At least three people have recently seen a panther on Glastonbury Tor.
‘Again!’ comes the usual sighing response. The issue is, while panthers have been popping up here for years, these sightings still lack the official stamp of reality. Some think it might be a shape-shifting creature from the spirit world. Perhaps it sparks ancestral memories of Grendel-type monsters lurking in the dark.
Personally, I think it’s both physical and otherworldly. First, the arguments for it being real:
- ‘Credible’ people like farmers have reported seeing it. A few years ago, a farmer said something that left large feline footprints in the mud had taken one of his lambs.
- Elusive doesn’t mean unreal. Wild animals habitually avoid us, so it’s a special treat ever to see any of them. Panthers are especially hard to spot because they are black.
- Cats are one of the most adaptable animals on earth. This is why there are more wild varieties of them than any other animal – they adjust to where they find themselves. It would make sense for a large cat to lurk around human settlements because of the greater chance of grub.
- Unexpected animals are now popping up in odd places all over the world. These are often ex-exotic pets, escapees from zoos and even stowaways from ships.
- African hippos now live in Columbia. A drug baron once imported them to show off in his pool. When he was murdered, his estate fell into disrepair, and the hippos wandered off. They are now thriving, as Columbia’s lush greenery suits them better than the harsh African climate.
- A South African man has recently decided to move a group of rhinos to Australia to save them from extinction by poachers for their horns.
- American raccoons escaped from a German zoo when it was bombed in World War Two. Prolific breeders, they have since spread through Europe. Sweden has decided to cull them because they threaten local wildlife. Interloping species that turn out to be destructive like this are now called Judas animals.
- After all the rumours about pumas living near Los Angeles, they were eventually tracked down. Since 2012, they have been filmed and satellite tagged.
The Glastonbury panther may one day go the same way – tagged, filmed and somehow reduced. I can understand why Australian Aborigines say that photographs steal the soul. While it’s still a mystery, our panther has a numinous quality, which would be a pity to lose.
Many years ago, at the start of my spiritual path, I had a dramatic dream. A panther was trying to come into the house. I was terrified. I tried to barricade the doors – but then it got in by the bathroom window. I gave up, and said ‘OK, let’s talk’. We went outside, where it turned into a jungle boy, and we shared a bag of crisps.
In this dream, the panther represented the power of the spirit world. I think this is likely to be a universal symbol, meaning much the same to most people.
When somebody finally tracks down the Glastonbury panther, it will feel like the conquest of a mystery – and a little candle of magic will go out. However, it doesn’t have to be like that. So much of life is both physical and symbolic at the same time. I hope that for many of us the panther on the Tor can be both real and magical – like a shamanic guide animal, and a true bridge between the worlds.
If you’ve ever seen an animal in an unexpected place, drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you!
First published in Glastonbury’s Oracle Magazine
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