Sunday, June 17, 2012

Glastonbury: Home of Pagans and Pilgrims

This Saturday, I traveled to Glastonbury with my friend Sarah to replicate a Pagan pilgrimage.  On the way, she filled me in on a massive amount of historical information about the area as well as it's significance to modern day Pagans, in addition to it being the rumored site of Avalon and Camelot.  After four hours of travel, we reached the small town which was filled to the brim with stores for old books, apothecaries, wands, robes and anything else a modern day Pagan Druid would need.  The majority of the population practice a range of lesser known faiths, with several of them marking themselves via either tattoos, jewelry or specific manner of dress.  None of this was unfamiliar to me as far as fiction goes (and by fiction I mean Harry Potter), but these were actual people that practice and pass on ancient belief systems that are almost unheard of back in the US.

Our first stop on our pilgrimage was to visit the Chalice Well, a site of both Christian and Pagan significance as it holds King Arthur's healing fountains, the Lion's Head spring and the Chalice Well itself.  The Well is known in legend as being the place where Joseph of Arimathea placed the cup that caught Christ's blood, leading to the Holy Grail legend.  This caused the belief that the water's that run from the well (that were colored red due to Iron deposits in the ground) was Christ's blood flowing throughout the Earth.  The greatest part of all this is that the site allows you to drink from the spring, fountain and well are all still functioning just like the day they were created.  They also allow you to buy bottles to fill with the water or bathe any jewelry or sigils of religious significance that you may have.

Below is the Lion's Head spring/fountain and the Well.

Next up was our trip to the Glastonbury Tor.  At the foot of the Tor, a group of Pagans asked if we were "Ready to fly".  Assuming that they may have been 'well into their cups', we laughed them off and said yes and proceeded up the public footpath.  Sadly, we were not able to walk the actual Druid's path (still used today by High Priest Arthur Pendragon of the Pagan Druid Order) as it was a four hour hike, but we trekked up the stairs placed up the side of the hill.  As we climbed higher, we learned what the group had meant and regretted laughing them off.  The wind got stronger, actually preventing some visitors from completing the hike up to the Tor itself and knocking Sarah down at one point.  The fact that Glastonbury was due for a storm also discouraged some visitors from braving the entire hike.  But, we pressed on and upon reaching the top were treated to a beautiful view of the entire surrounding area of Glastonbury and any nearby towns.  At the top sits St. Michael's Tower where some Pagan pilgrims had left offerings of flowers and apples a compass that directs you to other famous sites in the area.  The harder part was actually getting back down, as all the winds started to blow up the hill, making the Tower a massive wind tunnel that pushes you back.

 Below are several landscape shots as we ascended the Tor, St. Michael's Tower and compass.

 Once we had made our way back to the town, we went to the Glastonbury Abbey Ruins where a Christian pilgrimage was going on.  A large outdoor mass in front of one of the Abbey's still intact walls was ending as we got there, giving us a chance to walk the grounds and visit the site of King Arthur's tomb.  The tomb was a major cultural mixing point as both Christian and Pagan pilgrims come to offer their respects, either giving a prayer or kneeling in front of the site.

Below is King Arthur's tomb site, ruins of the Abbey including the main area and the Lady Chapel/crypt.  As well as a far away shot of the Pilgrim's Mass.

As we finished our pilgrimage, we went into town to join the rest of the Christian pilgrims as they filed into the shops.  We stopped in a book store where I bought a intro dictionary to religious symbols and a book on the Enneagram from a woman in full medieval garb.  Most of the stores were very similar, covered wall to wall with items whose significance I didn't understand, employers in either religious jewelry and some hand-made outfits and a couple of extra tourist specific items like T-shirts and cups.  While going through the shopping block, we met a local wizard attending to about 30 pilgrims, instructing them in basic apothecary and spell ingredients.  When we told him we had hiked up to the Tor, he remarked, "You two are absolutely nuts.  I admire your American pioneer spirit and I'm very glad it's still alive.  But, you are still completely nuts."

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