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THE ROAD TO AVALON
There are many different roads leading to our English Jerusalem, 'the holiest erthe in Englande'. We can approach it by the high-road of history, which leads through a rich country, for there is hardly a phase in the spiritual story of the race in which Glastonbury has played no part. Its influence twines like a golden thread through the story of our islands. Wherever mystical forces make themselves felt in our national life, the voice of Glastonbury is heard; never dominating, but always influencing.
Or we can come to Glastonbury by the upland path of legend. In and out twine the ancient folk-stories, full of deep spiritual significance to those whose hearts are tuned to their key. Arthur and his knights come and go. The Graal shines in the night sky above the Tor. The saints live their quaintly beautiful lives amid its meadows. The poetry of the soul writes itself at Glastonbury.
And there is a third way to Glastonbury, one of the secret Green Roads of the soul - the Mystic Way that leads through the Hidden Door into a land known only to the eye of vision. This is Avalon of the Heart to those who love her.
The Mystic Avalon lives her hidden life, invisible save to those who have the key of the gates of vision. The quiet West Country world goes its way. Seed-time and harvest fail not, nor her inexhaustible wells. The pink foam of spring washes over her apple-orchards in its flood; the silver mists of autumn turn her water-meadows once again to a Lake of Wonder. Legend and history and the vision of the heart blend in the building of the Mystical Avalon.
It is to this Avalon of the heart the pilgrims still go. Some in bands, knowing what they seek. Some alone, with the staff of vision in their hands, awaiting what may come to meet them on this holy ground. None go away as they came. Here the veil that hides the Unseen is thin. Here the invisible tides flow strongly; here indeed rests the foot of Jacob's Ladder whereby the souls of men may come and go between the inner and outer planes.
Glastonbury is a gateway to the Unseen. It has been a holy place and pilgrim-way from time immemorial, and to this day it sends its ancient call into the heart of the race it guards, and still we answer to the inner voice.
She is all beauty, our English Jerusalem. The paths that lead to her are ways of loveliness and pilgrimages of the soul. The long road from London spans the breadth of England and leads from one world to another. The narrow and difficult streets of the city give place to the Great West Road-a name magical in its very syllables, and magical too in its great undulating breadth for those who have eyes to see. It turns off from the heavy traffic of Chiswick, lifts to a bridge, and London is left behind. Wide sky stretches over its sunlit, wind-swept spaces, and so broad is it that cloud-shadows skim its surface and it has a horizon of its own. The traffic is swift-moving and silent. We are in another world-a new world, the world that is just dawning over the eastern hills of civilization.
The road leads for a time through the flat valley-bottom of the Thames. Elms are its trees, and the country is unlovely with the marshalled utility of market-gardens, sad because they are falling on decay, for the tide of houses is sweeping over them, and no one cares to tend the worn-out trees when next year's crop may never be gathered.
Soon, however, the country changes; the clay of the valley-bottom gives place to the sand of the Hampshire barrens; birch and fir replace the sordid elms, and we are in a wild and wide land, beautiful as only barren places are beautiful. Heather and gorse climb the rolling slopes and the road runs like a ribbon between them. Here were no ancient rights to make tortuous the public way. No one cared for the sandy barrens so they were left in their beauty and freedom. The memories of the land are haunted by highway-men and heavy coaches. The traffic of the south-west went this way. The Great Bath Road lies to the north, and serves another people.
The barrens give way to oaks and rich farming land again, and the first of the Westland signs is seen-a wall, topped with a miniature roof of thatch, or of pantiles blotched with lichen. Hereabouts they build great walls of rammed mud, which stand well so long as the wet can be kept from them; hence the quaint little roofs with their projecting eaves winding along beside the road.
Soon we come to the dividing of the ways. One road keeps its course through the rich lowlands, and the other climbs the heights towards the uplands of England's greatest plain. If we are going to Glastonbury we choose the upland way, and presently the fields give place to the wide, bare turf of the chalk, and dark, sinister bunches of juniper tell us that we are on the Plain.
Take two twigs of the juniper tree.
Cross them. Cross them. Cross them.
Look in the coals of the fire of Azrael!
says the old rune. The dark influences of the juniper overflow the road as the scattered clumps thicken on the slopes. It is indeed the tree of the Dark Angel and the Old Gods.
On this road there still rests the shadow of the Old Gods and the ir terror. Nature seems so near, and man so much in her power. Primitive man had his townships here; none other has ever dared to meet Nature face to face in this, her place of power. Sheep graze its turf, but no man disturbs its subsoil.
The soul of the place reeks of primitive man, his blood-sacrifices and his dark fears. On every hand lie the barrows of his burying and the tumuli of his sacrifices. Stonehenge stands grey and ominous, dominating the wide grey lands.
The great stones seem to be brooding over their memories, like old men by the fireside whose strength has gone from them and whose minds dwell in the past. The grey stone scan never forget-the blood has sunk too deep into them. All round their grim circle the air is heavy and cold with ancient fear. The sun shines grey upon them and the earth feels full of death. They belong to the end of the ancient race, when its light was spent and its vision darkened. Very different is Avebury, the great sun-temple of its glory. Here an invisible sun, formed by the magic of the priests, shines ever into the hearts of men. Here is healing and joy, and a wisdom which is not of this age. Avebury is a temple of the sun, but Stonehenge is a temple of blood, cold and sinister to this day; and those who make the Glastonbury pilgrimage pass swiftly through its heavy shadow, their faces set towards the West.
