Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

Tales of the Wellspring 5 ~ the White Spring of Glastonbury

The first time I visited the White Spring, the truth is I didn’t know its significance or meaning but I think I might have sensed something, for the place made a huge impression in my memory. Set at the foot of the Tor in Glastonbury, the building itself was once a reservoir for water for the town, filling from one of the two springs that well up from the earth there. The Red Spring, on the other side of the road, is now surrounded by the beautiful gardens of the Chalice Well trust, though an outlet in the lane means anyone can collect the water at any time of day or night. The Chalice Well is where Joseph of Arimathea is said to have concealed the cup of Christ and the waters run red to this day. The water is high in iron and has long been drunk as a health cure; miracles have been ascribed to it. (it appears briefly at the end of Strangers and Pilgrims too) 

But the White Spring has been the poor relation of this famous wellspring. When I first visited, the building had been converted into a cafe, with a few tiny shops selling themed gifts. Water ran through the stone floor in a channel and on a hot day, such as the one we first went, not far off twenty years ago, dangling your feet in the cool refreshing water was a treat as you ate and drank. A couple of small shrines peppered the edges of the cafe, and candles and incense burned, but it was still only a cafe.

When I visited again in future years, it was shut. I found out the cafe had closed down, and the building was locked up and deserted, though people did still congregate in the tiny garden, where the water ran from a pipe outlet from the spring. On our first visit, there had been a man in this garden, who had with him wild creatures who stayed with him for love of him: an owl, a fox and a stoat, I believe. I never saw him; someone on the camp-site said he was there but by the time I got there, he was gone.

Each time I’ve been back, I’ve gone to look, a feeling of longing and sadness tugging my heart as I find it locked and silent.

But this time, it was not.

I’d known from reading their website that the spring was now open again, though the hours depended entirely on volunteers. I’d forgotten to check when it would be open before we headed to Glastonbury for a four day silent retreat. Serendipity was on my side that day, though. We’d been up to the top of the Tor, where the wind made me giddy and dizzy, and we took the shortly route down and found ourselves in Well House Lane, to find the White Spring was open.

There’s a notice as you go in, informing you of the no photos or filming rule, and various other guidelines. I’m glad you can’t take pictures because it would be intrusive and it might well undermine the breath-taking atmosphere of the place.

And I do mean breath-taking. When I came out, I had to remind myself that the building was just an old reservoir tank, built for nothing more than holding clean fresh spring water. You walk in, down some steps, and are transported to…somewhere else. It feels like an ancient temple or cave, the air filled with the scent of water, incense, candles and damp stones, echoing to the murmur of whispers and of water trickling. Candles burn on every surface, the reflections of the flames twinkling in the water of the pools. For there are several pools, including one huge deep one that (I believe) is about four feet six inches deep. You are allowed to bathe but you must inform the guardian first. If you bathe naked, you must be considerate of other visitors. One woman went in fully clothed, and with great dignity; I lacked the courage to do so. Shrines abound, to various deities, but mostly to the Mother, in her many guises.

A woman sobbed next to me as she made an offering in front of of a small shrine to a goddess figure I was sure was for child-bearing. Her partner comforted her silently, with a hand on her shoulder. People spoke, but in hushed respectful voices, and did not linger. You could not linger. The power was too overwhelming, emanating from the flow of the waters and the voices just below the threshold of hearing.

I emerged, blinking hard, into the bright sunlight of the lane, my face wet from my scanty baptism of hands splashed over face and head and heart, and took a long drink from the water spilling endlessly from the pipe on the outside of the well-house. There was refreshment and a tiny restoration; that I could sense a something here, though I could not easily name or quantify it, is a step forward, even if only a tiny one.

DSCI0417

DSCI0420

DSCI0414

DSCI0416

DSCI0415

A Vessel of Ashes

A Vessel of Ashes

I’ve been in a grim place for so long it feels like there’s been no end and no beginning. It feels like this is all there is and all there was and all there ever will be. Needless to say, it feels horrible. I’ve been trying to make sense of it all and failing, and trying again and failing again. The results of the referendum have left me devastated, repeatedly; there seems a massive disconnect and breach between those who voted leave and those who voted remain. One side cannot understand the other and the vitriol hurled has been… caustic and damaging beyond belief. I have given up trying to explain why it is all so hurtful but the consensus of rejoicing Leavers is “Suck it up, suck it up,” and I have left it at that. The utter powerlessness I feel is probably felt by millions and we are told, that’s democracy.

