Principles of Fire (2) belief-faith-knowing

Continued from Part 1.

Before me on the table is an electrical device. It needs a new battery and to do that I have to remove the cover. The small screw holding it is of the type that requires a screwdriver with a cross-head. My mind is intrigued that this illustration of ‘knowing’ has come into the ‘now’, but it has, and I’m grateful.

I open my domestic toolkit that lives beneath the shoe polish in the utility room. Inside is a group of small cross-headed screwdrivers. As long as the size of the head is correct, I know this will open the battery cover of the clock. How do I ‘know’ this for a fact? And how did I come to have such a certainty of success that I can lay aside everything else I’m doing to focus all my energies on this simple but important task?

In Part 1, we spoke of belief and faith – but not in terms of religion; rather in terms of psychology and a more general spirituality. In that post, I said that belief advanced to faith, but that there was something beyond faith. Now we come to what that something is, and it may come as a surprise that is knowledge – or, rather, the act of knowing; something we take for granted… but shouldn’t.

I ‘know’ because I’ve done it, before. But even that is not the start of the trail. I only know this because someone once showed me how to do it. Even then, we haven’t finished chasing this back. Someone showing me is not the same as doing it myself. When this happens, successfully, I get more than a mental tick in the box; I get the rush of entry into a new world. This may be a small victory, but think back to bigger examples, like the first time your parents removed their supporting hand and you rode your bike…wobbling off into your excited future.

Science might say you that your brain and muscles simply added a capability. This is certainly true, but is that how it felt? And doesn’t our motivation to try for other expansions of self get driven by how it feels?

For spirituality to have any real meaning – beyond the intellectual ‘purity’ of the zealot – it should take us into a newer world each time we make a breakthrough. Belief and faith are not exempt from this expectation. The belief in an ‘afterlife’, where we live in a state of bliss, free from our ‘lower’ natures, has caused more heartache than can be imagined. Life is now, life is here. We know that the biblical parables spoke in metaphor, yet we don’t always think to apply this to the meaning of life and death.

Death happens, there is nothing we can do to change that. Biologically, we are programmed to die. The forces that shaped us could have made it differently, but didn’t. So we can say that death is part of the cycle of life; or that the two are day and night in a revolution of the personal planet. The personality is produced by cumulative effect of our reactions to life, going right back to the fundamental experiences of being ‘one with mother’ and the inevitable separation and lack of satisfaction engendered. And so our individual lives began, never able to be reunited in that total oneness and belonging that brought us into the world.

Is this just a tragedy, or a longing that can take us, like the Prodigal ‘Son’, home? And what sort of maturity and home would that quest involve?

For what do we exchange this inevitable closeness with mother? Something wonderful, certainly: the ability to self-direct our lives – to go out there and ride that bicycle, change that battery–things which are mundane at that level, but very different if we see that there is a wholly new way of living associated with spiritual growth. That is the goal of real spirituality: personal transformation. What passes from this life at death is a different consideration, and not one within the scope of this post.

Let us continue the bicycle metaphor. We become competent riders. We can ride in a very straight line. We become qualified to ride, with thousands of others, along large, adult roads. The bicycle becomes more complex, heavy and sophisticated; and faster, ever faster. Riding along is filled with excitement, and we carry on letting the clever machine do more and more for us. One day, we don’t even notice that there is an us and a bicycle, we just see our lives as movement in a straight line, along the road followed by so many other bicycles.

Then, one day, we speed past a person of great interest who is cycling very slowly at the side of the road. We don’t know why she or he is of great interest, but we know they are… There is, perhaps, a calmness, or even a sense of adventure about them. They have an air of being slightly different, detached from the world of the straight line road we take for granted. The next day we see them again, but we have time to slow our bicycle down to stop next to them. They smile. They may even say they have been expecting us…

They invite us to ride with them, but, immediately, they race ahead and turn off onto a track that runs through a beautiful forest. We only know how to ride along the road, so, in a panic, we stop at the point where they left our road and stare at the wonderful strangeness of what’s happening. Were we not so bored with the straight line of the road, it might seem frightening. But it’s not frightening, it’s exciting, and it tastes of the same kind of newness as when we first got on our bike, knowing that the world of our self was about to get much bigger.

Other bikes and riders are flashing past us. Some may disapprove of us standing there, feet on the floor. We look along the track into the forest. Far ahead, the stranger is standing next to his bike but has turned back to face us. He is smiling. How can this be? Bike and rider are one, surely? To get off would be like… dying.

There is a lightness of laughter as we flex our feet, secure on the ground. All the riders with whom we were cycling have gone. There’s just us, the empty straight road and the enigmatic stranger on the path in the forest, inviting us to join him or her on that mysterious path.

Since we got on the bike, so many years ago, we have never been off it. We look at the figure in the forest and see that rider and bike can be separate things; that we can live perfectly well off the bike. More importantly, we can see that the massive cycling highway, with its shared straight line that misses so much of the beautiful land, is not the only way to travel in this wonderful landscape.

In a moment that will change our lives, we examine the mysterious stranger’s stance, and get off our own bicycle. For a second, we mirror his pose, then, we begin to walk towards him, pushing the bicycle, whose direction we now control. After a few steps, an idea comes to us: we get back on the bike and cycle towards him, achieving the power of the machine plus our own choice of direction, freed from the habitual highway. The very air around us sings with the intensity of what we are doing. Even without a destination, we are somewhere new… and it feels so much like home.

Like any metaphor, this can only be taken so far, but it contains many truths about human life and its spiritual psychology. More importantly, it contains, by analogy, the elements of how belief grows. The child we were believed that it was possible to ride a bike. In the hands of a good teacher – our mum or dad – we extended that into faith that we could do it, too. When we finally wobbled away into the world of riding, we took a step beyond faith into the world of knowing… The theoretical belief evolved into the empowering faith, which, with a deep breath, became the spiritual world of knowing.

In the last stage of our metaphor, above, we jumped, deliberately, to a different level of meaning. The child-become-adult riding along the shared highway became a higher level model for how our lives as a personality exist in parallel to others – the other riders on the highway. In this we had forgotten that we and the bicycle (the personality) were actually separate. Meeting the mysterious stranger showed us that there were other roads and tracks we could travel; without losing the carefully cultured ability to ride within our evolutionary arena of time, space and body.

So, what will you do when you step off your bike and begin to push it along a different track and into that wonderful forest? The first thing you will discover is that it was your strength that gave the bike its power. Smiling with this knowledge, you might get back on the bike and cycle towards the stranger on the path; not only free of the common highway, but able to use everything you have learned, before, in the service of your newfound spiritual freedom, and its ability to choose in a very different way.

