Two people stand just ahead of the main group at the edge of a Llyn Carrig Bach, the sacred Druid lake which now lies just off the end of the runway at RAF Valley, on Anglesey. Being the weekend, RAF Gnats – the UK’s primary jet training aircraft, made famous by the Red Arrows aerobatic team – are silent.
The two gaze into the setting sun, drinking in the vivid colours of twilight, and give unspoken thanks to the modern forces of happenstance that this most special day could have ended with such a magical event in the early night’s sky.
The last stage of their path, here, with their companions of the weekend, was from the RSPB car park situated at the end of the main road through the small town of Valley. As they walked the sun set, and the final stages of the short climb to the plateau were carried out in the day’s fading light.
This juxtaposition, here, of ancient and modern has its military overtones, too, – which are not lost on the group. The Silent Eye teaches that in the moment, the now, there is continuous magic. This magic conspires to bring to us the ‘bigger’ picture – the work of the spiritual – in what is usually viewed as the ordinary or the accidental. We see what expect to see. When we widen that expectation – in the final analysis, letting go of any ‘us-generated’ expectation – we begin to see a very different world.
In this place, right over the marshy lakes which marked the end of our first day, some of the world’s most advanced small jets hurl themselves into the air with unbelievable speed.
Unbelievable…. a word that might also describe how those we were gathered to honour – our Druid ancestors – felt, in A.D. 60, knowing that the greatest military machine in the world was a few miles away, waiting for the right time to cross the Menai Straits from the mainland and end the Druid’s magical existence…
Disbelief, perhaps, would be a better word. One theory is that disbelief was so strong that the Druid chiefs assembled here (already a longstanding sacred site) to cast into the waters a large sacrifice of their most precious objects – damaged by themselves so that they were beyond their own use. We have forgotten this form of sacrifice, yet we embed such principles into various logical instruments such as financial trusts.
Swords, shields, slave chains and even a cauldron, all were thrown into the waters of Llyn Carrig Bach only a short distance from where we had gathered in the fading light. What became known as the ‘Anglesey Hoard’ was rediscovered when the airfield was under construction in the 1940s and is now housed in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
Now, on the hilltop overlooking the ancient lake – now largely silted up and with a shoreline protected by sharp gorse bushes – the two light candle flames and gathered their spiritual kin to begin the simple rite…
A day such this can be focussed on either its beginning or its ending. At the summer weekends, we focus on the dawn, symbolising the rising power of life – a universal, magical event, that we all take for granted.
For the winter solstice, we view the sunset as the event around which gather; and the whole of the Saturday on Anglesey was constructed to support that…
We had begun with the vast history of life and pre-life on Earth, beautifully illustrated in the twin climbs (down and up) of the cliffs at South Stack.
Back at the top, after the struggle of the ascent – representing the long climb of evolution – we visited a wonderful ancient village that has such a special feel that it could still be inhabited by the happy ancestors who lived and thrived there…
From there, we travelled in our car convoy to a strange dolmen located in the middle of a large and very muddy field.
Both Barbara (in the stone) and I had been moved by the folk-tale of a family who, in relatively recent times, had made a home beneath this ancient structure in their times of dire need. The contrast with the ‘happy’feel of the Holyhead Mountain group could not have been stronger and emphasised how mankind’s structures have played a pivotal role in the ascent of the species.
Our brief (soup) lunch had been at Rhosneigr, where, after our simple meal, the beach provided a contemplative place to each select a pebble to be used as a sacrificial token during the sunset ceremony at Llyn Carrig Bach. Each person was asked to imbue the stone with something that had served them well, but which they had outgrown.
Our penultimate destination, with the sun setting fast into the ocean, is one of the most beautifully situated burial chambers in Britain – Barclodiad y Gawres. Located on a clifftop near Aberffraw, this site has been reconstructed with a roof of concrete, newly covered in soil and grass, and is most strongly associated with the Druids, as this picture site guide shows. The facial decorations were mirrored in the headland stones.
Here, we had a place of ritual splendour which, sadly, is now locked behind steel shutters to prevent vandalism – a sad contrast to the reverence of our ancestors.
On one of the previous visits, the early fencing had been bent back and we were able to spend a few moments inside.
Then, with the light fading, and fearing that we were too late to bring the Saturday to the conclusion we had planned, we had set off for Llyn Carrig Bach, arriving just as the sun set on the western horizon. The sacrificial site is a few hundred metres across a field, and the final ascent to the raised plateau overlooking the lake is a bit of a scramble…
But, we need not have worried. Everything was waiting for us, as perfectly arranged and timed as we could have asked for…
The small ring of pilgrims collect their lights and their blessings from the priest. In complete silence they take light and token to the high edge over the water, where the priestess is waiting. She greets them with a sign and her own blessing, standing back so that they can cast away into the sacrifical water what they no longer have need of, and which is holding back the embrace of their spiritual future.
The simple rite ends. There is a feeling of great peace. It has been a day well spent. The moon and venus have borne witness to this gathering. We are blessed.
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©Copyright Stephen Tanham, 2016.