Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Black Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

 

 

©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.

The Cycle of Life

The approach of the autumn always makes me reflect on the nature of life; in particular the way the mysterious essence of life takes form and shape, ‘living’ for a while, then giving up its life and surrendering the elements of that form back to the earth from which it arose.

We all feel the poignancy of life’s seasons, but it’s useful to align ourselves with the processes of the autumn and reflect more deeply on the ‘life lessons’ that nature lays before us… quite literally.

Soon, I will walk in my muddy boots, through crisp and cracking leaves; leaves that, a few short months ago, glowed with the mysterious and magical green of the spring. These days, I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with their fate, as the inevitable process of attrition by the wind, rain…and my walking boots, crushes them into smaller and smaller particles of their former selves, ready for the chemical dissolution that will complete their natural recycling.

But is it just the leaves that are recycled in this way–or something else? The form is a container for the indefinable ‘aliveness’ of what is inside it: its essence. We never actually see this essence, but we feel it – and it glows with the joy of being alive within that spring green which heralds the return of collective outward life. This capacity to feel what we cannot see is an important part of being human – and is really another sense.

Spiritually, we can learn from each season. We can also use our feelings to see a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The four seasons offer us the following parts of this whole:

In spring, we feel the freshness, the new light, the change of colours, the return of milder weather. We also feel a surge of new energy as the Earth extends itself – through nature – into all the inherited forms of life. Like the leaves, each of these forms is unique; no two of them are exactly the same and yet each follows a type. The type is inherited through nature’s coding of evolution, and makes us what we are – physically.

The spring contains joy, a fundamental characteristic of being. In the spring it is made manifest.

The summer that follows is a time of fulfilment. The promise of the spring is carried to fruition beneath the calm, blue and golden skies above us. There is a feeling of completeness, a deep sense of inner rightness. The fruits of nature’s beauty are there for us to consume, so that we, in turn, partake of the bounty of fullness. In summer, we have that feeling of going outwards into the world.

The autumn is a time for reflection. Winter is around the corner but not yet with us. It is a time for gathering-in; preparing our selves – and those who depend upon us – for the harshness ahead. Our feeling of openness is replaced with the poignancy of knowledge of what lies ahead and a saying goodbye to the forms of things which have shared the spring and summer with us, such as the leaves falling from the mighty and enduring trees. Winds begin to pick up, again, completing the process of outer reduction, and the shaking free of the old.

But the autumn is also a time of harvest. We ‘plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground’ as the harvest hymn goes. Animals scatter the seeds of life for the natural world, ensuring life’s best chance for continuation away from the ‘tree’ from which they fell.

Finally, winter ‘reaps’ that which is no longer fit to contain the invisible life. But the strong things remain. The starkness of the outlines of bare trees dominate the natural landscape… but we cease to see them after a while. Trees are wonderful structures. Ouspensky described them as ‘living four-dimensional patterns’ because they show all the stages of their personal evolution.

We each have a winter tree inside us. It is the pattern of logical and emotional learning in our minds. Like a physical tree it shows us the forking and branching that our life’s journey has taken. It is a friend, an inner book; and we can learn much from its contemplation.

Nature’s key processes in the winter are beneath the ground – within the roots of organic life. They cannot be seen or felt, except by contemplation of the innermost purpose, while the bare structures of the trees above endure the cold, rain, ice and snow.

There will come a time to lay down that personal tree – to offer it and our life’s history to the greater cycle of life. We will have reached a different point of completion in this winter journey, and what we really are – invisible and ineffable – will return to the state from which it can begin a new life, restored, recharged and refreshed. Our small tree of experience will merge with the universe’s story, adding a tiny but important contribution that truly belonged to us, but which now may be read by all life.

©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.

Half-seeing

Image: ©️Stephen Tanham

The spiritual teacher and philosopher Krishnamurti once wrote:

‘Recognition dulls the mind’.

When I first read it, years ago, I disagreed with his proposition. Surely, I reasoned, the act of recognition is a result of intelligence? We learn to recognise something as an act of shortening the ‘path-length’ of the brain’s logic, as it wrestles to categorise the seen thing.

Take a lighted candle, for example. We might enter a darkened room and have our attention drawn by one. At that stage we might only perceive a diffuse and gentle light coming from a height which is not the floor – but we recognise that ‘container’ of something of interest, even if we don’t have a name for it…

If we have further interest in the object, we might stay with our container and notice that the source of the light is a tall, white stick. The light source appears to be dancing upon it, as though it were alive. The light is not uniform in shape; what initially looked like a sphere of light is revealed as an oval with radiant ‘rays’ of light streaking from it and into our eyes. A voice may caution us that this streaking effect is a subjective illusion; but, in reality, everything in that narrowing-down sequence is an illusion.

