Watching

For the past few days there has been a young heron beside the road on the five mile drive to my son’s home. It stands, arrow thin, shadow blue and perfectly still, almost invisible, watching the drainage ditch that runs along the edge of the fields.

No-one appears to notice it as they drive by, focussed as they are, quite rightly, on the fast-moving traffic. I notice a lot of things as I drive. The road is familiar, yet changes daily. For the past few days also there has been a fox, now paper-thin with the passing of lorries, yet its coat is still that burnished copper and its tail, apparently undamaged, waves in a semblance of life as the traffic passes. Yesterday a tiny Muntjac deer hopped under the hedge as I drove out of the lane, right in the centre of the village. Today the kites were flying low, diving over the fields in the wake of the farmer, harried by crows.

solo 0311The trees are heavy with fruit, dark clusters of elder and blackberry, red haws and pale- bloomed sloes. Apples bend the branches over the skeletal seed heads of grasses and the pale stems of hogweed. Yet summer is far from over and the wildflowers are in bloom. A weasel skitters between the cars at the traffic lights.

flying solo 137I’ve watched the fields change from the bright yellows and emerald of spring to the soft green of summer and now the prelude to the gold and russet of autumn is beginning to creep in. Straw is baled, the stubble lies sharp and square in neat rows. The trees have that tinge of colour that precedes the turning, an almost subliminal feel of autumn is in the air, with the unseasonable chill of a rainy summer dawn.

You can feel it in the early morning dew, in the slight dampness of the steering wheel; see it in the light… something about the quality of it… and feel it under the stars. First frost is still far in the future, distant, but you can feel the hint of its approach. The mists have begun.

The year turns, days slide by and time moves forward, almost unnoticed, until you look back and realise how far you have come since the last time you took note. And all those days have slipped away with that quiet inexorability that we fail to see from moment to moment.

snow dog 090Yet there is a beauty to the rhythm of the year as it slides from high summer towards the dark time, holding within each fruit and flower the seed of a spring and summer to come. There is a richness to the dying time that lies hidden, quiet in summer’s heart. Even the changing seasons can be a beacon of more than hope; a confidence in the rightness of the dance of life.

We can look to the dark times and see only the chill, cold land, barren of life, of we can look deeper and see that inner life that waits for the first touch of warmth, ready to unfold and begin the cycle again. Yet where does it begin and end? Is the year born of light or of darkness? Or do both hold the seeds of growth within them?

promise of spring

Healing

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” That has to be one of the most popular quotes from the work of the thirteenth-century Persian poet, Rumi. You see it all over the internet these days and yet, I wonder how often we stop to think about what it might mean. Much may be lost in translation of words that seem both familiar and easily understandable, knowing so little of the mindset, beliefs and culture of the writer, but even taken at face value, such words conjure an image to which we can all relate.

Every life holds its own heartache. We cannot avoid them, no matter how we try. We cannot hide from them, though we can, and often do, try. Yet still they find us. And every heartache, great or small, leaves a wound that remains tender, often prone to infection from further hurts, just as any wound of the flesh. Untended they can fester and even the smallest can bring terrible pain and cause greater damage than the wound itself warranted.

Yet, if we cut ourselves, we do not run from the pain… we deal with the cut first, cleaning it, maybe having it stitched by someone more qualified than we, if it is bad, then we keep it clean and let that cleanliness and the fresh air do their work. There may be a scar, there may not. If there is, most of the time it fades into insignificance and is forgotten.

We do not treat the heart as kindly, though, do we? We often worry at the hurt like dogs with a sore foot, we scratch it and press it to feel how much it pains us, or bite it as we illogically do with a tooth that needs attention. It is almost as if we are afraid that the pain will stop.

I have wondered about that. It is not as if we enjoy the hurting. But maybe we feel a need to cling to it, to keep it alive somehow. Perhaps we have lost someone or something and in allowing the pain to heal we feel as if we are betraying that loss? Maybe the pain is due to fear and in letting go of the fear we fear the unknown territory of being unafraid? The familiar is always more comfortable than the unknown… at least in our own minds.

