Uncommon alchemy: a Glastonbury tale

Glastonbury TorThere is a pair of holy springs beneath the ancient Tor of Glastonbury and yet – how telling was this – I had only ever heard of one of them, for all I had been to Glastonbury before; nor had I ever visited the more famous one – the Chalice Well – since it didn’t even catch my eye the last time. That was nine years ago, right at the beginning of the decade that has seen me undergo a transformation that makes me quite the different person attracting very different circumstances. There’s a truth, I know, in the fact that you have to be open to the experience for it to present itself or for “the teacher to appear” so could it be…was it too ridiculous to suggest…I wasn’t ready to “see” these places until now?

Had the never-heard-of-before White Spring, in particular, just emerged through the mists of my awareness with perfect timeliness the day before we travelled; like ancient Avalon itself arose from the white mist of the sunset that we watched from the top of the Tor? For it is as though this place has been playing games with me for the longest time, revealing only the layers I was ready for, like the dissolving of veils, with each visit.

avalon-4This visit was startlingly different to what I remembered of the place, which was so mundane that they were like completely different places. Glastonbury of nine years ago had seemed, yes, tangibly photogenic, a historic place with a “new age” vibe, a nice place to be but what I experienced this time was so multi-layered and outside of time that I can only strive to convey the tip of that iceberg in this post. Yet when we set off on this trip, part of me still remained the hard task-master, demanding to be convinced of its otherworldly depths, to be shown its credentials as more than just an affable “hippy” town with nice shops; a little wary in case it disappointed.

TorYet something had distinctly called me back like I had unfinished business and I had felt it “coming up” on my horizon for months. It felt like a completion of some of the work I had been doing around other sacred sites and on the inside of me. I tend to avoid reading around places that I am drawn to for what feel like esoteric reasons, preferring to leave myself wide open for my own innate responses, but something made me pick up Dion Fortune’s vintage classic, “Avalon of the Heart”, while we were there which, for all it is over eighty years old, succeeded in capturing so much of what I felt was so familiar in her beautifully evocative prose. The Glastonbury she described, long before the new age culture moved in, feels like a second-sense of this place that I have always held within me like a seed waiting for the right conditions in which to germinate. So many people worldwide feel they have such a deep, inexplicable connection with the place and my own sense of homecoming was a visceral thing as we wound those rainy Somerset lanes to where we were staying at the foot of the Tor. I experienced numerous flashbacks over the course of this few days; moments when a particular feeling took me back to what could so easily have been a recollection of childhood or a sense of deep wellbeing like an echo of a time half-recalled in this lifetime yet I suspect they were actually clarion calls across far vaster distances.

I find I want to pause to say this before I get started: if you go to Glastonbury seeking intimate reconnection with its depths, ditch the car and get around by foot; then walk those streets and lanes in the mist, the dark and by light of the moon as well as in daylight and in all weather.  Don’t just do one of the many two- or three-day “retreats” and think you have connected with Glastonbury energy following a format in a group. Rather, head there in an unstructured way and do the solo-work, engage with the ordinary, follow your own calling; because who knows what breadcrumb trail you may have left for yourself in its familiar places like messages to yourself from other timelines. Dare to lead yourself and trust you will know what to find and how to find it; let it arise organically since it certainly will. Visit cafes and shops so many times that people get to know your face then chat with the locals, make eye contact and notice people around you. There is such a beauty in following your own path through these time-defying places; you get to straddle realities and walk with different feet in alternate realities, to follow impulses and quickly change perspectives when you remain the freelance explorer of what waits to be known.

