Why Myth? III…

*

…We do not pretend to be expert in Australian Aboriginal myth.
We have probably in our whole life-time to date read only a handful of their stories.
We have though spent some time in Australia crossing the country bottom to top from Melbourne to Cairns in a, by today’s standards, somewhat dilapidated, ‘chippy-van’.
Had we known previously that height was an effective deterrent against mosquitoes we would surely have utilised such knowledge.
We have the utmost respect for anyone who heads out into that landscape alone and on foot and with only a digging stick for company.
I shudder to think what might have been the outcome of our trip had the ‘chippy-van’ broken down in the out-back.
Thankfully it did not although at the time that possibility barely permeated our consciousness.

*

*
Why do such stories resonate so deeply with us?
They are so far removed from the world we have created for ourselves as to be utterly alien.
And yet they are recognisably human in every fundamental aspect.
In the un-adapted version of the story the reason for the young woman’s journey is given as the desire to reach the next linguistic area of the country.
This in itself may have been seen as a ‘no-no’ for the mores of her societal hierarchy.
But it is a journey into the unknown, an adventure, and our heroine doth ‘boldly go…’
Obstacles are encountered and adeptly overcome until the inevitable intrusion of the supernatural.
We say inevitable because myth the world over concerns itself with the other-worldly or supernatural.
One could even go so far as to say, ‘that is its brief…’
It turns out badly in the version of the story we have.
The Dust-Devil ‘wins’.
Beware the Bogey-Man!

*

*

In Ancient Greek Mythology it is the Gorgons, those ferocious female demons of whose number Medusa is probably the most memorable who possess the ability to turn mankind into stone.
Such transformations can be read in a number of ways and one of the most interesting is the psychological which would have the young hero’s heart turned to stone by the encounter with the ‘unfettered’ feminine.
A condition which can last a whole life time through if not recognised and addressed.
But the Ancient Greek Myths for the most part are late and although by turns noble and dazzling and glamorous they also display unmistakeable signs of high artifice.
The rift with the land which is in that corpus of work treated as merely a backdrop for heroic human exploits is already apparent in a way that is not to be seen in the Aboriginal stories.
In those stories the land itself is regarded as a being and is treated as such.
But how, we may wonder, can one imagine a supine young woman to be in a rock or a stone?

*

*

A little care…

jan wet dawn 002

The narrow village street is busy with rush hour traffic. The lorry coming towards me on the other side of the road is respecting the speed limit, the impatient driver behind him is not. Without warning, the car pulls out onto my side of the road, overtaking the lorry and coming straight at me. In that scintilla of clarity that happens at these moments, I realise there was nowhere for me to go. I could turn into the path of the lorry…but that is hardly a good choice. I could wrench the wheel to the left and plough into the schoolchildren waiting at the bus stop… and that is no choice at all. Or grit my teeth, hold the wheel, and slam the brakes on, hoping the cars behind me are going slow enough to stop.

I hit the brakes… so does the lorry… and the impatient driver hits the accelerator, raising one obnoxious finger to the world, squeezes through the gap with millimetres to spare, racing off to whatever destination is more important to him than the lives of others.

I am not a timid driver and I don’t scare easily… but this brief incident left me shaking all the way to work. It had been close.

Sadly, it is the kind of scenario that happens every day on our increasingly busy roads. This time, tragedy was averted by the quick reactions of several drivers. It is not always so, and the toll of death and destruction on the roads rises daily. Accidents happen often enough, both on and off the roads, but many are not accidents at all, they are simply the result of heedless or selfish behaviour and, when lives are lost to such causes, it is tantamount to murder.

How would the lorry driver have fared emotionally, as well as legally, had I turned my car beneath his wheels? How would I have lived with my actions had I instinctively turned away and hit the children? How would either outcome have affected others… witnesses, those who care about us, the parents of the children? How many lives would have been injured, broken or lost? In both cases, the road would have been clear for our impatient motorist to speed away and possibly remain unaware of what he had done.