This second, this moment, this now contains all these things; and they are real. You only need act with enough resolve, and in the right way, to enter that magical path into the forest of personal potential and real individual freedom… and for that, you will need a very deep breath. But you need not fear you will be alone…

One final thought to consider is this: when we experience that rush of knowing, and enter that new world, are we really adding something to our lives and selves, or are we recognising the truth of a world we never left, but just forgot? Have we become ‘bigger’ because we are nearer to home?

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.


Principles of Fire (1) Faith in Belief


Sun fire in forest Sedgwick

The three Directors of the Silent Eye – Sue Vincent, Stuart France and myself – are usually the nucleus of a monthly ‘management’ meeting held at a friend’s house in Manchester. We have begun a process of reviewing the core principles of what we teach and under whose ‘guidance’ we create the four workshops held each year.

I highlight the word guidance, above, because these principles are so fundamental to what we have done since the launch of the Silent Eye School in 2013 that, for us, they have taken on a life of their own – becoming what the ancients would have known as ‘Virtues’ or channels of specific learning, alive in the combined consciousness of the three people involved. This is not to say that we ‘channel’ anything. The pretence, or assumption, of so-called channeling is rife in the world of esoteric teaching where it is plainly a tool of the egoic consciousness of certain individuals to attribute contact by themselves with higher worlds. When we say channel in the way I use it, above, we mean the coming alive of knowledge such that it expands its own presence in the mind and heart of the recipient of its truth…

Each week, the three of us receive and comment upon the home journals of the students (Companions, in our terminology; since we share a individual journey with each of them) as they travel through three inner landscapes within their own inner and outer consciousness. Over time, we have built up a picture of how our monthly lessons, combined with the personal tuition we provide, lead to a developing understanding of these living principles, that form the basis of our three-year teaching programme.

During our last monthly meeting (July 2018) we resolved to create a series of articles to provide our own ‘commentary’ on these subjects. These would be made available, via The Silent Eye blogs, to anyone interested in our Work. They would also be the basis of more detailed discussion with our Companions, as they progressed in their own studies. On the basis that they represent our most sincere attempt at documenting our own, developing understanding, we have named them: Principles of Fire. This does not equate them with alchemical fire – though there would be nothing wrong with that – but indicates how their personal evolution within each of us unfolds.

This is the first of those articles. The subject is the linked nature of Belief and Faith, and the power of the human consciousness to transcend the limitations of both.

Let us start with Belief.

Belief might be considered as the crystallisation of a pattern of thought which forms a nucleus around which each of us can learn to face something fundamentally bigger than ourselves. I might believe in God; or I might believe in something simpler, like Goodness in the human ‘soul’, or the idea that there is a deeper and separate level of my own consciousness that lies ‘beneath or inside’ what I view as my self. It does not matter what you believe in; the principles are the same.

As a student of the esoteric (hidden knowledge, contained and available within life) we will probably come to this by absorbing the views of someone else; either via a living teacher or a powerful book. Certain books, written from a perspective of true understanding, contain ‘seeds’ that are capable of germination when they fall in the right soil. The Bible speaks of such things in the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13). The soil is the consciousness of anyone who seeks deeper understanding with sincerity.

Whether we are influenced by a person or a book we may be affected in such a way that we feel an ‘expansion’ of our being. We identify that feeling with what, suddenly, becomes a new perspective. That perspective then become a belief.

This experience can be so profound that some people become a mental or emotional ‘warrior’ to defend and expound their new belief; yet all we have is the first glimpse of a path ahead of us. Yet, it is probably important that we react in this way. By doing this we generate a surge of emotion, and emotion, though capable of terrible inaccuracy, carries the kiss of our essence – that part of us that has a reality far deeper than the everyday personality.

We may persist with our new belief in one of two ways. The first we might call static. A static belief is one entirely received from somewhere else that carries the authority of another – including our parents. With this, we may wish to imprint the world with the rightness of this belief, such that we prove its correctness by stamping it on others. The word ‘zealot’ has historically been used to describe the barren nature of this behaviour.

The second way we might persist with our new belief is to carry it forward, experientially, regardless of others’ opinions. This brave step ignites something new in us, something that enlarges a sense of ‘me’ in a different way. We feel alive with the sense of empowerment in our search, and know that this comes from the fact that we are seeking a validation of our new ‘truth’ entirely from within ourselves and our corresponding experiences in life… which we suddenly find to be linked. The seed has germinated, the sense of excitement and freshness gathers pace. Though we may not know it, we are experiencing the first stages of a new type of life.

When we pass through this personal gateway, often referred to in mystical teaching as a ‘portal’, we enter the world of Faith. Within a state of faith, the elements of the belief take on a fiery life of their own, one in which there appears to be a direction of much deeper – and much more alive – understanding.

This direction is neither belief or faith, but points to something deeper, whose power is breathtaking. What that is will be discussed in the next of these articles on the Principles of Fire.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

Forthcoming Silent Eye events:

Castles of the Mind workshop

Weekend of 14-16 September 2018.

Location: Northumberland

More information here.

Or email us at:

©Stephen Tanham

Pilgrims of Blood and Stone



Castles 25Jul Rose and Warkworthv1

The blood: the Life that flows through us, taken in as breath, fresh each second, flowing out to be renewed in the world of nature; natural, given.

The stone: the fixed structures we rely on to ensure persistence of that life-force made flesh. The riddle, the contradiction – the mystery… beginning with that most profound and persistent structure: the body…

There is no more beautiful a coastline in which to explore the mystery of our being than Northumberland. The beaches are wonderful, the climate is usually mild late into the Autumn. The mellowness of September will be perfect.

This former Kingdom in its own right is rich in history; ancient and modern. Yet, it remains unvisited by most. Look on a map and you’ll see how it’s lovely hills and coast form a separate realm between England and Scotland.

Northumberland from Google
( Image above: Northumberland – an ancient Kingdom between England and Scotland. (Google Maps))

The castle or the fortified tower is capable of being used as working symbol of the way we guard against life; and Northumberland is full of such treasures. They mirror its history, from the ancient political and religious roots to its lawless centuries when gangs – land pirates – roamed, unchecked, in the times of the Border reivers.

(Image above: the fortified Tower – about which, more later….

Pilgrims have always come this way, drawn by the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We, too, will be drawn towards its mysterious and ancient shores, the birthplace of English (Celtic) Christianity. But, before we make that last odyssey across the causeway (or sands, for the adventurous) to that final island of the soul, we will make other journeys along the edge of the land, journeys that use coast and castle to explore the seemingly contrasting nature of survival and spirituality.

(Image above: the castle on the far point of Lindisfarne. Taken from the Tourist Information board)

Day One: Friday 14th September, 2018

To begin our journey as pilgrims of blood and stone, we will gather, in the late afternoon, of Friday 14th September, in the lovely village of Bamburgh – home to the world famous castle of the same name. The Victoria Hotel will host us for tea, coffee and cakes while we make introductions, meet old and new friends, and discuss the plans for the weekend ahead.

