Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Glastonbury Tor
 The tor at Glastonbury in Avalon, on the Somerset plain, in England,  claims the entire countryside.  Visible for miles, it rises up to signal the presence of Glastonbury Abbey, purported site of the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere until 1539, when the monastery fell victim to King Henry’s VIII’s pillaging, both to cement his schism with the Church of Rome and to finance wars with the French.

When we visited the abbey about two weeks ago, we also learned that the Glastonbury Tor and Abbey  align with Stonehenge along an ancient pathway called a ley line, about which various theories on their origin and function abound.  (In her epic Outlander series, author Diana Gabaldon has linked the energy fields attributed to ley lines to the ability of dowsers to find water, homing pigeons to navigate, and, at spots where they converge, time barriers to open up, allowing time travel for those who are genetically disposed to it.  See  An Echo in the Bone, pp. 452 – 454.)  Whatever the ultimate significance  of ley lines,  their association with energy and mystical experiences captures for me the sense of profound connection I feel on the site of a past or present event of great personal significance.
Stones on threshold of
Shakespeare's birthplace
 When I am able to  visit places that have impacted my thought and view of the world,  but that I had only read about, I am forever tethered to that spot.   In July, I stood on the same stone floor as William Shakespeare stepped on thousands of time as a child.  I stayed mired to the spot for several minutes, as if the stones themselves had become giant suction cups that gripped my feet.  In those seconds, snippets of lines from the plays remind me to be true to myself, that time and the hour run through the roughest day, that a secret man of blood exists in everyone, that all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women in it merely players.  Yet again, I admire Shakespeare as a person so connected himself to the human condition that his words and characters live and breathe six hundred years later.  And that’s only one example.

Air raid shelter in the walls
surrounding Cardiff Castle
In the last few years, I have been moved in the same way many times.  I have walked the worn path of St. Francis in his chapel in Assisi, keying in on the imperative of a simple life.  Under the blazing Italian sun, I ambled the streets of Pompeii in the shadow of Vesuvius, reflecting on the transitory nature of life, replete one second, imprisoned in lava the next.  Near Cardiff Castle in Wales, I wandered through the air raid shelters built during World War II into the stone walls that surround the castle. I smelled the musty air, heard my words echo back to me, and admired the courage of the men, women, and children who waited, terrorized, as the bombs exploded.   Even the brief foray into the tunnels left me claustrophobic.

Barracks at Birkenau
 It’s a discomfort I have felt in a few other locations.  As I rode in the same elevator Adoph Hitler used to access his Eagle’s Nest retreat in the Bavarian Alps, aware of the mirrored walls, the gold handrails and the lush carpet, I wondered how many of the people who rode with Hitler may have felt uneasy.  Then, worse still, the results of Hitler’s handiwork in the barracks of Birkenau, Auschwitz II.  The victims whisper through the thin walls, the uneven, plank bunks and the single row of latrines.  “Don’t take your secure, comfortable life for granted,” they remind me.  “Even decent people can do monstrous things or allow bad things to happen.  Fight oppression.”

Elevator to Hitler's Eagles' Nest

Latrines at Birkenau
So it seems that I have established my own ley lines.  The first set run through time from the ground that felt the footsteps of  St. Francis, Shakespeare, the citizens of Pompeii and Cardiff, the victims of Auschwitz, and yes, even Adolph Hitler, all the way to me.    A second set ties together the significant places that connect us to our children, scattered west, east, and south, and takes the edge off distance.   The Glastonbury Tor has come to encapsulate all of that connectivity, past and present.  More on the present next time.

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