The day was already old by the time the ferry from Ullapool had docked at Stornaway. We had been warned that shops were few and far between on the Hebridean island of Lewis and advised to take advantage of the supermarkets in the capital.
The no-sunday trading laws imposed by the ‘Wee Free’ Presbyterian church were in force across the island, and we were unlikely to find exceptions, so stocking up the provisions was a really good idea – tired though we all were.
Finally equipped with a large box of groceries, we set off, somewhat weary, for the Uig peninsula, all the way across the width of the island. The route seemed straightforward, and didn’t look that far on the map. What we didn’t know was that most of the island’s roads were single-track, with passing places.
Fortunately, the main route east to west was a normal, two-lane highway, but it turned out this only took us half-way to our destination. Coming to the end of the major road, we were faced with single-track and having to use the stopping places to let oncoming cars pass us. The locals are used to this kind of driving, and are well able to judge the road, ahead. They were also very fair with ‘who was there first’. It took a few days for us to get the hang of it. Once you do, you can make much faster progress using this ‘protocol’ from the past.
The sheer ’emptiness’ of the island makes an immediate impact. The landscape is unchanging and composed of low hills, winding lochs and innumerable outcrops of white rock. The view across to the west showed a line of large mountains – presumable the last land before America. It was to take us several days before we had any sense of geography – or even orientation. There is no such thing as a straight line, here. The land is marked out by the need to follow the lochs, most of which end in the open sea, but take a convoluted route there.
Eventually, we arrived in Uig – a peninsula on the north-western shore of Lewis famed for its beaches. It had been a long journey from Poolewe, via Ullapool and the ferry, and we were ready to make a quick supper and turn in.
It was then we noticed how light it was. Despite being nearly ten at night, the sky looked as bright as an afternoon. The two dogs needed walking, so we decided to put off dinner for an hour and seek out one of the local beaches.
A ten minute drive from the holiday cottage and we found the small road that led down to our nearest beach. In the back of the people carrier, the dogs were going mad; being able to smell the sea after being cooped up in the car for most of the day…
But the next half-hour restored the wonder of the whole journey – and one of the primary reasons for coming this far. On either side of us, the near-white beach stretched out for what looked like miles.
It was scenic but – despite the summery sky – still cold. Lewis was a strange place, but we were warming to it… And tomorrow was my birthday… That long-awaited new coat would finally be providing me with real warmth!
The final day of a weekend like ‘The Journey of the Hero’ has to serve many purposes. It has to reinforce what has been shared; it has to send people on their homeward journeys with a smile… and a desire to do it, again. In short, it needs to embrace the companions with a warm hug!
It also needs to bring closure to the ‘plot’ of the story. All workshops need a good story – a thread of purpose and often mystery that defines the sequence of experience. Those attending should feel they were the ‘players’ and not simply the participants. Most will embrace this…
As with the other stages of the weekend, timing would be vital for our final day. To make sure we had workable planes, we had taken a day out, in April 2022, to dry-run the sequence for the final half-day, ending where we began at Castlerigg Stone Circle… hopefully with kinder weather.
We met at the usual Cricket Club car park in Keswick, from which the two peaks of Latrigg and the much larger Skiddaw are prominent.
Even from the car park, Latrigg appears to be anything but simple. The footpath rises from the river valley and becomes a small road that dramatically crosses the ravine carrying the main A66 carriageway. It then merges with a number of small lanes, eventually snaking up the side of Latrigg, to end in a shambolic and muddy car park not far from the summit.
There was mischief afoot – but well-humoured mischief. Gazing up at Latrigg from the Cricket Club, it looked a challenging climb, and one that wouldn’t fit well with a relaxed and reflective morning. In reality, the companions would soon find themselves whisked up to within a level half-mile of the summit by car.
At least, that was the plan. The photos, below, taken during the recce day in April show how wonderful the views are from the path edge facing Keswick and its two lakes.
At what you think is the summit – as in the first two photos, above, you turn round to see that the path continues climbing gently for another half-mile to reach a point where you can see the Borrowdale Valley, the A66 main road….and Castlerigg Stone Circle.
The symbolic idea was that, nearing the end of the quest, the hero would be granted a final view of the destination. But first they would have to find it!