(Image above: The Victoria Hotel, Bamburgh village – our Friday meeting place)

Bamburgh village - 1 (1)

After this, we will do what pilgrims have always done; we will walk, in essence, beginning our symbolic journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. One of the finest beaches in Britain is a few minutes away from Bamburgh village, and we will continue to set the scene by strolling and considering the splendour of Bamburgh Castle, seen from the shore.

During the walk, we will share thoughts and readings on the themes generated by the idea of Castles of the Mind – our name for this Walk and Talk workshop. We will ask the first of several questions, questions designed to shape the weekend from an emotional and spiritual perspective. All our answers will be unique; there is no right or wrong, they simply reflect our experiences and our aspirations.

The geographic base for our weekend is the lovely fishing harbour of Seahouses. We will retire there after our beach walk at Bamburgh


A stroll around the harbour will help us work up an appetite for that most important ingredient of any trip to Seahouses: their world-famous fish and chips. Other dishes are available…

To finish our Friday, we will retire to one of several sea-facing pubs to relax. Tomorrow will be a busy day…

Castles 25Jul EndDayOneV4X

Day Two: Saturday 15th September, 2018img_1174To begin the Saturday, we will drive the short distance to Bamburgh Castle and tour this famous landmark, known as the King of Castles. Bamburgh is the royal seat of the kings of Northumbria and is still a family home–though no longer to kings… The admission price is £11.00 per person and, as with the entry fee for other locations, is not included in the Silent Eye’s booking fee.

The guided tour will tell the story of Bamburgh’s many incarnations over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon Royal palace to its reconstruction in the Victorian period by inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong; to whom it was the vision of a perfect castle. From the guidebook:

“Our vast and imposing walls have witnessed dark tales of rebellion and bloodshed, spellbinding myths, millionaire benefactors and ghosts who love Bamburgh Castle so much, they never want to leave.”

After this, ghosts permitting, we will take refreshments in the cafe, then gather on the ramparts overlooking the sea and consider the second of our discussion questions:

We will then drive a few miles south, along the coast, to arrive at the beautiful fishing village of Craster.

Craster is very compact, and easily explored. A short walk up the hill is the Jolly Fisherman pub, famous for its seafood dinners and ‘light’ lunches.


This will be followed by a relaxed walk along the dramatic cliffs of the coastline between Craster and Embelton.


A twenty minute walk will take us to the haunting ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, which stands on a remote headland. Dunstanburgh became a key stronghold during the early fourteenth century; a tumultuous period in English history. Relations between King Edward II and Earl Thomas of Lancaster had broken down. Earl Thomas had begun the construction of the castle in 1313, very possibly as a provocative symbol of his opposition to the King. The Earl mounted a rebellion, but, when it was defeated by King Edward’s forces, he was arrested before he could reach the safety of his intended fortress.

Earl Thomas was executed in 1322. Dunstanburgh Castle passed, eventually, to John of Gaunt, who used it to defend against the Scots, converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep. During the Wars of the Roses, it was the scene of two sieges and eventually fell into Yorkist hands. Today, it survives as an impressive ruin, but visitors speak of how its ‘presence’ lingers in the memory….

Dunstanburgh Castle is operated by English Heritage, with reciprocal honouring of  National Trust memberships. Admission is £5.40. Concessions are available.

At Dunstanburgh, we will consider our third question, then, we will drive a few miles east, to visit one of Northumberland’s least-known historical gems: the Preston Pele Tower at Ellingham.

Northumberland, has a bloody history; largely because of its position as one of two border counties between England and Scotland. Few places convey the vivid fear and caution of the past as well as the Preston Pele Tower. The tower is owned by Major Tom Baker Cresswell and is privately managed. It was constructed in the 1390s when warfare between Scotland and England was at its height. At the time of the battle of Agincourt, there were 78 such pele towers in Northumberland. Among its owners was Sir Guiscard Harbottle, who was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513 – the conflict that brought Mary, Queen of Scots to the Scottish throne.

By the 16th century, the rest of England was enjoying peace and prosperity. But, in the Borders of Northumberland, raiders, known as ‘reivers’, crossed freely though the area, ravaging and looting. This led to the continued use of ‘tower dwellings’ among the well-off families. The idea may sound attractive – and we could say reflects today’s ‘gated communities’, but the intact interior of the Preston Pele Tower, with its reconstructed rooms, shows how primitive such living had to be.

Castles 25Jul Pele Tower interior1 X

The Preston Pele Tower (and gardens) is privately owned, and admission is a very reasonable £2.00.

The extreme nature of this isolation illustrates the power of fear to drastically change lives. With this in mind, we will carry out a mystical and psychological exercise related to our coming arrival in Lindisfarne on Sunday.

There are no refreshments at the Preston Pele Tower, but an early dinner will be booked at the nearby Pack Horse Inn in Ellingham.


After the long day, and our early dinner, we will retire back to Seahouses for a possible nightcap before retiring for the night. A very special Sunday morning awaits…

Castles 25Jul EndDayTwoV4X

Day Three: Sunday 16th September, 2018

Our final day is a physical and spiritual homecoming. Our pilgrimage is to end on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which can be reached (subject to the tides) by car, over the causeway. Lindisfarne can also be reached on foot, across a three mile stretch of marked path over the sands. We will consult on the day, and if there are those who wish to make the final journey a true walking pilgrimage, then we will arrange for one or more cars to be left at Lindisfarne so that the walking is one-way only. Be prepared to be very sandy/muddy if you wish to walk! Having said that, to arrive at a place of pilgrimage after a degree of ‘hardship’ is an entirely appropriate thing.

Castles 25Jul Lindisfarne main street x - 1

Lindisfarne needs little introduction. The monastery there was founded by an Irish monk, St Aidan. Aidan had presided over the monastery at Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. He was sent to establish the Lindisfarne community in the year 634 AD, and remained there till his death in 651 AD.

The holy island of Lindisfarne has attracted pilgrims for hundreds of years. It is a fitting and beautiful place to end the Castles of the Mind weekend. The village comprises:

  • a large car park; the first major feature you come to, having crossed the tidal causeway.
  • Two main streets, one of which leads to the crossroads and, beyond, the excellent museum; the other involves a fifteen minute walk to the far end of the island where the castle is situated.
  • There is also a meditation garden, which we may use if time permits.

For ease of finding, we will meet at the Oasis Cafe, which lies on the road from the car park.

The castle is currently undergoing work, but the visitor centre within it is open. The walk down from the village is well worth the views of the beaches and the headland on which the castle is built.

If we have worked our collective intentions well, we should each feel a certain ‘presence’ when we arrive on the island of Lindisfarne.

