We would like to offer our warmest congratulations to our Companion, Jan Malique, on her ordination as an inter-faith Minister with the Sacred Rites Foundation.
We would like to offer our warmest congratulations to our Companion, Jan Malique, on her ordination as an inter-faith Minister with the Sacred Rites Foundation.
The past few days have seen us up to our eyeballs in research, planning and speculation. With the December Living Land workshop less than two weeks away, this was our last chance to get out in the field and check the details… so out into the fields and hills we went.
We were lucky with the weather, in spite of the frost that whitened the world. The chill of mid-November was mitigated by clear skies and a hint of sun on the coppery carpets of beech leaves. The emerald leaves of bluebells, reminding us that spring is just on the other side of winter, cluster thickly around stone and tree. Wherever we went, a robin seemed to be watching and busy squirrels worked frantically at secreting their winter hoard. And, wherever we ventured, odd and intriguing clues seemed to laugh at our blindness.
Places we have visited many times before suddenly seemed to be revealing secrets. Not that they had ever been hidden. Most of them had been seen, even photographed, before… but we had not seen them to any purpose. The familiar was made new in our eyes and, as we finally considered what we thought we already knew, intriguing lines of exploration wandered across time and history, opening our eyes and minds to possibilities we had never noticed.
There is a curious ‘blindness’, as if some things may not be known until the time is right…or until you are equipped with sufficient knowledge or experience to begin to appreciate the insights they are offering. Their presence is registered, you can call them up on memory, yet their significance is veiled and does not impinge upon conscious thought. What goes on in the subconscious mind, though, is another matter.
All that which has apparently passed unnoticed is filed in a dark corner that might as well be labelled ‘classified’ for all the good it appears to serve. Yet, beneath the surface, everything we see, hear, read or experience is busy ferreting out the connections needed to give it enough relevance to be useful. It may eventually resurface with the flourish of a pantomime fairy, throwing off its dark cloak to reveal the magic it has kept hidden…and leaving you wondering at your own lack of vision.
Whether it is a clue in the landscape that elucidates a mystery, or something that was within you all along that illuminates your vision of yourself, we are all blinkered from time to time. The conscious mind and its hidden counterpart seem to work at different speeds and have a differing view of the world. Then sometimes they work in tandem, needing only a single clue cast into the cup to create an elixir that clears the mist to leave you speechless at what was right there in front of your eyes all along. Knowledge becomes understanding and your world takes on a new depth and dimension. How could you possibly have missed that for so long..? But you did, and you undoubtedly will again… until the moment is right.
‘To know, to dare, to will… and to keep silent’… this is a phrase heard within many branches of the Mysteries and one which echoes facets of the labyrinthine journey undertaken by those of us who work within them. It is an old saying, but none the worse for that, as much of the magical and mystical tradition is rooted in history. It contains much wisdom… a veritable treasure trove that responds to exploration by the meditative mind.
When we were setting up the Silent Eye, talking about how we could encapsulate something of the essence of the School’s ethos in a few words, that phrase was the starting point for a discussion. The school is a place where we ensure that ‘the heart and the head drink from the same stream’. It is just as easy to get lost in soggy sentimentality as it is to bury oneself in hardcore intellectualism and on the spiritual journey both ends of the spectrum need to arrive at the consensus where we find the road to Being.
It takes courage to set out on that road, for it is ultimately one that must be walked seemingly alone, facing the image of the constructed Self; the Ego that is our vehicle through this life in the mirror of the soul. It is not always a pleasant stroll; the flawed monsters that lurk within each of us are the demons the magician faces in his rites of evocation. It takes courage too to set out on a path that departs from the traditions and teachings you have worked with all your life and seek something new. To dare that road can seem like stepping off a precipice into the unknown… or it can be the most exciting voyage of a lifetime.
It is something many of us dream of doing. Yet where to start? How to translate that dream into a reality? And what is a dream anyway? It is a multivalent concept. We may think of a dream as something of no substance, the ephemera of the night; no more than a fleeting shadow of the impossible that haunts the edges of the mind. Many systems of thought, including our own, use the idea of the dream-state to reflect the limited reality of our daily lives, focussed upon the mechanical movement through the tasks and responsibilities imposed upon us, both by the world and by ourselves; seeing in our restricted and sleeping consciousness merely projected images upon the screen of the mundane world.
