Tag: sacred sites tours of England

The Union of Story and Place: Reflections on a Sacred Journey by Chris Franek

Our blog post this week is beautifully written by Chris Franek, a participant on our recent journey: “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.”  

It’s hard to believe that the Arthur/Grail journey in England with Phil Cousineau in April was my fourth journey with Phil in four years. This particular journey occurred at a very interesting time not only in my life but at what increasingly feels like a pivotal time in modern history given the intense friction from all of the societal divisions that are erupting in lockstep with a never-ending news feed of announcements of one extreme weather event after another. The intensity of it all can feel tremendously unsettling to me and I’ll be honest that I have found myself wondering on a number of occasions how to find some sense of inner peace in being able to navigate my life in such tumultuous waters.

England group travel
The pilgrims on Sacred Earth Journeys’ 2016 Tour of England with Phil Cousineau

In revisiting the experience through my photos, one realization I’ve had is that these extreme global circumstances have served as a unique lens that revealed and magnified the antidotal quality of doing one of Phil’s pilgrimages. One of the terms for the grail that Phil refers to is the “inexhaustible vessel.” It is the source of vitality that cannot be exhausted. Phil’s great mentor and friend, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, associated the grail to that still hub (described as “kairos” by the ancient Greeks) at the centre of the movement of the chronos-bound world we live in. It’s something that speaks to me as it’s what I’m certainly looking for in this time of tremendous turmoil. It points to the idea that the fascination that the quest for the grail seems to hold on our collective psyche is perhaps a metaphor for our search for a calm centre within us.

Glastonbury Tor in England
Journeying towards Glastonbury Tor

So in a sense, going on a journey with Phil provides me with the opportunity to locate myself. Because my life in the familiar world often moves at a manic pace (in an urbanized environment saturated with hyper-stimulation), my grasp of where I am in time and space sometimes becomes tenuous at best. It’s hard to orient yourself when you are in the chaos of the surf and Phil’s journeys have an elevating quality that enables me to rise above the agitation of the scrum of the daily preoccupation with productivity and achievement. In a world where an ever increasing amount of our connections to one another are being digitized and depersonalized, Phil works with ancient analogue tools for meaningful connection that have held communities together for eons – storytelling and conversation.

Phil Cousineau England tour leader
Walks and conversation with tour leader Phil Cousineau

On its own, any one of these incredible places in England that our cadre of pilgrims visited are certainly memorable but through Phil’s telling of the associated stories, myths, and legends, ancient stones become animated with the vital wisdom and conversations of those who came before us. Phil’s inexhaustible commitment to the union of story and place created a metaphorical container that insulated us from the pell-mell of activity happening outside in the world of time. There was a palpable sense of everything slowing down and each day felt like the continuation of one long collective sigh.

Stonehenge in the rain

As someone who possesses a deep affinity for photography, visiting extraordinary places like Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, Bath, Glastonbury Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, and Tintagel certainly provides for a cornucopia of beguiling imagery to capture. Interestingly, what I’ve come to appreciate most in looking at the photos is not the stunning visual beauty of these places. For me, the photos are more of a bridge to a largely ineffable multidimensional experience that can only be fully appreciated in the doing of it. My more lasting memories will not be of a cathedral or an ethereal arrangement of stones but of being in a rare state of stasis, where for a brief time, the world stopped and community gathered – to listen to stories of our ancestors and dance with each other in conversation.

~ Chris Franek

All photos featured in this blog post were taken by Chris Franek.

To see more stunning photos from this journey to England with Phil Cousineau please visit our Flickr album. Phil will be leading 3 journeys for Sacred Earth Journeys in 2017: “The Heart of Cuba with Phil Cousineau“, “The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau: The Myths, Music, and Magical Literature of Connemara, Clare, and the Aran Islands”, and “The Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau: All New Mythopoetic Writer’s Workshop.” Journeys with Phil Cousineau are always extremely popular so visit our website today to secure your spot on a journey of a lifetime!

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.

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!