I could not help reflecting on the fragility of life. This gift that we are privileged to share can be torn away at any moment, by any number of unforeseen circumstances and there will be nothing left of us but a memory. Our emotional lives are just as fragile and can be broken by just such a lack of care as was shown by the reckless driver. We may be the guilty party, the one who causes harm… sometimes through a genuine misunderstanding or error, sometimes through a lack of empathy or care…  yet because we move forward with our own lives, we may not see the devastation we leave behind.

Our society is increasing the distance between us in many ways, even while it brings us closer in others. It is easier than ever before to keep in touch and to watch events unfolding across the globe, yet it is probably easier than ever before to remain isolated, touching the world only through the medium of keyboard and screen. It is our responsibility to ensure that we do not lose our ability to care… that, although we are undoubtedly the central point of our own consciousness, we do not learn to see ourselves as the sun in a universe of lesser satellites.

Consideration, empathy and kindness are social skills, and without social interaction, we can forget how central they are to allowing society to function. We see the effects of isolation every day and how quickly and insidiously these essential skills can be forgotten. Awareness and care for others can be unconsciously replaced with a false, but inalienable sense of self as the central point for all things. When one person’s journey…in their own eyes… becomes worth more than that of any other, tragedy will not be far behind.

It costs nothing except a moment’s thought and feeling to consider the impact of our actions. We will not always get it right, regardless of how well-intentioned we may be, but a little care goes a long way towards making sure that we do not go too far wrong. We cannot always avoid disaster, but if we can take responsibility for our own actions and open ourselves to the needs of others, we may not only be helping them, but saving ourselves untold heartache too.

Why Myth? II…

*

‘…So, what is the significant act?’
‘All the acts in the story are significant.’
‘What is the story about?’
‘It is about a Dust-Devil.’
‘For the human body there are really only five significant acts: the first is breathing. The second is eating. The third is defecating. The fourth is sleeping and the fifth is… copulating.
At least three of these are represented in the story.
Is there one act more significant than the others for this particular story?’
‘The sex act…’
‘Would it surprise you to know that this was a story told by a father to his pubescent daughter?’
‘It is a cautionary tale?’
‘It is a cautionary tale now but there are signs that this was not always the case.’
‘Those signs are?’
‘The fire-stick at the outset of the tale may not be an original component of the story.’
‘We are not told the nature of the creatures that were eaten at the camp sites.’
‘We are not even told that those creatures were actually eaten.’
‘Only vegetable stuff is eventually traded with the Dust-Devil and there appears to be a lacuna when the young woman looks around the cave house after slashing the neck of the Dust-Devil.’
‘Did she at one time in the telling of this story find the fire-stick there and then?’
‘The nature of the Dust-Devil appears to be equivocal.’
‘Is he killed or not?’

*

*

‘And what is a Dust-Devil anyway?’
‘Ninety-percent of the dust in any house, even a cave house, is comprised of skin shed from the body.’
‘Ashes to Ashes…’
‘Throughout the story there is a lot of emphasis on the correspondences between eating and copulating.’
‘The two concepts seem almost interchangeable.’
‘By cooking one makes unpalatable things palatable.’
‘At one time this may have been an ‘origin of cooking’ myth.’
‘For these people, then, cooking may have been ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ by a female culture hero, or if you prefer a heroine…’
‘…Along with sleeping platforms and paper-bark canoes?’
‘That is also a distinct possibility.’
‘Presumably she wouldn’t have been turned into a rock in that version…’
‘…Presumably not.’
‘Who were these people? Where is the story set?’
‘The tale is set somewhere with a warm climate because of the mosquitoes.’
‘All that walking about with nothing but a digging stick for survival…’
‘It has probably got to be Aboriginal Australia.’
‘And yet there are elements in the story that are echoed in the mythologies of all people.’
‘The ‘held captive in a rock’ motif for example is familiar from the Arthurian Mythos…’
‘Both via the sword in the stone and in Merlin’s ultimate demise and perhaps even in the cave which traditionally holds the Sleeping King and his Knights.’
‘The Dust-Devil is reminiscent of some of the demons which in the Apocryphal Bible stories Lilith, the first Eve, is said to comport with in the desert.’

