Why not?

Above Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

One of the joys of working with the Silent Eye is the people you get to meet. Not all of them are part of the School; most follow their own Paths, which, though they may run in the same general direction, can take vastly different routes on the journey. None is inherently ‘better’ than another; it is always the Path that speaks to the heart that is right for any seeker. Being able to share and learn from our individual experiences on that Path makes the journey richer and fosters a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

Every year, the Silent Eye runs four workshop weekends. While the correspondence course and the personal journeys of our students are at the heart of the way the Silent Eye works, the workshops allow us to take a different approach and explore new ideas in new ways. They also allow us meet face to face with people… not just students and Companions of the School, but with those who share our interests, from widely different angles, but who may have no intention at all of joining the School.


Three of our workshops are run in the landscape, exploring ancient, sacred and interesting sites. These can be anything from stone circles to castles, beaches to churches, modern landscapes to ancient henges. These are informal weekends and generally fun. We currently charge a minimal fee for the whole weekend workshop.

But why should anyone come along, just to do ‘tourist stuff’?

We do the groundwork before the event. We travel to the sites to investigate access, parking, places to eat and, most importantly, routes to obscure places you might not even know exist… and that allows us to cover a lot of local ground during a single weekend.

There is always a unifying theme; while we explore the sites, we explore too the ideas, psychological and spiritual concepts they suggest and illustrate, inviting discussion.

Nine Stones Close, Derbyshire

We not only have a love of the ancient sites, but we have amassed a store of knowledge about them too, having explored around five hundred prehistoric sites and medieval churches in the past five years alone.

We do the research… so you will not only visit an ancient site, and get a little of its history, but will learn the folklore and legends attached to it too.

We do not simply visit the sites, we work with them too. You may experience a guided meditation on a beach, a divination in a wood, a spiritual exercise in a churchyard or a simple ritual in a stone circle. None of these are tied to any particular spiritual Path or discipline… just to the human journey.

And, perhaps most importantly, these weekends also, as one of our attendees put it, provide “a safe space in which to talk” about things that, for many people, cannot be discussed anywhere else. Those who come along may have different views, but all share an open mind and heart.

The annual April workshop is a little different.

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

The residential weekend takes place in the Derbyshire Peak District, at the Nightingale Centre, which provides full board and accommodation. The gardens, local countryside and the old inn next door provide a place to relax too.

Each year we choose a theme that encapsulates a spiritual idea… then spend months writing the workbook for the workshop. The workbook sets out a story, presented as ritual drama in the tradition of the ancient Mystery Schools, and written as a script. Each attendee takes a part… no-one needs to be able to act or learn lines, as it is not designed as a play and there is no audience; only the other attendees.

These scripts are either based upon an ancient text, or are written especially for the workshop. The Leaf and Flame workshop, for example, took us back to Arthur’s Court and the tale of the Green Knight, while The Feathered Seer brought in the stories of local stone circles. River of the Sun took us to ancient Egypt to see a priest made and a Pharaoh take power.

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

There are presentations from experienced speakers, guided meditations, an optional dawn ritual on the hillside and a chance to see the inner workings of a modern Mystery School…as well as having fun and meeting like-minded people from across the UK and as far away as the US. We do not insist upon costumes, but most people seem to enjoy bringing the period to life, and we have had some colourful workshops, in everything from Egyptian robes to Elizabethan dress.

To give people a good idea of what we do, we have not only published some of the workbooks, but we invite attendees to add their own comments and publish their personal experiences on the Silent Eye’s website. You can find you exactly what happens when you attend your first workshop by clicking here or read an account by Running Elk of the first time he came to a Silent Eye event.  You can also visit the gallery to see pictures of a few of our events.

Sumerian art

This year we will ‘go back’ five thousand years to Sumeria and the time of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, basing the story upon the oldest epic poem in the world. The tale explores spiritual and psychological principles that we meet in our everyday lives and , like all our workshops, leaves us with a greater understanding of who we are and how we can live our lives to the fullest.

There are still places available for April… and always places for the landscape workshops. Why not come along and join us for the weekend?

Lord of the Deep
26-28 April, 2019

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Click HERE for full details, prices and booking form

For all upcoming events, please visit our EVENTS page.


Being Here…

Sphinx and pyramid Overlay Blog masterAA

We were lined up against a stone wall – a very old stone wall. Forty ‘mystical pilgrims’ stood in the intense humidity of the entrance chamber to the Great Pyramid, dressed in simple robes; robes that had been used earlier in the day for a ritual baptism in the ancient inland waters of Lake Moeris.

Lake Moeris is linked to the water-based initiations of the ancient priests of Egypt – as were many of the temples along the Nile. Water washes – the outer symbolism is obvious; the inner one not so much. Mystically, to ‘come alive’ in the present – which is the goal of true mysticism, we have to ‘die’ to our present state. The cares, the fixations, the emotional reactions, all of the baggage that we cling to because it defines our ‘self’ has to be let go of in a some special way.

