Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse (2)

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

‘Surreal’ is an often used word and does its best to convey a moment, usually quite fleeting, in which there is both a heightened sense of ‘being there’ and another feeling of strangeness. The two come together and we feel vaguely uncomfortable that something for which we have no real words envelopes us.

This state of consciousness is described in more detail in the Silent Eye’s consciousness course as being a temporary cessation of the ‘filters’ that cloud our experience of the seemingly ordinary world. A better word for the experience is ‘present’, as in present to what’s real.

In truth, nothing is ordinary, and reality is seeing that

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Our first ‘present’ moment of the day happened when we carefully bypassed Henrietta and entered the sanctuary of the Farmhouse Cafe in Balemartin. My first post in this series, last week, resulted in several offers to adopt Henrietta, the bike guardian, so I reproduce, above, the photograph of her doing her day-job. I don’t think she’s available for adoption…

The impending storm had quickened our minds, in the way that survival does, and, with the first of the rain driving at the windows, we found we had entered an establishment that had just opened. The staff – four quite young people – looked at us as though we had camped outside overnight, falling through the door, in desperation, the minute they unlocked it. I suppose we looked a bit alien in our bright cycling gear.

For a short while, we had the place to ourselves. The interior was plain but functional, as though it were half a farmhouse, which I suspect it was. The staff had the air of close family and riends, with at least three daughters on duty. Life on Tiree revolves around tourism and farming, with everyone helping out for both. Everyone we met on the island was very friendly, though you could detect a certain island manner.

The cafe owners had a proud display of rosettes for their competition cattle. We were about to ask when a group of eight or so people arrived for an early lunch, closely followed by another, even larger group! It was Saturday and restaurants are scarce on Tiree. We could see why all the family were employed, as the place went from empty to full in about five minutes.

The day had started a long time ago. We had planned to have a coffee and, perhaps a piece of cake to keep our strength up. But, with the rain lashing at the windows, we consoled ourselves with a longer-lasting choice of some delicious soup and local bread, and wondered if our day’s adventure had ended before it had really begun…

The downpour continued and we were forced to add some cake and a second pot of coffee to the mix before we stepped out into a dripping Balemartine. The saddles were sodden but a few minutes of emergency finger-wiping restored them to a usable condition. Ominously, the sky had not brightened, and we wondered if we were wise to leave the relative safety of the cafe.

That sense of leaving ‘for an uncertain destination’ has always seemed to be at the heart of mysticism, too. The familiar is safe, but the dark skies of the unknown landscape can just as easily brighten to the beauty of the beyond, when the possible storm is observed to be a shallow and passing thing. The ‘inner quietness’ of such a spiritual moment was mirrored in our journey as we crested the next hill.

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Before us was a line of beautiful beaches, but that wasn’t what took our eye. Beyond the beaches was what looked like an old military base. We had only a basic map and no idea what the landscape offered, though we knew the island was relatively flat. The little map of the road showed we were travelling into a dead-end, so all we had to do was keep pedalling and we’d get there.

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The traditional Highland longhorn, grazing by the beach. The coat was shorter than I’d seen before. Perhaps they are trimmed for the summer, or maybe there is natural shedding? Assistance gratefully received…

Wild flowers, some of them quite exotic, were abundant by the sea. On the little meadow in front of this beach we even found a few wild orchids.

And then the road came to a fork, with the dark cluster of buildings ahead. We decided to approach by the seaward track, leaving the bikes parked by a wall. We had been told there was no crime on Tiree, so we could leave them as we liked – even without Henrietta to guard.

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The wild beauty of Tiree – with a prophetic glimpse of a dark rock on the horizon

Wonderful things happen when you choose an unusual path to an envisioned goal. In this case the approach we made for ourselves, along the edge of the sea, brought us to a most dramatic vista.

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It was obviously a harbour, with the ability to seal off the flow of the tide so that some kind of vessel could be maintained. The sea was calm on our day, but we could envisage how violent it might be in the depths of winter. But what had been its purpose?

The ‘dark village’, apparently constructed of the same stone, and at the same time, as the dock, seemed quite deserted, yet was, or had been, very important in Tiree’s past. What was this ‘ghost town’ on our tiny island?

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We climbed up onto its walls to get a glimpse of the whole complex of buildings from this perspective.