*

*

‘… And how many times in the world’s mythologies does a protagonist cross a body of water in order to secure a boon for their people?’
‘In the folk-tales of these isles people are forever being turned to stone.’
‘How else could we explain all those stone circles plonked bang-smack in the middle of… now-here?’
‘They would have had to have walked there as people and started to dance before they were turned to stone right?’
‘Yeah, right…’
‘But stones or rocks with holes in them do make sounds when the wind blows through them and they could well have provided inspiration for the first musical instruments.’
‘I’d like to include walking and dancing as significant acts of the human body…’
‘…Any more?’
‘Making and playing musical instruments.’
‘That makes nine.’
‘You didn’t answer the question.’
‘What question?’
‘Why Myth?’
‘Because Mythology is ‘My Theology’ and the ‘my’ here does not belong to me nor does it belong to the ego either…’
‘It is not really about the body is it?’
‘What is it about?’
‘It is about the body being a vehicle for spirit.’

*

A Chip off the Old Block (part 2 of 2)

cube of space+wake you smaller

In Part One, we looked at the implications of one of the hot topics in modern physics: that of Block Theory, and its two offspring theories – Expanding Block Theory and Evolving Block Theory. These dull names hide a very exciting and radical view of the universe – our world – and the dynamic part that awakened humans can play in it.

We don’t need to change what we do to work within the ‘Block’ of Block Theory. We can’t do anything else. Our ability to ‘do’, including the logic of decision, is built into the dynamic of being Human – which means the organic part of us operates wholly within the framework of the Block universe. When we turn our head, go to the car, decide to drive to the petrol station, and then pick up a chocolate bar as we pay, we are exercising the under-considered power of choice. We are creating the next moment of the present. The result of that choice is the equivalent of what quantum physics calls ‘measurement’. Measurement, in this sense, means interacting with the now.

Evolving Block Theory is related to Quantum Physics. Within Quantum Physics, a very different universe exists from the ‘solid’ one we think we live in. Our real quantum world is a sea of possibilities so vast that the mind struggles to conceive of it. This ‘sea’ resolves itself into a ‘something’ only when we interact with it; the equivalent of the scientific action of measurement. The classic thought-experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat was initially put forward to mock this, but the (both) alive and dead cat is there in full potential until the box is opened – this is actually the truth in a quantum universe. Within our minds, we have normalised this process into the Newtonian classical and solid world, but, really, we live in a shifting sea of potential – and our minds have a unique relationship with it; they may even be able to co-create the unfolding now in an advanced way, once we have mastered the ‘magic’ of the mechanics…

How does Block Theory, and in particular Evolving Block Theory, fit into this quantum world? The two are the other halves of each other. Block Theory says that, while there is length, breadth and height, there is no time as we think of it, conventionally. There is only the human mind choosing from the possible courses of action – intelligence, in other words. Everything that could be done exists, before us, in the quantum universe, powered by something wonderful. But it is not the future; just potential. To become the present: the only place where reality exists, we have to make that choice and combine consciousness with it. Once that actualisation begins, we not only create the present, we are the present.

Evolving Block Theory contributes something very special to this: it puts forward the potential of light, itself, to be the living sea of possibility from which the present is knitted. Only light has the vastness of ‘atomic’ potential to fit the requirements of this world which constantly resolves itself into what we have chosen… But, once that choice is made we do not ‘move’ into that future, the combined now of us and light unfolds before us…

Choice has, therefore, many components. The world in which ‘we’ find ourselves from birth is not in any way fixed. At the atomic level it is the potential of pure light. We live in a three-dimensional world but the property of time belongs to us – possibly to all Life, though the powers of mentation and therefore choice are more sophisticated in the human – and often cruel. We can surmise that, as yet, we are mere infants in the exercise of this ‘supermind’ potential.

While science has made enormous progress, it has done so without a conscience. It may say that is not its role, but there is a growing sense of responsibility among scientists. The ancients did not have the benefit of our powers of instrument-enabled observation and measurement – in a general sense, though the Greeks, peoples of India, and medieval Arabs laid the foundations of what became Western science. But the ancient philosophers did understand consciousness – and the disciplining of the mind; and this has always been the other half of the equation. In this, they pursued the deeper meanings of consciousness, rather than taking it for granted in the way that science initially did.

