If it all sounds New Age and weird, that's because it is. Glastonbury is a place of atmosphere and complicated pseudoscientific theories that both fascinate and frustrate, so many are really 'out there', while others offer divine knowledge, wrapped up in indecipherable code and enigma. Perfect material needed for a landscape based adventure game, aimed at gamers who aren't afraid of a vegan sausage roll and a rainbow unicorn. ;-)
Here's a few famous facts and fantasies about Glastonbury: Fact or Faked? You Decide.
As well as Tintagel, and a scattering of other locations including Edinburgh(!), Glastonbury has strong ties to Arthurian legend. In the 13thC the monks at the Abbey had noticed a massive drop in revenue at the tills, realising that the newly built Westminster Abbey had pinched all the pilgrims who couldn't be bothered to ride/walk/flap to Glastonbury. So, it was with some noise that they announced they had found the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere, entombed together in an almighty tree trunk 'coffin'. The religious tourists came flocking backing in no time, never in the numbers they once did, but certainly it's most popular period, providing more inspiration to the already popular Arthur myth.
I like to think the monks really did find the tree coffin, with the bodies, as a myth often begins from a grain of truth, and they did need something to show people, who quite rightly asked 'Are you sure that's King Ar'fer?' So, who were they? The couple inside the tree trunk? It's good food for thought.
The Vale of Avalon is where Arthur took his big prize, The Holy Grail, and buried it beneath the Tor, like some sort of naturally occurring pyramid tomb. See the next bit, Joseph of Arimathea for more.
Joseph of Arimathea -
Quick pinch of salt? Yes? Good. The biblical great uncle of Jesus Christ, Joseph pops up in myths all over Cornwall and the West Country. Here in Looe, Joseph is said to have left Jesus to play on Looe Island, while he travelled to the tin mines to barter exchange prices.
Funny thing is, there are sites of two early Chapels in Looe, on the mainland and one on St.George's Island, both under the wing of Glastonbury Abbey at the time. But that's an idea for another game! ;-)
Later, Joseph left the Holy Land and traveled to the land of Britannia, introducing Christianity to England, long before Rome. Quick, another pinch of salt. Here's an actual fact though, Elizabeth the 1st actually stated the establishment, and thus ownership, of the Christian religion happened in her Kingdom, in her usual subtle style. But, in truth, there's no telling when Celtic-Christianity began in the Isles, it was a long time before the Tudors, with a gradual conversion of the Pagan Anglo-Saxons happening much earlier, after and during the Roman period. Taking in the Vikings on the way.
Could something startlingly profound have occurred at Glastonbury, in Biblical times? Or some sacred artefact made it's way to the Tor, carried by God knows who, in some unreported exodus? The cultural connections may seem improbable, but archaeology says otherwise, with commercial activity between the West Country and Cornwall, and the Mediterranean and North Africa. A popular trip, by all accounts.
The original stone builders, of around 700AD, left many puzzles and enigmas, enough to charm an inquisitive eye. For later on, around 920AD, a very enthusiastic local boy, the future St.Dunstan, marvelled at the mastery of craft, and pondered who must have built such wonders? The ruins were occupied by a group of Irish Monks, who would look like Jedi's to our eyes, but Dunstan saw Benedictine Monastic Life (planting, honey, herbs, no women) and decided to roll it out across the country, bit by bit. But first, he set a task to rebuild the ruins (with the help of a few hundred Norman stone chippers), and elevated Glastonbury Abbey to International status, with pilgrims travelling to marvel at the heavenly delights and soak up some of the greenest and most pleasant land in all the Kingdom.
St.Dunstan and the Devil
Is there more to the Dunstan vs. the Devil story? Did he create something strange and marvellous in his crucible? What other experiments did he conduct? Enough to get him on a hit list and thought of as a witch.
In folklore and the occult, Iron is utilised as a defence against dark magic, like iron nails in witch bottles and horse shoes above doors and archways. It has protective qualities, basically, but its presence in the spring water around Glastonbury causes the naturally delicate local sandstone to harden, considerably, over time. It makes tough rock.