The answer would teach us as much about the city from which our flight had begun, only three hours prior, as the island of Tiree, itself… Despite the ever-threatening weather, it was becoming a very magical day.

Because we had entered from the sea, we still had no idea what the dark village was, nor why it had ever justified such a grand and robust harbour.

The answer was a glimpse into Scotland’s proud history and a revelation of something quite astonishing in its scale and importance. It was also a lesson in how we take for granted the ‘giants on whose shoulders we stand’ as Newton said.

Bell

 

To be continued…

Previous posts in this series:

Part One,

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.

Here and now

The problem with living in a downstairs flat is that there is no upstairs. This may sound obvious, but when you have lived in a house almost all your life, with an upstairs, you tend to forget. Many times I have grabbed my camera to head for the upstairs windows, only to realise that the couple who life up there might, possibly, object to me barging in unannounced every sunset and dawn.

My home is on a roughly east-west axis. Just sufficiently ‘off’ to mean that in summer, I can watch the sun rise from my pillow without needing to move. In winter I see the dawn through the garden doors that are, inevitably, already open for the dog.

Sunsets are a bit more problematic. The curve of the houses in my street and the rooftops opposite my kitchen window block most of my view. I get only the spreading colours as the light fades… which is where the upstairs would have come in handy. A little more height and I could see so much.

Yet, as I stood on the doorstep tonight, watching vivid pink and gold soften the sky, I realised how lucky I am to be able to watch the day begin and end, in glowing colours or beneath a pall of roiling clouds,  every single day. City dwellers seldom see much of the skyline and, when work takes me early into town, I miss the dawn as it hides behind the rooftops.

It may be natural to wish for things that are seen, but just out of reach or it may be the way we are conditioned by our society from the earliest age to aspire to ‘something more’. ‘The grass is always greener’ and all that…  But all that happens is that in looking beyond what is to what could be, we shift our focus away from the moment in which we stand and fail to appreciate what it offers. Not only that, but we create dissatisfaction for ourselves, a pressure for change for the sake of change and the stress of always chasing an illusive and elusive ‘something’ that we hope will be better than what we have. How often do we truly look at what we have in gratitude, not with some indefinable yearning?

Does it really matter that I see ‘only’ a sky suffused with colour and not the whole sunset? I could change that… a walk to the fields would give me an unobscured view, but it would take time and effort… a commitment and an active choice. Wishing alone will not get me from here to there… but I need do nothing at all to be here and now.

Every day is different, every dawn and dusk offers new wonders… and it does not matter at all where I am or where I stand. It matters only that I look up and see it as it happens.

Behind the times…

Louis XIV, by Bernini. Image: Louis le Grand

 

“Verily, verily, do I say unto thee,

Be wary of those who write your history.”

….so wrote Stuart a little while ago. Reading it, you might be forgiven for thinking of politicians, biased historians or religious bodies. I came across something even more insidious the other day, though… television. Not just any television either… this was a programme under the aegis of the BBC, once the most respected of institutions.

We all know…or I hope we all know… that Hollywood has always taken gross cinematic liberties with history, chopping, changing and reshaping it, just as they do with books, in order to produce something that gives a vague interpretation of events. This is Hollywood after all… Tinseltown… La La Land…the visual fantasy factory of the world. It rarely produces historical accuracy, that is not its brief. It produces entertainment and the definition of that mission is ‘to provide amusement or enjoyment’. Even the best and most accurate films deviate from reality… how could it be otherwise when a literary masterwork or a lifetime or two has to be squashed into ninety minutes?

The BBC, on the other hand, has built a long reputation as a source of educational and informative programming. It provides entertainment too, but we have acquired a habit of trusting it does its homework on its history.

Now, I do not have television. I have a television, but it is connected only to the player that was a gift from my son. I do not miss TV, but when I am unwell and cannot retire to bed because the dog still needs walking, feeding and access to the garden, I can happily relax with a film. I mention this to explain why I was ignorant of what I was about to see, for I had also acquired, by pressing one of those ‘find out more’ buttons, a free trial of an online viewing service. Scrolling through what was on offer, the title ‘Versailles‘ caught my eye. ‘Oh‘, thinks I, never having heard of the series and being, apparently, very much behind the times, ‘that might be good…

I lived in France for many years. I know a fair bit of French history, I know the palace of Versailles… the period and its people are fascinating for many reasons. I settled down to watch… and I was shocked.