A taste of Being is the result – if those carrying out the initiation are good at their job. Water is also an ancient symbol for truth, and contrasts with Stone, which is lower, fixed or literal truth; and wine, which is the highest form of truth.

Initiation has always provided a portal to that deeper understanding. It is method particularly suited to the western mind – a mind so proud of the intellect (and rightly so) but so ignorant of the ‘easy depths’ of the spiritual touch. We like stories; most civilisations do. Myths and legends form the backbone of what is passed down to future generations. ‘Giants’ may be real giants or they may be heroes ‘giant in being’. It depends on the context – and so much gets borrowed and re-written by those whose eyes have not been opened to another way of seeing things.

Back to the wall filled with robed mystical pilgrims. It was 2005, a frightening twelve years ago. We were at the end of a two-week trip aimed at the spiritual discovery of Egypt. I was a field officer in another organisation, one of two I greatly admire to this day. My website bio is here, for anyone who wants to look deeper.

Our journey had begun far in the south of Egypt, near Aswan. We followed the mighty Nile on a lovely boat that took us as far as Luxor, stopping at the major temples on the way. We were delighted to relax by the Red Sea for two nights, then flew to Cairo. Two days later, having seen the sights, we were granted the rare privilege of being permitted night-time access to the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. We were to have our own symbolic initiation, carried out by the head of the organisation – who had flown to Egypt, specially, to do this…

I should have known, then… should have read the importance of that action.

The constraint was that we had only one hour to carry this out, so every minute counted. Pressed up against that wall, I was given a lighted torch to carry and placed at the head of a group of fellow pilgrims. Our sandals slapped on the old stone as we marched down the main access tunnel to locate the narrow ascending passageway, then the steep ascent of the Grand Gallery – a huge space in its own right that links the upper chambers of the pyramid to the main access tunnel and the passage down to the so-called Queen’s Chamber.

At the end of the Grand Gallery lies a short passage that leads to the doorway into the Kings Chamber. We stopped in front of it for a short mediation; and to catch our breath. The Guardian of the threshold stepped aside, and the party entered this most special of places…

It is at this point that you get a feeling of where you are: on the edge of Cairo, in the Nile’s northern delta, located at an interior point about half way up the enormous mass of the Great Pyramid.

The King’s Chamber is a huge room, but plain. Very little is known of how it might once have looked. The air is hot and humid. I would imagine those with any breathing issues are advised not to enter. Two shafts run tangentially to the exterior walls of the pyramid, so there is fresh air of sorts; but it’s not plentiful. There is no stepping outside. This is it: the highest and most purposeful place in the ancient stone structure.

Apart from the forty pilgrims the only other decoration is the large granite sarcophagus at the far end of the chamber. This is damaged in one corner, but still functional. The head of our organisation was standing next to it. I will never forget his words – indeed, they are the reason for this short piece – because they were the most important thing I learned that day, and they could have been said anywhere…

“Do not question your readiness or worthiness to be here. The act of being here is the verification that your soul is ready for what this moment contains…”

The simplest of sentiments, yet one that conveys an entirely different way of looking at the world. It took me a decade to understand the depths of what he had said; but whenever I encounter another kiss of the wonderful now, I go back to that moment and thank him… and the ‘fates’ that led me to have that revelation in that very special place.

Author’s note: we were not allowed cameras inside the Great Pyramid, so the montage above comprises one of my exterior photographs of it plus another of the interior of the temple at Abu Simbel.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.




The Feathered Seer – Part 1 (or “whatever happened to The River of the Sun?”) by Running Elk

Sunlight on the River
(copyright 123rf.com)

…we may have to go back a little before we can begin. Say two years? All the way back to the River of the Sun in 2015, and the long-awaited “next post”, often promised but always failing to materialise. I suppose the key to its desire for immediate attention, under the (apparently) unrelated title of The Feathered Seer, might (just) be gleaned from events arising one Freaky Friday.

But of course, you don’t know how yet: there are pieces of that particular puzzle missing, and some of them won’t necessarily become apparent till The Feathered Seer – Part 3, at which point we might get round to the titular weekend. (I know! The suspense is killing me, too…)

The “River of the Sun” was to be our third Silent Eye (A Modern Mystery School) weekend in as many years. You don’t need to be a member to attend; indeed, the event usually includes such an eclectic mix of different paths and traditions that it becomes much more than the sum of its parts as the weekend unfolds.

It was, with some trepidation, that I read through the assigned part of Amkhren. Yet, no matter how many times you read through a part, it’s not until the Temple is entered and the energy of the other players becomes entwined in the space that the full import of the phrasing, the movement, and intention of the ritual can be appreciated.

