The part of England in which I grew up was an area full of legend and superstition. In ancient times it would have been a place of marshes and rivers and little islands. Even now, when the mists come down and lie across the levels, it is easy to imagine that you can see all sorts of things.
At the centre of the district was the little town of Glastonbury, the legends about which would fill many books. It was supposed to have been visited by Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave the tomb when Jesus was buried on Good Friday; it was supposed to have been Avalon, the home of the legendary King Arthur, who with the Knights of the Round Table fought against evil in the land.
I grew up learning all the old tales and superstitions. Most of them were harmless folk stories; they gave a bit of life to an area which was very boring. Nothing ever happened in our area, and it was nice to think that maybe in some past time interesting and important things had taken place.
When I was young, Glastonbury was beginning to be attractive to all sorts of other people. They had no interest in Joseph of Arimathea, or King Arthur, or the old tales which we had learned. They had ways of life which seemed strange to our old-fashioned farming community.
Nowadays, the new arrivals would have been called New Age travellers, in those days they were hippies. They drove battered old vans. They had long hair and brightly coloured clothes. They grew and they smoked cannabis, a lot of the time without much attention from the police. They were altogether different from the people I knew.
To be fair to them, most of them were innocent and harmless. They believed in love and peace and thought they could find it in our little corner of the country.
But the hippies brought people’s attention to thoughts and ideas which were very different from the things we were taught in school. They had ideas that we thought were strange.
Some of them had come to Glastonbury because they believed that Glastonbury Tor, the hill outside of the town, was the centre of the Earth. Given the fact that I could see Glastonbury Tor from my bedroom window, I found it hard to believe it was the centre of anything. They believed that there were “ley lines”, which were lines of some sort of power or force; these ley lines went around the world and were supposed to meet up at Glastonbury.
The hippies believed in all sorts of things. They believed that there was power in crystals and pyramids. They believed that the future could be foretold; some of them believed that you could tell a person’s future by reading Tarot cards; some of them believed in astrology, that our lives were controlled by the stars.
It was supposed to be that if you were up in the air above Glastonbury, you could see the signs of the zodiac arranged in a circle in the countryside around the Tor. I looked at a photograph taken by an aeroplane of the area where you were supposed to be able to see these things; it looked just like fields and hedges to me.
The people who gathered around Glastonbury included some who believed in what my mother called “black magic”; trying to call up the spirits of the dead; trying to use the powers of darkness. They seemed to have believed strongly in the black and sinister powers. One man who got a house in our village is said to have moved because someone painted a pentagram, a five pointed star, a symbol of black magic, on the door of his house.
I remember my childhood as being completely unspiritual. Looking back, it was filled with spiritual things, but it was a spirituality completely devoid of anything Christian. What was the Church doing in those times? I don’t know. Maybe in thirty or forty years time people will wonder what the Church was doing in our own time, because we seem no closer to the lives of most people that we were in the days of the hippies.