It was not the inclusion of sex and violence, for they without a doubt reflect certain aspects of life at Louis’ court. Not that I think we need either representing quite so graphically on mainstream TV. I was more shocked by a reported statement from a producer that modern TV series’ should have a scene of sex or violence every fifteen minutes. Is this really what we require? Or it is that we have become so numb that we barely notice.

Pornography is widely available on the internet already. Gratuitous gore is so much a part of ‘entertainment’ these days that we barely flinch any more, and ever more shocking examples are placed before us to get our attention. That is a problem in itself and I wonder how close we now are to the scenario played out in the 1987 film ‘Running Man‘. The film portrays a totalitarian state where all artistic and cultural expression is  censored and the populace are controlled via the media feeding them increasing levels of sex and violence in ‘reality TV’ shows.

If that really is what we require, then we are a society in the final throes of decay… comparable to the Romans with their bloodthirsty arenas and ever more outlandishly staged contests designed solely to sate the appetite for blood and vicarious ‘thrills’.

What shocked me just as much was how far the producers of the film had rewritten history. It is one thing to set fictional characters against a backdrop of history… that is a staple of both fictional literature and film-making… but to twist facts to misrepresent historical figures, that is another matter altogether.

The series, I am told, runs through several seasons, presenting historical fiction mixed with historical fact as if it were one and the same. There seems to be no disclaimer that states it to be a fictional interpretation and viewers without prior knowledge will be learning ‘history’ from the script and assuming it to be true.

This worries me.

We can probably all discern that the sex and violence are only shown for shock value and the ratings. But how many could or would pick apart the fact from the fiction? We will just accept there is an element of dramatic licence, without questioning where it begins and ends, yet we still unconsciously absorb ‘facts’ that are fed to us via the imagination and in the safety of our own homes. That, I believe, affects how we view and trust things, the fact that we are within our own safe walls. Yet that is exactly where most media reach us.

There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.
~Louis XIV

One of the tenets of the Silent Eye is to accept nothing and question everything. We encourage our Companions to take responsibility for their lives, thoughts and beliefs rather than simply accepting what they are told. In this age of bombardment by visual and aural information, I believe that developing a conscious attitude of discernment, the ability to exercise informed choice, and taking responsibility for those choices, is more important than ever.

We live in an age where both information and misinformation are as widely available as opinion. We have access to the thoughts, stories and histories of the world seen from many different perspectives. For the first time in human history, we have the ability to really think for ourselves in an informed manner, not follow blindly where our lords and masters may lead, either physically or intellectually. Do we not owe it to ourselves, and perhaps to those who have walked this earth before us, to choose a path of growth rather than the slippery slope to anaesthetised decay?

The future is ours to shape. Our future… personally and globally. Call me old-fashioned, but I would rather make an informed choice of the road I take than be led blindly by the nose… or a TV screen.

Eldest

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

“Just how old are you?”
Although youth has long died,
“As young as the moment,”
My body replied.
“If I want to play out
In the sun, or climb trees,
Run laughing through dewdrops,
…I’ll do as I please.
I have a few wrinkles,
My hair’s going grey…
Inside I’m a child
And I still need to play.”

“Just how old are you then?”
My body asked mind,
“As old as conception,
Just think and you’ll find
I’ve been here all along,
In your cells and your brain,
Learning forever and seeking to gain
From experience, wisdom
That I can impart…
But perhaps we should ask
Just how old is the heart?”

“Just how old are you?”
Said the heart, “Here’s the deal…
I’m living two lives,
One to beat, one to feel.”
To the body, heart answered,
“My beating is yours.”
To the mind it replied,
“When you feel…

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Bright in the dark: endeavour and the lighthouse

SE Lighthouse from sea gates4AA

The tiny airport was a refreshing change to the madness of modern flying, with its scarring signature of  ‘security’. You could imagine a kindly local lady rushing out and saying, “Hamish the Russian terrorist is on holiday today, so I’m just going to wave you through, dearies…”

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The Royal Mail man fixes the engine prior to takeoff… probably.

There was, though, little distance to wave us through. Tiree is one of a pair of Scottish islands in this westernmost part of the Inner Hebrides – the other being Coll. Tiree is just twelve miles long and three across, and is relatively flat. It is renowned for its simple life, friendly people and beautiful beaches.