Even knowing this, what would transpire in Ritual 5 that weekend was so unexpected, so off-the-scale bat-shit crazy, that there was no way I could have been prepared for it when it came. Possibly, even why the “next post“, this post, has remained aloof and unwilling to see the light of day till now… the order of things appears to be of some significance…

I knew, from the opening of the first ritual, that the weekend was going to be powerful. The opening had Amkhren sitting by the Nile, and, from the first words uttered, I was there: the other players faded into their own space, and only Amkhren and his doting grandmother remained… the waters lapped gently, bejewelled by a million dancing suns… So it continued; the mysterious stranger, the Priestess, the unexpected interruption of a solemn rite of initiation by Rameses and his cohort.

The entire first ritual passed in an instant, and, as in every ritual thereafter, I remained hardly aware of the “real space” in which the Temple resided, or of the people at the periphery of the direct action. The “Vessels of the Gods” were the Gods themselves…

The weekends culminate in Ritual 5, by which time the loose ends of the drama are brought together, the players are wrung out, and the Temple is running on “full“. All just in time for a good re-grounding in the form of Sunday lunch. Despite the intensity of the previous four, I suspected nothing and, lamb-like, entered the Temple for the last time.

Amkhren, aided by the Gods, relates to Rameses “…the story of that great mystery…” as expressed through the symbol of the Enneagram, which lies at the core of the school’s teachings. At the culmination of the story Rameses, moved to spare the boy’s life and to leave the Temple unmolested, calls upon all to bear witness to a Royal ordination of Amkhren as new priest to the Temple.

It is difficult to believe now, as it was then, that this was Rameses’ first time in ritual. With great care and deliberation, he removed his crown in order to retrieve a symbolic gift of initiation from around his own neck. At this point, he might have continued with the ritual. Instead, he took the time to replace his crown, and adjust himself such that Royal order should be maintained. Amkhren, kneeling before him, and the gathered crowd, wait…

Rameses places his hand on the boy’s head; “Let it be known across Egypt…”, a strange vibration was beginning to build; “…that the King-in-Rising has ordained…”, a lightening bolt of rather uncomfortable intensity; “…that there is created today, a new priest in this temple; …”, fire billows, in great waves, around the King; “…that the one known as Amkhren, nurtured to this honour by the Lady Scarab,…”, unbearable building of heat, engulfed and consumed in the flames emanating from, and directed by, the hand of Rameses; “…has been tested beyond the trials of normal process;…”, sweat begins to bead on Amkhren’s forehead; “…and has emerged a higher order of sacred servant.”

Continue reading here

The Light and the Eye of the Cobra – River of the Sun 2015…

Eyes of Cobra Mtge smaller

The water was soft on his skin. He was used to bathing in the river at sunset, but there was something special about today. He looked across at the glittering image of the sun as its reflection folded on the water, bouncing the golden light across the gentle waves at him. A boat had just sailed by and he felt the lapping waves caressing his thighs. It tickled and he giggled to the river.

His reverie was disturbed by the sound of his Grandmother’s voice.”Wash, Amkhren, stop your daydreaming!”

He smiled his cheeky smile back at Snefer, sole guardian to him since the death of his parents many years ago, in the fire that had destroyed their home while they slept. The name, which he had given her, made her smile, though he was too young, yet, to know the kindness behind such tolerance. The name derived from a present from his father, which he still kept. His father had travelled in his own youth – selling his beautifully hand-woven carpets, which he would pile onto his faithful donkey, before leaving for days or even weeks. He always came back with tales of his adventures, and Amkhren’s delight had been to sit, balanced precariously on his knee; and listen . . .

One day, his father had returned with a carved wooden object – a present to his son. He took it from his bedroll and presented it, smiling as he did so. He had carved it out of a block of wood. It was like one of the drawings his father had shown him of the fabulous white pillars that legend said graced the upper parts of the river, just before it spread and flowed into the sea. The wooden carving had a square base, whose four corners rose in two stages, to meet at a single vertical point. The angle of the climbing sides became shallower half way up and this gave the whole things a comic element. His father had said that the place it was located was called Sneferu, and it was known as the bent pillar. The day after that, Amkhren had pointed at his grandmother and said, “Grandma is bent, too! Can we call her Sneferu, like the carving?”. His father had looked at his own mother and smiled in that mischievous way that his young son had inherited. Then he had said, “Well, we don’t want to anger the Gods, so let’s shorten it to Snefer!”

She had sighed, inside, on that day. But now the memory of that time brought back such happiness that old Snefer didn’t mind at all. She looked at the boy, who had finally taken off his loin-cloth and was washing himself. Her heart burned with feeling for him – the sole survivor of a family that had known how to love and to laugh, together. The sight of him always drove away the aches and pains that had begun to afflict her ageing frame . . . and the sad memories.

