Pagan Pilgrimage: Glastonbury

Pagan Pilgrimage: Glastonbury October 19, 2014

10676356_10152751295138232_8633319059194575023_nI’m fascinated with history and sacred spots. I was lucky enough to recently visit the (still) United Kingdom and wanted to share some of my experiences there on Raise the Horns. Instead of a boring travelogue I thought I’d provide a little context on the places I visited and perhaps help the next Pagan traveller. If enough people read this article I’ll also write about Stonehenge and Bath. I’ve already written about Rosslyn Chapel. So if you like this piece (and the pretty pictures, all taken by my wife and I!) please help a guy out by sharing it on social media.

Why visit Glastonbury?: This was one of the “big stops” on our trip, and offers all sorts of goodies to the Pagan traveller. It’s been a religious site for thousands of years, and today it caters to Christians, New Agers, Pagans, Witches, Goddess Worshippers, and all sorts of other folks. Glastonbury is several holy spots in one, and has an extensive number of Witch-shops and other Metaphysical-type stores too. Seriously, go shopping in Glastonbury if you get a chance. It’s great.

Word of caution though, Glastonbury closes pretty early (like most place in Great Britain). One of the shops I wanted to visit on our trip closed at 4:00 pm! We didn’t make it. There are also a lot of street vendors, and I’m still lamenting not buying a robe I found there. (“We’ll buy it at the end of our day” we said, they too were closed and gone by 4:00 pm.)

1017141_10152751332508232_8257041956760459560_nGlastonbury Abbey Our first stop in Glastonbury (after buying me a pair of new pants-we’ll get to that later) was the Abbey. It was a solidly Christian start to our day, which was nice to get out of the way early. I’m a sucker for religious ruins and Glastonbury Abbey is a gorgeous ruin. One of the things about Medieval Christianity that often gets lost is that it shares a lot in common with its ancient pagan sister(s). Even among its shattered buildings its easy to imagine one’s self back in the year 1300 or whatever. The grounds are also immaculate and awe-inspiring in their own way.

As a Pagan the legends about the Abbey that appeal to me the most are the ones involving King Arthur. The bodies of King Arthur and his lady Guinevere were allegedly found buried on its grounds in 1191. The story is rather ridiculous as a matter of history, but people have been visiting for centuries because of it. At various points in the last 100 years many Pagans have worshipped Arthur as a god, believing his legend is a reflection of the sun’s annual journey. It’s not something I subscribe to myself, but I’ve always liked Arthur and his knights, and while I may not pray to Briton’s High King, I do like him.

10174776_10152751294808232_9010717466165369890_nThere were also some spots at the Abbey dedicated to the Virgin Mary. My wife and I are pretty far from Christo-Paganism but we have a soft spot for Mary as an expression of the Divine Feminine. In addition to Mary the site also has links to Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph is of course more dubious history, but I like Christian conspiracy theories and Jerusalem’s favorite (alleged) tin-merchant sits at the heart of many of them.

We spent about an hour touring the Abbey and its museum. Despite the completely Christian nature of its visitor center many of the exhibits there are interesting and informative. We paid six pounds to get in, a reasonable expenditure. It’s also all right in the heart of downtown Glastonbury, so it was very hard to ignore.

15434111805_12382ed2cb_mGlastonbury Tor Once surrounded completely by water Glastonbury Tor has been linked to the isle of Avalon and has been a center of religious worship for thousands of years. Worship there predates Christianity and its pagan history predates the written record. This is a special place, and deservedly so.

Today Glastonbury Tor exists as a very high hill (the highest point for miles and miles) with an an old church tower at its peak. The church tower is just a ruin today, and as a ruin I found it completely lacking in any real Christian identity. I can’t imagine the Tor without the tower, it just fits in some sort of weird way.

10291693_10152751294813232_6438035085490539726_nWe got to the base of the Tor by taking a public bus from downtown Glastonbury (word of warning that bus only runs during peak tourist season, we were there on its last day of operation in 2014) but it’s easy enough to walk to from downtown. There’s an orchard growing on the hill now (apples! yay! I found that especially sacred) and two very well marked paths leading to the summit. While we were in pure pilgrim mode, many folks seemed to be at the top of the hill simply because the cellphone reception was particularly good. With the exception of us and a young lady, the Tor’s other dozen or so visitors the afternoon we visited were glued to their phones.

Before we left the top of the Tor my wife left a few seashells as an offering. I’m not exactly sure what gods and goddesses have been worshipped at Glastonbury Tor over the millennia but it felt like a “Goddess place” to us. If the Horned God was there, he was there more as a guardian than an equal. Completely unrelated but interesting, there was a drummer near the Tor on the day we visited, making us feel like we were at an outdoor Pagan Festival. It was fitting.

Glastonbury Tor is free to visit, but you’ll want to park in town. If you take the bus like we did that will cost you three pounds. All very reasonable.

