Glastonbury – the Perfect Place to Reinvent Yourself?

In 2016 I came across an article in a local paper titled “King Arthur Pendragon Restored”. The jist of the story was this: Facebook refused to accept that a living man, known in Glastonbury (and beyond) as ‘King Arthur’, was officially named ‘King Arthur Pendragon’ and deleted his account. They wouldn’t even accept his driving license in the name of ‘Arthur Uther Pendragon’, insisting that it wasn’t a real name. It wasn’t until the Western Daily Press stepped in that they reinstated his account.

Bearded man in druid robes with sword
King Arthur Pendragon – Stock photo

The article said “King Arthur, who realised he was probably the reincarnation of the once and future king of Britain back in the mid-1980s and duly changed his name legally, said he thought druids and pagans who are against his battles with English Heritage had complained to Facebook about his name”.

“I don’t know who keeps falsely reporting me to Facebook as a non-person or a made up name but they do,” he said. “It’s a pity they don’t take action against them rather than me.”

For King Arthur it was just another in a long line of battles – with English Heritage over access to Stonehenge with the legal establishment who once confiscated Excalibur, even with other Druid groups. For more about Arthur see this article on The Medievalists Website, and this brilliant Vice ArticleC.J. Stone authored his autobiography ‘The Trials of Arthur’.

Arthur doesn’t live in Glastonbury, but he’s been a regular visitor and this strikes me as a very Glastonbury story.

Man dressed as a tree in Glastonbury
Dave Beach promoting tree planting

One of the appeals of Glastonbury is that it offers the opportunity, perhaps even the obligation, to reinvent yourself. For some this means simply following their dreams, for others identifying with a mythical character, or a cosmic superhero. Identifying their own ‘superpowers’, their unique gift to the world, gives meaning, for many it becomes the basis of their personal mission. In Glastonbury, where such behaviour is generally accepted, it also gives a sense of belonging.

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. People of all ages come to Glastonbury in a spirit of curiosity. They find themselves at a gathering of witches or pagans or ravers or Buddhists or alien abductees where they feel completely at home and accepted. Perhaps for the first time in their lives. The tendency is often to embrace this new community wholeheartedly and uncritically, adopting a new garb, a new name, a new vocabulary. This can come as quite a shock to those back home, who thought they were and would always be a quiet, cat loving, widow with a fondness for the Archers.

Birthday Girl Glastonbury
Gerry, in fancy dress birthday girl mode, she doesn’t usually wear this outfit, but it wouldn’t look that out of place in the High St!

I must admit I’ve taken the piss rather mercilessly out of some of these reinventions – I’ve nicknamed quite a few locals and those nicknames have stuck on occasion (The Twat with the Owl, The Fat Fairy….) However, my attitude has mellowed over the years.  If someone feels more in control, more confident, more interesting, striding down the High St in a rainbow cape, wearing a ridiculous hat, calling themselves Crystal Moonbeam and talking about their friends the fairies then good luck to them.

On one occasion a man known as ‘Storm’ was sitting outside the Mocha Berry Cafe and discussing his next visit to his friends on an American Indian Reservation, and how he might come home with a new name. I rather rudely butted in with the comment that he might try changing his name to something completely dull like Nigel. He went silent for a surprisingly long time, eventually replying somewhat plaintively ‘But my real name is Nigel’. I was only momentarily embarrassed. I have since realised that a surprisingly large number of Glastonbury people who’ve adopted new monikers started out as Nigels. Let’s face it, if I was a Nigella I’d change my name too.

People watching concert in Chalice Well Gardens with girl painted blue in the background
Chalice Well Blue Girl

Intergalactic Dream Wizards…..

Authenticity has become a buzzword. If you can be more authentically yourself by adopting the persona of Intergalactic Dream Wizard, carrying a fuck off huge wand and playing the harp (badly), rather than accepting the circumstances of your birth and unwillingly joining the family accounting business in Little Piddle, then better that than submitting to a lifetime of boredom and dissatisfaction. It’s no more ridiculous than many of the limited constructs people in the mainstream have to choose from. No one ever achieved anything by making themselves smaller. All success stories have an element of defying the limits set upon you.