To conclude our weekend, we will remember the bravery of the early fathers of religion, such as St Aidan, who set sail into the complete unknown to establish their faith on distant shores. We can, perhaps, have little understanding of the depth of that faith; but we can, in our own ways, recreate that ‘setting off’ into the unknown – without fear.

Our final gathering will be a powerful and moving close to a wonderful weekend. Why not see out the end of the summer in style and join us…


Castles 25Jul EndDayThreeV3X

Castles of the Mind workshop

Weekend of 14-16 September 2018.

Location: Northumberland

To join us on our Castles of the Mind weekend email us at:

Or Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf


We’d love to have you with us. You can find our more about the Silent Eye School of Consciousness here.

Weekend Costs

There is a charge of £50.00 per person. All other expenses, such as accommodation, food and entry charge for the sites visited, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are usually taken together in a local pub, and the costs shared.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham




An Orcadian Diary (4) – The light of the North


St Magnus x Cathedral keyarch

We could be in any of the great cathedral cities of Britain. If someone took off the blindfold and asked, we might say Salisbury, York, Lichfield or the wonders of Durham Cathedral. The latter is significant, because they who built Durham came here to add their skills…

We are in the capital of Orkney – Kirkwall (reference ‘F’ in the Northlink Ferry’s map, below), in one of the most splendid cathedrals I’ve every visited. And yet this town of Kirkwall, the commercial centre of the archipelago of Orkney, has a population of only 10,000 people. The rest of Orkney is compact, beautiful, and infused with a sense of ancient mystery. So why is this magnificent building here, so far from the rest of British ‘civilisation’?

Orkney 11Jun18 - 1

It’s a story involving Earls

Aha! I thought to myself, upon hearing this – some medieval outpost of early Britain, strategically important – as it was to be, a thousand years later, during WW1, when the British fleet was based in Scapa Flow. But these were not English earls; they were Vikings, albeit Vikings who had adopted Christianity.

St Magnus x Cathedral Full central view ace - 1

St Magnus Cathedral is referred to, historically, as The Light in the North. It’s not hard to see why when you stand in the west and look along the nave towards the chapel in the East.

St Magnus x Cathedral Lamps better

The Earls of Orkney were from Norway, and had settled in these fertile islands, as part of their vast and successful expansion. Modern Stavanger is a mere 300 miles to the East – no problem for a nation with the seafaring expertise of the Vikings. The Old Norse name was actually ‘Jarl’, rather than Earl; and the two terms only became synonymous during the 15th century when, under the Sinclair family, control passed to mainland Scotland.

St Magnus Cathedral x Full Arches

Until that time, the ‘Jarls’ of the combined territory of Orkney and Shetland (Norðreyjar) had a great deal of independence and local power. The office of Jarl of Orkney became the most senior rank in medieval Norway except for the king himself.

St Magnus x Cathedral side chamber1

Magnus Erlendsson was the Earl of Orkney in the early 1100s. He seems to have been a very spiritual man, which many contempory Norwegians saw as a weakness. Magnus once refused to fight during a Viking raid on Anglesey, staying on his ship, praying and singing psalms.

He shared the Earldom with his ambitious cousin, Hakon. The two men fought a series of battles, damaging the land. To settle this, it was agreed to hold a council of peace on the Orkney island of Egilsay. Each Jarl would bring only two ships, containing unarmed men. Hakon broke the agreement and arrived with eight ships, each fully armed. On his orders, in an act of humiliating barbarity, Magnus was executed by Hakon’s reluctant cook, using an axe.

Magnus prayed as the axe was swung towards him… He was buried at Birsay, in the north-west of the Orkney Mainland (see map, above). Over time, stories of miracles associated with the royal grave began to circulate. During this time, Hakon’s reign seems to have been blighted by misfortune.

St Magnus x Cathedral Font

Eventually, Magnus’ nephew, Rognvald, came from Norway to claim his uncle’s Earldom. He promised the people of Orkney that he would build a ‘great stone minster’ in honour of his uncle; and that he would turn it into a place of pilgrimage.

St Magnus Cathedral x East window

The Cathedral was founded in 1137 and inaugurated as part of the Archdiocese of Nidaros (now Trondheim) in Norway. Orkney became part of Scotland in 1468. A few years later, the cathedral was given to the people of Kirkwall by King James III.

St Magnus' skull
(And early photograph of St Magnus’ split skull, now interred in the cathedral)

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the cathedral was used for Protestant worship. Nowadays, it belongs to the people of Orkney. It is maintained by the Orkney Islands Council. It has a Church of Scotland congregation and can be used, by arrangement, by any Christian denomination.

St Magnus Cathedral x Roof thru pillars

Restoration work took place in the 1850s and again, following a large bequest from Sheriff George Thoms, during 1913-1930. Because of its great age, the cathedral structure is constantly monitored for stability.

St Magnus x Cathedral EntranceAA

The exterior of the building shows off the local sandstone, from which most of the cathedral is constructed.

St Magnus x Cathedral HMS Royal Oak - 1 (1)

The north choir aisle is home to the brass bell from HMS Royal Oak, the battleship sunk in Scapa Flow in 1939. The case holds a Book of Remembrance to honour those who died. The pages are turned every week by the cathedral custodians.

St Magnus x Cathedral HMS Royal Oak panel

The chapel at the east end of the building is dedicated to St Rognvald, the founder. It was redesigned in 1965 by the Orcadian artist Stanley Cursiter. The wooden communion table and lecterns, incorporating medieval panels, were made by a local craftsman, Reynold Eunson. The left figure is Rognvald’s father, Kol Kalisson; the right is William the Old, Bishop of Orkney when the cathedral was built.

St Magnus x Cathedral East 3 fi

The central figure is that of St Rognvald, the founder of the cathedral. He is seen holding a model of the original cathedral building.

St Magnus x Cathedral East Rognvald - 1

The right side of the chapel is home to Dr John Rae, a resident of Orkney, who worked for the Hudson Bay Company, which explored the Canadian Arctic. He discovered the vital Northwest Passage, enabling the shipping of goods between Europe and northern Canada by a much shorter route. His remains are buried in the cathedral’s graveyard.

St Magnus x Cathedral John Rae Arctic

Sadly, the chapel area was being used for a lecture, which meant I could not get close to:

  1. The cathedral’s oldest gravestone, thought to date from the 13th century. Its golden sandstone face depicts a carved ‘morning star’ symbol and a sword, possibly indicating a crusader or a Templar Knight. Initials P and C were added at a later date, according to the guide leaflet.
  2. The chapel also contains some of the oldest carvings, including dragons, a small hooded imp, and a squatting female Sheela-na-gig. At the top of a column there are two Green Men, ones with distinct foliage coming out of his mouth – a deeply mystical symbol and one emotionally linked to my personal past…

The majority of the present stained-glass windows were designed by the Glasgow artist Oscar Paterson. They depict a variety of saints and biblical figures, as well as characters from Orkney’s Norse past.