Lonely sheep-farms, guarded against the gales by beaches, lie remote and rare upon the uplands. From time to time the road passes a low Celtic cross which marks the spot where an aeroplane has fallen and a man been sacrificed to the Race-gods once again.
Then the road dips into beech trees, and the Plain is left behind. Presently the first apple-orchard will appear, and we shall know that we have at last reached the West Country.
The road winds, for it is an ancient way, worn by wandering feet that sought firm ground and good wine rather than the direct route. Above, on the hill-tops, lie the fortresses of primitive man; the earthworks that guarded his wonderful towns, and the terraces called shepherds' steps from which he fought the wolves. The setting sun shines low among the apple-orchards. The smoke of the peat that comes from the Bridgwater marshes smells sweet in the damp of the evening. The houses are all of grey stone, for we are within hauling distance of the Mendips. Great three-horse teams, harnessed in single file, block the way as the timber-wagons go home. Low platforms at the roadside await the clanging milk-lorries that charge down the narrowest lanes of the dairying country. Innumerable cows wander home to their byres, and among the tow-headed children playing at the wayside little black heads begin to appear, for we are approaching the land of an ancient race.
The last barrier of hills is climbed, and the road descends in three great steps towards the alluvial levels that were once all sale-marsh and tidal estuary. The wide flat plain stretches out in the evening light. Smoke hangs over the clustering hamlets that lie thick in this rich land. Here and there on its expanse rise sudden hills, still called islands hereabouts, where some eddy of the slow Severn tide laid down its silt. Upon one side the line of the Poldens guards the levels; upon the other, the Mendips. Beyond is the sea, hidden by the grey mist of distance. In the middle of the plain rises a pyramidal hill crowned by a tower - the Tor of Glastonbury!
There is such magic in the first glimpse of that strange hill that none who have the eye of vision can look upon it unmoved. Each road around Glastonbury has its trysting place where the Tor first comes into view. Whether from the train it be seen hung high in heaven, its foot among the orchards and red roofs; or whether, seen from the road, it lies far below, in the wide plain lined with willows and water-cuts, never does the magic of the first glimpse fail. What powers the ages have centred upon that strange hill who can say? The ancient Druids knew it; the earliest Christians knew it; and the tradition tells us that 'Avalon has never lacked a seer'.
The foot-hills, full of water-springs, nestle round the base of the strange pyramidal hill with its grey tower. They are of another order of creation. But one among them has any kinship with the Hill of Vision. One bowl-shaped hill of richest green lies upon its flank. Chalice Hill it is called, and it is reputed to have been the home of the Fisher King, who ever suffered from a grievous wound; and in its heart was the treasury where he kept the Graal.
The grey Tor rises to heaven and the green hill dreams beside it. Between them springs the running red water of the Holy Well; at their feet lies the town with its red roofs and blue peat-smoke. Around stretch the moors with their willows and water-cuts, and the banked straight streams and sluices that can only flow out into the sea at low water. It is a green land, a kindly land, and the Hill of Vision broods above it.
THE AVALON OF MERLIN
Two legends are wound about Avalon, the legend of the Cup and the legend of the Sword - the cup from which Our Lord drank at the Last Supper, and in which the drops of His Blood were caught; and Arthur's sword, Excalibur, engraved with ancient pagan runes. Two traditions meet in Avalon - the ancient faith of the Britons, and the creed of Christ. The older, its relics obliterated, its legends bent to a Christian purpose, is shadowy and veiled. Only here and there do we see clearly the lineaments of the ancient creed; but a veiled figure can be seen in the darkness of racial memory, and its dim but awful presence is alive.
There is an Avalon of the Sword which is far older than Avalon of the Cup. Long before the slow-flowing Severn had laid down the silt that gave us the low-lying lands of Somerset, the island of Avalon was an island indeed. In the shallow waters of the brackish lake that surrounded it were the dwellings of an ancient people who found safety from beasts and their fellow men, no less savage, among the reeds of the great fen of the west. Other tribes of primitive men had their homes in pit-dwellings on the chalky hills of the Poldens or in the many caves of the limestone range of the Mendips. All these, from hill-top or marsh, must have seen that strange pyramidal hill of Avalon as we see it to-day, How must it have appeared to primitive man if it so grips the imagination of modern man?
At the foot of the Tor is the wonderful Blood Spring, the iron-laden waters that rise from the oldest rocks, and whose flow never alters, summer or winter, flood or drought. About this well-head is built a chamber of great blocks of stone such as were used at Stonehenge. There is no stone like this in the neighbourhood. A single block of stone forms three sides of the well-mouth, a block so vast that only powerful tackle could handle it, and the masonry fits with the closest accuracy, true square, perfectly perpendicular. The round well-shaft leads down some fifteen feet to a bed of blue lias gravel, through which rises with powerful flow an unfailing spring
In the water float misty masses of the colour of stale blood. This is a rare water-fungus, stained by the iron-laden water.
