The berries are turning red, the oaks are reaching forward, dappling their dark green crowns with the bright green Lammas growth. The frenzied chatter of wren, robin, and thrush, has been replaced by the hiss and hum of crickets, damselflies and bees in the long grass. The evenings have fallen eerily quiet after the chorus of Spring and early Summer, and we sit, hot, sweaty, and silent, except for the squawk of woodpeckers, heard so frequently that one might mistake it for our commonest bird.
I went to Glastonbury Cemetery to wonder for a while. The last time I visited was with a walking group during the Winter. I remember our cemetery tree walks being rather wind swept affairs, the position of the cemetery on a westerly facing hill leaves it open to incoming gales, in stark contrast to recent visits that have required us to dart from one pool of shade to another.
Walks here are worthwhile whatever the weather, but an evening sun makes the visit all the more enjoyable as the giant copper beech trees, who stand like goddesses presiding over the land, sing with colour in the low sunlight.
My task here was to prepare for the forthcoming cemetery tree walks. I would reacquaint myself with the paths, say hello to the mature oak and old double trunked ash who sit on the higher tiers behind the cemetery, and I would visit each of the epic copper beech trees one by one.
My side mission, something that I have been meaning to do for a long time, was to locate the grave of Dion Fortune. In all my meandering around the cemetery I had never happened upon it, reluctant to go traipsing across the rows of graves and having never been guided to the spot by another person.
It’s not apparent from online research where the grave lies, so one is forced to search for it amongst the other graves. I am also told that the grave disappears of its own accord, depending on whether it wants to be found in that particular moment, by that particular person.
I had a few clues, a vague description of its location: ”somewhere near the old beech sculpture”, along with a photo of the grave. I had spent a lot of time around this old tree, now sculpted into a plinth with the carving of an arc atop it, visiting it regularly and adopting it as a post to stop and sing on the tree walks.
To one side of the stump stand graves from more recent decades which I soon realised were not old enough to be that of Dion Fortune.
I looked for a while longer before sitting to rest, assuming that the grave would simply appear if it wanted to be found. As I sat, I noticed that many of the graves were tended, with the surrounding grass kept short and the grave humps kept clear, while other graves had sprouted gardens of long grass and wildflowers on top of them. Beautiful, I thought, as the significance of this observation plucked at my heart, and I realised that these were the graves of those who were now forgotten, or at least had no close relatives willing to tend their patch. Should I be lucky enough to have a spot dedicated to my memory, I would like for that space to be purposefully left to develop into a little wild garden.
Amongst these older graves seemed like the most likely spot I would find the grave I was looking for. I pondered a little longer, noting my observations: this would be an old grave and a due to Dion’s prominence and cult following, would probably be a tended one, I knew it was near the beech stump, and from the picture it seemed understated, no grand monuments or things to otherwise denote its importance.
Expecting that I might go home without completing my side mission, I let intuition take over, I stepped off the path and into the rows, willing the spirit of Dion Fortune to guide me to her grave. I took a left, then a right and left again and to my delight, ended up standing directly above the grave.
I knew before I had a chance to read the inscription, recognising the style of the grave from the picture, noticing a book entitled “The Mystic Kabbalah”, left as a gift in a clear plastic bag, and finally the subtle offerings, small trinkets, ribbons and herbs left by pilgrims. I adjusted my position to read the inscription, sure enough it was dedicated to Violet Mary Firth (Dion Fortune).
I got a little emotional as I left my own offering, thanked her, and asked for her blessings while walking around her cemetery.
I will refrain from disclosing any more detailed description of the location of the grave. For no other reason than it’s a fun adventure to take up and I don’t want to spoil that for others.
It’s almost like a little riddle to solve: “Fortune lies near the arc made of beech, a hidden reminder amongst the forgotten.”
Having located the grave and proud to have completed my side mission, I carried on around the cemetery to greet the trees.
