Hunting the Unicorn: “Upon the earth…”

 

Our morning began with an early meditation upon the hillside, turning our attention to the light, both in literal and symbolic terms. It was a moment to drink in the beauty of the land as a ‘false dawn’ opened a window in the clouds and we placed the work of the weekend under the aegis of Spirit. Each of us brings our own peculiar interpretation to that word and concept… and that is how it should be; the relationship between each of us and whatever we conceive of as spirit, divinity or a guiding presence is both unique and personal.

In simple rituals and in spite of a multitude of perspectives, we can set differences easily aside, colouring the symbols we use with our own interpretations in order to work together towards a common goal. That is one of the ever-present joys of such workshop weekends. We were using a five-pointed star, but there is always a hidden point to any symbol and, magically, that always operates on a different level to the symbol itself. The opalescent horn of the Unicorn would be both the guardian of the threshold and would point the way for us.

Having established the Unicorn as a symbol of Spirit the night before, we were about to begin a more personal journey into the elements of our own nature. Using imagination, knowledge, memory and the senses, we would map that journey onto the five points of the pentagram. Dean had carefully chosen passages from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to illustrate the psychological aspects of the elements as they are played out within the human psyche. He had chosen stones with different colours, patterns and textures to represent the physical  elements with which we would weight down the ribbon paths we were to walk around the pentagram and chosen sites for us to visit that reflected the elemental principles too. In other words, he had tied the journey together beautifully on all levels.

 

Our next stop would be Duffus Castle, built around 1140 and abandoned in the eighteenth century. As Steve has already covered the history of the castle, I need not repeat the details of its construction and ownership, but can take a more personal perspective.

The castle is surrounded by the remains of a moat, now a pure, clear stream, teeming with wildflowers and small creatures. It was here that we began to get an inkling of Dean’s deep love and knowledge of the natural environment of his adoptive home, much of which he would share with us over the weekend. It is a very beautiful site, an island in a green land. Rising from the Laich of Moray, it dominates the landscape and, from a distance, seems to epitomise our idea of a ‘proper’ castle.

The mound upon which the fortifications are built is imposing. Both the motte that holds the castle keep and the bailey… the lower enclosure that once protected the stables, people and day-to-day practicalities of castle life… are intact.

It is only as you come closer that you see that the castle has not only suffered the depredations of time, but is gradually slipping down the slope of the motte to be swallowed by the hill. Windows have broken, whole sections of the structure seem to be sailing away. It is almost as if the most solid-looking part of the castle is the most fragile… and what a good analogy for our own masks that might be.

It has a very different ‘feel’ than its Norman counterparts in England. So often these were built by the conquerors on sites already important to the community, thus both wresting position and imposing authority on the land and its people in one fell swoop. There is a lot of research ongoing at the moment, looking into the age of motte and bailey-type earthworks that were once Norman castles… and had, we now know, sometimes origins and uses of a  much earlier date.

Here though, the castle mound was purpose-built. There was none of the underlying trauma or conflict felt at many other such sites. Sadly, though, it may be this very fact that has proven to be its downfall; the ancients were pretty good at building earthworks. Apparently, the castle-builders had needed to learn a bit more about foundations…

And that carried us neatly into the next part of our work, for the foundations of our own personalities need to be firmly built and deeply rooted before we can build upon them.

We were looking at ourselves from a magical perspective and the spiritual journey of each of us has to start somewhere. We all start at the beginning, knowing nothing, and build gradually from that point. How you build will determine how you will develop.

Most of us start by devouring information… books, articles, courses…whatever we can find, like newly-hatched chicks in need of nourishment. Some will believe that is enough and will construct an impressive-looking façade from what they have learned. You can carry on adding knowledge for decades… but unless you do the ‘spade-work’, the spiritual edifice you are building will one day crumble and swallow itself.

You may even find that, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the ‘power’ you think you have attained demands more and more of you in order to maintain its illusion. The real ‘spade-work’ of a spiritual system tends to include getting to know yourself… and that may mean digging into areas of the mind, heart and memory that can be as unpleasant as a blocked sewer.

