The Wicker-Tree…

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Why meet again, we three?

To quell a raging psychopath…

and tell the Way of the Wicker-Tree.

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Why we three?

Why a circle?

Why a dance?

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Because this way

None can say

Which witch is which…

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Nor can any see

a beginning or an end

to the Wicker-Tree.

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The Silent Unicorn

The Silent Eye and Lodge Unicorn na h’Alba

The Unicorn is an iconic spiritual symbol in the British Isles and particularly in Scotland. We will use the power of the elements and spirit of the unicorn to create your own Silent Unicorn within, culminating at the old hidden seminary at Scalan in the remote Braes of Glenlivet.

Dates:  Weekend  Friday 14th – Sunday 16th June, 2019

Location:  Based in Grantown–on–Spey and area

Cost: Workshop costs £50 per person. Meals and accomodation are not included and should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

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Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Our Song of Truth…

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We circle the Long Stone, feet planted gently but firmly on the earth…

Arms and hands hang loosely by our sides…

We close our eyes…

We breathe deeply…

We perform our breathing exercise…

And then again breathe deeply, listening only to the sound of our own breath…

After a time, the silence is broken by the Seed Sound of someone’s Word of Truth…

Nobody knows who sounded…

Nobody cares…

We are leaving the world of personalities behind…

Before the first Seed Sound has ended, another has sounded, and another, and then another, as our Song of Truth is raised…

Emboldened by the anonymity, carefree in the rising Song of Power we each sound out our Truth, chanting it again and again, delighting as each Seed bounces of each other, one or two entwining, playing and cascading off one another…

Until finally…

As the light of day fades…

Only one sound can again be heard…

Echoing off deep in to the starry far distance…

Everything returns to silence…

And we again focus on our breathing…

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Full Circle: Spiral dance

We squelched through the mud at the gateway to the field, following the fence down to a tiny stone circle that is unknown to most casual visitors. Just a third of a mile from its big sister, the tiny cairn circle of Little Meg is one of the least known circles in the area and yet it is, with Long Meg and nearby Glassonby, one of only three in the area that has ancient carvings on its stones.

Technically, Little Meg is not a stone circle. When it was first discovered by antiquarians, it was buried within a mound of earth, making it the internal structure of a burial mound and the excavations revealed bones, charcoal and an urn, buried in a cist at the centre. The stones may, perhaps, have originally been a circle that was covered over, but the preservation of the symbols on one of the stones suggests that they were carved not too long before it was buried. There were once two decorated stones at the site, though only one now remains, carved with a spiral that flows into a series of concentric circles. The second is in Penrith museum and is carved with deep cups surrounded by concentric circles.

There is no way of knowing for certain what these carvings represented to our ancestors, and many theories have been put forward, from simple decoration to seasonal, star and energy maps. The odd thing is that, if these were purely decorative, why go to the trouble of carving into stone what could have been painted? And why were they buried beneath the mound of earth that once covered this cairn, where only the dead would see them?

We believe it was for this very reason, so that the dead… who were not thought of as ‘entirely’ dead, but were seen as Ancestors, with a presence and purpose within the clan… could see them. Were they, perhaps, a map for the journey home?

Whatever their purpose, when we had first visited the circle on our ‘recce’ trip, expecting only a few tumbled stones, we were wide-eyed at what we found. The carvings are quite crisp considering that they date back to the Bronze Age…and standing in their presence, under an open sky, is a strange and awe-inspiring feeling.

The stones were moved somewhat from their original positions during the excavation, and yet the familiar form of the ‘tailed’ entrance into the circle remains. There was a report of another  and similar cairn close by, but no trace now remains of this. Not far away is the small Glassonby circle that we would not have time to visit. It too has a stone carved with concentric circles and angular patterns…and here too, the design is placed so that only the dead will see it.

For now, though, and in spite of the remains of a bird within the circle, this was a place of the living, not the dead, where the ends of time could be connected through the medium of the human heart and voice.

Once more we sent our companions out into the field to speak their words to the winds. This time, however, we had asked them to seek the ‘seed’ of their word… the seed of words in general. At a previous workshop we had considered how, if you knew how to ‘send’ and ‘receive’ along the leys, one might, theoretically, be able to send a message by a type of Morse code, interrupting the current and letting it flow into the energetic ‘dots and dashes’ that could be interpreted when it reached its destination. We compared this to the role of vowel and consonant in words. The vowels flow while the consonants interrupt the flow. We have experimented with chanting at ancient sites over the past few years; was this, we wondered, relevant to why some chants work better in certain places? Those that are made up of pure vowel sounds, in contrast to those where the flow is ‘cut’ by consonants.

Gathering once more, we shared a short meditation, building upon the imagery of the web of light, connecting it to the realm of the stars… and wondering how closely the constellations of stones might shadow those of the heavens if we but knew how to look…

Hearing Beyond Fear…

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We do not take these things lightly.

We try to approach them as informally as possible.

We want to share their magic and inspiration with others.

We want people to enjoy them as we do, in respect and reverence.