We can look at the Aboriginal and Shamanic dreaming that has woven its magic behind humanity’s vision, shadowing forth those aspects of being and divinity we have sought to understand for millennia. On the other hand, we may see a dream as an aspiration… something worthy of the questing soul that seeks the depth and meaning of the inner Light.
It has been asked which is the dream… does the soul dream this life… do we awake from life into a dream of the soul … are we ourselves the dream, the dreamer… or the dreamed?
Perhaps we are all of these and in that realisation… in daring to seek to bring the dream of the soul into reality, in the clear light of consciousness, we can live the dream and touch the realms of pure Being.
I enjoy research. For a writer, this is obviously a good thing. I love following an obscure reference to its source or delving into the past in search of what, for want of a better word, could be called ‘the truth’, even though, historically at least, there is no such thing.
It can seem a bit obsessive. Halfway through a film or documentary, I will stop to look up a historical reference. Films are the worst. Documentaries portray at least one person’s vision of the truth… evidence-based or speculative, they are interpretations and opinions of an accepted fact. Films, though, take huge liberties with the facts and that worries me. As long as the viewer remembers that these are stories, made to entertain as much, if not more, than they are made to inform, then the inaccuracies do not matter. When, however, the ‘Hollywoodised’ version of the facts becomes the only one to which people pay attention, then our vision of history becomes seriously skewed.
Take Braveheart, for example. Mel Gibson’s 1995 film brought the story of William Wallace to the attention of the world. It was hugely successful and remains a firm favourite with many people. We watch the film, engage with its characters and story and are left with a feeling that we have gained some knowledge and insight into the period and its people.
Not so, say the lists of ‘most historically inaccurate films’. Nowhere near so, say those who have studied Wallace, his life, and the history of Scotland. Mel Gibson himself admitted that to be true, but defended his directorial choices because they made for more compelling cinema, regardless of their lack of accuracy. Ironically, the film rasied the profile of Wallace and Scottish history in general as well as increasing tourism, so peraps its very inaccuracy served a purpose.
We all know that the movie industry takes as many liberties with history as it does with scripts based upon classic works of fiction. It does not devalue the cinematic art form, but it really ought to make us question what we absorb and unconsciously accept as historical fact, or an accurate rendition of literature.
Yet how often are we interested enough to go off and study the sources with any depth just because we have enjoyed a film? I get curious. Where did they get that idea from, is it based on fact or a piece of pure cinema? How come one portrayal of a historical character can be so very different from another?
I will probably start with Wiki, just as a jumping off point, then wander off in goodness knows how many directions. I always look for several different sources so that I have something on which to form an opinion. And I often get sidetracked, chasing down associated people or ideas, knowing all the while that there is no way I will ever know the truth… at best, all I can hope for is an accepted version of the truth, a consensus based on the interpretation of collated evidence.
Obviously, history itself is true… what happened, happened… but the records that have been left to us are not objective. They are all, of necessity, subjective interpretations of that truth and are therefore inevitably subject to error, manipulation, or simply fall victim to the writer’s perspective and emotions.
Personal perspective colours everything we see, do, and record in memory. It takes very little to grasp how even the simplest of things can be so coloured.
“I stayed in my pyjamas and wrote until lunchtime…” That could be seen as a statement of fact. Except, I don’t own pyjamas, but it sounded better than ‘dressing gown’. And I was dressed way before I had lunch…which, admittedly, was nearer tea-time… And I didn’t just write… I read, made and drank coffee, fed and played with the dog, fed the fish…and all the other little things that creep in when we are ‘supposed’ to be writing. But how would it look to others?
“She didn’t even get dressed till lunchtime!”
“I wish I could sit around doing nothing…”
“She can’t have much of a life/must be really depressed if she doesn’t even bother getting dressed…”
“Wow, I wish I was a writer…”
“It’s alright for some. Bet she doesn’t have to work…”
“She must be lazy/ill/weird…” (Okay, they can have that last one…)
Emotional response always and immediately overlays what we experience, crafting its own version of the truth of a situation. Even our own. I think I stayed in the dressing gown till lunchtime because, for once, I could. I normally work a seven-day week and start early. I have done so for years, barring the occasional weekend and holidays… and there were a good many years when I didn’t even get those. Today, I didn’t have to go out early. I had a choice. The housework was done and the dressing gown is warm and cosy on a cold morning.
But is that the truth, or just an excuse? Not even I can be sure of that… we are all adept at finding justification for our own actions, if we ever bother to question them. Most of the time we go through our days without stopping to question such basic actions or the true reasons behind our decisions.