Middle aged traveller man in fairy outfit in the King Arthur Pub, Glastonbury
Del as a Fairy in the King Arthur

I have never heard anyone in Glastonbury say “Well this is who I am, I’m too old to change now”. Life is a constant journey of reinvention, and adaptation to circumstance. Many have discovered that even deep-rooted problems – anger, bitterness, inadequate self-worth, can be overcome with self-development techniques derived from ‘pop’ psychology or religion. Glastonbury bookshops are full of self-help guides and numerous workshops take place in the town that aim to guide you on your journey to self-discovery. Even I’ve attended one of Jonathon Kay‘s fooling workshops, although I love his shows I’m afraid it wasn’t for me – I like to play the fool entirely on my own terms! Jamie Catto’s Transforming Shadows’ workshop really did give me a boost though, as he says it unlocks dormant creativity and … is a huge permission slip to stop exhausting yourself wearing masks and being all these different roles for different people”.

Glastonbury Carnival Float, people dressed in brightly coloured nun's habits dancing in a silly way
Carnival Nuns Glastonbury

I think Glastonbury is a town of misfits, weirdos, adults who were once nerdy kids at school. I guess it is an unusual place in that most people actively choose to live here.

Things may have changed since the town experienced a rash of new builds, but in my experience, most people move here because they feel an irresistible draw to the place, many come for a visit and somehow never leave.

Glastonbury offers those from more anonymous towns, who move here, or visit at length or frequently, an opportunity for reinvention. Ordinariness seems to be something to be striven for in other places. Here it is scorned. I don’t think there are many in the town who would describe themselves as, for instance. “Just a housewife”. Here they become witches, artists, mystics, workshop leaders, Reiki masters, poets, permaculture gardeners, teachers, even bloggers. A hobby or a passion becomes a vocation. Kids of my generation were frequently told not to ‘Show off’. Drawing attention to yourself was to invite shame. Dressing up was for special occasions if at all. Here self-expression is celebrated, and even those most determined to draw attention to themselves are tolerated and only gently mocked.

Man dressed as Pan
Marco at the Glastonbury Beltane (May Day) celebration on Glastonbury Market Cross

Glastonbury offers numerous opportunities to play and dress up – the Goddess Conferences, Faery Balls, Beltane and the Glastonbury Zombie Walk (although I hope no one takes that as inspiration for everyday wear). The fancy dress parties we had at the Glastonbury Institute of Gracious Living sometimes gently encouraged others to explore and expand their sense of self. Even the Glastonbury Carnival – one of the least ‘alternative’ of all the large events held here, gives locals the opportunity to become a Viking or a Naughty Nun for a few nights a year.

Some visitors must feel like they have walked into a film set, where the actors have forgotten they are playing a part and are endlessly ad-libbing.

I think that we are all playing a part, taking on a role. Many are persuaded that their role is pre-determined and largely unchangeable – by virtue of the circumstances of their birth. They might stay in their hometown, take the job that they were expected to, marry someone from a similar background. Even then they will indulge in hobbies that enable them to express themselves – be that live action roleplay or building dolls’ houses.

Man promoting Glastonbury Medieval Fair in full armour with a takeaway cup of coffee in Glastonbury Town
Man promoting Glastonbury Medieval Fair

You only have to watch Wife Swap to realise that everyone thinks their lives are ‘normal’ – their dysfunction is just the way they are or ‘human nature’. If only everyone thought just like them the world would be safe, contained, sensible, non-threatening. It’s other people that are the problem – the deviants, the misfits. Fortunately Glastonbury provides a relatively safe haven for those who aren’t able to fit themselves comfortably into the little boxes that mainstream society and the advertising industry has fashioned for them. I have noticed however that Glastonbury often expels those whose deviance is so extreme that it threatens the safety of others around them.

