The Ghosts of Glastonbury
Legend has it that King Arthur and Guinevere are buried at Glastonbury Abbey. In 1191, monks began an archaeological excavation to find their remains and were purportedly successful. I am not surprised. Avalon does seem to hide in plain sight at Glastonbury. Being there and feeling the crisp morning fog does remind one of the fae that are just out of reach. There is a mystery and magic that surround this place. Even in modern times, the ground of Somerset is a liminal space. Tourists walk through Glastonbury betwixt and between this world and are completely unaware of the sacred space just outside their field of vision. But they can feel it. When they browse the local bookshops or sit at a café they discern something eschew but cannot put their finger on what it is. And the locals know. Oh they’re not fooled at all. I’ve witnessed them glance at newcomers stumbling around in a dull haze. I’ve watched them meet each others eye in knowing awareness. It’s the best kept secret in Britain. Glastonbury is alive and harbors Avalon. An autonomous entity, this beautiful place lives and breathes and enfolds everybody in its embrace. I’ve felt it. I’ve walked through a milky blanket of fog so thick that it has dream-like form and texture. But the mist ripples differently depending on where you are in Glastonbury. It is a meandering path of movement, renegotiation, and re-presentation.
Modern Avalon is a knot of actors that are bound and entwined to one another. We explore these agencies and gauge their influence on one another as harbingers of movement. As Latour has remarked, our duty is not decide how the actors should be made to act, but rather to retrace the many different worlds actors are elaborating for one another. Glastonbury is a conduit for these worldmaking entities. There are clear associations between actors who continually redefine their place in the ecology of this small town. For example, Christian legend and iconography sits side-by-side with the fairly-lore and mysticism of modern wicca. Ceremonial magick is only a handful of steps away from Sufism or chakra exploration. These various actors are all connected in a network of spiritualism that infuses the entire area. They shift and move as they interact in the network.
Perhaps the most telling correspondence in all of Glastonbury involves the re-presentations of Glastonbury Tor and Abbey. These two entities are ontological kin but invoke very different nuances in their negotiation of the sacred. Glastonbury Abbey may be a doorway but its also a broken shell. A fragment or set of puzzle pieces. There is a sadness within Glastonbury Abbey. It still stands majestic yet carries a hint of melancholy. It’s like a shard of the past. And the mist works differently at the Abbey than it does at the Tor. At the Tor it’s a blanket of mystery; At the Abbey, a mournful shroud. At the Tor it evokes a surprise or sudden remembrance, At the Abbey, it is a veil. Glastonbury Abbey is a wound. And that is the dichotomy of Glastonbury. Aside from the occultists, new-agers, locals, and tourists, two non-humans vie for the spirit of the area. The Tor of Avalon, a pilgrimage of mysticism versus the mournful wail of the Abbey. Ironically, the Abbey is Avalon itself. Something that refuses to become a mere legend. For the Abbey, the thought that its existence could be a fable is unacceptable. It is and remains as alive now as it was in antiquity.
The folklore of the Holy Grail is also very prevalent in Glastonbury. In fact, it is the most popular Christian mystery in Somerset. All throughout the area, images of the Grail can be seen on both storefront and stained-glass windows. Did Joseph of Arimathea bring the holy chalice from Jerusalem and hide it in Glastonbury? What was the vessel known as the Grail? Was it a womb? A cup? These questions dot the folklore that surround this precious relic. According to Hall, in the earliest accounts, the Grail appears to have been a precious stone. We hear elsewhere of ‘a pearl of great price’, and we are counseled not to ‘cast our pearls before swine’ nor to ‘give that which is holy unto the dogs’. Afterwards, it became a vessel, one that moved about in the air, and of the contents of which all could partake without their diminishing. It is believed that Arimathea came to Avalon and set up a shrine on the slopes of the Tor. With him he brought the Sang Real or Chalice that contained the actual blood of Christ. This Grail, whether it be a Chalice, a child, or an esoteric secret, may well be buried near the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.
The idea of Holy Blood has also resonated recently in films like The DaVinci Code and books such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail. However, in many legends the correlation of Holy Blood has no connection to Christ’s lineage or bloodline. For example, pilgrims to Glastonbury in the 12th century were shown a miraculous silver figure of Christ that had exuded blood, having been pierced with an arrow during a skirmish between abbot Thurstan and his monks in 1080. Also, in 1419 the monks of Glastonbury conducted an excavation where they ‘discovered’ a tomb which might have been that of Joseph of Arimathea. It was said that from the middle of the body towards the head there was a great abundance of liquid which to those present in that place seemed as fresh blood both by its color and its appearance.
The folklore of holy relics, like the Chalice Well, Tor, and Abbey are all transformed by their association with one another. The Abbey and Tor encourage justification of each others agency. They hold different agendas and matters of concern yet shed light on each others presence in the Glastonbury network. By using the Tor as a tool of comparison, the Abbey is re-presented and undergoes an ontological shift. Furthermore, when the Tor or Abbey are examined in terms of folklore or archaeological agency, their inertia as mediators move as well. Likewise, Christian legends of Joseph of Arimathea enjoy a movement of associations by being in a largely pagan or pre-Christian domain. Even amidst the myriad of new-age or occult bookstores in Glastonbury, Arimathea is just as likely to be evoked, conjured, or prayed to as any other religious or spiritual entity. An equality of associations provides the means by which to change something in the state of affairs. This is how the network remains organic and alive.
We can also explore the epistemological question of what is real and what is fabricated by inducing inertia into Glastonbury’s mediators. An integral part of the entire occult network, the local community is a pluriverse of groups in continual flux. They contract and expand. They move and interconnect. Often times, an occultist will shift from Ceremonial Magician to Wicca to Arthurian Legend and negotiate each paradigm based upon expected social cues. Other times, a Goetic Magician will move into Chaos Magic then meander into Theistic Satanism and successfully maneuver each mediator being explored. The point being that Glastonbury is a pluriverse of pantheons, rituals, and folklore. These mediators all coexist under the canopy of the network. It becomes interesting when considering the plethora of worldmaking that is occurring every second. It’s not uncommon to find Joseph of Arimathea in a pagan universe or Kali corresponding with Nuit in a fae world. The archetypes take precedence. They are as legitimate and as real as the populace that creates them.
 Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social. Oxford University Press. 2007. pp. 49.
 A Glastonbury Reader. Selections from the Myths, Legends and Stories of Ancient Avalon. Editor John Mathews. Harper Colling Publishers. 1993. pp. 19.
 Vincent, Nicholas. The Holy Blood. King Henry III and the Westminster Blood Relic. Cambridge University Press. 2001. pp. 48.