The main building of the airport comprises just three rooms: an arrivals/departures main space which doubles as the baggage arrival hall; an office for the staff and a departures lounge. Outside, a man in a transit van waited for our small party with four hybrid mountain bikes – part of the package trip and a great way (we hoped) to see the island in a day.

Our plane – an HS Twin Otter, sat on the tarmac outside the terminal, ready to take the six or so passengers who were now walking across the apron to climb its pull-down steps. An hour later, in the mirror of our inbound flight, they would be in Glasgow, having covered a distance that, on previous Scottish holidays, had taken us about ten hours by road and ferry.

The whole day-trip was a combined Christmas/birthday present from two long-standing friends who have drawn up their ‘bucket-list’, and asked us to share this part of it with them. We were delighted to be there. The four of us are happy with the idea of such an adventure, though the other couple have explored far-flung parts of the world with a fearlessness what we do not possess.

When you write blogs regularly you need inspiration. One of the most productive and creative methods I know to be inspired is to take a current theme to a new landscape and see what comes from the place. The trip to Tiree seemed ideal for this.

On the flight, as the green highlands, lakes and seaways drifted by far below, I emptied my mind to allow the ingress of the most ‘topical’ comments made, recently, by our Companions – those who take the three-year journey of spiritual self-discovery with us via our mentored correspondence course.

The answer that arose in my consciousness was an unlikely one: the topics of intrinsic perfection in the ‘world’ we experience and the idea within this of right action. It was unlikely because the simple landscape of Tiree was likely to be just that – simple and lacking in sophistication, though that was not expected to detract from its appeal.

The idea of perfection, in this context, is that the world is not as we initially see it, but ‘clouded over’ by lenses of the personality. Only by self-knowledge of how our daily ‘self’ has ‘hardened’ around a set of foundational reactions to life can we approach the cleaning of these lenses. When we do, we begin to see powerful changes in our lives – in fact, the world seems to change, whereas what is really happening is that we are seeing the truth for (possibly) the first time since early childhood – but with the gift of adult discrimination.

The idea of intrinsic perfection is that the above journey to great personal truth illustrates that the ordinary world does not ‘see’ what is before it. As we develop our ‘seeing’, we come to know it differently. Taken to the limit we perceive that what we experience when we don’t react in a habitual way is increasingly perfect, since it is driving the personal evolution of so many incarnated souls…

The idea can produce a lively debate, as you can imagine, so it is generally reserved for the third year of our three-year guided journey, where it forms one of nine ways of considering ‘objective reality’ – that which simply is – beyond personal opinion.

Leaving Tiree’s tiny but wonderful airport, we collected the bikes, turned left towards the island’s circular coastal road and, within five minutes, found ourselves at the main junction and beside a lovely beach.

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As the photo of Bernie (above) shows, the weather was worsening, with a stiff breeze coming off the sea. With some trepidation, we began to pedal away from the relative familiarity of the airport’s grounds and into the darkening unknown.

The small plane that had brought us to Tiree did not have provision for refreshments – the co-pilot came out of the cabin and read out the safety notice before we took off, then returned to help the captain fly the plane! By the time we encountered the beach road, we had all decided that an early cup of coffee with a comprehensive look at the map would be very welcome – as well as giving us a potential place of shelter in the event of a downpour.

Our opening few miles were quite difficult. The wind off the sea was brisk, to say the least. This was in stark contrast to the weather we had left in Cumbria, which, for once, had been warm and sunny!

One of our group hadn’t ridden a bike for many years and needed a settling-in period, which was duly provided. They quickly recovered cycling skills that few really forget and, despite the constant stream of cars from the ferry port – indicating the arrival of the other form of transport to the island – we made our way, with increasing smiles, to the tiny village of Balemartine, where the map said, there was one of the island’s cafes.

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Belmartine under a lowering sky

We had initially missed the cafe. Only the signpost alerted us to our error and we doubled back to find it just opening, which was just as well as the heavens opened and we fell into its welcoming and well-staffed embrace. I was last in, as I wanted to check the bikes were not intruding on the parking space. And then Henrietta, was we came to know her, joined us to guard the cycles. She stayed nearby for the whole time we were in there.

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Henrietta offers a free bike-guarding service… it’s best to accept

To be continued…

Steve Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye school of Consciousness. His personal blog is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©Copyright Stephen Tanham, text and pictures. Re-use with permission.

