Why Britain? A brief history

A little background information for the historically curious

We now stand, in 2017-18, at a dynamic point of change in human history. Governments struggle with the pace of technological change. Computers and their offspring (I-pads, I-phones, tablets etc.) have changed the way we act and think. Artificial intelligence and genetic modification stand immanent; about to revolutionise human society and conduct. There is plenty of turmoil from changing weather patterns to growing resentment at the unequal share of the planet’s resources. We are often left incredulous at the corrupt nature of those in power.

In this tumult let’s start at home, where we are, in Britain, once called ‘this sceptred isle’ and take a moment to digest some history. When the Romans built their empire they divided the peoples living west of the River Rhine (the Celts in Britain, France and Belgium) from those living east of the Rhine (the Germanic races – Germany, Denmark, Holland). Gradually, of course, with further invasions, Celtic-Romano Britain became what is known as Anglo-Saxon.

In 731AD Bede produced the ‘History of the English People’ describing how the Saxons, the Angles and Jutes and the Germanics conquered Britain in wave after wave. Thus the Celts were pushed back to the western fringes. Of course, Bede had his own agenda – to forge a kind of national identity, and the historical reality was probably far more complex than his condensed version written 300 years after the events he was describing. What is certain is that Britain, and particularly England, was forged from diversity. This is highlighted as we go into the later years of the first millennium – Franks, Vikings, Danes and of course Normans in 1066 showed up!

Now we come to the thorny problem of British identity. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are represented in the Union flag, but not Wales (theoretically because it is only a principality). The British flag is made up of the overlapping Christian crosses associated with the early saints George, Andrew and Patrick – David is excluded. The ‘United Kingdom’ is made up of four countries, not three, and there is also the ‘problem’ of a divided Ireland. It’s messy. Add to this the multi-cultural influence that really got underway in 1948 when the ‘Windrush’ brought the first West Indians to Britain and has continued apace since then proving uncomfortable for some communities but stimulating and vital for many as we strive for multi ethnic harmony and integration. In this lies the possibility of a true rainbow nation.

Bernard Crick has written:

‘I would like to suggest that if we acknowledge the rich and diverse roots of national identity provided by the essentially spiritual constructions and imaginings of Britishness over the last thousand or more years, we might also begin to find at least some overlapping values and loyalties, if not a shared common view, among Britons old and new and to see that this strange, muddled yet distinctive form of identity perhaps offers some hope in our increasingly insecure, frightened and atomised world.’

Guardian newspaper 12th April 2004

William Blake

It is to these spiritual constructions and imaginings we now turn in looking at the sacred pulse of Britain. Why Britain? What constitutes the radiance of the land? What is the story? The more artificiality, corruption, technological progress and materialism threaten to swallow us whole the more there is an underlying sense of yearning for something deeper; more real, a vision, a spiritual view. Strangely, a once unacknowledged artist now stands at the centre of providing at least part of this vision. William Blake was there at the start of the industrialisation and the development of materialism. At the time he was mocked and ignored but by some fluke of history his words ‘Jerusalem’ are now being sung across the land at every opportunity! There are fairly frequent exhibitions of his work at the Tate and he has entered the public consciousness as something of a prophet. He saw that materialism would come to dominate our world and he foretold that a ‘child of freedom and rebellion would rise against this with a spiritual voice.’

Tobias Churton wrote in his account of Blake’s life (‘Jerusalem. The Real Life of William Blake’):

‘The spiritual Free Man and Woman would rise again and re-integrate the Broken Man, living in darkness, into the heart and centre of his or her own true being.’

Blake would have had no truck with the co-option of his work for jingo-ism, nationalism or socialist propaganda. For him ‘spiritual liberty’ was what is important. This liberty dwells in spiritual dignity and as Churton points out this dignity ‘lies in the realisation that Man is a spiritual being, a spiritual being of infinite, not rationally predictable, potential.’ Blake believed that Britain’s primary goal should be to rediscover its magical spiritual self; to restore itself. The broken being, Albion, the spiritual idea of the British Isles, should be nurtured back to health. Western esoteric teachings of the type/kind you will find on this site provide some of the keys for this return to health.

