I took off from the George and Pilgrim Hotel about ten in the morning. I was really kind of excited to be getting out of there. It’s moody and dark, which I love. But I needed the light.
I had light for the first block I walked up High Street. It’s not that steep of a hill, but I had my bags. I’d planned on staying in one place for a month, so was overpacked for this. I got to the top, made a right and sure enough, same incline. In the next block I got a nice drizzle which cooled me off, but it soon turned into a downpour. On I trudge up the hill, till I pass the entrance to the Chalice Gardens, home of the Red Spring. I knew I was close.
I made the turn up Well House Lane and there it stood, towering over me, set up on the footprint of the Tor.
According to the website for Berachah Guest House, “Glastonbury is a magical place of personal pilgrimage and spiritual unfoldment where the veils are thinnest between the invisible worlds, the inner and outer realities.”
Berachah is a beautiful split-level house, planted into the slopes of Glastonbury Tor. Below is the mythic red spring and Chalice Well Gardens. To the left is the white spring, which to me is far more magical. The path up the Tor starts at the foot of the steps, so for what I needed I was ideally suited.
My hostess was gracious and welcoming. The place is modern, clean and filled with light. I had the smallest room in the place and when I sat my bags down in there, I realized I smelled like a tavern, drenched in tobacco and smoke. I felt horribly out of place here, and god only knows how long it took to get the room decontaminated.
I spent a lot of time hanging out in the kitchen, making tea. There I learned that at one time, Berachah was part of Chalice Orchard, home of the occultist, Dion Fortune, and where she did much of her writing. The house itself stands on the site of the temple she had built there.
She was born at the end of the nineteenth century, was an avid practitioner of the magical, or magikal if you prefer, arts. She wrote both on magic, witchcraft and supernatural fiction. Her time and work in Glastonbury led to the creation of her order, Society of the Inner Light, which is still around today.
Kind of like a kinder, gentler and female Alastair Crowley.
Gog and Magog have been called the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, and according to legend they were the entrance to the island of Avalon, where Arthur was said to have been taken after his last battle, to be healed or to die. They were once part of an avenue of oak trees, believed to have been a part of Druidic worship. Even in their decayed state, they are quite witchy.
The rest of the avenue was cut down in the early twentieth century, and one of the the lumberjacks recalls one of the oaks being eleven feet in diameter and counted more than 2,000 season rings.
It’s even believed that these aren’t the real Gog and Magog, the real ones being cut down when the avenue was cleared. There is the remains of one mighty oak in the field which might have been one of the two even. It doesn’t matter. What makes Glastonbury magic is that it’s easy to believe what you want while you’re there.
They weren’t easy to find because they don’t put signs on all the paths, tracks, trails whatever an indention in the ground might be called.
I checked my map before I left Berachah … it was easy. Make the first left, then the first right and follow the lane. Didn’t even bother taking the map. By now the rain was gone and it was a bit chilly even. So I set off and though it was still uphill, I was loving it.
It’s hard to tell what’s magic and what’s imagination. I sometimes wonder if it’s not all imagination, and sometimes like that thought best of all. The difference between England and the states is that over there, you have a history of imagination to build on. It seems every hill, valley, dale and stream has a name. It has a story already. So when you walk, you’re walking through a shared landscape of the ancestral mind.
But for me it’s not a shared ancestral memory, and somehow despite the easy directions, I was lost. So I wandered and found myself angry. I thought I knew where I was going but none of the road names matched what I saw on the map. I even turned on Google maps to try and suss it all out, but it was hopeless trying to get a signal in the Glastonbury Zodiac with an American calling plan. Technology hasn’t caught up to mythology.
Periodically it would rain and I forgot a damned raincoat on this trip. I grew irritable. This wasn’t how this trip was supposed to be. It was supposed to be romantic, but the lady who stole my heart gave it back. I was adrift. And so I grew angry at her. I couldn’t blame her, but the mind does funny things.
All the magic fell from my eyes. Our love had wrapped up in magic from the beginning. For the first time, I truly stopped believing.
Finally I was sure I was on the right road and would have followed it had I been beset by a swarm of demons. It petered out at a farm, which looked suspiciously like a hippie commune. There were yurts in the field and a long haired fellow pointed to a lady by the house as a likely source of directions. He was “just passing through on my journey, man.”