Naked earth

Looking at the map of prehistoric sites in Wales after our recent trip, where there are just so many to see, I wondered just how long it would take to visit them all. Derbyshire is the same. In fact, most of Britain is the same once you get outside the cities…

except the place where I live.  There is not a stone circle, dolmen or standing stone for miles. Granted, we have our fair share of historical landscapes and plenty of holy wells, but other than a handful of barrows and the odd hillfort, trackway and chalk carving of debatable age, there is not much to see of the prehistoric landscape.

What is found tends to be unearthed during the archaeological investigations made prior to building work… and subsequently re-interred where only future archaeologists will ever see it.

I was enormously excited to read of a massive prehistoric burial complex on the edge of Bicester, just fifteen miles from my home. Archaeologists investigated  134 trenches and found archaeological remains in 41 of them, including a Bronze Age axe head, an Iron Age settlement and hearth, plus later Roman and Saxon remains. If that wasn’t enough, the site was declared of national importance when the burials were found to be around 5,500 years old! The building developers had been slammed with an exclusion zone around the remains so that they would not be lost or damaged. The plans had to be altered… perfect. I was all ready to grab my camera and go!

Until I read further. The remains are now perfectly safe…and buried beneath a primary school playing field, with no trace of them showing above the surface…

It is undeniably frustrating. When our adventures were drawing such inspiration from the oldest churches, my area was the perfect environment for our forays. Very many ancient churches remain here, often no more than a mile or two apart. It has always been a relatively wealthy area and the churches have been well preserved. Wall paintings and carvings have survived, stained glass windows survive from medieval times… symbolism drips from the walls and we had a field day exploring their bounty.

It is not a tick-box affair, visiting these sites. When we visit a site we stay long enough to get a good feel for the place. It is almost always a first visit, not an only one. We tend to go back, sometimes very many times, and each time we look at the site with a different perspective born of an increasing familiarity and intimacy with its earth and stone. We had done the same with the churches, learning our way around them, little by little, missing much to begin with… until we learned what to look for. The same methods we use now in an older landscape.

On the odd occasion when we visit a place too far away to have any guarantee of being able to get back there once we have left the area, we take our time. Frequently, we return before we move on and, as at Bryn Celli Dhu last winter, the stones seem to respond, knowing the limitations of time and our desire to understand.

But what we learned edged us further and further back in time, into a more ancient landscape where the temples were roofed with stars. Following the trail, we were drawn into the ancestral past and began to learn how to work with the sites and stones of the old ones.

And I now live in an area where there are none.

I am working on that particular problem.

But, it occurred to me, driving home through the darkness with a full moon above, that before there were those sacred sites of worked stone and wood, we could go back even further, to a time when the sacrality of the earth itself led our ancestors both out onto the high places and deep into the caverns that are the womb of the earth. Only recently had Stuart and I felt the ‘invitation’ to go below ground seeking these sacred places.  I had even suggested, just a few days earlier, that we needed to visit the site of some of Britain’s only surviving cave art dating back thirteen thousand years.

I flicked on the laptop to watch videos of the incredible paintings at Lascaux and Chauvet caves. The creatures of Lascaux were painted over seventeen thousand years ago, deep underground. They include a bird-man, thought to be a shamanic figure, and quite obviously both the paintings and the making of them held some kind of ritual significance that can only be called sacredness. The Chauvet caves date back thirty three thousand years…and they are so beautiful that even the video made me weep.

They put our five- or six-thousand year old remains in perspective, just as they had done for the thousand year old churches.

In one of those moments of lucidity, when what you have always known, what you have even spoken of with others, becomes so crystal clear that you kick yourself for blind imbecility, I understood… finally… that mankind’s concept of sacredness goes back even further than Chauvet. Not just because to reach that level of sophistication in art, they would have had to have been learning their skills for generations… even before that.

The dates on the earliest art made by humans keeps being pushed back ever further and art in itself is an attempt to capture something magical.

Yet, before ever paint was made from ochre and charcoal, the first Venus figurine shaped from clay or the first etchings made on bone. Before anyone spoke what was in their hearts, one human being looked upon the land and felt its life to be sacred, even though there were not yet words for what he felt.

Whatever temples we have built since then, from the mounds of earth to the pyramids, from the forests of stones to the starry roofed churches, we have echoed the forms of that very first sacred place… the earth.

