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Thursday, March 2, 2017

When Tim Leary's ashes mingled with King Arthur's

Brian Barritt casts the ashes of Timothy Leary into the wind at Glastonbury Tor

British author John Higgs' limited-edition book, 2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, mentions in passing that Higgs and some of his friends had scattered the ashes of Timothy Leary at 
Glastonbury Tor, aka the "Isle of Avalon," a place in England closely associated both with centuries of British history and with British legends such as that of King Arthur. 

In recent weeks, this incident mentioned only briefly by Higgs began to work more and more upon my mind. How was it that Leary's ashes came to be scattered at a place that I long to visit? And how did Higgs become the vessel? I wrote to Mr. Higgs begging for information, and he wrote back and told me the story, not neglecting to also tell me how Alan Moore acquired a relic of Leary. My sincere thanks to Mr. Higgs, and now I share the tale with you. The Management.

John Higgs: As for Leary's ashes - that was after I wrote I Have America Surrounded.* Not too long after that book was published, I unexpectedly received a little parcel from America containing a little baggy of Tim. It was from Denis Berry, who was in charge of Tim's estate after Rosemary died. His ashes had been mixed with gold dust — to make it sparkle in the sunshine when thrown — and given out to all his friends. They may still have some left, I'm not sure. It would be a worthwhile research project for someone to track down what happened to all those ashes, incidentally. From what I've heard, some famously went into space, some were scattered in the Ganges, some were in Tony Scott's bathroom in Hollywood, some were scattered at a Mexican pyramid, and so on. [I attempted inquiries. From Denis Berry: "Susan Sarandon scattered some at Burning Man a couple of years ago. There was press on it." -- Tom] 

I knew I didn't want to keep them — when you write a biography, you're only borrowing a story while you retell it. It is important you don't try and cling on and claim ownership of it afterwards. That never ends well. So, seeing as the other ashes had gone to symbolically significant global places, and as I might have had the only ashes in Britain, then it was clear that they needed to be scattered at the heart of Albion, so to speak. And as it happened, Lee Harris — who ran for Mayor of London last year — was organizing an event called Alchemy in Avalon at Glastonbury Assembly Rooms. Raja Ram from Shpongle DJ'd, if I remember right. Me and some friends went along and put the word out that we would be scattering Tim's ashes at noon the following day on the top of Glastonbury Tor, and anyone who wanted to come along would be most welcome.

A few dozen people turned up, including a piper and some druids. The druids took me to one side and asked if they could have some of the ashes to perform their own ceremony afterwards, at a rock that served as a modern druid altar in the vicinity, so I gave them about a third of the ashes. The rest I gave to Brian Barritt — he had been closest to Tim of all the people present, so it seemed right that he should do the casting — see attached photo.

After that a bunch of us made our way down the hill following this druid to this secret altar, and the druids held their ceremony. I confess I've never been one for organized religions but I found that ceremony extraordinarily moving. And I'll never forget the way that, when we were leaving, a pair of young hippies descended on the rock — in my memory they seemed to appear out of the bushes but I'm sure that wasn't the case — to desperately scrape what ash they could into a cigarette paper to smoke. That was really funny.

There's one other thing to note, while I'm on the subject. In the ashes there was a tiny little piece of bone. Before going to Glastonbury I put that aside under the belief that it would be needed for something someday. Years later, I came to the conclusion that what I kept that bone for was to give it to Alan Moore (or more specifically, to donate it to the Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, aka Steve Moore and Alan Moore — and Leary meant more to Alan than it did Steve). So the first time I met Alan I found myself giving him a tiny fragment of Tim Leary in a jeweled box, which everyone present agreed was entirely reasonably behaviour. It now sits on Alan's personal altar at home.

I mention this because Alan's talked about it interviews recently and got a few details wrong — nothing major, just minor details. One of these was the notion that the flake of bone was from Leary's shin, which was a notion I had unquestioned in my head, but of course I have no way of knowing what bone it was from. Already I've seen this story grow, as such stories are wont to do, so you may hear some folk say that Alan has Leary's shinbone. I was tempted to keep quiet and see what the story evolved into, but seeing as you asked I guess that's reason enough to put the story straight.

* (Mr. Higgs' biography of Timothy Leary, which anyone interested in Leary or Robert Anton Wilson should read.)

1 comment:

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