A team led by Roberta Gilchrist, a professor of archeology at Reading University and a trustee of the Glastonbury Abbey, have completed a multi-year project to collect, reinterpret and publish records of 36 seasons of excavations from 1904 through 1979 (online and with a 500-page book). Glastonbury’s press release quotes Professor Gilchrist,
This project has rewritten the history of Glastonbury Abbey. Although several major excavations were undertaken during the 20th century, dig directors were led heavily [by] Glastonbury’s legends and the occult. Using 21st century technology we took a step back from the myth and legend to expose the true history of the Abbey.
Colorful legends of Apostles and Arthur have likely wrong-footed many scholars. As Professor Gilchrist put it, “Research revealed that some of the best known archaeological ‘facts’ about Glastonbury are themselves myths perpetuated by the Abbey’s excavators.” But one dig director stands out as having been led by the “occult.”
Frederick Bligh Bond (1864-1945) was an architect with extensive technical knowledge about old church buildings. He served at Glastonbury from 1908, when the Church of England bought the property, until 1921. His productive digs satisfied his superiors. Then in 1918, Bond published The Gate of Remembrance (here) and its sequel in 1919, Hill of Vision. Bond explained candidly how he had so efficiently and effectively rescued long-lost buildings from oblivion.
His career fell apart.
How Bond planned his excavations
The facts of Bond’s method are in the review of Gate in the elite science journal Nature (v.101, p.23, 18 March 1918),
THIS little book furnishes an interesting record of … psychological investigations … in connection with the Glastonbury excavations. In 1907 Mr. F. B. Bond …enlisted the aid of a friend, called “J.A.” …The object was to discover the site of the Edgar Chapel, which seems to have existed …but which has now passed out of memory. Both the friends made a preliminary study of the monastic chronicles and other literature of the subject. They held numerous meetings, “J. A.” grasping a pencil over a sheet of paper, and Mr. Bond resting his hand on that of his friend. By this method a number of scripts were recorded, some containing rudely drawn plans, purporting to be communications from one “Johannes Monachus,” “Whyttinge, nuper Abbas,” and others, who gave information by which, we are told, the position of the lost Edgar Chapel was determined.
In other words, Bond used automatic writing to explore the unconscious contents of his mind and a friend’s. The reviewer’s term psychological investigations echoes Bond’s own usage in the book. Bond didn’t claim that Johannes or Whyttinge (Whiting) were ghosts, but rather that he and his friend could access something within themselves roughly like what Jung later called the collective unconscious, or what Yeats had described in 1901 as aspects of magic,
…what I must call the evocation of spirits, though I do not know what they are, … the visions of truth in the depths of the mind when the eyes are closed ; and I believe in three doctrines, which have, as I think, been handed down from early times, …
(1) That the borders of our minds are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.
(2) That the borders of our memories are as shifting, and that our memories are a part of one great memory, the memory of Nature herself.
(3) That this great mind and great memory can be evoked by symbols.
Bond’s ideas were “in the air” circa 1910, however unusual, unscientific or superstitious they now seem. Bond was in tune with then-passable secular culture, but less so with the church. In another review of Gate, Reverend Doctor H.J. Williams sounds like a Third Millennium skeptic,
There is absolutely nothing supermundane in the whole of the script, and no room for ‘ cosmic memory ‘ (whatever may be the definition of that vague postulate), or for disincarnate monks or other disincarnate entities…All that is true in the script could be gathered from historical data or reasonably conjectured by intelligent observation of existing facts and conditions…
Whose unconscious was being mined?
Bond practiced automatic writing “for two.” Bond’s pencil-wielding partner, John Alleyne (the nom de crayon of John Allen Bartlett) is described as a “medium,” but Alleyne’s hand might have been only a living planchette (like the moving piece on a ouija board, see illustration) for Bond to manipulate.
Bartlett was not in any sense a practiced medium. He had had a few previous episodes of involuntary “automatism” (now the “ideomotor effect” or “dissocation”). Glastonbury was his first try at intentional automatic writing. Bond reports no previous experience, regarding automatism as a faculty given only to some people, and not to him.
The typical situation was for the men to converse about unrelated things or for Bond to read aloud from an entertaining book. The goal was to attain a wakeful state of mind in which “the reasoning faculties are … in abeyance or are otherwise engaged” (from Bond’s preface to Gate‘s second edition).
