The west country town in Somerset, England, to which has been attached a great deal of romantic and largely unsubstantiated lore as a centre of ancient Pagan worship. This misunderstanding stems, almost exclusively, from the Celtic myth that the Isle of the Dead, Avalon, was to be found on a hill surrounded by water.
In reality the Glastonbury Tor was probably never surrounded by water other than in times of heavy winter inundation and there is little evidence of occupation of this curious site among the marshes until the fifth or sixth centuries AD although there were marsh villages close by. There is also no evidence to support the Christian myth that the child Christ and Joseph of Arimathea visited, nor that Joseph was responsible for the planting of the so-called Holy Thorn which blossoms twice yearly, nor that he returned there with the Chalice from the Last Supper.
It is possible that Glastonbury mound was a Celtic religious centre and Arthur, the British warrior king, was buried there, later, in the 5th Century. However none of this can be substantiated and it should be remembered that Arthur's power base is claimed to have been (among other places) at Camelot, over the moors at South Cadbury. The Arthurian tradition and its association with Glastonbury has been, and remains, legend.
The tradition that King Arthur's grave lies at Glastonbury arose through monks who claimed to have located his six-hundred-year-old remains, with those of his Queen, Guinevere, in 1191, in the hollowed trunk of an oak tree close to the wall of the Lady Chapel of the Abbey which had been gutted by fire seven years earlier. This was arguably a fortuitous find at a time of political unrest and when the Abbey was in need of funds to proceed with restoration. It is now believed, therefore, more likely that this was a capricious piece of publicity invented by the monks. The restored Abbey was finally sacked during the Dissolution in 1539.
No evidence to support the claim of an Arthurian tomb is available for analysis.
The edifice on the summit of the Tor, St Michael's Tower, has no Pagan claims since it is all that remains of a medieval church which replaced an earlier one destroyed by a landslide in 1275. There is no archaeological or geological evidence of a cave sanctuary beneath the Tor, nor to support the more far-fetched notion that the mound is manmade.
It is indisputable that Glastonbury lies on one of the two major Ley Lines crossing southern England. There is also, however, a wholly unsubstantiated claim brought by Kathryn Maltwood that, in circa 2700 BC, a priestly order of astronomers laid out a Zodiac, ten miles in diameter, in the countryside around Glastonbury. Proponents of the theory point to supposed outlines of Zodiac figures delineated by ditches, rivers, hedgerows and roadways while ignoring the obvious drawback that many of these manmade artifacts were created within the past 300 years.
Examining aerial photographs it is, in reality, possible to create more or less any imaginary figure from the choices of available landmarks.
These things, collectively, have provided Glastonbury with its tenuous cult status, strengthened by twentieth-century romance and.a lucrative tourist trade in Esoterica.
Notwithstanding the demerits, the area is unique in its status and this, coupled with the striking geological formation of the Tor, provides it with an endearing aura.
see also: GLASTONBURY SCRIPTS; GLASTONBURY ZODIAC
One of the major problems with 'defining' Paganism and/or its beliefs and practices is that it is an 'organic' movement, in that it is undergoing constant change and re-evaluation from within, and as such any 'one-size-fits-all' approach to understanding Paganism will be found wanting.
Due to the very 'organic' nature of Paganism, and the many differing Paths and Traditions within it, in many cases no one definition may be universally accepted by all Pagans. Therefore, where such cases of possible conflicting and/or contradictory meanings of certain terms occur I have endevoured to give not only the generally accepted meaning, but also any major 'variations' in belief and/or practice.
Christians who believe this difference in meaning of certain key terms, beliefs and practices to be unique to Paganism need to remember that such conflicts also arise within the Body of Christ - the Church. Take for instance the differing practices amongst Christians concerning Baptism and the different attitudes towards women in the clergy.
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