A view of Glastonbury and Chalice Hill from atop the Tor.
It's been a too-long break here on Herbis Orbis. I have wanted so
much to write, but have not had the time! I had a dream last night
about my Granddad in Glastonbury, and knew that today was the day I
would reflect upon my trip.
We arrived in England after an uneventful yet thoroughly pleasant
flight (always the case with British Airways) and took a coach to
Bristol. When we got there, what started out as a cool mist had turned
into cold rain. After a mix-up with the local buses, I called Grandmum
to let her know we weren't too far off. "Well welcome to this lovely
English weather!" she exclaimed. She'd let us know in the weeks leading
up to our arrival that the weather was quite nice, and she'd hoped it
We pulled in front of the Town Hall perhaps at hour late. Lugh
rang the house again, and Granddad let us know that Grandmum had just
started down the hill. Soon we would be saved from the cold, dark and
When we arrived at Grandmum and Granddad's place, it seemed as
though we'd only just seen them a few weeks ago instead of in May of
2006. Zoe, their sweet chocolate lab, was there to greet us. We
sat down to the usual cocktail hour with our wonderful hosts; out came
the little glasses of sherry and a fancy tray of crisps. (I want to add
here that the Brits do crisps -- that is, chips, to us Yanks -- so much
better. Especially these,
which were a delectable new discovery.) There hardly seemed to be any
catching up to do... We just sat down as though we had never
left. Granddad was in good shape -- I suppose he wouldn't mind me
saying so, considering he is 92, and Grandmum spritely yet soft as
ever. Zoe... well, Zoe'd put on a few pounds. She'd become even
more Granddad's girl than I thought she would when I first met her as a
pup seven years ago. He fed her crisps when Grandmum wasn't looking.
They told us that a friend of theirs had just written a book on
Frederick Bligh Bond, the architect and archeologist who excavated
the Abbey ruins using occult methods such as automatic writing and
seance. They were surprised that I knew who Bligh Bond was. We got a
bit of neighborhood gossip regarding the book's release, as well as
some trivia on Bond. This was the first of what turned out to be a
rather Bligh Bond-themed journey.
We left our hosts -- I call them our hosts, but really, they are
family -- for a pub meal at the Mitre and a look at the town center in
the wet November darkness. I felt the first cold I was to feel that
would largely define the trip as very, very different from my usual
sojourns here in springtime. The cold was just a disguise though, for a
thoroughly different Glastonbury.
The lion's head spigot at Chalice Well.
Water: The Chalice Well
The only thing we promised to bring home from this trip (and
frankly, the only thing we could afford to bring home, considering the
weakness of the US dollar at the moment), was water from the Chalice
Well. We wanted to be sure we didn't forget and find ourselves running
about frantically on the last day, so we decided to make it our first
destination on our first morning in town.
A bit jet-lagged, I remember I got a a little grumpy with Lugh on
the way into the Chalice Well Gardens. I can't remember exactly why,
but it was probably because he was walking too fast (anyone who knows
him will attest that even on pleasure trips he attacks the sidewalks,
country lanes, and even rocky precipices like a mountain goat on
crack). I walked straight to the Well and sat down. As usual, the
keepers of the Garden had adorned the Well with flowers and berries
from the gardens, and as always, she (the Well) looked beautiful. I
gazed for a long time, going into meditation. Lugh sought out a
secluded bench in a nearby stone grotto area. Contrary to my usual
shutterbug nature, I brought out my sketchbook and pens, and began to
draw the Well before me. It was the perfect meditation and the activity
softened my sleep-deprived nerves. During the yang time of the year --
or at least, on all the other trips I have made to Glastonbury, which
have been in May and June -- the Chalice Well Gardens have not been my
absolute favorite place to visit, even though I have had at least one
very powerful experience here -- one which ultimately drew me to my
teacher and mentor, Ima. But on this day I listened to the water
running deep inside the Well, and looked at her, really studied her for
the first time, as I worked in my sketchbook. I wondered if initiations
really were carried out deep inside the Well's five-sided cavern, but
this thought only lasted fleetingly. I was in a receptive mood.