It matters not at all that there are no prehistoric marvels near my home. I was born in a sacred space and my body will never know any other. All I have to do is step out of my back door and I am standing in a place as old as time and older than Man.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: The hidden valley

Tiny roads, miles from nowhere and barely wide enough for a car, wound between hills and hedgerows before finally opening out into the valley. And there, we became a traffic jam. The road was occupied by a horse that had evidently let itself out of its home and wandered down the lane to see the youngsters. Mare or stallion, it was impossible to tell from the last car, but the impression was that the king had come to see his subjects. When we arrived on the scene, all the foals were at the fence, nuzzling their visitor and prancing with excitement. It was, you could tell, a real ‘moment’ for them… and a lovely sight to see. It took me a while to even think of getting the camera as we watched and waited, not wishing to spook the horse.

“Before the gods that made the gods…” A few words of an old poem kept running through my mind… it was completely inappropriate. This was not a white horse, let alone the White Horse. It was Wales, not England…and King Alfred had never set foot here to my knowledge. On top of that, it was the solar symbolism of horses that long predated Alfred’s Christianity, that I was feeling as I watched the horse regally greet the foals. There was something majestic in his mien, and, with the emerald and blue of the mountains around him, there was no doubting his sovereignty.

“Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.”

“For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgement day.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

Passing glimpses of church towers and villages lost in the trees, significant stones and possible burial sites… we were kept well occupied until we arrived at a  bridge over a crystal clear stream. The stream is the Afon Dwyfor which rises in the mountains that enclose the valley. Its name means ‘big holy river’ and, watching it sparkle in purity, you need no other explanation of its name. It is so clear that the depth is hard to gauge unless a small fish swims by and casts a shadow on the gravel, yet in places, it is easily deep enough for swimming… and had I been alone, there is nothing that would have kept me out of there.

Instead, we gathered beneath the trees of the riverbank for our final readings, before setting out into the morning heat to walk at least part of the valley. It is an incredibly beautiful place and we were grateful to our companion for sharing it with us, allowing us to get out into the mountains, albeit on an easy path.

We had the morning pretty much to ourselves apart from the birds and sheep. They are obviously used to walkers, so showed no more than mild curiosity and reasonable caution as we passed. The sheer scale of the valley is impossible to capture with a standard camera, but it is equally impossible to ignore as the hills tower around you. An American friend once spoke to us about Yosemite National Park, telling us how the landscape was too vast for the human mind to encompass. The British landscape, old and hoary as it is, is smaller… ‘human sized’ and intimate enough that we can feel the vastness as it lifts the heart and mind towards the infinite. Geologists call the ancient landmass that formed this part of Wales ‘Avalonia’. It is certainly a magical place.

We followed the sheep, passing the occasional cottage or farmhouse, past tumbling cascades and wildflowers, deep into the heart of the valley. The silence is complete. The sounds of nature that break the quiet serve only to bring the unheard silence into greater relief. And relief it is. We do not, I think, realise, how noise-assailed most of us are, most of the time and how much unconscious stress that causes.

But as we walked, mechanical sound found us once more with the whirring of a distant generator drowned by the baa-ing of a thousand sheep. It is shearing time and the flocks which normally roam the hills have been gathered into  a closed field.  Even though nothing worse than the shearing shed awaited them, their distress was palpable as they crowded together at the edges of the field.

We turned back at the shearing shed, although there was another corner ahead, another mountain, another vista… There always is. There was still a fair walk back to the river and the noon sun was sweltering. For all their panic, the removal of the dense wool must provide the sheep with a certain amount of satisfaction in summer.

The official Silent Eye weekend was over… though we all still had a long way to go to get home and there were still places we intended to visit along the way. Hot and sticky, the thought of the isolated, mountain-cold river drew me onwards. If everyone else was leaving… it was tempting. But by the time we arrived, several families had taken up position with radios and deck-chairs, we had arrived and were leaving at the perfect time. Bidding our friends farewell, we took a final look at the mountains.

“Do we know where we are?”

“We do not…”

“Do we know where we are going?”

“No…”

“Cool!”

With thanks to Steve and Barbara, and to our companions, for sharing a wonderful weekend.

This was the end of the official Silent Eye weekend, but not the end of our adventures or the places we were to visit, which I will continue to share on my personal blog.