Thankfully, Quantum Theory changed that, though an understanding of it still evades most people – and why wrestle with it, if the older Newtonian world will do just fine?. Evolving Block Theory offers a radical new view of the ‘out there’; one potentially controlled by the fully balanced human capable of bringing wise choices into the all-powerful present, whose potential, like the chess pawn becoming a Queen, would then be, literally, limitless.

The emotions empower our choices, as does habitual pleasure and pain. But in a mentally-strong human, the mind, alone makes that choice. The depth of intent is therefore of prime importance in navigating the art of the possible which unfolds before us. This is astonishingly close to the ancient art of magic, which aside from the fluff and egoic dross, is concerned with the focussing of intent.

Acting for the good is very different from acting out of self-interest, only. The greatest ‘magicians’ of the coming age may be those who combine deep intent with the universe-expanding power of ‘good’ and thereby step beyond the level of humanity as we know it, reaching back to teach and show those of us who yearn for those heights of the soul.

A Meditation

So let’s imagine that we are a new type of magician, one intent upon working with this world of Evolving Block Theory. How could we act in accordance with what we see as its potential?

We need to comprehend that, organically, we are already its child. Our creative power within the ‘Block’ will already have been at work in our lives – in both positive and negative ways. But, consciousness of this brings greater power to work with it in the light of knowledge rather than accident.

Realising that we stand in the threshold of a new world, our first action might be one of cleansing; by which we mean freeing the apparently frozen world around us from negative patterns we have unconsciously imposed on it – as creator…

To help us, we can consider that what we thought of as being ‘set in stone’ might not be; that thoughts, feelings and outdated opinions can be, literally, dissolved.

Let us see ourselves as a castle made of heavy and solid stone. Imagine each part of you: thoughts, emotions and your sheer physicality. Let each of them be a part of a castle of self – see it clearly.

Now imagine that this, your castle, has actually been carefully constructed by skilled builders from blocks of ice, not stone. See that fixed structure melting slowly until it resolves itself into a lake of water. It has lost none of what it had except for the restrictive patterning that held it fixed. Really, it was always water…

When the waters of the ice castle have melted, and the lake is full, let us imagine that we are gazing down onto the pure, glowing surface of the lake. Behind us, high in the sky, is the golden disk of the Sun. The gold is so bright that, initially, we see ourselves only as a silhouette. But then our eyes become more powerful and we look deeper…

What do you see?

Stay as long as you wish above the golden lake. When you are ready, close the meditation with this affirmation:

“I am a co-creator of this world and I will create in full consciousness.”

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

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

The gift of memory

One of the things we take away from our weekend workshops are the memories. Faces, places, people, conversations and realisations, all combine to create a kaleidoscope of intangible souvenirs that find their own place in the hierarchy of memory. We may share an adventure, but the memories are unique for each of us and it would only be by combining all of them that a true picture of the weekend would even begin to emerge. We each bring our own perspective to the experience, and what will seem unimportant to one may be awe-inspiring to another. Some of what we experience will seem so mundane that it fades into the background, barely registering its presence in our minds, some moments will make such an impression that they remain fresh and evergreen for the rest of our lives.

Memories are more important than we consciously realise most of the time. They form the foundation of who we are and, in many ways, define who we become. Our loves and dislikes, our dreams and even our most illogical-seeming fears all have a basis in memory and, when it is lost, through illness, age or accident, we lose much of the person we have always felt ourselves to be, as well as the person others knew.

It is not that the memories have been erased… they have simply been filed away and the key to unlocking them lost. This is something I have come to understand in a far more conscious way since my son’s brain injury…  all the details are still there, but he cannot access them unless he is given the right key. That may be something very simple and seemingly unrelated… and yet it can unleash a flood of memory and the chains of association reveal layer upon layer of recollection.