Japanese girl in bright hippy clothes on Glastonbury Tor.
Girl on Glastonbury Tor. Photo by Tor Webster.

It’s arguable that Glastonbury is just selling fancy dress outfits, accessories for a make-believe new you. You can buy anything here – cloaks, wands, hand felted shawls, upcycled cardigans, medieval style velvet dresses, wizard hats, rainbow jumpers, psychedelic leggings. I wonder how many extraordinary items of clothing bought in Glastonbury for a weekend or a workshop now languish in visitor’s cupboards

If you want to buy clothes that just stop you being naked, keep you warm and are suitable for normal activities, i.e. going anywhere you might not actually want to be noticed – like Yeovil, you’ll have to go to Clarks Village in Street, the neighbouring town.

One of the things I most appreciate about this town is people’s freedom to make themselves appear (to the eyes of the more cynical amongst us) utterly ridiculous. These characters give the town its colour and vibrancy. Their sheer enthusiasm inspires others to dare to ‘think outside the box’. They also give me a wealth of material for this blog……..

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21 thoughts on “Glastonbury – the Perfect Place to Reinvent Yourself?”

  1. My name is Justin and I’ve never really taken to it. I always felt that there was an ‘inner me’ or ‘real me’ that was not ‘allowed’ to emerge in my home town of Northampton, which is a very down to earth place, tinged with cynicism and characterised by a tendency towards piss-taking sarcasm. (as I believe the author knows only too well ).
    My relationship with Glastonbury (or Avalon as it prefers to be called) goes back over 25 years and it’s fairy glamour first affected me when my then flat mate dragged me and his girlfriend and another girl down to Avalon for the Autumnal Equinox. It was a pretty depressing trip as I was besotted with my mates girl and tbf I was a goth. But something about Glastonbury rubbed off and I continued to visit for many years, until in 2003 I accidently ended up living there for the next 3 years.
    But it was at Glastonbury Festival 1995 on the Sunday morning in the Stone Circle, (under the influence of copious amounts of ‘magic paper’) that I had a vision that me and my friends were all Demi-gods (originally from another dimension) who had been forced to live out many lives as humans, but now our memories were returning and with them our super powers (for would we not be regarded by other humans as super heroes?). we would form a band and be known as ‘The Lost Gods’. And I, I was Justin Credible.
    Well we didn’t form a band as I don’t think my friends really liked the monikers that I gave them and to be fair there’s nothing as boring as someone else’s ‘trip’, but I decided I didn’t want my own boring name of Porter (someone who carries someone else’s bags) and preferred this stupid joke name that I had stumbled onto.
    Anyway, just got back from experiencing India, just split up from my long term partner, and just met my Dad; that year (as it also was for many) was the beginning of a crash course as a chemical kamikaze pilot. (within a year I would have totally f###ed myself up.
    But in June 1995 I was riding high, life was my smorgasbord and I was going to ride it. Later that Summer I was at a squat party somewhere in London. It was quite an old civilized place and I was greeted by an old hippy, who shook my hand and asked my name. I told him it was Justin Credible and he informed me that he too had known a Justin Credible; a ‘lovely fellow’, who was now sadly dead. I felt this was providence and appealed to the old goth in me. I had taken a dead man’s name.
    It was only a couple of years later that I landed, wings and hope broken on Glastonbury’s shores. I had lost everything in the space of two or three years and had wandered into some work with the Glastonbury Festival after festival welfare team. I had gone back to one of the teams homes (Jaine Rain) for a shower. Whilst drying on her sofa I noticed a printed purple card on the wall that simply said ‘Glastafarai’ Justin Credible 1995. It had quite and effect on me, seeing this message from the grave from the bloke who’s name I ahd inadvertently nicked. I asked Jaine if she knew him and I THINK she said yes and that he had been a junky but was a really nice guy. It was all too much for me and I burst into tears. It was almost as if I had been following this guy into the grave and somehow , by some grace I had lived. More than that I was mourning for him and what I felt was a dream that at had died.
    This was the beginning of my Glastonbury initiation and through that initiation I met lots of folk who had re-invented themselves, the above mentioned Jaine Raine and a host off others including, Scouse shaman; Les Dreamwalker, raving bare-foot didge player; Fluffy Colin, Hedge-dwelling; Lumpy Steve (because of an angry swelling above his eye who was later re-named by Buddhists as Shiny Steve-but it didn’t stick), Taurus (‘because I am a Taurus’, birth name Nigel) and the lovely Su Daevi. (Krishna devotee names can often unintentionally sound ‘funny’. There were a couple who used to live on the High Street who used to feed me and look after me when I first lived in Glastonbury in 1998. Sarah took a Krishna name first (I can’t remember what it was now) and her husband Dave later converted. Dave always had a ‘trickster’ personality and it was with good humor that he informed me that the name he had been given was Dmsikr (or something) which when pronounced sounds like Dumb Sucker. The irony of which did not escape someone who had previously resisted committing to any faith).
    My first ‘attempt’ at living in Glastonbury left me fleeing for London, as I experienced it as though i had a whole town living inside my head and all my shabby motivations and machinations were on show and everyone could see through me. It was rough and in retrospect I was suffering from paranoid drug-induced psychosis.
    But fate returned me to Avalon in 2003 and apparently the connections I made previously did not all think I was an utter wanker. I can’t really remember the hows and whys of coming to my new name but it was something to do with not wanting my own boring name that didn’t suit the person I was becoming, something to do with being a life-long Dr Who fan and believing that on some level I was a Time Lord, and also a play on words as I was always late and loved the ‘erb. I don’t know really but I settled on Justin Thyme and the amazing thing was that I did’nt feel judged for it and people just took to it.
    Well circumstance and bad decision making blew me away from Glastonbury (or Avalon as she prefers to be called) and I now live back in my home town of Northampton. Not being in Glastonbury is always tinged with sadness but my commitments here are long term and seem ‘right’. Facebook has tried to take my last (outward) vestige of Avalon, when they changed their policy on profile names, something I’m still annoyed about as more people now know me as Justin Thyme than they do as Justin Porter. But since being in Northampton, all those lessons that Glastonbury and it’s good folk taught me about living my dreams, creating my own reality and being my own superhero have come into their own, as I regularly perform as a Spoken Word artist and run a monthly and annual Spoken Word event based in the Celtic Bardic tradition. And when I’m on that stage that’s when Justin Thyme springs back into life…hopefully bringing a bit of Avalon magic to those who can’t be there themselves. And as those who practice the Dark Arts have always been clear about, a name is a very powerful thing indeed.
    Justin Porter (Thyme) September 2016

