It’s been a whole year with nothing from me here. Have I given up and gone away? Far from it! I’ve been the busiest of my life, hugely involved in the most dynamic Glastonbury cultural events in my 27 years of living here. It’s time to give an overview of that. (I must thank the providers of photos copied in the frenzy of the mornings after from many people on Facebook without stopping to record their source. If you see a photo of yours here and want a credit, let me know and I’ll be happy to do that.)
Within days of the initial publication of this post, the Queen died. The final section has been updated to include a taste of how Glastonbury responded and our September Jubilee events were adjusted accordingly.
I’ve been fully immersed in Glastonbury’s Jubilee. Seriously? The Royal Jubilee? In a town where plenty of people believe the Queen to be an extra-terrestrial lizard and her family to be baby eaters? Maybe that is a bit extreme but Prince Andrew has recently been thoroughly disgraced through his association with monstrous sex traffickers. The archaic social structure the Royal Family represent is an easy target for a lot of valid criticism.
When the 2022 Royal Platinum Jubilee began to be discussed in Glastonbury, I realised we were uniquely placed to potentially bring something doubly unique into the situation. The template for the modern coronation ceremony was established by St Dunstan, an Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey and later Archbishop of Canterbury, when he crowned King Edgar in 973AD. The ruined Abbey once had Saxon kings interred there, including Edgar, and hosted many royal visits before the final disastrous denouement with Henry VIII. This was real history to set alongside its famous contentious associations with King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea. Dunstan was a good means to establish a distinct Glastonbury flavour worthy of celebration.
2022 would also be the centenary of a great event in the town. Educationalist, writer, poet. and mystic, Alice Buckton had created a complex pageant that dominated Glastonbury life for almost a year. Episodes featuring amateur local performers depicting historical events such as the alleged visit of Joseph of Arimathea, the meeting of Alfred the Great and Guthrum, and the visit of Edward III to the Abbey were filmed. A parade down the High Street featured a mix of people in historical costumes and local dignitaries. The result was released as Glastonbury Past and Present.
Buckton was part of a remarkable group of people who were responsible for a Glastonbury revival long in advance of the hippie era. They were featured in The Avalonians, an outstanding 1993 book by Patrick Benham. Dion Fortune, Frederick Bligh Bond, and Wellesley Tudor Pole, were long-term inspirations of mine. It seemed obvious that the film needed showing again and that it could work its way into our Jubilee more widely.
The potency of this combination, Dunstan and Buckton, soon united a diverse group of people and unleashed an astonishing amount of inspiration. Great ideas were floated out there. Projects set in motion. Some directly manifested over the course of the Jubilee. Some changed or were forced to adjust, and some never happened at all.
Being fortunate to count as a friend the extraordinary Mayor of Glastonbury Jon Cousins, a long-term passionate advocate for the cause of martyred Abbot Richard Whiting, I was invited on to a council Jubilee committee overseeing the events, I quickly conceived of a conceptual umbrella to unite them all. Firstly, the title of Dion Fortune’s book about Glastonbury, Avalon of the Heart, was a very evocative term.
Most importantly for me, I realised the relevance of the work of Nicholas Roerich, a subject I have repeatedly returned to over a period of decades. The Russian mystical artist and explorer has a cultural legacy beyond his prodigious output of numinous paintings.
As the Red Cross flag came to have a universally understood meaning, so Roerich created an emblem for his own ideals concerning the importance of art. He felt that great architecture, particularly religious buildings, art galleries and so on, were part of a collective world treasure that should be protected in times of warfare. He sought to create an image that could be displayed to signify such heritage and then to persuade governments to agree to its principles. It was an idea that had come to him during the Great War and he had managed to communicate something of it to the Tsar and some foreign governments but with no tangible result.
Three spheres within a circle came to represent religion, art, and science, encompassed by the circle of culture or, alternatively, the past, present, and future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of eternity.
He found the image was ancient and widespread. In India it was considered a sign of happiness. He found it on a medieval Madonna, a Templar coat of arms, on Russian icons, on rocks in Mongolia, on breast ornaments of Himalayan people, Neolithic pottery, Buddhist banners. It’s interesting to contrast Roerich’s logging of this symbol and the use he made of it with another ancient image that had become increasingly noticeable and was being put to modern use: the swastika.