avalon-2There were two women that I kept bumping into wherever I went, both with long greyish hair (though one was much younger than me, one somewhat older) and we locked eyes at several key places, over and over again until the corners of our mouths started turning up in hardly suppressed laughter as we near bumped-into each other in narrow courtyards or crouching down to take the same shots at the top of the Tor. It was like we were versions of each other on other timelines, or had set-up to activate each other through the easy recognition of ourselves in the face of another. The cross-over points always felt significant and our combined presence made us sit up and take notice. One of the women was so still in her presence that I almost wondered if she was really there at all; yet I didn’t need to know as it all felt like part of the magic that was geared just for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are the kind of clues that present through the layers of Glastonbury, along with so many signs and synchronicities that it is is quite possible to feel like you are entering a theme park dedicated to all of your own thematic threads, which gives it an air of detachment from everyday life that starts delivering as soon as you arrive. For this reason, I suspect, Avalon can only really be found through the portal of your own heart-journey, not somebody else’s route, so be prepared to give yourself up to this as fluidly as your timetable allows (preferably, having no such schedule). For my own part, I was struck by my choice of a week in October; an interesting choice, just before All Hallows and yet, I already suspected, going there when Somerset’s dark-pagan underbelly was closest to the surface was part of what was held in store for me…and it was.

We (my husband, daughter and I) spent our first day “at leisure” acclimatizing ourselves to Glastonbury town before embarking on a day that I had put aside for doing the real work of this place. In our little group it kind-of goes that I lead the way and they come along for the ride, basically because I have such strong intuition tugging me by the sleeve all the time and they are just fine with the holiday they are on. This trip, something strongly intuitive told me that the way we would be doing this second day was to first visit the Chalice Well, then the White Spring before we went anywhere near the Tor and, as ever, my family acquiesced in deference to my vibe so off we went.

Chalice WellThe Chalice Well Garden at the foot of the Tor is well known for its iron-red waters in a garden famous as a place of tranquility and healing; the colour of its water a clue as to how deep its source inside that extraordinary cone-shaped hillside. People travel far and wide to go there on retreat or to take its waters before climbing the Tor. I had heard of it, of course, through the many people that I now know that have done these things; they drink cups of its red water from the Lion’s Head fountain and fill tiny flasks of it to take away with them…and yes I did both of these.

Yet I had only found out about the White Spring, with its crystal clear water pouring from an alternate source just feet away from the Chalice Well, the day before we left home and “by complete accident”; as though it had decided to reveal itself to me in all good time and not a moment sooner. Externally, these two sources of water could not have been presented in more contrasting ways; the Chalice Well in its pristine gardens, the White Spring inside a Victorian grey-brick building with all the charm of a railway siding (it was once a reservoir) yet, inside, it is astonishingly beautiful. Its ceilings are three domed vaults, 16ft high and you can only feel-out its bowed brickwork floors “like the hull of a boat moored at the portal to the Otherworld” with your feet as you step over streams leading between its high-sided intersecting pools built on the principles of sacred geometry. With the echoing sound of perpetually flowing water and the distinct feeling of being in a communal cave deep beneath the earth, it is a unique and sacred space; a goddess temple by any other name. There are shrines in dark corners…to Brigid, the Lady of Avalon and the King of the Realm of Faery…and the Michael leyline runs directly through it on the way to the Tor. Its dark-pagan feel is as tangible as running the soil of the ancient hillside through your fingers; it feels like stepping into the earth as you go in there.

Chalice wellYet, whilst the garden of the Chalice might feel like a light-bright airy space by comparison, the dark-orangey iron in its water links it intrinsically with the depths of an otherworld beneath the surface. It has been called the blood well by locals for generations and was used for blood sacrifice long before those other legends naming it as the last resting place of the holy grail came about. Beneath its well is a hidden chamber with a deep ledge, all made of massive interlocking sarsen stones that would not be out of place at Stonehenge, the crystals in those stones activating the water as it surfaces. The grail is said to have been watched over there by the Fisher King (the archetypal wounded king of the Arthur legend) and three virgins. Its wrought-iron lid, added early last century, is decorated by the vesica piscis, that familiar symbol of interlocking circles that hints at the meeting place of the inner and outer worlds, the above and below or the male and female aspects. This shape is repeated as the outline of the first two pools that greet you as you enter the garden and set off on the route towards the Chalice Well, which lies at its furthest point, led by a line of water that is, first, carried by a feature strongly resembling vertebrae and then becomes a shallow snaking river and a dipping pool fed by an iron-red waterfall between green foliage.  Beyond that is the Lion’s Head fountain where it is possible to drink the water on your way to or from the Chalice Well.