By the time I had completed my drawing, I had an idea. Lugh and I
would pull a tarot card at each of the main sacred sites around
Glastonbury, and these cards would address some aspect of our interior
lives. The card each of us drew at the Chalice Well reflected our
relationship to the feminine -- home, receptiveness, yin qualities --
and how we should develop this in the coming year. I walked over to
where Lugh was meditating and we each drew a card. I pulled the Ten of Cups.
Doesn't get much better than that! Also, it was a far cry from what I
was feeling when I first entered the gardens, but a better measure of
what I wanted and was feeling when I finished meditating at the Well.
It was the perfect picture of what I would like to see for the both of
us in 2008.
What is left of Glastonbury Abbey's transept.
Earth: The Abbey
Now, the Abbey has always been my favorite place to while away the
hours in Glastonbury. It is green, and quiet, and somehow it seems
warmer than other outdoor places in the town. I love walking among the
ruins of the abbey itself, but to be honest I prefer to just sit on the
grass or on the leftover foundations of where the cloisters used to
be. The energy of the place is quite unlike anything I've ever felt
before, anywhere. Perhaps it is the imprint of the monks' devotion and
prayerful routines that outlasts even the violence done there by Henry
VIII and his soldiers.
We took our time walking the already familiar place, always seeing
things we hadn't noticed before. The holly trees were all in bright
fruit, one of the only reminders of the time of year. We found the
words 'JESVS MARIA' engraved on a stone to the right of a door to the
Lady Chapel -- an up til then unnoticed detail brought to our attention
by Sig Lonegren (more about him later). He believes, as many do here,
that the "Maria" here does not mean the Virgin. For the first time, we
explored the wildlife area (badgers!) and duck pond, where a
two-year-old shoved me out of the way (on an empty bridge, the place
she wanted to stand was obviously the spot where I had stopped). We took a
few photos and then sat in the Refectory (well, on the grass where it
once was) and enjoyed the sun's warm rays.
The card drawn here would represent our relationship to spirituality. For me? Eight of cups.
I have been feeling like the figure in that card for quite some time
now, about my day job. It served a different me, and I do not feel
bitter toward it at all; but it is time to move on, if I can just
summon up the courage!
Before leaving, we stopped to look at the gargoyles around the
monks' kitchen. I wanted to draw them but it had begun to get dark. We
were surprised to see that four hours had passed and it was already
time for dinner.
Lugh watching the sunset from Wearyall Hill.
Air: Wearyall Hill
On the night before the full moon, we decided to take a walk up
to Wearyall Hill, at the other end of town from where we were staying
with Grandmum and Granddad. We went up at about four in the afternoon.
The sun was low and casting a golden hue along the crooked spine of the
hill and its most famous resident, the Holy Thorn (pictured in the
previous post). This hawthorn, fabled to be a descendant of the tree
sprung from Joseph of Arimathea's staff, was bedecked as usual in
colorful pilgrims' ribbons and other airy offerings, fluttering in the
chilly wind. We chose a bench near Wearyall's crest and just sat there
in the sunset, watching the endless parade of dogs of all sizes,
bounding up the hill ahead of their owners, on their afternoon walk.
All except one tiny smoke-grey terrier named Guinness, who was
wearing a sweater and walked even behind his master, who continually
turned back to encourage him along. I couldn't decide if he looked
lost, or bewildered, or annoyed, but certainly he looked cold. I could
sympathize; the day before we'd taken a day trip out to Wells and I
caught such a penetrating chill in the town's famed cathedral that it
took sitting a long time before the Mitre's fireplace to shake it.
Soon a huge, watery moon appeared low above the horizon and we
decided to see if we could wait til after dark to see it in all its
glory. The temperature was dropping rapidly and it was certainly very windy, as it often is along the
ridge of Wearyall Hill. As I mentioned in a previous post, I like to
imagine that a heavenly force comes down through the Tor, down its
slopes, echoes down the Chalice Well and moves her Gardens, whistles
through the ruined Abbey's arches, then, picking up speed, soars off
the back of Wearyall, carried on the wind -- or perhaps, carrying the
wind. From here we could see the whole town and directly opposite us,
the Tor, with the just about full moon rising next to it; behind us was
the setting sun; and down either side of the hill endless farmland and
the road leading out of Glastonbury toward Bath and Wells.