The work of interpreting the finished scripts fell almost entirely on Bond. And work it was, since many of the scripts are more suggestive scrawls than lucid narratives and diagrams (see example). It could be that all the productive work was done at this stage. The actual mechanism by which Bond’s unconscious contents were expressed may be akin to projection of meaning onto hashes vaguely evocative of the topic of interest, much like reading tea leaves.
That would be consistent with Bond’s own comparison of the procedure with Saint Paul’s comments on interpreters working with those who were “speaking in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14 throughout). In both cases, it is obvious that the coherence of the “collaboration” rests with the interpreter alone, who may be more encouraged than informed by a dramatic ritual of scribbling or ranting. Regardless, Bond focuses on Christian attitudes about his practice, and seems unconcerned about its reception among secular readers.
Who are the “spirits” Bond consulted?
Aristotle in his Poetics counseled aspiring dramatists to enact the roles aloud while writing them. Napoleon Hill famously fantasized regular business meetings with Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. The importance of imaginary companions in Jung’s career is well known. When Tanya Luhrman tells her students to imagine having conversations with Leland Stanford, Jr., some succeed in seeing him.
It is difficult to deny that vividly imagined dialog is an effective exercise to organize or stimulate thoughts, and that it can easily become absorbing. Imagined dialog is literally an everyday feature of the most common way that we become aware of unconscious contents, the ordinary dream.
“Where would I have put a building if I were the architect centuries ago?” and “How big would I have made it?” are reasonable questions to ask yourself when searching for the buried remains of a building. Enlarging one’s cognitive perspective to ponder how a siting problem would look to somebody else is relevant to puzzling out where somebody else actually did site a structure. If the thinker is familiar with many buildings of comparable age, as Bond was, then the exercise is especially likely to be fruitful.
Bond wasn’t channeling instead of using ground-penetrating radar in the early 1900’s. The state of the art was, after consulting available documents (which Bond did), to dig test pits or trenches. That is, to dig a modest hole in “promising” places to a “reasonable” depth and see what turns up. This was how Bond’s predecessor, William St John Hope, had surveyed the site in 1904. Despite the quality of the 1904 digs, much remained undiscovered.
Frederick Bligh Bond in perspective
Bond was a Freemason, Theosophist and Rosicrucian. He published works about Gnostic mysticism, psychic research, gematria numerology, sacred geometry and the Cabala. Despite his background, Bond would thoroughly disagree with Professor Gilchrist’s term occult regarding his Glastonbury digs.
Older church buildings often realize emotionally powerful but arcane symbolism in wood and stone. As a restorer and reproducer of such buildings, Bond’s interests were not necessarily unprofessional or counterproductive. Psychology, literature and medieval sacred architecture are all fields where an “occultist” might earn an honest living early in the last century, as Jung, Yeats and Bond did.
When Bond turned to archeology, a profession not yet enjoying a distinct identity, the priority was successfully locating what had been lost. In Christian tones, as Bond in Gate told churchmen,
The one test is the quality of its message, whether it be truthful or otherwise, edifying or lacking in helpful qualities. If a message of this nature be found true, it cannot be dictated by a spirit of falsehood; if sane, then not by insanity; if wholesome and moral, then not by a vicious or depraved intelligence. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.
More prosaically, Bond in Gate is aware that professional archeology is new to the world and new to him personally. The real effect and unconsciously adopted purpose of the automatic writing may have been to embolden this mid-life career changer to embark upon the greatest adventure of his life.
As the working priority shifted to the correct interpretation of what had been found, odd ideas might have raised more concerns. Even so, it is not unusual for later archeologists to reinterpret their predecessors’ findings. By its nature, science is cumulative and impersonally self-correcting. In the meantime, what Bond had actual evidence for (there was a building here) was inherently more influential and credible than what was obviously a personal opinion anyway (the building was a specific inconsistently documented chapel, for instance).
Although Bond’s interest in the occult was not secret, and he may have been a challenging co-worker, he could have held his job for years longer had he not enthusiastically publicized his automatic writing. If the owners of the site were not beholden to the country’s established Christian church, that might have helped. Possessing a fraction of Yeats’ expressive gifts or of Jung’s discreet talent for coining jargon that sounded like science couldn’t have hurt.
If only Abbot Whiting had told Bond, “For Godde’s sake, man, name ye this active imagination.”