Just when the residents of Glastonbury thought a festival-free year would spare them the headlines, the town has been attracting almost as much attention as if it were the last weekend of June, 2007 - and not for all the right reasons. While Glastonbury Festival is well known for its melting pot of peoples and cultures with thousands leaving the site each year recounting their own mystical experiences and wild tales, the town has itself been writing stranger-than-fiction stories, ones which would normally beggar belief.
Where else could tales of Christian pagan cleansing, African town twinning and Courtney Love warring with her father over a potentially explosive revelation linking the town to the Holy Grail cross over? Only In Glastonbury...
In the week that Michael Eavis travelled to Mozambique with Water Aid to learn more about where money raised by the festival really goes, the Somerset town has been the focus of another African country. Delegates from Mali are due to arrive in Glastonbury in the coming weeks, after it emerged the town has become a leading contender in a competition to provide the city of Timbuktu with a British twin. Officials from the West African city are apparently concerned that only one in three young Britons are aware of its existence, while many believe it to be either “a mythical place” or located in South America.
Glastonbury faces strong competition from York and Hay-On-Wye, the other two towns shortlisted for the inter-continental friendship pact, with a winner expected to be announced before Christmas. However, it is believed the festival town may have the edge over its rivals as it has already fulfilled some of the criteria set by the Mali government. As well as once being “an important trade hub” and a “centre of learning”, Glastonbury boasts a “love of the written word”, “unique architecture” and a “cosmopolitan mindset”.
The two towns also share strong connections with the New Age Movement; Glastonbury’s symbolised by its world-famous festival and Timbuktu’s by an ethnic music festival organised by Robert Plant. It is therefore expected that Glastonbury will emphasise its status as a spiritual destination, referring to its range of healers and New Age shops.
Head of Timbuktu’s mission, Ali Ould Sidi, said: “The three finalists most accurately match the spirit of Timbuktu, and I am very pleased to have found such similarities in Britain. The decision of who wins will be very difficult indeed."
With that in mind Glastonbury town officials may want to keep quiet about disturbing recent events which saw a scandalous spiritual battle unfold between Christianity and paganism. On 4 November, by the light of the full moon, witches cast a ‘circle of protection’ around Glastonbury after a group of militant Christians attempted to “cleanse” the area of paganism by casting “blessed salt” around the town.
It all began when an “alternative Hallowe’en” festival, organised by the Catholic charity Youth 2000 in Glastonbury, spiralled out of control and into the town's shops and streets. The Christian group, which aims to forge links between Catholics through events, asks questions in its promotional material such as: “Has the light on your halo gone dark? Have your wings gone a bit grubby? Just want to switch your faith back on?”
But it seems a small group of the holidaying youths took this message too far, telling locals how they wanted to cleanse the town of paganism, as well as casting salt around to exorcise “evil” spirits. Police were called and arrests were made after one youth called one local woman a “whore witch”, while another local was told “you will burn in hell”.
Yemaya Pinder, a witch who owns the Magick Box store, said: “It was as if we had returned to the dark ages. They told me they wanted to cleanse Glastonbury of paganism. They said they had lighters and were going to come back and burn us down. When the police asked them to apologise they refused.”
Since then, officials from the Catholic church and Youth 2000 have been attempting to rebuild bridges with the witches and druids of Glastonbury, and both sides have condemned the militant minority.
Father Kevin Knox-Lecky, the Catholic parish priest at Glastonbury, held a meeting with witches, including Mrs Pinder, which ended in a “mutual embrace”. He said: “We have agreed to keep in touch with each other and to support each other in the event of negative attention from any extremists from whichever faith. I have frequently found evidence of rites performed on my church steps.”
The leader of Youth 2000, Charlie Connor, also suggested the religious extremism was not one sided. He said: “We would like to place on the record that many young people at the retreat were harassed, sworn at and even cursed by people. One incident included the taking of photographs of young people, including children, and numbers plates by people present in the town. They were forced to move on. Regrettably, Youth 2000 will not be running a festival in Glastonbury next year.”
One Roman Catholic was fined and two cautioned as a result of the verbal abuse and salt throwing, which is seen by many Christians as a way of warding off the devil. Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting 'The Last Supper' shows Judas Iscariot spilling a bowl of salt, seen as an omen of evil and bad luck.
On the subject of Da Vinci, an American writer claims he is set to become the next Dan Brown with the release of a historical non-fiction novel featuring Glastonbury, which he boasts is “more exciting than The Da Vinci Code”.
The author Hank Harrison, the estranged father of rocker Courtney Love, is set to cause a storm if and when his book ‘Glastonbury And The Grail’ is ever published. His findings are thought to link secret societies propelled by their quest to find the Holy Grail with the mysticism centred around Glastonbury.
He has accused his daughter, Love, of trying to discredit him as a writer because he is also planning to release a book about her and the death of her husband Kurt Cobain.
Harrison said: “Her overall motive is to ruin my career as she knows my work on 'Glastonbury And The Grail' is definitive. If I were to find a publisher for my work on ‘Glastonbury And The Grail’, which is far more exciting than the Da Vinci Code, I would gain credibility in regards my work on Cobain. Thus anything she says is a tissue of lies."
Perhaps the final word we should have on this very bizarre week in non-Glastonbury Festival Glastonbury news should go to Michael Eavis, who seems to have put to rest any rumours about Genesis playing next year by having a mild pop at Phil Collins.
Documenting his experience in Mozambique via a blog, the festival boss said: “I've been shopping too - I bought a CD by the South African reggae artist Lucky Dube. And when we were back at the hotel, they had Phil Collins on, so I changed the CD! I ended up dancing with this lady to Lucky Dube, it was great! Do you think I'm being too hard on Phil Collins? Probably not!”
Eavis also revealed the first band confirmed to play Glastonbury 2007. He said: “Tomorrow we are going to see the best band in Mozambique, Massukos, who are playing specially for us. We're going to invite them over to play at the festival next year.”
So there we have it. We can only imagine that after African inspectorates, warring religious fanaticism and a book linking Glastonbury to the Holy Grail, residents will welcome next year’s festival with open arms. Yeah right!