She led me to the lane I was looking for, which oddly enough was right where it should have been, at the end of the road. Except what they call a lane, over here we would have called a path. If we were being generous.
Eventually I got there. And like I had been told the day before at the Tribunal in Glastonbury village, Gog was dead and Magog close to death. Of course close to death for an oak could be fifty or a hundred years, but still, it wasn’t at all what I expected. There was no giant canopy of leaves, no mass of overhanging branches. To see the magic you had to look close. The trunks are pretty much hollowed out, and as such is a haven for all kinds of life.
Inside I saw little things people had left, offerings to the old gods. I wanted to leave something for her in the tree, but I didn’t have anything in my pocket, not even a coin to leave. But then I remembered her, and knew it had to be a flower. There were a few more colorful varieties, but this one felt like the one she would have picked. So I cut it off and put it there and said a little prayer for her.
I was doing what countless travelers have done over the ages – looking for answers and magic. So I took the photo because I wanted her to know you had been there once. Even if only in the imagination of a madman. Later I learned it was hemlock, which is a plant used to ward off evil spirits and anger. I think it was in that moment I realized I had become a pagan.
All my life I’ve looked for a moment to call sacred, tried to manufacture moments like that. I’ve always failed. Great moments, but sacred? No.
Over the past year it had finally happened, on a rain swept night in an ancient stone circle. It’s not that I felt in tune with nature. I felt like I was in line with the world, doing what I wanted to do, what felt right and what worked. It was likely the first time all three of those ever came together for me.
Paganism has so many definitions. But from that moment on I was convinced, utterly fucking convinced that there is magic in this world, that it’s possible to become a part of it. And for once I felt like I did. Even now, I know it was real.
I can’t say that I believe in any of the ancient gods by name. A mother goddess? If so there must be a father god as well. If there’s good, there’s evil. For he who made kittens put snakes in the grass after all.
I can buy what Jesus said. It’s how to live, with love and compassion. It’s the labelling of everything I have problems with. I mean for fuck’s sake, how can any human understand, let alone explain something as vast as gods, goddesses and the past so distant people never put words on paper.
But I believe. There’s more to this world than what we can understand. The best we can do is be true to ourselves, believe in what we feel and follow those feelings wherever they go. For a brief moment we did that and we found what we were looking for. In short, we do what comes natural, and we learn to do that from a love and understanding of nature, and that includes human nature, with all our follies and foibles.
It felt sacred putting the hemlock in the tree for her as well. Even if it was done subconsciously, it was a ritual. It was a symbolic offering of the right kind, made in a place which has been sacred for centuries. And it was, like Percival, done with a pure heart. I only wanted peace and happiness for her.
Even though the grail had slipped from between my fingers.
When you read the Arthurian romances you realize quite quickly, what happens isn’t necessarily fair, and you don’t always know the reasons why it happened. Threads of darkness beyond your control interweave and catch you up in their web and pulls you where they go. Darkness is as much destiny as the forces of light.
Gog and Magog have meant many things to many people over the ages. Usually they were giants associated with violence, anger, mischief and apocalyptic visions. Quite often, especially in eastern traditions where you find Gog and Magog you also find them associated with gates and walls, often built with no other purpose than to keep the two at bay and the people safe.
And so it makes sense. I made an offering to a god of anger, an offering for her. It was the culmination of a journey into the unknown, one I made alone. At the moment I found the trees, I was as far from her as I’ll likely ever be. I was filled with anger, struggling to be alright with my emotions. And in the end, I failed. And so I left a prayer for her instead.
The funny thing is it seemed to work. As I walked away my heart was light once more. What I loved most about Britain was the walking. You can set off almost any direction and find magic. Yet the area around Glastonbury, and I believe in the Glastonbury zodiac about as much as I believe in the Easter Bunny, is pure enchantment. It’s not just the history, not just the folklore, it’s the landscape itself. How it came to be this way I’ll never fathom. It’s a fairy tale setting, evolved over thousands of years.
I only hope that mankind stops encroaching on it and it doesn’t become like so many other magical places. Overrun.
As I got to the end of the lane and turned the corner, there was the Tor. I left my anger and rage in a couple of ancient oaks with an offering of protection for a person I love. I like to think it’s there still, wilted certainly, but some part of it, some part of us now a part of its history.