That was the plan. Sadly, something else was in store for us. On the recce day in March, we had little difficulty in getting up the twisty, tiny road to the car park. I remarked at the time that I wouldn’t want to turn around in that tight place if there was much traffic…
Sunday morning, 8th May 2022, offered beautiful skies and a warm day. Everyone seemed to be converging on Keswick. Those that know the access points to Skiddaw also use the top of the Latrigg road as their start-point. The place was rammed.
But the time I’d crawled the car up the busy hill, there were only one or two very tight parking places available, and other cars were frantically trying to escape the mayhem and get back onto the broader roads below.
We had to abandon the idea of parking at the top. I offered the alternative of leaving the cars just off a lower section of the road a short distance below us, but tension had set in – along with the spectre of not being able to retrieve the vehicles in a timely fashion, later.
We managed to reverse everyone out and cut our losses – heading directly for Castlerigg, and noting, for future trips, the lower points on the hill from which a short additional climb would have made the whole plan feasible.
One of the companions, a lady who lives locally, suggested that we take a break at the new Climbing Centre just down the road from the stone circle. It proved to be good choice. A coffee and cake later, we agreed that, over the three days, very little of fundamental importance had gone wrong… and we could swallow this one hit…
After all, Castlerigg could now be explored at our leisure and in sunshine. It had plenty of its own magic to offer.
Back at Castlerigg, I pointed at the nearby hills and the secondary edge where we would have stood to look down on where we were, now. You can just imagine our ghostly presences waving…
The revised agenda allowed us to spend more personal time within the Castlerigg stones, before calling everyone together into a quieter place to the side of the main site to complete the Hero’s Quest and confer on all present our customary bag of coloured ‘raw gemstones’, for ‘placing or planting’ at other specials locations in each person’s future travels.
To those that were leaving straight from here, we said our goodbyes by the cars. Then, one final journey back into Keswick to reunite the main body of the group with their vehicles and we were done. Everyone had enjoyed it. A few even looked wistfully back up at Latrigg as we were leaving to envisage how the full morning could have gone.
The workshop had proved resilient. Everyone said they felt that a meaningful journey – including a degree of needed ‘hardship’ – had been achieved. A landscape had been ‘absorbed’, a quest fulfilled, and a deeper understanding of a few key Tarot images had been not only gained, but also used in a way that none had seen before. The Heroes had returned to their start point, to – as T.S. Eliot wrote, and known it for the first time. And with that knowledge, able to go forth empowered…
It was still a beautiful day. Stuart and I ambled back along the A66 and joined the M6 motorway southbound. I took us off at the junction prior to the usual one and surprised my co-Director by emerging from a small lane next to the Station Pub – the place we hold our monthly management meetings close to Oxenholme Station – the only West Coast mainline station in a village!
Sadly, time did not allow the usual pint of Guinness, and soon he was being whisked south to Preston by the Glasgow-London train…and I was driving the short distance to home.
Keswick had served us well, but it was good to be back in Kendal. We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey…
September 2022 Workshop
There will be another workshop of this kind, but with a different theme, in the first half of September 2022. All are welcome. The admin fee is £75.00 per person.
You can register your interest in the comments section or via an email to Rivingtide@gmail.com
Take the pouch of seed-stones and hold them close to your heart centre…
Close your eyes… And place into the seed stones your loving intent for growth… And completion…
And a link to attune with them at will…
And then open your eyes, turn and plant some seed stones close to the standing stone or stones with which you have felt resonance…
After you have done this leave your blessing on the stone or stones…
And then walk to the centre of the circle…
After the gestural keys of the Chariot and Lovers our adventurers are given time alone with the ancestors…
Let us open the doorway through which all may pass and join together to weave the Web of Light.
At this time, when our word is in turmoil, when the bounty of our planet is being stretched beyond endurance and so many of its creatures face extinction, let us add our voice to the Web that is being woven by Seekers of Light across the earth.
Alone, we can do little, but when hearts come together to work in harmony, we can change the world.
Wherever the sacredness of the earth is remembered, wherever the ancient places are revered, wherever a single heart turns away from fear and hatred to Love, a point of Light is added to the Web.
Let this Circle be a point of Light within the Web.
Close your eyes. Find a place of peace within your hearts… and prepare for meditation.
Let us weave the Web of Light together…
Feel your body, rooted in earth.
