festivals 2016

Nude Saunas and Stone Dragons: Searching For Spirituality at Glastonbury

Fuck watching bands and taking drugs. My mission here was to seek out a new way of getting high.

by Ryan Bassil
29 June 2016, 12:52pm

Glastonbury may be known more for its fluctuating levels of serotonin and depravity, but since its advent it’s also been deeply rooted in spirituality. As ancient history and transcendental experts tell it, the festival site is positioned over two highly-powerful energy leylines. Although not visible to ordinary sight, the earth apparently has a number of these super-highways of power, which can be seen clairvoyantly or sensed through the feeling of the body. They’re kind of like spirits, but they run through the core of our planet, linking the old Celtic sanctuaries of Germany to the Viking castles of the Netherlands.

When two of these leylines meet – like at Glastonbury or Stonehenge or Avebury or wherever else you may have been dragged to on a school trip in primary school – the combined energy is supposedly so spiritually powerful that these areas are transformed into sacred sites. That’s why Glastonbury’s Stone Circle (which is a mini Stonehenge) is full of druids, who expand the vibrational field of Worthy Farm with the frequency of their repetitive yet relaxing drum tones. Or why your nan gets a weird shiver running down her neck when passing through a World Heritage Site.

Ever since purchasing a pack of incense sticks from Camden Market, I’ve been drawn to these spiritual experiences. When your life feels empty (like mine) and you’ve exhausted your body’s receptiveness to dopamine (like I have), the spirit world offers another route towards enlightenment. So on Saturday morning I decided to go and search for an alternative way to get high at Glastonbury, and elevate my sensorial experience. Would it work? How much spiritual shit is there at this festival, really? Would it just be a load of old men waving tarot cards in front of my face while I desperately racked my brains for an excuse to leave their veneer of deep and profound conversation? Whatever the case, I stumbled into my wellies and crawled out across the camping grounds in pursuit of my higher self.

I hadn’t slept much for the past few days, so I decided the best way to start my quest would be in a hammock on top of the hill by the Park Stage. Wrapped up in this curtain of tranquility, my brain aligned to begin seeking answers: what do I want from life? How is it possible to be so sad yet happy at the same time? What vibrational field do we exist within? How will I walk down this mud-ridden hill when it’s time to leave? Do overpriced burritos negatively affect my throat chakra? Am I an empath or just a vast receptacle of sensitive emotion?

Looking down over the fields of Glastonbury is as good a place as any to start pondering these thoughts, because the festival site itself is an expanding stretch of land filled with the beating heart of humanity. Like, why do I care so much about the anxieties that have seeped into the nuances of life back home? All that matters in this moment is finding comfort in my own state of being. Money, engagement over social media, and council tax bills are by-products of a material life. It may be soaked in mud and rain, but it was already starting to feel like the Glastonbury site is the utopia we deserve.

Honesty: look at this shit. It is a literal puree of churned soil, water and possibly excrement, but it’s also natural and people are happy walking in it. Why? Because returning to nature is the first step to aligning with your celestial spirit, even if it means veering toward some form of trench-foot. Simply looking at things isn’t enough to elevate one toward enlightenment though, so I decided to crawl away from the more well-travelled areas of the festival site and over to the Tipi Field.

The Tipi Field is one of the less documented areas of the site, probably because nothing of material value happens here. There are no bands, no DJs, no garish looking hat stalls, no food stands that claim to sell luscious Argentinian chorizo but only serve up disappointingly limp sausages in barren and broken ciabatta bread. It is simply a place of being. Or, as the sign says, an out-post for “hope”, “gratitude”, “unity”, and the “divine” – which are the four pillars that lead one to significantly embrace the fruitful benefits that come from this phase of existence.

The Tipi Field offered a more simple way of life. Rather than tripping over polyester pop-up tents, the camping site here was rooted more in the natural earth. A channel of water-systems had been built between each tipi, which funneled dirty rainwater away from the temporary homes and into tiny pools of aquatic joy. Yet while it’s important to disinfect oneself from the trappings of modern complexity, being around a tipi is only part of the story – no less because some of them are owned by people who spend more money on these things than I do in the entire season of spring. So I decided that I needed some deep, spiritual cleansing. Which is when I came across Chung Fu.

According to this website, Chung Fu is an ascended being who has been bringing his teachings through to humanity for at least the last 50 years. He chose his name from the I Ching, Hexagram 61, meaning Inner Truth or Good Faith. But according to my time spent outside his tent, Chung Fu’s wisdom is only available during very specific hours of the day. I guess even spirituality needs to nap from time to time. So I peered at the water-colour painting of Chung Fu’s face for a while and deeply examined the beauty of there being so many different colours in this universe. Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue. I can sing a rainbow. Delta Goodrem can sing one too. Then some form of unique purging caught my eye…

“Sizzling from 8am into the night… Relax & unwind in our wood fired yurt. Invigorate yourself in the plunge pool and cold shower cleanse your body. Purify your mind.”

This was the exact torrent of expurgation I’d been looking for. The Lost Horizon Sauna would be fork in the road at which I would be lead away from narcotically influenced descent and toward deep inner truth. Or at least some semblance of a bare human connection. Why? Because half of the people in there are naked.