Chalice well spiralThe progress through the garden plays out like a metaphor that, if you allow it, slots into whatever aspect of yourself is asking to be revealed or worked upon just a little (or quite a lot) as I discovered. Since our visit, I have found myself using its metaphysical journey to process situations and interactions, relationships and archetypal responses, doing this in my walking time and also in my dream or meditation time, as though its structure has permeated my inner landscape and become a processing unit through which I can filter, decipher and transform the everyday experiences of my world. Its material is earthy, sexual and has much to say about the goddess in her relationship with the sacred masculine and those aspects of the world which still don’t meet her fairly and squarely. The force running through the garden feels primal and as potent as something spilling out of the very core of the earth and it is the very contrast of the water source with its light-filled surroundings that makes it so powerful that it holds the potential to shift you into such an altered state, both whilst standing there and whenever you”revisit” it in your inner space thereafter.

Similarly, the crystal-clear water of the White Spring in its somewhat gothic setting, across the road, is all the more affecting for the fact that you experience it viscerally, through every sense yet least of all the eyes, such is the pitch darkness of that place, allowing you to tap into its potent contrasts and all the pure potential that is pushed up to the surface by them like lava through a rift in the ground, thus made all the more possible for you to access in ways that might otherwise elude you. The sound of pouring water comes at you from every side, echoing off the brickwork that encloses this dark space, feeling exactly like a baptism into the darkness that you are being returned to by a level of surrender that is almost overwhelming yet quite irresistible and utterly transformational if you allow yourself to succumb to it.


Without having to think into this deeply, the two water sources (once I had experienced them, side by side) suggested to me the familiar symbol for the yin and the yang; those entwined yet contrasting shapes made all the more potent by that aspect of each other – the “dot” – that, as it were, swaps place like a nugget or an all-seeing eye of the contrasting dynamic looking at what is quite different to itself from within that perspective for this is how we come to know ourselves. So we find that, within the softly feminine aspect of the garden, the male aspect slices like an iron blade through that landscape, yet also as supportive and upright as a spinal column, asserting and activating the route that leads to the wellhead, which offers the potential for the marriage of male and female elements. However, the sacred feminine is the determinant aspect here so such a marriage is only made possible on her explicit terms, which must be met to the letter in order to make this union achievable (otherwise the grail will remain hidden…the maiden guarded and aloof…the Fisher King still nursing his unhealing wounds; as could be the very story of our recent times of gender separation). Conversely, in the temple of the White Spring, the environment has such a “hard exterior” and feels so-very masculine as you enter it and yet, inside once your eyes adjust to an unexpected scene, the soft dancing flames of feminine light shine warm and bright in all those hidden spaces, then we notice profound offerings and worthy intentions are being made in all its corners and so many pure white flowers seem to shine from the source of their own inner-light against the black walls in beautiful shrines that speak of the most sacred things. These are truly tender spaces wrapped up in inky black surroundings and they reminded me so strongly of the awakened male with his sacred feminine aspect safely intact, informing his “worldly” actions from the wisdom of a shining heart and so much inner light.

Photography Helen White (c)

In this I found another truism; that within the most pristine and brightly lit exterior of the so-called familiar realities of our lives, there is always an unseen depth, a darker undercurrent fuelling what seems to be so shiny and bright. Likewise, within the darkest pools of inky black circumstance flicker so many of the saving graces that transform us, reminding us of who we really are and what we are truly capable of, giving rise to the kindnesses and demonstrations of love that might not easily show up if it weren’t for the dark.

Holy ThornThe blood and the light, the human aspect and its spiritual counterpart: these two aspects kept presenting to me in the Chalice Garden as a series of blood-red berries or winter’s woodiness juxtaposed with tender blossom, often on the very same plant. This reminded me that it is a unique feature of the Glastonbury Holy Thorn which, as second generation trees, still grows at the Abbey and in the churchyard. That original tree is said to have sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, which he planted in the soil of Wearyall Hill after stepping off the boat on Avalon’s shore, having been told to sail until he came upon an island-hill that resembled Mount Tabor (the Tor was still surrounded by sea at that time) and to build the first Christian church there; which he did. Many say he brought Jesus with him… Every Christmas, this thorn uniquely springs into a second bloom alongside its winter red berries; the red and the white. A day later, I got to see this with my own eyes in the grounds of the abbey and was so moved by it. Then I got goosebumps as I realised the painting I sold just days before our trip was the thorn tree blossom that had come to represent a leap in my own healing two years ago…just as the surprise winter-blossom in my garden, this January, had served as a massive morale boost that jet-propelled this year’s progress and became another milestone painting, Shakti Dance. It seems I have been navigating by winter blossom for some time…