Feel the air as you breathe, in… and out… filling your body with its gift.
Your body is a creature of earth.
Your soul is not of the earth.
Your soul is of a finer substance, your life no more than a chapter in its story.
It is eternal… your body a temporary garment that it wears.
Let it fly free…
In your mind’s eye, see the body of the Circle where we stand…
Your Companions are with you, their bodies too relaxed and resting…
Now see the soul of the Circle.
It too is other than its body.
Its stones are a grove of standing pillars in a vast space filled with Light.
Its shape mirrors the universe…
The Circle beyond represents the evolution of your soul… Above the central point imagine a single, brilliant flame that reaches up into the sky.
Follow the path lit by the flame and rise, higher and higher… passing through the sky and out into the darkness of space.
Look back; you can still see your body, perfectly safe and relaxed within this hallowed space and the single point of light that is the sacred flame…
…Turn now and rise higher… higher still.
Around you, the stars wheel in the heavens, bright points of dancing light against the indigo sky.
The land spreads out beneath you, a living shadow that reaches as far as you can see and beyond…
From the central light, silver flame spreads, pulsing, across the earth in a great web of light.
Where the threads cross, you know that stones have been set, groves, mounds and pools… places of worship…sacred centres like our own, harmonising the flow of cosmic Life and Light.
You are part of that web, part of its warp and weft.
You are a tender of the Flame.
Feel the life of the earth coursing through its strands… and through you.
Give yourself to its glory.
See the web blaze bright and clean… burning away all shadows, healing all rifts and lighting the land.
Within you, the flame also burns…
Its essence is a steady point of brilliance in your heart, small as a seed, but vast as the universe.
You are its guardian.
Now slowly, gently, return to the Sanctuary of our Circle, carrying the vision of light within.
Return to your body… meld with it once more…
Allow yourself to feel… your chest, rising and falling as you breathe… your feet on the earth…
And then… When you are ready… Open your eyes… And this guided visualisation… Is over.
‘From a towering ego to the magic and hidden strength of starlight balancing the soul in love.’
The decision to abandon the walk along the long ridge path to Ashness Bridge had been forced upon us by time constraints. It had cost us the boat ride back to Keswick – something that had immense emotional appeal – but, instead, it had given us back… calmness.
After a snack lunch by the lake shore in Keswick, , the group travelled to the Eden Valley in three cars. One of the companions lives near to our destination, in Penrith, and would not be returning to Keswick at the close of the day.
Stuart and I were eagerly anticipating this next part of the workshop with. The caves we were to visit had been researched by Sue Vincent. She and Stuart had planned to incorporate them into a landscape weekend, but the sad events of 2021 overtook this.
There was the light of a personal pilgrimage in Stuart’s eyes when we all arrived at the stone circle of Long Meg, the start of our Eden Valley adventure. With some regret, we were not able to spend long, here, as the walk along the River Eden would be a substantial – needing to represent the Hero’s challenge as they sought to inherit the ‘magical reward’ promised by the quest – in reality a change of consciousness.
During our recce day, we had evaluated two routes. Now, siding with caution and calmness, we set off on the shorter one…which turned out to be a blessing – and one not related to the weather!
The Lacy Caves are located directly above the River Eden. It had taken us about ninety minutes to get there, a half hour longer than forecast. The difference was down to an oversight on our part.
This workshop was the first after the Covid period. Though everyone was delighted to be out in the countryside, again, not all had recovered their former walking stamina.
By the time we were halfway to the caves, two of the companions were experiencing tiredness. With one it was affecting her walking. We stopped to allow a period of rest, but the signs were not good – we had travelled a long way into the valley and, regardless of the drama we were about to enact as the day’s exciting finale, we still had the journey back to Long Meg Stone Circle where the cars were parked.
Our pace slowed and, as group leader, I had to take some decisions. The companion in question said she would be okay, as long as the caves were close. They were just around the next curve in the river.
I walked at her side, my arm ready to give support if the going got too difficult. Unlike our recce day, most of the route had been dry, but the final few hundred metres were muddy; adding to the difficulty.
But everyone was happy to continue, and we reached our destination without further difficulty.
