It is so amazing to be back in Avalon! Sometimes I call it the land of Serendip – the place spirit reaches down and taps you on the shoulder. If you aren’t being chosen by the Wild Hunt, you can be sure that some sort of awesome experience is winging its way towards you. In my case, I had a couple of such experiences yesterday, and another one today. I say, “keep them coming, y’all!” And they do.
Yesterday an old friend of mine called Khi Deva took me for a ride into magic land. To the north of Glastonbury there is a range of hills called the Mendips. It is a tall escarpment of limestone full of sculpted caves, lakes and underground rivers. It is an ancient land full of strange earthworks and man-made contours, and is very spooky, especially at night and when the entire landscape is blanketed in thick mist – which happens often. I always experienced it as a boundary between Avalon to the south, and a land of warring tribes to the north.
First Khi took me to a special sacred space called Wookey Hole – yes, I’m serious! At the base of a 150 foot limestone cliff, a sacred river emerges from the earth, and its turquoise waters flow into the Avalon landscape. There are caves all around the spring, which have been inhabited for tens of thousands of years. Humans, cave bears and all sorts of remains have been found there. Originally, there was public access to the spring water, but about ten years ago it was taken over by a business and is now a theme park – with plastic dinosaurs – and now you have to pay to get in. Bummer!
Khi had told me that there was another cave, high up the limestone cliffs overlooking the source of the Wookey spring, which one approaches over the top of the cliff. So, yesterday, in bright sunlight, Khi and I traipsed over the Wookey hills, through a couple of hedges, down a slippery muddy path, to an awesome cave. The view was sublime. Over a hundred feet below us, the spring issued out of the cliffs into a narrow steep valley filled with trees and an active community of happy crows that were playing in the breeze. SPIDER…
Now, I have a thing about caves. There was a period in my life – over twenty years or so – that I would leave my home on Solstice, stay in a cave for 10 days or so over the holiday period, and emerge renewed after New Year. I would honor the dark time of the year, and avoid the Holiday hype. I wished I had known of this cave then! Khi told me the shamanic community uses it for vigils, ceremonies, vision quests, and the like. One day I would like to spend a few days there, and I certainly plan to bring Fearn and Lily on our UK pilgrimage in March.
Not only is it a large cave – it would easily seat 30 people – there are tunnels that disappear through the rear of the cave a long way into the earth. A magical space indeed. My spirit was transported into deep underground spaces, into the bones of the planet, and back to the dawn of time when Neanderthals, Nature’s children, roamed the land. As we enjoyed ourselves there, the sun’s rays crept deeper and deeper into the cave entrance and illuminated more and more of the space. I realized that it was pretty much south facing. Perfect!
After a couple of hours meditating, exploring and hanging out, we left for a thirty-minute drive to the Priddy Barrows. Priddy is a small market town on the Mendips that boasts an annual horse fair, where the Gypsies come and trade horses, marry their sons and daughters, and catch up on a year’s news. Nearby, on the top of the hill, there is a huge open space, famous for the quality and quantity of its psilocybin magic mushrooms. On this open space are about nineteen barrows, also known as tumuli, which are ancient burial mounds.
There, overlooking the whole of Avalon, the sleepers lie in their hollow hills, ancient ancestors of Avalon, guarding the magic landscape and all that live upon it. They will awaken and help whenever the land is under threat, until the danger is gone and their job is done.
That was yesterday. It is now ten o’clock in the evening, and I have just returned from Wells Cathedral. This awesome sacred building was built in 1300 AD, next to nine sacred springs that emerge from the ground at Wells in Somerset. Pilgrims have been visiting these sacred waters for many thousands of years, well before the Christian era. For three days every year, at Imbolc, the chairs and pews are removed from the building for spring-cleaning. The entire cathedral is open space, and during this time there is a choral concert. The visitors are the choir.
An amazingly skilled woman stands on a small twelve-inch high platform in the middle of the open space and gets the audience to sing. It lasts two and a half hours, and in that time we practice and sing three songs. The first is pagan, about deer appearing from the trees and the wind and stars. She gets us singing in three-part harmonies, and even though the audience aren’t professional singers, they sound as if they are, their voices ringing out through the vast space with awesome acoustics.
The next song is based on a poem written by Goethe. It has a very different vibe and the words are:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Just begin it!
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Very Teutonic and rousing! We practice awhile in a circle surrounding our teacher at the center of the space, then divide up into three groups. The men gather at one end of the cathedral, the women on the other, and others line the walls of the space. Then the groups at each end of the cathedral start singing, and walk towards each other. The men sing the bass harmonies, the women the higher harmonies, and the people on the side another pattern of notes, a chorus of sorts. The two main groups pass between the two lines of standing singers, and an awesome resonance is set up. Eventually the two walking groups reach the ends of the building, turn round, and repeat the walk. They do this a few times, until we complete. Very unusual, and very effective!
There is a beautiful room built onto the side of the cathedral called the Chapter House. It is exquisitely decorated, is circular, about 50 feet in diameter, and has extraordinary acoustics. About 120 of us entered that beautiful room, and it was an extraordinary walk into history. As we ascended the curving staircase of stone steps, I noticed that the thousands of worshippers that had made the same climb over the years had worn away the depth of each step by about half. It was an interesting perception. We sang the third song there; it was in Latin, very Catholic, and awesomely beautiful. This time there were four harmonies: high and low women’s voices, and high and low men’s voices. Once we really got the words and melody, our teacher had us walking around the space singing our hearts out, bathed in multi-layered, exquisite sound.
Finally, we completed where we started in the main cathedral, standing around an altar of many candles. When we stopped singing there was silence for a few minutes, because nobody wanted to break the spell. I could tell that, whatever people’s belief or religion, they all got it. Everyone was in an enchanted space, an alternate reality, where the Sacred had been brought to Earth, at Imbolc. What a magical space, what a magical time!
Then on Sunday, a group of berobed Druids gathered in a grove of trees near to the center of Glastonbury, and celebrated Imbolc. It was sweet, and the power was there. We were all given a snowdrop, some Chalice Well water, and fire. Awesome gifts! I sang Rise up O Flame, and everybody joined in. The snowdrops are up, daffydowndillies sway golden in the breeze, and already the buds are popping open in some trees. From Avalon with love!