Who?

 

“You’d make a lousy feminist!”

My son’s words followed me down the garden path as I left. As a child of my generation, I am used to the changing face of the familiar, but his throwaway comment of, ‘It’s a female Doctor!’ had shocked me profoundly.

‘I suppose it had to happen eventually…’ and ‘Shouldn’t be allowed…’ were my immediate comments upon hearing the news. The thought of a female Doctor just seems plain wrong to someone who was around for the very first episode of Doctor Who. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, John Pertwee and Tom Baker… it was bad enough when the face of the Doctor changed back then, but to have a sex change as well just doesn’t sit right, even though I know the storyline allows for it.

Personally, I gave up on Doctor Who after Tom Baker, though I did see the odd episode here and there. Even so, and although opinions vary on the acting, production and characterisation, Hartnell remains the Doctor for the child in me.

The parting rejoinder from my son, though, did make me think. He is quite right. In spite of the many battles I’ve fought for equal rights over the years, as a worker, a woman and as senior management, I would make a lousy feminist.

While I am a firm supporter of equal rights and the continuing need to address the political, economic, personal, and social discrepancies that still exist between the sexes, I am also of the opinion that the same level playing field should be extended beyond gender to include all human beings, not just women, regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation or any other of the false separators that currently cause the divisions and inequalities between us.

I have been refused jobs on the stated grounds that, being a young woman, they wouldn’t want to waste their time training me, only to have me go off and have babies. I have been given jobs where I earned three quarters of the salary of the men I was employed to train. I remember the bra-burning years, when women fought to be allowed to do ‘men’s jobs’ such as working on building sites… and even demanded the right to work shirtless like their co-employees. I agree with wanting the right to be able do so, but have to question the practicalities of bra-less building, if only on safety grounds.

In the same way, the morals and social mores that have been acceptable for the male of the species from time immemorial should be equally permitted for women… sauce for the goose, and all that… but there are few things more unattractive than a drunken young woman, senseless and vomiting in the gutter outside a bar. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should… and it certainly doesn’t mean you must. Equal rights, in essence, means having the legal, political, social and economic right to make that choice for yourself.

I do not see roles as gender-defined… there are women who can hold a household together through the darkest times, wield an axe or a power drill, or reach the top of ambition’s ladder, just as there are men who are more tender mothers than their partners, and others who lead armies, in the workplace or on the battlefield.  Who we allow ourselves to be should not depend upon the body we wear, its gender, age or race. The expectations of societal norms are moulds made to be broken.

The thing is, I suppose, that I have never seen women as being inferior in the first place, except in legal and social terms, but as equal partners in the dance of life and creation. The gifts and strengths of the sexes complement each other; we are not opposites, but necessary parts of a whole.

Being male or female is not only a physical attribute, but an energetic one too. There are feminine women with a dynamic, masculine energy and as many strong men with a receptive and gentle aura… and both are as valuable in the wider world as their more stereotypical counterparts.

The moon could not illuminate the night without the existence of the sun… but the sun does not shine at night. The brilliance of the stars could not be seen without the blackness of space, but would we be aware of the darkness without the light it holds? Strength that does not know how to be gentle becomes brutality, just as emotion without discernment descends into sentimentality. Each one of us is a unique cocktail of masculine and feminine elements and, when we can accept those elements for the gifts they are, they enable both ourselves and those around us to shine.

My son is right, I am a lousy feminist, I am more egalitarian than that. The human race is a single picture made of a myriad small pieces. Subtract but one piece and the picture is incomplete. Seek to change one piece and you change the whole…and in that lies hope for the future and equality of humankind as well as possible seeds of destruction. Change your piece of the picture and you can begin changing the world for the better, but devalue any piece and you damage the whole.

It all comes down to having the right to choose…and even in the most restrictive societies, we each have the right to choose what is in our own hearts, where no legislation is needed, nor can it be imposed unless we allow it. We travel together on a journey through life and time, companions on the road. There are those upon whom we can lean when our steps falter, others to whom we extend a helping hand and yet others who make travelling a chore or a delight… but we all share the same journey in the end. Man, woman, young or old, it matters not at all… unless, of course, you happen to be playing the new Doctor Who.