Colonel Lacy, a wealthy landowner of Salkeld Hall, owned the land on which the Long Meg stone circle lies. He wanted to clear the circle to make it usable as pasture. On the night he set dynamite to the first stone, a devastating storm developed which caused considerable damage to his nearby farm.
Immediately relenting, he repaired the damage and thereafter swore to protect the ancient circle.
Lacy switched his attentions to the sandstone cliffs a mile away as the crow flies, alongside the river, where he engineered a cave system for parties and entertaining. It was fashionable to have such a folly at the time, and the place was decked out with furniture and had extensive gardens sweeping down to the river.
Having said that, Stuart and I think there was a parallel with Francis Dashwood’s ‘hellfire caves’ at High Wycombe… The truth is lost to history. There is certainly an air of mystery about the place.
We both had suitable outfits to complete the dramatic effect. We were not seeking to make it macabre, simply to shift the mood to a deeper contemplation of two of the remaining Tarot cards: Death and the Hermit.
Stuart prepared for the drama to come, in which we used two parts of the cave system: a well-lighted entrance chamber and a much deeper and darker passageway leading to the innermost space in the complex.
At the entrance, Stuart’s figure of Death called forward each of the companions in turn. showing them the card and asking them to seek the deeper meaning. He then made a loud signal and I appeared – as The Hermit – at the end of the dark passageway, hooded and with a torch illuminating my face from beneath. I am told the combined effect was dramatic…
The companion had to choose to ‘go beyond death’ to find that the inner room actually looked out over the river (of life).
We had completed our tasks for the day. Outside the caves, in the last of the sunshine, we laughed and shared impressions of the Hero’s journey so far.
My rucksack contained a large flask full of still-hot tea, and some chocolate. These were shared out: appropriate provisions for this stage of the journey.
All we had to do to finish the day was to get back to the cars and then drive to the nearby village of Langwathby and the comfort of the Shepherd’s Inn, where we had an early dinner booked.
Our rest complete, we set off… to find that our companion in difficulty was having trouble walking at all…
We took stock of the situation. There seemed no way she could make it back to the village on foot. My only choice was to leave her in the capable hands of the group and walk as fast as I could back into the village and up the steep road to the Long Meg circle. It had taken 90 minutes the other way, perhaps I could do it in half that, if I walked at a fast pace.
Once there, I could drive the car back to the farm track and hopefully get the car within striking distance of the lady – even if it meant reversing the car for half a mile or so.
I made good time to the edge of the village, only to find that the large gate to the main road was locked. We had earlier passed through the footpath space. All I could do was continue to the car, then try to locate the farmer or another keyholder and explain the emergency.
The day that had gone so well was ending with peril… And it had nothing to do with our planning.
I remember looking up at the sky and asking, silently, for help…
My phone wasn’t dead – it looked perfectly bright against the dark landscape, but it wasn’t responding to any finger gestures. And it contained my copy of the script, now locked away by the storm.
I reached into my ‘Fool’s’ kit bag, a sturdy old canvas friend that I’ve used for years. Often in the run up to workshops, I will, at the last minute, throw in a paper version of a script as an absolute backup. My wet fingers encountered paper and I extracted what turned out to be a last but one version. That would be okay, as long as I remembered the final changes we had made.
With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.
I held it up at chest level and began reading. The group let out a collective sigh of relief, but they couldn’t see the heavy raindrops dissolving the ink and melting the paper as it became increasingly saturated.
I had the idea to memorise the next few lines, then fold the paper along its original creases and hold its axis vertical to the descending water. It worked – after a fashion – but every time I reopened it, the text was less legible and the paper itself had continued its journey to mush.
We have survived a few scrapes; Stuart, Sue and I, and found that it’s not unusual for something unseen to come to the aid of the drowning performer. But in this case, only we had the scripts. Our companions were being guided by our words, alone. Their faces expressed empathy, but they were powerless to help.
It’s difficult to remember at exactly what point I abandoned the ‘toilet paper’, as Stuart later christened it. He could see the change, he said, because I began to relax… simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…
…simply letting what we have always called ‘the flow’ take over. And trusting…
It did… Instead of behaving like someone reading a book, I let the flow take me and improvised in the moment, thankfully recalling from memory what we needed the Fool/Magician to do to get the companions through to the final gate and release them into their symbolic strange, new world, where – within the context of our play – nothing would behave as it had in the previous place. A fitting tribute to what we had just endured.