The sound of footsteps behind her made her whirl in alarm. After that, she could only drop to her knees in the sand.

“High Priestess, forgive me!” She bowed her head to the mud. Before her was one of the most beautiful and stately women she had ever encountered – Neferaset, the woman who led the worship at the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae, across the river a mile or so away. Alongside her brother, Anzety, they were the most powerful of the bright people.

“Do not be frightened, old woman,” said the glowing one, bending down to take the hands in the dust and pull Snefer up to her normal, if bent, standing position. “We are not in the temple, and, if I choose to leave the sanctuary of the island and walk along the river, I am going to meet strangers . . .”

Snefer kept her head bowed. But spoke, “My grandson is bathing in the river. Forgive his rude nakedness.”

Neferaset looked beyond the bowed woman and saw her relative. He was talking to another boy who stood ahead of him in the deeper water.

“And who is that with him?” she asked.

“There is no-one with him, High Priestess . . .”

Neferaset frowned, then moved the sight into place to gain more distance; and blinked her eyes, focusing on the two boys in the shallows. One was plainly visible, his naked form dancing in the water. But he was definitely speaking to another boy – one who stood motionless before him and had a bright but much less distinct outline . . .

Amkhren was delighted with his new friend. As golden as the ripples on the river, he had appeared before him in the beautiful sunset, smiling. He had asked Amkhren’s name, but refused to give his own. Now, the other watched, while Amkhren bathed, as though the act of seeing someone so vividly alive fascinated him. Amkhren was about to press for his name, again, when he heard his grandma calling from the bank.

“Amkhren, put on your garment and come here at once!”

Amkhren, saddened, but obedient, spun back to say goodbye to his friend; but the other boy was gone. He peered deep into the waves in case his friend had swum off, but there was no trace of the other. A second, and sterner call from Snefer dragged him from his searching. Panting, he retrieved his rags and tied them across his wet waistline. Only then did he look up to locate the old woman. She was standing, with her head bowed, next to another woman. This was a day of surprises! He looked harder, narrowing his eyes to carry his vision deeper into the tableau. Then, he stopped walking and his mouth fell open. There on the raised bank, his grandma was talking, though her head was bowed, with the High Priestess of Isis – a woman he had once stolen a look at from the sanctuary of a hastily built log raft, which had floundered shortly thereafter.

The day had been baking hot and Amkhren had walked along the river bank, far from where Snefer had said it was safe for him to travel. He had gradually been extending his exploring, because he knew that the Island of Philae lay somewhere beyond the next twist of the river’s course. On that day, he had caught sight of a temple procession on the sacred isle and had thrown caution to the wind, and trusted his life to a few logs hastily lashed together with the stalks of reeds in the way that his father had shown him, so long ago.

Before the raft had fallen apart, he had caught sight of the winged one, as he thought of her. She had shone in the sun in her finery and splendour. All around her there was total silence, total reverence. Beside her, another of equal stature walked, but this one was a man, tall and purposeful, yet with a hint of gentleness to his bearing.

The reed bindings had given way, the logs parted and, plunging into the river with a cry, he was forced to cling to the largest as it rolled. Gone were the wild thoughts that someday he would find a way to return to Philae to serve them. Choking on the inhaled river water, he clung desperately to the remains of his capsized raft and forced his legs to kick, pushing the log slowly towards the far bank.

Now the Goddess stood before him. Disguised, yes, but it was her . . .

Amkhren took a few more steps and fell to his knees, prostrating himself in the dust.

“I feel I know you, boy?” said the shining one.

“Oh, you couldn’t know us, High Priestess – we are just beggars in your world,” blurted out his grandma, her head still bowed.

Amkhren’s mind raced. Should he tell her of his moment on the raft? Surely it would be to invite death . . . and yet, he didn’t want to miss the only chance that his life might contain to reach for that impossible goal.

“The river has many secrets, High Priestess,” he managed, somewhat proud of his utterance.

“And dreams, perhaps?” the tone of her voice was soft. There was deadliness there, too, but her knives were sheathed.

She knelt down in the dust of the bank and, with gentle hands that yet contained more power than he had ever felt, pulled his head up to stare back at her almond eyes.

“And what does this young man dream of?” she asked, running a painted finger up the side of his jaw…

Land of the Exiles 2014 – a vision of the hillside ritual

A fictionalised account of the hillside rite from the Land of the Exiles workshop 2014, extract taken from Doomsday: Dark Sage.

land of the exiles great hucklow devils rock 001 (27)

The seeing stone is chill against my spine as I wait for the dawn.
Their shades are close this night.
They are Wakeful.
I hear their whispers on the wind as the shift comes and I find them across the ages.

