Jamie George and partner Frances Howard-Gordon lay claim to some significant firsts in Glastonbury, the legendary Isle of Avalon in the time of King Arthur. They describe their shop Gothic Image as the grandmother of the many esoteric shops that followed in their wake. Jamie’s guided tours to the sacred and spiritual sites of Britain and Ireland were a first in the realm of spiritual pilgrimages. The other string to their bow is Gothic Image Publications – small, independent and surviving in the face of online giants such as Amazon.
Spiritual travel is an integral part of the learning experiences offered through Global Spiritual Studies, whose founder, Linda Marson, happily admits to being a travel addict. In her book, Ticket, Passport and Tarot Cards, she explores the Tarot by associating the energy of the Major Arcana cards with inner and outer journeys she has made to some amazing destinations around the world over the past 40 years.
In life, the Wheel of Fortune often turns to bring people of like mind together. Since 2013, Linda has been involved with Gothic Image tours because she could see that Jamie shared her passion for providing travel experiences that connect people to the spirit of place in a relaxed, supportive environment. She joins some of the tours, bringing tarot into the eclectic mix of experiences that connect people to the magic and mystery of sacred landscapes and the old ways that sustained communities in pre-Christian times and which are becoming increasingly relevant today.
Here Linda talks with Jamie about Gothic Image and the tours in particular. Even though he’s been taking people to the same sacred sites, fairy glens and other enchanted places for 30 years , he never tires of them. ‘I imagine myself coming there for the first time,’ he says. ‘If you put yourself in that position, all kinds of things can open up. For me, it’s a dance between memory and revelation. They’re wonderful places, they give something new every time.’
LINDA: You were born and raised in Scotland – what led you south to Glastonbury
JAMIE: I left Scotland because I needed to expand my horizons. I didn’t go straight to Glastonbury. I spent some years in London pursuing a career in television and media. It was the swinging 60s and London was a great place to be. Then in the late 1960s I discovered Glastonbury and became a sort of weekend hippie. Being a hippie was wonderful… you were into love and peace and you really did think you had the power to change the world. Later it became a pejorative term and you were an outcast, you were definitely counter-culture.
I took a year off to study areas that had always interested me -the myths and legends of Britain, the sacred landscape and folklore. As the year went by I decided to live in Glastonbury and In some ways it felt like coming home. It wasn’t Scotland, but it had the same characteristics – the hills, the wells and the general feel. It was a great déja vu feeling. It seemed to welcome me. I was single, I got married, had children and Gothic Image happened.
LINDA: The name ‘Gothic Image’ is quite evocative. Where did it come from and what sort of image did you want to project?
JAMIE: The shop was already called Gothic Image when we took it over in 1979. It was a medieval gallery with pottery and crafts. We turned it into a more family oriented shop – a mixture of children’s books, esoteric books, tarot and pilgrim’s supplies. At the time we were the only shop that provided people with what you now associate with new age shops – candles, incense and so on. We were the grandmother of all the shops that came in behind us. The Gothic period was the border between the old and the new, so we stock traditional literature as well as new age books and a whole range of pilgrim supplies.
LINDA: I can’t help thinking your shop must be a favourite haunt of the local Goths!
JAMIE: Ha, ha, yes well that Goth and punk period came later in the 80s. Gothic Image became a name people identified with craziness and leading edge material. They related to the name, so we never wanted to change it. I started to do short tours around Glastonbury and then we branched out into publishing, so Gothic Image became an umbrella name for the three parts of the business.
LINDA: I’m sure there must be pluses and minuses to being a small, independent publisher. First to the pluses – what’s the most rewarding aspect of being independent?
JAMIE: You can make your own choices. You can venture into fields that bigger dinosaur publishers steer clear of. We pride ourselves on having a special relationship with our authors, many of whom were friends of ours, e.g. John Michell, Patrick Benham and Sig Lonegren, people who were leading lights in the earth mysteries movement. That’s how we came to publish books about spiritual dowsing, labyrinths and books related to Glastonbury itself. Frances’s book, Glastonbury, Maker of Myths, became a best-seller and is in now its 5th printing. We wanted to offer up an alternative vision and to keep the business small. We have worldwide distribution through distributors in the US and Europe. And we sell the books online and in our shop, which, of course, is more profitable for us.
LINDA: Flipping the coin now…we’re in the electronic age and the world of eBooks. What’s the biggest challenge you face in an industry that’s changed so much in recent years?
JAMIE: The fact that you can go online to sites like Amazon, make a few clicks and get the book delivered to your door almost the next day at a price which is often a third or half what we can sell it at. That’s the biggest challenge, but because we’re a bookshop and people love to come and browse, we’re still selling books. The book market is changing, but we stock other things, not just books.
LINDA: Marion Zimmer Bradley acknowledges your contribution to the research she did for her best-selling novel, Mists of Avalon. How did that connection come about and how did you help with the research?
JAMIE: One day back in 1983 I got a call from Marion in America. She said she was coming over to the UK to do some research and asked me if I would like to accompany her to places around Glastonbury as well as to Tintagel and other Arthurian sites. We got on famously – she was a fellow Gemini and we had a lot of laughs. She was a highly intelligent woman who had a very dry sense of humour. I didn’t fully realise at the time what she was up to. She said she was planning a novel called Mistress of Magic which was going to be a trilogy, but her publisher suggested she make it into one big book. The name changed and Mists of Avalon became a tour de force – on the New York bestseller list for ages. It was lovely to have that acknowledgement from her.