The danger is that we allow the hurts to define who we become. We sink beneath the murky waters of pain and cease to see clearly, allowing events and our reactions to them to shape who we are and how we see the world. We learn to see ourselves through a veil of hurt and in turn this is the image we expect others to see.

Yet we are not our hurts. The pain can teach, or it can, like a flame, burn away the impurities and leave behind something cleaner and able to move freely. I have a feeling that is its purpose, to allow us to burn for a little while, cleansing the grief and fear, before emerging like a phoenix renewed.

The scars remain as reminders. Nothing is lost or forgotten, but it can be allowed to take its place in the past and be a solid foundation for the future. Perhaps if we are able to allow ourselves to heal, seeing the wounds, as Rumi says, as the places where the Light enters, the pain would find its proper place in our lives as a teacher, not loved, perhaps, but respected and acknowledged for the value of its experience and the healing it can bring.

Considering Heaven and Earth…

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First a formless mass of light,

then the firmament of stars,

then sun and moon,

then sea and land,

then reptiles, and birds,

then beasts, and man,

and then, contemplation…

*

If the ‘candlestick vision’ which opens the Book of Revelation,

is an allusion to the Menorah,

then the central figure of that vision

stands for the earth-sphere and all of those who dwell in that realm.

*

Genesis posits two earthly creation models, the first is based

on the Babylonian planetary scheme which the Hebrews

reformulated as the Elohim and symbolised by the Menorah.

This takes seven days, or one week and occurs in Spring.

*

The second is based on a Canaanite model in which

darkness gradually assimilates light, and takes one day,

or twenty-four hours, and occurs in Autumn.

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There is nothing at all primitive about creation models

which recognise a world established by

days, weeks, seasons, and years, which are natural rythmns,

quite the contrary.

*

The Old Dispensation grants Heaven

to Lucifer and Earth to Adam,

but afer the Fall, Man and Fallen-Angel

vie for ascendancy of the earth-sphere,

until Noah and the Flood when the

earth-sphere is redeemed for all time.

*

The New Dispensation

projects the contention for the earth-sphere

into eternity but substitutes ‘Eve’ for Adam.

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If we detect in the above an over-plus of polarity,

then we might wish to attend to that.

*

A contemplation:

The formless mass of light lasts from 12am to 3am.

The firmament of stars is formed from 3am to 6am.

The sun and moon hold sway from 6am to 9am.

The sea and land emerge between 9am and 12pm.

Reptiles and birds arrive between 12pm and 3pm.

Beasts and man turn up between 3pm and 6pm.

From 6pm until 9pm is a time set aside for contemplation.

*

Which leaves just three hours.

*

Three days is the traditional period of time for transition

from one state of being to another during initiation ceremonies.

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But this leaves no time for sleep?

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The awakened are not asleep.

 

 

 

The mysterious Picts… and beyond

Three questions are asked about the mysterious Picts of the Easter Ross coast of north-east Scotland: Where did they come from? What was the meaning of their wonderful art – miraculously preserved in stone for us to explore, today; and where did they go?

For more than six hundred years, between the 3rd and 9th centuries C.E., the Picts – literally ‘The Painted Ones’, sustained a kingdom running from a southern line between what is now Glasgow and Edinburgh – then known as the Antonine Wall, and the coastline of Easter Ross, north of Inverness in the Highlands.

For centuries, popular history viewed them as ‘half-crazed savages’. But these ‘wild painted men’ fought back the might of Rome’s legions before vanishing from history. They left no written records, but their culture and beliefs are etched into Scotland’s history.

(Above: a tiled mosaic of a Pictish design, outside the Pictish museum, Rosemarkie)

The Picts created intricate and sophisticated designs, which surpassed any other native art in Britain at the time. The subjects of their art varied from animals and mythical beasts to Pagan and Christian symbols; they appear to have easily synthesised the old and the new religions, and made it their own.

