The posting of this video deserves some context for fuller appreciation. It’s a long story and this is a summary. My blog post Pax Cultura introduced the wider concepts of the Glastonbury Royal Jubilee events, Dion Fortune’s Avalon of the Heart and the Nicholas Roerich Pax Cultura. It would take a whole book to do justice to our Jubilee season and I’m engaged in writing it. This article primarily concerns the process of actually writing the speech and the manner of its manifestation.
When I was invited to be part of a council committee concerning the celebration of the 2022 Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, I welcomed the opportunity to perhaps introduce distinct Avalonian aspects into the proceedings and manifest something unique. There was one obvious option. It would also be the centenary of Glastonbury Past and Present, a unique movie that combined a sequence of historical vignettes pertinent to the town’s history and legends with a pageant parade down the High Street. It had all been the inspiration of Alice Buckton, a leading light of the so-called Avalonians period, when Dion Fortune and Frederick Bligh Bond had been active. One section had featured an impressive evocation of the visit of King Edward III.
It was clear that the movie should be shown again and generally commemorated. Our Mayor Jon Cousins was fully on board with that. There was due to be a parade down the High Street over the June Jubilee weekend. This presented possibilities of somehow echoing 1922.
The Queen stated that she wanted the Jubilee to extend for a year that began on the date that she came to the throne, the day that her father George VI had died. This was February 6th. Mayor Jon had the inspired idea of a free screening of the Buckton Pageant film on that day in Glastonbury Town Hall. It would be a great way of bringing in our mix from the very start. There were three showings of the film that day and they were well-attended.
The film featured a depiction of the coming of Joseph of Arimathea and his meeting with some Britons. This tale is essentially our modern Glastonbury foundation myth. I’ve given it a fair bit of attention over a period of decades and featured it to some extent in a number of my books. In my capacity as tour guide, I have long presented the story with a sense of responsibility in communicating, on the one hand, that the historicity is very much in doubt but also that the stories have a profound quality that communicates something of the ‘poetry of the soul’ to use a phrase coined by Dion Fortune in Avalon of the Heart. There’s no doubting that the Joseph Glastonbury stories have had a huge inspirational effect on innumerable people for at least a century.
The profoundly interesting thing for me is that the current form of those stories in many respects date from that Avalonians period, primarily through the work of Lionel Smithett Lewis, Vicar of St Johns and great advocate of Joseph of Arimathea. They then received a further upgrade in the sixties and seventies primarily through John Michell.
Adam Stout’s recent book, the thoroughly excellent Glastonbury Holy Thorn, had done a tremendous job of making it clear that the mythos is mutable and in a state of continual creation. So much of what one might assume to be its fundamental characteristics cannot be traced back to the time of the Abbey. Sufficient to say here that the Holy Thorn was initially a separate thing from Joseph. The two are mentioned in a 1520 poem but not as being connected. It is over a century after the Dissolution before any surviving written source links them together. As for the Glastonbury Jesus stories, so often assumed to be mentioned in Blake’s Jerusalem, there is no clear mention of them back in Abbey times unless some extreme retrospective gymnastics are engaged in. They really come into their own only during the inter-war years, again primarily though the promotion of Smithett-Lewis.
This general sense of Joseph was there with me when I watched the Buckton film on February 6th and when I attended a Jubilee committee meeting just a few days later on the 9th. Having reconvened in the George and Pilgrim from the Town Hall, the real potency of the emerging group dynamic had asserted itself. I heard from Thalia Brown (who would be responsible for creating the Roerich banners that became a notable aspect of the Jubilee flavour, as detailed in my post on the entire season) that a contingent from OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, were going to be present in Glastonbury over the Jubilee weekend, independent of the event. They were going to have a fenced-off zone at the far end of Glastonbury Abbey over by the Abbot’s Kitchen, complete with a marquee. It was all part of a process whereby a new head of the Order would be instated. There was going to be a ceremony on the Tor and a further event at Avebury.
Buzzed up with the evening in general, I could not get to sleep. Sometime in the early hours, an idea emerged with great clarity. If Druids were going to be in Glastonbury Abbey, it was only polite that they should receive a visit from Joseph of Arimathea. The modern forms of the story tend to present such an encounter with the sense that the resident seers recognised the coming of a new dispensation. Someone should dress up as him and deliver a little speech to them. I could write it myself. This would nicely resonate with the Buckton pageant film with its depiction of the arrival of Joseph.
