As I considered where to take you on this tour, I had many places in Southwest England to choose from. Sites sacred to many traditions are scattered throughout a relatively small area. Many trips are necessary to see them all. I chose places representative of the richly layered history of the area. This land has inspired reverence and devotion throughout its human history. The prehistoric peoples who gave us Stonehenge and Avebury and the terraces of the Tor had a strong knowledge of the relationship of humans to landscape. The Celts received input from their lineage and created a spirituality of earth blessing and complex understandings of the relationship of human beings to the land of the soul. Worship of the Great Goddess was taken to a fine art in these lands. Even the Christians who adopted the old sites and adapted their stories to Biblical themes kept some of the original impulse alive. I believe the stories of Arthurian England work with archetypes that simply grow out of the land. What these places invite us to do is to remember that somewhere in our European ancestral bones, we know how to worship the earth, how to dance with the seasons, and how to pray with our bodies. This land calls us home.
Glastonbury is home to all of the traditions mentioned above. Here we find ourselves in a magical physical environment, steeped in Goddess tradition, Arthurian legend, Christian worship- in short a perfect place to weave the strands of traditions and find how this weaving fits our lives.
My first sight of the Tor came in 1990 when I had rented a car in London and driven alone through the English countryside to find the “Mystic Vale of Avalon” I had read about in the novels of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Approaching from the southeast, I saw it like a beacon in the distance, welcoming me to Glastonbury.
The Tor is a conical shaped hill with the ruins of a 14th century tower atop its summit. The tower is all that remains of the Church of St. Michael- the latest of the Christian structures on the site, which has been used for sacred purposes since prehistoric times. Artificial terraces have been carved around the sides of the Tor. They form a huge labyrinth whose path leads to the top. It is also possible to take several more direct routes to the top through sheep and cattle pastures. It is often windy at the summit and a marvelous and powerful energy emanates from the land. As you survey the 360° view from the summit, you can see the gently curved Chalice Hill, which along with the Tor is a natural pair of the male and female in landscape. Also in view is the sea, Cadbury hill- reputed to be the site of Camelot, and the ‘hedgerowed ‘fields green in all directions. The town of Glastonbury spreads out to the west.
Legends abound about the Tor. Some believe you can descend through a vast system of tunnels to other worlds if you find the correct entrance. People have seen all manner of angelic spirits and fairy folk on the slopes. It is reputed to be the center of Avalon. Many people of different traditions have done ceremony here linked in spirit with the pyramids of Egypt and Central America, the medicine wheels of North America, and great natural sites such as Mt. Shasta.
Over the years, I have used my journeys to the Tor as a marker on my path. I have never ascended without a realization or memory. I have done ceremony, danced the Cherokee Dance of life with different groups of people, played flute with and in spite of the wind, and had the most remarkable conversations with fellow travelers taking refuge from the wind inside the tower. In my experience, it is one of the portals on the planet, where it is easy to be in the land of the soul.
We will use the Tor as a spiritual home base for our pilgrimage. It is sacred to all the traditions that we will encounter. Walking slowly up the paths, we will shed our old ways and open to the new possibilities, listening to the land. When we conclude our time together we will say goodbye to the land from high atop the Tor.
I first arrived in Tintagel out of a mist having repeatedly listened to my one tape of celtic music in the car during innumerable turnings on the road, past outdoor markets selling plaster gnomes, and signposts that recalled every fairy tale I had ever read. I think it was on this journey that I realized that the bluebell- filled fields, the green grassy hills, and the forests filled with bird song and wild flowers that I had dreamed about as a child truly existed. My Dreamtime was in Cornwall, not in California.
We enter the site through a ruined hall and chapel dating to the 12th century and climb down to an island whose ruins are more of a 5th century vintage and therefore conceivably of Arthur’s era. The structures suggest a Celtic monastery.
If we are fortunate enough to time the tide correctly we can climb into Merlin’s cave where the acoustics are pure magic and practice our songs and chants. In our pilgrimage, Tintagel will sound the Arthurian chord. We will get to feel in our bones the kind of landscape where enlightened kings dreamed their dreams of just and kind societies.