At our Northumberland weekend, I was given a birthday gift that did the same for me. The ceramic art reminded me of the Moorcroft pottery that I love with its colours and textures… which in turn took me back to running my own antiques stall, working with my mother and learning the trade, a day looking in awe at the glorious Moorcroft shop in Windsor with a friend… and the tiny plate I was given months later. It opened up a vast chain of details I had forgotten from my children’s childhood… a vintage fox fur with which two small boys chased each other around grandma’s shop, tea and buttered scones as Mum and I talked and taught the boys to play chess in the storeroom…and then back to my own childhood, playing in the toy shop that my mother managed and being fed sweets by Mrs Brown who owned both toy shop and sweet shop with her husband. The memories flowed…

The subject was bound to take me back… to a time and place when the world was opening its doors to me and I lived in a state of wonder and adventure. Paris… walking the wet pavements after dark, feeling my heart skip a beat every time the dome of the Sacré-Cœur came into view, talking until the small hours with the artists who were my friends in Montmartre… a time when the emotional rollercoaster of youth rode every high and low with untrammelled enthusiasm in a place I loved with all my heart.

There was something else too. The gift had been chosen because it would remind me, and that gesture of thought and friendship conjures its own memories, from first encounter to the birth of the Silent Eye and beyond… with all the faces and places in between… until past meets present and the future begins to reveal its paths at our feet, where yet more memories will be made.

Memory adds depth and richness to our lives and anything that sparks our innate ability to revisit a moment time through its good offices is a gift beyond price. Yet, we cannot and should not live in the past… even if we retrace our footsteps, seeking out places and people we once knew, the present and the past will never be the same, for we ourselves have changed, and hopefully, grown, often because of that moment in time to which thought and memory may carry us. We may never return, but the past lives in us and adds the colour and texture of its story to our own.

Why Myth?…

*

‘…history became legend, legend became myth…’

What a pleasant conceit, to suppose that this process produces myth. Whilst undoubtedly true for many legends the process can also work the other way. Many legends for example have produced history. Pre-eminently in this respect, at least for Britain, is ‘King Arthur’ whose story the scholars do indeed now refer to as a mythos.

But what is really going on here?

It is probably more accurate to regard all these forms as stories. We are not supposed to regard History as a story but as ‘recorded fact’ and also ‘true’, but well, really, the clue is in the name. So why do we set such store by stories? The clue is in the question.
The truth of stories lies in a realm other than the literal. And what is ‘the literal’ anyway’?

‘The literal is something that actually happened.’

‘And what do we mean by something?’

‘We mean an ‘act’.’

‘Do we mean an act in a play?’

‘No, we mean a physical act; we mean the physical actions of a person.’

‘What, any act, and any person?’

‘Usually a significant act and a significant person’…

*

*

…A woman set off in the west, coming this way.
She was carrying her baskets for plant foods, her digging stick and a fire-stick.
She was coming, travelling along, camping and then setting off again.
As she went along she was looking about her and where she saw plenty of small creatures and plant food she would stop and eat and then camp.
At sunset she would settle down and sleep and early in the morning she would set off again.
Going on she saw that salt-water tide had come up at a place she hoped to go across.
So she camped there.
She made a sleeping platform in a tree because so many mosquitoes were biting her.
When at last early morning came she made a paper-bark canoe, paddling with her hands to cross to the other side.
Then she started off again and eventually came to a cave house…

*

*

…A Dust-Devil was living in the cave house.
Tall, thin and hairy he was with a crooked body and bat-like wings.
‘My woman has come,’ he said, ‘my body’s no good but today we two will sleep together.’
When they met the woman offered him vegetable food and the Dust-Devil reciprocated with fish.
They slept together but the woman did not like the look of him so she cast about the cave house, found a stone axe and began sharpening it whilst he slept.
The Dust-Devil woke up.
He stretched himself and was preparing to eat the woman. She slashed his neck.
Then she looked around made a fire and cooked his body.
Perhaps he just tossed away the flames that Dust-Devil?
He came out the fire, ‘you woman, why did you kill me? I will cover you with my wings.’
The woman tried to hide but he found her.
He sealed her up in the cave where she was lying.
That cave remained for her then a dark cave.
She kept on talking in there, abusing the Dust-Devil.
At last she became like a rock.
She stands there a rock, forever.

A Young Woman meets a Dust-Devil

(Adapted from ‘Speaking Land’ by R.M. Berndt and C.H. Berndt)

North-easterly VII: A final grace

 

“…Manifest thy light for my regeneration, and let the breadth, height, fullness and crown
of the solar radiance appear, and may the light within shine forth!”