Mixing base metals and the science behind purification was often seen as Alchemy, which brings me to John Dee, a thousand years later.
John Dee was the astrologer to Elizabeth 1st, and was instrumental in her rise and eventual coronation in 1559. Her predecessor, Mary Queen of Scots, was absolutely convinced that Dee and Liz were cooking up witchcraft to remove her from power. They succeeded, but it may not have involved 'actual' witchcraft. That would be silly, wouldn't it?
No Eye of Newt or Broomsticks, instead Dee sought power and instruction from the sky. He had a scientific interest in the movement of the planets, stars and their influence on the people of the Earth, recently re-established as being round shaped(!). Dee's astrology charts are the stuff of legend, and his predictions and influence are still felt today. Later, Dee became heavily involved with known forger Edward Kelley, who acted as a seer for Dee during his very creepy sounding scrying sessions*.
Dee lost favour with the Queen, and his peers were teetering on the edge of the Age of Discovery, so his arcane rituals and Enochian WhatsApp buddies looked like what they were... black magic. Dee may have stated he was Christian, to save his neck, but there was some whiffy stuff going on, at Mortlake back in very uncertain times.
*Divination and séance, sometimes using Dee's famous Aztec Obsidian Mirror.
|When X-Rayed, Henry Gillard Glindoni's painting of Liz 1st and Dee, reveals a darker side to 'Alchemy'.
Glastonbury certainly feels like the sort of place something profound may have been secreted, but we may never know. Unless I include it in the game. ;-)
One such treasure is rumoured to be the Holy Grail. There, I've said it. How did it get to Glasto? See Joseph of Arimathea, above. If the Grail did exist, then travelled to Somerset and was exhibited by the monks as part of a very alluring reliquary of cool things, it must have been stolen by Henry's brutes?
The thing is, the Abbey at Glastonbury had two years warning. Dissolution of the Monasteries (asset stripping and destroying the churches) did not happen overnight. The guy in charge of Glastonbury, at the time, was Abbot Richard Whiting. He was fully aware that the soldiers were coming, and the Abbey was running out of time.
“Tidings have reached me, my child, that I must be taken to London, there
to answer to certain treasons of which they falsely accuse me; the bolt may
fall at any moment, and I have to discharge two duties, the first towards
“Now touch the rose which thou
seest in the carving of the cornice there, the fourth rose in order from the
door, and the third from the floor.”
The wainscotting of the room was
divided into small squares; in each one a rose—S. Joseph’s rose—formed the
“The third and the fourth, canst
“Third from the floor, fourth
from the door.”
“Now press the centre of the bud
sharply with thy thumb.”
So, that's two years to hide all sorts of treasures, anywhere they liked. There's that lovely tower, on the Tor, for starters.
“My son,” said the Abbot “I am about to reveal to thee a mystery which
thou alone mayest share, until the friend I have mentioned seeks thee, and
presents thee with this ring, which thou now seest
on my finger; it will not be till I am gone.”
The Church to St.Michael on the Tor is very striking and stops Glastonbury being a town with a bump, and elevates the Tor to quite a status. The tourists flock here, in abundance. Good for them, it's lovely, but the tower was the place of Richard Whiting's gory death, along with two 'conspirators'.
After being accused of 'Robbing the Church at Glastonbury' (what did that mean?!) he was a doomed man. He was very elderly too.
"The next day, Saturday, 15 November, he was taken to Glastonbury with two of his monks, John Thorne and Roger James, where all three were fastened upon hurdles and dragged by horses to the top of Glastonbury Tor which overlooks the town. Here they were hung, drawn and quartered, with Whiting's head being fastened over the west gate of the now deserted abbey and his limbs exposed at Wells, Bath, Ilchester and Bridgwater."
There's a fascinating fictionalised full account at Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/53010/53010-h/53010-h.htm
"...from thence be drawn on the morrow, upon a hurdle, to the summit of Glastonbury Tor, that all men far and wide may witness the royal justice, where you are to be hanged by the neck, but not until you are dead, for while you are still living, your bodies are to be taken down, your bowels torn out and burnt before your faces; your heads are then to be cut off, and your bodies divided, each into four quarters, to be at the King’s disposal..."
