The Alchemists: Isaac Newton…

Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727).jpg

Portrait of Isaac Newton aged forty-six years by Godfrey Kneller.

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‘Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the Sumerians…

The last great mind which looked out on the visible world with the same eyes

as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance ten thousand years ago.’

‘Newton the Man’, J.M. Keynes.

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Isaac Newton was born on Christmas day, 1642. At first his genius seemed more mechanical than intellectual. He constructed water works, windmills, kites and sun dials, but nurtured by the King’s School at Grantham his intellectual prowess and prodigious powers of concentration gradually became apparent. A maternal uncle intervened and had him prepared for Cambridge, to which seat of learning, young Isaac went up in 1661.

Stimulated by the Cartesian ferment in physics, philosophy and mathematics, by Kepler’s optics and laws of planetary motion, and by Galileo’s mechanics, the young Newton soon tackled and solved many of the physical and mathematical questions of his contemporaries. In January 1665 Newton took his Bachelor of Arts Degree but in the summer of that year he was compelled to retire to his home at Woolsthorpe as the University was closed due to an outbreak of the plague. It did not reopen again until 1667 but rather than hinder Newton’s progress, this enforced confinement at his mother’s manor proved to be his making. During this time he invented calculus, discovered that white light comprised all the colours of the spectrum, and found out a mathematical law for gravity.

Rather than trumpet these discoveries in 1667 he returned to Cambridge, quietly proceeded to his Master of Arts, was elected to a College Fellowship and settled down. In 1672 Newton disclosed some of his optical discoveries to the Royal Society and was immediately elected a Fellow of that illustrious company but it was not until 1684 that the full extent of his gravitational studies came to light. At the insistence of Edmund Halley, Newton returned to his proofs for the planetary motions and worked them up into a volume which eventually became his masterwork, The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Now, commonly referred to as, The Principles, this work is, by some, still held to be the greatest work of science ever published.

Newton’s life of retiring scholarsip ended in 1696 with his appointment to Warden of the Mint. He had already been engaged in the re-organisation of the nation’s finances, establishing the Bank of England and founding the national debt to finance international wars. In 1699 he was promoted to Master of the Mint which post he held until his death.

Honours accumulated for the ageing Newton. In 1703 he became President of the Royal Society and he was knighted in 1705.

The Newtonian world-view, developed almost wholly on the basis of his success in mathematics and the physical sciences is apt to confuse and occlude. His studies in astronomy and optics occupied only a small portion of his time. Most of his great powers were poured out upon church history, theology, the chronology of ancient kingdoms, prophecy, and alchemy.

‘Why do I call him a magician? Because he looked on the universe as a riddle,

a secret that could be read, a cryptogram set by the Almighty…’

‘Newton the Man’, J.M.Keynes

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Hunting the Green Lion

All hail the Noble Company,

True students in Holy Alchemy,

Whose ardent practise does them teach,

To veil their secrets in ‘misty speech’.

It may please you dilecticians

To hear my protestations

For that practise which I have seen,

 A hunting of the Lion Green.

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Whose colour doubtless is not so,

And surely that, your wisdoms know,

For no man lives that has ever seen,

Upon four feet a lion the colour green.

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Green he is called for his unripeness,

And yet so quickly can he run,

To soon outstrip the sun…

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It brings to him more perfection,

Than ever he had by nature’s direction.

Vicar of Malden

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Green Lion Alchemy Poster | Zazzle.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Two journeys, one destination (7) – Rosemarkie, The Black Isle

Our final visit of the Saturday was to Rosemarkie, a beautiful village on the Black Isle, whose seafront looks south across the vastness of the Moray Firth.

Rosemarkie was also home to a Pictish Monastery. This is now celebrated by the presence of an excellent local museum – close to the site of the original church. Groam House Museum highlights and celebrates the Pictish connection.

Outside the Groam House Museum is a set of mounted mosaics based on Pictish designs. Several had attached folk tales. One in particular caught my eye as we were entering Groam House. It is called ‘The story of the salmon and the hazelnuts’.

‘There is a mythical tale that hazelnuts are believed to be the source of great wisdom.

‘The story tells of a deep dark pool surrounded by hazel trees. In the pool lives a salmon who loves to eat the hazelnuts as they fall from the trees. It said that whoever catches this salmon and eats his flesh will become the wisest person in the world.’