(Above: the beautiful beaches of Easter-Ross)

Although there are no written texts, the Picts left behind a wealth of spectacular standing stones, elaborate carvings and intricate sculptures for future generations to discover. We plan to explore several of these – and their stunning landscapes, during our weekend. We will also look at the nature of their art, and, possibly recreate something of our own using the Pictish symbol system.

(Above: Pictish Queen at Portmahomack)

The Easter Ross Pictish trail is has been established by Historic Scotland and offers a spectacular journey through a landscape which has been inhabited since the dawn of civilisation.

“Mysterious and often beautiful, Pictish sculpture presents one of the great puzzles of Dark Age archaeology” (Joanna Close-Brooks 1989) 

The Silent Eye had a series of workshops planned for this year. Due to the Covid-19 situation, these have, so far, been moved to the corresponding months of 2021.

The coming September Workshop: ‘The Pictish Trail’ presents us with an opportunity to resume our celebrated weekends of wandering and learning from the landscape…and each other.

As of the date of writing this, (22 July 2020) The Scottish government rules on travel and groups have been relaxed to a degree that will permit the Pictish Trail workshop to go ahead. Outdoor sites were never a problem. However, as of this week, Historic Scotland are relaxing their restrictions, and an increasing number of indoor locations are being re-opened.

(Above: the ferry across the Cromarty Firth will be one of the features of the weekend)

Administration of the weekend

Inverness will be our base location, due to its facilities, though much of the weekend will be spent on the coast to the north of here. We will convene on the Friday afternoon (or evening) for a visit to the first of the Pictish Stones and a shared meal. If time permits, we can enjoy a walk around the town.

Saturday and Sunday morning will be spent further north, following the official Pictish Trail along the beautiful coast of Easter Ross, and the nearby hills. We will return to Inverness for Saturday evening.

The dates are: Friday 11 September 2020 to Sunday (lunch) 13 September.

Transportation, accommodation and meals are not included in the £75.00 per person fee. Please make your own arrangements for the above, though meals are usually taken as a group, in local pubs, and the costs divided.

Should the event be cancelled due to Covid-19 issues, a full refund of the monies paid to the Silent Eye will be made.

A mainline train service runs to Inverness from Edinburgh. A small number of car places will be available from Inverness from those driving to the event. If you are travelling on foot, please ensure you have checked this availability before your departure.

To confirm your interest, please send an email to rivingtide@gmail.com, attention Steve Tanham

Optional Extension to Orkney

A small group of us are intending to continue on the Sunday northwards to Orkney, via car and passenger ferry from Scrabster – Thurso’s port. We will sail to Stromness, returning to the mainland on the morning of the 17th September. As of the time of writing, some of the previously closed centres of interest are being re-opened to limited number of visitors. Orkney sites such as the wonderful Ring of Brodgar, have continued to be available during the Covid restrictions. Further updates will be given to anyone interested in joining this. Orkney is beautiful, spiritual and unique. This is rare chance to combine two events and visit it.

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Tobias and the Angel: A dog called Toby…

Domingos Sequeira – Tobias heals the blindness of his father

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…  If Tobias walks a recognised Pilgrimage route when carrying out his Father’s instructions it would certainly go some way to explaining the presence of the two other Archangels in some of the paintings even though there is no mention of them in the story.

Tobias’ destination is just given as a ‘far distant land’ in the version we have but it,

maybe, cannot be too far distant if Tobit is related to the family Tobias stays with, which he is.

Curiously, all the angels look decidely feminine.

Michael could at a push be described as Androgenous,

Raphael and Gabriel are definitely Gyandros.

Gabriel’s ‘lily’ is orthodox…

Raphael’s ‘vial’ presumably holds eye ‘salve’ for Tobit…

The fish by this stage is purely symbolic…

But what of Michael’s golden apple?

An allusion to the Garden of the Hesperides, guarded by the many-headed dragon.

