Running in a mostly straight route, from St. Michael’s Mount off the coast of Cornwall UK to as far as Avebury more than 300 kilometers away, is something called the St. Michael’s Line, also known as the Dragon Line. And on the line is the town of Glastonbury, best known for its music festival that draws more than 200,000 people every summer.
St. Michael’s Line is dotted with centuries-old churches and monasteries, most in ruins now, dedicated to Archangel Michael. And because Britain’s pre-Christian past is well established – including Druidic sites, primitive altars, faery springs and even an entrance to the underworld – the old church towers commonly stand as testament to Christianity’s effort to supplant once-sacred pagan sites.
Long ago, when the marshes were an inland sea, the area of Glastonbury was an island, called Avalon, our English Jerusalem, the holiest earth in England. Almost a century ago, local resident, author and occultist, Dion Fortune, wrote that her favorite approach to Glastonbury was by “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 the Avalon of the heart, to those who love her.”
When I first visited Glastonbury in the 80s, I was on a quest to explore its legends, which include Celtic saints, flowing waters with the power to heal, King Arthur and his court, and even Jesus.
Perhaps the most beloved site in the town is the Tor, known by its Celtic name as Ynys Wydryn, meaning “Isle of Glass.” The Tor is a treeless mound rising 518 feet, in the shape of a crouching lion. And its slopes make up seven roughly symmetrical terraces, believed to be a labyrinth. Such ancient processional circles were based on a principle of initiation into a shift in consciousness, as one moves upward, from earth to heaven. A stone tower at the top of the Tor is all that’s left of a medieval church, built in the 14th century as part of the St. Michael’s Line.
Tourists arriving in Glastonbury usually head to the Tor first, climbing to the top for the views and maybe a picnic. And of course, there are regularly scheduled modern-day processions up the hillside by both the church and today’s Celtic pagans who are both equally revered in this extraordinary town of mystery and magic. It’s said of Glastonbury that you can buy a spell on any street corner.
In recent years, in my climbs to the top of the Tor, I haven’t been able to take a photo of the tower without a mass of strangers in the pic, mingling or dancing. Which makes it more amazing that on my first trip in the 80s, I woke before dawn, climbed the Tor, circled St. Michael’s Tower seven times, and sat inside chanting – never encountering a single soul, at least not in the flesh.
Glastonbury is steeped in legend. And one of the more remarkable stories tells of Joseph of Arimathea making two trips to Glastonbury, sailing by boat along the coastlines. On the first journey, he brought Jesus as a young boy, having taken over some of his care when Mary was widowed. Jesus is said to have lived in the Medips, and to have helped Joseph build the first wattle and daub cabin in Glastonbury. Of course, it’s only legend. But still, one might wonder, as poet William Blake did: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England’s pleasant pastures seen?”
Joseph’s second trip to Glastonbury was a sadder journey. Following the Crucifixion, he was told in a vision to travel west until he saw a mountain that would resemble Mt. Tabor – and that he should take with him the cup from the Last Supper, with a trace of Christ’s blood, and bury it at the foot of the mount. So Joseph of Arimathea was to be Britain’s first missionary, building its first church. And as the boat finally reached dry land on Wearyall Hill, it’s said that Joseph drove his staff into the ground and it instantly blossomed. And today, its descendants still grow around Glastonbury and the blossoms are delivered to the Queen’s breakfast table each Christmas morning.
Perhaps the most commonly known legends include the stories of King Arthur’s relationship to Glastonbury. Cadbury Castle, just 20 kilometers from Glastonbury, is said to have been the site of Camelot. A 12th century monk wrote that Arthur, in the 6th century, laid siege to Melwas, king of Somerset living atop the Tor, in order to retrieve Guinevere who had been kidnapped. And it’s widely written that Arthur and his knights quested to find the Holy Grail, the cup that Joseph had brought to Glastonbury and buried at the foot of Chalice Hill.
Naturally, it was a great boon to the monks of Glastonbury Abbey in 1191 – following a fire that caused the flow of pilgrim-funds to dwindle – to discover a wooden trunk containing two skeletons buried in the churchyard. One skeleton was a woman with long golden hair, and the other was a man with a lead cross on his chest, with the words: “Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arthurus in insula Avalonia.” (“Here lies interred the famous King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon.”) Beliefs at the time ran the gamut, from the discovery being a publicity stunt to raise funds for repairs, to Arthur still being alive like a Dark Age Elvis. In the end, the Abbey flourished again, eventually becoming Britain’s wealthiest.