St Magnus x Stained glass windowsAA

I have, therefore, many reasons to go back… something I look forward to very much.

Other parts of the Orkney series:

Part One    Part Two

Part Three

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

The feather


The Feather smaller

There was a feather on his pillow when he settled down to sleep that last time. He had no idea where it had come from. If it was time to die, so be it…

Always the same beginning to the dream; the swim to the hidden beach on the Greek island, the beautiful sun blazing down on his naked body–far from the world he had left when he plunged into the water and began the half-hour’s crawl.

That much had been real, though the recurring dream gave it a new quality. When his world had come crashing down, when all meaning had seemed lost, he had gathered up his meagre savings and taken that last minute holiday to the tiny, poor place on the Greek island; its white rocks reflecting the sun amidst the glittering, dark blue of the Mediterranean sea.

On that far sand, he remembered actually falling asleep and waking to see the patterns in the bright rock face above him, though upside down to his normal vision. He had renewed his climbing as an act healing for the breakdown; a form of living therapy that absorbed him and took his febrile mind away from its imagined woes…

Upside down and with his climber’s mind, he had seen, clearly, the foot and handholds in the rock. Most would have missed them, but the strange perspective seemed to emphasise their position, their do-ability. And then, above the visible way-markers – far above them – the opening of the dark cave, set midway along the cliff face. For a second he had glimpsed the tiny outlines of vertical rocks set as pillars in that mysterious elevation. But, when he blinked, he couldn’t see them any more.

He remembered, then, the regret at having to swim back, the now sunburned skin left foolishly unprotected. Hauling himself out of the water on the familiar beach, next to the room in the old villa that was his home for a while. A short walk to his towel, trunks and tee-shirt and he was back in the small square with the two tavernas, sipping cheap Greek wine and washing its appalling refreshment down with bottled water and a feta salad. How hungry he had felt, then.

There were other naked people on the beach, but none of them headed for the hidden place beyond the headland. Perhaps no-one else had seen it as he had?

The return to ‘civilisation’ had been hard. He had been granted sick leave by his company, who were keen to see him fully recovered and back ‘in harness’. But then his health began to decline in a way that seemed unrelated to the mental breakdown.

He would wake each night, his whole body dripping with the sweat from the dream. It had become a nightmare. Always, it would go the same: he would be climbing that cliff in the intense heat, his wet fingers only just holding on to the sharp and unforgiving rock. Each night, he would get farther up the cliff face.

And then, last night, he had pulled himself over the final ledge, and lay, panting with wet effort, on the cool floor of the cave.

For a while in the dream, he just lay there, turning his head and marvelling at the fact that there actually were two tall rocks set as pillars to support – and mark – the entranceway. The soft sound of knowing feet walking slowly on dusty rock made him raise his prone body and gaze into the black of the cave. Half-revealed by the light, a man in a simple white robe looked down at him. In his right hand he held another white garment… and then it all faded… and he knew he had one last choice. He could shake himself awake, and die in bed, or he could stay…

He chose to stay. The gentle figure stood before him, offering the second robe. He tried to rise to his knees but other hands held him pinned, forcing his mouth down into the ancient dust of the place. He fought, but knew there was symbolic meaning here. He let them. They moved his head, firmly but gently, till the image of the dust of the earth filled his senses… they let his head rise.

He tried to see them, but they were shadows, sliding around the space. The one before him – the gentle one – lit a candle. His mind seized on the image and he tried to move forwards towards it, but the two others had his kneeling body fast and he was not able to move. What was the meaning of this? He used all his strength to push to his feet, and, this time, they did not oppose him – but kept hold of his arms. His feet pushed against the cold rock floor, and, together, the three followed the tiny light of the candle, so that it didn’t fade, but grew brighter as his efforts overcame the dark resistance.

Ahead, the candle had stopped moving. He knew this was important, and pulled those dependent on him towards it. The first monk now stood before a small table; and had placed the white robe over a number of objects whose outlines protruded like an Alpine snow scene. Part of the robe was pulled back to reveal a bowl of herbs, some unknown fruit and a stone goblet of what looked like water.  Kind fingers fed him the herbs. They were bitter-sweet but focussed his consciousness. Then came the fruit, which washed away the taste of the herbs. At the end came the water – like liquid kindness. He gulped it down, but it was pulled away too soon. There was a feeling of truth about the water, a simple honesty about what really was, a revealing of what lay beneath everything.

For a second it all  made sense; what they were doing to him. They had shown him his own life in miniature. From the simplest awareness of the dust; the very stuff of the world to be, as he grew from infant to child to man, becoming ever more aware of the ‘world’ around him. Seeing that he had seen, the first monk pulled the robe away from the remaining objects beneath. He gasped as he saw the precision of the model, carved by hand in stone to reflect the simple village bay from which his swim had begun. Every detail was exact, it was as though he were looking down, like a great bird might, on the place he called home.

The robe was placed over his head. It felt strange to have clothes on, again. The whiteness of the soft material seemed to have a life of its own. Now the two hands urged him backwards, creating enough space for the first monk to place the candle between the table-top tableau of the world and himself. What did that mean? For a fraction of a second his vision seemed to spin, to take the light of the candle and turn it into a million threads of woven world...

And then he knew… knew that he was seeing seeing… That he had stepped backwards and unhooked something he thought was inseparable. The eyes that watched propelled him towards the growing light of the cave’s entrance. He knew where he was going, but fought the organic fear as he was rushed, faster and faster – and still backwards – towards the high and empty space outside the mouth of the cave.

The eyes were full of love. As the hands said goodbye, they watched while time stopped and he turned, turned in way that no human flesh could achieve; but that was natural and perfect for the wings of a soaring hawk.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Castles of the Mind (ii)

Castles of Mind new logo

Continued from Part One

As the group walk through the arched entranceway to the interior of the castle, a new feeling emerges: one of ‘being in it, together’. The transition from outer to inner space of the newly considered ‘organism’ of the castle brings with it other changes of perspective. One of these is that a process – that of the weekend, itself, has begun.

One of the weekend’s companions, new to what the Silent Eye does, asks a question:

“Is this – she points to the entire interior of the walled space – to be looked at as a representation of life, and the possibilities of spiritual work within that life?”

Warkworth tease of interior

The answer is unhesitating. “For the purposes of this weekend, we are using several of the Northumberland Castles to be exactly that.” He pauses, “So, this, as the beginning, is the place where the elements of that search, that quest, begin to work towards the goal.”

The new companion considers this. “So, what is our start point? What is the core idea that powers the rest?”