A view from the crest of Wearyall. See if you can find our shadows!
I thought about Joseph of Arimathea, and decided that the Wearyall
card would reflect our journey and ultimate destination -- the place
where we would one day arrive, lean wearily but contentedly upon our
staff, and say, "Yes. This is definitely it." For my own card, I also
intended it to mean what brought me to this place -- Why always
Glastonbury? We decided we'd better draw our cards before the light
was gone. I drew the Magician. Interesting. Interesting and a bit intimidating!
Starlings flew in staggered groups above our heads once the sun
had disappeared.The moon looked huge as it rose and the sky turned
purple and mauve around it. Soon it was quite dark and the moon looked
about as beautiful as ever. It was a lucky thing we didn't wait another
day. This was the only clear night we'd have for the rest of the trip.
Fire: The Tor
The morning of our final full day in Glastonbury, Grandmum told us
that she was walking Zoe in the countryside around the Tor and had lost
sight of her ("Probably doing her usual thing, eating cow
poo," Grandmum said of Zoe, who was dozing away in her bed in the
kitchen). Grandmum decided to keep on walking, knowing that the dog
would catch up with her once she realized she was gone. Wondering
herself where Grandmum had gone, Zoe let out a bark. Grandmum turned to
see "a rather miserable-looking bullock" standing not far away. Zoe's
bark set off the bull, which went chasing after Zoe, who was running straight for Grandmum. The two of them charging at her, she had to
quickly climb over some barbed wire into a neighboring pasture. Zoe got
the picture and began to run in another direction to get the bull away
from Grandmum. "Zoe saved the day!" I said over my fried eggs,
tomatoes, mushrooms and sausages, to which Grandmum responded that it was Zoe who
started the trouble in the first place. She said she went right to
the farmer's house to let him know that he had a disgruntled bull
separated from the rest of the herd, being a menace on the public footpaths.
That night, the night after the full moon, I persuaded Lugh to climb the Tor once again by dark (as I did the first time I had brought him to this place,
a year and a half ago). As we walked the dark lanes to the
Tor, I had completely forgotten Grandmum's story... Until we arrived at
the gate and saw the "front yard" of the Tor absolutely covered in
cows. Well, that's an exaggeration. I should say it was netted
with a loose matrix of bovines. I couldn't tell which of these were bullocks,
though. I've walked naively past cows and what turned out to be
bullocks in the meadows of Glastonbury before -- an action I never
repeated after walking through a pasture of them in Ireland with Lugh
and having him tell me to "Go quickly and quietly and don't make eye
contact." Lugh, having grown up on a farm, is a person whose opinion I
trust when it comes to livestock. He said that sometimes cows get
spooked -- or are just plain ornery -- and may charge you.
I stood at the gate and looked at the cows. I could hear some of
them breathing in the chilly night air. The moon was invisible, tucked
away under clouds. It was very dark. Some rodent was squirming around
noisily in the National Trust box. I wondered if there might be these
terrifying nocturnal grazing cows all the way up the Tor, as they are
known to be (in the daytime, at least).
"I don't think I want to go in there," I told Lugh.
"Why? They're just cows," he said. "They're probably sleeping."
"They're not sleeping, look at them!"
"Cows sleep standing up," Lugh said.
"Yes, that's where the sport of cow tipping comes from."
"Cow tipping? You flip a sleeping standing cow? Where's the sport in that?" I asked.
"It'll be fine," he said. "We won't tip any cows. Come on."
I held my breath as we walked past the scary cows. Once we were on
the steps on the steep side of the Tor, all was fine (although in my
paranoia I did wonder if a cow might come suddenly over the side of the
hill at any moment).
