Tag: Phil Cousineau

The Importance of Pilgrimage in Today’s Fast-Paced World

Our Tour Leader Phil Cousineau recently sent us a copy of an interview he did with another of our Tour Leaders, Virginia Schenck, back in 2006. The interview is compelling reading, delving into the importance of pilgrimage in today’s fast-paced world and how critical it can be in the lives of the younger generation in particular. We’ve edited the original interview a little to make it easy to read in this blog format. Our thanks to both Phil and Virginia for sharing this insightful piece with us.

Virginia: What is it about a pilgrimage that calls out to us?

Phil: Traditionally, the call to pilgrimage came during either a spiritual crisis or an opportunity to fulfill a spiritual obligation. The long walk down what used to be called “the glory road” was meant to give a pilgrim ample time to contemplate deep issues that couldn’t be answered at home. Today, the call may even be more intense because life has become so frenetic that most of us claim not to have enough to think about spiritual issues on the traditional level, but also other deep concerns, such as failing marriages, job crises, or the general malaise. The cry for pilgrimage is an antidote to our over-amped lives.

Phil Cousineau pilgrimage
Phil Cousineau leading pilgrims on a recent journey in England

Virginia: [In your book] The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, you talk about pilgrimage as being a “powerful metaphor for any journey” and a “universal quest for the self”. Would you expand on this?

Phil: When I wrote that pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey I meant that virtually any journey, whether a family vacation or a business trip, has the potential to be deeper, more meaningful, more purposeful. When interviewed by CNN about the book they asked if the book could be used by people who travel for business and I immediately responded, Yes, if they turned it into a micro-pilgrimage. By this I mean, time is short. For people who take their lives seriously, as a gift, as numinous, there’s no such thing as a “throw-away” trip, no such as thing as small talk. Every person you encounter is an angel in disguise, as the Greeks used to say; every journey has the potential to reveal the divine in life. If, that is, you pay attention, have the intention.

Of course, sometimes we want to just relax. But the potential is always there.

And yes, pilgrimage as “universal quest for the self” is a reference to the mythic dimension of the sacred journey. For me, all art, drama, and myth reveal the various means human beings use on the search for the self. In that sense, pilgrimage provides a road map, the physical counterpart to the psychological search.

phil cousineau sacred travel
Phil enjoying a local meal with fellow pilgrims on a recent journey to Greece

Virginia: Also in The Art of Pilgrimage you outline several ways to make the pilgrim’s way sacred, to practice “the art of seeing” such as choosing a theme, journaling, and drawing.  Do you have more to suggest for the young pilgrim?

Phil: Just because young people aren’t accustomed to writing or drawing doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Almost without exception, young people who are at least nudged will learn far more about themselves and the world if they learn to exercise these unused muscles. Otherwise, travel, even pilgrimage, for young people becomes little more than one more video game. Remember, the danger is passivity, for adults as well as youth. That’s the tourist-trap, not just rip-off joints. The trap is passivity, which is a nice way of saying voyeurism. So anything that turns us into active travelers helps move us toward pilgrimage.

However, the other track is ritual and ceremony. Ritualizing the entrance to a site. Walking in silence up the sacred way to Delphi; entering Notre Dame or a little shrine on the road to Santiago, puts us in what I like to think of as “the pilgrim mood,” which is one of respect, even reverence. Lighting a candle, singing songs, reading local poets, Neruda in Spain, Yeats in Ireland, etc. Reading sacred texts and discussing their merits, either alone or in a group also helps.

sacred travel to greece
Phil and our group discussing Greek art, literature and spirituality at Eleusis

Virginia: In your book, Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives, you devote an entire chapter to the importance of mentorship. You define a mentor as one who cares for the soul and seeks to draw out the best in his/her student. Is there more you could say about mentorship and the pilgrimage experience?

