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The Spirit of Glastonbury

The Vatican City of new wave spiritualisation, liberalism and cultural connectedness: why Glastonbury Festival is one of the greatest gatherings of people in the world

There is something special that combines us all. Beyond what is regimented, and what we must do to continue living in symbiosis with the rotation of the world, we hold a notion of perfect, utopian harmony existing somewhere, whether a hopeful future premise or existing within one’s arms reach.

For a while, I wasn’t sure what mine was. The feeling of coolness that accompanies the shade? a hug from a loved one? Merging with a book’s protagonist so much that I felt this character as myself? Or a more substantial concept? An experience, a sense of belonging to a certain group? I cast my net wide, yet the catch I was looking for was beyond my horizon. 

Throughout my childhood, Glastonbury Festival existed as a distant premise. Yes, it was the sound filtered through the speakers of my tv in my parents’ home, the light shining illuminating chorused melodies and chants, but it was lost amongst great distances. It was part of the worlds white noise, and for all I knew it may have been in Narnia. 

As time moved on, the bells of Glastonbury chimed more frequently. I associated the festival with BBC Three, Florence + The Machines ‘you got the love’ song as well as the freedom from the restriction of childhood. Seeing so many young adults, older than me nonetheless, but free from the paramour bondage my young teenage self was interned within; it felt prophetic. Glastonbury was the figurative warmth protruding on my skin, a warmth of ideas, art and connecting with people with experiences alien to my own, casting a bridge towards a form of enlightenment. 

For a time after that, Glastonbury became more distant. Opportunities unfurled and long trips to Europe and Asia were abound. I went to university and started to sail the blue sea. I also learnt that this natural progression led to many anxieties and challenges. Who was I? Who did I want to be? What did I want my friends to reminisce when they heard my name? At times if felt like I was falling from the edge of a skyscraper, doing anything to gain purchase and find my footing. 

Then, last November, an exciting opportunity entered my palms. I was one of the lucky few to get a ticket to Glastonbury Festival, two minutes before they sold out, nonetheless. A freak happening? A computer glitch? The universe conspiring in my favour? My mind had no time to consider the why, as I was too busy wondering about the future. My friends who had previously been mirrored the same image of Glastonbury Festival that I once held: a ray of light in the darkness, the one tide rallying against the futile destructive force that is humanity.  

My previous experiences told me that often my experience my ideas and visions rarely matched up to reality. When I tried to go to the Vatican on my interrailing trip I was going for some kind of divine feeling. Instead, my friends and I were exploited by bus conductors on the way, and we could no longer access many of the experiences. My trip to Southeast Asia, whilst lovely, led to me feeling like a cultural outlier in a society ambivalent towards my presence. I was left wondering whether my experience within all these distant lands and cultures was leaving a positive influence on the world around me.

As you might understand, I was left feeling quite tentative; excited but scarred by my previous experiences in a lukewarm presentation of the world in the way that it presented itself.

The day eventually came. We packed our bags, highlighted our set timetables, and scoured every inch of the Glastonbury Reddit page.  My friends had told me that Glastonbury was the cabal of life, so what would I find when I entered the Pilton farm temple? 

What I found was something more than just a gathering of music acts. One could even say it was more than a festival, even more than a community. It was an entire ecosystem, a nationhood founded on a paradigm of peace, love, and music as if the Jewish summer camp I attended many times had suddenly received thousands of extra people. Whether it is the stone circle, a stage in the shape of a pyramid holding the headline acts, or the service towards versus pagan, new wave, spiritualist, or monotheistic and polytheistic traditions, (the list could go on, and probably can go on till next year’s festival). This notion was particularly fervent in the burning of a wooden figure above the Stone Circle on Penning Hill, an event witnessed by thousands of people. As the first flame started to eviscerate the structure, and the cheers went up, my mind could not help but make a parallel between this and the final act of Ari Aster’s Midsummer film, if somewhat less dramatized. 