It also means finding ways to put into practice what you have learned. That’s where this type of workshop can be useful. The written word can only teach knowledge and report experience… it cannot teach understanding, though it may show a way towards it.

But maybe, too, this broken castle might symbolise the freedom that comes when we can cast down the walls behind which we so often feel the need to hide, opening ourselves to light and life. Either way, it was a great place to start our day.

Three Days of the Oyster-Catcher (2) Coast and Castle

Sun in Gemini

Above: Looking down into the Spey valley below – the 7:00 am beginning of our workshop Saturday

There has to be a dawn… I’m not being flippant. Our Silent Eye ‘spirituality in the landscape’ weekends always have at least one early morning event during which we gather somewhere beautiful and greet the dawn. It’s a joy and also a discipline: something that tells our inner self that ‘we mean it’. Sometimes we might read poetry or even enact something from esoteric literature. Sometimes we just gaze and drink it in…. Nature often responds… Once, in the Silent Eye’s ‘birth’ weekend we had a lamb follow us up the side of a field. Hard to better that one…

Above: The ‘good sky’. Soon to be overtaken!

But, to do so in the locations around Grantown-on-Spey would have meant getting up at around three in the morning…. so we settled for…

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Hunting the Unicorn: Dusk in the kirkyard…

On the banks of the river Spey, Dean introduced us to some of the concepts we would be working with over the weekend before leading us into Inverallan burial ground. It is an interesting place in its own right, with a fair amount of history and home, as we would soon find out, to a voluble, nesting oyster-catcher.

There is no longer a church at the cemetery, although one was recorded on the site as far back as 1230. It is believed to have been dedicated to St Futach, an Irish saint whose name is derived from ‘fiachra’ which means, appropriately enough, ‘raven’ and which can be found in the ancient Irish tales like that of the Children of Lir.

The walls of the lost church were uncovered and destroyed in 1888, when the graveyard was being extended and no trace now remains of them… though there are clues to be discovered that a kirk once stood there and who knows how much further back the site was held in reverence.

An upright stone, known as the Priest’s Stone, bears a simple, incised Roman cross on both its faces. The stone on the Canmore photograph, looks like a gravestone, or even a standing stone, and it would not  be the first time we have seen a pagan stone ‘rebranded’ and purified for Christian use. There was also an ancient holy well on the site too… and a huge stone basin that was, we are officially told, ‘probably’ a baptismal font.

Is it pure speculation to wonder whether the sanctity of the site might pre-date Christianity? Not entirely… the well, the ‘raven’ and the basin would be enough to raise possible questions, and the presence of a weathered, Pictish symbol stone, found when the walls of the kirk were uncovered, confirms that the site was seen as important.

 

Pictish symbol stones are generally dated as being carved between the sixth and ninth centuries, with the earlier ones bearing no Cross, while the later ones may be Christianised.  The meaning and purpose of the symbols remains a subject of debate, but the worn designs were familiar as we had met them before at a previous workshop in Scotland.

The Inverallan stone is a very early one, bearing an undecorated crescent, V-rod, two legged rectangle and Z-rod. It was, principally, for the V-rod that overlays the lunar crescent that we had congregated in a graveyard. Its angle relates both to the movements of the planets and to the internal angle of the pentagram, a symbol we would be using during a personal and psychological exploration throughout the weekend.

Pictish symbol stone, near Inverurie, showing crescent and V-rod

While Dean explained how this journey would be undertaken, using a magical symbol, Steve explained why the pentagram is such a perfect symbol to use when seeking inner harmony. Many minds will glaze over at the mere thought of mathematics, but there is more to the subject than  ’just’ the numbers and Steve gave a very clear explanation of how mathematics can illustrate the cosmic and natural laws that apply equally to a flower, a universe or a human being.

We would also be working with the symbol of the Unicorn… the spirit animal of Scotland. There are many interpretations of the symbolism of the unicorn, some obvious, some perhaps less so. From its single-pointed horn, to its associations with innocence and purity, to its place at the heart of the magical menagerie, it is a symbol worth contemplating in meditation and one we have used before in the Silent Eye, for a similar purpose but in a different way from the one that was planned for the workshop. The Unicorn too, was a perfect choice of symbol.

