“Isle of Glass” – the historic name for Glastonbury, aka the mystical isle of Avalon.
Anyone who is a fan of Arthurian legend is familiar with the legends of Avalon. It is the place between worlds where rests King Arthur who waits for a time of great need to return to this world and lead once again.
For Christianity, the significance of Glastonbury seems to begin with the story that the first Christian church was founded by Joseph of Arimathea. Further figures of religious importance are said to have visited Glastonbury and the abbey erected there, from Saint Patrick of Ireland to Saint David of Wales.
Before the time of Arthur and even before Joseph of Arimathea, people of the ancient world revered Glastonbury as a place of power. Legends call it a gateway to the Otherworld, and even today it is said that the modern Somerset town holds a palpable sense of magic and mystery.
Every year pilgrims and tourists, Christian and Pagan alike, make their way to Glastonbury to climb the tor, tour the abbey ruins and visit the Chalice Well. Glastonbury is one among many holy sites that would be on my list of “Must Go To” places were I to make my way to Britain.
In my article on the White Goddess Guinevere, I mentioned my view of the Arthurian cycle as a mythological tale in its own right. Avalon and Glastonbury play a very central role in the tales no matter which version of the story you prefer.
While some legends claim that Avalon was located off the Irish coast, it is most popularly believed that Glastonbury and Avalon were two sides of the same coin. Many of the holy relics in Holy Grail lore have a counterpart in older Celtic pagan myth – the Grail itself, for example, has been likened to the Cauldron of Rebirth.
Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana Paxson have used British history and legend to flesh out their own fantasy stories bringing Avalon and its mythic protectors to life as a convent of Druidic priestesses. The Avalon series, destined to become legends of their own, pull from multiple modern Pagan religions to describe their rituals and magic.
And the books, in turn, have inspired many in the creation of art, crafts, music and film – there are even a few Pagan religious groups who have garnered inspiration from the practises described by Bradley. I, too, have found inspiration for new courses of study and new paths to follow.
For those of us who do not have the means to visit Britain, the topography of Glastonbury can provide excellent fodder for guided meditation and journeying. Explore the sacred landscapes and see what messages the divine has for you.
Climb the tor. What is waiting for you at the top? How far can you see?
Wander the Chalice Well gardens. What secrets do they hold?