Nothing else, just those words… But they reminded me of one of W. B, Yeats’ mystical poems, ‘Wandering Aengus’, in which a man stops by a river and fashions himself a fishing rod from the branch of a (magical) Hazel tree. For bait he used a berry. What he catches changes his world, and fills him with a purpose that turns the rest of his life into a quest… Follow the link to read the poem.

Smiling at the connection, I entered Groam House Museum, where we were to find our own ‘catch’ of treasures.

The previous stops had left us all with a sense of wonder at the artistic skills of the Pictish craftsman. We had joked that each person, at some stage in the day, had been found with their head ‘at an angle’ trying to figure out the geometric patterns in the stonework. Yet, nowhere had we found an explanation of the complex geometries used in their construction.

The Groam House Museum is devoted to the Pictish relics found on the excavated site of the former church, itself built on the 7th century foundations of another Pictish monastery; though one smaller than that at Portmahomack.

The Groam House exhibits are centred on the giant ‘Rosemarkie Stone (above and below), a classic Type Two cross-slab over twelve feet high, with Christian markings on one side, and more mysterious and ancient Pictish carvings on the other. At the time of their carving, both the traditions were embraced by the Picts, and hence the use of the double design. Archeologists remark that with the Christian faith dominating the world to the south of Easter-Ross, the Picts may have been hedging their bets!

(Above: the reverse, Christianised face is less distinct due to weathering, but the illustrative drawing, below, helps)

The hand-drawn Illustration of both its faces, below, is taken (via Wikipedia) from Angus J Beaton’s Illustrated Guide to Fortrose and Vicinity, published in Inverness in 1885.

The Rosemarkie stone is carved from fine-grained sandstone. It was disovered in the first two decades of the 19th century in the floor of the old church in the village of Rosemarkie. The stone had been broken into two parts that have since been reconstructed.

The Christianised side is elaborately carved. The reverse side carvings include a double disc and z-rod, and no less than three crescents and v-rods. It is unique to find this repetition of a symbol, and must indicate a local emphasis of whatever it signifies.

(Above: Tree vine and grapes; a Pictish representation of Christ and his Disciples, though the original meaning of may pre-date Christianity)

There are other treasures at Groam House. Rosemarkie’s first stone church became a place of pilgrimage. The sculptured slab above could reflect such a role as one side of a stone shrine – a box that would have held a few bones of a revered saint.

(Above right: St Curadan)

Rosemarkie is generally linked to Saint Curadan, one of the bishops who witnessed St Adnoman’s Law of the Innocents, in 697 AD. This was the first declaration of rights for the safety of women and children during warfare. It was signed by representatives of Christian kingships across the British Isles at a meeting in Ireland. But there is also a story linking the church to Saint Moluag, whose monastic focus was on the west coast, on Lismore. He died in 592 AD. Some of his bones were brought here during the troubled 800s. It was at this time that Saint Columba’s relics were taken from Iona to Dunkeld.

The vine carving was done around 100 years later, at a time when Christianity had become the entire basis of the Picts’ religion. It represents a tree vine with grapes, symbolising Christ’s disciples, his blood and salvation. The imagery is just right for a shrine – perhaps the stone box was prepared for relics of Saint Curadan?

Sadly, the main Groam House exhibits made no mention of how the Pictish works were created, in terms of geometric principles. At that point, I had completed my circuit of the ground floor and was back near the door. My eye was taken by a colourful picture on one side of the notice board. Enquiring, I learned it was of St John, and created by a Scottish artist who had specialised in the reconstruction of Pictish geometry…

I must have looked disbelieving because the guide, smiling, pointed upwards. “We have two floors,” he said. “The upper one is dedicated to the work of George Bain, the man who gave us the keys to the art of the Picts…”

It had been a long day, with a small amount of sustenance. My legs were a touch weary as I climbed the steep stairway to what looked like an extended attic. But what we saw, waiting in that upper floor was refreshment enough…

Forty minutes later, our pre-booked time came to an end. The manager and guide of Groam House had extended it for as long as he dared. Mercifully, the cafe we knew on the seashore was still open, and, as the afternoon light began to fade, we were finally able to have some coffee…. and a little cake.

