The Glastonbury Holy Thorn Harp
On the 8th December 2010 the Holy Thorn growing on the easterly slope of Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury, the ancient Avalon of the British Isles, was cut down in an act of vandalism. Reputed to have been planted from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of the master Jesus, this was a tree of legend and worship. Over the centuries other holy thorns have been grown from cuttings from the original tree, one is in St John’s Church yard on the High Street and a number are cared for in Chalice Well Gardens.
Strangely the largest Holy Thorn growing just below the two massive yew trees in Chalice Well gardens was blown down in a storm the same year as the loss of the Wearyall Hill tree. As a member of Chalice Well Trust my partner and I frequently spend time in the Gardens bringing groups of pilgrims to stay in the house. I visited the garden with my friend Renchie Bicknell, a well known Glastonbury artist who had told me about the fallen tree, and we spoke with Ark the head gardener about having a branch. I didn’t know what I wanted it for I just felt an urge to have a piece of this special and sacred tree. The three of us marched up to the wood pile behind the potting sheds, Ark reached in and drew out a hefty branch and then proceeded to prune it into a pleasing shape with his pruning shears. Mesmerised, instantly I saw a harp taking shape as he cut this branch and then that branch off the limb. Handing the prize to me with a big wide generous smile, I walked away in a dream, I was holding the foundation of the Holy Thorn Harp of Glastonbury.
At home back in West Sussex I hung it from a hook behind the large wooden Quan Yin statue in the meditation room. It looked so beautiful, dark, twisted and gnarled; natural and rustic adding a touch of sacred essence of Glastonbury to our prayers. So often as time unfolded I gazed at the wild branch hanging there, trying to figure out how it could be made into the musical instrument of that initial inspiration. Since I have no experience of making stringed instruments although I play guitar, Kora and charango, how could I bring all the complex components and age old experience together to manifest this abstract dream? I knew that this was definitely a potential harp, a strange harp with a long handle but how could it be done and why? What was the purpose and the meaning of this experience?
The one thing I do make with passion are shaman hoop drums and rattles so I have ample experience in working with rawhide from buffalo, horse and deer, and so as I looked at the branch I could see the possibility of fixing a drum with a sound hole to the back of the limb to amplify whatever music the instrument produced. But I was stuck. I began asking guitar and Kora instrument makers in Brighton and got blank looks, "That thing a harp…you must be joking” was the common verdict. I knew it could be done so tenaciously I fiddled on with it, strapping on the double sided deer drum, which I had made with an oval sound hole on one side, carving and reinforcing the wood structure with rawhide to take the tension of the future strings.
In a dream one windy night I was shown my helper in this project, a student on the Sacred Drumming course called Mike Barron who is a carpenter, shaman and gifted sound healer from mid Wales. The dream said Mike was the man to help me with the next stage of this project, it was so clear. The holy thorn harp went to Cymru for its next chapter, waiting, hanging in the kitchen of the cosy cottage high on the Ceri ridgeway. We booked a week after the College of Sound Healing Conference in November 2014 for me to visit and get the main working structures of the harp anchored in.
Now strange and beautiful occurrences began to happen. My wife Renata was having a spiritual reading over the phone with Clare Montanaro who is a very clear clairvoyant channel; Renata asked the Spirit teachers through Clare "Please tell me who my Spirit Guide is” the answer came back "The name of your guide is Lady Nada…oh and please tell Steven that he has Joseph of Arimathea as his Spirit guide”.
Armed with this new knowledge Mike and I got to work on the harp in his busy carpentry shop, he freely gave a week of his time, such a generous man! Creating all the structures necessary to make this branch into a musical instrument we worked with the ratio of the Golden Mean. This is a proportion that is a ratio of 1 : 1.618 and is both a visual as well as a sound relationship. This proportion is found within the beauty of all natural and living form. It is a magical formula and the basis for all sacred geometry, art and music. Strangely everywhere on the bough of the Holy Thorn was the golden mean; we shook our heads in wonder, the shape is perfect, perfected on route from the initial seed to the living tree and on to the old dry branch on the work top.
The bough grew steadily within its two-to-three hundred year lifetime in this perfect proportion, the upper smaller branch had snapped and regrown in a shape again within perfection. Whoever cut the tree up when it had fallen after the storm, had done so again in tune with the golden mean, since this main small trunk is the perfect length for the deep drone string. And then when I gained that branch from Ark he cut the odd pieces off nonchalantly, snip, snip, snip; snipping within the same holy relationship. He is a special and sacred gardener, well worth meeting if you like your plants, herbs and trees.