We reached the top and found that we had the Tor and its tower all
to ourselves. The wind rushed through St. Michael's. We sat on one of
the benches inside (there are only two, facing each other), and looked
out what was left of a window, high on the wall, which was curiously
and very accurately shaped like a monk. You could see his tonsure, his
cingulum, and what appeared to be a lamp in his hand, much like the one
the Hermit holds.
We sat for awhile. I took off my mittens and pulled out my cards.
The tarot keys drawn on the Tor were to respresent our relationship to
the masculine -- ambition, drive, force, and what we were to do with
these. I drew the Fool.
The Fool! Of course! I laughed. I could blindly step off the side of the Tor
and take my chances, begin at zero, start over again. Just like the
others, it was perfect.
Lugh sang a blessing in the Tower, a blessing and a prayer for
Abbot Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who was drawn and
quartered, and hung on the Tor. A pilgrim appeared in the doorway
during the song, then left.
When we exited the tower, we again found ourselves alone on the
wind-whipped hill. We started to go down when I decided I couldn't
leave. I hadn't done my energy exercises on the Tor this whole trip.
Lugh let me have my 20 minutes outside the tower to do my Middle Pillar
and send the energy coursing through the other sacred sites.
After that we started down the hill again. We were only a few
steps from the top when Lugh noticed that the clouds were beginning to
part. We decided to stay put until we saw the moon.
"Ah, there she is," Lugh said after a few minutes. We could see
the moon through a few streaks in the clouds. Then, enough of them
parted so that we could see her whole face. And that's when something
"Look, it's a rabbit!" I said. A hole in the clouds passing across the moon was shaped exactly like a lean, running hare!
"Well I'll be damned. That is a rabbit if ever I saw one!" said
Lugh, who usually doesn't go in for my 'visions.' But this one was
unmistakable. Ears, legs, tail and all.
We watched the celestial hare drift slowly across the moon, lit from the inside, as if it had swallowed the moon itself.
We discussed the omen's meaning as we descended the Tor. The first
thing that came to my mind was fertility. The first that came to Lugh's
"Courage regarding cows," I joked.
I asked him if courage implied hardship. He didn't think so.
Portrait of Granddad as a schoolboy, probably about 1924.
I love Grandmum and Granddad. When I first met them in 2000, I
never imagined that we would ever share such a close relationship,
and I am so grateful for it now. We were able to enjoy several evenings
of cocktails with them. Grandmum made us Thanksgiving dinner on that
Thursday -- I think I may forego turkey for duck next year! She is such
a great cook. They asked us what Thanksgiving was
about. "Is it giving thanks that you were rid of us?" We
explained that we do have a holiday for that, but that Thanksgiving
commemorated the pilgrims' first harvest feast in what would one day
become the United States. After dinner we teamed up against the two of
them for a game of parlor bagatelle,
which is sort of the precursor to pinball -- spring loaded plunger,
several silver balls, nails and points, but no flippers. We won by a
narrow margin, if I remember correctly. We knew the competition was
fierce when Granddad, whose medication dulled his digital reflexes, responded to Lugh's cheerleading with "Oh, do shut
We were also honored to share traditional English Sunday lunch
with them and their friend, W., who was once keeper of the Chalice Well
and the opposite of boring. After another of Grandmum's feasts, we
left Granddad to a nap and Lugh accompanied all us girls (me, Grandmum,
W. and Zoe) on a long walk over the peat marshes in a part of town we
would never have otherwise seen. I got a chance to walk and talk
one-on-one with W., who shared with me a little bit of her amazing
romantic spiritual journey with her late husband, which took her to
many places all over the world. She did mention to me that Dion
Fortune, with whom I am quite fascinated, did not "do much" for her;
she suggested I read Alduous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy" and go
from there. I will, but I know that I still have much to absorb from
Ms. Fortune, and that my connection to her is something I will need to
understand better in the future.
Away from town and marked a protected place for wildlife, the
marshes were very flat and very quiet. A few "travelers" (Americans
would call them Gypsies) had set up camp in a few spots. A few signs
about the prehistoric life of the area were posted. It was so silent
that we could hear the starlings make their sunset flight home over our
heads -- a truly remarkable sound, the sound of hundreds of wings
beating at once.