This lightning-fast process is recognition. It’s purpose is to show us the familiar, so that we may be ready to use the object. It’s also vital to the ‘animal’ side of us to recognise that which may hurt us, so, after recognition, we can be prepared to be defensive.

We can, if we train our perception, see the stages above. If we do this, repeatedly, the act of detailed observation of something we think we know can open us up to new riches.

This is what Krishnamurti was talking about. He went on to say that the mind is a treasure-house of richness, dulled by the layers of containers that we wrap around perception in order to know and use its usefulness.

We cannot really know what the object is. Its dissection takes place in our minds. We first evaluate what type of object or effect we are looking at, then we look for detail. Finally, we look for purpose. When we have all of these, we ascribe knowledge to what we are looking at. Our primary purpose is to make it useful. We might have been searching for that lighted candle and are now in a position to put it to good use.

Or…

Or we might have deliberately set a candle in that darkened room so that we could ‘sneak up on it’ – determined to see it differently. Nothing would have changed, and yet everything would have changed. We wouldn’t be interfering with what was really ‘out there’. But we would be open to changes in the richness with which it is perceived… and if we let that flow, it might alter the out-there/in-here position?

Such a deliberate act of consciousness would have been rightly called magical in days gone by. Perhaps we could do with a bit of magic in our world today?

Perhaps this is why good art captivates us? We know it has no ‘usefulness’ other than to capture our eyes, then our minds and, sometimes, our hearts. That very thought should show us where in perception the higher octaves lie. The fact that we separate ‘things’ at all, rather than seeing them all as continuous shows us an important facet of human consciousness. But a deeper discussion of this should be the subject of a further piece.

Our candle offers no threat. It’s light, streaking into our eyes, has always been symbolic of a much deeper act of recognition.

©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.

Only a Horse and a Sword

We become habitual in our thinking. It’s a good idea (and fun) to play little games with our mind to help us look at things differently.

One of these is to look at things in a ‘zero-sum’ way: that is, to consider life as a vast journey of ‘bought and sold’: acquisition, usage and disposal…

Saladin, (Salah ad-Din) the legendary first Sultan of the combined lands of Egypt and Syria, and scourge of the western Crusaders, is recorded as having given away most of his belongings before his death.

At the end, his only possessions were his horse and a sword.

But that’s ‘just’ end-of-life, stuff. How about if we lived our lives such that everything we ‘took in’ to our lives had to be used, valued and then disposed of in a positive way as we went along?

What might this include? Well, our possessions of every kind would have to be acquired alongside the sentiment: ‘I want this, but I will ensure that others benefit from it, too…’. Then, when the thing ceased to be of use to us, we would look for others to whom it would be useful.

Not too much to ask, or too onerous?

Our home would be open to others, as long as they honoured its ‘foundations’. Those would include a certain attitude to looking after it and respecting its conventions. Our family – something not acquired in the same way, but given to us – would need to be considered, too. At the end of our days, how would our balance sheet look? Did we leave others ‘richer’ than we found them? Did our presence bring some joy, along the way. There are always struggles with family, which is often the most difficult ‘school’ of our lives, but, overall, did we try?

Our careers would be an important part of this, too. We work in increasingly ‘compressive’ environments, where we are expected to conform to behaviours that are not native to our higher natures. How do we manage this? There may be few choices – externally. But we can always project an inner air of integrity, even if what is around us is ruthless, uncaring or downright cruel.

Examining our lives across these broader timescales will bring us back to much shorter ones. One consideration will be that we will look for things that we did not earn in any way, short of being present. Our food and other means of sustenance is a vital part of our lives. The ‘Maslow’ approach to this was that we cannot hope to lead a higher personal life until our basic needs have been fulfilled; and we should be examining others’ lives on this basis, too, before we judge them.

On an even smaller scale, how about breathing? We take in air whose creation and preparation has nothing to do with our own effort. At this smallest scale, we are literally given life every few seconds. There is no bill at the end of this most basic of meals.

In such situations, perhaps we can think of it as a debt. We owe…

And, maybe that sense of owing would begin to renew both our ‘selves’ and the planet, replacing the viciousness of entitlement so prevalent among those who ‘rule’ us. It seems that, as the world’s wealth comes to belong to fewer and fewer people, civilisation goes back in time to a more feudal basis. It’s a frightening thought that our ‘democracies’ have become so feeble that even the most educated feel powerless to stop the erosion of what were – not so long ago- shared values.

But we are not the first to live in troubled times. It may be that they are there to teach us to act responsibly and collectively. Unless we can do so, we are powerless to change things.