…She paints his eyes, smearing shimmering colour across the lids with gilded fingers. They work in silence in the yellow false-light. Garbed in black, they are not themselves. I feel them, yet something else overlays them, shadowing forth into the world; latent, coming, but not yet…not yet.

He leaves the place where she did not sleep; she looks into the cold surface that hangs like ice upon the wall, seeing other souls not her own. She is many, she is Three. I look through her eyes, as she looks through mine… seer and priestess… and the ‘Other’.

We are the Three that are ‘One’.

Painted eyes stare back, black rimmed. About her neck a heavy collar, she is crowned and winged with gold and power, girdled with stars. She steps back into the shadow of herself, opens her heart and I feel the shift once more, this
time through her. It is time.


…Their world seems strange to me… all sharp angles and smooth walls reflecting light, yet I read it through her, know its ways somehow. It is stranger still on this dawning when they have brought the ancient into the new… She knocks on the wood that hangs in a portal, three times. It is opened by the Green Man, robed in white and veiled, hooded perhaps, I do not know. His eyes show fear and his breath is sharp, ragged as she summons him to his death. Down they walk, he behind she. He is strange to me, this other one. Yet I know him, he too is of the three and power flows between. They enter a closed space, dimly lit with flames in the circle. The other one is there, yet he too is ‘Other’, robed in midnight, tall as the trees and masked… a black beast with golden eyes. They stand silent in the circle… three, six and nine I see, all the levels of their being that wait in abeyance while others come in. Black remains to call them to the rite, one by one. Gold and Green face the morning, walking silent through stone to the hillside starred with swallow-flowers and wet with dew. Higher they climb to the mound that looks out across the valley. Shaped like a tomb, a place of death in life and life in death. Beside them is a tree… and on it a crown of thorns.

She binds him; the black cords of death that tie him to life, the cords of life that tie him to the Mother. In his hands a crystal like the moon and at his feet the crown and the waiting earth. Power flows, around and between, cloaking them in its mists from the eyes of the profane. Eyes lock and she raises her wings, golden in the morning, taking him into her silence.

The Black Jackal, cloaked in night leads them to the rite, a dark snake of figures huddled against the chill of a spring dawn. Their garb is strange, the colours of summer flowers, stark against the green. They walk in silence as the Black One opens the way for them to pass. Higher still until they reach the mound and there they wait, looking up.


He circles, prowling the bounds of the sacred space, marking the circle with his footsteps in the dew, once around, bowing as she turns, revealing the Green Man to the Companions. The Jackal climbs the mound and Black and Gold salute each other, sparking lines of power crackle silently between them, bright white and gold, seen only through a seer’s eyes. They bow to the immobile, verdant form, locked in the lightless stasis of death until his heart is opened. The Black One speaks out “Let the star rise, let the flame leap!” His voice shatters the silence, opening the way on yet another level. The Golden One takes the crystal from the heart of the Green Man, raising it to the Sun, “Ours if the heart is wise, to take… and to keep!” As she speaks the sphere is returned, earth to earth accepted, while the Green Man stands empty.

On each side of him they stand as pillars of light and darkness. Deeper I look and see them night and day, the birthing of the golden sun held in the heart of darkness, the shadow of its death cased in gold. Three that are ‘One’, inextricable, interdependent for their being, and purpose, while overhead the Hawk flies free. One by one they come, called by the staff of the Jackal, close in his shadowed Light, held in his cloak. Softly he whispers to each of their destiny, of the Hawk that waits in their hearts, anointing them with fragrant oil that fills the morning with perfume. The Golden One takes them into her wings and as they pass before the Green Man they are held, poised between Light and Dark as they bow and gaze at the earth-held crystal, into the Heart of the Rose. The Golden Mother blesses them with the warmth of touch on each heart and the promise of life on her lips. From the heart of the Green One she takes a heart, entrusting it to their keeping, a symbol of awakening to Light and Life. Eyes meet eyes, heart meets heart, and life touches Life. Clasping the symbol they move beyond, standing on the other side of death… a true initiation for those who can encompass it. But one remains; the silent sacrifice, bound and immobile in the frozen morning. Black and Gold they turn to him. The Walker between the Worlds anoints his brow and, holding his eyes whispers his journey to the stars, the Mother warms his heart and with her touch come the words of life. He cries out, the Father who is the Son, like a babe’s first breath, wakened from death to the life of the heart.It is done. Golden wings enfold him, shrouding him in Light and one by one they leave the hillside silent, the rite accomplished.

Three remain, silent still, feet wet with dew. Three are quiescent, watching their Selves. The Three remain Other and holding the power for what is to come. Nine that are Three that are One.

… And I, shivering in the rain-damp morning against the Telling Stone, miles and ages apart, I am their witness.