The Elusive Shrimp

Caridina-multidentata-ingestion.jpg Shrimp by Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak via Wiki. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
Image: Richard Bartz

They seek him here, they seek him there...” I couldn’t help thinking about Baroness Orczy’s Elusive Pimpernel as I watched the translucent creature foraging in the corner of the aquarium. He’s not exactly scarlet, being more of a watery pink, but he could certainly be the ‘shrimpernel’ of the tank.

Quite where he came from, or how long he had been in there, I’ll never know. I can only assume that he hitched a ride on one of the plants I brought home from the fish place. I didn’t even know I had him until he was discovered, lurking in the bottom of the old tank when I transferred the fish to their new home some months ago, and it had been months before that when I had last bought plants.

I saw him again the following morning, swimming merrily across the glass of his new home and really hoped I would see more of him; they are fascinating to watch. I even bought another half dozen shrimps to keep him company, knowing them for social creatures. But, despite cleaning the tank at least once a week, I hadn’t seen him or his fellow crustaceans since. They just disappeared into the undergrowth, never to be seen again.

Until last night, that is, when, bold as brass, a shrimp sauntered out to raid the fish food that had fallen at the front of the tank. I had been convinced for some time that I had lost them all. I had seen the vacant exoskeleton on the sand one day, just after I had medicated the tank. Invertebrates are not good with many aquarium treatments and I was convinced he had been a casualty of the war on white spot. And shrimp are a delicacy for bigger fish too.

No matter how carefully I look, though, or how assiduously I peer into the plants, nooks and crannies, there are no shrimp to be seen. It is nice to know he is there, though, quietly working behind the scenes, doing what nature intended. I only know he is still in there because he allowed me to catch that one, fleeting glimpse. It was enough to reassure me that he is alive and thriving, but it also makes me wonder what else might be in there, present but unseen.

There is something about the tranquillity of watching fish that can induce a meditative state. Or maybe I just indulge in weird trains of thought. But it seemed to me that the presence of the invisible shrimp could serve as an illustration for other unseen presences.

We cannot see love or hope, but we feel them, and see their effect on the world around us and in our own lives. We cannot see the wind, but we watch the trees bend before it and their leaves dance in its breath. We cannot see yesterday, but we know it was there… and we trust that tomorrow will come. We live our lives trusting in the presence of the invisible.

Neither deity nor the soul are visible to us, even when we have faith in their presence and existence. Without direct experience, we may trust that they are there, but we cannot know for certain; that is the very nature of faith. But, every so often, we are granted a fleeting glimpse of something beyond the scope of the everyday world.

It may be the beauty of a sunset or the first rosy blush of dawn, the perfection of a newborn babe, an act of love, or the whisper of that still, small voice within that holds a wisdom far beyond our own. These things can all be explained away as mere manifestations of a prosaic reality, but when they touch your heart and fill your being with wonder, you are gifted a glimpse beyond the mundane realms of fact and know that you have been touched by grace.

The peripatetic ant

The ant crawled across the windscreen of the car, right in my line of vision. Ever since the spider-bite incident, I am wary of creatures that have any kind of personal arsenal hitching a ride, so my first thought was to defenestrate the little blighter. It was only a split second later that I realised how far he was from home.

I had been driving a good half an hour without stopping, so he had probably hopped aboard before I left. Ants are social creatures, pretty much defined by their role within their community. What, I thought, would a lone ant do if he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory, miles from home?

Would his sense of belonging be so decimated that he would curl up and die? Would he find another community… and if he did, would he be accepted or slain as an intruder? Or would he begin the long trek home, drawn by some unseen force to the place of his beginnings?

I couldn’t do it. I left him to wander the dashboard, hoping he would understand that all he had to do was let the journey take him where it would, before it carried him home.

I thought about him a lot as I drove, wondering what his reception would be after the journey? What tales might he communicate to his nest-mates about the big, wide, world out there and all the things he had seen. Could they believe him? Like the fantasy hero who steps into a magical time and place, he would have been gone no more than an hour or two from his home, yet his odyssey would have carried him as far as a worker-ant might walk in a dozen ant-lives. Would they accept his fantastic story or think him delusional?