 

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Stations of the sun

We were up and away early again, this time well supplied with munchables on which to break our fast. We may have missed the dawn, but we still caught the echoes of its gilding on the mountains. We wanted to take a look at a stone circle we had noticed at the end of the road, catching a meagre glimpse of the stones as we had driven back to the hotel Even from such a brief encounter, you could tell it was not a ‘real’ stone circle, but a modern reconstruction. However, in Wales, these are still a significant part of the culture.

This one, just outside Tremadog, was built for the National Eisteddfod when it visited the area in 1987. The Eisteddfod is a traditional festival: a celebration and competition of music and poetry. It is held under the auspices of the Archdruid and the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain. ‘Gorsedd’ comes from the Welsh, meaning ‘throne’ and Eisteddfod comes from the Welsh words for ‘sit’ and ‘be’. Circles are often constructed as memorials of these important events and are completed a year in advance so that the Archdruid may proclaim the themes and details for the coming year.  The stones are still placed with ritual care. The Archdruid will stand upon the Logan Stone. To the east and facing him, will be the Stone of the Covenant, that station of the Herald Bard. Behind this are the Portal Stones and of these, the one to the right of the entrance to the circle is aligned with  the midsummer sunrise, while the stone to the left is aligned with the midwinter sunrise. Whilst they lack the powerful presence of the ancient circles, there is still something about these places that mark the stations of the year.

As for us, we had a more mundane station awaiting us. We were still way too early, though, and wandered back to Borth y Gest on a fruitless search for coffee before heading for Porthmadog. By this time, the mist had cleared on yet another splendid morning and we watched the swans in the harbour perform their morning ablutions as we waited.

One white vessel caught my eye for its name. Branwen was the sister of Brân the Blessed, he whose severed head had entertained and informed his companions for so long on the mound at Harlech, before being taken to the White Hill to protect the land. They were children of a marriage between the dark house of Llyr and the ‘Bran’ means ‘raven’ and ‘wen’ means ‘white’, ‘blessed’ or ‘fair’.  I have a personal interest in the name since ‘Wen Weston’ came into being as ‘Don’s‘ partner in The Initiate and the ancient tales have run alongside the adventures of Don and Wen.

It occurred to me that, as the raven and the swan are both traditional psychopomps, as Morgana had illustrated during the Feathered Seer weekend…and as we had unconsciously cast them for one of the rituals… then perhaps the ‘white raven’ refers to the swan. It would certainly fit with the tales of the brother and sister from the Mabinogion. I wondered about the significance of that in symbolic terms too, Brân and Branwen were children of a marriage between the Houses of Dôn and Llŷr, light and shadow. Dôn was the mother goddess, while Llŷr was associated with the sea…two states of being. Death, the realm of the psychopomp, could also be said to be the point where two states of being meet, like a wave upon the shore…

But it was not the time for such musings. We were meeting our companions to take the first of the mountain trains up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The station in Porthmadog has been beautifully restored and the trains bring back many childhood memories.The views from the tracks are spectacular, by all accounts and the old slate-mining town sits within the heart of Snowdonia…

… except that, when everyone had arrived and the timetable had been checked, we found that we would either have too little or too much time to spend at the terminus. Fifteen minutes was never going to be enough and the alternative would have made everyone far too late for the long drive home. Alternatives were discussed, but the question was settled when one of our companions said that he would like to share a very special place with us. It was not far away and would be well worth the drive….

The drive alone was ‘worth it’… passing through some incredibly beautiful places as we headed towards Cwm Pennant, a hidden valley often cited as one of the most beautiful in Wales…

An Eye full of Reflections (7 of 7)

Amidst the seemingly pristine field of stones, the old oak tree usually went unnoticed…

Like this group of happy but somewhat weary pilgrims, newly entered via the gate at the top of the narrow, fern-lined path, most visitors stood in amazed silence at the large oval of twin-chambered stonework in front of them, conscious of the oak within the oval of stones but seeing it as out of place and not part of the sacred grove where the revered ones had met… and some had died.

The act of dying-in-place had pervaded the ground so deeply that the oak as seed, some thousands of rounds later, had felt the guiding presence in its infancy; urging it to grow strong and be the most it could be, reaching for the sky and creating a four-dimensional picture of time-meeting-life.

