Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Insula Avalonia - Gog and Magog

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday season, and that 2014 is full of promise.

I thought I would start the year off with the next part of In Insula Avalonia. These posts are a real joy to write because I get to revisit this wonder-full place. Last time we visited The Chalice Well with its blood-red waters, lush gardens, and layers of belief.

Today we’re going to visit two very special giants.

They are tall, and broad, and green, and together they have stood the test of time. Their names are Gog and Magog.

Gog and Magog in the
Lord Mayor's Show, London
The names of Gog and Magog will be well-known to Old Testament historians as evil powers to be overcome in the Book of Ezekiel (38-39), and in the New Testament Book of Revelation (20).

Gog and Magog also figure largely in the British foundation myths, mainly in the Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

According to Geoffrey, when Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan Aeneas, came to Britain in around 1130 B.C. his man, Corineus, fought a West Country giant named Gogmagog.

"The contest began. Corineus moved in, so did the giant; each of them caught the other in a hold by twining his arms round him, and the air vibrated with their panting breath. Gogmagog gripped Corienus with all his might and broke three of his ribs, two on the right side and one on the left. Corineus then summoned all his strength, for he was infuriated by what had happened. He heaved Gogmagog up on to his shoulders, and running as fast as he could under the weight, he hurried off to the nearby coast. He clambered up to the top of a mighty cliff, shook himself free and hurled this deadly monster, whom he was carrying on his shoulders, far out into the sea. The giant fell on to a sharp reef of rocks where he was dashed into a thousand fragments and stained the waters with his blood. The place took its name from the fact that the giant was hurled down there and it is called Gogmagog's Leap to this day."
(Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae)

There are many other tales and places around England and Ireland associated with the giants, Gog and Magog.

In Glastonbury it is different.

The giants of which I speak are two ancient oak trees, tucked away In Insula Avalonia.


They are not war, or pain, or suffering. Gog and Magog represent the last of the great oaks of Avalon. They demand nothing of the wanderer, and yet they are revered.

The association with the giants only goes so far as the names of the trees, and their size.

The short walk to the oaks from the middle of Glastonbury town is one of the most beautiful walks in the area.

Cross Chilkwell Street, near the Abbey Barn, and head up Wellhouse Lane between the slopes of the Tor and Chalice Hill. Follow the foot path into the field where you will come to the ancient trail of Paradise Lane. At the bottom of Paradise Lane, you will find Gog and Magog waiting for you.

The Tor from Paradise Lane
These trees are ancient, no doubt. When they come into view, you are drawn to them like to an ancient aged grandparent. You’ll find the odd ribbon tied to a branch, or a sheaf of wheat laid in offering among the sturdy limbs.

These two trees are friends to many in Glastonbury and beyond.

Gog and Magog are all that remain of an avenue of oaks that led to the Tor, and which was used as a processional way by the Druids in ages past.

Sadly, the avenue was cut down for farmland in 1906, and these two giants are all that remain.

Oak trees like Gog and Magog were sacred to worshippers of the Great Mother, and later the Druids. 

Before Rome and mass farming came to Britain, the whole of the south of Britain was covered in forests from Hampshire to Devon.

Oak groves were sacred, the sites of the Goddess’ perpetually burning fires and the rites of the Druids who used oak leaves in their rituals.

The sanctity of the oak is not relegated to Celtic Europe either, but also goes back to ancient Greece. At the sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, priests would glean the will of Zeus from the rustling of the leaves in the sacred oak groves.

A meeting of Druids
At Glastonbury, Gog and Magog would likely have seen many a ritual or procession.

If they could only speak in a way we could understand, I’m sure they would have some fantastic tales to tell.

Taking the walk from town, past the Tor, and down Paradise Lane to see Gog and Magog was always one of my favourite walks. Because there are no roads nearby the sound of cars is absent, and all you can hear is the chirruping of birds and the whisper of the wind as it blows across the Somerset levels.

Someday, I look forward to making that walk again. I imagine the sound of my feet whisking through the dry field grass, or squelching through the mud, until I catch that first glimpse of the two giants.

“It’s good to see you again, after so long…” I might say.

Welcome back, they might reply, if I listen carefully. But you haven’t been gone long at all… will be their answer.


And they would be right. Gog and Magog are over a thousand years old, and I am just another admirer passing beneath their welcoming boughs like so many others before me.

Thank you for reading. 

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