Phil: I ardently believe that pilgrimage is one of the greatest recommendations that a mentor can make. Traditionally, the shaman or elder recognized the transition moment from childhood to adulthood and announced to the child and the group that it was now time for the vision quest, the walkabout, the pilgrimage, the outer manifestation of the inner transformation. Today, for an adult spiritual counselor to take a youth on a pilgrimage is the very expression of saying, I want to help you more than tell you how to get a good job or get famous; I’m here to help you find yourself, “make up your own mind,” as the very meaning reveals. A youth recognizes the import of this: Wow, he or she is taking time out of their own lives to lead me on this journey!

Virginia: Once we’ve been on a pilgrimage, how do we carry that experience and newfound wisdom with us in our hearts, lives, and communities?

Phil: By keeping it alive. To do that you bring home real souvenirs, not fakes, by that I mean crafts, art, music, and especially something we’ve created out of it all. If our memories are in a shoebox under the bed or on a disc we’ll forget as surely as that dream that was never written down. Only by turning the journey into something new: a scrapbook, a journal, a story, poem, song or now what are called “soul boxes” then the trip will become – guaranteed – just one more hazy memory. If we don’t honour it, it, the memory, will fade, almost as if angry with us for not respecting it more. For millennia it was believed a returning voyager, adventurer, pilgrim, had an obligation to keep the story alive. That’s worth reviving.

lou ann granger
Our participant Lou Ann Granger showing her travel journal during a journey to Ireland with Phil Cousineau. Lou Ann subsequently published her journals as a book, With Love for the Journey

Virginia: In your 1987 film A Hero’s Journey, a biography of noted mythology expert, Joseph Campbell, Campbell states that there isn’t a myth that fits our global world and people often regress to old groups, familiar ways. [Thirty] years later, have we found a myth that fits? Have we created one? If not, how do you see us faring in the world today?

Phil: Oh, but Joe also said, in my companion book to the film, and elsewhere, that there was and is indeed an emerging myth: The Myth of the Planet. Joe saw this in the early ’80s and is being proved prophetic. And to my lights this phenomenon of pilgrimage is one of the most profound manifestations of this vision. To take an authentic pilgrimage is a gesture to our personal and collective souls that the future will be determined by whether or not we, as human beings, stop demonizing the Other. As idealistic as this is, I think it’s virtually impossible to do so without either deep travel or prodigious reading. Otherwise, it’s a fatuous and amorphous idea. We have to have a meal in another culture, dance to their dances, worship in their places of worship, have a conversation that reveals our common humanity. Pilgrimage exhorts us to do this. And it’s the greatest gift we can give our youth. It was in this sense that the greatest American writer of all, Mark Twain, said, “Travel is the death of prejudice.”

virginia schenck sacred travel
Vocal artist, and our interviewer here, Virginia Schenck (in black hat), leading a group on a Singing pilgrimage to Ireland

If you’re inspired to take a journey of pilgrimage after reading this interview you can travel with Phil or Virginia in 2018 with Sacred Earth Journeys.

Phil is leading a wonderful spring-time journey to Paris to discover the literary, spiritual, cultural and epicurean heart of the City of Lights: Passion for Paris with Phil Cousineau. 

In the fall of 2018 Phil is also leading 2 fabulous pilgrimages to Greece: The Heart of Ancient Greece: An Odyssey with Phil Cousineau will transport you three thousand years back in time to the roots of classical Greece and forward to the modern Mediterranean of magnificent land and seascapes. The Hydra Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau is an all-new mythopoetic approach to crafting your story on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra.

If you’re looking for something a little more musical, Virginia Schenck is leading a Sacred Singing Journey to Ireland with special guest Nóirín Ní Riain, Ireland’s acclaimed spiritual singer, in October 2018.

 

The Poulnabrone Dolmen and the Mystery of Portal Tombs

Poulnabrone dolmen is an example of a portal dolmen or portal tomb, not to be confused with passage tombs such as Newgrange! Dolmens are found in Ireland and throughout the world and are generally characterized as a single-chamber megalithic tomb, often consisting of three or more upright stones (megaliths) supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table). (1)

poulnabrone dolmen
Poulnabrone dolmen on the Burren plateau in Ireland is a classic example of a portal tomb. Photo: Sacred Earth Journeys participant David Chasis

What is a dolmen?

