor, where the ride lets you off at Wellhouse lane, and you cross the merry rivulets of the White and the Red spring, and you dance back to your witchy B+B, and you climb up to Herne’s Hideaway and crawl into the 40lb. fur comforter and you sleep, as the linear world slowly catches up.

Tomorrow - today! - would be full of flying roundabouts - and STANDING STONES! But for now, some well deserved rest…..

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan


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