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“Something eternal - universal - the very breath of freedom lives in this land. It stretches out, embracing the whole of humanity. It still speaks to us through the hills and the valleys, the rocks and caves mentioned in the Arthurian legends. The winds and the waves sing of it, the atmosphere is full of it. It is necessary to find contact with this invisible Power which, in only one of its forms, appears as the Arthur of the legend. This Power in reality is the Eternal Spirit of this country ---. Could we but realize this, a cultural element would be born again, English in its innermost depths. It speaks to all human beings wherever they live and to whatever nation they belong.”
Walter Johannes Stein. "Is King Arthur a Historical Character?"

It begins with a sense of place. Arthur’s name has been attached to so many. Glastonbury and Tintagel, best embody the feeling. Regardless of the strong historical arguments against the validity of their Arthurian associations, something seems to connect the legendary locations that frame his life from conception to burial.

The fundamental factors are landscapes that profoundly impact on the human psyche, places that will inevitably attract a numinous mythology.

Neither place is just a repository of history and legend in the past tense, some kind of museum. That which has given them their unique identity remains alive and functioning, potent with power for transformation. I would affirm that there exist certain special places, somehow able to inspire the tribal tales that any culture needs to understand its identity and needs, its potential destiny. I believe that Glastonbury and Tintagel seem to be such places, where history and mythology, two hemispheres of one greater brain, are almost impossible to separate.

John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys in his astounding novel A Glastonbury Romance attempted to express, “the effect of a particular legend, a special myth, a unique tradition, from the remotest past in human history, upon a particular spot on the surface of this planet together with its crowd of inhabitants of every age and of every type of character”. The “special myth” is the book’s heroine, the Grail, “much older than Christianity itself”, for, “ages before any saint or Saviour of our present Faith appeared in Glastonbury --- the earth-goddess had her cauldron of the food of life safely guarded in our Island of the West.” “Its hero is the Life poured into the Grail. Its message is that no one Receptacle of Life and no one Fountain of Life poured into that Receptacle can contain or explain what the world offers us”.

In her mystical, poetic book about Glastonbury, Avalon of the Heart, the occultist Dion Fortune (pictured below left) wrote that, “Where strong spiritual emotions have been felt for long periods of time by successive generations of dedicated men or women - especially if they have had among them those who may be reckoned as saints because of their genius for devotion - the mental atmosphere of the place becomes imbued with spiritual forces, and sensitive souls capable of response are deeply stirred thereby when they come to it”.

Dion fortune

Glastonbury Abbey ruins
Photo: Stu Quigley

Glastonbury Tor Sunset
Fortune wondered if we “miss much when we abandon the ancient custom of pilgrimage?” “Every race has its holy centres, places where the veil is thin”, that contain, “power to quicken the spiritual life and vitalise the soul with fresh enthusiasm and inspiration.” “Glastonbury is a spiritual volcano wherein the fire that is at the heart of the British race breaks through and flames to heaven” (picture above right)

Tintagel is another such place. Many would agree that the area around the cliff-top castle ruins by the sea carries an archaic feeling of tangible magic. Imagine the end of a perfect summer day. The all but cloudless sky has become a symphony of gradations of portentous pink focused on the sun setting into the sea. As its reflection touches the water, a rippling ray spreads out from the horizon back across the foaming Mediterranean turquoise waves to the beach, like a sword of shimmering light. From a vantage point up on the cliffs, amongst a riot of small wild flowers, looking across at the ruined castle and down to the entrance of the famous Merlin’s Cave, one can forget all the intellectual arguments of history, feel the Arthurian mythos alive in the very air, and believe. Wordsworth’s famous lines on the landscape around Tintern Abbey come readily to mind. 

“And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things.”

Place stirs feeling. Inspires poetic mystical sensibilities. Fills the heart with the intuition of music that is constantly present if not always audible

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