Ants who had never set foot outside the colony would almost certainly dismiss his tale. Those who had ventured out, but only within the known confines of their territory, might doubt. Some would be envious, others would scoff. The likelihood is that only those who had themselves risked stepping beyond known ground, exploring the world on behalf of the colony, would see the glimmer of truth and recognise an echo of their own explorations in the traveller’s tale.

And what of the little ant? Was he afraid of the unknown, or excited to explore new and unimagined realms? Did he recognise the landscape that flew by at such speed as being akin to his home, or did he feel as if he had been plucked out of his world and transported to some magical otherworld by a giant with a roaring steed? How would he see life-after-journeying? Would it seem flat and boring, or safe and comfortable? Would he cower in corners, afraid of stepping outside his comfort-zone ever again? Would he ‘dine out’ on his travels, boring is nest-mates with tales of ‘when’ and ‘where’? Or would the change in his circumstances and perspective have been so dramatic that he would spend the rest of his life pondering existential questions or striving to be worthy of the privilege he had been accorded?

Such musings occupied my mind until we once again reached home and I set him down on the grass beside my parking space. Like the ant, I had taken a journey, within the journey that is my life. Because this was ‘my’ world, the destination and the route were both familiar to me, though there are always unknowns on the way and no-one can predict what will happen, or how the comfort-zone of familiarity will be challenged… especially when you look at life as a journey.

There is beauty to be witnessed, there are mysteries and magic to be found; we never know when or where, nor do we know how we will greet them or how others will react if we try to share such experiences with our own community.

I watched the tiny creature scurry away into the grass. I suddenly wondered what I had done and whether my interference, though well-intentioned, had produced the right effect. Had I set him down anywhere near his home? What if he’d been with me a while… had come from my son’s home or the supermarket… and was now lost in some strange landscape? Had my intervention caused more harm than good? Or was he destined to be a blackbird’s breakfast no matter where he wandered?

To some questions we will never have answers, but I felt a keen sense of kinship with the ant as he disappeared beneath the grass. We are both on a journey. It will carry us where it will and we will experience what we must… and we are both on a greater journey still, finding the way back to the beginning.

The spiritual minefield

“’Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought,’” said my son, reading out the daily inspirational quote he has delivered to his phone. “It says it is by Basho. Who’s he?”
“Seventeenth century Japanese poet.” It was a short answer, but enough for the question.
“Okay, Google,” he said with disgust. He was not using voice commands…that is one of the politer names he calls me.

It was a good quote though, when I had just been writing up another of our visits to an ancient sacred site. It summed up perfectly why these places matter so much to us and what it is we find there. We do not seek to return to an earlier time or belief system, but to move beyond the imposed and acquired dogma of our times. Somewhere, beyond both the beliefs of the ancients and our own, is the source of the questions mankind has asked of both his heart and the heavens; whatever path we have chosen to follow and in whatever era we have lived, ultimately our goal is the same.

The symbols we use, the stories we believe, or in which we have faith, all arose from a need to understand. We want to know about the origins of life and our planetary home, our place in the cosmos and the forces that shape all we know. We want to know why we are here, and what is the purpose of it all.

We have sought answers to how we should live and developed moral codes by which we are supposed to abide. Some are practical… if we must live as part of a community, then there are basic behaviours by which we abide. Other rules we have made and think of as universal, yet across time and culture, they too have changed and shifted their parameters so much, and so often, that mankind starts wars because we cannot agree on the basic details of how we ought to live. Or how our gods should behave.

At one point in history, gods could be vengeful, jealous, permissively polyamorous and sometimes downright vicious. Another era sees its gods…or at least their priests… exercising strict control over every aspect of their people, while yet another time sees the gods as loving, forgiving and nurturing. And sometimes, the same god, over the course of time, will run the gamut of all of the above.

Within their time and place, all these manifestations were acceptable to the populace. They filled a need that matched the era and culture… and when they ceased to fill it, new gods came in to supplant them. But the same questions remained.

There is knowledge to be had about our planet and solar system. We now know a great deal about how nature actually works. We can see brain activity and are busily engineering nano-robots to send into the body to fix its problems. The scope of human knowledge is vast, even if there is still far more to learn than we can know or imagine at this moment. But all these things are just facts.

The questions held in the recesses of the human heart and mind cannot be answered so simply and the answers must be found by each of us, in our own way and our own time. Only knowledge can be transmitted. Knowledge may point a way, but it cannot grant understanding, only show us what and where someone else sought and found their own answers.