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https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Francesco_Botticini_-_I_tre_Arcangeli_e_Tobias.jpg

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Ninevah and ‘large fish’ appear to be related and that is what originally excited us.

We were following the Johannine link, Jonah swallowed by the ‘Whale of God’ et al.

‘Make straight the way of the Lord!’

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And the dog?

The dog in some of the depictions seems almost transparent.

Like a Phantom Dog!

Whatever, we shall call him Toby for he has to do with threes,

and is the right provenance and time,

and tradition for the link with the theatrical puppet-play to be sustained.

We were quite right about the word play on that one, all those years ago.

‘To be or not to be…’

*

It may even be that our Guardian Angel is three-fold.

*

Threes, in this tale certainly play their part.

Not least in the age of Tobit when he dies,

but I am not altogether sure whether a fish actually posseses

the attributed organs, which in itself maybe suggestive,

but if Sara ‘gets’ the ‘heart’ and Tobit gets the ‘gall’, who gets the ‘liver’?

*

The dog!

*

Whether or not ‘Toby’ gets the liver, he always gets the sausages…

Normality

“Normality is a paved road: it is comfortable to walk on, but no flowers grow on it.”
Vincent Van Gogh

There are certain things we learn in order to live as part of a society that has, at least, the potential to live in harmony. There are orderly patterns that make up our lives, dictated by everything from our natural biology and emotions, to societal pressures and the necessities of survival. To live a normal life is to adhere to those patterns.

Yet, it is seldom those who do so who achieve greatness in any field. It is the rule-breakers, the mavericks, the innovators; it is those who use the imagination to create… it is those ordinary people who end up living extraordinary lives who change the world and the way we see it.

Some actively pursue fame and fortune, bringing all their drive to bear upon the task in hand. Others find a different path leads them away from the security of their own normality and they may find themselves blinking in an unexpected spotlight. For most of us though, ‘normality’ is the path we tread.

Or is it?

How many of us fit the accepted mould of ‘normality’ and what is it anyway? The outer life may have a steady job, marriage, car, dog and… 2.4 children. That ‘.4’ has never struck me as ‘normal’ in any way… average, perhaps, but not what you would call normal. How is slightly less than half a child ‘normal’? The mind boggles…

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 102

But what about the inner life? Do you dream? Do you imagine? Do you wish and shape and change your world with every passing thought? Do you look at the stars and wonder? Imagination knows no bounds and creates its own normality… which may be far from the mundane outer world in which many of us must live. And a far cry from some arbitrary normality which refers more to a mathematical average. We are none of us ‘normal’… we are unique.

Those who break free of the accepted norm of the workaday world may find a rocky path ahead, with steep ascents, potholes, uneven surfaces and many twists and turns… but away from the concrete and asphalt is where the wildflowers grow and where wonder awaits over every horizon.

The road that carries us through the realms of necessity can be hard, straight and narrow. That is only part of our lives and we are free to break every limit within the realms of mind… and sometimes imagination spills flowers in our path.

heather 2015 derbyshire, higger tor, beeley circle, edensor, bak 089

Tobias and the Angel: Grateful Dead…

William-Adolphe Bouguerea

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… If a story is canonical in one tradition and uncanonical in another

it immediately raises two questions.

What makes it ‘canonical’ for one tradition?

What makes it ‘uncanonical’ for the other?

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In this case it might have been supposed that it would have been more likely

to be canonical for the Hebrews, considering its age and subject matter?

Not so!

*

Many years ago when I and a fellow writer, and friend,

first became aware of Apocryphal Bible stories,

we got very excited about this tale when we heard about it,

especially in view of the fish connection.

We immediately procured a copy of said Apocrypha,

at no little expense, and looked at this story first,

fully expecting to be accosted with highly significant arcane knowledge.

But drew a blank!

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And now?

Well now, I strongly suspect that there is highly significant arcane knowledge within it.

The trouble with arcane knowledge; it is very difficult,

if not impossible, to transmit in mundane terms.

