You will need to understand a little basic magic or alchemy to appreciate the elemental energies that govern a diamond-shaped area of Britain of more than 100 square miles known as Avalon. But don’t worry because it is easy. It’s just about how the four energetic elements – fire, water, earth and air – interact with one another.
For instance, air governs fire. If you have ever used a pair of bellows to feed the flames, or have snuffed out a fire with a blanket, you will understand this principle. Air represents all things gaseous, expansive and vibrational, such as speech and song.
Similarly, earth rules water, in the way that the banks of a river act to contain the flow. The earth is matter – the invisible net of energy that makes up the matrix and is the madron, meaning mother in Welsh, of the creation.
In this way, fire, water, earth and air are the foundational forces that give rise to creation and re-creation, and are known as the four elements.
The 20th century magician Dion Fortune attributed each of these elements to four hills of Avalon as follows:
GLASTONBURY TOR – Fire, red
The terraced, conical hill of Glastonbury Tor, we believe, was once more pyramid-shaped, until an earthquake in 1275 gave it a more staggered, elongated summit.
Dion Fortune herself commented, in her Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart, that seen from afar, the Tor is the perfect pyramid.
The word ‘pyramid’ is derived from the Greek pyro, meaning fire. Some see it as a firebird or phoenix.
If you are driving towards Glastonbury from Wells, the Tor first appears on the left just as you are leaving the village of Coxley. It seems to be sailing fast towards you like a great ship, its funnel shaped by the ruined tower on its summit and white, fluffy puffs of steam by the clouds.
When you catch it at sunrise, it is as if it is sailing on a sparkling sea of silver mists and, when silhouetted against skies painted with apricots and marigolds, it could be the Dawn Treader.
For a mile or so, the road turns downwards, and so the Tor disappears from view behind some trees. But then, just as you reach the sign proclaiming Welcome to Glastonbury, this great green serpent mound is there again, standing right before you as if in greeting.
You can walk up the Tor by taking the winding steps that lead off from the right at the start of Wellhouse Lane, as you turn off from Chilkwell Street. There is another entrance, a mile or so up the lane, but parking there is tricky with vigilant traffic wardens around. You can choose to ascend on either side, where stepped, winding paths take you up to the summit.
Dion Fortune, who lived at its foot, called Glastonbury Tor the “Hill of Vision”.
The views from the Tor across the Somerset Levels are certainly stunning. On a good day, you can see as far as the Cheddar Caves.
However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a place of peaceful meditation. It is a popular destination with tourists and even on the hottest and stillest of days, there’s usually quite a breeze blowing. I have my own ideas about the permanent breeze. I don’t think it’s an ordinary wind but an energetic force that is generated by the geological geometries of the mound.
Those with strong ankles might prefer to follow the spiralling path that is formed by the terraces cut into the hill. The tower on its summit is all that remains, after the earthquake, of a St Michael church that was built by the Benedictine monks of Glastonbury Abbey.
CHALICE HILL – Water, white
I’m afraid that you won’t be able to visit the round green dome of Chalice Hill because it is now privately owned. But you will be able to enjoy the neighbouring and equally wonderfully enchanted Chalice Well Gardens, which were lovingly created by the early childhood educator Alice Buckton in the early 20th century.
Enter through the gate on Chilkwell Street and you will first notice a grassy area to your right in which there are two old and majestic yew trees. This is a faery portal, and so it’s always a good idea to ask for permission first before passing between them.
Follow the pathway through the garden until you reach the covered well. On its lid, you will see a Vesica Piscis that was forged by the the early 20th century Rosicrucian architect Frederick Bligh Bond. I explain about the magical meaning of this symbol in my book Stories in the Summerlands: A pilgrimage into esoteric Avalon.
The well itself is constructed of unusual stones that are not found in the locality, although they are similar to those used to build Stonehenge. The 15-foot shaft leads down to a bed of blue lias gravel, upon which floats a rare iron-laden fungus that turns the water red, giving rise to its name Blood Spring.
I should warn you that all heartfelt and sincere prayers and wishes directed into this faery well are always answered. So be careful what you wish for!
The water element rises in the landscape as the shrouding Mists of Avalon which veil the Faery Swan as it sails down the River Brue during the time of Aquarius … but that’s another story which you can read in my book Stories in the Summerlands.
WIRRAL HILL – Earth, brown or yellow
Just go down the High Street until you reach the Market Square. Then turn left to follow Magdalene Street, which turns into Fisher Hill. At the top of the hill, there is a residential road called Hillhead, which goes off to the right. If you turn up there and continue walking for a few hundred yards, past all the houses, you will eventually come to a gateway in a hedge on the right.
Go through the gate and then follow the winding path up the hill. This will take you past a stump of a thorn tree that is still honoured today, even though it lost its crown to vandals in the winter of 2010.
It has been known as the Holy Thorn for centuries, and, despite all appearances to the contrary, its spirit is still very much alive – so I would recommend having a chat there with the genius loci.
Local legend decrees that the Holy Thorn is a descendant of a tree that grew out of the staff of Jesus’s uncle, Joseph of Arimathea. He apparently planted it into the ground upon arriving in the Isle of Avalon with his party of tin merchants, and they were “weary all” from the long sea voyage – hence Wirrall Hill is dubbed Wearyall Hill.
Native thorns usually bloom on May Day; whether the day is named after the blossoms that this tree bears, or vice-versa, I cannot say. But the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill is a species that thrives only in the Middle East and is one that flowers only in winter. Hence, a bouquet of the white flowers from one of its siblings, growing in Glastonbury Abbey, is always sent to Queen Elizabeth on Christmas Day.
It is said Joseph brought with him relics from the crucifixion – a cruet of bottles, one containing a red fluid and the other a white liquid. The story is that the red fluid was Jesus’s blood and that the white liquid was either his semen or plasma.
However, in my book Stories in the Summerlands, I explain the real spiritual meanings of these “legends” that made up the Grail Mysteries in those days, which were taught by Dion Fortune in the Chalice Orchard where the Red and White Springs cross.
WINDMILL HILL – Air, blue
Windmill Hill must have been named for its high, airy position above the town – or “Bove Town” as the locals call it. It would have made an ideal spot for a windmill – or for a sacred rite dedicated to a miller?
Astro-archaeologists believe it was used for star-watching thousands of years ago.
Windmill Hill was renamed to St Edmund’s Hill, probably by St Dunstan, the 10th century abbot of Glastonbury Abbey.
It is a good 15 minutes’ walk up the steeply ascending Bove Town Road, which you will find at the top of the High Street. Just before Wick Hollow, turn up the Old Wells Road and then, just to your left, you will see a children’s playground on a grassy mound. That is Windmill or St Edmund’s Hill.
At dawn on the Winter Solstice of 2014, we held a shamanic ceremony on Windmill Hill in which we established The Glastonbury Declaration for the protection of the Sovereignty of Avalon.