Full Circle? – Finding the way home… Penrith, Cumbria Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018
Home. It is an evocative word. The images it conjures are different for each of us, yet few other words touch heart and mind in quite the same way. Birth and death, laughter and love, longing, fear and aspiration… the cycle of human life plays out within its walls.
For many, there is another ‘home’ beyond the physical confines of this world. That too may seem different for each of us and the path to its threshold is shaped by dreams. Few places illustrate this as clearly as Castlerigg, an ancient stone circle ringed by mountains and one of the most spectacular sites in the country.
The people who have walked this world before us have left traces of their lives and belief, written in stone upon the landscape. From church to stone circle, castle to cavern, finding the way home has always been intimately linked with the land. Join us in a winter landscape to explore these hidden pathways of mind and heart.
The Silent Eye hosts a number of events each year, from our annual Weekend Workshop in Derbyshire to our ‘Living land’ and ‘Walk and Talk’ gatherings. All events are open to non-members and Companions of the School and they are a great way to meet us, explore the teachings we share and spend time with fellow travellers. The weekends are relaxed and informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.
Workshop costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation in Penrith are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.
The land pulls the blood from my body prematurely, just as it did two years ago when the white goddess appeared at the foot of my bed as I took the role of Guinevere. Three in the morning is an uncommon time to wake, but there is significance to this number. We are working with lines that join into triangles.
Found in a Dorset church
Sometimes I think I have strained limits, but my mind tells me I have not returned to the feel of the womb again to sleep. Birth is inevitable. My skin protests darkness and shuns the heavy wrap causing the release of sweat when I try to sleep. There is an alchemy of fire and water going on within and without.
Maumbury Rings in Dorchester, England have a distinctly feminine shape. Inside its womb-like enclosure, you can feel…
Centurion Calogerus stared at the edge of the plateau above him. The vast hill-fort rose from the chalk lands below in what appeared to be a series of grassy layers. There were no walls that he could see. This would be quick…
As the dawning sun of the year’s longest day crested the edge of the hill, he smiled in remembrance of his youth. This would have been his birthday; not the day he had come into the world but a new one given by those gentle people who raised him in that far-off province, before the strong and swift youth was snatched from the sea of death and forged into a fearsome Roman soldier.
Calogerus stared into the distance, again. There was a figure up there… A figure so distant that he should not have been able to make out any details, yet he could. It was a priest, he knew. How he knew, he didn’t know…
Below him, huddled in the strange and twisting entrance road, crouched eighty of his best men. Bisected by machines of death on wheels. They were not elite soldiers. They were auxiliaries, trained by their centurion in the arts of war and tactics. Tough and more loyal than he had any right to expect… Give them to Calogerus, they would say, extracting from battles and conquered tribes the best, the strongest, the ones with the bright eyes. He will turn them into Roman soldiers.
And he did… He took the dregs and made them into the best that the Legions of Aulus Plautius contained. The hero of Camulodunum commands us, they whispered, looking at their centurion. Our new master is no coward, hiding behind Roman finery.
And so, when the mighty Legion that was sweeping southern Britain grouped to move on, they used him and his dregs to create the opening, to breach the defences, to probe the weaknesses, and sometimes, to die… A foreigner and not high-born, he had risen slowly through the ranks. For a centurion, he was old.
Calogerus looked down at his men, waiting in readiness, and shifted his right hand to his sword’s pommel. Below, in the winding trench – deeper than six men and hollowed to a near-point, like a ‘V’ – the silence became something you could taste… Like iron on the tongue.
He looked up at the distant figure on the hill. For a moment he imagined he was that priest, looking down; then drew back from the act as an image flashed before his inner eye – the one he dared not talk about, when the soldiers drank and feasted and bled. In the image he was a figure in white, seen, not by the priest, but by the hill, itself. He shook himself out of the daydream and found he had been fingering the scar in the middle of his forehead. Too many echoes of his youth followed that thought and he blinked his eyes clear of visions, drawing his sword so that it sang in the morning air.
“Let the memories be gone, forever,” he hissed to the line of liquid green-gold forming on the curved horizon. “Let the light of this longest day wash it away…”
His sword was the signal, and the line moved forward. He followed on the top of the trench, probing the place’s secrets. He was sure there were many. The scholars spoke in hushed tones about this place. There were rumours that it was thousands of years old, but he didn’t believe that. It was just a big hill, and Roman soldiers were adept in the capture of such places. The Durotriges tribesmen – and women – up there were doomed.