I noticed something else about the Abbey garden; where the apples in the orchard followed the path of the Chalice water, which rises again at the well next to Our Lady Chapel (said to be the site of Joseph’s original wattle and daub church), those apples were the most astonishingly bloody shade of red unlike all the others, which were softly pastel-shaded by comparison. Whether this was coincidence or not, I began to feel like the particularly deep red berries that I kept coming across on the way up the Tor and on several of our walks were a clue to the male aspect asserting itself strongly here; and the red-breasted robins (which I have long associated with Michael) were singing away so sweetly in many of those  same hedgerows. In other places, the mistletoe was busy and the little wren, my favourite little tour de force of the birdworld, made up for her invisibility through the sheer power of her voice; the feminine aspect through and through in her turn-the-tables defiance of the dictate to “be seen and not heard”. Of course, I already knew the Michael and Mary leylines cross over in Glastonbury but this was when I found out that they actually cross three times – in the Abbey, at the Chalice Well and on the Tor –  forming a distinct figure-of-eight, like a strand of DNA on the landscape.

Abbey applesIn the Abbey grounds that crossing place is between the high altar and the resting place of Arthur and Guinevere (discovered in 1191, since removed), like a marriage of the two energies where they lay. In the Chalice Garden, they cross in the area near the waterfall, which was so exactly where a moment of ordinary everyday gender-friction played off between my husband and daughter that it was almost funny. The next crossing place is not at the top of the Tor but on one of its lower flanks (and, in hindsight, I feel I know just where). Even more interesting is that the male and female lines don’t climb directly up the hill as you would expect but, rather, spiral up it together as though playing chase-me chase-me up the hill. I can’t help thinking this is the reason for the labyrinthine terraces of the Tor, which no one has been able to convincingly explain as either natural or manmade in origin. Like an icecream whipped up into an energetic climax, it seems like these dragon energies pass through the solar plexus of the abbey, meet again at the heart chakra of the Chalice Garden before spiralling themselves up  to a higher union beneath the crown of St Michael’s tower which, when we encountered it, was glowing purest gold like a Christmas party-hat.

avalon-1The inherent reminder seemed to be that while we are out of balance, the universal law underpinning our polarities will continue to play out through us if not with our consensus. That is, while we deny the darkness, the blood, the very depths of ourselves, both the male and female aspects that make up our whole, we will continue to experience these unacknowledged aspects being forced upon us through circumstance as the natural equilibrium of the universe seeks redress. When we embrace our own dark as well as our light, as an essential part of our broader picture, we require less contrast to push us to the point of addressing our imbalances. When we make this balanced state the conscious focus of our lives, we get to play with these polarities in gentler forms, without the horrors that we tend to associate with darkness, which is inherently neutral; merely a counterpoise to the light.

Though I felt I already knew this, my experience in Glastonbury showed me how there was still a very deep level where I wasn’t surrendered to it and was still making it conditional upon a level of outer control; the realm of myself where I still hesitated and lacked faith in my own next best step (and feared “the dark”). The Chalice Well and White Spring – together – seemed to be working on this for me and through me, playing out in every synchronistic way that it could. As a final comedic wink to myself (since synchronicities operate on all levels…), I discovered I had hurriedly packed red and white clothing to wear together that day, colours I almost never put together; so, it seems, I was being invited to bring the red and the white together, quite literally, as myself; we all are. The story goes that after Arthur spent an “interesting” night of visions in the chapel of the convent on Wearyall Hill, before his final journey in search of the grail, he surrendered the Red Lion of Wessex on his standard in favour of the White Cross of Our Lady; perhaps, on balance, he would have done better if he’d worn them both together side-by-side.