So I have disconnected from the stream of life that flows in front of my eyes, in the form of social media, because I could no longer bear the hurt I see. I’m still around, but I am emotionally distanced. I’ve already lost one old friend from college days because I refused to allow him to pour his opinions all over my Facebook wall; he did not take it gracefully.

I have, however, been dreaming again. Having had a spell where I was unable to either dream or to recall anything of the dreams I did have, to have dreams coming through again is something of a relief.

I’d like to share a few with you now. The first is from a few days ago.

I am at a party I don’t really want to be at. I don’t feel I know anyone, but here I am anyway. I make my way outside into the garden, which is untended and unkempt, and walled by high brick walls. I am shocked to see that our old round table is out there, left out to rot; I look closer and I see that the table is broken, split almost down the middle as if by an mighty axe blow. It’s not quite perfectly in half, but it looks beyond anything but very skilled repairs. The chairs that go with it lie on the rough grass, with tufts of weeds growing through them, left where they fell when pushed back by those who had sat upon them. I feel sad and a little sick, and move to go back inside. As I walk back up the steps, there is a small child there, a little boy of somewhere between one year and three. He speaks to me, and I answer, and though waking I cannot recall what he said, only that it was words and themes so far beyond such a tiny child, I know I reply with complete seriousness and great care. He speaks again and then laughs and it is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and I am filled with sudden joy (in waking life, I dislike small children) and I want to hold him up. I put my hands on him to lift him but find he is far too heavy for me to lift, heavier than a full grown man by far. I realise quite suddenly that I am not to do this, not to treat him as a tiny child, and I step away and apologise for overstepping the mark. But he laughs joyfully again and I know I have not offended (for how could I have known?) and then the dream ends.

The next dream is from the small hours of this morning. I’ve spent much of the day pondering on it.

The first part of the dream I am visiting an aquarium belonging to a friend; there are lots of huge tanks filled with marvellous fish and sea creatures and we walk among the tanks (it’s like a Sea Life centre). But she’s packing up intending to leave and the fish know and are upset, even though she says I am to look after the fishes when she is gone. There are commotions in many of the tanks, as the fish become disturbed and frightened; one tank we see that a sea snake has become so upset it looks as if it is trying to swallow one of the bigger fishes, so we intervene. Hauling it out and uncoiling it, I see that it’s not a sea snake but a big Burmese python and it has its own tail in its mouth, as if trying to swallow itself.

The dream moves and shifts, and I find myself outside a sea shore cottage. In the dream, it’s a building I have seen and admired many times but in waking life, it’s not one I recognise. The cottage is built on a ridge very close to the sea, alone and with no other buildings nearby. It belongs to a nun, an anchoress, who invites me in to see the house. The inside is Spartan, and neat in a quirky, somewhat Bohemian style, and there is little furniture. I go to the window to see the view; it’s open and I see that the sea is alarmingly close to the house, and huge waves are crashing on the shore. I try to shut the window as the biggest wave yet hits the shingle, and some spray gets through before I managed to get it shut. I am asked to go and fetch water; the cottage does not have mains water but gets its water from a spring outside. I ask what do I collect the water in, and am shown at first a wide shiny steel serving platter, like a concave mirror, but that seems silly to me as it will not hold more than a few drops, and I rummage around and find a glass vessel, like an amphora, that I carry outside.

The spring itself is a very odd thing; it’s a sort of strange fountain, like it has been grown from volcanic mud or worn out from a termite mound. Water comes intermittently from different spouts, but never much and never with a lot of force. It will take patience to collect water here. I start, only to see that the glass vessel is mostly filled with ashes (I think they are human ashes, as if from a cremation) mixed with small stones, grit and sand. It won’t shake out, so I start adding water to it, to try and rinse it out. The ashes are packed down tight and need a lot of water to loosen them. I wake before the vessel is emptied or cleaned.

Message in a Bottle

Message in a bottle

On Friday I managed to tick off an item on my bucket list. Except I don’t have a bucket list, but you know what I mean: a much cherished hope, dream or ambition. For some my little tick would seem a bit tame but for a book lover or any author, it was a real thrill. I went to a bookshop. Not just any bookshop but a world famous bookshop.

Shakespeare & Company in Paris, less than fifty yards from Notre Dame cathedral has been on my personal radar for some years now. Working in Paris several times a year for umpty-ump years, I’ve never had any personal free time where I’ve felt it was possible to slip away for half an hour. Not even for five minutes to just take a photo and look longingly at the window like a kid at a sweet shop.

But last Friday I did. I managed it. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside so I must tantalise you with a shot or two of the exterior.

