Travel Journal April 30-May 3, 1999
Glastonbury I.


April 30

I had planned on visiting Glastonbury for an afternoon. I ended up staying for over a week. I'm going to break with my usual format of one page per day, because what I did during those days deserves to be told as a relatively connected and unbroken narration.

By the time I had arrived at Glastonbury yesterday, the sun was setting and it was too dim to take in the sights, so I found a small B&B (located above a bar) in which to spend the night.

Next morning (April 30), I started my explorations of the town. Here's a shot of one the main street.

Glastonbury has lots and lots of small shops, many of which sell incense, spiritual books, and other New Age paraphenalia. There's even a few shops that are blatantly Wiccan (for example, one called "Wicca Basket"), which is not something you generally see in Britain.

Here's a picture of a shop called Camelot Dream Clothing, which had some of the most interesting and beautiful women's gowns that I've seen in a long time. Unfortunately, their men's selection consisted of about 8 items, and only two were interesting and neither of them fit. Sigh...

Now, I'm not particularly interested in New Age bookstores (those of you who've been reading along remember my experience at Findhorn). I suspect that most of the suger-coated pop mysticism of the New Age movement has been constructed by either by people who've turned off all of their reality-checking, or by deliberate charlatans and hucksters looking to make a fast buck.


According to Sturgeon's Law, "90% of the universe is crud". What he meant was that for any category of item, that the vast majority of elements in that category are lackluster in quality. For example, 90% of all motion pictures are formulaic, badly directed, badly written, etc. However, years ago I realized that there was another side to the coin, which I have dubbed Talin's corollary to Sturgeon's Law: "10% of the universe is gold." In other words, for any category, even a category I despise (for example, gothic romance novels or country & western music), there will be some items of such high quality that even a jaded sophisticate like me can enjoy them.

So I decided that I would spend some time exploring Glastonbury, to see if buried among all of the superficial, superstitious, feel-good mysticism, that there would be someone that was both authentic and clueful, someone (or something) possessing what I would recognize as true wisdom. In other words, I intuitively sensed that where there's smoke, I might also find fire. It may sound silly to some of you, but as an enthusiastic student of mythology, philosophy and emergent social patterns, I've long recognized that there were emotionally powerful aspects to certain stories and situations that I wanted to explore in a more hands-on fashion.

Meta-comment: As much as I'd like to go on for several pages about my internal mental state and why this made sense to me, some of you are probably anxious for me to get on with the story....

About mid-day, I started my hike up to the Tor. Here's a shot of the town from about half-way up the hill.

However, I never quite made it to the top, for as I was hiking up, I noticed a woman sitting on a bench staring at the hoizon. I said to her "Interesting town you have here", and we got to talking about Glastonbury, the Fairies, and Arthurian legends. Her name was Denny Price, and here's a picture of her which was taken later.

"If you're interested in King Arthur, then you'll have to come down to my place and meet him and the rest of my posse," she said. (Denny's accent is distinctly cockney, in case you were wondering.)

Aparently Denny is one of the ringleaders of a group of knights led by King Arthur. Arthur, who was once a biker, is now an ecological and spiritual activist who goes by the name of Arthur Pendragon, and claims to be the reincarnation of the legendary king. He carries the sword Excaliber (the one from the movie, Excaliber), and has won the right to carry this sword in the law courts of over a dozen counties. He's a real-life tree-hugger (takes about 20 cops to get him down from a tree), and has spent a considerable time in prison for his activities. He's also a druid, and is part of a group that has won the right, from English Heritage, to celebrate their druidic rituals at Stonehenge (which is normally closed to the public.)

How Arthur got the sword is another interesting story. Apparently, he saw it in the window of an antique shop - he went in and asked them how much for the sword. "You can't have it, it's not for sale," they said, adding that it was waiting for King Arthur and that only he could claim it. He said "I am King Arthur", and pulled out his passport which read "Arthur Pendragon". They gave him the sword.