LINDA: Why do you think it was so successful?
JAMIE: It tapped into a rising interest in women’s studies, in looking at the Goddess, for example. A lot of people in Glastonbury and other places were researching the Goddess in Britain and other parts of the world. She was the first author to identify that Zeitgeist. She based a novel around the story of Arthur from the perspective of women such as Morgan Le Fey, Guinevere and Morgaine. It appealed not just to women, but also to men because they were able to get a feminine viewpoint, which I think is important.
LINDA: It’s also a great read, she’s a wonderful storyteller and creates believable, three dimensional characters. By the end of it you feel as though you know all the characters.
JAMIE: Yes, she spins a great story. As you’re reading it, you can imagine yourself there, in the island of the Druids. She propels you into the sacred landscape and how it would have been. It’s very authentic.
LINDA: What I liked about it was that, for the first, there was a coherent version of the legend. There was a thread which you could follow. You got the historical stuff – the Saxons, the Christians. She put it all together. How much of it was pure fiction and how much was based on historical research?
JAMIE: Both really. She imagined herself into the story and what was already known and then expanded out from there, letting her imagination go wild but also keeping it authentic.
LINDA: Did that involvement with Marion spark your interest in doing more tours or help you promote the tours you were already doing?
JAMIE: I had already started doing tours around Britain with small groups when I met her. After she was here and we kept the friendship going, she came back and took part in the tours, particularly to Scotland. She loved the inner Hebrides and Iona and Orkney. So she would join our little band of pilgrims. People wanted to meet her, so she was definitely a drawcard.
LINDA: Is there a particular sort of experience you want to create for people through the tours?
JAMIE: By organising journeys and taking care of all the logistics, people who join the tours feel secure and free to open up in themselves, emotionally, spiritually , mentally and surrender to the sacred landscapes in a way they have not been able to do before. It’s a matter of facilitating that. I find people get an enormous amount of healing from the experience. There’s a lot of healing to be had from the land, from stone circles and holy wells. It’s not always love and light, it can be uncomfortable, but you take the rough with the smooth.
Over the years I’ve been very impressed by the number of people who come away from the tours feeling ‘Wow, this has been so good for me!’ Travelling with kindred spirits also helps – lasting friendships are formed and often people continue to meet up for reunions in Australia, USA, Canada or wherever.
My style is laid back – everything is actually very organised, but you wouldn’t know it! You just feel like you’re floating along because you have that chance to come into a place where you can surrender and open up.
Have you seen a shift over time in why people choose to travel with you?
I don’t think the reasons change a great deal. In my literature and on the website I describe the tours as an invitation to take a different kind of journey. This appeals to
people who are seeking something deeper, something more enlightening, a different perspective, a way to refresh and renew the spirit. Over the years that’s always been at the centre of our approach.
LINDA: Every year you take people to sacred sites – Stonehenge, Avebury, the Ring of Brodgar, the Callanish stones, fairy glens tucked away in the highlands of Scotland. Does the magic of these places fade with repeated visits?
JAMIE: Every journey is unique. The group is different and the vibe is different within the group. I’m very sensitive to how people respond and make sure they’re OK. So every time I go to these places, I get a different sense of place. I imagine myself coming there for the first time, and if you put yourself in that position, then all kinds of things can open up for you. For me it’s a dance between memory and revelation. I love going to these places and that’s why I do it. It never bores me, it’s never repetitive in any sense because they’re just wonderful places. They give something new every time.
LINDA: Do you feel the same way about all the tours, or does one hold a special appeal?
JAMIE: I don’t have any favourites. The landscapes and sites might be different, but the rewards are the same. Ireland is a megalithic wonderland, so it has a different feel and then there’s the magic of the islands with Scotland. I try to stay at places near the ocean which gives us an opportunity to let go and feel the healing power of water.
A highlight of the Scotland tour are the days we spend on the islands – Orkney, Lewis, Skye and Iona. For me, the sense of inner and outer journeying builds as we move through the land and sea scapes. Did you have anything particular in mind when you planned that part of the itinerary?
JAMIE: In a sense it’s designed to follow a historical trail, starting deep in the Neolithic past on Orkney and travelling to a more contemporary space on Iona. Being the island of the Druids, it’s still old there, but you’re also coming into the flowering of Christianity and St Columba. Then there’s the local culture which we often tune into through music – a ceilidh or a music night in a pub, for example. But what happens between the sites is at the heart of the tours, it’s the journey, not the destination. As you say, it’s about exploring inner and the outer journeys.
LINDA: After so many years, you must have interesting tales to tell?
JAMIE: Sometimes we have shared experiences – I guess you could call them psychic or serendipity experiences. At times you almost feel you’re out of time, in a sort of bubble. It’s always interesting to see how that happens. We travel as individual souls but we also create a group spirit or soul where one doesn’t need to say anything, you just feel it. That’s very inspiring.
But some of the most memorable times are those when we’re just having fun. You find yourself laughing and joking because you’re opening up, you’re becoming much more at one with yourself and the land. And it’s the land that helps you do that.
Over to you!
Have you had the sort of travel experiences Jamie describes? Did you consciously choose to travel with a group of people or were you travelling alone? What made that journey special? What happened to turn it into a ‘soul journey’. We’d love to hear from you!