Many spiritual schools and religious bodies advocate a daily ‘examination of conscience’ where the events of the day, your own actions and reactions, are played out in imagination before sleep. This can be a really useful exercise, yet time alone will only allow us to replay a fraction of the day…those moments that stand out from the rest and have roused an emotional response for some reason.
Much of what we do throughout the course of a day is habitual. We are programmed to adopt patterns of behaviour. It frees us processing space in the brain and conserves energy… and probably makes us more efficient as we are not constantly starting from scratch with every action.
That is all well and good when you are getting in a car to drive to work or loading the washing machine…that kind of patterned efficiency is a good thing and could be called expertise. If we accept the habitual patterns that become imprinted upon the way we think and feel with as little examination, we perpetuate them too. We are all aware that habits are easily formed and will shape our way of seeing the world. This can be a good thing… though more seems to be written about its negative effects than its possibilities. Consciously seeking the good in life, rather than the bad, being open to compassion, empathy and generosity of spirit… they would not be bad habits to acquire.
Paper poppies bloom, as fragile as the lives they represent. Every year it is the same, I try to find some way of saying what is in my heart and the words will not come. I was not there, I have no right to speak of war and its atrocities. I have not seen it with my own eyes. I have never aimed a gun at another human being and been faced with the choice whether to kill or be killed. I have not tried to sleep in cold mud made from the earth of a foreign land mingled with the blood of my comrades. I have not lost my child to war.
I have no right to speak, but nor have I the right to remain silent when the price of my freedom to speak was so high. I have a duty to my own conscience and to all whose lives were given in service to their country or lost to the horror of some political expediency written in blood.
There are many tales of heroism and valour in the field, tales that highlight the beauty and nobility the human spirit can attain. But war is never beautiful, nor is it the glorious myth we have historically created when we need recruits. War is born from the desire for power. Whether a formal declaration of war is made by the aggressor or the defenders, whether the war is fought for necessary or political resources, to uphold an ideal, for the betterment or protection of a way of life or for its imposition, the cause of every war is an idea…and ideas are born first in a single mind. For this single idea, or because we feel we must defend ourselves against it, we are prepared to sacrifice an entire generation, yet we will read about tribes who sacrificed a single human life for the good of the community and call them barbaric.
Today, with our so-called smart weapons, we can obliterate a whole city remotely, not just one person, not even one generation, with the touch of a button. Gruesome death is a constant on our TV and cinema screens, we even play games with it. The gift of life is cheapened and our reverence for human life seems a thing of the past. Yet that life is our own… and ironically, our fear of death seems to be greater now than ever before.
This year sees the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele. There is no accepted figure for the number of lives lost in that one, appalling battle, though it is certain that over half a million men were killed, maimed or wounded. That we do not even know how many is perhaps commentary enough.
Harry Patch, who was the last surviving, fighting soldier from WWI, fought in that battle. He died in 2009 at the age of 111, and was given a military funeral at which he requested not even ceremonial guns be present. He had spent eighty years trying to forget the horrors of war, but when he reached a hundred years old and was brought to the eyes of the media, he was once again asked to remember…and for the last years of his life, he spoke of little else.
Harry believed that war was wrong and that a war that would eventually be settled around a table should be fought there and not cost millions of lives in something he saw as “nothing better than legalised mass murder”.
Harry was wounded at Passchendaele by a shell that killed three of his friends. A short while before his death he was asked what it felt like to be the last man alive to have fought in the trenches.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “I sit there and think. And some nights I dream – of that first battle. I can’t forget it.
“I fell in a trench. There was a fella there. He must have been about our age. He was ripped shoulder to waist with shrapnel. I held his hand for the last 60 seconds of his life. He only said one word: ‘Mother’. I didn’t see her, but she was there. No doubt about it. He passed from this life into the next, and it felt as if I was in God’s presence.
“I’ve never got over it. You never forget it. Never.”
He spoke of how, from arriving on the battlefield to leaving it, wounded, months later, he never had a bath or a change of clothes. He spoke the fear and of the choice between shooting to kill or to wound and the pact he had made with some of his comrades never to kill… a pact that could have had them shot by their own commanding officers.
He spoke of a horror many of us will never know or understand. He hoped we never would.