- The Last Abbot of Glastonbury - A Tale of the Dissolution of the Monasteries
What was the purpose or gain to such a public and grisly act? Power? Threat? Most definitely Henry's plan to show HIS Kingdom that there is no God, except him. His methods were shabby and selfish, but the atmosphere in the Vale has returned to a green, timeless idyll. Like some modern day Avalon.
Firstly, what does Avalon mean? It's based on ancient Breton/Welsh, and literally means the Isle of Apple Trees, or words to that effect, as derived from Common Celtic *abalnā, literally "fruit-bearing(thing)". Plentiful fruit and abandoned apples were observed through history by several witnesses who recorded their impressions for us to read. Isle of Apples seems to fit nicely, as there are still lots of small orchards, dotted about the Somerset levels, visible from the Tor. Thing is, the apples arrived quite a lot later, after the wet marshes were drained and turned into super fertile farm fields known as Summerland Meadows.
My Welsh is awful, but based on a few successes, I think you pronounce it 'Innis Widrin'.
Earth Mother -
The Tor hill as a massive pregnant belly, with the Chalice Well as the divine outpouring of vitae. The area is very green, plentiful and fruitful, and the water from the well is iron rich, hardening the local geology and influencing the flora.
Invisible energy lines stretch out, in all directions from the Tor, to all corners of the globe. Sacred sites, temples and monuments are found along the lines, suggesting some unconscious connection to the Earth's magnetic forces (like Pigeons), or there are powerful forces waiting to be tapped, like Tesla.
Either way, I like Ley Lines, blame Children of the Stones, and I think they'll make good exploring puzzles, and map based activities.
A Gateway to Avalon -
Lots of local art, mostly available shrink wrapped on the high street, depicts the Tor and Tower as a far away kingdom, reachable only through spiritual awakening, a vegan diet and the ingestion of a lot of weird brews and substances. Uh huh.
I'm not knocking it, I actually like the whole experience, (hog)warts and all. It attracts a constant flow of tourists, with the Chalice Well, The Tor and the Abbey Ruins being the main attractions. The game location is also an 'attraction'. Wick Hollow Hall, does not appear on maps, but has been cheated into the one included:
The setting for Glastonbury - Waking Dream of Avalon
Waking Dream of Avalon, is Wick Hollow Hall. It's a house that was never a home. Hidden from view, by large estate trees. The building is a 16thC curio, with no records of who built it, when and why. The house and gardens have been recently restored, to a very high standard, for opening to the general public. But, that was a couple of years ago. Sadly Wick Hollow remains empty and closed. Why? There's something wrong with the place, and not just the buildings, the entire estate feels 'not right', an uncanny sensation, hence the subtitle 'Waking Dream of Avalon'.
Ancient experiments into alchemy, the heavens and the unknown have left a mortal scar on the landscape, you cannot see, but you can feel it. The natural forces that control the earth, the weather and the elements must be healed. The broken earth idea is nice, for a big landscape game, and opens up opportunities to wonder...
Using a variety of techniques, from divination with rods, crystals and twigs, to high tech ground penetrating radar and Magnetometry, your task will be simple:
To do so will mean practising the esoteric arts of the alchemists, from dark ceremonies to healing and restoration. Eventually, you will come to realise that there really are more things in heaven and earth...
Finding and scanning real world objects is something I have been doing a lot of lately, so I'm looking forward to capturing some funky stone work from around Cornwall, to dress up the gardens and plinths. Also, a few interesting and esoteric tombstones would look nice in the soon-to-be expanded graveyard. The standing stones, that make up the Myrdin Stone Circle, are actually pinched from Cornwall, but I won't say where!
So far, several planters, pots, statues and 4000 year old megaliths will be re-attributed to the project too, hence all the 'Stones' markers on the mock-up map.
Anyway, they are all fun ideas, and make this Work-in-Progress weekender a fun project. It's been productive to share some thoughts and ideas, and the artwork is quite pretty. Definitely something for us to look into this Winter, production-wise, when a bit of virtual Sun God will be very much appreciated.
Back to the job at hand, and certainly lots to think about.