Somewhat post-storm, we left the Castlerigg circle. We would return here for the final act in our landscape play, but not before seeing the site from a mystery great height – fitting for a Hero looking down on the end of the quest.
The rain was abating but we had another problem. One of our companions – who had confirmed and paid for his attendance – was missing. During the damp ceremonials, I had thought he might be sitting it out in the car, having arrived late. But he was nowhere to be seen.
I didn’t have his mobile number but sent him an email as we left the circle. He had the information sheet and would know where we were headed next.
We had two important things to do…
The first was to escort everyone to a specific car park on the outskirts of Keswick. This would be our meeting point for the rest of the weekend, and it was essential that everyone knew its location.
The second was to have an early dinner. Weather, tension and stress had taken their toll… We were starving.
Our usual format for a first evening in Keswick is to have an inexpensive fish and chip supper. The central Moot Square boasts a fine chippy with upstairs restaurant, which offers vegetarian options. The small convoy drove the short distance to the car park and, now on foot, we followed the path of the river along the park and over the bridge into Keswick centre.
Dinner was a joyous affair. We laughed about the difficulties of open-air mystical theatre and resolved to learn the lessons of the day. This will be covered in the next post. Part way through the meal, the evening was brightened by the arrival of our missing companion. He had endured a nightmare journey up the M6 motorway with tyres that had been wrongly inflated by a defective pump at a service station near his home. At one point he felt the car was ‘floating’ and going to crash. He had the good sense to stop at the next services and get the problem diagnosed and fixed. But it had cost him the afternoon.
Stuart and I both had the thought that we might be able to do something creative about that…
The skies were clearing. The evening sun was mellow and promised a better day tomorrow. We had little idea how much better, though the long Saturday would not be without its challenges…
Those familiar with the attempt to hold any kind of drama in the open air will know the difficulties to be faced…
The vagaries of the British climate are well documented but the severity of the rain as we travelled through the blinding spray along the last few miles of the A66 towards the Castlerigg Stone Circle was a thing to be seen.
We had a brief respite, ahead, however. Although hoping to do a run-through in the stones before the arrival of the full complement of participants, we had offered a lift to an old friend who had travelled by train from the south of England, arranging to collect her from the local mainline station at Oxenholme, near Kendal. She asked us if we had time for her to check into the guest house in the centre of Keswick.
We were pleased at the potential this offered for a ‘pit stop’ with refreshments in the town centre. There is nothingof this nature at Castlerigg and a break would be welcome before the workshop was due to start at 2:30 in the afternoon. After a struggle with the satnav, which for some unfathomable reason thought we were in Turkey, we located her lodgings and were able to park outside on the road. Leaving our companion to check in, Stuart and I walked into the heart of the town and located a pub, there to shelter and await her return; at which point we planned to have a snack before returning to the stones to begin our afternoon’s work.
What we hadn’t allowed for was the poor and varying quality of phone signal in Keswick centre. We waited and waited, eventually deciding that something unforeseen had happened and we should try to contact her. Only then did we discover that for both of us, there was no signal at all…
We paid our snack bill and ventured out into the rain. In our final dry moments, we had run through a set of scenarios: she had arrived to find her room unready, but been asked to wait for a short while… which had turned into nearly an hour; she had been fed by a kindly landlady and unsuccessfully tried to contact us, being met by the same technical problem… or she had given up on the signal and was, at this moment walking the streets of Keswick centre, in the rain, in the hope that she might bump into her hosts. She needed our car to get to the stone circle. On foot it would be at least an hour’s walk from the centre of town.
Feeling guilty that our companion might have eaten nothing, we went into a neighbouring baker’s shop and acquired a Cornish pasty, asking for it to be double wrapped against the downpour. As we emerged from the shop, our gleeful missing companion was to be seen walking down the street towards us – also clutching a Cornish pasty – this one half eaten. She was happy to take the second pasty and explained it was her first meal of the day since setting out from Hertfordshire in the early morning.
I remember musing to myself that these are the real things that disrupt or enable a workshop!
It was one of those moments that carry a mixed message: she had found us; therefore ‘something’ was looking after us, but it was also a pointer to the nature of challenges ahead. We could not assume that translating a formula that had begun life in cosy village hall to a rugged hillside would be an easy transition.