Seeing the sacred

workshop oxford bluebells 129

A recent trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford brought us face to face with history, covering many centuries and many cultures. One of the things that struck me was the quantity of objects that were associated with the sacred. It is perfectly understandable that this should be so as those things that are considered to be sacred, or be representative of the sacred, would doubtless have had a special value, both artistically and emotionally, and would thus have been more likely to be preserved for posterity than a cooking pot or hair comb, for instance and even more so than a simple jewel of mere financial value.

workshop oxford bluebells 188

The details of religious belief have differed widely throughout human history and across the world, but the underlying idea of sacredness in itself is common to all. There is a veneration of something we see as being greater than our human selves, worthy of respect and reverence. For our early ancestors the Earth itself was sacred. Later, gods and goddesses personified aspects of Deity with stories not unlike our own; we could begin to understand the abstract principles behind the Forces that were given such forms and understanding them began to be an intellectual pursuit as much as a question of faith.

workshop oxford bluebells 175

Many of the symbols of these ancient beliefs seem strange to our eyes, yet they are no stranger than, say, a crucifix would look to someone who knew nothing of Christianity. The symbols of religious belief encapsulate stories… and the stories themselves are symbols for a greater reality beyond conscious thought, but which speak to us on a level deeper than emotion. It is as if we have a capacity to understand the message of a symbol, even if we do not know its story. We have an inherent, if basic,  understanding of common symbols. The Horus Hawk speaks to us of soaring flight… the crucifix of suffering… the solar disc of light… and the green gods of fertile life.

workshop oxford bluebells 171

We recognise the sacred from across time and space, even if its symbols are not familiar and not our own. We may couch our understanding of them in terms of our own beliefs and fail to see their depth of meaning… but we recognise them as having been symbols of the sacred once upon a time. Some will reject them utterly, others accord them respect because of the faith they once inspired, but even to reject them as ‘pagan’ is to own their erstwhile sacrality.

workshop oxford bluebells 169

What is perhaps the oldest faith needs no symbols. We have only to look. We live, breathe and have our being within it. The fruitful earth is beneath our feet, the starry canopy of the heavens above us, the great fiery eye wakes every morning and warms the soil and its tears fall as life-giving rain. Our world qualifies as ‘bigger than Man’ and worthy of revernce.

workshop oxford bluebells 166

The sacred nature of our home is all too often overlooked and our modern consumer society treats our planet as a soulless resource upon which it can prey or scavenge without consequence, even though we, as individuals, know that to be untrue. If we render our home unfit for human habitation, it is we who will perish, not our planet. It may take a few thousand years, but Man’s depredations will be erased by the fertile earth when we are no more than a crumbling forgotten memory.

workshop oxford bluebells 161

Our ancestors knew a thing or two worth the knowing. We have only to look at the inner meanings of ancient myths to realise their phenomenal understanding of the human psyche. We have only to study the stellar alignments and geometries of their monuments to see how advanced their practical knowledge may have been without the benefit of our telescopes and computerised instrumentation. Perhaps it would be worth according their belief in the sacredness of the earth a little respect too. We are surrounded by miracles every day. They are not forgotten symbols of ancient faith… they are cherry trees in flower… bluebell woods… a soaring hawk… a loving touch or a laughing child. They are all the small, familiar things that are not gods, not gilded or jewelled… but they are reminders, symbols, of a life greater than our own and worthy of reverence.

workshop oxford bluebells 127

A spiritual ostrich

Isis oil effect sm
The ‘selfie’ that… isn’t

There was an idea that has had me playing around with a digital painting programme. It also got me thinking. So, last night I toyed with an image from the last annual workshop that shows me in the ritual role of Isis. I ran it through on an ‘oil painting’ setting, then added a soft filtered bronze lighting effect over it.

Of course, the resulting image isn’t ‘me’. Not by any stretch of the imagination!

I don’t, more’s the pity, get to wander around in gorgeous robes and high headdresses every day… I’m more a leggings and comfort woman. Nor do I wear heavy Egyptian make-up as a rule. The clothes and draperies change the shape of the face, the state of mind changes the expression and the make-up brush can do strange and wondrous things. Add to that the painting effect that smoothes things out a bit, including…apparently…the nose, a soft focus through which the world seldom sees me and a bit of dramatic coloured lighting … And the results?

Well… if that’s me then I’m an ostrich!

Diana and co north 075Yet, although the image is no more than an illusion, it began as a captured reality… it began with a photo of me; a quick picture taken long before dawn one Sunday morning last April, when the day was almost unborn and hours had been spent in solitary meditation preparing for the day. Even the original snap didn’t look like ‘me’ and yet the woman in the image wore my features, looked out through my eyes… eyes my own hands had gilded and painted with kohl just moments before.

It seems rather strange that in an odd sort of way I have come full circle with this image.

The aim of the ritual workshops that we run is to create an illusion and make it reality, not the other way round like the picture, yet in both cases the results can hold a beauty that was not present before.