Castles of the Mind 2 tower and sun

Its a great question. The man looks around him, seeking, not inspiration, for he has begun such discussions many times, but the spirit of the moment. Then he smiles, as an image forms in his mind…

“This is a medieval castle; imagine a shield…”

The new companion is listening. Alert and as keyed into the moment as the group leader. She waits… silent and attentive.

“A shield that belongs to you – that has grown to defend you.” He uses his fingers to draw a circle in the air, and then lets the hand fall and draws it down towards the ground, describing an outline around the group that mirrors the interior shape of the castle.

“So the castle perimeter – the walls – is the shield?” asks the companion. “But why call it a shield. Wouldn’t ‘castle wall’ have been sufficient?”

Castles of the Mind 2 Outer walls

“It would,” the man answers. “but the image of a shield is more useful as a symbol of something that belongs to you.”

“My shield, then…”

“Exactly so. A deeply personal object, one you have crafted and groomed for all of your life.”

She’s getting into this. “A shield alone… I don’t have a matching sword?”

She smiles, as does he. “We’ll get to swords, later. One symbol at once – your shield, alone, took a very long time to make…”

“It defends me, this shield?”

“Look around you – don’t you feel defended? Or would have in the days when this was a functioning structure?”

“Yes,” she hesitates, clutching a the edge of a thought, an important one. “But it’s sad, too.”

“Why sad?” his eyes flash in the morning sun. The smile is one of deep encouragement.

“Because it cuts me off from all that beautiful world, outside…”

Castles of the Mind 2 Country beyond

Everyone in the group is silent – as though the words of a very important prayer or salutation have just been whispered.

“Yes,” he says, softly. “It does, but it keeps you alive…”

The sadness of her realisation has affected her voice. “Must it be that way?”

“No,” he says, running with the hidden wild horses in the moment. “Which is why the shield, your personal shield, has the most beautiful outer face.”

Not wanting to dwell on the sadness, she laughs. “Tell me?” she turns to see the smiling faces of the group. “Tell me…”

“The shield, your beautiful shield, has nine powerful jewels set into its face. They defend, too, but they can be something different.”

She is laughing now. “What can they do?”

“They can be a map back out into the beautiful world.”

Castles of the Mind 2 - staircase up

“Couldn’t I just turn round and make a run for it now?”

Now he is laughing. “You could… but you’d still be a servant. Wouldn’t you rather leave the castle as a King or a Queen?”

You can see she wasn’t expecting anything like this. “A King or a Queen? A shield has this power?”

“Not alone, but the jewels, and their arrangement do…”

Other parts of this series:

Part One, 

To be continued…

Castles of the Mind is the forthcoming September 2018 workshop of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching organisation that promotes and enables the investigation of our true self, using a combination of modern spiritual psychology and traditional magical symbolism. The workshop is open to all, not just existing Companions of the Silent Eye School.

The dates are 14-16 September. The workshop will be centred on the Northumberland town of Seahouses, but will involve travel to other locations along the coast.

The Silent Eye holds four workshops per year – in April, June, September and December, mirroring the major events of the solar cycle. The April event is the main one, and is always held in Derbyshire. The other three are ‘Living Land’ or ‘walk and talk’ events such as that described above, and are held in different locations each year. The administrative cost is £50.00 per person which does not include accommodation and meals. Meals are usually taken together, in a local pub, and the costs shared.

To register your interest, or for more details email us at

©Stephen Tanham

Castles of the Mind (i)

Castles of Mind new logo

Like the best of ideas, it begins with a partly-seen ghost, the glimmer of an edge of something that will work…. Ideas are great, but, unless something is practical and consistent on the day, its value is limited to fuelling a ‘greater’ idea that will be.

And then the right idea expands, filling out, not linearly, but with emotions that billow like a spinnaker on a sailing ship, catching a wind that is not of the individual creator’s making. If the goal is a spiritual one, then that catching of an inner wind has the taste of something that will have a shared effect on a group of people who have come to experience transformation.

The setting for the September 2018 weekend workshop ‘Castles of the Mind’ is the beautiful coastline of historic Northumberland, the border county between England and Scotland, the home of the terrible land-pirates known as the Reivers; and, before that, the place of skirmish, battle and blood between the Scots and the English.

Small wonder, then, that this beautiful coastline has more than its fair share of castles, whose use dates back over a thousand years. They provide the basis of a wonderful chain of historic visits, but their use in this coming Silent Eye weekend (14-16 September) is based on far more than their strong and ancient stone.

Castles of the Mind is based on how we think, feel, act and behave now...

Warkworth full wall

The weekend of 14-16 September will be a mixture of companionship, adventure and fun. We will begin on the afternoon of Friday 14th, assembling for an Italian coffee or English tea, in the lovely town of Warkworth, fifteen miles south of Bamburgh. This classic Northumbrian market town provides a pleasant venue for us to gather and discuss the structure of the weekend.

From there it is short walk (or drive) up the nearby hill to the car park of Warkworth Castle, our first site, and the basis for the rest. Warkworth castle is a unique medieval building. The castle was the favourite residence of the well-known Percy family – the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland. It was occupied by their family from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

Below, on the banks of the river Coquet, and often missed by those visiting, are the ruins of a hermitage, which was carved directly out of the rock.

As a group, we will consider the impact that this imposing castle has on our combined consciousness. We will look at the sheer mass of its presence, and consider the nature of authority and achievement… We may also reflect that, though the purpose of its design is still visible, it is a ruin…

Warkworth Gatehouse and wall

The functions of this mighty power were focussed on the gateway. Though the building’s primary purpose was defence, its real use – the exercise of the authority that security brought – came only when that structure allowed people in… or out.

Warkworth Gatehouse

In this, the castle mirrors the basic building-block of organic life: the cell. A cell’s function is to isolate its organic mechanisms from the ‘soup’ of the world around it. Only through this isolation can the processes of individual life take place. It is ironic that, here, in a world where the castle was one of the largest ‘things’ in the world, its function mirrored that of the smallest structure of life.

One of the ‘shocks’ on the path of mystical study is to discover how closely the physical processes of life are mirrored on a higher level within the structures of consciousness. We will discuss this as we peer through the ‘tunnel’ of the castle’s portcullis and gatehouse, beginning to perceive that, beyond the ‘wall that excludes’ there are internal stone structures that hint at a more sophisticated life in the interior – though only able to operate while the protection of the walls continue to operate.

Here, we will consider where fear fits into all this? Is it primal in its power; so deeply rooted that we cannot afford to go near it? Or have we forgotten that, once, it was layered over the foundational mechanisms of our lives… and is therefore a ‘man-made’ reaction?