Glastonbury Cemetery is home to many grand copper beech trees, they look strangely out of place, yet also completely at home, transforming the landscape and atmosphere of the cemetery for the better and standing simultaneously in contrast and compliment to the dark greens of the yew, holly, holm oaks and laurel.
Their vast trunks stand like giant marble plinths presenting grand natural sculptures that reach up and arch out over the pathways, draping arms full of burgundy leaves all the way to the ground.
These giants seem to exist in a liminal space, they are dreamlike, hazy, yet so definitely tangible. When you arrive beneath them, they also seem to step towards and over you, enveloping you in their long arms. From the outside these trees can seem dense and imposing, from underneath they are ethereal, and one is welcomed into another world. When the sun shines through them, the full force of their beech light is released, and one half expects a resurrection to occur. How can something so substantial and heavy, appear at the same time as delicate as a feather and as ethereal as a shadow upon mist?
Their positions on the slope make them feel all the more elevated and powerful. In the presence of these trees, sense is all that remains, that sight, that presence, those sounds and smells are all enveloping, they gather us up in their arms and take us to a place where only we and they exist.
They communicate their beauty with absolute assuredness, they envelop in contentment, as we stand beneath them gawping upwards, we are arched over and consumed by their welcoming arms. Each of the copper beech trees seems to be hiding a doorway to their own little world, I wonder whether when we are standing beneath the canopy of these copper beech trees, we become temporarily invisible to those standing outside of their aura.
They have the attractive force of an amphitheatre, with these natural forms centre stage, each performing a play of their own, trunks and branches dancing into the sky, expressing the tale of how they came to be. When you are with them, their form tells you where to stand, where to look, how to enjoy them, like a painted masterpiece, they guide the eye and the more one stares at them, the more inclined one is to feel that they are staring right back at you, peacefully being and observing.
Each of these beech trees feels like a World and a God of its own. I wouldn’t be surprised if heaven’s gates are pillared by these very trees.
In my experience, despite all the magical places in and around this island, this is the place in Glastonbury where one is able to approach and stand as close to death as one can without being dead.
The magical copper beech trees standing among the many memorials of Glastonbury cemetery are giant headstones, each in dedication not to a human life, but to the death of our earthly connection, a memorial to the great forgetting, and to the many of our friends slain in ignorance.
They are also an invocation, a spell cast to lift us from our slumber, a call to remember, to connect with our roots, they are like that little trigger that sparks the memory of that weirdest of dreams we had three nights ago, that somehow allows us a sudden clarity.
Thank you to the copper beech trees of Glastonbury Cemetery x
Virtual Tree Walk Glastonbury Cemetery
Meet the copper beech trees in Glastonbury Cemetery, with narration and music from Matt: https://youtu.be/usBgUsxTsx8
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A Poem to Grandmother Lime
I have been keeping a close eye on Grandmother lime as she prepares her flowers for release. During the week of the New Moon, I visited Bushy Coombe to find her swarmed in bees, a deep rumbling buzz emitting from her crown. Her flowers were released in profusion. I sat with her a few mornings that week as she continued to ovulate, offering her songs and mugwort. She offered me her flowers to be added to my water and endless metaphoric advice on softness, respecting receptivity, and rest.
She highlighted my loneliness, showed me my needs and showed me how not to fulfil them. Loneliness, or rather being alone is a long running theme in my life, lime is the perfect tree to approach for conversation on such topics, she is a tree of union, partnership and fertility. There is deeply feminine energy here, mothering, nurturing and affirming. There is unconditional support, as form all trees, but from Grandmother Lime, this power seems to be tenfold.
Here’s a short poem inspired by my time beneath her this week.
From whom we ask so much
May these words offer a slither
Laden with nature’s golden
Guarded by nectar’s buzzing legions
You bless our bonds
And encourage our blossoms
To pop open
Like your tiny cups of pure love
Into the light
Bring the outside in!
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