Myths and Legends of the Glastonbury Tor

The Glastonbury Tor conspicuously rises from the middle of the wide and flat Somerset Levels in Somerset, England. The Tor (a Celtic word meaning ‘hill’) has been surrounded by myth and legend for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the many mysterious-sounding nicknames it has: Magic Mountain, Faeries’ Glass Hill, Spiral Castle, Grail Castle, and Land of the Dead, just to name a few.

According the Celtic Myth, the Tor is magically hollow and contains the Underworld of Annwn, inhabited by the kingdom of fairies and led by King Gwyn ap Nudd. These fairies, like most fairies, are tricky creatures, often playing practical jokes on local humans, but can be persuaded to act nicely with small worldly offerings.

 

The Terraced Maze

The Tor itself is carved with what appears to be the remains of an ancient three-dimensional labyrinth spiraling around the hill seven times and ending at the summit. The entrance to Annwn is said to be somewhere on the slopes of the Tor. Labyrinths and labyrinth imagery are often used to symbolize the journey through life and death.

The origins of the spiraling path are uncertain, as the path cannot be seen clearly from any one angle, and must be studied from many angles and depths to recognize the complexity.  There are many theories about where the path came from.

Cretan coin

The pattern is reminiscent of the spirals found on Cretan coins, the rustic mazes of Caerdroia, and archaeological findings from Pompeii and Tintagel. Philip Rahtz, a British archaeologist who studied in the Tor from 1964-1966, dated the spiral path to the 3rd or 2nd millennium BC, and could not confirm that what remains is evidence of a labyrinth, but was “well worth consideration.”  Remnants of bronze work suggest that the Tor may have been a Celtic stronghold at some point.

 

Arthurian Legend

It is said that King Arthur freed Queen Guinevere from the fort at the top of the Tor. Another story suggests that King Arthur was brought to the Tor to heal after his final battle. Some say that Glastonbury was the site of Avalon.

In 1191, a grave supposedly containing the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere were found by monks. Though some suspect that the findings were forged, the site where the grave was found is marked in Glastonbury Abbey.

 

The Chalice Well

 The Chalice well is a natural spring located in the Chalice Well Gardens between the Tor and town, and it is a popular tourist attraction. The well is said to have been in constant use for the last 2,000 years. The well’s water, which is so rich in iron that it runs red, does not fail to issue at least 25,000 gallons of water per day, even through droughts. Because of its hue, reliability, and situation within Glastonbury, the well is considered sacred, and its waters healing. For some, the well is a symbol of femininity, and is a destination for paying homage to feminine deities. For others, the Chalice Well marks the spot where the Holy Grail was buried. For others still, the fairies who reside under the Tor also spend time in the Well, giving the water its healing properties.

Visitors are welcome to play in the water.

St. Michael’s Tower

 OTHER ATTRACTIONS:

  • Druid Trees – Two beautifully gnarled Oak trees, named Gog and Magog after benevolent giants from English folklore, stand a mile from the Tor. They are believed to be over 2,000 years old, the last remaining trees from an ancient Oak grove used by Druids as a sacred sanctuary.
  • Glastonbury Abbey – The large, picturesque ruins of this 7th century monastery are a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
  • St Michael’s Tower – The peaceful ruins of a small church stand at the top of Glastonbury Tor, overlooking the entire Glastonbury area.

VISITOR RESOURCES:

  • Sacred Destinations- Area highlights, interactive map, and links to area resources including lodging.
  • Chalice Well Trust –  Admission information, directions, and history behind the Chalice Well.