Warkworth tease of interior

And then something remarkable will happen. We say this with confidence, since it always does. When a group intends to raise its ‘level’ of consciousness by working together, there occurs a moment – early in the event – when everything comes to a point of harmony and productive endeavour.

In the tunnel of the gatehouse, the constricted space that will lead to the essential nature of the weekend, we will ask each person to imagine they are being born into a vision of their own interior nature…

To be continued…

Castles of the Mind is the September 2018 workshop of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching organisation that promotes and enables the investigation of our true self, using a combination of modern consciousness methods and traditional magical symbolism. The workshop is open to all. not just Companions of the Silent Eye School.

The Silent Eye holds four workshops per year – in April, June, September and December, mirroring the major events of the solar cycle. The April event is the main one, and is always held in Derbyshire. The other three are ‘Living Land’ or ‘walk and talk’ events such as that described above, and are held in different locations each year. The administrative cost is £50.00 per person which does not include accommodation and meals. Meals are usually taken in local pubs and the costs shared.

For more details email us at

©Stephen Tanham

Patterned in Dorset (4 – final)

(Visitor board image of the entire Maiden Castle site, regarded as Britain’s finest example of an Iron Age hill fort. ©English Heritage)

He did not know how many were up there…

Centurion Calogerus stared at the edge of the plateau above him. The vast hill-fort rose from the chalk lands below in what appeared to be a series of grassy layers. There were no walls that he could see. This would be quick…

As the dawning sun of the year’s longest day crested the edge of the hill, he smiled in remembrance of his youth. This would have been his birthday; not the day he had come into the world but a new one given by those gentle people who raised him in that far-off province, before the strong and swift youth was snatched from the sea of death and forged into a fearsome Roman soldier.

Calogerus stared into the distance, again. There was a figure up there… A figure so distant that he should not have been able to make out any details, yet he could. It was a priest, he knew. How he knew, he didn’t know…

Below him, huddled in the strange and twisting entrance road, crouched eighty of his best men. Bisected by machines of death on wheels. They were not elite soldiers. They were auxiliaries, trained by their centurion in the arts of war and tactics. Tough and more loyal than he had any right to expect… Give them to Calogerus, they would say, extracting from battles and conquered tribes the best, the strongest, the ones with the bright eyes. He will turn them into Roman soldiers.

And he did… He took the dregs and made them into the best that the Legions of Aulus Plautius contained. The hero of Camulodunum commands us, they whispered, looking at their centurion. Our new master is no coward, hiding behind Roman finery.

And so, when the mighty Legion that was sweeping southern Britain grouped to move on, they used him and his dregs to create the opening, to breach the defences, to probe the weaknesses, and sometimes, to die… A foreigner and not high-born, he had risen slowly through the ranks. For a centurion, he was old.

Calogerus looked down at his men, waiting in readiness, and shifted his right hand to his sword’s pommel. Below, in the winding trench – deeper than six men and hollowed to a near-point, like a ‘V’ – the silence became something you could taste… Like iron on the tongue.

He looked up at the distant figure on the hill. For a moment he imagined he was that priest, looking down; then drew back from the act as an image flashed before his inner eye – the one he dared not talk about, when the soldiers drank and feasted and bled. In the image he was a figure in white, seen, not by the priest, but by the hill, itself. He shook himself out of the daydream and found he had been fingering the scar in the middle of his forehead. Too many echoes of his youth followed that thought and he blinked his eyes clear of visions, drawing his sword so that it sang in the morning air.

“Let the memories be gone, forever,” he hissed to the line of liquid green-gold forming on the curved horizon. “Let the light of this longest day wash it away…”

His sword was the signal, and the line moved forward. He followed on the top of the trench, probing the place’s secrets. He was sure there were many. The scholars spoke in hushed tones about this place. There were rumours that it was thousands of years old, but he didn’t believe that. It was just a big hill, and Roman soldiers were adept in the capture of such places. The Durotriges tribesmen – and women – up there were doomed.

The first shock came when he heard the laboured moaning from below. He stopped to survey the men in the still-dark trench. He could see the sheen of sweat on their bare shoulders, but the noise was not theirs. He peered into the gloom and drew a breath when he saw the bowed wheel of the cart. The angle of the hill, and lack of a flat path at the bottom, was placing strain on the bearing and axle; the heavy weapons on board were doing the rest.

No fools the builders of this hill, he thought. But, no sooner had the admiration registered than there came the crack of breaking timber and one of the carts toppled sideways, pinning screaming soldiers beneath it. In seconds, their comrades came to the rescue, but several were injured.

The centurion uttered a curse before shouting, “Leave it! Ensure the rest of the wagons are forced level. Forward with weapons drawn!”

The loss of one-third of their armaments would weaken their strength, but the biggest cart remained – and it carried the largest punch. But progress was slow, and bore a weariness he did not understand…

The scouts had said that the gate with the twin towers lay dead ahead, but the centurion had to curse again as the path his men were following – with their heavy loads – turned abruptly left. There was a light path over the top, but the weapon carts would never get up its steep bank. His stomach turned over as he realised the complexity of these defences. Primitive tribes? Calogerus shook his head.

He had no choice but to carry on. They had not been challenged so far. For all they knew the tribe above them were unaware of this dawn attack.

They marched for far too long before the trench turned, again, seeming to snake back on itself toward the point on the hillside where they had entered the site. Here, the walls of the trench were even higher. The wailing noise stung his ears like the feeling of severe pain – as with a deep wound, where the flow of blood is not immediately seen. The centurion spun round, trying to locate the source. His men, far below, were also turning in panic – and he could see that they were becoming more faint in the trench’s gloom.

Calogerus stared at the madness. As far as he could see, his men were not being attacked, and yet they had begun to stagger around, as though injured – or drunk…

The baleful wailing had hidden the other, more subtle invader. The burning grass – the dreaming grass – the clouds of mist were clouds of smoke, washing over the men at the bottom of the trench… And then came a sound like the strike of a hawk and the ground began to shift under the centurion and he fell, rolling down the slopes as the trench walls came alive with snakes. A rough blow with a blunt weapon robbed him of vision and sense…

(©English Heritage: photograph of the visitor information board)

He woke to the sight of the gates – a prisoner on their own munitions cart approaching the thick wooden door as it cranked open on its chains. He could see, straight away, that the scouts had been wrong; that the twin towers, separated by the earthen bank, would be much harder to attack. Even here, the paths were curved… Such clever defences.

The voice walking behind him was gentle. “Only three of your men are dead,” the priestess said, holding a cup of soaked herbs to his parched lips. We only killed those we had to… the rest were encouraged to flee.”

He tried to sit up, but leather bonds held him fast. “Don’t struggle,” she said. “Your choices are few, but you are alive.”

“Better dead, than this disgrace…” His parched throat rasped the words. She gave him more to drink.

