Mythical Monday: Avalon

What is Avalon?

Le Morte d’Arthur by James Archer (1860)

The mystical, mythical island of Avalon is central to the story of King Arthurian mythology. It’s name literally translates to “Isle of Apple Trees”.

The legendary island first appears in the pseudo-historical The History of the Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136.
King Arthur was taken to Avalon after he was seriously injured after the Battle of Camlann, the island being known for it’s healing qualities. According to Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, a barge appears carrying ladies wearing black hoods, and among them was his half-sister, Morgan le Fay.
The fate of Arthur, whether he lives or dies, is generally left untold.

Where is Avalon?

Glastonbury_Tor-_View_of_an_iconic_landmark_(geograph_5500644)
Glastonbury Tor–Photo by Eugene Birchall

Glastonbury has always been identified as the Isle of Avalon. How can that be when Glastonbury is not an island? It was an island at one point. It was completely surrounded by marshland.

glastonbury-857590_1920
The top of Glastonbury Tor, with St. Michaels Tower

Glastonbury was at one time called Ynys Witrin, Welsh for Isle of Glass. The name suggests that the location was at one point seen as an island.

By the 12th century, the surrounding  fenland in the Somerset Levels was drained and it was no longer an island. Ponter’s Ball Dyke would have been the only entrance to the island at one point until the Romans built another road to the island.
In Celtic times, it was believed that Glastonbury Tor, a massive hill, held a secret entrance to the underworld. It was a sacred location and pilgrims followed the pagan priests and priestesses in a procession up the Tor.

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonburyabbey
Ruins of Glastonbury Abby–

Around 1190, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey claimed to have discovered the bones of Arthur and Guinevere. The new abbot, Henry de Sully, commissioned a search of the abbey grounds. At a depth of 16 feet, the monks were said to have discovered a massive tree trunk coffin and a leaden cross bearing the inscription.

 

Hic jacet sepultus inclitus rex Arturius in insula Avalonia.
(“Here lies entombed the renowned king Arthur in the island of Avalon.”)

 

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Site of the ancient graveyard where in 1191 the monks dug to find the tombs of Arthur and Guinevere–Photo by Neil Howard

Inside the coffin were two bodies, referred to as Arthur and “his queen”. The bones of the male body were described as being gigantic.

The remains were reburied in 1278 with great ceremony attended by King Edward I and his queen.

Historians generally dismiss the authenticity of the story, describing it as a publicity stunt to raise funds to repair the abbey, which was mostly burned in 1184.

Other locations for Avalon

A large number of locations have been put forward as being the ‘real’ Avalon. Avallon in Burgundy, France is part of a theory that connects King Arthur to the Romano-British leader Riothamus.

And then there are others who believe that Avalon is located in Sicily, Italy.

Why Sicily?

For centuries, there have been an amazing number of breathtaking mirages that appear

fenomeno-fata-morgana
Fata Morgana over the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy

over the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy. The optical phenomena known as Fata Morgana are mirages that are incredibly detailed and show entire cities on the horizon over the water.

The Fata Morgana phenomenon was named for Morgan le Fey. In the Sicilian version of the legend, Arthur is not actually dead but resting. He and Morgan le Fey are said to be deep inside Mount Etna, on the east coast of Sicily. His life is maintained by a single sip of the Holy Grail every year until he is needed again.

The legend tells that  Morgana came out of the water with a chariot pulled by seven horses. She threw three stones into the water with a spell that transformed the surface of the sea into a crystal, making it magically reflect the image of a city in constant motion.

Other suggestions for the location of Avalon include:

  • Arran, an island off the coast of Scotland
  • Ile d’Aval near Lannion
  • Isle of Sein--where nine priestesses lived off the coast of Brittany

I hope you enjoyed reading about Avalon! I first learned about the mystical place when reading the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I fell in love with the place, sight unseen and in 2016 I was lucky enough to travel to Glastonbury with my family.

Family Glastonbury

What about you? Where do you think the REAL Avalon is?

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

 

Jo-Ann

 

 

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13 Replies to “Mythical Monday: Avalon”

  1. I really liked this! I have long been fascinated by the legend of Kind Arthur, but never heard the Sicily theory. My favourite quote about King Arthur is by Winston Churchill: “If Kind Arthur did not live, he should have.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you liked it Colleen! I was surprised to discover the Sicily theory too…never expected find that in my research!

      I love that quote by Churchill. I haven’t heard that before. Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Like

  2. This is great stuff! I am now interested in reading Bradley’s novels… I think I have them saved on my audio library but can’t seem to find the first one… What an awesome trip that would! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was an amazing trip, Monica! The kids loved London but their favourite part of the trip was actually Glastonbury! It really surprised me because we saw so many amazing sites.