This déshabillé nirvana was not to be intruded upon by our photographer’s camera lense, but here’s a photo we managed to sneak (with people’s faces blurred out) so you can get a sense of what loads of nude people walking around in mud looks like. I guess you could say the experience was spiritual, but it was also more rooted in deep concerns about what my body looked like. Which, ultimately, meant that I hadn’t yet ascended to reach my true self, where fear would no longer exist. So it was time to expand my horizons and head further into the site. Next stop: the stone circle.

At this point it was around three in the afternoon and these bunch of lads were dipping their fingers into little baggies. Not sure why though, because they also weren’t talking or moving except for the steady rhythm of the lick and the dip. Despite sitting on the stone circle, this was the dearth of spirituality. It was an energy vacuum, where the only thing left seemed to be a desire to eradicate the mind of any sort of feeling. And to not feel, is to not be spiritual, right guys?

Hanging out with this stone-faced beast for a minute was probably the most soothing experience of Glastonbury so far. Peace, quiet, and tranquility abounded in this solitary, watery arena. You can’t see from the photo, but the mythical being was inscribed with some form of rose quartz crystal, which carried the soft feminine energy of compassion and peace into my heart. I guess it also helped that only about 1% of the festival’s 175,000 people know where this spot is. It was the first time I’d been alone in days. No shouts of “WILL GRIGGS'S ON FIRE” would disturb my peace here.

Then… it was off to “The Peace Garden”, which aesthetically introduced itself as Legoland but for punters looking for a secluded spot to smoke some weed. Inside, there was a collection of energetic hallmarks. Like…

This weird ass-statue.

The bountiful and sweet aroma of the natural world’s flora and fauna.

And a woman named Gill, who had built a secluded area celebrating Celtic fire goddesses. Gill didn’t want us to take any photos inside, because technology is not allowed in that specific area of reflection. Mostly though, The Peace Garden was full of the haze and scent of hash and bone-dry weed. Despite pontificating on the meaning behind life, even Gill herself was toking on a rather large looking rolled-up number. This area seemed to be more about chasing the magic dragon than chasing life which, ultimately – and not to be a prude – isn’t the sort of spirituality I’d been searching for. I wanted something pure, something natural, something that didn’t involve drugs or conversing with red-eyed humans for the next hour.

I guess it’s important to note here that Glastonbury has two variations of spirituality. The first – which is what you see above – is the consumerist side. It’s the partition of the spirit world that exists solely in motivational quotes and resides somewhere in the magnet section of the gift shop that sits at the corner of every garden centre. As part of that, there’s an area of the site called The Healing Fields, which offers massages, neck-rubs and holistic treatments. But all of these experiences either come at a small price or are booked up, which meant we didn’t indulge in them on the basis that a spiritual experience shouldn’t involve money, only the transcendence of the mind. Why would I pay someone to painfully contort the muscles in my back when I could peacefully sit on my knees and stare into space for hours instead?

Because I’m a massive fan of sitting down, the latter option would be my last excursion on this voyage of discovery. And where better to spend my time sitting down than at “The Peace Dome”? Located at the far end of the Stone Circle, this motionless refuge had all the makings of a sacred place. For a start, it wasn’t just located in Glastonbury, but it was also within the most spiritual area of the site. Plus, it featured a flame that had been lit from the ashes of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb and had been burning as a signal of peace ever since.

Again, cameras were not allowed in this area, because there is some sort of unexplainable rift between peace and technology. But if you picture something that looks exactly like the image on the far right, that’s what the Peace Dome is. It combines sacred geometry, sound, and silence to create a universal sacred space for people to sit with the flame, to meditate and pray, and to light their own peace flame. Have a go on this gong bath, close your eyes, concentrate on your breathing and you’ll get an idea of what ‘The Peace Dome” is like. Coincidentally, I spent the next hour and a half in here asleep on a blanket, dreaming about being lead through a Japanese rose garden.

I guess it’s to be expected, but there’s a lot of spiritual matter at the Glastonbury Festival. Lurking in the corners of the Green Fields or on the periphery of Strummerville, you will stumble into an experience that will expand your mind. True and pure spiritual ascendance can be reached at Glastonbury but ultimately, it requires time and dedication. In the same way that embarking on a new-found life of meditating each morning then giving up because, well, fuck meditating everyday, searching for spirituality at Glastonbury only works in its most beneficial form when it’s the only thing you strive for at the festival. To do so needs structure, a willingness to stay clear-headed and avoid the areas of the site that play techno, or the late-nights that turn into sun-rising mornings. Sitting down and smoking a joint in a grass-pod above a pond for an hour isn’t a spiritual experience. It’s just a unique way to participate in getting stoned.

That said, this place retains a high level of spirituality that is hard to access in other areas of the country or music festivals. Part of that comes from its location on those energy leylines. The other part comes from the people at the festival itself. Glastonbury’s true spirituality comes from all who attend. It is there in the welcoming arms of strangers, in the turgid and rotten beat of Shangri La, pumping through to the atmosphere of the main-stage and meandering in-and-out of the campsites. Glastonbury is a spiritual experience in and of itself, because it is the moment where we can return to being. Without prejudice, or expectation, or divide, we become ourselves. It is a site of pure human experience. The spirit of it is why it is adored and will continue to be adored so long as time allows.

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