Abbe de Villars, ‘The Comte de Gabalis’

“We’ve just got to the top of the slope by the castle,” said the voice on the phone, in answer to my query. We had been a few minutes late arriving on Holy Island, and our companions had begun to stroll out towards the medieval castle that dominates the island landscape. Having failed to find them in any of the three cafés where we had looked, we had located them by phone and, putting on a bit of a spurt, finally caught up with them. From here we could look back at the beginning of our journey, over the water to Bamburgh Castle, just as the spiritual pilgrim looks back on his inner journey and sees with greater clarity than before, how short was the true distance he had to travel , no matter how difficult and tortuous the route he felt he had to take.

The plan was that we should spend an hour exploring in our own way before meeting for a light lunch and our departure, so while some visited the castle, the rest of us walked back into the village and met the sparrows. Time always makes its presence keenly felt on Holy Island, which is odd, because, in so many ways, it is a timeless place. As you cross the causeway from the mainland, that sense of stepping outside of time is one of the most striking feelings, and, if you remain when the tides come in, flooding the causeway and cutting off the island from the shore, there simply is no time, only the spirit of place. Yet the tides rule all and the clock ticks regardless, and for those who must leave before the waters rush in, time is always limited. The very consciousness of that knowledge makes every moment precious.

When we had gathered once more, we walked over to the ancient parish church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. In spite of the fact that there have been people on the island since the very earliest of times, this is the oldest building to remain. It is built on the site of St Aidan’s original monastery, founded in 635, and parts of the building date back to that century.

A service had just finished, and we had no wish to intrude, so simply sat quietly for a while, in contemplation. Faith is unique to each of us, no matter by what name we know it or what path we walk. Each of us has our own relationship with something other and greater than ourselves and the simple silence of St Mary’s seems to welcome all those who turn their faces to the Light.

There are beautiful stained glass windows, touching tributes to those who have served in the church and those who have lived on the island and worked with the sea. There are windows that glow with colour and light, a statue carved from elm and called ‘The Journey,’ that shows the monks who carried St Cuthbert’s coffin on its long odyssey, a transcript of the Lindisfarne Gospel… the beautifully illuminated manuscript from the last years of the seventh century, made by a monk called Eadfrith in honour of St Cuthbert.

Fourteen hundred years is a long time for any place to be at the heart of a tiny community, and the church holds that community in its heart.

You ‘may sense the ‘thinness’ linking with the ancient saints who trod the same ground so many years before,’ says the church website. And you can. There is a very real sense of the sacred here, of something older and deeper than the exoteric Church that we know today. It is impossible not to be moved by the echoes of so many centuries of prayer.

In the churchyard, the lives of those who walked here are both remembered and forgotten. The oldest inhabitants have no grave-markers, their names and stories are, for the most part, lost. Only those whose stories were written in the annals of history are remembered by name and deed, and those who lived recently enough that their headstones survive.

Two nineteenth century headstones caught my eye. One was that of a Freemason and soldier who served in India. His affiliation to Freemasonry is not explicitly mentioned in the inscription, but the Masonic Square and Compasses tell their own story. Another local rejoiced in the name of Field Flowers. Time and weather have worn away much of the inscription, but he still rests in the shadow of the Saxon Abbey.

From the church, we walked down to the shore, passing the old well that shelters beneath the walls. I had long wanted to visit St Cuthbert’s Island but on our previous visits, either the tide or time had always been against us.

St Cuthbert’s Isle is a tiny islet just off the island’s shore. At low tide, it is just a short walk across the mussel-encrusted rocks, but to fully appreciate its isolation from the rest of the community,you have to see it when the tide comes in, completely sundering it from the island. We had done so one day, when we had stayed the length of a sea-tide on Holy Island, watching the sun gild a roseate path to the mainland as it sank beyond the hills.

It was to this tiny islet that St Cuthbert would retreat when he needed solitude. He had become a monk after a vision that came to him the night that St Aidan died. he felt called to a contemplative life, but his kindness, charm and generosity, as well as his gift of healing and deep faith, were to take him from his cell and make him Bishop of Lindisfarne and one of the best loved of the early saints.

