East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Night in Glastonbury


While I go through the usual mix of frustration and bad mood that hits me when I have a new story (or a series of stories, really) growing, I am spending my nights reading The Chalice, a supernatural thriller by British author Phil Rickman.

I first discovered Rickman in the ’90s with the novel The Man in the Moss, and I had acquired his whole back catalog of standalone horrors a few months back. Rickman can be classified, probably, as folk horror, and he’s very good – tight, twisting plots, interesting characters, and a strong sense of place.

The Chalice is set in Glastonbury, the alternative spirituality capital of the UK, and hinges on a number of local legends and historical characters. It is a fun read, and it also struck a strange chord.

I was born and grew up in Turin, Italy’s most haunted city (sorry Rome, we got there first), a city that always boasted… well, maybe boasted is the wrong word, but always had its fair share of crackpots, mediums, cult leaders, conspiracy theorists, reincarnated Egyptian princesses, and people that talked to the angels, or to the aliens. And while the alternative population of Turin was never so open and visible, compared to the one in Glastonbury as described by Rickman, indeed in the ’70s and ’80s the impression of living in a weird place was very strong. And right now with the ensuing crisis, I’ve seen a return of this sort of pre-New Age magic thinking. It’s weird.

An, interestingly enough, we do have our very own ancient and mysterious St. Michael abbey (that Umberto Eco used as the template for the abbey in The Name of the Rose), and our own mountain on which weird lights are seen, and where people often had weird experiences, either scary or elating: case in point, Emperor Constantine, that just outside of Turin had his famous “In hoc signo vinces” experience.

And we have our Holy Graal legend, too – and even the Black Graal legend that Rickman uses as the central engine in his novel. It’s weird (maybe I already said that).

It almost makes me want to start digging into this thing. Maybe this summer… do a quick study on the local ley lines, maybe.
In the meanwhile, I’ll keep reading Phil Rickman.
And hope to finally find the missing bit and start writing this series that’s pushing on my mind.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Night in Glastonbury

  1. The legend of the Black Grail?
    I’ve never heard of it, would you like to go into more detail?


    • There is this theory that there is a sort of anti-Grail, connected with the powers of darkness, that seems to be found wherever the actual Grail is.
      I will do some research and make a post about it. In general, it’s the sort of thing that is supposed to give power and energy to evil deeds and – in some traditions – seems to be connected with pagan and primeval energies, as opposed to the Christian powers of the original Grail.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh I envy you growing up there. Two fold; one for the fact I grew up in ‘farm-town’ Australia with about as much history as a toilet roll, two, for the fact my second book series is set in the early 300s (after Constantine has been assassinated by my main character) and I’d love to be able to SEE and drink in the landscape. Plus, ghosts. Who’s not excited to have ghosts in their town?


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