We located the car in the middle of a maze of Keswick’s oldest streets, and headed for Castlerigg. Any rehearsal time had vaporised. We were going to have to roll straight into the first drama on arrival – deluge or not.
We parked the car on the small lane alongside stone circle. We had invited the companions to enjoy the famous stones in front of us before gathering together and could see a few of them scattered across the dark landscape ahead.
I had taken the precaution of uploading our script – created by Stuart – onto my phone. I knew that once we started, every second would count, and I couldn’t imagine trying to read from a paper copy in that force of rain. In my experience, the modern phone is the safest and most waterproof place to store such vital information.
We gathered the group of hardy but undeterred companions together, welcoming them and explaining the use of the small rectangle of inner stones called ‘The Cove’. This would be the main site of the day’s drama, with each participant receiving a combination of instructions to allow them to understand the Tarot cards used for this part of the weekend. The Cove was to be the stage for the first three parts of the Monomyth, as described in last week’s post, and summarised below:
1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.
2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.
3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.
The rain intensified…
I took my phone out of its waterproof pocket and flicked it on, ready to begin speaking my changing role of ‘Fool’ to ‘Magician’. The phone jammed in the opening screen as the waves of water cascaded onto it, and no amount of frantic finger movement or tissue drying would return it to operational normality.
Stuart looked at me, mute. His device was working fine…
I looked up at the heavens…. The rain was winning.
It’s a method for uniting a group of people to a common purpose. It’s a technique for ‘washing’ the immediate environment and dedicating your effort to the highest motive and energies. It’s a wonderful way to align yourself to your immediate surrounding, teasing out that sense of really ‘knowing’ what’s around you – especially in a landscape as beautiful and powerful as the English Lake District…in spring.
We can call it ceremony. Modern psychology, recognising its value, named it psychotherapy and psycho-emotional journeying. For thousands of years, it has been known simply as ritual and, once you remove the populist rubbish from around its edges, there lies revealed a beautiful and empowering use of the human mind and emotions.
The best example of ritual I know is the simple hug. It has rules: the touching of bodies is proscribed in a certain non-sexual way. The hands grasp the other in a gentle embrace, and the heads align so they don’t clash. The duration of the hug and, indeed, the distance of the other person, can be adjusted according to the level of personal trust involved. A hug carried out with loving respect is a powerful and uplifting thing… It’s a wonderful ritual.
Like many ‘mystery schools’, we use ritual. But only when appropriate. The greater part of our ‘communion’ with the landscape on the Journey of the Hero weekend was simply walking and taking in the fresh green delight of spring in northern Cumbria. When we did use ritual, it was powerful…and in some cases, created there and then to adapt to the specifics of the landscape of beauty around us.
The idea for the ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop began shortly after Sue Vincent’s death, a year ago. Keen to signal that the Silent Eye would be continuing its work, despite her sad loss, we came up with the idea of adapting the core of Joseph Campbell’s book; ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ into a three-day event that would reflect the Lakeland spring’s splendour, using the hills, lakes and even rivers of the region to provide a series of delightful challenges for our group of ‘happy adventurers’ – as Stuart named them.
A happy and wonderful bunch they turned out to be… But the weekend was to challenge us all in ways not always foreseen. The idea that the organisers were actually in charge of events in the underlying hyper-myth: life itself, was to prove deeply amusing…
Campbell proposed that all the world’s myths and fairy stories followed a common theme; a kind of ‘meta-structure’ whose building blocks were the skeleton on which each detailed journey was mapped. We wanted to use this structure to find synergy in the landscape, rather than an actual story. In this way, we would be more focussed and more in-tune with the beautiful places in which we wandered. He proposed the name ‘Monomyth’ for the underlying meta story.
The Monomyth contains the following stages;
1. The hero’s adventure begins in the ordinary world.
2. He/she must leave the ordinary world when they receive a call to adventure. This is sometimes refused – initially.
3. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading them to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply.
4. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials.
5. Allies sometimes assist.
6. As the hero faces the ordeal, they encounter the greatest challenge of the journey.
7. Upon rising to this challenge, the hero receives a reward or boon.
8. They return to the ordinary world, empowered to act in a higher way. The world gains much from their renewed presence.
