Glastonbury Tor, with its enigmatic St. Michael’s Tower perched like a sentinel at its summit, is the iconographical symbol of Glastonbury (which is why it features on this internet site’s header image). The Tor has commanding three and and sixty degree views beyond the Somerset Levels to the Mendip Hills and Well’s Cathedral, Steep Holm island in the Bristol Channel, Alfred’s Tower and Burrow Mump, the Quantock Hills and the Black Mountains in Wales and acts like a magnet to New Age pilgrims from across the world. Whilst many believe it is the tower of St. Michael which holds the fascination of visitors and local alike, it is, in fact, the curiously terraced tear-shaped Tor itself which excudes the spiritual energy which can be felt from kilometres around. Indeed, the original church that was built on Glastonbury Tor was constructed to dispell the notion that the Hill held supernatural and occult powers.
There are several routes available along the Tor for those wanting to climb its five hundred feet, one hundred and seventy metres to the 14th Century St. Michael’s Tower. The easiest is taken by catching the Glastonbury Tor bus shuttle service that departs from the Glastonbury Abbey car park (situated in the town itself). This drops off visitors outside of Moneybox Field (where there is also very limited parking for Blue Disabled Badge holders along the narrow country lane) at the bottom of Tor Hill.
Passing the gates, from the roadside into the field, several dressed trees shelter the curious Millennnium Stone monument (a recent tradition has already developed here to throw small stones or coins at the bell attached to this stone to make it sound).
From here, a gentle to moderate climb leads around and up to the Tor in a beautifully curved fashion.
Whilst this is the easiest route to climb the Tor and takes around the half hour mark to climb and descent (if one were foolish enough not to spend any real length of time at the summit), there is another, more convoluted, route which takes a good five hours to complete. This second route, however, is the favoured path as it follows the ancient labyrinth which has been cut into the hill and which gives the Tor its distinctive shape as well much of its mystery.
This labyrinth has been the source of debate for some time, with some organisations, such as the National Trust for example, debunking its presence in favour of an easily dismissed explanation that the cut out terraces in the earth of the hill were made for agricultural purposes (if this were the case, the platforms would not have continued on the ‘dark side’ of the hill – which they do). Despite such few hesitancies in accepting the existence of the Tor labyrinth, today it is largely accepted as the most plausible explanation for the patterns made in the hill and that it was designed for ritualistic purposes during the Neolithic era in connection with the belief that the Caer Sidi – home of the Faery Folk – resided in the hollows of Tor Hill.
During the time when belief of Faeries was strong and this immense labyrinth was constructed, much of the Somerset Levels were underwater and Glastonbury Tor was an astoundingly beautiful island – so picturesque, in fact, that its appearance alone would make it no mean feat of the imagination to posture that such an island was home to such supernatural creatures. Glastonbury Tor was no ordinary Faery residence either for Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Faeries himself and Lord of the Underworld, was believed to hold court within the hill, which at this time took various names such as the Faery Glass Hill, Land of the Dead and the Spiral Castle. Ceridwen the Echantress – whose cauldron of Wisdom gave her immense powers of magic and premonition was also believed to have made her home within the hill.
Even though, in Pagan times, it was widely believed that the Faeries resided in Glastonbury Tor, it was no simple matter for a human to see the creatures. These Faeries, although present on and within the hill, resided in another realm or dimension within the physical space occupied by the hill and knowledge or ritual was needed in order for mortal eyes to perceive such marvellous spirits. Although many theories have arisen as to the direct purpose of the Glastonbury Tor labyrinth, it is this author’s firm belief that it was designed as a magical route through which a traveller could enter the sacred Faery realm (it is well known from studies of Shamans that (after consuming entheogenic substances) they are often guided into the spiritual realm along such convoluted routes by occult creatures. The Glastonbury Tor labyrinth could very well be a carefully remembered and mapped out sacred route to the Faery Realm where visitors would no longer need to summon spirit guides to show them the magickal and protracted path to the Faery world. Whilst the labyrinth route culminates at the same physical spot at the summit of the Tor as the easier route, walkers along the sacred path will not have only made their way seven times around the Tor but they would have also deviated into a different spiritual realm along the route.
Interestingly, the same labyrinth design, which can be easily tracked even today, is also traced on a pillar in Pompeii, on rocks at Tintagel in Cornwall and is found across time and amongst many cultures throughout history.
When talking of Faeries and the belief in them, it is very important to remember what is being spoken of. In Pre-Christian societies, there was no belief in heaven and hell or angels and demons. Instead, Celts and other pagans believed in the spirit realm which was ruled by Faeries – not the Walt Disney Tinkerbell type of creature but powerful beings of immense intelligence and supernatural capabilities. When Christianity reached Britain, so afraid of the population’s belief in Faeries was the Church that it demonised the creatures and condemned as evil the practices and beliefs the old pagan religions revered.
One such instance of how the Church disliked Faeries is revealed in a very interesting manuscript detailing the life of the Welsh St. Collen. Dated c. 650 A.D., the document tells of a Christian monk living on the Tor who was invited to visit the Faery King at the summit of the Tor. Invited for tea, this monk did not take a gift or token of thanks or respect for the Faery host, but instead took with him a bottle of Holy water which he proceeeded to throw over all he saw in the Faery Realm, including the food. The monk believed that he had cast the Glastonbury Faeries into hell with his extremely discourteous behaviour but the Faeries just removed the monk from their their spiritual realm so that he could no longer perceive it and, as many people still believe to the day, all the Faery folk still reside in the deep hollows of Glastonbury Tor.
Christianity was not happy just to dictate the people what they should not believe in. They also deformed the Tor itself at c.1000 A.D. by flattening its summit and constructing a small church there to demonstrate that Glastonbury Tor and Glastonbury as a whole was now a Christian populace. Whilst the building of the church, ultimately, did not deter Pagan beliefs in the Tor's power, it did destroy much archaeological evidence about early settlers on the hill. As if angry at it's presence, the building was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1275. A further church, this time with a tower, was constructed on the site of the ruined building in 1323 but only it's roofless tower remains to be seen today, the rest of the building having fallen into disrepair by 1539 when its stones were removed for other local building projects. During its use, the church, dedicated to St. Michael, was used for the hanging of the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Rhichard Whyting. The remaining tower is a Grade 1 listed building and has been renovated by the National Trust.
To close, as many mysteries remain about Glastonbury Tor today as ever before. Buried treasure, secreted there by the monks, is said to exist somewhere in a hidden tunnel which connects the Tor to Glastonbury Abbey. Numerous anomalous lights, or UFOs, have been reported directly over the hill and the Tor continues to excude a magickal power over many people who climb it's summit, illuminating it's visitors with insights and resolutions to seemingly impossible problems and aiding them in their personal and spiritual growth. Given its recently discovered key role in the St. Michael and St. Mary ley lines, which conect many of Britain's important archaeological and Pagan sites, it seems Glastonbury Tor's fame and New Age significance will continue and grow well into the future.