Next week I will recount the discoveries of that forty minutes and the sheer excitement of seeing the art of the Picts decoded…

To be continued…

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, this is Part Seven

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Interlude ~ Saving the ‘best’?

So, while we should have been on a workshop and holiday, I was stuck in that limbo between the medics telling me it ‘looks like cancer’ and them doing something about it. I was determined that, before the doors closed on adventure, at least for a while, we would have at least one more. And it needed to be a good one.

We had revisited Rollright, paid our respects at Churchill’s grave, nodded to half a dozen White Horses and spent some time with the great stones of Avebury. There was really only one thing left that we could do… at least at this end of the country. And, even then, it would be pushing it for me to drive the distance.

We had to go to Stonehenge.

As a child and young woman, before the barriers and management rolled in, roping off the stones to protect them from further damage, I had spent a lot of time with them, getting to know the feel of them and wandering amongst their strange presence.  Since before the building of the henge and circles, before the barrows,  it would seem that humankind has held this place sacred, as not only settlements but burials have been found here dating back a full ten thousand years. We had passed the site several times now on our travels, each time considering that we ‘ought’ to visit the stones, as Stuart has seen them only from a distance… and each time deciding that we just could not do it.

The stones, seen from the road in high summer, seem like some magical creature with its wings clipped and caged in a zoo, visitors are funnelled around the outside of the circle at a safe and respectful distance. There are crowds. Noise… hubbub. On the one occasion I had taken friends there who are sensitive, it had ended in grief and tears… the atmosphere is wrong. No matter how carefully the authorities site their visitor centre, how lightly they appear to touch the landscape, the simple fact that around a million and a half people come to visit this one stone circle, every single year, cannot help but leave its psychic mark.

But this year, there had been the COVID lockdown. The site had been closed for month. There had been less travel, fewer visitors… time for the stones to take a deep breath and recuperate… There had to be something good to come from the social distancing measures.

And, given the circumstances, this might well be not only our best chance but also our last to visit the most iconic stone circle in the world. It had to be done.

But, we would still be kept at a distance from the stones… behind the barriers… walking around them in frustrated circles… and you really need to be within the circle. Having known it myself in earlier times, I wanted to be able to share that experience… because it changes everything.

I booked our timed tickets… and could not believe that I was lucky enough to be able to book, for that day, when it is usually fully booked months, sometimes years in advance, as part of a handful of people who would be allowed beyond the barriers, within the stones, after hours. A wholly unexpected birthday gift would, ‘coincidentally’ cover the cost. As compensation for missing both the Scottish weekend and our holiday, it was as much as we could do… and all fell into place so neatly…

And yet,  I still pulled up at the visitor centre filled with trepidation. It had been a long time since I had last visited Stonehenge, up close and personal… What impact has the new centre had on the landscape? It looked quite discrete to be fair, at least now when it was empty of visitors…

What protective measures would be in place and would we really be able to get a feel for the stones in the way I remembered? Our ever-present robin seemed to laugh at my fears as we waited for the bus that would take us across the monument fields. We could only wait and see…

Interlude ~ Hidden Avebury?

There was a lot we would have liked to have done and seen as we paid our flying visit to Avebury that day. We could have visited all the places we had planned for our ‘Hidden Avebury’ workshop weekend, postposed now until next year due to the COVID crisis, but some things, like the almost forgotten Devil’s Den dolmen, would have to wait for a time when we had no appointment to keep at the end of the afternoon.

So, heading… as we always seem to do, somehow… in completely the opposite direction from our final destination of the day, we left Avebury’s circle of stones in a northerly direction. It was a deliberate choice. It would allow us a quick glimpse of Windmill Hill, the largest causewayed enclosure in Britain, as far as we now know. There is nothing spectacular to see there on the surface, so it is often ignored, and yet our ancestors settled here almost six thousand years ago, leaving behind them traces of their lives etched into the landscape, their bones, their pottery… and so many questions about how the site was used.

We had a chance too to pay our respects too to the local White Horse on Hackpen Hill, just below the five-thousand year old Ridgeway, the track that once crossed much of the country, coast to coast, lined and attended by sacred and significant sites. This White Horse, though, is just a ‘foal’, with the story going that it was cut to celebrate the coronation of Queen Victoria. The horse looked particularly good on this visit, gleaming white, having been scoured single-handedly by John Wain earlier this year…which seems a  perfect way to spend virus-imposed isolation time.