The first shock came when he heard the laboured moaning from below. He stopped to survey the men in the still-dark trench. He could see the sheen of sweat on their bare shoulders, but the noise was not theirs. He peered into the gloom and drew a breath when he saw the bowed wheel of the cart. The angle of the hill, and lack of a flat path at the bottom, was placing strain on the bearing and axle; the heavy weapons on board were doing the rest.
No fools the builders of this hill, he thought. But, no sooner had the admiration registered than there came the crack of breaking timber and one of the carts toppled sideways, pinning screaming soldiers beneath it. In seconds, their comrades came to the rescue, but several were injured.
The centurion uttered a curse before shouting, “Leave it! Ensure the rest of the wagons are forced level. Forward with weapons drawn!”
The loss of one-third of their armaments would weaken their strength, but the biggest cart remained – and it carried the largest punch. But progress was slow, and bore a weariness he did not understand…
The scouts had said that the gate with the twin towers lay dead ahead, but the centurion had to curse again as the path his men were following – with their heavy loads – turned abruptly left. There was a light path over the top, but the weapon carts would never get up its steep bank. His stomach turned over as he realised the complexity of these defences. Primitive tribes? Calogerus shook his head.
He had no choice but to carry on. They had not been challenged so far. For all they knew the tribe above them were unaware of this dawn attack.
They marched for far too long before the trench turned, again, seeming to snake back on itself toward the point on the hillside where they had entered the site. Here, the walls of the trench were even higher. The wailing noise stung his ears like the feeling of severe pain – as with a deep wound, where the flow of blood is not immediately seen. The centurion spun round, trying to locate the source. His men, far below, were also turning in panic – and he could see that they were becoming more faint in the trench’s gloom.
Calogerus stared at the madness. As far as he could see, his men were not being attacked, and yet they had begun to stagger around, as though injured – or drunk…
The baleful wailing had hidden the other, more subtle invader. The burning grass – the dreaming grass – the clouds of mist were clouds of smoke, washing over the men at the bottom of the trench… And then came a sound like the strike of a hawk and the ground began to shift under the centurion and he fell, rolling down the slopes as the trench walls came alive with snakes. A rough blow with a blunt weapon robbed him of vision and sense…
He woke to the sight of the gates – a prisoner on their own munitions cart approaching the thick wooden door as it cranked open on its chains. He could see, straight away, that the scouts had been wrong; that the twin towers, separated by the earthen bank, would be much harder to attack. Even here, the paths were curved… Such clever defences.
The voice walking behind him was gentle. “Only three of your men are dead,” the priestess said, holding a cup of soaked herbs to his parched lips. We only killed those we had to… the rest were encouraged to flee.”
He tried to sit up, but leather bonds held him fast. “Don’t struggle,” she said. “Your choices are few, but you are alive.”
“Better dead, than this disgrace…” His parched throat rasped the words. She gave him more to drink.
“In a military world, yes,” she said. “But the mark on your head tells the story of another world that once claimed you. She pulled him around and he beheld great beauty and calm eyes that spoke more deeply than he knew how.
“We are both doomed,” the priestess said. “I am not foolish enough to believe otherwise. In days…months at the most, the legion will return and its vengeance will be bloody and swift – and our tricks with paths that curve and the dream smoke will not prevail.”
He struggled to rise, again, and this time she helped him, slicing her knife through the bindings at his wrists, but leaving those around his ankles. “For now,” she said.
“They will kill me, anyway,” he said, knowing that his life had reached its end.
As the sun set on the day of the rebirth of his spirit, they held hands on the top of the plateau and faced the west, bathing in the red gold of the longest day’s passing. For now, and briefly, they could be timeless.
The armies of Aulus Plautius were not before them… but they would come, soon enough, as one civilisation died and another – younger, hungrier and more deadly, drank its blood.
This work of fiction is set in the real landscape of Maiden Castle, an Iron Age fort near Dorchester, Dorset. The details of the fort’s defences are real, as can be seen from the photographs. The Durotriges are known to have used psychotropic substances to enhance their rituals, and may well have employed all manner of attack in their complex defences – which are as described.
The visit to Maiden Castle was the last part of the Silent Eye’s pre-solstice weekend, June 2018. For details of the work of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, and other ‘in the landscape’ workshops, click the link below.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.
Traditionally, ancient castles were build where there was trouble… Do we have the equivalent in our minds and emotions? Have we, over the course of our lives, built up strong fortifications with which to repel those intrusions which, as children, we considered frightening?