An attempt, though, has to be at least made…

*

Perhaps the first clue to the importance of this story

is to realise that it is a Grateful Dead tale…

*

Before Tobit sends his son, Tobias, on the ‘errand’ there is a long introduction to the tale which establishes Tobit in, for wont of a better term, ‘righteousness’. He lives in Ninevah, a place which does not recognise his religion, and yet he continues to practice that religion despite persecution from the ‘local authorities’. As part of this practice he comes across a dead man who has been flung out into the street and his body left to rot. Tobit, an old man, single handedly buries the body and performs the funeral rites of his religion but then falls asleep by the side of the grave in exhaustion. As he sleeps, sparrows fly over him and their droppings land in his eyes so that when he wakes up, he is blind.

*

…At this stage it does not appear that the ‘dead’ were overly ‘grateful’.

But all good things come to those who wait.

It is at this point in the tale that Tobit, now having lost his sight,

and the means to a livelihood, decides to send out his son

on an errand to bring in what he is owed.

*

Now, although, ‘errand’ is an interesting enough term

for Tobias’ journey, in and of itself,

what if we were to deem it a ‘pilgrimage’, instead? …

*

Tobias and the Angel, Davide Ghirlandaio (David Bigordi) (Italian, Florence 1452–1525 Florence), Tempera and gold on wood

David Ghirlandaio  circ. 1479

Another country…

« Qu’il est loin mon pays, qu’il est loin… »

Claude Nougaro

“…and Claude Nougaro,” said my boss, brandishing the baguette. Her husband nodded. The three of us were at the dinner table, lingering over the cheese as usual. My employers had asked how I was managing, living in France. I had been there a couple of months, arriving with no more than schoolgirl French and was getting along quite well. I had made friends of many nationalities in Paris, shopped, dined and travelled in French and was fast learning the difference between the stiff formality of the language I had been taught in school and the laid-back colloquial version as spoken by Parisiens. I was even getting to grips with the local ‘argot’… those slang terms which, if they are in the dictionary at all, are used in an entirely different way from that suggested by their definition.

One thing I could not do, though, was grasp song lyrics. If I could read the words as I listened to music , I had no problem, but plucking the words from the music? I had no chance.

The French like music and my employers were passionate listeners. From jazz through pop to the classics, music was very much a part of our lives. I learned a huge amount from them about areas of music I had barely touched upon before and I had the use of their enormous and eclectic collection of vinyl and cassettes. But I struggled to understand anything with words. Music felt, quite suddenly, as though it was a world to which I had no key. I would see eyes filling with tears or sharing a glance sparkling with laughter at the lyrics of a song… and have no idea why. I knew this other world was there, just waiting for to be explored… but to ears unused to the nuances of its expression, understanding seemed as impossible to reach as the Otherworld.

I explained this to my employers and they came up with a list of singers I should explore. It started with artists whose diction was clear, but soon became a lesson in the music and poetry dear to the national heart… laying out before me yet another world, another layer of reality.

So I started listening, really paying attention, catching phrases here and there. Sometimes, although I could mimic the sounds, it would take a while for the words to separate out enough for me to recognise them… and sometimes they were words not yet in my vocabulary.

And then, one day, I was doing the housework and not thinking about the music at all. I realised, quite suddenly, that I had been singing along to the tape that was playing. It stopped me in my tracks. Not only did I understand the lyrics, but I also grasped the layers of meaning implied by them, could see the way the writer had played with the words, understand the symbolic landscape painted by the song. When had that happened? After that, there was no stopping me. I eventually married a French musician, wrote songs with him and my reality became a world of music.

It was driving home from work yesterday that took me back. I was singing along to an album by Claude Nougaro and, although it is now more than thirty years since I was last in France, neither the language nor the lyrics have left me. Some doors, once opened and stepped through, never close.