      I hope you enjoy Bradley’s novels as much as i did 😀

      Like

  3. I love this post so much! ❤ Now you need to start writing us stories about all the myths… 🙂 And speaking of, the next class that I'm teaching is English folklore and myths! I thought you might enjoy that 🙂 I'm super excited!! It's just a summer class, but it will be amazing! I hope you are well!

    It was a no go on having the tonsils out 😦 Insurance won't approve the surgery unless it's 6x in 1 yr, and it's not been (5x, ugh). But if she gets it again, then we're on for surgery. He tested both her and me with a throat culture instead of the rapid strep test to see if she was a strep carrier, and neither of us are; if she'd tested positive, that would have been a reason for surgery. He had me send hubby and both boys to the dr for throat cultures to make sure THEY weren't carriers, and they weren't, so the Dr said she's either very unlucky or there is a strep carrier in her class, which if there is we'll never know! I almost hope she gets strep again just to get them out, but my summer is so packed until mid June that I hope not. And her birthday is June 17, so I don't want to ruin it with her having a 2-week recovery. But we'll work it out! Anyway, so sorry…again…to just be getting back to you! And the classes that I'm taking this summer are psychology classes!! Cognitive psych and Neuroscience! I've been so interested in that lately and am bored to death of taking Lit classes (teaching them is entirely different). Technically, I only need 24 more credits, and I would have a BA in Psych because of all the psych classes I've taken. Ha, I will be the woman with multiple degrees and nothing to do with them, LOL. I think all the stuff with my neurologist and having to learn about how lupus can affect your brain inspired me. And having my own mental issues. Maybe I'll learn something useful. I hope you are enjoying spring…unless it's still cold up there! We had snow on Sat, which was insane for NC. We need to catch up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you like the post and so great to hear from you! ❤ 🙂 I know you are busy, don't ever apologize for not getting back, I totally get it. And I am the worst person for being absent minded so I often forget. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it! lol

      Re myths and stories…that is my goal! I am working on one now based on the story of Art and Delvcaem. It's Irish, not sure how far the story goes back, just that it was published by ?James Stephens in the early 1900's. I'm loving writing this one. All these mythical posts are all incorporated into the story, too.

      I would LOVE to be in your english folklore class! Sounds amazing, right up my alley!

      6 episodes of strept before they take tonsils out? Oh gawd, that's a lot! 5 is bad enough. And the little buggers are probably right in her tonsils, and that's why it keeps recurring. Sounds like your dr is being very thorough, though. Hopefully everything will work out whether she gets reinfected and gets them out or she doesn't end up needing surgery after all. Ideally she will avoid the surgery and never have another infection again. *fingers crossed*

      Your classes sound so interesting! Challenging, but definitely fascinating stuff. They will be a nice change for you. AND, something you can relate to and learn more about your condition, so that's awesome. Nothing wrong with being educated, Stephanie! You are a super smart lady and you love to learn!

      That is crazy that you had snow in NC…in April! Wow! I hope spring comes soon! Today is a bit of a teaser because the sun is shining though its still quite brisk out there.

      I have a funny story to tell you about our weather. My husband works in Emergency Preparedness for the health authority. When theres a storm forecast, he and the VPs, managers meet to discuss cancellations, etc. Anyway, this year we've had quite a few storm forecasts, but very few amounted to anything. It has been a relatively mild winter! Ethan was disappointed because school was only cancelled 2 days because of weather (as opposed to 16 days last year!)

      Anyway, Bruce had a few days off in Feb, and started growing a beard. At one of the storm meetings, they were commenting on how the storms just peter out into nothing lately. Bruce said it's the beard! He's like a hockey player in the playoffs. They don't shave because its bad luck. He doesn't shave and the storms stay away.

      Anyway, he finally shaved this weekend….Finally. Guess what? We got a storm Sunday through to Monday. School was cancelled LOL We had a ton of snow! My arms are still sore from shovelling lol

      Yeah, so that's that! Chat with you soon! Hugs! ❤ 🙂

      Like

  4. I feel the real Avalon lies in the heart, as does the holy grail. Avalon is our inspiration of greater possibilities. The grail, life (here and now) within death (materialism and ego). Symbolism x For those who have eyes to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautifully said ❤ Avalon has inspired me since the day I first heard of it, even inspiring a trip to Glastonbury with my family, and now writing a novel. It has inspired a passion in me to learn more.

      Like

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