Our ‘walk and talk’ events are friendly and informal. We ask those attending to bring one or two readings from their favourite books, poems, or other sources of inspiration. We listen and talk… and share. If someone is ready to enter their personal borderlands, we hold their hand and walk with them.
The cost per attendee is £50.00. This is an administrative cost, only. All personal costs and bookings, such as hotels and meals, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are generally shared in a local pub, and the cost divided between those partaking.
From the mingling waves-of-water came mud and slime.
Enshar and Kishar, twin halves of the globe, shone out of them.
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…
* ‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’ – Rainer Maria Rilke.
Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260
He – the man with the packing cases – picks up his empty tea cup and begins to walk towards the small table near the entrance door of the large room in which the mystery play ran its course. It’s important that everything is cleared, he thinks; restored to how it was, pristine…
Laughing to himself, he realises that he is walking the edges of the square of what was the royal court floor, though nothing of it remains outside of his imagination…and the memories of nineteen other people who helped bring it to life.
This was her space, he whispers to the silent air, still reverential, still listening for her commands to those within the square of black and white, the world of polarity. That, moment…that moment when enough had been seeded by clever language and innocent moves within the squares. That moment when the Sovereign stepped forward, intellectually, to declare her intentions. His memory of that second is acute. He relives it, but as what? Is he the playwright, above the creation, but guiding it as director? No, his involvement is still too acute. Is he, then, William Shakespeare, a character that thinks he is a creator? Perhaps… Or, is he each of the characters, permitted to play alongside the actors, if in memory only?
Putting the cup down on a table top full of other used cups, he realises he is all these things, because he is alive, and graced with the evolving stories of life – both his and the life of the world in which he lives and writes. And, most importantly, that the lives of the other players came together with his, and his with theirs, and the result was beautiful.
Realising this, with a clarity that is shocking, he shifts from writer to playwright character, to Queen…
Robert Cecil, horrified and incredulous has just spoken.
“Your Majesty, the Jesuit is still in our presence!”
The Queen holds back the smile out of deference to her First Minister, and scolds the man with the folded hands, sitting, quietly, in the West of the court… with whom she is secretly delighted, though she would have let Frances Walsingham kill him, had Dr Dee not been so… upright. Few understand what being a Queen entails… the embodiment of purpose.
“Priest! I gave you leave–are you so eager to forfeit your life?”
The Jesuit stands. His quiet voice belies the fear he has generated in her world – but not in her. “Your Majesty, I mean no offence,” he says. “I have no home as such… My life is spent in the shelter of others’ homes, often locked away in dirty holes in the ground where I must wait out Lord Cecil’s men… And all this for the giving of the Mass to those that need it! Never have I plotted against the Crown, never have I sought to cause distress or fomented uprising against your government or your reign.”
The priest looks down at his own feet, shaking his head in disbelief that he is still here, mere yards from two of the Queen’s closest guardians who would run him through in a second, if permitted. But the small voice continues:
“A man I do not know has just saved my life – an honest man, in my opinion – and the image of Christ within me says: ‘Stay and risk what little is yours to help defend him.’ You did promise me safety if I became part of this gathering. I beg you to let me stay a while longer and see if I can earn a deeper contribution, here”.
The Queen watches through narrowed eyes as Dr Dee looks at the Lady Rab’ya, who looks at the priest. The Saracen woman knows what Dr Dee knows: that the essence of the whole chamber has changed… And The Queen knows it, too.
Robert Cecil is still standing, glaring at the Jesuit. His words are fully the equivalent of Frances’s dagger.
“Your Grace! I can take no more of this!”
The Queen puts as much gentleness into her voice as she deems proper. “Robert, you are a good man. Stay with me… my plans are only partly unveiled and I seek, before God, to do no harm to you or your causes.”
She watches as the twin forces within him wrestle for his soul: his desire to better his father in service to his Sovereign; and his need to kill the long-hunted priest. He breathes deeply but is not calm.
“I am a good man, Your Majesty; I would follow in my father’s footsteps. For years he hunted that man, who was protected by some of the richest families in your Kingdom! Now, I have him in my grasp and you want me to let him go!”
The Queen gathers the material of her royal dress, allowing a few more seconds to pass.
“Robert, I, too, fight with the legacy of my father – King Henry. They were dark times… When I was halfway to my third year, my mother was taken from me, to walk, mere days later, to her execution. Later, still young, along with my dear Dudley, I was thrown into the tower by my half-sister, Queen Mary… Just Dudley, me.. and the ravens, the three ravens…”
The ravens, the three ravens that will come to mean so much more in this chamber… She continues:
“Your father, Baron Burghley, and Frances’s father, Francis Walsingham, swore to protect and guide my young life… and they did… A debt I could never repay.”