DSCI0198

DSCI0197

They have a Lucky Dip selection where for five euros you can buy a book, sight unseen, boxed neatly in a cardboard box with their famous stamp on it. Books are more expensive in France than in the UK, so taking a risk for a small sum was all right. Alas, my Lucky Dip was not (for me) lucky, as I got a James Joyce.

But I went in and had a browse. Floor to ceiling shelving, slightly dishevelled by the number of customers who have taken books out and put them back only to pounce on the next offering, and the lovely smell of books old and new: paradise. I heard customers asking for specific books: “Do you have a copy of The Prophet?” “Yes, I believe we do!” “I’m looking for The Bell Jar…” I catch the eye of the assistant and ask sotto voce, “Do you supply it with Prozac?” and she giggles discreetly as she goes to help the customer find it.

I looked, and found I was overwhelmed by the sheer mass of brilliance, of skill with words and with ideas, of the authors whose works surrounded me. I wanted to buy a book, a proper book, something I’d never normally find. Something different. After only a tiny bit of scanning of shelves I found a novel by George Sand, a little known work called Laura: the Journey into the Crystal. I had only a very short time to decide, so I bought it and the Lucky Dip and returned to my working day.

Yet a part of me remained with those shelves of books, those repositories of voices, some long, long dead. It made me realise my own voice was there, too, somewhere, on the shelves of those who have bought my books, and on the virtual shelves. George Sand would not have imagined that her books would still be being read more than two hundred years after her birth; she would surely have been delighted to see a modern woman seizing with delight one of her lesser known books.

My books are my messages in bottles, cast into the vast ocean of literature. Where they end up, I will never know. I’d like to think that they will pitch up somewhere rather than sink to the bottom of the sea. The act of casting a message in a bottle into the sea is an act of faith, and for the finder, an act of grace.

Perhaps I need a little more faith to keep chucking them out there, and believe that they may wash up on the right beaches, one day.

Raven & Vulture perform the funeral rites

Raven & Vulture perform the funeral rites

I look out of the window to see that a black dress or long shirt has been laid out on the lawn, much in the manner of old, where laundry was dried on grass for the bleaching and cleansing effects of sunshine and grass on cloth. I think, the day is drawing to a close so I better bring it in before it becomes damp with the falling dew. As I look I see birds landing; two black vultures and two ravens. They approach the garment, and after looking at it for a moment, they ceremonially start to fold it up, and I see that there is something lying inside the fabric. It looks like a white dog or pig, but I cannot see its head or feet to be sure; it may be a lamb. The birds wrap it as if they are putting it into a shroud for burial, much as I have done with beloved pets on their deaths, wrapping them in their blanket or a towel.”

This was my dream a few nights ago, and I have been haunted by it ever since. While I was away in Austria, I saw my first ever raven in the wild, flying across the valley, kronk kronk kronking as it flew. The village where I was staying has a raven in its coat of arms, a raven holding a diamond ring, from a folk tale or legend of the area, and the book I was reading while away, Marie-Louise Von Franz’s Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, mentioned ravens several times. Both raven and vulture are associated with the Shadow, and with death, rebirth and other themes. But even knowing this, I am baffled by this dream and deeply disturbed to the point that I am scared.

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Synchronicity and going off the map.

Life as a journey is a bit of a cliché, really. I said once, “If life is a journey, then any short-cut is a death trap,” and I stand by it. My own journey has been an odd one. A long time ago, I looked at the metaphysical map and I saw that at the margins, around the edges, away from the established paths and well-known routes, there were areas marked “Here be dragons,” and I thought, I’d like see dragons. Ever since then, I’ve made forays into those areas of the maps that the map-makers couldn’t fill in properly because too few people had been out and explored them and come back with useful information. Most came back babbling about strange things they didn’t quite have the language for, and travellers’ tales that defy belief and rational understanding.

About ten years ago, I really set off in earnest, leaving behind any adherence to defined paths. You cannot step off a path without stepping off it, if you know what I mean. Real adventures do not come with a guarantee of ever coming home, or of safety or security. It’s hard to explain why I did it; I imagine that you’ll either understand or you won’t. I could talk about calling, vocation, daemon, destiny until the cows come home. Initially there were constant signs and hints and hunches and intuitions. I’ve long had an affinity for the phenomenon known as synchronicity. A week or so ago I finished a book on it, which irritated me. Synchronicity by Chris Mackie was heavily hyped as being a guide to synchronous living, but the author had become bogged down by a fascination with the phenomenon itself (despite being warned in no uncertain terms in a synchronous meeting with someone who really understood the matter) and lost his grip on the purpose of synchronicity for him. It’s absurdly easy to become fixated on the method of delivery rather than on the message itself, because it’s one of the things that can be mind-blowing when you first encounter it. There’s a saying that when a wise man points at the moon, a fool looks at the finger.