The 2021 census found that less than half of people in the UK identify as Christian, however listen to any sociologist and they would illuminate the ocean between maintaining an established religious affiliation and feeling the need for spirituality in one’s life. After all, so many of life’s great questions remain unanswered (I’m still racking my head around how the meaning of life is 42!). Whether it was Hare Krishna’s offering free food, the pop-up Christian tent at the top of the Pyramid field, the kind woman who painstakingly offered me various Homeopathic remedies in the healing fields, or even the massive spider structure of Arcadia (the Chemical Brothers DJ set felt like a religious experience!); Glastonbury perfectly demonstrated the futility of religious and spiritual conflict, and it was only my time there in which it finally occurred to me that religion is a tool of belonging. It is a fireplace to keep one warm amongst the brutal, frozen, existential abyss. Everyone on earth shares the same need; to belong, and we do this by affiliating with various ideas and groups to give ourselves an everyday purpose. Ultimately, we are all comrades on this journey towards belonging and meaning, and therefore why strike each other down? We are all variations of each other, and paradoxically harming your comrade is akin to harming yourself. Glastonbury is a shared collective that takes an individual and imbues it with ideas, beliefs, and memories. it is a conveyor belt, transforming every person in Pilton farm from the demeanour of the harsh arctic tundra to a personification of the Garden of Eden.

I have been to many sacred religious sites before. On many trips to Jerusalem, I have visited the Wailing Wall, however as a secular Jewish person, my presence felt like an intrusion, both in terms of the land being a key area of dispute in the Israel/Palestine conflict, as well as those of the Orthodoxy merely tolerating my secular presence rather than embracing it. These factors turned me away from spirituality, and I saw how belief in a religious figure could bring out a proliferation of hate towards others, and why would anyone want to be part of something that looked down upon them, for the very qualities that made them the way that they are? 

Whilst this may sound cliché, all age, religious or ethnic representations were present at Glastonbury, some more than others it must be said, however the whole festival felt like a gigantic hullabaloo of inclusion, refuting hate, and divisiveness. This was not more fervent than at Elton John’s brilliant headlining gig, in which most of the festival attended. Personally, I am indifferent towards Elton’s music, and attended for the spectacle rather than the music itself. But the brilliance I mentioned existed within the cool crowd breeze, the notion that we were all part of something greater. I witnessed the start of the gig from the very back and worked my way down, singing with all the people as I went down. I sang with a group of old ladies, and realised that we felt that same emotions, and we looked at each other and the wrinkles on their face symbolising their life experiences, suddenly also became mine. These same processes occurred with everyone I encountered, and I felt somewhat like we were all one organism, something I felt at several moments throughout the weekend: whether on my friends’ shoulders during Fred Again’s gig, to the excited trepidation felt when we all arrived for the Stone Circle burning on the Wednesday night. We were all moths gathering to the same light. 

The postmodern era has brought a certain harshness to our day to day lives. Do you know your neighbour? When you travel on the Tube, do the people around you ever acknowledge your existence? Sometimes we forget that the notion of a ‘stranger’ has only recently become a frequent concept, and yet we are so accustomed to it, it’s like slipping fingers into a glove. Attending Glastonbury was like signing a social contract with all the attendees, and in many ways interacting with everyone in even the smallest ways, such as a smile as we walk past in different directions, felt like a profound interaction. We recognised that we were there for the same reasons, and that the very same emotions and values that we found within ourselves were in fact mirrored with each other. When was the last time that you felt something so significant from such a small interaction? To me, it felt like I was levitating. 

Glastonbury is primarily a music festival, and it should be merited that I was fortunate enough to attend some brilliant, beautiful musical performances that I will treasure for many years to come. However, in my opinion this is only a minor aspect of what makes it so fantastic, and why people flock to it year on year like a liberal, secular version of Mecca. It’s a paradigm of love, peace and unity that profoundly affects all who attend. It embodies that loss of human feeling and interaction missing from our day to day lives, and I believe that it is the type of event that makes one feel whole again. 

To all my friends unable to attend Glastonbury this year, or very likely myself next year; Glastonbury is a formula of emotions and values that go beyond any event or gathering, and what it embodies can be brought out in any interaction, or rather an attitude towards life in general. It symbolises so much more and the pleasure that one might feel by attending, as I did, can be echoed through so many avenues and it is therefore a festival that takes place across the world, or wherever anyone is affected by the values it conveys. 

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