A Banner of Peace committee was founded in 1929. It had representatives in New York, Paris, and Bruges and was supported by some notable luminaries of the time such as Bernard Shaw, Einstein, and HG Wells.
The 1932 Madonna Oriflamma became one of Roerich’s most famous works. It showed a Renaissance style Madonna holding the Banner of Peace. To Roerich, women are the disseminators and guardians of universal culture and beauty, bearers of the Banner of Peace. In 1935 the Peace Pact was signed in the presence of President Roosevelt by the USA and representatives of the Central and South American countries.
The world-historical process was against the initiative as the Nazis would soon demonstrate. Roerich died in 1947 but the ideals of the Peace Pact endured and resurged. The Banner has been displayed from a number of mountain peaks, including Everest. It has been taken to both North and South Poles. After his epochal first space flight around the planet, Yuri Gagarin said the view brought to mind a Roerich painting. In 1990 the Banner of Peace was taken on board the Mir space-station. It was up there for six months and during one extraordinary nine day period was placed outside. In 1997 it returned again to Mir.
In 2018 the cover of my book William Blake and the Glastonbury Gnosis, published as part of the first Glastonbury William Blake Festival, featured an image rendered by artist Yuri Leitch that I had conceived of, blending the Madonna Oriflamma with Our Lady of Glastonbury as seen in a statue from the local Catholic Church. The book included an overview of Roerich’s work.
We have a tremendous number of truly talented people in Glastonbury. Thalia Brown has been creating large banners for decades that have graced the walls of our venues during various conferences. These have featured Goddesses, crop circles, and so on. I had talked with her concerning the possibility of creating a banner of this vision of the Glastonbury Roerich Madonna back then but it had not been possible. The conversation restarted as Thalia was also part of our Jubilee committee. She agreed to do it. Not only that, she would also create two standard Roerich banners. The remarkable nature of the dynamism around us was that her work would actually be funded by the council. With this, it was now possible to bring the Pax Cultura concept fully in to our vision of the 2022 Jubilee calendar. We could now refer to the Pax Cultura Avalon of the Heart Glastonbury Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The banners could be present at all manner of events to express a unity.
I felt that our entire undertaking here, especially in the vicinity of the tragically ruined Abbey, partook of the art for peace vision, that we are something that somehow stands against the ebb and flow of history and indeed must survive and thrive always if that which sustains and motivates people to engage in culture, in community, is to endure.
Thalia started the banner project with months to spare before we assumed they might be used. The bigger world picture intervened with remarkable timing that made us realise we were indeed part of something greater. Thalia completed the first standard banner in the last week of February. Within two days, Russian troops entered Ukraine. I felt that the banner should be publicly displayed. Having bumped into my former boss, Gareth Mills, proprietor of The Speaking Tree and Courtyard Books, I immediately found the means to do so as he was happy to have one in a shop window. Thalia soon delivered and within days it was visible.
Here’s a gallop through where we got to and how the basic concepts infused the process. There’s a far longer story to tell here —
I have long been intrigued by the peculiar Glastonbury version of the St George story. I managed to communicate my enthusiasm concerning its possibilities to poet-playwright John Constable aka John Crow who was commissioned by the council to produce a Mummers Play that incorporated the Glastonbury story. It would be performed in full in Glastonbury Abbey over the Jubilee weekend .
To appreciate the extraordinary background of John and his incredible work
A free St George evening was set up for the Town Hall on the feast day of the saint, April 23rd. This was considered a preliminary part of our Jubilee as it concerned our national saint from a local context. The play would get a preliminary read-through to wet the collective appetite. A few short presentations would accompany it. This included myself discussing the mercurial mutability of our Glastonbury mythos and the virtues of giving in to the moods it evokes. To quote Dion Fortune in Avalon of the Heart, ‘the poetry of the soul writes itself in Glastonbury’.
A notable aspect of the evening was the first public appearance of the Madonna Roerich banner. The visual template for the Glastonbury Jubilee was now established.
I will only mention in passing two other banner outings in May. World Labyrinth Day was celebrated in St John’s churchyard (where a labyrinth is located) led by Thalia.
And St Dunstan’s feast day on May 19th saw me in the Abbey and giving a Town Hall presentation on the story of our activities and intentions up to that point.