She must tell it from the heart, now. Must bare some of the most hideous detail to help this young, gifted and determined man raise his eyes and see beyond vengeance.
“Your father once told me that he had calculated that the Tudor dynasty had taken the lives of more than fifty thousand people. He left me to draw my own conclusions. Must we forever feed this cycle of blood and terror? The mighty Armada is vanquished. Even Imperial Spain does not have the wealth to rebuild it.” Then, softly. “Robert, could we not, now, build on the peace, in matters religious as well as military?
Robert Cecil says nothing. He holds his head in his hands for a moment, then rises, still full of rage. He strides down the Outer Court’s passageway, stopping to glare at the Jesuit, then wrenches aside the heavy door of the court chamber, letting it slam closed as he leaves.
There is silence in the royal court. For a while, not even the Queen dares to speak.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised by email.
“Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” Pope Gregory’s letter to Abbot Mellitus, 6thC, on the conversion of Britain.
You have to admit, Pope Gregory was sneaky. The mission to bring the blessed isles of Britain into the Christian fold was not to be accomplished so much by conversion as subversion. To ‘convert’ means to turn in a new direction, to subvert means to destroy from below… and that, is pretty much, the definition of sneaky.
The instructions to the missionaries were clear… take and use the old sacred places for the new worship. The letter was quite detailed in how this should be done, but basically it meant allowing the people to celebrate the same festivals, in the way they had always done, and in the same places. The only difference wa that, while they were doing so, the clergy of the Church could gradually add a Christian gloss to the festivities. Many of the old gods were adopted as Christian saints and their stories rewritten accordingly, magical places were rendered ‘officially’ sacred by appropriating them for Christian myth and the symbolism of ancient festivals was reallocated to the Christian story.
Gregory was right. The people were soon turned to the new religion.
They may have neither noticed nor cared; when you worship God made manifest in Nature, the names and stories of the gods matter less than natural and cosmic force they represent… and Britain already had a long history of accepting ‘foreign’ gods into the pantheon. The new Jesus-god was little different from many who had come and gone before, after all. Miraculous births abound in religious history, across the globe and throughout the ages. Gods who walk the earth as men are not uncommon, nor are the gods who come to teach. Saviour gods and sacrificed gods were ten a penny, and Jesus was not the first to be hung upon a tree.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”
Gregory must have been well aware of this ready acceptance of new gods into the pagan fold. Throw in a few incentives…and eternal life isn’t bad for starters… add a dash of hellfire and brimstone to put the fear of God into the laggards, put learning, healing, economic and political power into the hands of the priests, and he was right; within a generation or two, the conversion was pretty much complete. The old gods faded into myth and their altars were forgotten…or repurposed.
But, let’s be honest, Gregory was not exactly the first to bring Britain to Christianity, whatever his letter might suggest. The process had been going on for quite some time. There were already Christians in Britain before the Romans left in 410AD. The very earliest missionaries, according to the legends, had arrived much earlier than that, when Joseph of Arimathea had come to Glastonbury, bringing with him relics of Jesus’ life and mission, and founding the first Christian oratory there. Joseph, according to the Bible, was the man who asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the Cross… so, if the legends are true, then Christianity came to these shores within a few years of the Crucifixion.
Celtic Christianity, which carried a greater love and respect for the natural world, was already firmly entrenched in these isles before Gregory wrote to Mellitus. The last pagan warrior-king was Penda of Mercia…and he died in 655AD. So it was not so much Christianity that Gregory wanted to bring to the land, but Roman Christianity. be that as it may, after the Synod of Whitby in 664, Britain was officially under the sway of the Bishop of Rome and the spiritual landscape was confined to the churches and chapels.
For those who seek a greater understanding of our spiritual past, Britain is particularly rich in archaeological remains dating back thousands of years. There are over a thousand stone circles, innumerable barrows and many other ancient monuments to baffle, intrigue and illuminate the seeker. Sacred sites continue to document the evolution of belief throughout the Roman Occupation, then you hit what was known as the Dark Ages (until political correctness renamed it the Early Medieval period) and nothing much remains except the imported Norse and Saxon gods and the earliest beginnings of the Church. The lines between them blur as the one blends with the other and our original spiritual story sinks further into myth… and the seeker is left with the task of unpicking the resulting tangle.
Unfortunately for Pope Gregory, his directive had an unexpected result. By building his churches on sites of a far more ancient sanctity than the sanction of Christianity, many of those sites were preserved. We not only know where they were, they are still there.