Dolmens are thought to have been ancient tombs or burial markers and also served as places for ritual and worship although their exact purpose and significance is still debated by scholars and researchers. There are dolmen sites throughout Europe and Asia, including the dolmen Er Roc’h Feutet (Roch-Feutet) in Carnac, France, the Monte Bubbonia in Sicily, several in Gochang, South Korea and in Kerala, India.

Dolmens in Ireland

There are around 180 dolmens in Ireland known by many different names including stone tables, Cromleachs, or Giants’ Graves. They feature in Irish mythological stories and folklore and are often associated with graves of famous giants or warriors. (2)

Poulnabrone dolmen in Ireland
Our group visiting the Poulnabrone dolmen with Tour Leader Phil Cousineau on a journey to Ireland.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Located in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland the Poulnabrone dolmen dates to 4200 BCE and stands almost 6 feet high and 12 feet long. In his article on Poulnabrone for Ancient History, Joshua J. Mark explains that all the stones used in the construction of the dolmen were brought to the site from elsewhere as none match the geological make-up of the Burren and were then assembled with perfect balance and precision without concrete or any kind of compound. (3)

Poulnabrone is one of the few Irish portal tombs to have been archaeologically investigated. (4) In the 1980s archaeologist Ann Lynch found the remains of 22 people from the Neolithic Age buried in the dolmen after excavations. She proposed that the bodies were brought to the tomb after decomposition had occurred thereby suggesting an elaborate and complex burial ritual. (3)

The Burren in Ireland
The Burren in County Clare, a karstic plateau, and home to the Poulnabrone Dolmen

Along with the bodies, Lynch also unearthed a variety of artefacts including a polished stone axe, a decorated bone pendant, several shards of pottery and two stone beads. These discoveries have led to the theory that those buried in the megalithic tomb were of a high or special standing in the community although why exactly these individuals were chosen remains a mystery.

The Spiritual Significance of Poulnabrone Dolmen

As Marks points out, the capstone of the tomb is set at an angle and the remains of the 22 bodies where found at the front, towards the highest point of the roof. This placement, it is thought, enabled the soul of the deceased to depart quickly and easily down to the afterlife or the Otherworld. (3) The descension is not thought to be connected with the later notion of Hell; rather, the “underworld” here is simply one realm of the Otherworld. Another theory as to the positioning of the stones suggests that instead of helping souls descend to the next life, the dolmen prevented evil spirits from entering this world.

As no scripts of any kind have been found to explain the significance of the Poulnabrone dolmen or other portal tombs, their exact purpose still remains a captivating mystery. What is known for sure, however, about these portal tombs is their enduring popularity – the megalithic tomb at Poulnabrone is one of Ireland’s most photographed archaeological site and a must-see for visitors to this beautiful isle.

Join our journey to Ireland in September 2017 with Tour Leader Phil Cousineau to see the Poulnabrone dolmen for yourself and delve deeper into the mystery of the portal tombs. A few spots remain on this exquisitely crafted tour – book yours today!

~ Sacred Earth Journeys

References:

(1) http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Dolmen

(2) http://www.carrowkeel.com/files/dolmens.html

(3) http://www.ancient.eu/Poulnabrone/

(4) http://irisharchaeology.ie/2013/06/poulnabrone-tomb-life-and-death-in-the-burren/

5 Journaling Tips for the Spiritual Traveller

Do you keep a journal when you travel? How is this journal different to other journals you may keep? Have you always wanted to create a really meaningful travel journal but are not sure where to start? In this blog we explore some tips to help you get started or take your travel journal to the next level!

As best-selling author, filmmaker, and tour leader Phil Cousineau reminds us in his companion book to the Art of Pilgrimage, The Art of Travel: Journal, “by honoring our travel experiences through writing stories, poems, songs or creating sketches or other artwork, we can transform virtually all our travels, whether around the world or around our backyard, and make them more meaningful.”

