April 22nd, 2010

The Glastonbury Experience

St John's churchyard is the only green space In the centre of Glastonbury where you don't have to pay to go in. It's where the winos hang out. Glastonbury's winos are different from winos in other towns. They are counter-cultural winos. They're as loud as winos everywhere, only they dress as goths, hippies, fools for God.

There are a lot of social casualties in Glastonbury. Some came hoping to be healed. Others were broken by the town itself. Glastonbury is like Lourdes- a place that holds out promises it can hardly keep. There are all sorts of spiritualties on offer and any number of hucksters offering salvation for cash. The woman who hangs around the market place selling lucky white heather is a type of them all. Why not buy some lucky white heather? It's cheaper than most of the stuff in the high street shops. Mind you, scrumpy is cheap too- and packs the whallop of instant karma.

We drank scrumpy in the George and Pilgrims. It's cloudy and tastes deliciously of apples- and this particular brew went under the name of Hex. It puts a spell on you- the spell of apples- in Avalon the apple island.

Our friend Kath moved to Glastonbury about twenty years ago. She lived the dream- working for some women's spirituality outfit until it wore her down. Bad people come to Glastonbury, she says. Wherever there's need there'll be predators. She told us about the Native American shaman- a star of the woo-woo circuit- who comes over from the States every so often to gather himself a temporary harem of the needy and trusting. One time he raped a friend of Kath's and left her with herpes.

There's a labyrinth laid out in the grass of St. John's churchyard. You walk round and round and round until you come to a centre that isn't really a centre and then you keep on going until you come out again at the beginning. This is either a parable of the spiritual journey or an exercise in pure futility. But why not both.?

There used to be a building in Glastonbury that held everything together. Then Henry the VIII smacked it one with the ginormous hammer of the reformation and the fragments flew and spun. They are still flying and spinning. Glastonbury Abbey was a machine for generating myth. Whenever the Abbey was short of cash the monks would think up a new wonder to draw in the pilgrims. So they claimed an association with Joseph of Arimathea, St Bride, St Patrick, King Arthur. You wanted the Glastonbury experience? It was all here under one roof.  The monks were God's men and also hucksters. Walk round the abbey ruins and you can still feel the holiness. But it'll cost you £4.50 to get in.

The Tor is for free. I love the Tor. The wind blows free and the air is full of sparkles (copyright: Dion Fortune).  There was a wino up there  with his back to St. Michael's tower-  an old hippy, but younger than me I think, with iron grey hair and his bottle in the crook of his arm- gazing out over the landscape of dreams.

A landscape where, incidentally, Monmouth's army of west country labourers armed with pichtforks and scythes met King James's regulars in what came to be known as the Battle of Sedgemoor- and the slaughter was tremendous and one-sided and afterwards King James sent his man Jeffries,- hanging Judge Jeffries- down to conduct the bloody assizes- and every village was decorated with the danging, pitch-coated bodies of the rebels.

On our final evening- at kath's recommendation-  we went to the Rifleman's. The name say it all. It's a hoarse, masculine, cop a load of the tits on that sort of a place- the very antithesis of the Goddess centre we'd visited on the first day- where everything  is all floaty, chiffony, flower fairy woo-woo- a vision of the feminine that leaves out the hard labour. It didn't feel safe- The Rifleman's I mean. The Goddess centre, by contrast, felt all too safe. The sort of people who drink at the Rifleman's are the sort of people Judge Jeffries hung and coated in pitch. One of them roared out this joke you could hear from one end of the bar to the other. If you don't like filth look away now.

There were four men in a prison cell- an animal shagger, a sadist, a necrophiliac and a gay.

The animal shagger says, "If we had a cat in here I'd fuck it till it passed out

The sadist says. "Then I'd fuck it till it was dead.

The necrophiliac says, "Then I'd fuck it till I passed out.

And the gay man says, "Miaou!"

The Rifleman's sits in the very shadow of the Tor. You pass it on your way up. Or your way down. Whichever.

St Bridget

The tower on top of Glastonbury Tor is all that remains of a late medieval church that fell down in an earthquake.  As is usually the case with these hill-top shrines, the dedication is to St Michael the Archangel. There are images of him on the tower- very badly worn- and this- not so badly worn- of St Bridget milking a cow. According to the researches of Dr John Goodchild, the Godfather of New Age Glastonbury (as reported in Patrick Benham's The Avalonians) Bridget- who is the same person as Bride of Ireland who is a Christanized version of the Great Goddess or Morrigan- was a one-time Glastonbury resident- and ran a women's college or convent at Beckery, just outside the town. One of the titles- or disguises- of the Morrigan is "the black-mained heifer"- and an old fragment of bardic poetry has her travelling the three provinces of Erin, giving milk to everyone. "She was sent to give food and comfort to all; and she gave it, but especially to poor people."