GHOSTS OF GLASTONBURY
By Atasha Fyfe
are probably as many theories about ghosts as carved pumpkins at Hallowe’en.
Common factors are that most hauntings seem to come from the past; and that
many are associated with some kind of drama or strong emotion. One idea is that
those events have left an imprint on the
atmosphere, so that the ghosts we see are a kind of fading echo. Many
places, however, seem to be more actively haunted than that. Some say these
ghosts are the spirits of people who are still emotionally attached to those
places, or the experiences they had there.
Another possibility is the existence
of various forms of nature and residential spirits. What we call a haunted
attic might be valued as a household god in other cultures.
Time itself may be as W.B.Yeats thought, more cyclical
than linear, with the past underlying and informing the present much more than
has always had a special claim as a place where the veil between the worlds is
thin. Symbolically, where the sea meets
the land suggests the meeting of two different worlds. In older times, during
the winter flooding of Somerset,
the Tor stood alone above the waters. This gave it a mysterious appearance and
a mystical significance. The ancient people called it The Isle of Glass, which
later became Glastonbury.
It was also known as The Isle of Avalon – Avalon being synonymous with Annwn,
the Celtic name for the Otherworld.
its origins were so deeply rooted in mysticism, Glastonbury has always had an ambience of
other-worldliness. This has been strengthened, added to, and built upon by
centuries of different forms of spirituality and religion, all of which found a
congenial home on the Ancient Isle. As a result, Glastonbury is haunted in many ways by the
spirits of various belief systems, and their particular denizens.
major contributor to the flavour of the Avalonian cauldron was the Abbey. It
dominated this area for the best part of a thousand years. And it wasn’t just
any Abbey. It was the oldest and most powerful in the land. It was also an
educational centre that was as prestigious and influential in its time as places
like Eton or Oxford
became later. In its long and dramatic history, it became the home for many
strange tales and legends.
Perhaps its most famous ghost was the spirit that
was said to haunt the Abbey after King Arthur’s death. This was a Darth Vader-ish
black-armoured knight with glowing red eyes, whose evil mission was to destroy
all the records of King Arthur’s life and death. Perhaps when the monks so
fortuitously found Arthur and Guinevere’s graves right there in the Abbey, this
handy haunting explained why they never did find any of the paperwork.
that dark knight now lives only in the pages of legend, by all accounts the
Abbey is still haunted – mostly by its monks. The Abbey has many reports by
visitors who have heard ghostly snatches of
their chanting. There also exist photographs taken by different people,
at different times, of a white spectral form that is sometimes seen in the
have also perceived some troubled spirits from the darker side of Abbey life.
According to some of those perceptions, the Abbey ruins are still haunted by
the ghost of a monk who held quite high office in his time. His life was
blighted by being blackmailed about his illegitimate child with a local woman.
His desperate and suicidal feelings about that have remained.
A harmless mad
monk is said to wander the orchard, mumbling to himself. His madness came of
innocently drinking the dregs of a lethal poison that was meant for someone
else. And the restless dark spirit of a monk who was secretly one of Henry
VIII’s spies still prowls the grounds, watching and waiting.
the Abbey, the whole Glastonbury
area is riddled with ghost monks. People see them all the time, and without the
need for psychic vision. They walk through houses, pass by windows, stand in
gardens – two were even spotted fishing in the River Brue.
the Abbey’s heyday, the 10 century, St Dunstan was both Glastonbury’s Abbot and
the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some think it might be his ghost that haunts St
Dunstan’s church in his birthplace of Baltonsborough, a village very near to Glastonbury.
famous Abbot was Glastonbury’s last one - Richard Whiting, who was executed
as part of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The Abbot’s ghost is
said to haunt Dod Lane.
‘Dod’ was an old word for ley-lines. Those who travelled them were called
There is also the semantic link to the word ‘dead’, and in older
times Dod Lane
was sometimes referred to as Dead
Lane. It’s thought
to have once been an old processional
route from the Abbey to the Tor. It follows the track of an even more ancient
spirit path to Avalon, the Isle of the Dead, when it may have been used as a
funerary route. Perhaps the spirit of Abbot Whiting took this
time-hallowed path to the afterworld after his grisly execution on the Tor.