The Oak watched, speeding up its vertically-flowing heart to synchronise with theirs, seeing something unusual, something lacking in triviality in the tired but intent expressions. The act would have cost it dearly, but the nearing of the Fullness filled the sky with energy, and it, like them, fed from the gold-flecked deep blue, above.

Those with the knowing in their eyes sometimes came at the Fullness. Not understanding, perhaps–but seeking to, at least. Few looked at the Oak. Most were captured by the pureness of the field of stones with the twin nipples.

So many stones? said their thoughts. Why were they not taken away for the making of dwellings? Another: What a perfect oval... then the Oak would place into their minds the picture of the great oval of the above, with all the great children, laughing with the evening breeze in its hissing leaves and showing them the wonderful ‘accident’ that time had wrought in a place that should no longer look like this… as though it had been protected, thus.

Which it had, of course. On a hillside which contained the fresh and lovely minds of the schoolchildren and the church a minister who was strangely sympathetic; and whose neighbouring roads included one named Bro Arthur.

As though it had been protected…

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 63

The Oak pulled its climbing life back from the outer edges of the canopy and reached back into the pilgrims’ afternoon. They were spread around its base, but not seeing it, taking their photographs. The Oak read their own history of the afternoon. The salty moisture still on their sandy ankles, their heads alive with snippets of wisdom, their eyes full of sun… solstice sun, Sun of the Fullness.

The Oak liked them, it decided. They knew it not, but revered the place. That was enough. The Oak, the alive one, would always help those that loved the place, its home. They that loved the stones always helped it to protect them, like the children and the minister and the great names etched into the landscape.

The Watcher Oak whispered its name to the one who had first seen the aberrations of the light, now avidly trying to capture their images in his machine… and smiling, as she, his companion had done, moments before.

There were two others, two who stood back and studied the joy of the group. Two with a sense of almost mischief in their eyes, delighting in the wonderful feeling of discovery that always greeted those who came here near the Fullness. The Oak, the Watcher Oak whispered to them, the hissing of summer leaves, the story of the great oval in the sky and the small oval of the pristine stones with the twin chambers, below.

One of the two began pacing the oval, while the other watched. With delight, the Watcher Oak read their intent, sending the inner breeze to clear their minds of doubt. Yes, the leaves hissed, that will do wonderfully…

And so it was that the two asked the rest to align themselves in the North, at a place where the radial from the centre of the oval projected. They were greeted, in turn, by the woman of the North, who spoke softly of their journey around the oval to the south, the reflection of her radial, then bade them make pace it in silence and in reverence.

Around the small oval, below – and around the great oval, above – they walked, individually, slowly and with reverence. He – the other, the man of the South, the place of the sun’s Fullness – stepped from the Watcher Oak’s shadows to intersect each one, bidding them hold the beauty and the energy of the Fullness and take it into the darkness of the West – and the greater darkness of the North. Oval meeting great tilting oval, life in its roundness recognised and honoured.

They had come with a phrase in their heads: Authority. The Watcher Oak took it and replaced it with another: Inclusion in Life; then the rustling leaves kissed them farewell, for now.

But it did not loose its eye on the thread of their immediate lives. Drawing from the golden energy above it, followed their moves as they returned, sated, to their temporary dwellings, and later, replete and happy, as the sun set on the mellow waters.

The rose. At the limits of its perception into space-time, the Watcher Oak smiled as the morning’s plans were changed and one – the memory man – took them on a journey to the landscape of his childhood, within the glory of a green, tree-lined valley named Pennant.

There, they sat and carried out the last of their readings, by a river that was crystal clear and full of the blue sky.

The Watcher Oak strained to follow them into the valley, losing contact at the bend in the road where the sheep were herded for shearing; the woman of the great heart weeping for their fear.


And then the long curve to the next part of the valley took them from its golden sight. The Watcher Oak could follow no more. Just before the seeing was lost it passed their keeping to a child oak growing on the side of the valley.

With distant leaves hissing, it held them, briefly, one last time. Then, they were gone…

Across the miles, it gathered its strength, returning to the guardian task for which it had been born, rejoicing in its inclusion in the glory of outer life on this new and most beautiful day.

In the returning Fullness it was embraced and loved. Its roots reached deep into the ground… and it was good… In the ancient place the Watcher Oak watched.

——- End ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,

Part Four,

Part Five

Part Six

©Stephen Tanham

All right reserved, text and pictures.