It was only a few days later, walking in the Abbey, that I met my former boss, Gareth Mills, the proprietor of The Speaking Tree and Courtyard Books, two legendary High Street bookshops and their attendant wholesale business, and mentioned the idea to him. He had done a bit of acting, had a fine speaking voice, and actually looked quite a bit like the stained-glass window depiction of Joseph in St John’s Church, one of the most widely distributed images of him. I tentatively asked him if he might be willing to perform as Joseph to the Druids and he assented. This was wonderful news and all the incentive I needed to ensure that somehow this wild idea manifested. Communications were set in motion with the Druids by Thalia Brown, who was a member of OBOD, and the game was afoot. It seemed clear to me that the Joseph story could be considered to be a world treasure. Placing it in the context of Pax Cultura felt very potent. When Joseph spoke with the Druids, there should be Roerich banners on display.
I trusted the process and felt that the speech would be written at the right time. In fact, I left it rather late. Glastonbury has an official Bard, chosen on a yearly basis (although the Covid lockdowns did disrupt this). The local Druid Bardic College Gorsedh of Yyns Witrin host heats in the town’s Assembly Rooms with a final that declares the winner. Gorsedh is a Welsh word, meaning a mound, a court, a throne. To the modern revivalists it signifies a gathering of Bards where titles are conferred. The winner would be referred to as the Chaired Bard of Ynys Witrin, which is an old name for Glastonbury meaning Isle of Glass. Part of the ceremony included the invocation of the Awen, the triple-rayed symbol that carries a lot of cosmology and the idea of being the source of inspiration, a force, a blessing, that can descend and bestow creativity.
I went along to the final on Friday May 20th with the clear intention of simply sitting at the back of the room and absorbing the vibe with the confidence that somehow this would be the necessary stimulus for the creation of my speech. The fact that it was going to be a speech actually delivered to druids was a factor in the brew as well. The new Chaired Bard for the Jubilee season was Michelle Diaz.
I was compelled to be out of bed by 7am the following morning, which was not my normal Saturday behaviour. I switched my laptop on and wrote the Joseph speech straight down without a pause. It was exactly as it can be heard on the video with the exception of one later minimal adjustment at the very end. The Gorsedh ceremony had featured a call to the four directions in turn, asking “is there peace?” The expected response is that “there is peace”. Inspired by that, I inserted from the Gospel of John Ch14 v27, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ adjoined with the affirmation that “there is peace”. There was also a nod in this to the long-held belief that the author of that work also wrote Revelation, where the New Jerusalem blueprint that is part of the modern Joseph mythos is discussed.
The little matter of the logistics of how and when the speech would be performed and getting it filmed remained to be settled. In fact, the whole business was still being sorted out not just the night before in the George and Pilgrim pub but even on the morning of the event itself. The OBOD Abbey schedule was tight. We couldn’t be easily included. This meant, firstly, finding a suitable alternative venue. Adjacent Abbey Park seemed a safe bet. We also needed to rustle up some druids who were prepared to maybe come out on their lunch break. In the pub on the Friday night with Thalia Brown and Zoe Price, with whom I had processed down the High Street earlier in the day holding Roerich banners as part of our Buckton 1922 echo, I affirmed that some of the OBOD crew would turn up in there and we would somehow engage with them and get a result. This did indeed come to pass. Thalia being a member of OBOD was a vital part of the eventual success.
On Saturday morning we were very happy that Alex and Tasha of Flying Tiger Productions, who had been commisioned by our Jubilee committee with the approval of the town council to film the highlights of the long weekend, were able to get their filming equipment to a different location to that originally intended. They had positioned themselves along the High Street during the parade the previous day in exactly the same places as the 1922 event had been recorded so that the eventual film record could more effectively express the connections. As Thalia was going to be part of the druid audience, we were a person down in terms of who would hold the three Roerich banners. Deputy Mayor Indra Donfrancesco happened to be in the park with her dog and, as I took up a place with the Madonna banner, so she and Zoe stood either side of me with the others.
What I found most remarkable was that I had written a total affirmation of the modern form of a story that I did not believe was history as such. The whole thing was happily a part of my mental furniture. It was a mix of pure Lionel Smithett Lewis, with the young Jesus story fully engaged, and John Michell with material on the sacred geometry of the Abbey, allegedly established by Joseph when the fabled old church was constructed by his party. It was my attempt at soul poetry and placing of the ever-evolving mutable mythos as a world treasure.
The initial impetus for the speech had come on February 9th. It was only after the Jubilee that I realised that date was John Michell’s birthday. It was all a richly satisfying result on multiple levels. To come out with those words in such circumstances and to do so with so many people willing to become involved and bring it to full manifestation felt like the very best of Glastonbury, the Avalon of the Heart, in action.
My Zoom presentation on Joseph also features the film footage alongside an imagery-rich investigation of the history of the mythos.
We have had two screenings of the film of the entire Jubilee, Avalon of the Heart, and funds are being raised to produce DVDs for wider distribution, hopefully some time in 2024.