One of the most notable visual aspects of Glastonbury Tor is the terracing on its slopes. On a sunny day it can be distinctly delineated by the play of light and shadow. A generally held theory contends that it derives solely from medieval agricultural practices. In recent times others have come to feel differently. The occultist Dion Fortune, who had a home in Glastonbury between the wars, wondered if the hill might have been deliberately sculpted in remembrance of a prototype holy mountain on some other continent. She had Atlantis in mind but the general idea would prove to be fruitful in later speculations.
Mazes are most famously associated with Crete and the tale of the Minotaur. A particular maze pattern, known as “Cretan” and septenary in form, of which the Tintagel case is one example, can be found in many places around the world.
The most striking result of Geoffrey Russell’s journey of discovery was his theory that the Tor terracing is a unique three-dimensional form of the Cretan septenary labyrinth design. Russell linked his postulated Tor maze to a famous Welsh Dark Age tale, The Spoils of Annwn. It’s an early story of Arthur in which he and his companions go in search of a wonder-working cauldron that seems to be a precursor of the medieval Grail. One of the featured locations is Caer Sidi. This is taken to mean the turning or spiral castle. Russell believes this motif shows a memory of maze-threading ceremonials. Somewhere in this mystery, the secret of the Grail waits to be revealed.
One aspect of the maze mystery helps to further expand our sense of Glastonbury’s uniqueness. We still have the impressive remains of Stonehenge and Avebury to ponder over. It is possible to speculate on what may have been done at such places, what they were for. Psychics can give evocative suggestions. Neo-pagan orders can perform ceremonies. A mystery always remains. With the Tor labyrinth there is much we don’t know but one thing seems certain. People would have walked its path. It seems that, in past times, the Tor may well have been largely covered in trees. The maze perhaps wove its uniquely three-dimensional path of gradual ascent through an enchanted wood. It would take a long time to walk it. The process would surely have induced an altered state of consciousness. This may well have been reinforced by ceremonial procedures presided over by the officiating site guardians. It has been plausibly speculated that there may have been a stone circle of some kind, or perhaps a large single standing stone, at the summit. The actual centre of the maze appears to be a large rock, generally known today as the “egg stone,” placed just below the summit.
The entrance at the bottom is supposedly situated where two smaller stones lie. Various stages of the path could have been marked in a similar way. Some have felt that the destruction of the Tor church by an earthquake (not a lot of British churches have met such a fate), leaving today only a large upright structure that resembles, from a distance, some kind of megalithic obelisk, to be an expression of the mysterious hill’s personality, asserting its archaic and eternal predisposition. The totality of that numinous effect is lost to us. The trees and the megaliths are gone. The path remains though, and therefore can be walked again. Altered states may still be on offer. A glimpse of the mentalities of its creators could be possible.
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