And then there is the dichotomy of seeking and not-seeking. The only way we know how to find anything is to look for it, or stumble across it by accident. We are told by spiritual teachers and philosophers that we should seek and strive to grow… and told by just as many of them that we should neither seek nor strive, but just be. We are promised paradise if we adhere to one set of rules or another, and a thousand shades of torment if we choose the wrong path. And that path can be any or all of the ones who promised paradise in the first place.

Spirituality is a minefield. So, what is a seeker, especially when we are not supposed to seek, supposed to do?

Seek what they sought. Look beyond the stories to why they were told… beyond the dogma, the rules and conventions and listen for what sings to your heart. We may be too small to encompass the entire understanding of Creation, but we may get a glimpse that sheds enough light on our path to carry us forward. It matters little upon which path we begin, for once we have found a song of the soul that calls to us, the path chooses us and it lives in truth within us.

Riding the rollercoaster

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The day did not start well, either for me or the little fish I had to remove from the tank. It was no surprise that it was dead this morning… it had been looking a little off-colour the night before, though nothing too serious, until one of the larger fish took advantage of its incapacitated state and started using it like a water basketball, swimming around with it in its mouth, chased by its friends. I had put a stop to that ‘game’ and would have removed the ailing minnow to a makeshift hospital tank, had it not hidden itself in the roots of a plant.

I couldn’t blame the fish… they were just following their instincts. Even though such a ‘game’ looked cruel from my perspective, small fish can easily be frightened to death and Nature’s often brutal euthanasia may have been a better option than a long, drawn-out illness. I will never know.

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The day got a lot better at my son’s though, when he sent me out into the garden. Trooper, one of the two ‘miracle-fish’ currently residing in my son’s pond, is still with us. He and another golden orfe had both fallen ill with dreadful ulcers some time ago…we had no hope of their survival when we saw them floating, belly-up, side by side. One of the fish, though, made a dramatic recovery and is back to swimming happily with his shoal. Trooper has not been so lucky, but each time we think he must be at his last gasp, he rallies and proves he can still swim with the best of them, albeit a little lopsided… so the daily checking on Trooper is always a bit of a rollercoaster, as we worry not only about his recovery, but about whether he can escape any local predators… like the heron and the cats.

The heron flies over most days, but the cats…the ones who moved in en masse to my son’s home over the winter… seem to have disappeared. The food in the automatic feeder still disappears daily too, but I haven’t seen any of them in weeks now. Their fickleness is a little sad, but then…that’s why I prefer dogs.

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On a nicer note, mother magpie brought her babies into the garden today. We had worried about them too when the crows had mobbed the nest at the top of the tree. We’ve been worrying about the birds for a while, as the neighbours chose to cut down an awful lot of the trees that they called home, and for a while, the garden fell silent. The little birds were soon back, though, and it was good to watch the young magpies establishing their familial pecking order over the bird bath, while the wren sang on the fence and the tits and finches raided the bird table.

Apart from checking on Trooper, though, my mission had been to photograph the bees on the globe thistle…and that was a definite delight, apart from the sadness of the bee caught in the spider’s web. It was still and lifeless, too late for any help… there was nothing I could have done… and after the fish, I would have hesitated to interfere with the natural process.

Life is constantly being recycled, from the decay of fallen fruit and leaves that feeds the earth, to the recycling we, with our emotional view on life and death, find distressing or distasteful. There is a great dance of energy in motion, flowing through first one lifeform then another as each completes its allotted span and purpose, returning the components of its life to the greater life of earth.

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Even so, it was sad to see the little lifeless creature, paralysed and caught in the web below the flower that is drawing more bees than any other at the moment. I love their soft, furry bodies of the bumblebees, covered in pollen that seems to refract a rainbow of colour and I spent a pleasant half hour watching them.

The next plunge of the rollercoaster came after I had brought my son over for him to use my bathroom… his being out of commission for the next month or so. Much to the dog’s delight, he is coming over every day for a shower and she is loving the extra captive ball-thrower. Sadly, though, as Nick is a bit unsteadier than usual today, he had a fall as we were going back out through the front door this afternoon. He was fine… he fell on me… and rather than doing the decent thing and checking to see if we were both okay, the dog did her best Houdini impression, bounded over our tangled legs and ran.