Chalice Well Garden
Walking through the gate of the Chalice Well Garden, I felt an immediate sense of peace enter my being. In this thoughtfully cared for garden, the rest of the world seems far away. The centerpiece of the garden is the famous Chalice Well, which is fed by a stream of pure chalybeate water. It runs golden, leaving a blood red deposit on the stone pools- like the lunar blood of the goddess. The cover of the well is the famous vesica piscis- the interlocking circles representing the union of spirit and matter, masculine and feminine. Like holy wells throughout the Celtic lands, the Chalice Well is considered a healing source. People from all over the world come to take the waters. We will have access to a daily supply since our home base is 5 minutes down the road.
Legend has it that the Holy Grail is buried beneath the Tor and it causes the water to run blood red…. yet another example of the layers of legend that interact in Glastonbury.
Since Shambhala is very near the garden, you will have the opportunity to visit often during our pilgrimage. I like to think of the Chalice Well garden as a place of clearing and reflection. Looking down into the depths of the water, reflections of your soul are easy to see and the embrace of a May garden is nurturing and sweet.
Avebury is the largest stone circle in Britain. Its large standing stones weathered over the last 4500 years remind me of great beings guarding the landscape and informing all those who travel there of the mystery. Avebury was used as a temple in prehistoric times. It is situated in the middle of southern England on the St. Michael ley line, which extends from St. Michael’s mount through Glastonbury and on to Mount San Michel in France. My sense of how it was used comes from an imagination of old times. My sense is that people
used to prepare themselves to meet the divine in specially located places like Avebury. The juxtaposition of earth meridians and the relationship of people to the land and to the spiritual realm made these places portals into the land of the soul. It was easy here for those seekers adept at listening to the divine voices to hear what was necessary for the people to do in order to maintain balance in the land and balance in their individual lives. I see people dancing along the grand avenues of stone and entering the inner circle where ceremony and song and deep reverence for the voice of the Mother led them to harmonious and ecstatic communion. I think the stones remember these times and will gladly give us pictures and stories through our imaginations as we visit them. They will help us remember how to be in right relationship with the land and with our own inner knowing.
We will visit Avebury after our ceremony at Stonehenge, listening deeply to the stones and bringing our blessing .One of Avebury’s more earthly delights is a vegetarian restaurant that serves wonderful lunches and outstanding cream teas.
I first quote John Michell in The Traveler’s key to Sacred England:
“The solar orientation of Stonehenge together with its lunar orientations identify it as a temple to the sun and moon. These luminaries were not worshiped as gods in their own right but as symbols of the two great principles in nature, the male and female archetypes…In traditional metaphysics the sun and moon are related as heaven to earth, the first being seen as active and fertilizing, the second as receptive a fruitful All phenomena are produced by the interactions of the two opposite forces. Disturbances in nature reflect their violent encounters, while peace and harmony ensue when they are brought into amicable union- a process known esoterically as the sacred marriage”
This description of Stonehenge as a major temple dedicated to the balance of natural forces rings true in my experience of doing ceremony in its inner ring. There is a strong vortex of energy that becomes palpable when you enter through the lintel stone that is not perceivable in the public portions of the monument. It evokes a sense of “center” a place to enter with intention and willingness to pray.
Where Avebury’s energy is expansive and induces reflection and receptivity, Stonehenge brings us to intention and focus. We are privileged to be able to access the inner circle of Stonehenge. We will create a ceremony together through our circle that will reflect our strengths and prayers.
Theories about Stonehenge, how it was built and the beliefs and practices of the people, who built it, fill many volumes. Its age is estimated at between 4500-5000 years. Its location on the Salisbury plain now home to the motorway and numerous military installations is striking and amazing. A guided tour of its history is available at the visitor’s center. We can come back as tourists later in the day and explore the fascinating history of this temple.
For further information or to register, please email Judith