From there we went hunting a small statue. Time was pressing, ancient churches that we would dearly love to explore were closed, parking was awkward… so, this time, the little statue remained undisturbed. It is an old one, dating back to Roman times and having, strictly speaking, perhaps no real place guarding the entrance to a Christian Church. For a long time the damaged statue was thought to be a representation, though, of St Christopher. When its Roman origin was finally realised, it was thought to be Aesculapius, the healer. These days it is recognised as a representation of the genius loci.

In ancient Rome, the genius loci was a protective spirit… an active guardian of a place and the districts of Rome itself took their presence into account at the city’s building. These days, we tend to use the term ‘genius loci’ to speak more about the abstract spirit of a place… though perhaps the two are not nor need not be disconnected.

There is a scientific argument that says the brain chooses what it allows us to see. In an era of data-based evidence and psychological manipulation, we are probably far more likely to  be at ease with an abstract idea of spirit than we are the vision of some otherworldly guardian. In just the same way, the old visionary and fairy encounters seem to have shifted to alien beings and interplanetary forms, these being far more acceptable to the mind of modern man, on the whole.

It is not just places that hide their true depth and essence. For fear of dismissal, hurt or ridicule, many people hide their true selves, their beliefs and their experiences behind a façade of sterner stuff. Sometimes, like the little church we could not find, it is simply not the right time to reveal all… the old story about casting pearls before swine still holds true. But sometimes you just need to take a chance… just as we did by meandering down unmapped country lanes. You may not find the thing you thought you were looking for… but then again, you just might end up somewhere totally unexpected and find treasure. Or, at the very least,  something well worth waiting for…

Anatomy of Evil?…

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We commenced our survey of St Michael and St George,

many months ago now, by querying the notion that,

according to a number of well-known esotericists, in 1879

a great victory of light over darkness had been achieved.

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One of these eminent esotericist even went as far as to suggest

that the age of the ‘Kali Yuga’ had ended in this year.

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Notwithstanding the inadvisability of mixing

eastern and western esoteric traditions in this way,

not to mention, cosmic and historical time frames,

subsequent historical events tend to contradict this assertion,

and perhaps even suggest the complete opposite.

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Visions, dreams, and icons are always, and for all time,

open to interpretation, and re-interpretation,

or at least, in a free democracy, they always should be.

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Toeing a particular party line may seem expedient

at one time or another

but is usually antithetical to any notions of ultimate truth.

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So, what do we do when we are accosted by a vision

of St Michael in the form of a stained glass window

in Skipton Church?

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We head off to Cornwall, of course…

*

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The genesis and development of this theme is covered

in a series of nine of our books which commences with, The Initiate…

 

Two journeys, one destination (6) – a Pictish horizon

With the wonderful Portmahomack behind us, it was time to meet the three Pictish stones that marked the horizon line of the Tarbat Peninsula. These would originally have been visible from the sea, and boats approaching from the Moray Firth would have known they were approaching sacred Pictish land – centred on the monastery at Portmahomack.

On this second day of the Silent Eye’s Pictish Trail weekend, our plan was to work our way back from Portmahomack along the spine of the Tarbat Peninsula towards Inverness, viewing each of the major standing stones and ending with a visit to Rosemarkie – across the Cromarty Firth on the Black Isle.

Our first stop was at Balintore, a village that looks out over the Moray Firth. There, we saw signs for the nearby Hilton of Cadboll Pictish stone. I was eager to see this famous stone, about which we had read so much in the Tarbat Discovery Centre. I knew a little of its history, but the truth was to be more fascinating than I could have envisaged…

This Pictish stone at Hilton Cadboll was created at the Portmahomack Monastery to the classic design of a what we now call a Pictish Class II cross-slab. One side would have contained symbols from the older Celtic (pre-Christian) religion, mixed with local glyphs of the sponsoring family. The other would contain Christian iconography.

The cross-slab was erected here in about AD 800. Sadly, it broke soon after, under the pressure of high winds. The stone was re-erected, on the same spot; the lower portion being buried to form a new base. It broke again in 1674, and a further section was left in the ground. This beautiful stone has not enjoyed a happy history…

In about 1676 the entire Christian cross-face was chipped off by a local laird to create a family grave slab! By 1780 the surviving half of the stone was recorded as being near the ruins of a now-vanished chapel which is presumed to be located under the mound of earth next to the present stone.