Chalice streamThat conditioned human terror of putting a foot too far “into the dark” played out for me as the time came to consider whether to drink from the Chalice Well; for, while it is widely declared to be “safe” to drink, this felt less-than cut and dry from the perspective that my complicated health issues have taught me to hesitate before I put anything in my body for “fear” of tipping my own equilibrium. After one “wrong footing”, a couple of years ago, I had a vicious antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria playing havoc with my kidneys for almost a year and am never quite sure whether I ever got rid of it or if it has just switched off until next time my immune system is compromised. My various health challenges have forced me to consider whether I really trust that my body innately knows how to heal and am able to surrender to my red and white blood cells, knowing that they are well-geared to perform their own particular – if somewhat different – tasks and, yes, I have come to trust and appreciate my body more and more each year.

Even then, I still tend to  consider very carefully the quality of all the water that I drink, the veggies I buy, how they are washed and prepared etc, so to knock-back a cup of orangey water from a garden fountain pushed all my buttons. Catalysed by this micro-conundrum, I got well into asking some pokey questions about all those things in life that I  still hesitate about doing –  where do those fears come from, what underpins my terror of the unseen aspects of life, of things that might “jump out” to get me? On that ever-presenting knife’s blade of decision “do I do it, do I not”, what makes me defer to pulling back and playing on “the safe side” time and time again? How often do we freeze on one of life’s pivot points because they seem so simple and yet simultaneously wrapped up in a terrible fear of consequences, like they are a trick question designed to be our biggest undoing? When did we get our wheels stuck in the mud of so very much fear about life?

So, true to form, I had pondered the issue of “drinking the water” long before we even went to the gardens and, when confronted with a cup, I still hesitated and knew, above all,  that it was my own hesitation or belief system about the so-called riskiness of the water that held the potential to “do me in”. It seemed, one small fountain presented me with a major tripping point and there I stood, paralysed by it; why? Because it’s not so much the tobacco but the graphic warnings on the packets that kills us, I tend to think. We are culled by our own constant terror of the lives we choose to lead, like a white knuckle-ride sandwiched between our beliefs about our choices  and whether we trust ourselves to do the “right” thing on one side (until we are almost too petrified to make choices one way or another; thus most opt to follow the herd) and those most malevolent of all terrors that seem quite arbitrary, thus unavoidable, such as the cancers and dementias they keep telling us will come to get us (though, actually, believing in the near-inevitability of such outcomes is more than half of why they happen). One hesitation, one doubt about “harmful” microbes in that water and – I knew – I would be set back in my health and regretting it forever; yet, to not drink of the water considered to hold considerable healing properties – that too held immense potential for disappointment, not least in myself for being such a coward. I had reached the familiar impasse of my life and stood there paralysed by my own push-pull before a small fountain in a garden; this was seriously powerful stuff I was facing up to and I knew it was far bigger than it looked. One thing for sure, I knew I had to be “on board” with that water to even consider raising it to my lips; I needed to be calm and centred and so I decided now wasn’t the time and I would come back if I was ready.

When I sat beside the Chalice Well itself, though of course I was already hoping to experience something, I wasn’t quite prepared for the distinct way in which something shifted in me as soon as I emptied my mind. I looked into the mossy round pool before closing my eyes in meditation and almost immediately had a fish-eye visual of extremely complex three-dimensional forms dissolving back to their blueprint; like a convex window looking down onto a jumbledy  pattern made out of many buildings, only I witnessed its photographic details dematerialise until several of these structures had become platonic solids filled-in with a colour wash of soft blue. It was like looking down at the architect’s drawing with everything simplified back to that blueprint. Opening my eyes, I felt as though I had been relieved of a great weight that I had hardly known was there until it lifted off me and, though this meditation was short, it felt so complete and I was decidedly ready to move on.