As my exploration took me further and further from known landmarks, I have been obliged to rely on my own inner compass. I have a decent sense of direction, not infallible, but solid enough for most things. But like any explorer, you need to get your bearings, take soundings and check from time to time that you’re not going the wrong way. Once you leave the beaten path, finding signposts is unlikely. You have to start relying on other senses, and other knowings. Sometimes you see traces of someone who’s gone ahead of you, a bent twig, Indian-fashion, a note left in a tree-hollow, cairns of stones carried up mountains by other pilgrims who’ve gone this way. On occasion, you see the bones of those who have died en route.

The further you go, the fewer the signs are until you can find, as I did, you are in a wilderness, a barren, mountainous land and there is no evidence that anyone else has ever come this way. There’s no obvious way to proceed, and when you stop to rest, you lose all sense of direction.

This is what happened to me. It began about five years ago, this nagging sense of unease and of disquiet. The questions began, and so did the doubts and then the fears. It’s reached desperation point, painful and unpleasant. What if I’ve gone the wrong way? What if all I have been exploring is a waste of time and energy? What if all my cherished beliefs and principles are all moonshine and bullshit? Should I go back? Should I give up and die, here, amid the empty lands, the wastelands?

Round and round the questions fly, never letting up, never letting me just move on. I read last year of Jung’s descent into his own personal hell, of a breakdown that became his breakthrough, and his insight that he had to do something and it didn’t matter what. His explorations using active imaginations started from mundane things, and no matter how humble the starting point, each led him deeper into the matters of true importance. I did a fair bit of active imagination work last year and yet, I have still found myself asking, am I doing the right thing, am I going the right way?

The problem is there is no one to ask, who is able to give me a clear subjective answer from a point of understanding, of having been to the same places I’ve been. Jung recommended working closely with someone who has been through the same sort of journey, and while I have good friends in the same line of exploration, they’re all folks who live half a world away, and whose kindness I could not presume upon, except as an occasional event.

So I am alone in the wasteland, unable to proceed because of fear that I am going the wrong way (which then brings with it the whole host of agonising extras, like has my entire life been a waste, and other such delights). I’ve recorded and worked with dreams, journaled, painted, drawn, meditated, played, sat in nature, done everything from the mundane to the ridiculous and yet, I am so bogged down by doubts and fears that I cannot move.

Then yesterday I went somewhere. It’s a place I’ve never been to, despite growing up not far away, and driving through the dank winter fields of Cambridgeshire, with the vast skies and the tiny winding roads hemmed in by hedges, past tiny stone built churches that date back eight hundred years and more, amid villages that have dwindled to almost nothing.

DSCI0109

There was a pair of buzzards calling when we got out of the car, and bird song that held the first notes of spring, though it was still early January. The ground was wet as an old bath sponge, rich with moss and algae, and the unprepossessing facade of the church did not hold much promise.

DSCI0130

Inside, it felt more like a college chapel, with pews face to face rather than facing the altar. I walked round, feeling the stillness, the moment of time that seems held like a drop of amber that holds millennia within its shining core. I took photos, I read the embroidered banners. There is a small room just off the sanctuary, a vestry originally but now a sort of inner room. I went in and looked up in shock at the window. Vivid stained glass, quite old, but simple and striking. One side held a quartered circle, a cross made of ears of wheat, in coloured glass; the other side, in another roundel of glass, some words:

It is the right, good old way you are in. Keep in it.”

DSCI0122

DSCI0123

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Gidding

Wild Imaginings

Wild Imaginings

The other night, I had trouble getting to sleep. This isn’t unusual. It’s horribly common for me to lie awake, despite being exhausted, and yet unable to drop off into a refreshing slumber. In this case, it was a strange mood of unaccustomed but also unspecific optimism.

I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist; I’d term myself a realist with a dash of hope. I don’t automatically expect either a good or a bad outcome for events; however I am good at seeing where things are going, which makes me a terrible person to watch a film with. (NB, with friends and family I now tend to watch complete with metaphorical duct tape over my big mouth)

I’ve spent the last years as a self published author observing and monitoring trends, tropes and movements and given the freedom inherent in self publishing, it’s all the more remarkable how rapidly the whole thing has become tied up with mimicking the mainstream in every particular. It’s seeped into my unconscious and conscious mind and it’s filled me with nothing but dread and sadness. There are tens of thousands of blogs devoted to how we must all pull up our big girl (or boy) panties, embrace the business model that sees out books as products to be hawked, and chase the dream of being able to live off our writing. It’s usually followed by masses of advice, of business plans and links to sites that will advertise your books for a small (or huge fee).