While I concentrated on the locations and the vital timings, Stuart was busy crafting a method whereby the above stages of the Monomyth could be emotionally linked to their sequence. He proposed the use of the Tarot cards – that ancient method of both ‘divination’ and, more importantly, perhaps, the use of ‘active imagination’ to take us into a series of meditative states that reflected the Hero’s journey.
We were to begin, on the Friday afternoon, with the famous stone circle of Castlerigg, a ring of large stones at least five thousand years old, set on a natural plateau surrounded by some of Lakeland’s tallest mountains. Simply standing on that plateau is an act of magic, as nature quietly invites you to contemplate and share the reasons for the existence of this remarkable edifice.
As we approached on the busy and fast A66 road, the skies began to darken. By the time we arrived at Castlerigg, we were in the middle of a full-blown Lakeland downpour… showing no signs of stopping.
It began to look like the ‘ordeal’ stage of our Monomyth was going to be thrust upon us ahead of schedule…
There are times when you know that a particular world is changing. By ‘world’ I mean a specific part of life, not the whole world, though that could be said to be in a state of apparentl chaotic change, too…
The ‘world’ I mean is that of spiritual teaching; and the challenges to its present methods come in two forms:
The first is the worsening economic situation across most of the planet. If you’re not a billionaire, you’re getting poorer, as essential goods, such as sources of energy for heating, cooking and transportation become the subject of international strife.
When many are struggling to pay essential bills, the idea of paying out more for what appears to be a speculative investigation into the inner nature of ourselves may seem a scrambling of priorities. When such considerations are set at the end of a pandemic, and the world is struggling to get back to some sense of normal, we might expect little interest…
But last weekend, a group of dedicated adventurers from a variety of traditions enjoyed the immense beauty of the northern Lake District in all its spring glory, even venturing into the nearby Eden Valley – home of some hidden and mysterious treasures.
This experiment in using the outdoors, rather than a conventional indoor setting of rented hall, was forced upon us by the decline in the ‘old model’ of how such gatherings are conducted. Covid simply stopped such meetings from happening But it’s eventual fading did not automatically trigger a restart of the ‘old world’. No-one knew what would happen when travel was allowed, again. Things whose time has come can often fail to revive in these circumstances.
To compound the problems, there was a ‘new world’ in town, in the shape of Zoom-based meeting (and similar technologies). In order to maintain some contact with those we used to see, often, we too had begun to hold at least monthly meetings over zoom – involving people from across the world and slowly learning how to conduct meaningful dialogue and shared experiences across international video links.
But, although here to stay, most said that video conferencing was no substitute for face-to-face gatherings. Having said that, the costs of travel and accommodation, post-Covid, mean that Zoom and its rivals are here to stay. Although this post is primary to introduce the weekend’s outdoor explorations, the Silent Eye team will be continuing and even expanding their Zoom presence in parallel with pioneering new ways of mystical experience in dramatic landscapes, as in Keswick.
That’s not to say that it was all plain sailing. The weather on the Friday afternoon – our first slot of the weekend – was enough to send anyone home. The ancient stone circle of Castlerigg was the soggy setting for the opening, and it was a challenge to get through, let alone enjoy. But it did begin the event, signaling, possibly rashly, that we were intent on making this happen.
There is always some mischief on these meetings. It would be rash to attribute them to ‘mischevious spirits’ but sometimes it felt like that – especially on the Saturday; that long day of wonderful adventures… and some challenging mishaps.
Yet, enjoy it people did… enough to say so, as we all hugged in the bright sunshine of the final Castlerigg session and resolved to meet again in September.
The photos, here, will provide a taster. The detail – involving much humour and not a little irony – will be present in what follows over the course of a series of posts. We hope to convey to you a little of what it was like to be there. It’s a wonderful journey and often a triumph over unexpected adversity, but its a story that’s never dull…
Part One will be on Thursday, here and on the Silent Eye blog.
There’s an old aphorism in the field of teaching mysticism: that if you endeavour to do something of significance; something that requires careful planning and even more careful resourcing, then you will be surprised how ‘testing’ the ‘final approach to the event will be. Moreover, the difficulties thrown at one may- humorously – be taken as a reflection of the event’s importance.