Back in Mike’s Welsh workshop the harp made itself, slowly and effortlessly, we just had to stay in sacred space with sage burning to cleanse the tools and the woods; a rich variety of hard woods were available for creating the pegs, bridges and supports. We opened each day with drumming the song of the sacred directions and making prayers to the powers of the universe. We sang mantras and toned as we worked, enjoying steaming hot darjeeling tea and biscuits over the wood burning stove. Continuing the path of working in harmony with the sacred, Spirit has manifested through us this magnificent instrument, with us as co- creators.
The drone string tuning pegs and main bridge are made of African Satin wood, Canadian Black walnut for the sound board to hold the seven machine heads, the sound board is then anchored onto the Beech wood drum by two pillars of Welsh Yew. The drum sound hole is circled with the bark of English Walnut, within the sound hole is suspended a circular disc of Ash wood as a resonator. The deep drone string bridge is carved out of Welsh Oak. German Apple wood is supporting the Holy Thorn branch in holding the tension of the strings behind the bridge. The whole instrument is held in suspension by woven chords of waxed twine to counterbalance the tension of the nine strings. And lastly Pine tree resin is plugging cracks and hollow places within the bark and wood of the Holy Thorn.
It has taken me the last three months to figure out the types of strings because like Renata said when she had her first baby, our beautiful daughter Joy…She did not come into this world with an instruction manual.
Now the Holy Thorn Harp is finished and the sounds it is able to produce are truly amazing. Because all parts of this creation have been made within the golden mean ratio and held sacred from conception, there are the most exquisite tinkles and echoes coming from the most unlikely places. How many pilgrims have meditated and prayed within the branches of this tree? How many birds and humans have sung with the unfolding blossoms at Christmas and Easter? How many times have the names of Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus the teacher, Mary Magdalene and Blessed Mother Mary been invoked in prayer by this Holy Thorn as it grew over the many centuries of its magnificent life?
Now I, another pilgrim on the path of service, has the honour to carry on this sacred message. What is the message? It is that there is internal peace to listen to, and there is perfection in all that we do and are. This is the time for sacred music to be sung out loud and for people to listen for the sound resonating within their lives. Between our ears is the sound of the universe, inside us, this is not "enter-tainment”, this is our internal music, our "Inter-tainement” of life creating, sustaining and destroying cells within us; our nerves from synapse to synapse flickering and tweeting micro-electric sound signals as fast as light. And muscles singing songs together in teams, pumping in choral harmony in base, tenor and soprano, working and blending as a perfect choir. Our bones drumming on cartilage, sending sparks of piezo-electric light and sound in tune with muscles and tendons twanging like cellos and violins. This body is a musical instrument of utter perfection, every thought and emotion is sound. Do you remember the pink love light that flowed out of your lover’s eyes when you made warm soft love, what was its sound? In what key did you sing the golden pink song of intimate human love? Each smell, each taste, each touch is sound. One breath at a time is singing into and out of our lungs, each heart beat is keeping perfect time with the huge harmony of life happening in each of us each second, as we ride this constant wave of nowness. Each one of us is a soul with a beautiful body to anchor itself, hovering between Heaven and Earth. This is the music, the resonance that can be experienced and this is our time to be it, do it and express it.
The first song that has been transposed onto the Holy Thorn Harp of Glastonbury is this, written by my beloved partner Renata and the words go:
Open my heart and let the light flood in.
Open my heart and let the love stream forth.
Love and light make the shrine of my heart.
May the beauty of my soul
May the love in my heart
May the light of my Spirit grow.
As a pilgrim with a very special harp made from the tree that comes from the staff of that ancient saint Joseph of Arimathea, a sailor and merchant of precious metals who sailed into Cornwall, walked the land of Avalon with Jesus and his beloved Mary Magdalene and the Holy Mother. As a pilgrim a wonder comes over me, of how our lives are set up and planned and how we need to walk with courage, to bring, sing and be what we are capable of. We can walk in beauty as the Navaho say, we can bring joy and harmony into people’s lives, that is where the healing is. This harp has come as a message and messenger to me, saying "reinforce the truth you know deep within your being”. Perfection is here every moment in every life.This entry was posted in Blog, and tagged Glastonbury, holy thorn, harp, sacred music, healing music, sound healing ,. Bookmark the permalink.