Grab a copy of Phil’s inspirational book (more links at end), read our tips, and enjoy your travel journaling!

travel journal in Ireland
One of our participants sharing her beautiful journal on a sacred journey to Ireland with writer Phil Cousineau

Choose your materials carefully

There are myriad journals and intuitive apps out there aimed specifically at the traveller, but when you’re embarking upon a more meaningful travel experience your choice of journal needs to reflect the aims of your own sacred journey. There are some practical considerations, of course – ensure the journal is big enough to capture your thoughts but not so big that it doesn’t fit in your day bag or becomes too heavy to carry after a full day of sightseeing. Beyond this, think about how you will be capturing your experiences – a journal with plain paper rather than lined, for instance, will allow you to sketch as well as write. A journal that has some form of pocket will give you a place to keep items of interest that you may to want to use in some form of collage on your return home. Think about how the journal feels to you – are you excited to write in it? Does it bring you pleasure when you open it? And what will you write or draw with? A good quality ink pen is always more pleasurable to write with than a cheap ballpoint. If you plan to sketch in your journal as well as write, do you have a good quality pencil or drawing pen?

journaling in cliffs of moher
One of our participants journaling on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland! Hard to think of a more inspirational place for journal writing

Consciously set aside time for journal writing

Enthusiastically buying a beautiful new journal is one thing, actually filling it with your own thoughts and stories is quite another. Travelling can be exhilarating and also quite tiring, so ensure you make a conscious decision to set aside a little quiet time every day for journaling. It doesn’t have to rigidly be at the same time every day although 15-30 minutes before breakfast could well be the right formula for you. As you set your intentions for your sacred journey, take a moment to visualize using your journal on a daily basis as part of a more meaningful travel experience.

Think about where you write or draw best

Where do ideas come to you? Do you need to be alone so you can think aloud or do you prefer the stimulation of a busy coffee shop for inspiration? You will need to be flexible when travelling and won’t always have the ideal writing space, but if you think carefully about what you need in the moment, your body and mind will guide you towards the place you need to be to best write or draw that day.

sacred site machu picchu
Our group on a sacred journey to Peru. After experiencing the wonder of Machu Picchu, take a few moments with your journal to note down the details of this sacred site.

Notice the small details

On sacred sites tours the organizational details are all taken care of leaving you more time to fully engage with the travel experience and focus on other kinds of details. Use all your senses – notice what you see around you, what you smell, hear, touch, or taste, and notice how you feel at certain moments. If you have a few minutes of quiet time at a café or restaurant take the opportunity to really look around you – let the experience seep into you. At sacred sites, be fully in the moment and follow the wisdom teachings or meditations, and afterwards take a few quiet minutes for yourself to digest and soak everything up. This is when you can take out your journal and see what comes. Note down the concrete details such as the day, where you are, what the weather is like, etc., and then let your body do the rest – write about what’s around you, what’s happening or happened, or about how you’re feeling in this moment. Draw what you see or what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye. Notice the people you meet – their physical appearance and also their energy – the more intangible elements of their character. How did they make you feel? How did they affect others or the natural world around them? What about the language they’re speaking – how does it sound to your ears? And the foods you’re eating – what colours are on your plate? What flavours do you experience when eating a particular dish – do others have the same reaction?

guatemala market
Noticing the details on a sacred journey to Mexico and Guatemala

Let go of perfectionism

You may have the most beautiful travel journal in the world but that doesn’t mean everything that goes in it has to be perfect. Embrace the inherent imperfections in all creative pursuits and just go for it! You can edit anything your write or draw later – what’s important right now is simply to put pen to paper and express what’s in your mind. The act of writing (or drawing), in itself, is a way for you to process the many incredible sites you have seen and the emotional experiences you have lived through on your spiritual travel adventure. Stay curious and open to what flows out of you as you start journaling. Try not to judge anything you write or draw – simply enjoy the process!

As Phil Cousineau encourages us in The Art of Travel: Journal:

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
If not here, then where? How will you remember your travels?
As a blur or as a vision? As an unreal dream or as real as rain?