June 2nd, the date of the Queen’s coronation, began in St John’s Church in Glastonbury where vicar David MacGeoch presided over a blessing of various Glastonbury flames that would be brought together to light the beacon on the Tor as part of the synchronised nationwide events later in the day. It was wonderful to have Roerich banners prominently present in the proceedings.
Mayor Jon had interested a number of people in the manner in which Glastonbury was celebrating the Jubilee. A welcome turn of events saw the BBC in place to film our beacon lighting. The arrangement was that we should do this before the rest of the country so rapid editing could ensure that footage shown on TV would be acceptable. This meant that we would be the first beacon lit in the country after the Queen had provided the initial stimulus at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. This felt nicely symbolic given the Joseph of Arimathea mythos concerning Glastonbury as site of first church in Britain. We have long been a beacon.
I had not intended or expected to be part of the civic procession that ascended the Tor prior to the beacon lighting. I was going to be a spectator. In a turn of events that rapidly seemed preordained, it was in fact me who carried the Madonna banner and held it during a wonderful moment when the beacon was lit simultaneously by two flames held by Vicar David and Glastonbury Archdruid Dreow Bennet. It wasn’t long before I was being messaged by people who had clearly seen Roerich banners on the BBC news footage in which Glastonbury was indeed featured first.
The process was repeated the following day when I found myself marching down the High Street holding the Madonna banner having not intended to do so. A contingent from St John’s, including a choir, expected to lead the procession, mysteriously did not appear, leaving the banners very near to the front and thereby left to carry the visual dynamic of the front of the parade. (Pictured is myself carrying Madonna with Thalia Brown and Zoe Price to the left and right.)
Our overall intention was to honour the Alice Buckton pageant parade. We were filmed with shots set up to deliberately echo 1922 that would later be placed together with old footage (no longer in copyright) for a documentary record of the weekend (hopefully set to manifest in 2023).
Into Glastonbury Abbey we processed until the banners were placed as a part of the backdrop of the full performance of the St George Mummers Play, an event I can only describe as a triumph.
Saturday June 4th saw the little matter of a speech I had written for Joseph of Arimathea being performed by Gareth Mills to a group of Druids. There’s a long story there —
Lots more happened that weekend and the banners were present but I’ve said enough to show how the broad vision infused the proceedings.
Since then, they have come out on a number of occasions, concerts, another William Blake event, and so on. They are actually the property of the Town Council and on one surreal night, they were parked in the council chamber and formed a background for a council meeting.
At the express wish of the Queen, the Jubilee events were supposed to last a year, from the date she became monarch in February following the death of her father, until the same date the following year. Most places had focused pretty much exclusively on the central period in June.
Once again, I realised there were some great Glastonbury options. We had a Royal Charter for a fayre to be held around the period of Michaelmas, Sept 29th. Henry I had set it up for 2 days. Henry III extended it to 6, from 23rd to 29th September. We are pretty big on Archangel Michael here, being as the iconic ruined church on the Tor is dedicated to him, and the famous ley runs through the town. It was during that same time of year that the Buckton pageant had happened in 1922, so it would be the exact centenary.
With the death of the Queen, our proposed Michaelmas events now clearly served as far more of a conclusion to the Jubilee than originally intended. A remarkable opportunity presented itself to form a bridge between the reigns of two monarchs and affirm a fundamental Glastonbury myth.
The famous Wearyall Hill Holy Thorn tree, alleged descendant of an original planted by Joseph of Arimathea, had been planted in 1952, the year of the Queen’s Accession. When horribly vandalised in 2010, a cutting had been taken and cultivated in Kew Gardens. It was ready to be planted in Glastonbury, this time in the safe setting of the garden of St Dunstan’s House, where Glastonbury Information Centre can be found, a location in the immediate proximity of the Abbey that our foundation myth affirmed Joseph had founded. The event presented continuity and the theme of regeneration to nicely mark the advent of the new King.
Before long, I was gratified to see an image that I had created being used to promote a weekend of events.
On Saturday September 24th, the new Thorn was planted as the climax of a tree-blessing processional ceremony that took in our Rowan memorial (where photos of recently deceased Glastonbury residents are placed) and a recently planted oak that was part of a nationwide Jubilee tree-planting initiative.
I am now involved in the not inconsiderable task of writing a book, provisionally entitled The New Avalonians, that does justice to the full extent of the Glastonbury Jubilee, of which only the highlights have been presented here.