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I live in a quiet cul de sac… but the roads through the village are dangerous, the cars drive fast…and there are cows, horses and sheep to contend with if Ani takes to the fields. I was convinced she would go that way, as that is where we walk, so headed off in pursuit on foot, while Nick manned the doorstep in case she wandered home. There was no sign of her. I scoured the fields, checked the farm, fishing lake and stables, ran down to the allotments, all the way through the village to the shop across the main road… I walked miles without a sight of her and, as rush hour approached, grew more and more afraid.

It was only as I passed the village veterinary practice that I thought to check with them, to see if they had heard of a stray dog. The receptionist smiled… Ani is microchipped and while I searched, they had emailed me to let me know she had just been brought in. Fear gave way to relief as they brought her out to me… wagging her tail furiously and obviously expecting me to be proud of her adventures… We had words about that on the way home. But she still got chicken for dinner.

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I ended the day on a good note too, with a copy of a Derbyshire village magazine in my inbox and a hard copy in the post. They had seen my article of their little church… the one that smiled…and asked if they could reproduce it. I was glad to agree, pleased that the editors approved of how I had described their church.

But the day really had been an emotional rollercoaster, and in between the various domestic dramas,  and just for good measure, Nick had asked about the time he spent in the coma. So I revisited and relived some of the emotions I had experienced while he was unconscious and, we were told, about to die. We talked about the various levels of consciousness, from blind reaction to the dispassionate observer within, that watches without judgement or attachment as you move through the moment, good, bad or just the space between.

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Nick quoted the Buddha’s reference to the Self as witness to inner truth, while we discussed whether or not your reactions are really ‘you’… or whether they are a consequence of who you really are…and it had been a day of reactions for both of us. It occurred to me that we are very like the bees I had been watching… scurrying through life, collecting grains of experience like pollen that cling to us, like it or not, from every moment of our lives. These grains of experience are the raw materials of reaction, forming the basis of how we both protect and propel ourselves through our days. Some of what we collect is bitter, some sweet as honey… but all of it adds to our store of knowledge. We can wall ourselves in behind what we learn, allow ourselves to be ruled and perhaps paralysed by fear…or we can let it open us to life and lead us, eventually, towards wisdom.

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Chasing carrots

Because I couldn’t find a donkey…

It has been hot in England recently… hotter than usual, even for summer. There has been no rain in my part of the country for weeks now and the ground is parched and cracked. Harvests are being brought in early, fields are already shorn and neatly dotted with straw-bales, and the human population has been slowly wilting in the scorching, heavy air. So, it was with some eagerness that we awaited the promised rain and thunderstorms.

They didn’t arrive… The forecasters shifted their predictions to the next day, then the next… and all we had seen was a spot or two of moisture accompanied by a distant, lazy rumble of thunder. When the rain finally arrived last night, it was no more than the briefest of light showers. The dog and I, nevertheless, headed outside to enjoy the fall of water, watching its instant evaporation on the superheated concrete of the paving, but glad of the momentary respite.

Although the weather is a national preoccupation in England, we generally don’t suffer too badly from its vagaries. Ours is temperate climate. Summers are generally warm, winters cold but not glacial… but whatever the weather is doing, we will soon be complaining about it. On the odd occasion, we do get a severe winter… by English standards… or an unusually hot summer. We are prepared for neither, and both can bring the country to its knees at temperatures other nations would consider mild. We don’t cope well with what we consider extremes of anything… be that weather or behaviour…

There is a ‘normal’ for everyone… parameters within which we are comfortable, because they are familiar. They do not have to be good, or what we would choose… they are just our accustomed and accepted standards of normality. Step beyond their boundaries and, depending upon your temperament, you are in a zone of unease, or one of excitement. Such boundaries shift and change with time and circumstance… and the adaptability that is one of humanity’s greatest assets can also be its greatest handicap, as we learn to accept a new ‘normal’ very quickly and alter the parameters to suit the moment.

I was talking to my son about this as we headed out to the local farm shop on Saturday. Because of the changes in his life and capabilities caused by the brain injury, he has been redefining his ‘normal’ on a regular basis. He tends to forget where he has come from, and what he has endured and achieved to get here, and the latest version of ‘normality’ takes a great deal of the journey for granted.