Today, all that’s left of the Abbey is ruins. And in the gift shop, it’s possible to purchase a replica of the cross that was discovered in the grave. On my first visit, I bought one. And I’m lucky to still have it, because my oldest son, aged fifteen, gave it to his girlfriend. And when they broke up, my cross became a relic of broken hearts, including mine, because he left it with the girl. Enter my youngest son, aged nine, who went to her house and retrieved my cross – not unlike Arthur when he stormed the Tor and took back Guinevere.
Legend also says that Arthur was an initiate in Celtic Briton’s mystery school system. There were two goals in the mystery schools: to train the character of the initiate and to turn him or her into an oracle, in direct contact with cosmic forces. To continue toward initiation, Arthur would have needed to become a fit vessel, with purity and courage. So his hierophant’s first job would have been to shape his character.
In the myths, there are always heroes and heroines who must face challenges, which often take the form of dragons, but are actually angels. Of course, when we meet up with an angel and we know it’s an angel, it looks beautiful and cooperative. But if we don’t know it’s an angel, there’s this horrible-looking monster in front of us that we have to wrestle.
Here’s what’s fascinating about legends, myths and sacred texts. Whether or not it truly happened, if we’re reading it, the story is about us and the message is for us. So mystery stories of heroes and dragons apply to our daily lives. For example, we run up against a challenge – we’re losing our job, we’re running out of money, we’re sick, a relationship is ending – and the situation is ugly and threatening. It’s a horrendous creature with seven heads and ten horns. At least, that’s one way to look at it. But in that case, our hero hasn’t recognized that the incident is offering a learning point, with the purpose of leaving a gift of gold. It’s our perspective that makes it look like a monster to fight, or an angel to welcome.
When we talk about angels and dragons, we’re not talking about personified beings. We’re talking about energies and powers. And anything that challenges us and offers us the opportunity to pass a test, whether it’s an angel or a dragon, is playing the role of an initiator for us.
So these heroes and heroines needed purity and courage to be successful. How could Arthur’s hierophant have helped him develop these two qualities?
Here’s a clue. If we don’t have purity, what we have instead is the knowledge that we don’t have purity, which translates to guilt. Guilt is the currency of the dragon, because it makes us weaker and more vulnerable in the face of challenges. And there are dragon-agents everywhere, proclaiming that guilt is the means to spiritual salvation – that if we feel guilty enough, long enough, it will turn us into better people. It’s dragon-dogma, and it’s meant to defeat the hero. And it’s false. The truth is that guilt is destructive and should be dismissed.
So how would Arthur’s hierophant have helped him dismiss guilt, in order to invoke purity? Acquiring purity, as described in the mystery school lore, is simple. At any moment – particularly as we encounter the dragons of life – we’re capable of having purity, by looking at the situation and asking, “What is right? What serves life itself?” Not, what will get me what I want out of the situation? Not, what will get me revenge? Not, what will make it go away. Not, what will make me a great hero?
Purity comes from looking at a situation and asking, “As best I can understand it, with all my heart and my mind, what is the best, what is the highest that I can serve in this moment, in this situation?” Whatever the answer is, when we’re attuned to that, we have purity.
And something else happens simultaneously. As we receive the state of purity, our direct knowledge of the quest’s worth naturally gives us the necessary courage to move forward.
Purity and courage come in the same moment. They come as we express who we truly are, engaged with life, single-minded, focused, with purpose – as we give up all the distractions into other directions, and go for the single-mindedness of purpose that is our ideal.
Initially in his hero-career, Arthur chose to take up the sword, a positive active force. He literally drew it from a rock when no one else could. He was a warrior and wielded the power of might and strength. His enthusiasm was on fire, and he was driven to give to the world what demanded to be given, with determination, commitment and zeal. Later in life, he evolved in his role to take up the cup, no less powerful but of a different nature – the cup of inspiration, a feminine receptive force. He established the Round Table and commissioned his knights to go forth in a quest to find the Holy Grail, symbolizing a container, a receptor for unconditional love in the universe.
Merlin, on the other hand, was an initiator, with knowledge of the secret wisdom. He commanded the power of the prophet and the magician. He took up the wand and summoned the energies of the air and the subtler forces. He could modulate life-force, amplifying and decreasing it at will. He could evoke, invoke, dismiss, exorcise and bless. This was the power of the magi, the teacher-healer-priest, the sorceress and the occultist. And it’s said that they remain with us throughout time.
Remember, if you’re reading it, the story is about you and the message is for you. For instance, everyone is potentially a magician, capable of commanding energies to create desired results at will. That means that when we read about Merlin, there’s a Merlin-within that exists as a part of our nature, and we can empower it to serve us.
In the symbolism of the mysteries, as souls prior to being born, each of us stepped up to the table, so to speak, and picked up our tools and our abilities, and then dove headfirst into the deep end of life-on-earth. And through the conditioning that we received during childhood, we forgot where we came from and that the body, mind and personality were part of the package we picked up before we jumped.