Opening out of the well-shaft is a large chamber of finely hewn stone, square and correctly orientated. As the sun rounds the shoulder of the Tor on Midsummer day a shaft of light shines straight into the inner chamber. In one wall of that chamber is a recess in which a man could just stand. There is a sluice which enables the water to be run off so that the inner chamber can be entered; when the sluice is closed it rapidly refills with the clearest and coldest water, for the flow of the spring is tremendous.
This was never a Christian well, made by holy men for their simple needs. What is this man-sized niche in a well-chamber which can be emptied and filled at will? What is the strange and sinister power which still broods over the Well? This was no fountain hallowed by miracle and vision, but an ancient Druid place of sacrifice, and the upright, man-shaped niche under water shows the nature of the sacrifice. The Fisher King, if he were indeed an historic personage, may have availed himself of the superstitious awe in which such a well would be held, and hidden there the Cup when danger threatened; but this strange well, with its blood-stained waters flowing through reddened channels, is holy to the Old Gods and their dark powers.
The monks, finding it already hallowed by popular veneration, being wise in human nature, adapted it to Christian purposes, as was their wont, and wove about it the story of the Cup; but no one who has eyes to see in the world of men, and the still greater gift of the eye that sees in the inner world, can doubt that at the Well and the Tor we meet the Old Gods face to face.
The Abbey is holy ground, consecrated by the dust of saints; but up here, at the foot of the Tor, the Old Gods have their part. So we have two Avalons, 'the holiest erthe in Englande', down among the water-meadows; and upon the green heights the fiery pagan forces that make the heart leap and burn. And some love one, and some the other.
There can be but little doubt that the priests of the ancient sun-worship had here their holy place. The Tor is a strange hill, and it is hard to believe that its form is wholly the work of Nature. Round it winds a spiral way in three great coils, which was beyond all question a processional way. When did the Christians worship upon high places? Never. But such mounts as this were always sacred to the sun. It is the natural place for a sun-temple, and for the great fires of the kindred fire-worship. The perfectly symmetrical green round of Chalice Hill also looks too perfect to be the work of Nature, and on the opposite flank of the Tor are terraces whose use is not known. They could hardly have been for vine-growing, as they do not face south.
Man's hand has been here, on Tor and Hill and Well, and the hand of men who worked with knowledge and power. The Abbey and Beckary are one world, and the Tor and its Well another, an older, more vital world; and though the Well is dark with blood, the Tor is bright with fire. The Abbey is sanctified by Patrick and Bride and Dunstan, but the Well is sacred to Merlin.
In the days before the Fisher King was made custodian of the Graal, dark Morgan le Fay, half-sister to Arthur and pupil of Merlin, had her dwelling upon Chalice Hill. May not the still surface of the Well, with its great gouts of bloodstained fungus, have been her magic mirror? What could not the witch have seen in that still surface reflecting the stars, with the dead man bound in his narrow niche in the deep well-chamber lending the power of sacrificed life? Her spirit it is that broods over the Well and wakes the eyes of vision in the souls of those who gaze into it.
The history of Arthur passes from heathendom to Christendom and back again. His birth was presided over by Merlin on the wild Cornish cliffs. Some say he was cast at the feet of the mage by a gigantic wave; others that he was born of the lawless passion of Uther, King of Britain, for Ygrain, wife of Gorlois, King of Cornwall, who for lust of her slew her husband in battle and besieged her castle, taking her by force. Others, again, say that Merlin brought Uther secretly to the queen by a rock-hewn stair in the cliff, in order that the Gates of Life might be opened to the soul of Arthur, who should be the saviour of his people.
All tales agree that Merlin received the new-born child into his hands and took him away to be trained in hiding and secrecy under his own care. Whatever else Merlin may have been, he was not a Christian. He was the High Priest of the Old Gods, the Arch Adept of our race. So, like Moses and Jesus, Arthur made the 'descent into Egypt' and learnt the ancient wisdom of the initiates.
Excerpted from GLASTONBURY by DION FORTUNE. Copyright © 2000 Society of Inner Light, London. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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1 THE ROAD TO AVALON
2 THE AVALON OF MERLIN
3 THE AVALON OF THE GRAAL
4 THE ISLE OF AVALON
5 AVALON OF THE KELTIC SAINTS
7 THE HOLY THORN
8 GLASTONBURY OF THE MONKS
9 THE ABBEY
10 THE STONES OF THE ABBEY
11 THE TOR
12 GLASTONBURY OF TODAY I
13 GLASTONBURY OF TODAY II
14 GLASTONBURY OF TODAY III
15 GLASTONBURY OF TODAY IV
16 THE GATE OF REMEMBRANCE
17 THE FINDING OF THE CHALICE
18 AVALON AND ATLANTIS
19 THE VISION OF AVALON
20 THE GRAAL AND THE CHALICE
BOOKS ABOUT GLASTONBURY
THE SOCIETY OF INNER LIGHT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Posted June 18, 2012