We took the country lanes back to my home after we had done the shopping, stopping by a field gate so he could get out, lean on the gate, and watch the fast-forming clouds race in. It is a simple thing, but I remembered the first time he was able to do that a few years ago… and the wonder we both felt at that achievement.

This time I watched as he lost himself in the moment, seeing emotions on his face shift from bright to dark and back again, like the cloud-shadows on the land. The wind was getting stronger as dark clouds raced in. The little bit of rain had enhanced all the colours, turning the dry grasses to gold and illuminating the green of the hedgerows, where blackberries glistened amongst the wildflowers. The changing weather and the experience of beauty lifted him out of his normality and allowed him to see what he might otherwise not have noticed.

“You forget,” he mused. “You strive for a goal, but as soon as you attain it, there is always another ahead…. And the goal you just reached becomes worthless, no more than a stepping stone…when you should be content.”
“Carrots.”
“Eh?”
“Carrots on sticks. Donkeys. The donkey keeps walking to where it thinks the carrot was… and when it gets there, the carrot has moved, so it keeps on walking… but the carrot is always out of reach.”
“Expectations. Yep… We do that to ourselves all the time. It didn’t rain… I could be disappointed because I expected rain… but what the day has given me instead,” said the son who had just used his walking frame to cross the rough terrain of a farmyard…and in public… for the first time, “is even better.”

As we drove home, the clouds closed in above us, darkening the sky, deepening all the colours of the land. The wind gathered momentum, whipping sun-dried leaves from the trees into great golden plumes that danced across the road like aureate autumnal spirits. The earth smelled sweet and fresh as the rain poured down on the wide vale below us. Sometimes, you just have to leave expectations behind and leave space for life to happen.

Getting personal

This weekend saw the monthly meeting of the Silent Eye in the north of England… a time when we reconnect, share and explore ideas and discuss plans for the four workshops we run every year. Work is already well under way for Lord of the Deep, the April workshop, which will explore the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories known to man, but our next workshop is a far less formal affair.

These informal workshops are held at various places across the country, making them as accessible as we can to anyone who would like to come along and meet us, see what we do, and visit a variety of historic or ancient sites in the process.

Readers who have followed our adventures at previous workshops, such as the recent Giant and the Sun weekend in Dorset, will know that we manage to see and experience a goodly number of places while exploring the mysteries of the human heart and mind, the spiritual quest …and a few odd theories for good measure.

For our next workshop, Castles of the Mind, organised by Steve, we will be exploring some beautiful parts of the north- eastern coast and its history. It is an area I love, one of which I have many fond memories and in which I have some personal roots; my grandmother and great-grandmother were from the area and my father’s ashes were scattered on the beaches he loved, many years ago.

We will be visiting some of the great castles of the area, and on the Sunday, will spend time on Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, a place of stark beauty, and one which has more history in its thousand acres than many cities.

There are the graceful arches of the old priory, a church that has been a serene presence since Saxon times… although it has also seen the incursions made by the Vikings and other marauders… and, when the sun pours the gold of its setting across the waters, lighting up the ancient stones with a rosy glow, there can be few more beautiful places to be…

…especially as the first day of the workshop coincides with my sixtieth birthday. I have no problems with attaining that age. I count it a privilege, even though I distinctly remember turning thirty and thinking that sixty was positively ancient. The fact that I still feel thirty… inside, at least… is sufficient compensation for attaining the threshold of venerability. And I will be celebrating with friends in a landscape I love. Why not come and join us?

Castles of the Mind

Seahouses, Northumberland

Friday 14th – Sunday 16th September 2018

Bamburgh Castle smaller

Do we have ‘castles of the mind’?

Traditionally, ancient castles were built where there was trouble… Do we have the equivalent in our minds and emotions? Have we, over the course of our lives, built up strong fortifications with which to repel those intrusions which, as children, we considered frightening?

Our ‘walk and talk’ events are friendly and informal. We ask those attending to bring one or two readings from their favourite books, poems, or other sources of inspiration. We listen and talk… and share. If someone is ready to enter their personal borderlands, we hold their hand and walk with them.