The Land Of Albion

From the Orkneys in the far north to St. Michael’s Mount in the Cornish south, from the Skelligs in the Irish west to Lindisfarne in the Northumbrian east you will find the wonders of these isles silently intact – the holy places of this land. Once you embark on this voyage of discovery – to re-kindle and heal the spirit of place felt in Albion – you will find your own place with which you resonate – it may be a leafy glade in the forest or an ancient well or the summit of a hill or in the corner of a cathedral.

There is classic work by Christine Hartley called ‘The Western Mystery Tradition –the Esoteric Heritage of the West’. Hartley was a pupil of Dion Fortune and within her book is a wonderful chapter on ‘The Holy Places’. She writes that these holy places are the centres of magical power, to be held and nourished and looked after, and she recognises the primary place in Britain to be Glastonbury, ‘here, throughout the ages had been the centre of our teaching; known of old as the Isle of Avalon, the Isle of Apples, called in the Keltic Inis Vitrin, the Shining Isle, Glastonbury was old and wise in the mysteries, long before Joseph of Arimathea came with the Holy Grail, long before the legend that on an earlier merchant’s journey he brought with him the Holy Child, who played among the tin mines of the Mendips.’

Hartley writes of Avalon:

‘set deep in the heart of the west of England…it was in the Summer Land, at the end of Paradise, and it was an island when the waters of the Brue and the neighbouring streams flowed over their low banks before the marshes were drained and the rhines cut. Then in the flood days the only dry land was the Tor and the little path over the low hills to Wearyall where once a pilgrim hut was built.’

Later, after the coming of Christianity, she writes that ‘Glastonbury becomes the great centre of the Christian worship, as before it had been the holy of holies of the old gods, now the Grail becomes the Cup of the Last Supper brought to this country by Joseph of Arimathea after the Crucifixion; and now it is hidden by the mysterious Fisher King in Chalice Hill, which was the home of Morgan le Fay, and the calm water of the Well of Sacrifice which was indeed her Chalice becomes Chalice Well but the meaning thereof is lost to the uninitiated.’

In her chapter she goes on to write about the many other holy places in Britain – the Great Orme Head, the Isle of Anglesey, the Islands of the Blessed in the west of Ireland, Iona, Lindisfarne and how Glastonbury as ‘the holiest erthe in England’ is contained within the old and the new mysteries. With Iona, Hartley quotes Fiona Macleod ‘to tell the story of Iona is to go back to God and to end in God,’ and by recognising that at one time the whole Island of Britain was called Insula Pomorum, or Isle of Apples, she showed the set-apartness of this land.

Another visionary, writing slightly later than Christine was Sir George Trevelyan. He too grasped the essential nature of Albion, developing an inner ‘seeing’ that encapsulates the holistic vision of these islands:

‘Use now the eye of the Imagination. Rise up in consciousness and look down upon our Island. See the Light Centres glimmering – Stonehenge, Avebury, Iona, St. Michael’s Mount, Westminster Abbey, Durham, all the cathedrals of Britain, the monasteries, the noble ruins which have for centuries been impregnated with prayer and meditation, the Christian Churches great and small, where ley lines cross, the healing centres, the new age communities and centres for organic husbandry, the dedicated amber lamps of the Lamplighter Movement and on and on the list could be extended…the spiritual light and Earth power stored at the ancient temples like Stonehenge and Glastonbury is indeed there and waiting for release…there are many more and new ones to find and, through suitable pilgrimage, to activate…suddenly Britain comes alight.’

From ‘Operation Redemption – A Vision of Hope in an Age of Turmoil’ Sir George Trevelyan