Glastonbury : Ancient, sacred site in England’s West Country, identified with the GRAIL and the mythical Avalon of Arthurian legends. For centuries, Glastonbury has drawn spiritual pilgrims, including many practitioners of Magic. Glastonbury is located on the plains of Somerset Levels, not far from the Bristol Channel. It comprises an abbey, a town, and Glastonbury Tor, a terraced volcanic rock with the remains of an old church tower at its apex.

The area around the town was once almost an island surrounded by marshlands—it was not dry until the 16th century—and is thought to have been inhabited by humans since Mesolithic times. There is evidence that it may have been a sacred site of the Druids. The ruins of lake villages found at Glastonbury and neighbouring Meare most likely date from the third or fourth century b.c.e. and are believed to have been deserted shortly before the Roman occupation. North Somerset was a Roman settlement, and excavations have uncovered pottery and coins in and around the Glastonbury area, near the abbey, at Chalice Well, and on the Tor.

The Tor

From the 500-foot summit of Glastonbury Tor, one can see 50 to 60 miles in all directions. The terraced slopes (three of which are steep) suggest the Tor once was farmed. Another theory holds that the terraces are the remnants of a three-dimensional maze dating to the first Christian settlements and serving as a path for pilgrims. At one time, there was a stone circle atop the Tor. In the Middle Ages, monks built St. Michael’s there; it was later destroyed during an earthquake. The remains standing today are those of a later church built on the site. A six-day fair dedicated to the saint was held at the foot of the Tor each year from 1127 to 1825.

According to legend, the summit of the Tor is said to have been the location of a stronghold belonging to King Arthur and also purported to be the entrance to Annwn, Glastonbury 113 the secret, underworld kingdom of Gwyn ap Nudd, king of the fairies. The sixth century Saint Collen is said to have visited Gwyn by entering through a hidden entrance. Finding himself inside a palace, Saint Collen sprinkled holy water around, and the palace vanished, leaving the saint standing alone on the top of the Tor.

The Tor also is the site of strange lights that hover about it, perhaps the effects of a mysterious magnetic earth energy or, as some UFO watchers believe, connected to extraterrestrial spacecraft. Modern practitioners of magic, Paganism, Wicca, and other spiritual traditions hold rites and rituals on the Tor.

The Abbey

Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who wrapped the body of Jesus and carried it to his tomb, later came to Glastonbury and built England’s first Christian church, “the Old Church,” below the Tor. Legend also has it that St. Patrick lived among the monks there and was buried there. King Ine is believed to have founded a monastery on the site circa 705, which became a Benedictine house in the 10th century.

The abbey’s 12th century Lady Chapel replaced a former church on the site that was destroyed by fire in 1184, which itself had replaced the “Old Church.” The standing remains are said to be from the structure built in the 13th or 14th century and destroyed in the 16th century during the reign of King Henry VIII. In the abbey ruins blooms the Glastonbury Thorn at Easter and Christmas.

According to tradition, Joseph arrived by boat on Wearyall Hill and while leaning on his staff in prayer, the staff took root and the Thorn was seeded. The abbey grounds also are the alleged burial sites of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere—one of many mentioned in legend. Arthur’s sword, excalibur, which in legend was tossed into a lake by Sir Bedivere on the dying king’s instructions, may have been thrown into the now drained mere at Pomparles Bridge near Glastonbury.

A Welsh bard is said to have revealed the secret burial site to King Henry II. The abbey was destroyed by fire in 1184; during rebuilding, monks searched for the remains of Arthur and Guinevere. In 1190, they claimed to find them in a hollow log coffin nine feet below a stone slab. The man measured eight feet in height and had a damaged skull; a bit of blonde hair was found with the woman’s remains. A lead cross was inscribed, “here lies buried the renowned King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon.” The bones were reinterred in 1278 in a black marble tomb.

Though investigations in the 20th century confirmed discovery of the graves, it has been impossible to identify them conclusively as those of Arthur and his queen. Chalice Well At the foot of the Tor stands Chalice Well, believed to be the hiding place where Joseph of Arimethea threw the chalice that had been used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The Holy Grail reportedly had magical powers, and it figures in the popular legend of the Knights of the Round Table failing to recover it after its disappearance. According to legend, the Chalice Well was built of large blocks of stone by the druids. Also referred to as Blood Spring, some 25,000 gallons of reddish iron oxide spring water, said to have magical properties, flow through the well each day.

The Bond Excavations

In 1907, the Church of England took over the ruins of Glastonbury and began excavations under the direction of Frederick Bligh Bond. Bond located unknown chapels and parts of the abbey and concluded that the abbey had been constructed according to an ancient, sacred geometry known to the builders of the Egyptian pyramids and the Masons. He attributed his brilliant success to automatic writing, in which mediums communicated with the spirits of monks and received directions from them.

A scandal ensued, and Bond was fired. Decades later, his findings were reinvestigated and appreciated in a new light. Bond had intuited a connection between Glastonbury and Stonehenge and Avebury, which has been borne out. A ley is said to pass through the Tor linking it to Stonehenge. The ley runs along an old road called Dod Lane (from the German word for dead, tod), or “Dead Man’s Lane.” In folklore, Dod Lane is the path of spirits; the alleged gravesite of King Arthur is on an extension of this ley.

Also, the Sun rises exactly in line with Avebury about 40 miles away. And, Glastonbury Abbey is said to have been built according to the same secret geometry as Stonehenge. The Glastonbury Zodiac The Glastonbury Zodiac, an ancient Temple of the Stars, is believed to have been the human attempt to understand the world (the microcosm) by studying the stars and the PLANETS (the macrocosm).

The 12 signs of the zodiac are laid out in patterns in the Earth south of Glastonbury. First discovered by the late 16th-century physician and astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, JOHN DEE, the zodiac was rediscovered in 1929 by Katherine Maltwood. Maltwood, a sculptress, was illustrating the High History of the Holy Grail, written circa 1200 in Glastonbury, when she discovered the patterns made by natural earth formations, roads, ditches, paths, and earthworks, covering a circle measuring 10 miles in diameter.

In her book, The Glastonbury Temple of the Stars, she linked the figures to Arthurian legends. Arthur is Sagittarius, Merlin is Capricorn, and Guinevere is Virgo. Glastonbury itself is Aquarius, the sign of the New Age of Enlightenment.

The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.