The cost per attendee is £50.00. This is an administrative cost, only. All personal costs and bookings, such as hotels, meals and admission charges are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are generally shared in a local pub.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Enquiries: rivingtide@gmail.com.

Nature Versus Nurture?

“Ewww!”said my younger son, screwing up his nose and making terrible, traumatised faces as he drank the small glass of milk, with about as much relish as if it were arsenic. “Straight from the udder?”
“‘From moo to you‘ it says on the carton.”
“Completely raw? Not treated…or anything?”
“Yep. Cow juice, just as nature intended.”
“Yeurch…”

I got the distinct impression that he would not be joining his older brother in his enthusiastic conversion to raw milk. I am well aware of the pros and cons of drinking unpasteurised milk, but the taste and health benefits outweigh any minor concerns about safety. The hygiene required for this nascent industry is stringent and well-regulated, and the industry too young to have grown complacent enough to take risks. And anyway, I rather like watching the ‘ladies who munch’ graze in the field while I fill my bottle with the milk they donated that morning.

“Ewww” said my elder son, the one who is into healthy eating and raw milk, screwing up his nose at the prospect of freshly picked blackberries. “There might be maggots and stuff…”
“I washed ’em.”
“Yeah but…” It is not that he doesn’t like blackberries. I had just made him a milkshake with commercially frozen berries… berries which are just as likely to have the odd stowaway and which are not individually inspected. His younger brother, on the other hand, the one to whom raw milk is anathema, enjoys growing his own fruit and vegetables. He has no problem picking off the odd slug or eating potatoes freshly dug from the soil.

I am no better. I carefully wash the few strawberries I have from my own garden, but will happily munch on punnets of fruit bought at the roadside and with no knowledge of what, if any, hygiene measures have been employed.

I think it is the plastic. Over the past few decades we have been ‘educated’, taught to believe the supermarket myth that, if it comes in plastic, it is safe, clean food and we are okay to eat it. This may, on the whole at least, be true, but it does not mean that plasticised food is the only food worth eating or that all else is unsafe.

I grew up in a time when potatoes were still sold covered in earth… and I was fascinated by the different colours and textures of the soils that encased them, wondering how that affected their growth and taste. Fresh fruit and veg may have had a blast from a hosepipe, and greengrocers hand polished their display apples, but most of it came straight from the ground… and most food was what is now expensively labelled as organic.

The local farm that sells raw milk also hosts a cooperative of locally produced food items, from organic meat to home-made jams, villagers’ surplus eggs, home-grown and beautifully misshapen vegetables and honey with the name and address of the ninety-year-old bee-keeper on the hand printed label. The honey my son had been using comes from Bulgaria… hardly local and ecologically not all that friendly in shipping miles. And the co-operative ensures a decent price for the growers too.

I still find it deeply satisfying to know where my food comes from, and that includes being able to see the soil still clinging to my carrots and knowing whether the beef in my casserole is shin or rib. Most younger shoppers have never had to wash a potato or ask for a particular cut of meat. A generation ago, few would have been fazed by having to gut and pluck a chicken. Their parents would have had no problem feeding  the bird in the morning and seeing it on the table at night… I know, my mother was good at that. Today, especially for those who live in urban areas, our food is sanitised, generically labelled and sold on looks not flavour.

That worries me.

We seem to be being systematically brainwashed into dependency by the big-money supermarkets. And this is just one example of the way the society we have created for ourselves is creating a reliance upon the structures that are supposed to serve us. Just one example of how our need to know, to question and to think for ourselves is being eroded…and these ar skills we should be employing in every area of our lives, from what we eat to what we believe. We allowing ourselves to be robbed of knowledge about what we are buying and eating… and meanwhile, we are losing the knack of choosing a ripe melon or a tender steak by sight, smell and touch, stifling our senses and suffocating ourselves with plastic. We rely on the supermarket to do it all for us.

More importantly, we are losing contact with the source of our food. We no longer think of the earth in which the potato grew, any more than we think of the lives, both plant and creature, that sustain our own. We forget the balance of sun and rain, day and night, winter and summer. We eat out of season and forget the seasons’ place in the grand and beautiful dance of life and growth.