I looked up and one of those two women I mentioned that I kept seeing was there, the older one with grey-white hair. She was sitting nearby on a bench and was the first thing I saw when I stood up from the well, her gaze holding mine as she smiled knowingly. Somehow I just knew that she knew what I now knew and that we had both registered this moment of transformation together. Without a word, I carried this new feeling onwards to an orchard where I sat quietly integrating and then back to the Lion’s Well where I not only drank of the water but I reached down to the water-flow twice and drank more of it than I had ever intended, enjoying its icy-coldness laced with a hint of iron like when you cut your mouth and taste the blood, welcoming it into myself. Only then, somehow, did I know I was truly ready for the White Spring. It took me several days more to realise how I had accepted both the Red Lion and the White Spring “into myself” that morning; both outside of my comfort zone yet perfectly complementary beside each other and, together, transporting me to a whole new dimension of experiencing myself.

White anenomeAs I took the distinctly iron-tasting water into me and allowed that I liked it more than I expected, I was made so acutely aware of the degree to which we had stopped trusting or welcoming the blood that runs inside our own veins, like we believe we are harbouring something that is not us or wish we could disassociate from. Sleeping with the enemy, we have been taught…and its such an outrageous scam!

We have made an unwitting enemy of our own biology through our squeamishness and profound fear of blood spilling; have been taught to fight with our own organism out of an unfounded terror of what lies beneath the surface of our own skin and inside our own hearts. We have become locked in denying or defiling our own humanness, always reaching out towards being something else, be that a more spiritual or more plastic version of ourselves. Along the route of that garden, as in life itself, I had discerned many subtle clues back to myself, not least in the form of the same fragile white anemones that have self-seeded by my own back door at home and which were in such abundant bloom as we left, in spite of the much colder weather (anemones  – “daughters of the wind” – particularly sea anemones, have had such a lot to tell me about how my body works lately). The drinking of the water felt like the rubber-stamping of a portion of my own path now completed, its gifts more clearly revealed than ever and my own grasp of myself taken to a whole new level.

Photography Helen White (c)

In that moment, to a depth not ever previously achieved, I realised I newly trusted and supported every single fibre of myself and that my body knew exactly what to do with this water. I also knew that just a little of this water was enough to wake up cells that had fallen into stupor and to revive them with the vibration of a default setting that Gaia always carries for us in her deep underground holding space, a memory bank that lies waiting for us to tune back into whenever we are ready for our deepest rejuvenation, however much we seem to have irreversibly messed things up on the surface of life. Never once did we lose this knowledge…but we had been kept separate from it by our own long-programmed fear and so we had shunned the choice point of it; that poised moment when we get to decide for ourselves “do I make an endless blood-sacrifice of myself by rejecting my flesh and blood or do I empower myself with this deep knowledge of all that I am”. “Do I burn or become the phoenix rising from the fire, fuel-injected by an embrace of my own dark cinders warming and enlightening the depth of my being with such alchemical potency that all malevolent darkness is kept at bay since it need not force itself upon me any more”. Once our deepest, darkest aspects are an acknowledged part of us that dwells at our very core, something we make room for, we bring ourselves easily back into balance and reconnect ourselves to the earth. I realised that loving my own heart had never been complete until I understood this for myself. The conditional love that I had been making do with and which took the form of only loving my light-filled aspects left my dark aspects standing outside of my heart feeling like abandoned children who must rattle and bang their way to my attention through ill health and depression and terrible things. Once embraced, I knew they would come quickly and quietly inside,  to fall into easy step with my light; now walking side-by-side, the yin and yang of my being and all separation gone forever.

White SpringWhen we came out of the Chalice Well Gardens, we very quickly found the White Spring since it was tucked just around the corner, its tiny forecourt right next to the road lavished with clues and as different from the Chalice Garden as it could have been. What lay inside its almost pitch-black spaces (which I cannot share since photography is rightfully forbidden to preserve the sacred space; the image below are just an artistic impression) amazed my mind and my senses and felt like such a homecoming as well as a very deep-dark dive into the unknown. Yet, although this place felt alien it also felt so deeply familiar in a way that told me I had never truly known myself across all the years of thinking that I did for here was an aspect of me that I had kept at bay and, now it had come home to me, felt like it was rekindling lights in so many of my deepest, darkest places.