Well, the other night, my soul (which is a better judge of these things than my mind) took a big sideways step and said “Bubbles to all that!” Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing remotely wrong with wanting to achieve financial success from writing. What bothers me is the actual costs of doing so. I’m not talking about fees for services (whether advertising, formatting, or any one of the Boomtown businesses that have sprung up to aid authors) but the esoteric costs.

Yeah, I’m going to get airy-fairy, hippy-dippy on you. What do you expect from a writer like me?

I’ll tell you what the pursuit of financial success has cost me. My joy in writing, for a start. My innate belief in the power of imagination. My hope that people are seeking to connect with their own souls. Yeah, I know. None of these things pay the bills and we all have bills. But the odds are so far against any individual writer that it’s occurred to me that the various things we all do to try and bend those odds in our own favour are a total waste of energy. You actually have more chance of winning the Lottery than of somehow making it as a big time successful writer.

On Boxing Day I visited my parents. Dad and I were talking as we did the lunch and we got onto talking about science fiction, his favourite genre (I bought him Lifeform Three by Roz Morris for Christmas) and one of the things we discussed was how science fiction has been one of the driving forces of science. “If no one imagines it, no one can seek to discover or create it,” he said. I was struck by this. Everything that we have built or discovered started first in the mind, as a wild imagining. The kind of thing people think, “How absurd. That’s not even possible,” but some people think, “I wonder if I can make it possible.”

All movements, all revolutions, start the same way, with a huge What if, and then people hold that shining vision of what might be, and work towards making it what is. This is what kept me from sleeping the other night, this vague but shining vision of something entirely different from what I’ve been chasing before. It’s too easy to get repeatedly bogged down with the question of how do I sell more books; I’ve been foundering in that quicksand for long enough. There’s probably NOTHING I can do to create greater sales. I know that my work appeals to a very select bunch of people and because Philippa Rees commented about imagining an audience, I’ve begun to think about that audience.

DSCI0342This is where my Wild Imaginings begin.

The magic ink is out-of-stock

 

Sometimes our dreams offer a lot more than mere rehashing of a day’s events, and give us valuable clues to what is going on deep in our unconscious. The following dream may well be of interest:

I dreamed I had gone to an expensive and swish sort of hotel for some sort of conference. One of the first things I managed to do was lose the key to my room; one of those, “I’m sure I put it in my handbag” moments of frantic rummaging around, until it seemed unimportant so I went through to the main conference room. It was like the vast dining rooms you see in Oxford and Cambridge colleges and it was filled with tables laid out with all sorts of wares for writing, from marvellous machines, exquisite journals and notebooks, pens of a thousand thousand kinds from the usual Bic biros to fabulously expensive Mont Blancs, and quills and dipping pens of many types. I knew I had come to find the most exclusive inks in the world, also the most expensive, but as I searched table after table, it became clear I was too late and they’d sold out. I found a sheet of creamy white paper, the kind that is made by pulping cloth, and looks rather like parchment, and a quill pen, and started trying to write, but no matter how many times I dipped my pen in the ink, the page remained resolutely blank because the ink was not the magic ink I’d come to find.

Regular readers of this blog will know (and perhaps share) my obsession and love for stationery, and may well be familiar with my long struggle to overcome something that is generally referred to as Writer’s Block (but before anyone starts kindly suggesting exercises or websites or, God forbid, apps, the term is used very loosely and it’s something deeper and darker than what the term is usually applied to).

The dream speaks of my fear that I have somehow arrived too late at the table, despite the fact that as I went round table after table looking for the ink, I was almost the only person present. In terms of the writing/publishing industry, I wasn’t first at the feast but I jumped in reasonably early in the day, with the first (paperback only) edition of Strangers and Pilgrims being published early in 2010, and the first (and flawed) Kindle edition about a year or so later. But the magic of those early days is gone, heaven only knows where, if it ever truly existed at all. With it has gone my confidence of creating anything worthy of the fine paper I tried to write upon in my dream.

Anyway, I’m going to keep on trying. Confidence is a thing easy enough to fake; I’ve been doing it my entire life. I’ve always said that in certain ways the I that is conscious is not the writer of the stories, but the unconscious I is the real creatrix. When I draw upon the deep, dark, hidden levels, that’s when the stories start to flow, dipping into my own veins to use the inner ink.