The little island was his retreat, until in later years he sought the greater solitude of the Farne Islands. Today the foundations of his chapel remain on the islet, marked by a simple cross where pilgrims still leave tokens of respect, and earthworks that may be the foundations of his cell.

 

I once heard the monastic life described as being ‘in the world, but not of it’. In some respects this relates too to the journey of the spiritual seeker… pilgrims in the land of the living… who embrace the earthly life and its world fully, yet who know that the source of being is not of this world. It was the perfect place for us to end our weekend.

From here we could see the mainland and the dark outline of Bamburgh Castle. We could look back too at the Holy Isle and see the ancient church and the Abbey. Our journey together was drawing to its close, yet our journeys would continue. For a moment, we were once more outside of time and the spirit of place caught at the heart.

“I can hear mermaids singing,” said one of our companions. Sure enough, she was right. Turning our eyes to the sea, we scanned the waves and saw their faces in the waves. It was indeed magical to watch the seals watching us from the sea… playing and diving through the waters with what looked like joyful abandon.

But time touched us even here, and it was time for the weekend to end. Gary read the beautiful Invocation to the Flame from Abbe de Villars’, ‘The Comte de Gabalis’ and Barbara ended the weekend with a poem she had written. Then, with hugs and the knowledge that we would hopefully meet again soon, we parted.

For three of us, there was still a little time. Just enough to linger on the island for a moment or two… long enough to realise that the dark shadow on the sandbanks was not seaweed, but our ‘mermaids’.

The three of us, joined by silence and friendship, watched from afar, listening to their song. Such moments can justly be called a grace.

The sea-song continued, eerie and haunting on the wind as we left the islet and climbed to the Heugh. Sheltering in the lee of the ruined Anglo-Saxon chapel, we watched the seals from afar and saw a heron gliding over the waves.

But although, for once, we were in no hurry, Gary had a long drive ahead and had to leave. We walked the length of the Heugh, looking down into the ruined Priory that was already nearly a thousand years old when the castle was built. Time and distance were about to make themselves felt and it was with a certain amount of sadness that we descended from the outcrop, knowing that the world was about to take us once more by the hand. And that although at such moments we may wish the demands of the world elsewhere, it is right that it should do so. We are born into this world for a reason and to live in it fully is at least part of our purpose.

The weekend held one final and surprising gift though. As we walked across the fields towards the village, we came face to face with the past in the most surprising manner. Our timing could hardly have been more perfect and we watched archaeologists brush fourteen hundred years of earth from the faces of the early monks in the newly uncovered Priory burial ground.

“These men would have known Aidan or Cuthbert,” said the archaeologist, when I asked if it were permitted to take photographs. “Treat them with respect if you use the pictures.” I could not do anything else, for these were the men in whose footsteps we had walked the island, the men who had ‘trod the same ground so many years before,’ and whose faith has made this a place of pilgrimage, both religious and spiritual, for centuries. I may not share their particular form of religion, but we share the essence of faith and, in coming face to face with the past, I came face to face with myself. And surely, that is what any pilgrimage is supposed to achieve?

With thanks to Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh for organising the Castles of the Mind weekend.

If you have enjoyed reading the story of our time in Northumberland and would like to join us for one of our informal weekends exploring the spiritual landscape of Britain, or at our annual April Workshop in Derbyshire, please visit the Silent Eye’s Events page.

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Derbyshire Delights…

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It was over 14 years ago now in March 2004 that I first sampled the delights of Derbyshire at a Mystical Weekend in the Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.

In those days I was a relativley new member of a worldwide Mystical Order and the idea of a ‘Weekend Retreat’ amongst strangers was unfamiliar and rather daunting.

I recall a moment of panic on my way to this remote spot as the bus from Sheffield headed deeper and deeper into the Derbyshire wilds… ‘It’s in the middle of nowhere,’ I thought with mounting hysteria, ‘we could all be murdered in our sleep and no one would ever know…’ I can now smile at such momentary fears brought on no doubt by a teenage staple of Dennis Wheatley and H.P. Lovecraft but there is a legitimate question here for those with no experience of such matters.

