In the early eighties, when I decided that I wanted to live in Glastonbury, I told my English friends of this desire, and almost to a wo/man they replied, “No, you don’t want to live there!” When I arrived, like a smitten lover, at first I didn’t see what had caused them all to have that essentially identical reaction. But then I grew to see that there was an odd division in the town between the local Somerset folks who had lived here for generations, and the incomers, like myself, who had been drawn here by .... something very special - dare I say ‘magical’? But within the alternative community - back then it was called ‘the New Age community’ - there were many deep divisions. It seemed that everyone who had been called here had woken up, been divorced, and came here to ‘do it my way.’ (read: anarchism) Now coming from Vermont, I was familiar with this attitude. Back there it is called ’rugged Yankee individualism’. If I demand the right to do my thing, I must allow you to do yours.
So I found Glastonbury, the Land of Avalon, to be a town divided. While at first I reveled in my right to do my own thing, I soon found that it was damn hard to get anything done as a group. (The New Age philosophy had something to do with it in that everyone - including myself - was working on their intuition, and consciously left behind our rational gifts.) The result was that everybody wanted to do it differently - their own way. Chaos ruled.
In the last decade or so, I have gained a better sense why this might be the case here in Glastonbury, but not in surrounding towns or even in most of the rest of England. It has something to do with the dissolution of the Abbey. A good friend, Jon Cousins, now a Town Councillor, has done a lot to help me understand what might be the cause. In the last six years, he has produced three pamphlets of Glastonbury revisionist history. His first one was Remember Richard Whiting, The last Abbott of Glastonbury Abbey*. On the 30th of January, 2012, I was invited to attend the opening of the second edition of this most interesting eye-opening booklet, and to hear Jon expand his thoughts on it.
In the Fifteen-thirties, Henry VIII, the King of England, was in the process of converting England from Roman Catholicism to National Catholicism (what was to become the Anglican Communion, a.k.a the Church of England). Abbot Whiting had supported the King all the way. He had signed the letter urging Pope Clement VII to dissolve King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He then signed the paper renouncing obedience to the Pope, and soon after, he put his name to another paper recognising the royal supremacy.
The Glastonbury Tor
where Abbot Whiting, John Thorne and Roger James were Hanged
dominates the Somerset Levels
Yet in 1539, after a sham trial in Wells, Whiting and the Abbey’s Treasurer, John Thorne and sub-Treasurer, Roger James were dragged up the to the Tor where they were hanged on a hastily constructed gibbet. As for the good Abbott, he was hanged only ‘till he was nearly dead, when he was cut down, and drawn and quartered while still alive and had his head cut off. The four body parts we sent to the four quarters of the Abbey’s land - Bath, Wells, Illchester and Bridgewater. His head was posted on a spike at the entrance of the Abbey.
The Glastonbury Abbey
It was being torn down even before Abbot Whiting's trial!
While there are a large amount of records from that time of other events in England, there are almost no records of Abbot Whiting’s trial or even what he was charged with! As Jon Cousins writes,” What I couldn’t understand was, if Richard Whiting supported Henry, why was he killed?” (p. 10) The reality is, we don’t know, but it must have had some secret to do with ‘the holyest erthe in Englande.’ What was the secret that was so important to Henry that he was willing to allow what can only be called a ritual murder of one of his most important supporters? Was it the Holy Grail? Was it (sacrilege) Jesus and Mary's bones? Jon’s conclusion was that Richard Whiting knew the mystery of the 'Something Else'. (He) knew the secret of 'What Glastonbury IS'. (p. 22)
To add to this mystery, is the image of his death - three men crucified - no hanged - on a high hill in most grotesque fashion. (Get the analogy?) Glastonbury author Geoffrey Ashe writes, ‘...one senses a hateful darkness, a memory of witchcraft or druidical rites.’ (p. 21) In other words: ritual murder.
Oh yes, in 1895, this good Abbot who had renounced obedience to the Pope was beatified along with Thorne and James not by the Church of England, but by the Church of Rome! Now that’s weird.
Jon Cousins feels, and so do I, that the dysfunction of our town today has its roots in this macabre black magic act in 1539 of the murder of Abbot Whiting and his two subalterns.
Jon has been contacting Churches here in Glastonbury and the Anglican and Catholic Bishops of this diocese to see if they would be willing to have a healing service of remembrance in the Abbey run by these Bishops, the local churches and all of the people of Glastonbury - Christians, Pagans, Hindus, and others citizens invited to participate in this ceremony to bring the separate parts of this good Abbot back together - to literally re-member the dismembered Abbott Whiting.
Jon reports that none of the Churches wanted to be involved with this healing event. None.
According to Barry Taylor, a Pilgrim in Glastonbury. "Whatever the reality, there is no doubt that the Abbot was brutally put to death on 15th November 1539 and that the town ever since has had the greatest difficulty in flourishing."
As I write this, it is the Celtic CrossQuarter Day of Imbolc. The seed that is planted on November 1st (Samhain), and lies dormant through the dark days of winter, then, like the quickening in the human reproductive cycle, moves on its own for the first time. It is time for the quickening of Jon’s plan, to Remember Abbot Whiting, to have a whole community healing. Jon has planted the seed. It has lain quietly through the winter, and now it is time to get going.
Please send your prayers for this event to come together to bring the re-membering of our town.
SunnyBank, 9 Bove Town
England BA6 8JE
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This Tip only scrapes the surface on the story of the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. I highly recommend Jon’s trilogy entitled:
The Glastonbury Documents
Cousins, Jon. 2007. Remember Richard Whiting. Concerning the Isle of Transformation, and the last Abbot of Glastonbury. Republished in 2012. £2.00
__________. 2009. What is Glastonbury? Concerning the dichotomy between the Market Town and ‘Sacred Glastonbury. £2.00
__________. 2010. Temple of Reconciliation: Concerning Jesus Maria, and the re-union of the temporal and spiritual aspects of Glastonbury. £3.00
The first and third booklets can be ordered from the Library of Avalon, The Glastonbury Experience, High Street, Glastonbury, Somerset. Contact them for postage and handling charges. I am not sure at this time where you can purchase What is Glastonbury? Concerning the dichotomy between the Market Town and ‘Sacred Glastonbury. When I find this out, I will inform you in a later Tip.
Apologies - in my last email to you, I mistakenly called the smaller version of Silbury hill 'Babysil'. Pete Glastonbury, the man who first brought this truncated cone to our attention called it 'Silbaby.' Since talking about it with Steve Marshall, he tells me that archaeologists call it 'Weyden Mound.' As it is found at the southern end of Weyden Hill, this name seems most appropriate. I am sorry for my use of an incorrect name.