Across the world we turn to remember with respect those who served their countries or their ideals in the Great War ‘to end all wars’ a hundred years ago and in all the arenas of war ever since. Regardless of the reasons for going to war, the valour, the sacrifice and the suffering of those who serve cannot be denied. Every year, there are those who call for an end to our remembrance, saying that it is now old history and as relevant to our lives as the wars of Rome or ancient Greece. I will wear my poppy with millions of others in the hope that in remembering, we can learn from our bloody history… for we continue to write it.
The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million. Over 16 million died and over 20 million were wounded.
The total number of casualties in WW2 is thought to be between 60,000,000 to 85,000,000. Such was the scale of that conflict there is a gap where we simply do not know… a gap of some 25 million. As if the entire population of New York simply disappeared.
And that doesn’t include the casualties who suffered horrendously but survived their wounds.
It doesn’t include those who suffered the emotional damage, the mental scarring, the recurrent nightmares, the fear. It doesn’t include the orphans.
It doesn’t include the long term suffering of poverty, dispossession, or the racial and religious hatred that engenders or is engendered by war.
It doesn’t tell of the personal loss that touches all victims on all sides of a conflict… for they are all human beings, like you and me. It does not count the heartbreak of those who waited in vain for their children, siblings, parents and lovers to come home.
It doesn’t show the damage to the land, the mines that take lives long after the conflict has moved on, or the animals and birds decimated by bombing or being drafted into service.
The figures are cold and clinical. They do not dream. They do not wake up screaming.
The counts vary, depending upon who is doing the telling and why, but one thing they seem to agree on is that in total over 240 million men, women and children were killed in war in the 20th century.
And still it continues. Every day.
Since the beginning of recorded history major wars have killed an estimated four billion people… That figure is too vast for the mind to encompass. It is the equivalent of over half the human race alive today. Erase half of your family, half of the people you know or have ever known, half your friends… half your children. Then look at the cenotaphs or the names in the books of Remembrance. War does that to people.
We like to think of ourselves as an advanced civilised society… there has to be a better way and I hope and pray that, one day, we may find it.
Riddles of the Night.
1st-3rd December 2017, Bakewell, Derbyshire.
Sometimes it can be hard to see
The difference twixt wood and tree
Seek out the Lily and the Oak
Without a flame there is no smoke…
What links sacred sites, ancient and modern?
Are the clues all around us?
Do the keys to heaven lie hidden in the earth or are there keys to earth hidden in the heavens?
Riddles of the Night…
Hidden in plain sight.
1st-3rd December 2017, Bakewell, Derbyshire.
Discover for yourselves the hidden jewels of the night as the darkness of the winter solstice enfolds the land.
Will you find the jewel at the heart of the mystery?
Join us in Bakewell in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales to explore some of the ancient and sacred sites of our ancestors. The weekend will take the Companions on a true quest, seeking out the hidden magic in the landscape that echoes the magic of heart and soul.
The weekend is informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.
Workshop costs £50 per person. Accomodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Bakewell should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.
Click below to
For further details or to reserve your place: email@example.com
The misty dawn blushed a soft, rosy pink, probably embarrassed by the number of clichés it was inviting. It had begun with a delicate glow, suffusing the rising mist with gold as I shivered on the doorstep, then painted the world in pastel colours, as gentle as an apology. As the sun rose, the temperature plummeted, the swirling mists turned to fog and you could almost see the ice crystals forming. Another Monday morning was born…
The sudden frost highlighted every detail of plants still resolutely green, each strand of spider silk and the edge of every fallen leaf. The ordinary became beautiful. Details that are overlooked a hundred times a day were limned in crystal and became unmissable… yet, but for necessity, I would have taken the option of comfort, stayed warm indoors and seen nothing. As I scraped the ice from the windscreen of the car, I was once again struck by how simple it is to learn the lessons of life by observing Nature at work. My own experience of the morning was one of frozen fingers and yet, the bitter frost served only to highlight a beauty that might otherwise have been missed.
Necessity and inevitability so often lead us into bitter and painful situations, but without them as a contrast, would we…could we…truly appreciate all that is right in our world? Would we notice a dawn if the sky always wore the colours of sunrise or do we need to experience darkness in order to understand the essence of light? Looking around too, I noted that while some plants were still green and would remain so in spite of the coming cold of winter, others were sere and brittle, giving every appearance of being mere skeletons of the vibrant life they once wore. Yet here too, Nature teaches, for beneath the soil, those brittle bones wait only for spring to grow once more… different in appearance, perhaps, but still essentially the same.