Because of its special history, Dod
Lane is likely to be the site of many energies and
most famously haunted place, the George & Pilgrim Hotel, owes its existence
to the Abbey. It was built in about 1475, to accommodate wealthy pilgrims and
other visitors to the Abbey. In the years of intrigue leading up to the 1540
Dissolution, secret matters were expedited via the underground passage that
used to run from the hotel cellar to the Abbey Gatehouse.
That tunnel would
have hosted many dramas over the years. One tale says a monk was discovered using that tunnel for his
secret love trysts. As punishment he was shut into the tunnel alive when it was
blocked up. Some think that the ghost monk occasionally glimpsed in the hotel
may be him.
the origin, G&P staff say that guests regularly report paranormal
experiences, getting so spooked that they sometimes check out in the middle of
the night - or even straight after arriving.
Many of the staff have experienced the hotel’s strangeness at some
was late night, after closing time” one of the managers reminisced. “The place
was locked up, the guests all in their rooms. A few of us were sitting quietly
chatting. Suddenly the back door slammed. Footsteps came down the passage. We
went to see who it was, but no-one was there - and all the doors were still
the years, significant numbers of both staff and guests have reported the same
repeating phenomena. A man who looks quite real except for his historical
clothes will now and then walk through the bar and then disappear. Late at
night, after everyone’s gone to bed, ghostly footsteps creak in the passages.
smell of cigar smoke that no-one is smoking sometimes drifts into certain
rooms. Moving lights and sudden bangs can manifest at odd moments any time of
the day or night. A violent argument sometimes rages from the small lounge –
but whenever it’s checked, no-one is there.
A spectral monk wafts down the
passage now and then. These phenomena have been observed many times over the
years, but none of them have caused distress or done any harm. Perhaps the only
potentially frightening presence is one that seems to lurk in the older
bedrooms at night.
one of those rooms, a hotel guest’s experience began when she saw the ghost of
a woman in modern dress who complained of the cold, then disappeared.
then followed was the worst, scariest thing in my life,” the guest continued. “I will call the
phenomena he, as it felt male. I felt a great pressure above me but not
touching me. It was large and it was as if my life force was completely
immobilised. I was paralysed. I could not move a muscle, nor could I make a
sound. I knew that I had to keep calm as whatever it was wanted to cause me
great distress. I asked him to please leave me alone. I also asked if I could
help him go to the Light. Then I was released. I thought I could help, and
prayed, but it was no use. I knew I had to leave the room as soon as possible.
I was shaking. I started packing.”
was a small player in the 1685 Battle of Sedgemore - but the trauma of the
infamous Bloody Assizes still haunts this whole area. Of the twenty nine local
men who joined the Duke of Monmouth’s ill-fated rebellion against the crown,
six were hanged from the sign of the White Hart Inn, near to where the Assembly
Rooms is today. The spectre of those hanging figures is still sometimes sensed
Sedgemore battlefield is one of England’s most famous haunted places. Less well
known is a similar haunting of what is now a local playing field. A small side
skirmish happened there on the way to Sedgemore. Sensitives can still sometimes
hear the clashes and cries of that little battle.
ghostly echo of marching troops has occasionally been heard along Glastonbury
High Street, sometimes making the ground shake for no visible reason. Those
who’ve heard it say it has the feeling of men marching to their death in the
First World War.
soldiers and battles have affected the atmosphere, the centuries-long
procession of devoted pilgrims coming to Glastonbury has also left its imprint.