But, perfect or not, we can only imagine what it might have looked like had anyone come into the graveyard to find five large pentagrams being laid out on the ground as daylight began to fade…

Hunting the Unicorn: Heading north…

I hit the road after work for the first leg of what would prove to be a very long journey and one full of unexpected adventures. From my home in the south, I drove to Yorkshire to collect Stuart. Next morning, we left for Scotland, choosing, as always, a route that would avoid the oppressive and insistent clamour of motorways. It undoubtedly takes much longer, but if you are going to work with the landscape, there is no better way to begin to connect with it than by experiencing it… even if only through the windscreen of a car.

We were heading into the Highlands to attend The Silent Unicorn workshop, a joint venture with our own school and a magical Lodge. The weekend would be presented by Dean Powell, who now lives in the area and who would guide us to sites ranging from the ancient, to the historic, to the simply beautiful. The weekend would be an opportunity to connect with old friends we see too seldom as well as, we hoped, enabling us to meet up with friends who live in the far north. But not all plans work out the way we have envisaged…

Passing through the Derbyshire and Yorkshire Dales, we skirted the peaks of Cumbria and, around lunchtime, paused in Penrith. One of the tyres appeared to have a slow puncture and, given the miles and terrain we were planning on covering, a dodgy tyre was the last thing we would need. The mechanic removed the tyre, duly checked it and, in spite of its previous and persistent loss of air, pronounced it to be fine. We paid the bill and resumed our journey.

The Scottish Borders flew by, with memories of previous journeys into the north coming back as we drove. It was getting late by the time we arrived at Kinross, and there was just time to stretch travel-weary legs with a wander around Loch Leven before settling for the night.

In the evening light, the loch was beautiful. It has long been protected as a nature reserve and abounds with wildlife. Its banks starred with wildflowers, its waters silver and home to many waterfowl. The squat, solid remains of Loch Leven Castle occupy one of the seven islands in the lake and it was here that Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned in 1567 and forced to abdicate in favour of her infant son. A silver and ivory sceptre engraved with her name was found when the loch was partially drained in the nineteenth century. Whether it was dropped or discarded during her arrival, or when she escaped the castle with the help of her gaoler’s family, we will never know. A poignant illustration, perhaps, of how easily the trappings of worldly success can be lost.

Beside the loch, a graveyard reinforces the point, with the tombs of both the great and the small of the world weathering side by side. As with many Scottish cemeteries, the Kirkgate burial ground stands at the edge of the town and was guarded against graverobbers. Many of the tombstones are carved with skulls and bones, others bear witness to Masonic allegiances. Names, achievements and stories fade together into the shadows as memory and history replace them with newer tales.

In many ways, it was the perfect place to begin considering the weekend ahead. We would be delving into our own psyche, seeking out elements of our own nature and how we are affected by events, fears and reactions. All of which, could we but realise it, are as insignificant against the vast backdrop of history as a butterfly against the panorama of the Lomond hills.

Such considerations, however, were driven from our minds by our first encounter with a true Scottish legend… the midge. Larger than their southerly counterpart and prone to forming vast, voracious clouds, we did not linger and hurried back to the car, glad that the Highlands awaited… at a latitude where the midges do not venture.

Shadows

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To the small creatures that call the tree home, we are no more than a temporary addition to their landscape. Spiders and beetles wander over our legs or drop from our hair as we rest with our backs to the trunk, feeling the sleepy life of the tree through our spines. Our world is in the darkness and we are grateful for the cool oasis of dappled shade. Around us the earth bakes in the noonday sun that saps our energy, while the birds, butterflies and bees reap the harvest of summer.

On a hot day, there is no better place to be than within the shade of a tree, looking out upon a sweltering world without feeling the heat of a sun that blasts and sears. Yet hiding in the shadows is not always the best option. There are many who seek the safety of the shadows rather than allow their true selves  to be seen by the world.  For some the darkness is a cloak to hide a nefarious purpose.

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Sometimes it is depression or fear that keeps us in the shadows and we see that darkness as a place from which we long to escape. Outside seems more attractive than where we are, yet we know that it is the heat of the sun can sear and that it shows every line that is written on our brow. We look out with envy on what we see as a happier world from which we feel isolated, yet we cannot walk out into the daylight.