Greengrocer’s, butcher’s and baker’s shops are disappearing rapidly from our towns. Convenience and the buying power of the supermarkets have already won the day and beggared small farmers. We cannot all afford the extra cost of organic food, especially when there is no farm selling local produce or innovative cooperative handy. But one thing we can all do, every day, is take a moment to consider what we eat and where it grew. It is a small act of gratitude… and a substantial act of rebellion against the fallacy that plastic is best. An act of rebellion that reclaims control and allows us to choose.

If we do not care about the earth that cares for us, we will damage it to the point where it can no longer do so.  It has taken a generation, that’s all, for town dwellers to lose the skills required to provide ourselves with food and informed choice, abrogating responsibility in favour of convenience. We forget reverence and gratitude and our connection to the earth that gives us life.

The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill II

 

(Continued from Part I)

Halfway across the length of Maiden Castle, the terrain changes. It is a slight demarcation… little more than a step ‘up’ at one end… yet the change is palpable. While the western entrance leads onto a place where people lived, the eastern end of the enclosure is where the dead were laid, in the care of the priesthood. We do not know exactly how these people worshipped, though we may glean a little insight from the so-called ‘primitive’ tribes that still exist.  Their beliefs would have been animistic and their priesthood would have included the healers and seers, the shaman and the wise-woman. The earth was a living being and every rock, tree and creature a manifestation of Spirit. The forms of faith may differ, but in essence, they are the same as our own.

Spearhead embedded in a skeleton’s spine. Image taken from photo of information board.

On our first visit to the site, five years ago, we had felt the change in the land. It was only later, when we did the research that we found that we had ‘seen true’. There are many graves in this part of the hillfort, all buried with reverence and respect, though some had died violent deaths. In the 1930s, Sir Mortimer Wheel found a cemetery containing fifty-two skeletons and, although many of the males had died of horrific injuries, they were buried with care. Grave goods of pots, metalwork and even joints of meat were sent with the dead to the otherworld.

Image taken from photo of information board.

At the easternmost point of the hillfort there is a gate. Few visitors seem to venture through it to the mirror-maze beyond. Echoing the western maze, this one is more unkempt, left in peace for the atmosphere to build and the energies to whisper, and it seems more ceremonial than practical. It had been within this maze that we had seen how it could be used for the rites of passage and we had planned on gathering our companions here for the third and final visualisation of the weekend. Unfortunately, when we reached the eastern end, half our companions were already following their own calling to the Roman temple…

 

Artist’s impression of the Temple of Minerva. Image taken from photo of information board.

While many hillforts had fallen out of use by the time the Romans arrived, Maiden Castle continued to be occupied and acted as a centre for crafts and trade. When Vespasian subdued the south in AD43, it seems likely that resistance was strong from the fortress… over 2000 slingshots were found stored in pits near the entrance to the maze, the confusing and winding pathway that served as a defensive measure and processional way.

Plaque showing Minerva, found at the Temple. Image taken from photo of information board.

On the northern side of the Castle is the outline of a Romano-British Temple dating to around AD400. It was built on the site of an Iron Age building and may have replaced a much more ancient shrine. We do not know to whom the original shrine was dedicated, but a plaque found at the site shows Minerva and suggests the Temple may have been dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and had particular significance for one of our company. It had something to tell me too, had I but realised it.

The Briggate Minerva, Leeds; a sculpture by Andy Scott.

Her symbol is the Owl… which was going to prove astonishingly significant over the next few days. Being kept in the dark by your own mind sometimes where these things are concerned, it is only now that the pieces are coming together. The Owl is the symbol of my own home city, where a modern Minerva wears the Owl mask and holds three aligned stars, like those of Orion’s Belt…which ties us back to the Giant and its alignments. I won’t even mention that my city got its Owl from the nobility of Anjou, who were granted lands in the area after the Norman Conquest, or that the nobility of Anjou were major players in the birth of the Knights Templar… and we had started our adventures that weekend with a Templar Head.

So it was unexpectedly perfect that we gathered for the final visualisation at the centre of the Temple of Minerva, where we again joined with the Web of Light to send thoughts of peace and healing out into the world. It never matters that our plans must change when the unexpected occurs… leaving ‘space for spirit’ means accepting the gifts of the day and being aware that sometimes, the day knows best. And then the weekend was over. All that remained was to say our farewells in the car park… but once again, for some of us the weekend was not the end, but only a beginning. But that is another story…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.