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The White Spring: The White Spring wasn’t exactly on our agenda before visiting Great Britain, and now it’s a place we’ll never forget. The day before our trip to Glastonbury Geraldine Beskin of the Atlantis Bookstore told us to be sure and visit the White Spring. We filed that information away, but didn’t really follow up on it. Walking down from the Tor we were told emphatically by a hippy-looking guy* that “the Spring is open!”

We were not sure what to think but peaked inside the place he was pointing to. We weren’t sure what we were looking at so ducked right back out and then saw the sign “The White Spring.” The White Spring is a strange and marvelous place. It looks like a cave and there is water running all over the floor. It has no electric lights, just candles, lots and lots of candles. Somewhere in the darkness on the day of our visit there was a man ohhmming into the darkness, his voice projecting and bouncing around the cave like structure.

10628106_10152751341548232_2195898996388389830_n-1Much of Glastonbury feels like it’s for New Agers and Christians, the White Spring is a Pagan place. As I moved through the Spring I came to a shrine of the Horned One. This was completely bullshit free, this was the Horned God and I immediately felt close to him in that rarest of ways. I bowed and prayed, oblivious to the water pooling around my feet. A short ways from the Horned One’s lair there was a large pool of water. I desperately wanted to bathe in it but that didn’t feel doable. Instead I took an empty water bottle out of my bag and filled it from the pool.

As my wife and I continued our walk we found the shrine to the Goddess and again felt that special spirit of reverence that marks our best rituals. My wife placed a seashell from our ocean (the Pacific) on the Lady’s shrine before leaving. Goddess and God indeed! The White Spring is a true holy place and we feel blessed to have been able to visit.

The White Spring is not open with any regularity, just a few hours in the afternoon a few days a week. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. During our trip we couldn’t even figure out where to leave a donation but they accept contributions online which we will be making. Pictures aren’t allowed, but I’m not sure they are needed. What we felt in that place will be with us forever.

1233333_10152751295148232_7280762451230899299_nThe Chalice Well We visited the Chalice Well after our experience at the The White Spring. The Chalice Well didn’t quite pale in comparison, but it wasn’t nearly the spiritual experience of our previous spot. We’re Pagans, the Chalice Well isn’t necessarily designed for us. Sure we were welcome there, but it felt as if the place was designed for another group. (Renaming the cross-quarter days as First Stirring, Flowering, Fruition, and Resting doesn’t help.)

(My friend Angus had a much more positive and spiritual experience at the Chalice Well. It’s worth your time to read it. He’s also a much better writer than I am.)

10174776_10152751294798232_9191419667005044260_nAll of that being said the gardens around the Chalice Well were delightful and we had an enjoyable experience. It was contemplative and soul-renewing, and to walk in a place sacred to Dion Fortune was special too. There’s also something about a place that appeals to several different religious groups, that has its own energy sometimes, and much of it positive. I don’t want anyone to think that we didn’t enjoy the Chalice Well, we did, but the White Spring really kicked our Wiccan asses in a good way. We spent a lovely hour at the Chalice Well, having a drink and bottling up some water to take home with us too.

Getting to Glastonbury: Glastonbury is not the easiest place to get to. In order to get there in a reasonable amount of time we rented a car. There are also several buses that run out that way from London (and presumably other major cities).

15247474878_6a689d5948_mSynchronicity For an American, driving in Great Britain is a white-knuckle ordeal. It’s not just the whole driving on the “wrong side of the road thing” (by our perspective) or that the driver’s seat is on the right instead of the left. For us, the hardest part was driving through the many tiny villages that dot England’s countryside. On the highway, we were fine (even if we didn’t understand all the roadsigns), but the one lane roads were something else. It doesn’t help that people essentially park on them, turning a one lane road into a half lane road.

After a particularly harrowing couple of moments in one of those small villages Ari hit the brakes on our rental car pretty hard. Sitting between my legs was a now mostly cold cup of coffee containing all of an inch or so of liquid. Somehow the brake slam resulted in all of that coffee going air-born and out of my cup, and ending up on my pants. By the time we parked in Glastonbury I looked as if I had just wet myself, so our first order of business ended up being to find me a pair of pants.

1017137_10152751294793232_4532048156902107567_nWe found a merchant selling Nepalese clothing, including some very hippy-friendly woven pants. We gave him forty pounds (I got a shirt too) and I changed my clothes. I felt rather ridiculous but I was dry. Remember that hippy-looking fellow from the White Spring? Well after talking to him and visiting the Spring Ari looked at me and commented “you know, hippies don’t usually talk to us.” While saying it she glanced at my pants and burst out laughing. Those pants probably got us into the White Spring and in retrospect I’ve never been happier to end up with coffee in my lap!

We spent about seven hours in Glastonbury and could have easily spent another seven. There are several other little religious spots there we just didn’t have time to get to. I’m glad we’ll have an excuse to visit again one of these years.

*I write that with love, I was a hippy looking guy at various points in my life, and sometimes still am.

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