For many, the darkness is a refuge. We fear that the light will shine on us, showing  the flaws and weaknesses we believe define us, showing us without the veil of illusion behind which we seek shelter. We cannot see that the light casts both our flaws and our gifts into relief; or that what we see as a flaw in ourselves may be a gift to another, or the catalyst that enables strength.

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We each carry our own shadows and sometimes hide within them, sometimes hide from them. There can be no shadow without light and that too we each carry, no matter how dark our days or even our deeds. We cast out own shadows when we interrupt the flow of light. The light shows us whole, imperfect and beautiful in our imperfection…works in progress, unfinished masterpieces of human nature.

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Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond fear ~  A weekend with the Silent Eye

As the June workshop in Scotland draws to a close, why not consider joining us in September for a weekend in the ancient landscape of stones, circles and strange places?

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond fear

 A weekend with the Silent Eye

Derbyshire, UK

Friday 13th – Sunday 15th September 2019

We are all afraid of something.

There are the fears of the everyday world, from arachnophobia to a fear of the dark, and the deeper fears of the personality, that play upon the mind and heart.

What purpose might such fears serve, beyond protecting us from potentially harmful situations?

How have our ancestors addressed such fears across the centuries? Can we learn from the past a way to see beyond our fears to a future lit by serenity and hope?

Join us on Friday the thirteenth of September, 2019, in the ancient landscape of Derbyshire as we explore how to lay our personal gremlins to rest.

Based in the landscape around Tideswell, Bakewell and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking on moorland paths.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. meals are often taken together at a convenient pub or cafe.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep, Into the Deep part 2 ~Willow Willers

Willow continues sharing her experiences at the Lord of the Deep weekend…

Urshanabi leads Gilgamesh to the Deep Underworld. And so for nine hours Gilgamesh has to out run the sun.
And he does out run the sun, though how I do not know.

Continued

After nine exhausting hours with the sun hot on his heels Gilgamesh emerges from the underworld into the garden of the Gods.

The garden is a place that even, the mighty King of Uruk has never seen the like of. He was dazzled by trees and plants that have flowers and blossom of precious and semi precious stones and gems. It was quite amazing.

Then Gilgamesh is confronted by an ordinary man, Utanpishtim. The king of Uruk is surprised he was expecting a God that he would have to fight.

Weaponless Gilgamesh has to talk to Utanpishtim who asks him why he looks so tired and wan. Gilgamesh tells him how he has spent his last nine hours outrunning the sun. He also tells of the loss of his dear brother Enkidu and how he King of Girt – Walled – Uruk wants Immortality for himself and his people .

Utanpishtim says he has wasted his time venturing to these shores and all he has done is bring himself one day closer to death.

You can run but you cannot hide

Death reachs across the divide.

 

Continue reading at willowdot21

Reflections

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‘Know thyself’… Pausanius tells us it was inscribed in the court before the temple of Apollo at Delphi. We are given to understand it is associated too with the Inner Temples in ancient Egypt. It is one of the first phrases we come across in esoteric studies and where else could we begin? It is not the easiest thing to look into the mirror of the soul and admit to oneself what one finds there. Even less to share that openly with others by dropping the social masks and simply being who we are.

I first learned the concept as a child from my grandfather, but it was one it took years to begin to truly understand and longer still to try and put into practice. As we grow through adolescence and youth our self-image constantly shifts, changing as it reflects the desire to become who we think we ought to be, the image we feel the world should see, the mirage of our desire to become something different, perhaps, from who we are.

I have a feeling that it is only later that we have the inner space to truly look into that mirror, and by that time the masks we wear are so firmly in place it is difficult to strip them away and see what lies beneath. Many of us find it difficult to admit our worse characteristics, our fragilities and weaknesses. Even more, perhaps, do we find it difficult to truly admit our good points, gifts and talents as human beings. Our society tends to call this pride or ego and we see that as something to be shunned. Yet why should we fail to recognise the good when we can, it seems, accept the flaws far more easily? We are complex creatures.