‘What does one do on a Mystical Retreat?’

Well that depends of course on which particular school is running the retreat and what the particular brief or theme for the weekend is.

My first retreat was a heady mix of group and private meditations, and informative and engaging talks and presentations by members of the Order of which I was then part.

But that is to describe only the formal aspects of such events; there is usually between the scheduled programmes plenty of time to commune with fellow participants or if one prefers time enough, to simply be alone with nature in the peaceful surrounds of the centre.

…But really the best answer to such an enquiry is, ‘one needn’t do anything on a Mystical Retreat, it is far more effective to simply be… and see where it leads.’

The annual trips to Derbyshire became something of a pilgrimage for me and with continued presence my involvement in the formal running of such events grew…

…In 2011 and now under the aegis of a Magical School but again back at the Nightingale for a weekend retreat our lodge staged a four act dramatic ritual which focused on the search for the philosopher’s stone.

Very ‘Harry Potter’ and all rather grand sounding but really it is just a group of life-affirming people with common purpose exploring together the notion of that which is more than the sum of its parts.

And in 2013 and now as the inaugural event of The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, the four act drama had become five acts and a tradition had been put in place which we hope will continue long into the future…

The dramas are script led and no prior experience is assumed.
There is no audience because everybody participates so there is no pressure and no one to mind if a ‘mistake’ is made…

In the words of one recent attendee: ‘It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s profound.’

No one has been murdered, of course, but a goodly number of folk have returned from our events with their sense of life purpose refreshed and renewed and their belief in the spirit released to soar…

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We hope you can join us in 2019 for, Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

We will be delighted to see you.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

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

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

…Everlasting to Everlasting…

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Euhemerism: an ideology that humanises the gods…?

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Euhemerus of Messene was a widely travelled man. He wrote a travel book in which he described his visit to an island called Panchaia in the Indian Ocean. In the island’s Temple of Zeus, he said, there was a golden pillar on which Zeus himself had written his autobiography as the king of Panchaia. Zeus had also written the biography of his father, Cronos, on the pillar, and Hermes had then added the biographies of Artemis and Apollo. Unfortunately, Euhemerus’s book does not survive, and no one else has ever found the island Panchaia, so later writers accused Euhemerus of inventing the whole thing.

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The most sympathetic account of Euhemerus’s work is contained in Diodorus Siculus’s, ‘World History’, where Diodorus explains that even supposing one accepts Euhemerus’s story it does not necessarily follow that the gods he described were not genuine! Beings who had been human but who had ‘graduated’ to super-humanity, argues Diodorus, were common in the religious traditions of the eastern mediterranean. Immediately after summarising Euhemerus’s account of Panchaia, Diodorus explores the  origin myths of the ancient greeks.

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‘…The majority of the gods, the Cretans say, had their beginnings in Crete and set out from there to visit many regions of the inhabited world. The Idaean Dactyli, of Crete, discovered both the use of fire and what the metals copper and iron ore are, as well as the means of working them. Since they were looked upon as the originators of great blessings for the race of men they were accorded immortal honours. After the Idaean Dactyli, there were nine Curetes who excelled in wisdom and discovered many things of use to men generally. They were the first to gather sheep into flocks, to domesticate several other animals which men fatten and to discover the production of honey… The Cretans also say that Poseidon was the first man to concern himself with sea-faring and to fit out fleets and this is why the tradition has been passed along to succeeding generations that he controls whatever is done on the sea and why mariners honour him by means of sacrifices… As regards the gods then, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable, such as the sun and moon and other stars in the heavens, for each of these their generation and duration is from everlasting to everlasting, but the other gods, we are told, were terrestial beings who attained immortal honour and fame because they were benefactors of mankind…’

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Brigit, a woman poet, daughter of the Dagda. She is Brigit, the lady of wisdom, that is, the goddess whom the poets adored. For great and brilliant was her tender loving care. Therefore they call her the goddess of the poets. Her sisters were Brigit, the lady of healing, and Brigit, the lady of metal work, the Dagda’s daughters, from whose names Brigit was called goddess among the Hibernians.

Cormac, Silence

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