“In a military world, yes,” she said. “But the mark on your head tells the story of another world that once claimed you. She pulled him around and he beheld great beauty and calm eyes that spoke more deeply than he knew how.

“We are both doomed,” the priestess said. “I am not foolish enough to believe otherwise. In days…months at the most, the legion will return and its vengeance will be bloody and swift – and our tricks with paths that curve and the dream smoke will not prevail.”

He struggled to rise, again, and this time she helped him, slicing her knife through the bindings at his wrists, but leaving those around his ankles. “For now,” she said.

“They will kill me, anyway,” he said, knowing that his life had reached its end.

As the sun set on the day of the rebirth of his spirit, they held hands on the top of the plateau and faced the west, bathing in the red gold of the longest day’s passing. For now, and briefly, they could be timeless.

The armies of Aulus Plautius were not before them… but they would come, soon enough, as one civilisation died and another – younger, hungrier and more deadly, drank its blood.

Other parts of the Dorset series:

Part One    Part Two    Part Three

Stuart France’s “Church Crawl”, “Magical Elements”, “The Dance of Fire and Water”, “Gateway”, posts which are related background and description of the Dorset workshop…

This work of fiction is set in the real landscape of Maiden Castle, an Iron Age fort near Dorchester, Dorset. The details of the fort’s defences are real, as can be seen from the photographs. The Durotriges are known to have used psychotropic substances to enhance their rituals, and may well have employed all manner of attack in their complex defences – which are as described.

The visit to Maiden Castle was the last part of the Silent Eye’s pre-solstice weekend, June 2018. For details of the work of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, and other ‘in the landscape’ workshops, click the link below.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

Within, you’ll find friends, practical mysticism, poetry, literature and photography…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

Jewels in the Claw (8)

Jewels Act Two Royal Court smaller2

Continued from Part Seven.

He – the man with the packing cases – picks up his empty tea cup and begins to walk towards the small table near the entrance door of the large room in which the mystery play ran its course. It’s important that everything is cleared, he thinks; restored to how it was, pristine…

Laughing to himself, he realises that he is walking the edges of the square of what was the royal court floor, though nothing of it remains outside of his imagination…and the memories of nineteen other people who helped bring it to life.

This was her space, he whispers to the silent air, still reverential, still listening for her commands to those within the square of black and white, the world of polarity. That, moment…that moment when enough had been seeded by clever language and innocent moves within the squares. That moment when the Sovereign stepped forward, intellectually, to declare her intentions. His memory of that second is acute. He relives it, but as what? Is he the playwright, above the creation, but guiding it as director? No, his involvement is still too acute. Is he, then, William Shakespeare, a character that thinks he is a creator? Perhaps… Or, is he each of the characters, permitted to play alongside the actors, if in memory only?

Putting the cup down on a table top full of other used cups, he realises he is all these things, because he is alive, and graced with the evolving stories of life – both his and the life of the world in which he lives and writes. And, most importantly, that the lives of the other players came together with his, and his with theirs, and the result was beautiful.

Realising this, with a clarity that is shocking, he shifts from writer to playwright character, to Queen…

Robert Cecil, horrified and incredulous has just spoken.

“Your Majesty, the Jesuit is still in our presence!”

The Queen holds back the smile out of deference to her First Minister, and scolds the man with the folded hands, sitting, quietly, in the West of the court… with whom she is secretly delighted, though she would have let Frances Walsingham kill him, had Dr Dee not been so… upright. Few understand what being a Queen entails… the embodiment of purpose.

“Priest! I gave you leave–are you so eager to forfeit your life?”

The Jesuit stands. His quiet voice belies the fear he has generated in her world – but not in her. “Your Majesty, I mean no offence,” he says. “I have no home as such… My life is spent in the shelter of others’ homes, often locked away in dirty holes in the ground where I must wait out Lord Cecil’s men… And all this for the giving of the Mass to those that need it! Never have I plotted against the Crown, never have I sought to cause distress or fomented uprising against your government or your reign.”

The priest looks down at his own feet, shaking his head in disbelief that he is still here, mere yards from two of the Queen’s closest guardians who would run him through in a second, if permitted. But the small voice continues:

“A man I do not know has just saved my life – an honest man, in my opinion – and the image of Christ within me says: ‘Stay and risk what little is yours to help defend him.’ You did promise me safety if I became part of this gathering. I beg you to let me stay a while longer and see if I can earn a deeper contribution, here”.

The Queen watches through narrowed eyes as Dr Dee looks at the Lady Rab’ya, who looks at the priest. The Saracen woman knows what Dr Dee knows: that the essence of the whole chamber has changed… And The Queen knows it, too.

Robert Cecil is still standing, glaring at the Jesuit. His words are fully the equivalent of Frances’s dagger.

“Your Grace! I can take no more of this!”

The Queen puts as much gentleness into her voice as she deems proper. “Robert, you are a good man. Stay with me… my plans are only partly unveiled and I seek, before God, to do no harm to you or your causes.”

She watches as the twin forces within him wrestle for his soul: his desire to better his father in service to his Sovereign; and his need to kill the long-hunted priest. He breathes deeply but is not calm.

“I am a good man, Your Majesty; I would follow in my father’s footsteps. For years he hunted that man, who was protected by some of the richest families in your Kingdom! Now, I have him in my grasp and you want me to let him go!”

The Queen gathers the material of her royal dress, allowing a few more seconds to pass.

“Robert, I, too, fight with the legacy of my father – King Henry. They were dark times… When I was halfway to my third year, my mother was taken from me, to walk, mere days later, to her execution. Later, still young, along with my dear Dudley, I was thrown into the tower by my half-sister, Queen Mary… Just Dudley, me.. and the ravens, the three ravens…”

The ravens, the three ravens that will come to mean so much more in this chamber… She continues:

“Your father, Baron Burghley, and Frances’s father, Francis Walsingham, swore to protect and guide my young life… and they did… A debt I could never repay.”

She must tell it from the heart, now. Must bare some of the most hideous detail to help this young, gifted and determined man raise his eyes and see beyond vengeance.

“Your father once told me that he had calculated that the Tudor dynasty had taken the lives of more than fifty thousand people. He left me to draw my own conclusions. Must we forever feed this cycle of blood and terror? The mighty Armada is vanquished. Even Imperial Spain does not have the wealth to rebuild it.” Then, softly. “Robert, could we not, now, build on the peace, in matters religious as well as military?

Robert Cecil says nothing. He holds his head in his hands for a moment, then rises, still full of rage. He strides down the Outer Court’s passageway, stopping to glare at the Jesuit, then wrenches aside the heavy door of the court chamber, letting it slam closed as he leaves.

There is silence in the royal court. For a while, not even the Queen dares to speak.

Other parts in this series:


Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three  

Part FourPart Five  , Part Six

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham