We began our walk by once again drawing a sphere of Light around our party. As we walked along Cressbrook Dale, we were careful not to colour any impressions our companions might pick up about the place. We shared a little history and geology, but it was not until we stopped by the mouth of a small cave that we began to speak of its ‘alternative’ history. Even so, it seemed that they were already tasting the atmosphere for themselves and their reactions could be read on their faces, from what looked like disgust through to delight.
The cave is a low, two-pronged shaft at the base of a cliff. It is an uncomfortable crawl to get inside, as years of fallen stones line the passageways that disappear into the darkness; we would not ask them to enter.
Instead, we gathered at the mouth of the cave for a guided journey, a type of meditative visualisation, similar to those we use as part of the Silent Eye’s correspondence course. This one, part of a longer story, was not so much written as glimpsed as we had worked with the landscape here over the years.
Our companions closed their eyes and, as a low chant echoed softly through the cavern, began their journey, following the words in imagination, entering into a time and a place beyond time… what they saw is theirs to keep or to share as they choose. Join us in that journey…
‘…The walls of the tiny cave close about you.
The drums reverberate through the rock.
The fire of sacred herbs is kindled before the narrow opening and smoke fills your lungs.
The flickering shadows dance on the walls and you are lost once more in vision.
The drums slow to a steady beat; your breathing is slower too… your heartbeat echoes the drums, slower… slower… Yet it beats faster than the heart of the land. Feel its rhythm in your bones as life ebbs and flesh melts into the earth.
‘As your body disintegrates… dust to dust, water to water, flame to flame… your soul soars, higher than life, deeper than death, faster than time.
All things are yours for the knowing, nothing is yours for the taking…nor would you if you could.
There is freedom in this.
The wandering mind rests, light as a mayfly, on the world you have known, seeing with new eyes, as parents watch children as they squabble in the dirt.
You sigh; the last breath leaves, and you are still…’
‘The pale gold of dawn touches your face.
You can feel the dew damp grass beneath your nakedness and hear the chanting, soft in the morning, entwined with the song of birds.
They chafe your hands and feet, washing the pale, cold skin. You watch, detached, apart… distant, yet present.
You are aware of curiosity, watching the body whose spark of life has fled, yet which lives still.
They sit you on the hide, one behind, two besides, chanting softly and marking your face with their fingertips, stroking your skin with the black feathers, passing the smoke before your face.
A cup is lifted to your lips the bitter liquid forced into your mouth… you choke…
… as you meet the eyes of the Old One, you swallow, and the world explodes…’
‘Smoke hangs in the hollow before the rock, the Place of the Dreaming.
The air is heavy, the fires not for warmth.
All day they have drummed.
All day they have chanted.
All day you have sat, rigid in the smoke that swirls and roils in your vision; great beasts and creatures populate your sight.
Death in life and life in death.
Yet now, once more, they bring you back.
This is the third night.
The last…or the first.
Your eyes are clear, looking up through the pall to the faces of man and beast, god and spirit carved by the Goddess herself in the rock.
Their eyes stare unseeing, seeing all.
As darkness falls the dance of flame gives them life, leering or smiling… the rectus of fear or the faces of desire.
You know not.
You know only what must be done.
A circle of torches spirals around the Place of Dreaming.
They have come.
For a birth…or a death.
There is only that. It is all you have left to give. You will not pass that ring of flame unchanged. You can only climb the pathway. You cannot run from yourself. Not now. Not anymore. You have seen too much. Your mind is clear, your body weak but renewed as you walk the spiral to the base of the rock; naked and nameless still.’
‘They stand away and you are alone. One step… two….
You approach the channel that leads up to the mound atop the pinnacle of rock.
You can see the smoke rising through the chimney… the sacred fire is kindled; smoke white against the dusk.
Fear grips your gut, a hand clenching in your entrails. Each step an aeon, each footfall touches terror.
In silence you battle the warding. You have earned the right to pass.
You climb, naked still, all that you are has been stripped from you… all thought… you simply are…
Up through the narrow crevice, up and right onto the rock… only silent swirling below, ringed with flame.
And then up once more, feet touching the grass of the mound, pushing through terror, wanting to flee. you sit, cross legged to wait. Knowing what is to come…
…Fear remains, your only companion, whispering in the night. You see it… know it… taste it on your lips.
The torches are extinguished; the flames cold.
There is only the silence and the fear and the smell of smoke.
Smoke from a sacred flame… herbs and woods known to the few… to the old ones… gate of vision or funeral pyre.
If you fail, they will burn your body, scattering your ashes to the winds.
You will be lost forever.
You will not fail.’