If you need any more encouragement remember what my first newspaper editor, Roger Turner, told me, ‘It ain’t real till it’s ink’.

Make it ink, make it real, make it now.

Write on.”

travel journal
Could this be the perfect travel journal? Spotted on the Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau. Thanks to participant Chris Franek for capturing this marvel! Will you be joining Phil for a travel and writing adventure soon?

We would love to hear about (or see) your travel journals! Do you have any more tips or tricks to share? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page, and happy journaling!

If this blog has inspired your creative juices and you’re looking for more journaling inspiration visit our website – most of our tours include time for journaling and creativity. Phil Cousineau also leads sacred sites tours and writers’ retreats for us – sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about his upcoming tours! For reading inspiration, try The Art of Pilgrimage or Stoking the Creative Fires. Phil also wrote an introduction for Jim Currie’s The Mindful Traveler: A Guide to Journaling and Transformative Travel. A great read! If you’re looking for paper journals, the Moleskin range offers lots of good options, Muji has some simple, well-crafted pieces, and your local, independent bookstore is sure to have some great items. If you’re looking for an App to keep more concrete details in check, a good one to try out is Day One Journal.

 

~ Sacred Earth Journeys

A Perfect Writing Retreat

SEJ note: This post was first published in June 2016 and was updated in February 2018.

What makes a really great writing retreat? One that inspires newer and more experienced writers alike… One that achieves that perfect balance of solitude and creative conversation? In October 2018 Phil Cousineau will be leading a writing retreat for Sacred Earth Journeys to the idyllic Greek island of Hydra. This will be his 2nd writing retreat on Hydra – Phil has also led writing retreats for us in Connemara, Ireland.

The feedback we received from Phil’s previous writing retreats was so positive that we can’t help but feel this journey to Hydra will be the perfect writer’s retreat for all participants. Whether you are a beginning writer or have several projects already under your belt, we invite you to read our exclusive interview with Phil Cousineau to discover how this retreat will provide inspiration, and learn more about the importance of retreats in a writer’s life.

hydra greece
The idyllic Greek island of Hydra

Here’s a sample of feedback from Phil’s previous writing retreats in both Hydra, Greece and Connemara, Ireland:

“The Hydra Writer’s Retreat changed my writing life. This experience has been unparalleled, and I’ve participated in my share of writing retreats! Phil Cousineau is a masterful teacher, historian and writing coach whose extensive life experience and knowledge of literature combine to expand his one week writing retreat into a future filled with possibilities. The Retreat helped me reclaim my desire to write, to express myself, to tell my stories.” Gretchen Wright, Cedar Rapids, IA

“The writing retreat on Hydra exceeded my expectations. Everything was better than perfect. Phil is an inspirational teacher, storyteller and motivator. His writing prompts broke through my 3-year block and I’ve been writing ever since!” Cynthia Greenberg, San Anselmo, CA

“Exceptional… unexpected… more than I imagined it could be! I feel restored to my creative capacities and renewed in my sense of purpose and love for the book I am writing.” Ana Mozol, Vancouver, BC

“Phil was amazing. Highly recommended for all writers! I know each one of us gained a great deal.” Stephanie Bennett, Auckland, New Zealand

“Phil is an outstanding guide in all aspects, and I am forever grateful for his skilled hand at helping me with my previously stalled-out writing project.” Karle Dickerson, Pasadena, CA

For more testimonials from this writer’s retreat, please visit our testimonials page. To hear more about our retreat in Ireland, visit our blog interview in which three participants share their creative reflections.

Interview with Phil Cousineau

SEJ: Why did you choose the Greek island of Hydra as the base for this writer’s retreat?