I was moved to so many tears, their easy flow flooding over the brim of me as easily as water spilled  over the edges of those deep-dark pools. With darkness our shield to bashfulness, we all seemed to slip easily into aspects of spontaneous ritual that felt like a remembrance of a time before; seemed to know our moves, our rhythms as we slotted seamlessly and gracefully in to what all those of other coming-and-going people were doing. There were many many visitors while we were there, of all ages, like an endless reunion that never stopped flowing its tides of people in and out of the door, for all hardly a word was uttered and we could barely see each others eyes. My daughter, who I half-expected to recoil from what she could so easily have labelled “weird”, declared it the most sacred “church” she had ever stepped into (even having been in so very many on all our travels) and it felt like that to me too. We were so affected by what we were experiencing here that it was clear we were loathe to leave and, when we did, it felt like a little heartbreak knowing we wouldn’t be back for quite some time.

My body pulsated with high-energy the whole time I was in there and one of the things that kept moving me to those tears was witnessing how easy all this was…knowing that to meet like this, behave like this, worship like this had been made so difficult or even impossible for so long. What was going on here was deeply pagan, was outside of religion, went far deeper than it ever could. In partnership with the Chalice Garden, it charged me up with a feeling that hasn’t left me for a single moment since; I find I am carrying it inside each of my cells like an identical reflection in a zillion beads of dew and, if I were to zoom into that convex image to see what it was, I know it would look something like two pools of water side by side; one red and one white, one held in a garden of light and one cradled in an inky-black space.

candle-blurBecause I knew so well that it was the mixing up of the two aspects that made for the incredible alchemy I had been party to that day; so, had I just gone to the Chalice Well, my experience would have been left incomplete. As if to emphasise that point, a car pulled up just as we were leaving the White Spring temple and the driver filled-up her bottle from both sources – an overflow from the Chalice Garden wall and water from the White Spring forecourt – then drove away with her 50/50 water. More and more people are understanding this now; we are getting how we need to mix things up, to rebalance them and make room for both “sides” and to love all parts of ourselves completely and unconditionally, without separation, to be made whole again.

It seems to me I came into this world so fixated upon light, so determined to be in that light, an expression of it, that I guarded that light fiercely, mixing that fierceness up with a need to exclude and guard myself from its shadow aspect. Eventually, this left me feeling incomplete at a level I couldn’t even articulate. At some unseen level, part of me knew all about the unconscious imbalance of this way of being and sought out dark aspects that would give the light of me even more definition, which is what it lacked though I hardly knew it. Like a rather bland painting picked out in muted pastel shades,  I lacked something but hardly knew what it was or how to go about finding it but some level of me sought dark aspects like an artist reaches for a deeper hue.

LabyrinthAt first I made such a mess of it, not knowing what to do with certain “colours” of experience that only seemed to mess up the picture I was working on. I had to make myself unconscious to even go near those darker pigments and so I threw myself at alcohol and certain people and situations and behaviours that tripped me into darkness, then into marriage to a man who was the very devil to me for years, into sacrificial situations that nailed darkness into me like a deep bloody wound since I would accept it no other way, being in such resistance to it. In short, I got lost in the labyrinth of myself (this is the Glastonbury labyrinth in the churchyard)…until it transformed me; which, you could say, is the hard, if extremely potent, way to do things. I see how a great many of us – perhaps especially women – do things this way because we carry such a fear inside of us around the whole subject of darkness, having been taught this across many lifetimes and, most of all, to fear that we may carry any part of it within ourselves. Likewise, the male has been taught to despise the female aspect within himself so it has been denied and even fought against…until now. Like complementary springs of water rising up inside of us, the latent masculine and feminine aspects were waiting only to be issued their valid parts in our picture of wholeness and welcomed back home in that sacred place.

Chalice garden roseWhen we embrace our own darkness, we stop being this thing that darkness seeks to feed upon and so we utilise our own dark powers. Our culture of cursory tales keeps us prostate upon a sacrificial slab of fear all of our lives long…unless we stop fighting our own nature and bring ourselves back into balance. As things stand, most of us only flirt with the hard edges and deeper shadow of our earthier aspects whilst, at some level, white knuckle gripping to “our light” and this inner conflict becomes our illnesses, our imbalances, our breakdowns, our abuses and, in the end, our apparent defeat. Even when we so determinedly flood ourselves with light that we live very carefully and never seem to allow a dark thing near us, those dark aspects in our world only seem to relish the challenge of us the more and come surfing in on our light rays, taking us over with lifelong viruses and chronic illnesses, with cells turned cancerous and with heartaches that eat us up from the inside out. These things dine-out most hungrily on the kind of organisms where darkness is banished, only light welcomed in so no anchor dropped in the water for when life gets a little rocky. So many people are ungrounded, living detatched from the soil from which they came, which is why some of the most light-filled beings of all seem to succumb to inexplicable illness and loss.