The word’s ‘final approach’ are borrowed from the art of flying a plane. As a much younger man, I did have ‘private pilot’ flying lessons; about fourteen hours of them in total, nearly enough to do my first solo flight – a big moment in a trainee pilot’s life… Sadly, we set up a software company at that point, and I didn’t have the time to dedicate to anything other than commercial survival…
I remember those days of flight-training, well. I learned a lot about how focussed pilots have to be in those last few minutes – then seconds – before the wheels hit the ground, hopefully together and in an orderly and aligned way. My instructor had a great sense of humour and those words of his stuck in my memory.
The same is exactly true of running a mystical workshop – any workshop, in fact, that requires acres of planning and ‘what if?’ testing.
In theory, the Silent Eye’s ‘Journey of the Hero’ workshop, centred around the beautiful town of Keswick in the northern part of the English Lake District, was ready to roll about a week, ago. All the proposed walks – along lakes, rivers, ridges and mountains, had already been rehearsed and timed. The written material for our opening and closing ceremonies at the wonderful stone circle of Castlerigg had been examined and fine-tuned.
The only thing that remained was for me to design a new language…
J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of ancient languages, and once designed the whole Elvish language so that the books comprising the Lord of the Ring trilogy would be founded in an actual spoken tongue. My admiration for this knows no bounds, especially since I’ve spent the last several weeks attempting to create an infinitely simpler language of ‘gesture’ so that we can carry out part of the workshop in complete silence…
It’s part of a series of ‘triggers’ that, with the right sense of place can induce the ordinary rational mind to have a rest and let the whole of our being come out to play. For hundreds of years we have lived too much in one side of our minds, and much damage is being done by this. The high goal of the Journey of the Hero weekend is, in some small part, to extend this.
And then the Fates began to have their sport…
On Sunday, Simon – a local contractor who has done wonderful things with a small digger to remodel what was once an old canal and now actually looks like a garden – called by in his pick-up truck to tell us that he was ready to start work on our new fence… the day after. The old fence having been storm-damaged some time ago. I swallowed hard. Part of the deal with Simon is that, when needed, I act as his labourer. It’s not exploitation; it’s just that he’s a one-man-band and wants to stay that way. It’s not even a money thing, it’s simply a question of time. He’s very good at what he does and works on the projects he likes and with the people he gets on with. The issue is that he’s always short of time to finish each project, and deeply appreciates my help fetching and carrying things and materials (like truckloads of earth) to his point of focus in the garden. We had waited three months to get him back, and the spring was in full riot… I had little choice…
In the middle of his first day, with me a dirty and sweaty bundle, the phone rang, again. This time it was the company from whom we have just ordered two exterior doors to replace the low-budget ones we had to settle for when the ‘building fund’ ran out, ten years ago. This company came highly recommended and we were eagerly awaiting their arrival… just not this week. We said yes, of course, knowing that it was going to detract from the available time to ‘write that language’.
Fast forward to this morning, when, after the third 05:30 start in as many days, we were driving through a violent downpour on the M6 south, enroute to our annual checkup at our old dentists near Chorley. We liked the team there so much, we elected to stay on their books and put up with the hour’s travel when needed. I’d already allowed for this interruption to the week’s plan, but not in concert with the other two… My ‘light aircraft’ was fast becoming, in the immortal words of Johnny Depp in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘full of ‘oles’. I was beginning to lose my presence of mind.
And then, on the outskirts of our destination, the mobile rang in the car. It was the receptionist from the dentist… frantic. She’d just arrived in, to find a phone message from her boss (the dental surgeon) to report that he’d been up most of the night with food poisoning – possible Norovirus. She knew we had driven down from Kendal through torrential rain… for nothing.
It was then that the magic happened. My wife and I looked at each other and burst out laughing; assuring the lady that it was okay; just another link in the testing chain of the week and something that could be re-arranged.
So here I am… typing away, having lost three days of my ‘finals’ week and hoping my remaining energy reserves will pull off a small miracle and deliver that ‘language of gesture’ before we leave for Castlerigg on Friday.
It’s not the first ‘final approach’ to an event that has been bumpy like this. Hitherto, they have gone well. I think I can see that small strip of safe landing space in the far distance. It’s starting to look orderly and aligned… I just hope my wheels are, too. Wish us luck!