Phil Cousineau: Since I first reveled in the Greek islands in the 1970s Hydra has held a special place in my heart because it was one of the favourite writing locales for a few of my favorite writers, such as Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Leonard Cohen. Later I learned that its sparkling light also attracted painters, photographers, and musicians. Indeed, something is in the air on Hydra, the light, the compactness, and even the curious fact that no cars or trucks are allowed on the island – all transportation is by foot, mule, or boat. For me, the two secret ingredients to the writing life are sacred time and sacred space, and Hydra provides both. Within hours of arrival one feels transported back in time, and since it is a small island with one main harbour and fabulous walking trails, all space there seems sacred. I can testify to the combination since I have written reams of stories and poems there.

mules hydra harbor
The mules at the harbour, Hydra

SEJ: Can you explain the term “mythopoetic” and how this approach will manifest itself over the course of the retreat?

Phil Cousineau: Mythopoetic is one of my favourite literary terms, fairly obscure and worth reviving and vaunting. Literally, it means “the making of sacred stories,” from myth, sacred story, and poesis, the making of a thing. Together, they allude to the making of stories or poems with mythic content. This is shorthand for the creation of not only fiction but non-fiction, especially memoir, since, as Carl Jung puts it, all personal stories are myths-in-the-making. For this workshop I have an entirely new round of teaching exercises that will serve to prompt the mythic and the poetic in our groups writing endeavours.

SEJ: Is the retreat suitable for new or beginning writers as well as those with more experience? How might a newer writer benefit from this retreat?

Phil Cousineau: The Hydra Writer’s Retreat is geared for writers of all ages, all genres, and all stages of experience. Over the last 35 years I have published nearly 40 books and helped another 100 writers publish their work, including scores of first-time writers. I ardently believe one helps the other so my creative life is constantly cycling. It helps me to help others, and I encourage those I help with their writing to pass on the gift of time and space to others they may come across. At this point it is also important to note that because our group on Hydra will be small I will have personal time every day for each and everyone, both during our classes and afterward in one of the harbour-side tavernas.

greek food
Phil enjoying some fine Greek food and creative conversation

SEJ: How important is it for writers to take the time to “replicate the ideal writing life” on retreats such as this?

Phil Cousineau: In my experience the more a writer can focus on this special time together the more they can accomplish. For that reason I encourage everyone to talk about either their writing life or the life of writing, the life of books, art, movies, and culture, as often as possible during our time together – rather than slide back into stories of home. I believe all of our senses are heightened during these workshops and if we take full advantage of it we will have the creative breakthrough we were longing for.

SEJ: How has travel and spending time in retreat influenced your own work and creative juices?

Phil Cousineau: Considering the fact that I am always working on more than one book, plus film, television, and radio scripts, I need infusions of inspiration and energy just like everyone else. Travel fuels me, retreats replenish me, new friends and eager students remind me why I wanted to write in the first place. Travel time and retreat time provide new experiences and new perspectives, and if I honour them then I become a perpetual motion machine of creativity – never wrestling with the dreaded writing block problem. Over the course of our time together on Hydra I plan on sharing this secret alchemy so that anyone who joins us will know how to cultivate not just a creative week here and there, but a creative life.

bratsera hotel hydra
The terrace at the charming Bratsera Hotel, our base for this writer’s retreat

Read more or book your spot on the Hydra Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau.

~ Sacred Earth Journeys

Quest for the Holy Grail: An Interview with Phil Cousineau

Have you ever dreamed of setting out on your own Quest for the Holy Grail? Following the Mists of Avalon through the enchanting English countryside in search of King Arthur and Lady Guinevere? In May 2016 mythologist and author Phil Cousineau will be leading a very special journey to England: King Arthur’s Avalon and the Quest for the Holy Grail with Phil Cousineau: A Sacred Tour of England with Special Guest Geoffrey Ashe, MBE. For this blog we asked Phil about his own interest in the Arthurian Matter, the impact of the work of Geoffrey Ashe and some of the beautiful places we’ll visit on this trip.

*We have a few spots remaining on this journey: book yours today!*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SEJ: When did you first become interested in King Arthur and the Holy Grail?