We may conclude that, as an individual, we can do nothing to change the politics of our ‘world’; in which case we live in an age where only our personal behaviour can make a difference: good examples of light in darkness can catch the spirit of the times and become visible flames.

Saladin was a great warrior and is said to have been a fair and just ruler. He had a vast kingdom and ended the power of the Crusading forces.

Our true kingdom is our lives, not how much we possess. Will we be able to look back on our lives from our single horse, and kiss the keen blade of thoughts and feeling that brought us through? And then will we have the grace to leave both behind, in a final act of giving, before surrendering our physical existence to the drifting sands beneath our feet…

©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.

‘Aye’ of the Unicorn…

Stuart France

Image result for Alchemical unicorn

*

With almost prescient clarity

we commenced our summer workshop in a graveyard!

*

Except, not quite, for before we entered the graveyard,

we stood by the swiftly flowing waters of the river Spey

and entered into a guided meditation.

*

The Unicorn of Spirit

sailed down the Spey

disembarked from its boat,

and invited us all astride its back

for a tour of the elements…

*

Somewhat unsurprisingly then,

our first pentagram was that of Spirit,

which could be called the ‘parent’ of the elements.

*

Have the bodies buried in the earth,

hereabouts, had their constituent parts

returned to spirit?

*

One might well hope so!

*

In Macbeth, the Bard uses the three witches

to represent the spiritual realm.

*

As with a lot of things he wrote

this is simultaneously;

a joke,

a reflection of characterised psychology,

and can also allude to something far deeper…

*

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Harlequin Solstice

Harlequin Solstice

St John Kin

A picture in the fading sun

A race of fingers, digits

Of Solstice long earned

Short departed

How little

How sadly

You are understood

Your music the struggle

Of madness

Made harmony

Until this moment

When kings detach your strings

When single song

Descends

Towards the dark arms

But brighter eyes

Of St Stephen

©Stephen Tanham

Wayland: Silver-Smith of Souls…

*

There are a number of intriguing aspects to the legend of Wayland Smithy…

The earliest written sources appear late and are decidedly piecemeal.

*

Wayland is the son of a God, Giant, or King of the Otherworld.

He is schooled in metallurgy by Dwarves, whom, in skill, he quickly surpasses.

He lives, hunts, and works alone in a region associated with wolves and bears.

One day he comes upon a swan-maiden bathing skin-less.

He finds her skin, appropriates it, and she lives with him for nine years.

At the end of which time she discovers her hidden skin and flies away.

*

Wayland is then taken captive by the King of Sweden,

maimed to prevent escape and set to work on an island…

Wayland surreptitiously kills the king’s sons, turns their skulls into goblets

and presents them to the king and queen.

Their teeth he turns into a brooch for the king’s daughter.

The king’s daughter has a ring of Wayland’s, stolen from him by her father,

and when it breaks she asks him to mend it.

Wayland inebriates the king’s daughter and fathers a son on her.

*

At this point, in the tale, Wayland’s swan-wife returns,

with a swan-skin for him and they fly away,

to the Blessed-Isles of Britain, together…

*

 

 

Priest of the Sun…

Cadbury Castle

*

‘…Reality is now shimmering in the heat as the air sparkles and I remember that King Arthur sleeps beneath the hill of Camelot like a child in a giant’s womb… ready to wake in the hour of need…

I plunge into the earth in search of a cool cavern, yet my feet stand on the sunlit grass as the Knight who is a Priest approaches.

I pull the furs about me against the chill, standing spear-straight in the winter sun…

He may not pass.

The Temple is mine….

Hers…

 He may not pass without answer…

Behind me a crescent of acolytes, await, with bowl and stone, oil and wine…

I hold up my hand, and he meets my eyes…

“Whither goest thou, Priest of the Sun?”

“I go hence into the Lowlands for the people are in need.”

“What is that need?”

“The need is Love…”

“And what will you give for the passage?”

“I will give my heart’s blood to the land.”

He offers his left hand.

A priestess steps to my side, holding the bowl and the razor-sharp shard of blue flint.

He is silent, save for a sharp intake of breath as the thick flesh at the base of his thumb yields to my ‘stone-blade’.

Blood, red as the holly crown I wear, wells into my bowl.

With blood and oil, I mark him, the sign of passage paid.

I lift the cup to his lips…wine steeped herbs that open the inner sight…bitter… part of the price…

He drinks, his eyes holding mine like a serpent…I like his strength… he is no fool, this one…he knows the true price of vision…

Passing the cup to the maiden I take his hand and lead him into the dark womb of the temple…’

to-be-continued…