Of course, unless we know ourselves from all angles, understanding who we are, how we move in the world, what the impulses are behind our reactions and actions, we cannot even begin to make a conscious change. Without that knowledge the changes that occur naturally through time and experience are simply reactions. Yet there is a difference , too, between knowledge and understanding. A child may know that fire is hot and learn not to touch. A parent sees the danger of the invisible ‘fire’ in radiators, hot irons, cookers… and understands how to keep the child safe.

I want to learn, to know. To understand. Both inwardly and outwardly… my inner self and the life around me, for I feel the two to be inextricably linked. Life, of course, involves me in a very personal way, the ultimate intimacy. It demands that I take account of, and responsibility for, thought, word and deed… it demands my awareness and my active participation in my own conscience, my own being. And this awareness is not separate from the rest of my life, but permeates every part of it. It provides the matrix by which I can live with my eyes open, allowing me to begin to glimpse the pattern.

Yet I was reminded recently that there is more to the phrase than the two words so often quoted. It is said that in learning to know oneself one can begin, however dimly, to see God. Whatever Name we choose to give to the Divine, there is that small spark of Light, a memory of our origins, and perhaps a foreshadowing of our destination, burning brightly like a jewel in the soul. Perhaps we have to look beyond not only the masks society sees us wearing, but also beyond the complex contradictions of the human personality we assume, to see that spark of Light within.

Not only is there a need to understand the impulses and characteristics that move us through the world daily, wearing a familiar face, but there is, I think, a need to look deeper towards the inner mysteries of who we are. By turning inwards in silence, which may at first glance, seem a self-centred thing to do, perhaps we are actually opening ourselves to a reality wider, vaster, deeper than we may see elsewhere, and by looking within we open ourselves to the whole wonderful vista of manifestation?

A question of joy…

“You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions.
Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not.
‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’”

The Bucket List (2007)

Not bad questions are they? Together they might sum up the whole of the deeper truth of human aspiration. There is no mention of what car you managed to acquire, nor the level of material success you achieved in your life. Not pleasure, not even happiness… Just joy.

Like any word pertaining to our perception of emotion, the definition of joy is a difficult one. The dictionary attempts to define it by using superlatives of other emotions, yet those feelings are personal and their experience both subjective and subject to causative events in our lives.

Joy is something different somehow, transcending reactive emotion and welling up from a deep place, flooding the being from without and within like a clear, sparkling stream of bubbling, laughing Light. Yet though we seek the words, there are none that encompass it. Those who feel it will know it, those who have yet to feel its touch have joy to come.

It is a strange emotion, if emotion it truly is. Its touch comes in a single, blazing moment, yet the light it sheds seems to linger a lifetime, untarnished by sorrow or pain, undiluted by the cares of everyday. Once there it takes up home in the heart and whilst the surface of the mind and emotions may feel the storms and be battered by our very human lives, the kernel of joy seems to become an eternal flame, a sanctuary light at the very core of being. It is always there, underlying the ripples and tumult of emotion, no matter how terrible life and events may appear. Its presence is not dimmed by them. For this reason perhaps we might hesitate to call joy an emotion… and see it instead as a grace.

Joy comes when we are open to the full experience of life. It may touch you when you stand in a summer meadow and see the sky arcing over the hills, when you hold a newborn child, when you stand drenched and laugh at the rain clouds or when your heart feels the touch of the divine… for each of us it is different, unique in its beauty. Once felt, it never leaves, though we may choose to shut it out, turn our backs and walk away.

The second question is curious, ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’ It is not something we can give to others through choice, no matter how hard we try. It cannot be bought, gift wrapped or engendered no matter how desperately we might like to think it possible. We can, perhaps, consciously create the circumstances in which joy might be found through our actions, through our empathy, kindness and love for each other, yet we cannot be the sole cause of joy. It is akin to alchemy where the presence of certain elements can cause profound change, bringing something into being through our own being, through who we are, that may enable a response in joy from another. Perhaps it can be likened to music… where a simply melody can be picked out on a single instrument, but the full glory of the symphony can only be heard when the orchestra plays in harmony. Then the music lifts you and carries you beyond yourself to beauty.

What would you answer to those two guardians of the otherworld should they ask those questions? ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?’