(Above: the mound that covers the ancient church and, possibly its hamlet)

100 years later the stone endured a somewhat ‘political’ journey via Invergordon Castle and the British Museum to be returned to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, where the original is now located.

The local people were not happy at the loss of their precious stone, but accepted that it was now safe from harm and, at least, back in Scotland. Its original base and thousands of broken fragments were extracted from the site in 2001. But the local population were so supportive of their folk-history, they paid for a magnificent replica to be carved, in situ, over a five year period. The work was carried out by local sculptor Barry Grove.

(Above: the seaward-facing side of the Hilton Cadboll slab-cross. This was re-created by the sculptor using his knowledge of similar stones)

Barry says of the reconstructed stone:

“No Pictish tools survive. At our Iron Age bonecarving workshop, Jim Glazzard used a Viking tool box as his basis for the iron tools. The Hilton of Cadboll stone also provided some evidence. It snapped and blew over several centuries ago, and the remains of the base and lower areas of carving became buried.”

Remarkably, during an excavation taking place prior to the erection of Barry Grove’s replica, the original base (from AD 800) was found preserved by the soil – which also revealed the nature of the Pictish carver’s chisel marks. This provided the sculptor with a basis of authentic design and technique for the reconstruction of the missing cross face. Using what he had as clues, Barry Groves spent a month on the design, then began what would be five years of stone carving. The rediscovered original base has a secure home in the local Seaboard Memorial Hall in Balintore. Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit.

It’s a remarkable story of a small community succeeding against the odds…

(Above: the upper face of the ‘Celtic’ Pictish design, showing a noble woman leading a hunt, which includes several men in the group on foot. This is deemed to show her superiority. She may well have been the sponsor of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. Above the hunt scene, the upper face contains the traditional twin discs and ‘V-Rod’ design, which will be commented on later in the post.

Standing before the ‘restored’ Hilton Cadboll cross-slab is a profound experience. You can view the stone as original Pictish ancestors would have seen it over 800 years ago. Standing in front of it in the sunshine, with the sea at your back, is quite an experience…and freely given. There is no charge.

It is believed that all such stones were originally painted. The image below shows how the centre section of the Hilton Cadboll cross slab would have originally looked. The use of colour makes the symbols a lot more ‘familiar’.

But what of the Pictish symbols, such as the ‘V-Rod’ and the twin discs, both of which feature on the Hilton of Cadboll stone? It is unlikely that we will ever find a ‘Rosetta stone’ that gives a word for word translation. But there’s nothing stopping us looking at the symbols and letting our conscious (and possibly subconscious) minds having a go…

Symbols are universal. If they ‘speak’ to us, then there’s a reason. We can relax and let them share what they are. We don’t have to be archeologists to sit with the symbol and let it talk. If we take a child’s approach and ‘say what we see’, then insights can happen.

Take the upper symbol above – the V-Rod. When I did this, earlier, the two halves of the rod suggested an arrow. But it’s not broken in two, just bent… at what looks like a precise angle; a little greater than 90 degrees. Lets take a guess and examine what 100 degrees looks like:

That looks quite close… So, as fingers have been around for a long time, and the Picts clearly had a strong grasp of numbers and geometry, we could say that the V-Rod might represent 10×10 fingers – or ten ‘men’. The arrow may indicate that they were warriors, so we have ten warriors, which may have had symbolic significance. It might have been short form for an army, for example.

The crescent looks moon-like to me, but it might also represent the bowl of the heavens. Also, it seems to contain waves. This might alter the overall interpretation of the symbol. The lower curves in the crescent remind me of the bowed shape of a sail. We might be looking at sailing warriors, then. Masters of the craft of sailing long distances, possibly using the moon or stars for stealthy navigation? Or perhaps the moon is simply a symbol for the sea, with which it is intimately connected?

And here, I’d better stop, because I’ve just realised I’m making a very good case for a leading family whose ‘crest’ this is being Viking!

My logic may be baseless, but it’s the kind of open-minded approach that can bring insights. But we should move on… We had a timed entry at the museum in Rosemarkie, due to Covid restrictions, and we’d yet to visit Shadwick and Nigg.