  2. Every time I’m in my Town Crier regalia, crying at the top of my voice in Glastonbury High Street, I transform myself into an 18th century local figure. That’s my little escapism and my pupils happily accept it too!

  3. As penetrating and observant as ever. You celebrate Glastonbury’s extraordinary tolerance, nay encouragement, of what is referred to in the Muggles world as mental illness, in such a kind and understanding way. I smiled at the way you depict all life outside Glastonbury as unremittingly dull and bleak. Street is the box that people are thinking out of in Glastonbury. Excellent photographs.

  4. It’s called Street because when the Anglo-Saxons came here, they found a Roman road that was a thing of wonder to them (we still call part of it The Roman Way).

  5. I’ve just moved to Street (couldn’t find the right house in Glasto) and you have encapsulated why I moved. I’ve never felt ore at home in my life!

  6. Haha! Nice post Vicki! 😀I feel you may be encouraging me to wear my birthday garb on the high street…Maybe I’ll start in Morrisons…Gerry x

  7. Hi VickiPurple
    Your blog is fab and spot on!
    Glastonbury was my home for many years and my husband was born there. In fact, it’s the the place that I feel I am ‘from’ and if asked, I usually say “Glastonbury”, as I have I no roots to speak of; having been moved from pillar to post as a child. I’ve always been a bit of a square peg, so good old, accepting, tolerant Glasto suited me down to the ground.
    Maddy xxx


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