Last weekend, I went on something of a Druid pilgrimage, to Glastonbury. According to 12th-century historian Gerald of Wales, “What is now known as Glastonbury was, in ancient times, called the Isle of Avalon. It is virtually an island, for it is completely surrounded by marshlands. In Welsh it is called Ynys Afallach, which means the Island of Apples and this fruit once grew in great abundance. After the Battle of Camlann, a noblewoman called Morgan, later the ruler and patroness of these parts as well as being a close blood-relation of King Arthur, carried him off to the island, now known as Glastonbury, so that his wounds could be cared for. Years ago the district had also been called Ynys Gutrin in Welsh, that is the Island of Glass, and from these words the invading Saxons later coined the place-name ‘Glastingebury'”.
Glastonbury is steeped in both Christian and Pagan folklore and myth. The famous Glastonbury Tor, topped with its single tower, looms large over the landscape, and the town is filled with interesting little shops selling all sorts of spiritual trinkets, books and supplies. It is also home to two sacred springs, the White Spring and the Red Spring.
The White Spring, above, is tucked away down a little lane off the main footpath that leads up Glastonbury Tor and can easily be missed. The main building that houses the Spring was unfortunately closed when I visited, but the water flows outside the building in a little stream that disappears under the paving, and also cascades from a pipe at the side. There were so many clooties and offerings left at the Spring from all sorts of different faiths. I even left my own offering: a small silver triskele pendant, before filling a bottle with the sacred water, which now sits on my shrine at home as a connection to this place.
I love the gate to the White Spring (pictured above). It reminds me of the Fire, Well and Tree that make up the Triple Hallows in ADF Druidry.
The Red Spring has its source in the Chalice Well, the well-head of which you can see above. The well is surrounded by a Peace Garden and every time I’ve visited, I have felt a real sense of calm and peace there, that is like nowhere else. Even in winter, the garden is beautiful.
The Red Spring is red because the water contains very high amounts of iron, which oxidises to produce this vibrant red-orange colour. The Red Spring is known for its healing properties, though because of the amount of iron in the water, you are advised to only take a few sips.
It being winter, and nearing the Solstice, I was delighted by the amount of mistletoe that was growing in the trees everywhere, even in the branches of one of the (several) Glastonbury Holy Thorns. Each one, a Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna “Biflora”) is said to be a cutting from the original Holy Thorn, flowers twice a year (unlike other hawthorns) and is associated with legends of Joseph of Arimathea, as well as being a sacred tree of the Ogham, Huath. Mistletoe (Viscum album), is of course a sacred plant in the Druid tradition. Pliny refers to Druids gathering mistletoe on the sixth night after a full moon and it has become the plant associated with Druids in popular culture.
I’ve been to Glastonbury many times before, and I seem to be drawn back there regularly. It is a place dear to my heart since before I ever heard of Druidry, and it has a unique charm. While I didn’t manage to get tickets to go to Glastonbury this weekend for the OBOD Winter Gathering, I enjoyed having a more quiet and personal pilgrimage to the legendary Isle of Avalon.
*All photos by me.