The Hilton Cadboll stone is a dream to photograph…unlike our next location; which is a classic example of an intact Pictish cross-slab that has stood in its original position for over a thousand years…

To be continued…

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five. This is Part Six

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Interlude ~ Auld Aquaintance

We were back at Avebury, after a longer absence than we would have chosen. Without the pandemic, there would have been recce trips and a workshop here already this year… and no sense of sadness as I drove past the lay-by where we would have parked to walk up to West Kennet. I would have like to have made the short climb to the ancient long barrow, a place that holds both welcome and memory, but there was no way even that little slope would have been within my capabilities.

We stopped instead beside the great prehistoric mound of Silbury Hill. Coming or going, we pay our respects to the ‘largest prehistoric, man-made mound in Europe’… thinking yet again how futile such words are to convey the sheer presence and majesty of this gravid earth.

File:Goddess Nut 2.JPG

If, as one legend avers, King Sil is buried within the mound upon his horse, then no trace of man nor beast has ever been found. But think of Nut, the sky goddess of ancient Egypt, who swallowed the sun every night and gave birth to it each dawn and perhaps ‘King Sil’ takes on a different guise.

File:Silbury Hill, England.jpg

In the Egyptian myths, the sun travels through the underworld at night, plagues and attacked by the great serpent, Apep. Not so very different, perhaps from the mound at Avebury, surrounded by the mirror-pool of waters that reflect the heavens and through which a swallowed king would have to pass.

Why is it that we can attribute such sophistication to the ancients of other cultures and yet deny it to our own? If we wrote down no tales, we remembered them… passing them from mouth to ear, heart to heart, throughout the millennia. Perhaps that is a more sacred way of passing on the innermost stories of creation than simply committing them to paper or papyrus. To hold something so close to your heart that you never let it go… or be befouled, damaged or broken. And yet, such a holding is only as strong as its holder… and all men return to dust in their day.

Leaving Silbury, we headed along the Avenue, parking the car so we could get out and wander amongst the stones for a little while.  We greeted them as old friends… long missed, it seems, since our last visit.  And yet, they were still so familiar that we knew their names and faces… could now pinpoint where, right across the country, the same shapes have been chosen for stones that still somehow manage to remain wholly unique to each site.

And yet, there is a similarity in the shape and faces of the stones… of that we now have no doubt at all. We have seen it from the Western Isles to Cornwall… and everywhere in between. Although it is now lost to us, there is a meaning and language in the shapes the Old Ones chose for their stones… and in the faces that they show to us.

We walked, naming the stones, greeting them, untiI had to turn back.  It wasn’t far…and nowhere near as far as I would have liked… but it was good to be back amongst the stones at all. From here we could clearly see Falkner’s Circle, a ‘lost’ circle that we had sought for some years earlier and found, discretely hiding in a hedge. There was no hiding today and the stone was clearly visible, even from this distance, illuminated as if from within.

With the Red Lion subject to virus restrictions and the beautiful old Waggon and Horses at  Beckhampton still closed by the pandemic, we were pretty much obliged to wander into the centre of the village and the main circle, in search of facilities and so I could catch my breath.

There was the familiar thrill as we ‘breached’ the energies around the circle… never quite the ‘psychic shock’ of that first time, but you feel it every time as you drive or walk into the presence of the great circle of stones. It is always like stepping into your place within an ancient and unending dance to which your soul knows the music… and as if you have never left your place at all… as if the time spent away from the dancing life within the stones is of little relevance. It is a strange place… but it heals the crazed stress-cracks in the soul like few others. Just to be there was enough.

Interlude ~ Horse Whispers

Avebury SE weekend 035
White Horse of Uffington

It seems such a long time ago that I wrote  about our not being able to leave for the Scottish weekend, right at the last minute. Stuart hopped on a train and came down here instead. While the Pictish weekend went ahead without us in the far north, we marked time and twiddled our thumbs, waiting for scans and answers. Now, the problem was that this was not only supposed to be a workshop weekend, it was also supposed to be our second and, as it turned out,  wholly unsuccessful attempt to get a holiday of some sort this year… albeit just a few days on the road.  So when even that was denied us, I was determined that we should do something with what time we had to make our ‘holiday’ memorable.