The rituals we craft for those who attend our workshops take a spiritual idea and weave it into a story. This tale is then played out within the reality of a sacred space. In many respects it is a bit of ‘sympathetic magic’. In just the same way that the shamans of old painted animals upon the walls of deep caverns to ensure the presence of game on the plains, so we ritualise the human experience and play it out from a spiritual perspective in terms the psyche can understand. The aim is to reach for the emotional and spiritual connection to this deep level of understanding… to seed awareness into consciousness… allowing the surface barriers of logic to be breached.

Diana and co north 028It isn’t mere playacting because the intent is focussed on the spiritual journey shared by the companions. The resulting learning experience can be very powerful and such ritual weekends evoke deeply emotional responses from those who attend… and it is here that the real magic happens. Within each of us; for the ritualised experience shared in the temple space must be taken out into the world and applied to life; it must be lived.

It is not enough to merely attend any spiritual event and think that by our presence we have done enough, any more than it is enough to take up the attitude of prayer before an altar while mentally going over the shopping list. The opening of the self within the temple, where the experience is emotive and touches the roots of being is only part of the story. It is little more than a seed planted in the life of earth.

No matter how deeply we feel those moments, no matter how vivid the experience, it serves no purpose if it is discarded with the robes or left in the dark closet of memory with the script. It is never enough to pay lip service to a spiritual ideal, nor, by simply playing them out in ritual form can they ever change our lives. What is born in the sacred spaces has to be taken out into the world. The inner reality of what we learn there has to be allowed to put out shoots into our own lives, growing up through our own characters and flowering as a personal understanding that changes the way we can be in the world. And that is where the beauty lies.

Otherwise here too we risk being ostriches… or peacocks whose glorious feathers hide little more than a chicken beneath them.

So in some ways perhaps it is fitting that the photo holds more beauty than I will ever see in the mirror of my days; a reminder that when the seeds sown by Working with the School take root, they may, if tended, flower into a beauty unseen by the eye, but known by the heart.

sheffield book weekend 346

Details of Leaf and Flame, the Silent Eye Workshop

in April 2016 can be found here.

Click image for details

First Things First…

‘…Swift and silent as shadows we must be…’
– Gollum

geometries 068a

Figure 1 – One is All…

In Alchemy there are no short cuts.
Many are those who have spent a life-time seeking its treasure in vain.
On the other hand, everything it promises to reveal is freely given at the outset.
One need only attend properly to its stories and dictates to succeed in the quest…
In my native land where I was an orphan there stood a stone statue upon a golden column on which was written:
‘Behold! I am Hermes, he who is three-fold in Wisdom. I once placed marvelous signs openly before all eyes; but now I have veiled them by my wisdom so that none should attain them unless he be a sage like my good self…’
On the breast of the statue one could read:
‘Let him who would learn and know the secrets of creation and of nature look beneath my foot.’
I reflected on what this might mean and started to dig beneath the plinth…
Before long I came to a dark underground chamber in which winds arose and blew without ceasing.
I could go no further.
Exhausted by my toil and full of chagrin at my failure I sat down to rest and immediately fell asleep.
It was then that an old man appeared, resembling myself in build and appearance.
‘Arise and enter into this chamber so as to obtain a representation of nature!’ He said.
‘I cannot,’ I replied, ‘for I can see nothing in the darkness, and the winds that blow there will put out every torch flame.’
‘Then why don’t you put your light into a glass vessel…’ He said.
I immediately awoke, set a light inside a glass, as instructed, and entered the chamber.
There before me sat an Ancient Man on a Golden Throne, holding in his hand an Emerald Tablet on which was written:
‘This is the secret of the world and nature… the knowledge of creation and the cause of all things’…
Could anything be clearer or simultaneously more obscure?
How many Fairy Tales commence with a ‘Native Orphan’ who ends by first recognising and finally realising their ‘High Estate’?
And what should be made of our immobile Stone Figure which stands upon Gold?
He is a God, no less, yet he points not at heaven above but below to the earth.
Or of the Old One who appears in dream as our ‘bodily’ twin?
A simulacrum…
Nature’s representative advises we still the flickering, buffeted flame of our minds eye in order to see…
Deep in the Dark of Earth our enthroned kin who holds…
A Jewel in the Crown…


geometries 069

Figure 2 – ‘Stone of the Wise’

In truth, it is certain and without doubt that whatever is above tends toward that which is below and whatever is below tends toward that which is above for the accomplishment of the One Perfected Thing.
As all things are discovered by one, alone through contemplation so all things are born from this one, alone by permutation: its Father is the Sun, its Mother is the Moon, the Wind bears it in its Belly, the Earth nurtures it in its Heart; Power of all powers it contains the subtle and penetrates the solid and is the progenitor of all wonder in the world yet its efficacy is only perfected through embodiment.
In order that the little world may be re-created in the image of the great world the Spirit must be separated from the Body gradually by the regulated heat of a gentle flame: it rises to heaven from earth and falls back to earth from heaven and thus it acquires the inferior and superior powers for the glory of the whole world and the dissipation of all darkness…
This is the Way of Perfection…
I alone transmit this threefold wisdom which is why I am called The Thrice Raised Hermes.

