Excerpts from Summerlands
David, a local cunning man, and I, set off on our circular tour through the Glastonbury zodiac effigies on the day of a total solar eclipse in Leo. It was 21st August 2017. At that time, I didn’t realise eclipses are the time for shadow work and setting new patterns. Nor did I understand that my return to Somerton, on the Zodiac’s lion-paw and the place of my birth, would eventually help me to integrate major life-lessons and allow a unique self-expression to surface. I was only truly to know this when I stood once more on Brockle hill, in Somerton on 2nd July 2019.
Girt dog of Langport
When I looked around, the elderly man was revolving a ring on a weathered piece of string above a map. He didn’t look so different from the caravan of travellers and fortune diviners who made their way across the sea moors. Some round here treated Somerset as if its sacred landscape were an initiatory circuit. A gateway to the unseen. They believed this was the garden from where the knights of King Arthur had set out on their quest for the Holy Grail, seeking to renew the blighted land. Within a thirty-mile radius of Glastonbury Tor, the landscape held, in no particular order: a paschal lamb, the Bull of Dawn, a dove, three bars of light, a scorpion, a Christ-head, Arthur's glass ship, Taliesin's Leo, the Triple Goddess, Arthur, Osiris, Chiron, a unicorn horn, a phoenix, two fish and a whale. People walked the Glastonbury circuit as if tracing Arthur's Round Table, treading a mirror of the constellations above them. In that respect, it was an English version of the pyramids.
The old man leaned into me as if he had something important to impart. ‘In the legends, King Arthur’s knights included his foster brother Sir Kay, his treacherous son Sir Mordred, the arrogant Sir Bleoberis who later became a hermit, Sir Lancelot and his son Sir Galahad, the Saracen knight Sir Palomides, Sir Ector de Maris the ladies’ man and Sir Parzival and Sir Gawain famed for fighting the Red and Green knights. Other knights were known separately for their loyalty, cup-bearing duties and roles as court jesters. However, at times, some of the knights of Arthur’s Round Table – or the parts of his psyche – became unruly.’
Take the story of King Vortigern and Merlin. "Following numerous acts of outrage and murder, King Vortigern sat on his assumed throne. With his country under the sway of barbarian tribes, he could only watch as they ravaged his lands and people. Calling on magicians to advise him, he erected an impregnable tower to lift him from the dangers that lay at all sides. Yet build as they might, the earth always swallowed the builders’ endeavors. Summoning the same magicians to him, he was instructed to find a youth who had never had a father and then sprinkle his blood at the tower’s foundations."
An image of Graham came. At dawn, we had enjoyed a makeshift breakfast of leftovers from the fridge and a flask of hot tea. Soft rain fell in the silence, before children or cricketers could descend. The air felt still and dry beneath the vast oak’s canopy, as the warmth of a new day crept in.
We watched as the sun rose from the skyline. As Graham turned towards me, his eyes seemed to alter in colour. They were strangely animated, full of a yearning to connect with what was in front of him. ‘How is he doing this? What is he feeling?’ I wondered.
Rain streamed down his face as he continued. 'Here, in Scorpio, we stagger under the burdens of our past and have to let go. This is where we die, so a sovereign-self – able to rule with fullness of body, heart and spirit – may emerge.
‘Death, whether a bereavement or a shamanic death of part of the personality, is an important part of the journey. Some believe the death of the body occurs in the middle and not at the end of a cycle. It is merely a portal to another life; part of an evolutionary process, much like the initiate’s spiral or knight’s quest.’
‘It’s more than possible to take wrong paths in this life. The human condition is to re-enact or creatively copy what has gone before, whether an ancestral wound passed down the line or a trauma experienced in this lifetime. Constantly seeking a solution, we draw towards us a cast of people to make resolution possible – drawing similar circumstances towards us. Jason’s adventures reflect our human dilemma. He quests, like Arthur, for solutions from the inner levels, feeling and intuition, rather than relying on his faculties of will and rational thought.
The storyteller turned to Angela and held her gaze. After a few minutes he said, 'You must master the challenge of sweetness, learn to take joy from life.’
Then to me, 'The wheel of the zodiac has turned back to the time of your childhood illness. Saturn controls restrictions, responsibility and Karma. Every action you take has a consequence. Saturn represents the inevitable cycle of trial and error.'
The storyteller shifted position and gestured towards the ruined church tower of the Tor. ‘In as much as a church resembles a family, designed to pass on wealth, spiritual knowledge and inherited legacies, it often had a labyrinth at its threshold. Many have now been removed. This was in recognition of the transformative effect that walking of a labyrinth had on a person’s psyche, bringing together analytical and intuitive spiritual levels of consciousness.’
‘Wearyall Hill is the setting of the Fisher King – the Wasteland. A fish effigy etched into its contours represents his castle. Only once its many rooms are filled with soft candlelight, may one step from its defenses and begin to live.’
Dawn broke, a profusion of red, ochre, passion fruit and bright orange. Birdsong sounded like the whole of creation was joining in. It was to be breakfast on the lamb's feet looking out over bright ribbons of pink down on the Somerset droves.
On the Glastonbury zodiac effigy, the lamb’s feet are tucked under its body, knees facing east, trotters west. Only two trotters are visible. One is on Walton Hill, whilst the other houses a youth hostel. Off to the north, on the lamb’s neck is the town of Street. Feet represent our understanding – of ourselves, of life, of others. The lamb is typically a sacrificial animal and symbolizes innocence and purity.
When I turned to face him again, his hand held a flat wooden tile. It was the rune Isa – a freezing of event, situation or circumstance.
His voice continued to filter through the birdsong. 'Things are hidden and repressed. You still exist in the knight’s nether world, guarded by a giant maiden. Without sleeping with the different aspects of our consciousness there can be no Sun, no life-giving force.
'Just notice and be with the feelings in your body.'
Over time, my body let go. The childhood numbness which had enveloped me in times of hurt and grief, began to soften, became more allowing and fluid. Each of the many re-enactments during my life made sense of that never-ending circle of dramas. My body and mind benefited from the creativity of those who acted out a role – family, friends, work colleagues and strangers – a cast who willingly helped me relive the experiences which had overwhelmed me.
I began to see the weave of my life, to trust in the universe.
One night, my body shook uncontrollably, a typical trauma-release mechanism. I sensed the storyteller.
Childhood illness and bereavement had taken me to the edges of insanity – like a shamanic trance or schizophrenic vision. Now, I realised that they were mysterious gifts, forcing me to awaken to the true nature of the world, one beyond the social constructs of our times. Gifts taking me on a journey into the archetypes of the collective unconscious, into the Underworld.
I thought of myself sat in the chair where Angela drank her gins and tonic. Where Graham sat in a quiet stillness, as if part of him had dropped down to feel the impulses within. Each of us set on our paths. Some requiring centuries of re-calibration.
My problem was, those memories still existed. Not as a story with a beginning, middle and end which had been integrated into my psyche; rather, as isolated fragments and sensations stored in my body. Whenever triggered or overwhelmed, my unbalanced physiology was at leave to drive my actions, choices and sense of self. The brain’s reason centre, the frontal lobes, were overwhelmed by the automatic responses of the reptilian brain, the brain stem and hypothalamus and limbic system along with the sensory processing functions of the thalamus and amygdala.