Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


BETTY WALKER, wife of motorsports great Rob Walker, rest both their souls, taught wife Dottie and me about ancient Glastonbury, a revered site in southwestern England that’s been inhabited since Neolithic times, c. 3000 B.C.

Christian lore has it that Joseph of Arimathea—and possibly Christ too—visited Glastonbury in the First Century. The natural spring Chalice Well at the foot of Glastonbury Tor (hill) is associated with this historic visit and the legend of the Holy Grail.


Looking east to the choir at the remains of Glastonbury Abbey, about 140 miles west of London.

Glastonbury is also part of the Sixth-Century Arthurian legend. (Some say Arthur and Guinevere are buried there.) The monastery of Glastonbury Abbey dates from 712 A.D.

Rather a lot of years later, Dottie and I were delighted to attend a southern California presentation on Glastonbury lore. The lecturer was an English archaeologist whose name escapes me, but Dottie and I both remember being impressed by his erudition.

Then, with barely a pause in his academic patter, he observed “And, of course, Glastonbury is situated along one of the most important ley lines of England, the St. Michael Alignment.”

The rest of his presentation involved ley lines, dragon lines—and English magic.

I hasten to add that the immensely popular Harry Potter phenomenon has been entertaining, but not of overwhelming personal attraction. On the other hand, I offer two other books of authentic English magic, both of which are listed at the usual recommended sources, and


The Book of English Magic, by Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, The Overlook Press, 2009.

Carr-Gomm and Heygate’s tome (of 562 pages) begins by claiming “…of all the countries of the world, England has the richest history of magical lore and practice.” Its topics include Ancient Roots and Magic Wands; the Ancient Druids; Anglo-Saxon Sorcery; Merlin, King Arthur and Search for the Holy Grail; Alchemists; Cunning Folk; Freemasonry and the Power of Numbers; and the Renaissance of English Magic in the Twenty-First Century.


The St. Michael Line is said to follow the path of the sun on May 8, the Feast of St. Michael. Glastonbury, Avebury and other ancient monuments and megaliths align with it. Image from English Magic.

Each chapter collects lore of the era as well as modern insights. Do you want to learn to dowse? There’s a description on choosing the correct branch of the right tree (a hazel branch is best).

Did you know that Sir Isaac Newton was renowned for his alchemy?

Each chapter concludes with Things to Do, a list of activities, many of which can be followed on the Internet. (Check out the White Horse of Uffington on Google Maps.) Each chapter also offers added Resources including recent books on the topics.


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, illustrations by Portia Rosenberg, Bloomsbury, 2004.

Susanna Clarke is cited in English Magic as an authority on Nineteenth Century magical lore, and her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell corroborates this.

It’s 1806, “hundreds of years since practical magic faded into the nation’s past.” But one magician remains, Mr Norrell. He demonstrates his powers by causing the statues of York Cathedral to speak and sing—and by summoning ghostly ships to terrify the French.


A bibliophile’s delight, all 782 pages of it. Image from Strange & Norrell.

Jonathan Strange is a brilliant novice who studies with Mr Norrell. Strange lends his supernatural powers to Wellington on the Portuguese campaign.

Inevitably, the two magicians come into conflict.

Throughout, the novel is enriched by scads of footnotes, many of which cite allegedly historical treatises on English magic. In fact, this is part of the fun: Maybe all the references are authentic—just like those of our archaeologist lecturer. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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This entry was posted on September 2, 2013 by in And Furthermore... and tagged , , .
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