What were the tools and abilities that we picked up? And what are we supposed to do with them if we want to be like Merlin?
Evocation means being willing to meet whatever we’re summoning (from without) with whatever we already have inherently available to match it (from within). Evocation is digging deep inside, just in case we already have some part of what we want. And invocation is yelling, “Help!” like in prayer. When we’ve evoked all we’ve got, then we can call for more, by invoking a greater energy, which is what makes prayer effective. And joining those two forces is what’s called the marriage of heaven and earth. So a magician invokes and evokes simultaneously, to get particular results.
Dismissal is when we recognize an energy – one that we’re not comfortable with or that’s not serving us, not supporting harmony in our lives, like jealousy, anger or self-pity – and we call it by name and kick it to the curb, so to speak. We name it and tell it to go.
Exorcism is when we notice that we’re not acting in our true nature, and we say, “Yo, creature, adore and reflect thy creator!” In other words, “Stop acting like a creature and behave like your true self!” Church people have been focusing on this tool for eons. But it really has to be done by the individual, because it’s an inside job. In the case of exorcism, I’m becoming the boss of me, including my body, my mind, my personality and my life. I’m telling all of that, because I have the authority to do so, to reflect its original pure self, which casts out everything else. The result is that I begin to make decisions that create a different kind of life, more effective, more pleasant, for me and the people around me. And that’s the blessing part.
The mysteries tell us that there is one more vital element before we can make use of these abilities.
We must look at the way life is at the moment, including all the good, all the bad, all the darkness and suffering, all the joys and blessings. And we must ask ourselves, “Am I willing to accept the world exactly as it is, exactly as it’s been created? Or do I have in me some conviction that there’s something wrong with the world, that it’s not acceptable as it is?”
Here’s why. Unless we begin in harmony, believing that the created is acceptable, we won’t have the power to create change. “If I can accept everything exactly as it is, recognizing that everything has a purpose, and that I am a co-creator, then I can take it from where it is into a new cycle. Only through accepting it, am I able to move it forward.”
It’s a tricky thing. I could say, “Why would I want to change things if I’m satisfied with the way they are? And if I’m not satisfied with them, I’m not in harmony, so I can’t change them anyway.”
It seems like a paradox. And the mysteries resolve the paradox in this way. There’s darkness in the world that’s used as a point of reference for light. And if I see the wisdom of that, and if I know that all things move from darkness to light in their turn, and if I accept the rhythm of that as being all right, I can be accepting of it all.
It means saying, “I understand that where I am right now, regardless of where that is, is perfect for this moment. I know that in the next moment things can and will change, and that I’ll be in harmony with that as well. And I want to invest my energy in producing the change that is continually moving forward in a positive direction.” Then I’m supporting the natural evolution toward positive outcome on which the world is based.
Big stuff. All part of the myth and mystery of this amazing town of Glastonbury. Of course, it’s only legend. After all, who among us believes in the possibility of waving a wand and being able to control his or her moods and emotions – or would even develop the discipline if it were possible?
Maybe it’s also coincidental that the axis of the Tor lies on St. Michael’s Line, with an astrological alignment oriented to sunrise on Beltane and Lughnasadh, and sunset on Samhain and Imbmolc. Also, when looking from the churchyard of the Abbey on September 29, which is the feast day of Archangel Michael, the rising sun silhouettes St. Michael’s Tower atop the Tor. Also, the Vesica Piscis was used in laying out the Abbey’s St. Mary’s Chapel and in choosing the location of the Abbey in relation to the Tor and Chalice Hill, which is why it shows up in the design of the lid on Chalice Well. Lots to consider when visiting Glastonbury!
In Dion Fortune’s day, she said that there were the Glastonburians who knew the place as a market town and a tourist center. And there were the Avolonians who were in touch with its spiritual life.
It’s said that there came a time in Arthur’s hero–career when he wanted more than anything to create unity in the kingdom. His first action was to ask Merlin for help. So Merlin took him to a mountaintop, where they could see the town of Glastonbury spread out below. And he asked Arthur, “What do you see?” Arthur answered, “I see Glastonbury, a market and a church, where everyone competes, argues, scrapes for survival and thinks only of self.” Then Merlin told Arthur to close his eyes, and he asked him, “What do you see?” Arthur answered, “I see Avalon, a market and a church, where everyone cooperates, trusts and helps each other.” Then Arthur knew what to do. He invited all the warlords to come to Camelot and told them they must leave their swords at the door. They joined him at a round table, where cohesion, consensus, caring and sharing ruled. And it was the beginning of unity.
The explanations of these esoteric principles, and the mystery schools in which they were taught, come from my teacher, Paul Solomon, whose work I’ve studied since 1974.
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