What we have been forgetting is that when we arrived here in human form we were, as yet, undefined by anything since we are not the choice of dark or light, we ARE that light; which is an unalterable state unaffected by choices and actions. Experience offers itself as something polarised so we can play with it most fully and come to understand how these things work together, not to destroy us but to offer us infinite opportunity.

What I found in that reassuring and familiar darkness that held me so tenderly at the White Spring was like a return to a primal wisdom that part of me already knew so well, though it had been missing, receiving it back with such a sigh of relief. It consisted of an energy that was deeply grounding and it felt  as though I was being held by it yet also the source of it fountaining out of me, simultaneously. It felt like finding myself back in all the dark potential of the womb yet knowing I am already holding the birth potential of so much more that will get to experience me as the warm dark earth that cradles its seed. This must have been how it felt to be in that womb at the point when I was first embodied and yet still remembered “why” I had chosen this life; never once fearful of those dark walls that held me safe  and equally receptive of those different parts of me that might otherwise present as polarised.

White springTo experience this so viscerally once again was, quite literally, a rebirth. I found myself walking on a pair of newborn jelly-legs and blinking in the brightness as I stepped back out into the light of day, like my body was aware of just how new I had become; was fully cognizant of being that seed spouting its first green shoot. I remembered how I had mislaid this depth of familiarity with darkness almost as soon as I slipped out of the womb that first time and found myself amongst the belief systems of my family and culture around what constitutes dark and light; had spent my whole life chasing it around like a mislaid memo on a windy day ever since. At some level, I had always knew I had let go of something important yet terribly illusive; I guess I just found it again!

TorOur guidance system is the heart and when we go by what feels truly good to the heart we simply cannot go off track. Brought back into balance, we witness the heart light up like never before…and this is what I got to experience once I had been through my experiences with both of these water-sources. Only then, I realised, was I ready to climb the Tor which – I strongly suspect – was the way that ancient people experienced and worked with this hillside, using the alchemy of the male and the female to prepare themselves to rise up its steep banks.

When we climbed that hill, we watched the weather front that had started with such relentless rain avalon-3that we could have been stood inside the mouth of a gargantuan waterfall transform into the most golden afternoon and fiery sunset imaginable. The edge of the hill, around the point where I suspect Michael and Mary catch up with each other to enjoy the panoramic view, seemed to melt into nothingness and it was like being on the edge of the world, an alchemical melting pot of substance and light. The Michael tower lit up like a candle for us that night and I knew this was the fruit of my day’s alchemy. The torch of myself that had been lit in darkness had come out into the remains of the day and, at the point where that day met the darkening skies, we witnessed Avalon rise once again from the mists that looked like incoming seawater; quite the unforgettable sight. As the sky turned inky black, the indelible impression left by the flaming Tor and the twinkling lights of the town below felt like being back inside the White Spring temple where points of light reflect on water as smooth and black as primal oil.

Dark TorPerhaps water has ever played a key part in the landscape at Glastonbury, delivering to it the chalice and the holy blood, the staff and the twice flowering tree. Long before that, it delivered two water-sources, both with something to say and a time to remind us again. It struck me how we had witnessed fire and water brought together many times that day. In reclaiming for myself both my blood and my light…my physical and spiritual aspects…and mingling them, I knew I had achieved the true alchemy of myself and that the experience had been a “holy” one in the true sense of the word, in that this exceptional landscape had walked me to a point of wholeness that, like the Tor itself, stood head-and-shoulder above anything I had ever experienced before.

You can view more photography from this trip in my Glastonbury album on Flickr.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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1 Response to Uncommon alchemy: a Glastonbury tale

  1. Pingback: Signs the great softening is underway | spinning the light

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