It occurred to me that the same leap of understanding happens in many areas of life. We struggle to grasp a new concept, a new and pertinent language… without which we do not even have the most basic chance of the proverbial lightbulb moment. And then, very often at a moment when we are neither concentrating nor struggling to ‘get there’, the light comes on. It is as if some unconscious process has synthesised all the random bits of information we have gathered, all the groundwork we have done, all the hints and intimations… and, deciding that the sum is greater than its parts, assembles a whole from the fragments, filling in the spaces between scraps of knowledge with intuitive understanding.

It is the same when you study the Mysteries. Those moments of utter illumination that come out of the blue and with no prior, conscious knowledge do happen, but they are rare indeed. There is a theory that such moments come from unlocking the memories of previous lifetimes, from the unconscious mind that pays more attention to life than the surface mind, or even that something is  passed down at a cellular level as part of the genetic memory.

For most of us, though, such clarity of vision comes only after putting the foundations in place. We study, meditate and learn, accumulating knowledge about ourselves and the path we have chosen until we come to a fork in the road. For some, it is that accumulation of knowledge that matters the most and they may go on to become lore-keepers, hoarding or making knowledge available to posterity, adding to its store for others.

Many, though, will take a step onto an unknown path, and, like the Fool of the Tarot, carrying unseen treasures in his knapsack, will walk towards a new landscape in trust. That journey is very much like setting out into a foreign land, where the ‘vocabulary’ of reality is different. And, although knowledge is necessary as a starting point, it is understanding… that unteachable knowledge of the heart… that leads to those moments of clarity when the doors of perception are opened.  And those doors, once opened, never close.

Tobias and the Angel…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1e/Francesco_Botticini_-_I_tre_Arcangeli_e_Tobias.jpg

(Francesco Botticini)

*

The story of Tobias is told in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament.

The book of Tobit is part of the Catholic Old Testament but is considered apocryphal by Protestants and does not form part of the Jewish canon.

It is an ancient writing and Aramaic and Hebrew fragments of the tale where found in Cave IV in Qumran in 1955.

*

Tobias was the only child of a blind, holy man, named Tobit, and his wife, Anna.

Tobit sent his young son Tobias on an errand to a distant land to collect monies that were owed to him.

As he started on his journey Tobias was met by the angel, Raphael, disguised as a man named, Azarias.

Tobias and the angel started on their way accompanied by Tobias’ dog…

They stopped the first night by the River Tigris and as Tobias went to wash his feet a monstrous fish came up and tried to devour him.

Tobias wrestled with the fish and managed to haul it out onto the dry land.

The angel told Tobias to cut out the heart, gall and liver of the fish and preserve them.

Tobias and the angel arrived at the house of a kinsman named Raguel who had a daughter named Sara, his only child.

Sara had been married seven times and all seven husbands had been killed by the demon of lust, Asmodeus, before any of the marriages were consummated.

The angel Raphael told Tobias that he should marry Sara.

On their wedding night Raphael instructed Tobias to place the heart of the fish over the hot coals of the fire which he did.

The smoke from the fish drove the demon away.

Raphael followed in pursuit of the fleeing demon, and upon catching him, bound him…

Tobias and Sara, along with Tobias’ dog, returned to Tobit and Anna.

Tobias anointed his father’s eyes with the gall of the fish and Tobit’s sight was restored.

Tobit and Tobias discussed what wages to give Azarias.

When Tobit and Tobais approached Azarias to tell him that they wanted to give him half of all they possessed Azarias revealed himself as the angel, Raphael, and explained that he had been sent to help because Tobit was such a holy man.

Tobit lived to one hundred and two years.

After his death, Tobias and Sara and their seven sons returned to the house of Sara’s parents.

“Tobias and the Angel” was a popular theme in art from the early Renaissance.

In paintings from this time, Tobias is generally depicted carrying a fish and accompanied by his small dog and the angel, Raphael.

This depiction gradually developed into the image of the “Guardian Angel”.

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Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio. Tobias and the Angel. 33x26cm. 1470-75. NG London.jpg

(Andrea del Verocchio’s workshop)