– The Emerald Tablet

geometries 068

Figure 3 – …All is One

N.B. In Jewish Mysticism a Golem is an inanimate lump of matter given animate form by magical means.

Out of time – a human story

CGI reconstruction of Avebury Henge, from ‘Standing with Stones’, by Rupert Soskin and Michael Bott

In 1939 a sculpture was found in Stadel-Höhle im Hohlenstein. Carved of mammoth ivory, the Löwenmensch, as the lion-headed anthropomorphic sculpture became known, was determined to be some 40,000 years old and is one of the oldest known examples of figurative art in the world. It is surprisingly sophisticated and, at first glance, could easily be mistaken for an artefact of the ancient Egyptian culture some 35,000 years later. The fusion of human and animal would imply a level of thought beyond the mundane… perhaps some magic to ensure a good hunt as the usual explanation would suggest, perhaps a desire to endure the strength of the lion for the hunter… we cannot know. What is clear that already our ancestors were looking at a reality beyond the purely physical realms… reality where such magic was possible, or where perhaps they had the intimation of a divinity behind the forces of nature.

The caves where the figurine was found also yielded other carvings, some thousands of years older still, along with evidence of instrumental music. Hardly what we generally expect from our idea of ‘cave men’. The cave paintings of Lascaux date back some 17,300 years. The swimming reindeer carving from Bruniquel is 13,000 years old. Our ancestors were evolving a more and more complex culture, with an obvious appreciation of art.

The Löwenmensch
The Löwenmensch. Image Wikipedia

Art is a luxury in many ways. It can only be created when there is no desperate struggle for survival. Its very existence at this far off time implies a certain amount of stability and ‘civilisation’. Its vision and complexity implies thought and creativity…and that was flourishing. From the simple napped flints of 50,000 years ago to more complex and purpose-designed tools like fish hooks and needles, the technological advances were spreading widely through cultural groups across Europe, Africa and Asia.

Nine thousand years ago the land mass known as Doggerland still connected Britain to the rest of continental Europe. It is from this time that the earliest traces of human activity have been found at Avebury. It was not until much later still, a mere 4,600 years ago that the great stone circle within its henge was constructed, contemporaneously with the pyramids of Egypt.

It is astonishing that some still look upon the great monument as no more than a stock enclosure or defensive structure. Most, however, look at the wider landscape and see the enormous undertaking as a Temple complex. The circle of Avebury does not stand alone. The Avenues, the Sanctuary and the vast mound of Silbury Hill are all too close to each other to ignore… and that is without the incredible number of round barrows, the beauty of West Kennet and the other long barrows, or the fragmented circles that dot the landscape, many lost over the centuries to farming.

From the caves of Lascaux
From the caves of Lascaux. Image Wikipedia

Merlin’s Mound is a mere six miles away, Marden henge, another huge bank and lost circle, just ten miles southwards, and Stonehenge ten miles south of Marden. It seems inconceivable that the three should not be linked to the same purpose.

My personal opinion, and that of many, is that our ancestors knew more than we give them credit for. If it is acceptable that Egypt could align pyramids with the stars and build fabulous temples, creating a beauty and a body of knowledge that has been preserved through five thousand years, how can we not credit the builders of these circles with as much sophistication?

Much of what we know of Egyptian culture only became accessible after the finding of the Rosetta Stone that allowed the decoding of the hieroglyphs. The builders of the stone circles left us nothing so simple as a written language to decode… they left us stone and earth, art and geometry. Theories spring up daily about intent and purpose, alignments are discovered… and dismissed… from the convincing to the ridiculous. There is a fascination that leads us to question and wonder… and perhaps we will never know the answers.

Perhaps we do not need facts carved in stone to begin to understand these sites, at least at a very human level. Whether or not we can interpret these immense landscapes, we can at least tread them with a shared reverence for the earth. The questions that echo in our own hearts, the search for understanding in our minds may not be so far removed from those behind the building of these temples. Life and death, purpose human and divine, the nature of being itself… I do not think the quest for understanding is exclusively the preserve of our modern society, but a human and global one. For those who walk within the stones of Avebury, as we did for the Mountains of the Sun weekend, there is a sense of connection that does not span time, but transcends it, and snakes, like the stones of the Avenues, across the face of our shared and continuing story.

Avebury, the Avenue. Image S. Vincent
Avebury, the Avenue. Image S. Vincent