The trail through the peat bogs.
It is always bittersweet to say goodbye, especially to Granddad,
because I have to admit that I do wonder how long it will be before I
return and whether or not he will be there when I get back. He's in
very good shape, without a doubt, but... well, I just feel a pain in my
heart about him sometimes. When we said good night on our last day we
also said goodbye to him; he said to me, "Tomorrow morning if you want
to give me another hug I'll be in my bedroom" to which Grandmum said,
"There will be none of that!"
As Grandmum put us on the bus before dawn the next morning, she
said, "Next time you come I hope there will be three of you." Fertility
and courage of the cosmic hare indeed!
Our shadow through one of the Abbey arches.
Glastonbury in the Dark of the Year
I suspected that Glastonbury and its sacred sites would be quite
different from the way I experience them in the spring, and I was
right. The experience this time around was indeed very inward; and if I
were to attempt to put it into words, it would be that at this time of
year a pilgrim does not draw energy away from places like the Tor or
the Chalice Well, but rather, gives. While the weather was by no means
inclement, it was hard to engage with our surroundings the way one does
when the sun is out and the breezes are warm. It is no easy thing to
just stand at the top of a hill and leisurely take in a view. On this
trip I was often so busy pulling my collar up or my hat down or my
mittens on while walking that I couldn't appreciate what was going on
around me until I reached my destination. The days were short and
chilly, but everything was still so green and flowers were blooming all
I didn't feel motivated to perform any rituals or visit out of the
way places that I normally would. This trip was really more about
It was sort of sitting still that allowed us to
synchronicitously meet author and lecturer Sig Lonegren. We met the
geomancer and dowser at Gigio's, an Italian restaurant in 'downtown'
Glastonbury. A resident of Glastonbury for 20 years (I think I have
that right!) and a British citizen, Sig is originally from our side of
the pond. He overheard our accents and came over to talk to us. We
talked about the history of the town, about cosmic "coincidence," what
Sig calls "daysigns," the darker origins of common nursery
rhymes, dowsing, and Druidry. He also told us about the labyrinth he
helped to set up in front of St. John's Church on Magdalene Street.
After some time Lugh lamented the state of the Abbey and said he wished
it could be rebuilt (this was one of those many times on the trip that
Bligh Bond and his work came up in conversation). Sig said that he
believed the reason nothing could be done, and the reason so many
things fail to gel in Glastonbury, is because of the "black
magic" that had Abbot Richard Whiting executed on
the Tor during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.
The Abbot's head was placed on a spike at the entrance to the
Abbey, and parts of his body were sent to other monasteries in the
surrounding lands as a warning.
The Tor had never felt a particularly tranquil place to me,
but the story of Abbot Whiting's fate is some bad, bad mojo. Perhaps
the monk in the window in St. Michael's Tower is Abbot Whiting, ever
watchful over the Tor (and the northwest side of the town). It turns
out that he was beatified in 1895 by Pope Leo XIII. Perhaps what we
need to lift the curse of any "black magic" is to get him canonized. My
guess is that the Cause for Sainthood of Abbot Whiting is not exactly
an active one. I would also guess that any type of healing taking place
in Glastonbury is more likely to be attributed to some New Age
mechanism than the intercession of Blessed Whiting. His
feast day is Nov. 15, which is just a few days before we arrived.
Sig gave me a present before he left the restaurant -- a simple
metal pendulum. I look forward to working with it! And if I'm good,
I'll keep in touch.
You may remember Antony (the Rainbow Man) from my Nov. 19 post. No
sign of him, but the day before we left we looked at a shop window
display of rich silks, zabutons and more brass singing bowls than you
can imagine. At the center was a mannequin wearing Antony's rainbow hat
and sweater, complete with matching rainbow scarf and mittens.
All in all, a wonderful, magical journey to Glastonbury as usual
-- or unusual, as the case may be. I know now that I will have to see
the town during winter and summer as well. In the meantime, it gives me
a clear Autumn message (Autumn being the time of letting go):
To find bliss:
Let go; then,