There are barrows in churchyards, ancient yews, once held sacred, still cast their shadows on holy ground, sacred springs run beneath foundations and local saints with strange names and even stranger stories leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow.
And follow them we do, finding mysteries and motes of ancient light as we delve into the origins of belief. Why do we search? What can such ancient beliefs offer us, and how do they relate to the modern world? You have only to look at the political evolution of ‘official’ faith to see how murky the waters can be and how the minds and hearts of a nation can be quietly subverted.
But somewhere beyond all the chicanery, beyond dogma, beyond all organised religion, when we reconnect to our ancestors, we touch a time when the questions we still ask today were first being explored. Their world was simpler… everything was either sacred or magical, or both. There were spirits in stone and tree, there was healing in the waters. Everything was seen as connected. Animals, even the hunted, were held in reverence and the green and growing land was the body of a goddess. Nature was the self-expression of divinity and mankind no more than a part of that expression. With humankind seemingly determined to despoil and destroy our home, I believe that perspective to be more than relevant today.
A week of long, fraught hours, early starts and late finishes, coupled with some bug or other to sap my remaining energy, ended with technical glitches… and, just for good measure, the internet went down too. By the time I got all that sorted, I was about ready to call it a day, grab a hot water bottle and retire, but I still had all the catching up to do…
Except, somehow, it didn’t seem to take long. An hour later and I was left only with the photo -prompt entries to read. That was a result!
It was also weird. My inboxes do not get away lightly as a rule, but they have been very quiet the past few days. Suspiciously so. Then I noticed the number of unread emails in my spam folder and groaned… for some reason, hundreds of the things had been automatically routed there, and I was going to have to go through the lot.
Cursing and grumbling, I went through the sender and subject of every darned email, returning each one to the appropriate folder. It took a while. I have not had much energy left at the end of the day, so for the past few days, I have not emptied my spam and delete folders before bed as I usually do. And apparently, this problem has been going on for several days.
I double-checked what was left, making sure that any personal, important or school-related stuff had been safely sequestered, and hit delete on the rest, trying not to feel guilty.
I thought, as I did so, how instant communication has changed our lives. We can speak to people across the world in real time… even face to face with free video calling if we choose… and couldn’t help thinking about how our emotional response to communication has changed too.
I used to love getting letters, because… unless they were bills… they were always full of news and details about friends, family and loved ones. Some I would read and re-read… savouring them… and some have been kept for decades as tangible pieces of personal history, love and friendship. I actually got a letter today… with a proper, handwritten envelope and an intriguing postmark… and felt the once-familiar quiver of excitement. It was such an unusual occurrence that I left it on the desk for a while unopened to prolong the sensation. I could not imagine who it might be from, and when I did open it, was thrilled with the unexpected contents.
You seldom get that feeling from an email. In fact, the two most prevalent sensations, for me at least, seem to be a feeling of obligation to respond immediately and guilt if I don’t. And then I feel guilty that I am feeling guilty, because I know that any pressure is coming from me rather than from the sender’s expectations… and I should know better.
On the other hand, I love being able to stay in touch so easily, with no waiting on tenterhooks for replies that took weeks by snail mail. I would hate to lose the ease of communication we have today… even a few hours with an enforced lack of access feels strange and frustrating. Yet, most email communication is pretty terse and to the point, including mine. Most of us use a different ‘voice’ with electronic communication than we would use in writing a letter. There is less of ourselves on the screen than there is on the page. Perhaps it is a hangover from many of us having first used email for business purposes.
I always found a personal letter to be a very different thing from an email, and emotions are often easier to express in writing than they are in person. Face to face, many of us find our words constrained, out tongues tied, and our feelings difficult to express… even with those to whom we would say the most if we could only find the words.
And yet, (apart from the dratted bills, which I am convinced are sent by demons with a warped sense of humour and execrable timing) behind every communication, in no matter what form it arrives, is another human being. ‘To communicate’… it is a verb, a ‘doing’ word, and comes from the Latin for ‘sharing’ and that should say it all really. Communication is always a sharing… there may be as much being shared in the space between the words as in the words themselves, and even a delayed response may tell its own story.
We may not pour our hearts onto the screen in the same way as we might once have poured them into our letters, but there is always a heart behind the fingers that type. Each heart has its own story, and while some may be closed or hardened, others stand wide open, waiting to share all they hold. Whether we communicate with laughter or with silence, in clipped phrases or in flowery periods, we are always speaking heart to heart, even if we do not realise it at the time.