Residents say that along Chilkwell Street in the still hours of the night, it’s
still possible to feel the pilgrims’ tearful joy as they reached this important
destination. Chilkwell Street, with Dod Lane on the right going up
to the Tor, & the entrance to Abbey House on the left.
also has its share of private household ghosts. When in modern dress, these
apparitions can look so real that at first they may not be perceived as ghosts.
went to get something from the kitchen,” said a visitor to a house in Roman
Way, “and I saw someone there that I hadn’t been introduced to. On my return to
the sitting room, I asked who it was. My hosts were surprised and said no-one
else was in the house. I gave a clear description, and they said it sounded
like the woman they’d bought the house from. She’d left the place against her
wishes when she and her husband sold it, and died shortly afterwards.”
dogs and cats quite often haunt their old homes. They are generally described
behaving as they did in life – enjoying the favourite spots and comfortable
routines they once knew. One little dog is often seen walking at the level the
floor used to be several years ago.
cars can be haunted. A Glastonbury resident said she sometimes sees the ghost
of her deceased father sitting in the back seat of her car – apparently as
worried as ever about his daughter’s road safety!
modern ghosts have found that they can signal their presence by playing with
always know when we have our visitor” said a Glastonian, “because all the
lights go very bright. Then I say ‘come on Grandad, you know I don’t like the
lights so bright!’ and right away, the
lights go back to normal.”
household hauntee decided to challenge her ghost.
you’re real, why don’t you prove it and switch the kettle on?” she demanded – and said she got the fright of
her life when the kettle suddenly started to boil all by itself!
top of Magdelene Street is one of the oldest parts of town, with some strange
tales of its own to tell. The small chapel and garden there is on the site of
an old hospice once run by the Abbey. People have glimpsed ethereal monks here
too, as well as a tall figure of white light in the entrance to the chapel. A
heavy feeling of sadness once permeated this place, especially in one of the
part of this research, without giving them any clues, I asked three different
psychics to see what they could sense about that room. Interestingly, they each
saw a different aspect of the same sad story that had unfolded in that room
hundreds of years ago.
woman had secretly given birth in that upper room. She was in terrible fear,
because she knew certain persons wanted her or the baby dead. Desperately, she
tried to keep herself hidden, and above all to conceal the baby’s existence.
But she was found. The baby was taken from her and possibly killed. She grieved
for ever after. A few years ago the continuing presence of this sad feeling was
taken seriously enough to be given a full church exorcism.
good source of information about both the monks of Glastonbury, and ghosts in
general, are the automatic writings of architect and church restorer, Frederick
Bligh Bond. From 1907 to 1922, he used this method of psychic research to
discover the original structures of the Abbey, about which almost nothing was
known at the time. He published many of these communications in his book ‘Gates
excavations were later done in the Abbey grounds, it became undeniably clear
that the information the spirit monks had provided was all correct. This
discovery infuriated the church authorities, and they immediately sacked Bond.
monks who described how their beloved Abbey used to look, also talked about
what it’s like to be a ghost.
cling I to that whych is not?” one of them remarked. “It is I, and it is not,
butt part of me which dwelleth in the past and is bound to that whych my carnal
soul loved and called ‘home’ these many years. Yet I, Johannes, amm of many
parts, and ye better parte doeth other things. Laus, Laus, Deo! Only that part
which remembreth clingeth like memory to what it seeth yet”.
are real, and what his dream, he knows not,” another said of Johannes. “It
ceaseth yet it remayneth in him ever the same. Mystified and bewildered by its
beauty (ie the Abbey), he gave it his
heart; and so, being earthbound by that love, his spirit clings in dreams to
the vanished vision which his spirit-eyes even still see”.
I do remember,” Johannes reminisced, “yet the lyttle things only. I remember
the stairs for my fatness. But it availeth me not, though my father prior
recommended it oft. Alas! I waxed more fat.”
also recalled the memory of lying in bed on summer nights listening to the
loved the rain on our hundred roofs and myriad voice that came from the
waterspouts, when the gargoyles shouted each to each, and the cloisters
whispered comfort and refreshment as we lay under the dormer roofe in parched
and sultry nights. I didde sleepe on the south side, hard by the great gabell,
and soe I heard the sound whilst the others slept. Vai Mubi, that it is
departed and the voices are heard no more.”
although they are heard only subliminally most of the time, the voices from
Glastonbury’s past whisper to us still. Their feelings and memories continue,
and help to create an underlying atmosphere – the spirit of the place.
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