Phil Cousineau: Growing up in Detroit in the 1960s, I was lucky enough to read the classics out loud with my parents. We read through Homer and Grimm’s fairy tales and then one year read Mark Twain’s hilarious A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Years later I read it again when backpacking through England, which led me to Geoffrey Ashe’s books. In the early 1980s I went to a King Arthur and the Holy Grail weekend workshop with Joseph Campbell that was a life-changer, and ultimately led to my working with him for many years. Finally, I picked up a copy of Marian Zimmer-Bradley’s classic Mists of Avalon in a train station in Bath, England, which in turn inspired me to contact her about coleading a tour together. This we did in 1986 and it was particularly memorable to bring Geoffrey Ashe together with Marian since they had never met.

RoundTable-DanielBosworth
Detail of the Round Table at Winchester Cathedral. Photo: Visit Britain/Daniel Bosworth

SEJ: How would you account for the enduring popularity of the Arthurian Matter?

Phil Cousineau: There are multitudinous ways to read into the significance of the Arthur legends. First, they are mythic in that they are part of what the mythologists call the “founding stories” of England itself. Second, they are potent psychological tales of the search for the true self and the divine, as embodied in the Holy Grail component of the legend. Third, Arthur and Guinevere act one of the great – and tragic – love stories of all time. Finally, the modern popularity of the stories got an enormous boost when the play “Camelot” was on Broadway and was seen and fully embraced by Jack and Jacqueline Kennedy. Camelot has ever since been a metaphor for a Golden Age of love and chivalry.

tintagel arthurian centre
The Arthurian Centre in Tintagel. Photo: Humphrey Bolton/Wikimedia Commons

SEJ: Can you tell us a little about the work and influence of Geoffrey Ashe, and what his presence will bring to this journey?

Phil Cousineau: For me, Geoffrey Ashe is the single greatest living Arthurian scholar. This is one of my favourite aspects of being a writer, journalist, filmmaker and tour leader – I often get to meet the very people who most inspired and influenced me. Reading Ashe’s books while living in England and Ireland was a big component of my early education; meeting him was thrilling. Mr. Ashe is now 96 years old and alert and alive and still being interviewed for documentaries about the Great Round of Arthur stories – what a privilege it will be to spend time with him. His presence will bring not just a certain nobility of soul, which he possesses, but a living link with much of the way the world now sees the story of Arthur. His scholarship and participation in archaeological digs has helped link Glastonbury and Cadbury (which he first named as a probable site for “Camelot”) with Arthur and Guinevere.

glastonbury tor
The majestic Glastonbury Tor

SEJ: The journey will wind its way through the beautiful south-west countryside of England – is there a particular site or place that you are most looking forward to (re-)visiting?

Phil Cousineau: There are innumerable sites of geographical beauty I look forward to revisiting, such as Devon and Cornwall, as well as gorgeous seaside towns such as Mousehole and the island of St Michael’s Mount. I am eager to revisit the majestic and haunting ruins of Tintagel, the grand Roman town of Bath, and of course a few country pubs where the art of conversation still exists.

bath england
The spectacular Roman Baths, Bath

SEJ: Is there anything else you would like to share about this journey?

Phil Cousineau: Over the last few years I have come to look forward to The Long Conversations that I help spark every morning of our tours and then when possible revisit them during our evening gatherings. These group discussions help set the stage for the day by reading passages of relevant texts or poetry and allows our groups to find a sense of solidarity on our Quest to make our journeys more than just another tourist romp. A profound realization has unfolded that those who partake the most in these Long Conversations are those who garner the most from the tours and who have the deepest encounters with the land and people we are visiting.

english countryside
The beautiful English countryside

Our Quest for King Arthur’s Avalon and the Holy Grail will weave myth and legends with the splendours of the English landscape. From the medieval manuscripts of the British Museum to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, the Great Round of Arthurian stories will come to life as we visit key sacred sites in this ancient land. Our journey includes St. Michael’s Mount, Marlborough’s Merlin’s Grave, the Arthur’s Round Table in Winchester Cathedral & more. Excursions to the West End & Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre will indulge our passion for English literature.

To join Phil Cousineau on this wonderful journey, rich in myth, legend and history, visit our website! There are a few spots remaining – secure your space today!