Denny hereself owns a kind of spiritual guest house, a seven bedroom two-story house near the center of town. It's called Finnoak house, and it's a place where you can go to recharge your spiritual batteries. The rates are flexible, it's "pay whatever you feel like paying", although there's a deposit of 20 pounds for the first night. They can supply tarot readings, massage, and Denny even has a fully-equipped sauna.

Denny had also mentioned that tomorrow was Beltane (I had forgotten what day it was), and that I would have to celebrate Beltane with them tomorrow, at sunrise, on Glastonbury Tor. Well, this was not to be missed, so I decided to tag along with here and stay the night at Finnoak house.

Here's a picture of the houe:

When I got there, Arthur and the knights hadn't yet arrived (they would show up later in the evening), so I decided to walk a few blocks over to Glastonbury Abbey and have a look around.

The entrance to the abbey:

The ruins of the old church:

There are actually four people living permanently in Finnoak house. Denny, her teenage daughter (who's name I don't know the spelling of), Tomy (who does most of the cooking) and his son Keanu.

Here's a picture of Tomy reading my laptop, and another of Keanu in the garden.

And here's the King. I have to say, after having spent some time with him that he's a really likeable guy, although he does hit the cider a little to much in my opinion.

Here's a few more members of the "posse" (apparently that's local slang for a group of friends).

This is Simon, who wanted me to take a picture of him in his robes. Simon's mother is Wendy De Vine, who is also known as Nimue, and who is a very wise and very spiritual person. We had a lot of long talks...

May 1

I caught a few hours of sleep that night, and then at about 4 in the morning, we all got up and made our way towards the Tor. I was designated the chauffer for the King (which I did for the rest of the day's activities as well.)

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera up to the Tor. I had this foolish notion, based on my experiences with all of the cathedrals in England, that it wasn't considered polite to take pictures of a religious ceremony. But quite a number of other people did have cameras and took pictures freely. Instead, let me describe the scene to you.

Some of you may have read the book The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Well, it certainly was a lake of mist. Standing on the Tor, it was like standing on a rocky island in a sea of grey mist. You could see the moon and stars clearly, and the red glow of the horizon got steadily brighter as the sun began to rise. The druids were led by Merlin, who wore white robes and a straw hat. Most of the people were dressed in a manner appropriate to a Grateful Dead concert. About 50 people participated in the ceremony, which involved holding hands and standing in a circle, and singing and chanting. Most of the chants were concerning the return of spring and the cycle of the year - I must say that I felt very "connected" to the planet at that point. There were two handfastings and a baby-naming. (Note that unlike Wiccan rituals, they did not cast a circle.) There was also a group of Morris dancers which did a seperate ceremony that was not part of the druid thing.

Then we all trucked back to the house, and a few hours later we got in hour cars (me with the King again) and drove to Avebury, for the second Beltane ritual of the day. There was a lot more people here, and the impression of a Grateful Dead concert was even stronger.

Here's some shots of folk hanging out at the tavern, waiting for the ritual to start.

Here's Denny in her finery.

And here's our buddy, his Majesty.

The mass of people divided into two, one representing the Goddess, who would take the short route and get to the center of the circle first. The second group, representing the God, would take the longer route, and would have to pass a challenge in order to be admitted to the circle. Note that each group had members of both sexes.

We all passed through an arch made of staves...

And then the ritual was held, a larger version of what had happened at Glastonbury.

There was also a seperate group, who did their own ritual...they had a very elaborate setup and costumes, I suspect that they were probably Gardnerians or some other British Trad.

May 2-3

Spent two days just lazing around, recovering. Tomy and I did a lot of drumming, while another fellow played the dijeridu.

Here's a picture of Memet, who's a Sufi, and his little daughter.

At one point, Memet, his wife, myself, and Wendy DeVine and Simon all went into town to have lunch. Here's a picture of the restaurant:

It was a great day...I felt very secure and supported, among friends.

However, eventually I felt a need to move on...I still had Cornwall left to visit. So after a protracted series of goodbyes, I got in my car and drove off. But before I left, Denny said that I should stop in on my way back. At the time, I didn't think that was going to fit into my plans...