There was nothing new in those thoughts… no fanfare, no great revelation. It was no more than a gentle reminder, a reassurance that we are never called upon to make sense of this world and its upheavals on our own. There is always a teacher on our doorstep, always a deeper wisdom than our own, older and with experience of all that has ever been. It knows the tides of night and day, of winter and summer, freedom and necessity…and it is poised to teach us, every day. We do not always listen, we are wayward students and easily distracted, but the earth knows her children well and repeats her cycles, waiting for our chattering minds to quiet and allow us to understand. And when we do…when we listen… sometimes, it seems as if she smiles.
Bonfire night. In Britain, it is celebrated on November 5th every year to commemorate the death of Guy Fawkes. He was the conspirator charged with lighting the fuse on the thirty-six barrels of gunpowder secreted in a cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
It was a time of religious intolerance, when politics, power and religion were intimately linked. King Henry VIII had broken with Rome with the Act of Supremacy in 1534 and for seventy years and through the reigns of the last Tudor monarchs, the pendulum had swung between religious factions. When James VI of Scotland, son of the beheaded Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, came to the English throne after the death of Elizabeth, the Catholic community hoped for a return of their faith and position. King James made it clear that this would not be the case and a plot was devised to assassinate the king by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening when the monarch would be present.
The plot was unmasked and Guy Fawkes found, arrested and tortured. He was not the ringleader…just the man handling the explosives, but he was sentenced to death for treason. To escape being hung, drawn and quartered, he leapt to his death from the scaffold and broke his neck.
And we celebrate this. Until 1959 it was required by law that we celebrate, though the decree was for attendance at church and a giving of thanks. Today we seldom look beyond the effigy of the ‘guy’ that is burned on bonfires, or the fireworks that are set off to mimic the unexploded barrels.
During my childhood, bonfires were communal affairs. Families or neighbours would come together around a small bonfire, sharing the fireworks and the food prepared by each household. For weeks beforehand the children would have been ‘chumping’… finding wood for the fires… and making the ‘guy’. The effigy would be paraded or taken house to house and pennies would be given that went towards the cost of fireworks. When you think about it, the whole thing is rather gruesome, but the history and its implications were but vaguely known, and deemed of little importance. To us, as children, it was just fun.
Bonfires go back a lot further than Guy Fawkes, though. As far back as the reach of history there have been fires… bonefires, banefires… fires of prophecy, blessing, purification and celebration. Fires to ward off the darkness or welcome the light. Fires that marked the turning of the seasons and the sun-tides. How far back such traditions may go, we do not know, but we do know that fire was used in many of the oldest stone circles as part of whatever ceremonies were performed there.
Those sacred flames brought communities together to bless the cattle, see out the old year and rekindle the new, to celebrate the arrival of spring at Beltane and the promise of its first stirrings in the dark womb of winter. But even within living memory, we have used such fires too as the gathering point for anger, hatred and intolerance. They have been used for the burning of books banned by tyranny and to symbolise the destruction of our human kinship.
I prefer the old ways, when fire brought us together rather than symbolising death, division and destruction. For day to day needs, we each have a flame, a place of warmth and light, at the centre of our own lives. When we bring those flames together in celebration of something shared by all… like the seasons of the sun… we are building something wider than our own lives, reestablishing community and, in sharing time and laughter with our neighbours, erasing the fear and ignorance that causes intolerance. It doesn’t have to be a bonfire…the heart and the hearth share more than just the letters of their names.
Reblogged from Journey to Ambeth: So this was it. The final stop on my weekend with the Silent Eye, not far from where it had begun for me, two days earlier. We were very close to Aberdeen airport, but, other than the occasional plane or helicopter overhead, you wouldn’t have known it.
We were standing on high ground overlooking a river that turned, serpent-like, through a green landscape. A huge boulder sat on the edge of the drop and across the river from us were several homes, nestled among trees. Behind us was a ruined church, roof and windows long gone. Yet it still held secrets.
We went into the tidy churchyard, rows of stone monuments to war dead from both sides reminders of a not-too-distant past. The church itself, dedicated to St Fergus, was built of grey stone, weathered by time like the grave markers surrounding it. Interesting that it was the second church of the weekend – sacred places in the landscape were often overtaken by others as beliefs changed, often as part of the process and against the wishes of the community.
Continue reading: Maiden Mother Crone, Part 8 – Farewell | Journey To Ambeth