We had already driven out to Rollright a couple of days earlier. It had taken a lot out of me, but as I had managed, I reckoned I could manage a bit further too. We had missed the June workshop thanks to Covid, during which we were supposed to be exploring some of the lesser-known features of the great megalithic circle and sites around Avebury. It is a place we love and, really, is not too far away from my home.

Marlborough White Horse
Marlborough

So, off we set… heading past the White Horse at Uffington, the enigmatic figure cut thousands of years earlier into a strangely shaped ‘horse’ of debatably draconine ancestry. It is the eldest of all the White Horses… first cut, three feet deep and back-filled with chalk, at least three thousand years ago. And yet, like so many other ‘earth-mystery sites’ worldwide, it is only clearly visible from the air…

Like the Nazca lines, there are far too many questions for reasonable answers at this place… but it is a site that is also very special to us, having been part of our story since we, all unknowingly, began our adventures here, one misty, magical morning. So touching base, even if only a nod and a wave on the way past, always feels good.

As we drove on, heading into Wiltshire, we looked out for other White Horses that we would pass. None of the other visible White Horses seem to share the antiquity of The White Horse. Most were cut within the last three centuries to honour people and events of national importance.

Cherhill White Horse
Cherhill

I find it quite telling that the ancient image of the White Horse… who may represent Epona, the Horse Goddess or the Dragon energies that run through the land… should be that echoed to make  celebratory mark. How deep do these symbols run in our blood? Does their true meaning linger at some subconscious level, deep beyond the logic of normal mentation? And, if they are speaking to us across millennia… just what are they whispering to us?

Looking at the history of the currently visible White Horses, they all seem to share a common trait in that they were all set up by men, yet if they hark back to Epona, they would represent a goddess, a female and nurturing divinity that would be anathema within the later Christian landscape. Moreover, many of the later figures have a military connection and, while it is true that war bands with cavalry had a distinct advantage, I have to wonder at what point in our history violence took precedence over the nurturing of the tribe?

Uffington White Horse from Dragon Hill
Uffington White Horse from Dragon Hill

While no records remain in anything we would recognise as ‘written language’ from the time when the great White Horse of Uffington was cut, we do have hints and history that have been passed down via the folk record and eventually captured by the ink of the scribes. Such stories are, by that point, possibly thousands of years away from their source and will have passed through the great machine of Christianisation, where the central characters of a story… who might once have been god, fey or elemental, have been sanitised or condemned by the imposition of sainthood and the pointed finger of demonic accusation.

There is so much to see and learn, so much to wonder about and ponder, even on the simplest of drives from ‘here’ to ‘there’.  No matter where we live in the world, or for how many centuries mankind has left his footprints in the dust upon which we walk, the earth beneath our feet is ancient and full of stories ready to be explored.

We cannot go far without a sense of wonder… so far it has carried us across thousands of years of human evolution and now outwards towards the stars. Perhaps that is the what the ancient White Horse whispers to the winds…

SE Ilkley 2015 avebury hackpen
Hackpen Hill

Bridle Rock…

The Bamburgh Beast

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… The Great Stone in the ballad is known as Spindleston Heugh(s),

and is a dolerite crag on the Whin Sill (‘Dark Flat’) escarpment in the parish of Easington.

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 The Spindle Stone is a natural stone column standing out from the crag,

which is also known as ‘Bridle Rock’.

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‘Bridal Rocks’ are often climbed by suitors

in order to demonstrate their suitability for an intended.

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According to legend this one was used by Childy Wynde

to tether his horse before he tackled the Worm.

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A feature below the crag is marked ‘Laidley Worm’s Trough’ on the map

but the nearby ‘Laidley Worm’s Cave’ was destroyed in the 19th century.

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It is sometimes easy to forget our links to the land

in which we move and have our being

especially when we have been couped up in doors

for any length of time, by choice or otherwise.

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This, though, does not seem to have been so much of a problem

for our ancient ancestors, and perhaps,

this is because it was all so new to them…

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The balled of the Laidley Worm is now

intricately associated with Bamburgh castle.

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This large fortified house is perched atop a dolerite outcrop

which is decidedly wormlike in shape, and was formerly the stronghold

of Celtic Britons, the Din Guarie.

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The church at the back of the castle,

holds the relics of St Aiden.

Entry to the church is free, and is well worth a visit…