We ask people to give as they receive.

We never ask anyone to do anything we are not also prepared to do.

We never insist they take part in any of the exercises or meditations.

We meet always as a community to share our experiences and to learn.

We leave in peace and harmony.

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Full Circle: A Seat at the Round Table?

Three weeks before the workshop, Stuart and I had headed north to walk the ground. Most of the sites we already knew, but there were a couple we had not visited in person and, if at all possible, we will check each site before taking others there. Small details like where to park, warning of muddy paths, unadvertised entrance charges and the proximity of coffee and conveniences can make the difference between a successful weekend and an uncomfortable disaster.

These reconnoitring trips serve a dual purpose though. They are not only practical, but they allow us to get a feel for the landscape too and will, fairly often, see us change an itinerary we thought was set in stone. This trip did just that, although it waited until the very last minute to tell us so.

Lacy’s Caves ~ Geograph © Copyright Andrew Curtis, Creative Commons Licence.

We had finished for the weekend, seen all the places we needed to see, except one of the sites which had been going to play a central part in the workshop. We thought we had found a perfect place, sheltered from the wind and any foul weather, but every way we attempted to reach it seemed intent upon putting barriers in our path. Impassable mud and fallen riverbanks meant that we had to reconsider taking the party to Lacy’s Caves, a folly built by the man who had wanted to blow up the local stone circle. The story goes that the attempt ended in disaster and Lacy had a change of heart. The caves were later built for some unknown purpose, and although they may simply have been a folly, there has been suggestions of ritual activity on the site. Subsequent investigations made us feel we had not been meant to go there. Some types of ritual activity can leave behind an unpleasant psychic atmosphere… and these caves reminded us of the Hellfire caves infamously used by Sir Francis Dashwood.

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Hellfire caves, Sue Vincent

So, by the end of our ‘recce’, we were a site down, but had replaced it with another small visit. We would have enough…but it felt as if something were missing as we began the long trek south and east. Before we left, though, we would try and find another place we had heard of that tied in loosely with our theme…

“What’s that?”

“What the…?”

Our simultaneous exclamation would have left a casual observer wondering what on earth we were talking about. Driving down the road in search of the site, we had both seen a field bounded by walls and traffic…and both been hit by that phenomenon of recognition that we are calling ‘psychic shock’. Thinking back, there was little to actually see from within the low car. We should barely have registered the site… and yet it had hit us like a ton of bricks. Parking the car, we went to investigate… and within a very few minutes, had added two more sites to our list for the weekend as well as expanding the theme quite considerably. So, on the second day of the workshop, we gathered close to the site and walked our companions to King Arthur’s Round Table.

King Arthur’s Round Table is a late Neolithic henge, around four thousand years old. The circular ditches and embankments are what constitutes a henge, enclosing a central flat platform which was used by the community. These sites are feats of engineering and would have needed a substantial community to come together, united by leaders, belief and a shared vision of what was really important to the life of the community. While some speculate that these are purely practical affairs, designed to be used as marketplaces, arenas for entertainment and gatherings, it seems unlikely that such a space would be constructed, with so much human effort and then hallowed by burials, for a purely pragmatic use.

It is far more likely that these monuments, especially when they invariably form part of a much wider sacred landscape, were designed primarily for ceremonial use. Exactly what those rituals and ceremonies might be we cannot know for certain, but we can make a few deductions given the archaeological evidence, a knowledge of so-called ‘primitive’ civilisations worldwide and the sites’ alignments with astronomical events.

It is likely that the turning of the year…the solstices and equinoxes… were observed, measured and predicted at many of these ancient sites. Stellar, solar and lunar alignments are common, as are alignments with other sites in the area and there are many close to the Round Table.

There may be burials or inhumed cremations, placing these sites in the realms of the ancestors, where the elders of the clan might mediate between this world and the Otherworld. One companion suggested that this might be a place where the clan Elders were ‘made’… a ceremonial installing of one who has reached venerable status.

King Arthur’s Round Table at Eamont Bridge, after William Stukeley, 1725, also showing the now-destroyed Little Round Table to the right.

King Arthur’s Round Table has been much damaged in the modern era and is sliced through by modern roads. There used to be two entrances, marked by standing stones. Excavations revealed a central trench had once existed where burial or cremation ceremonies may have taken place. The banks would have been higher than they now stand, the ditches lower, and the whole part of the wider ritual landscape which includes the many sites around Shap. There was once another  and much smaller henge, the Little Table, now almost entirely destroyed by roads and building, just a couple of hundred yards away.

The modern A6 that runs alongside the Table was once, in part, a Roman road. Many of these Roman roads, characterised, as we are taught in school, by the way they run straight across the landscape, may themselves be part of a much more ancient network of ‘old straight tracks’ that link many of the ancient sites. Kemp Howe stone circle now lays largely beneath another ‘straight track’ just ten miles away… mostly obliterated by the modern railway line. It is one of many circles and monuments in the remarkable Shap complex that we would have loved time to explore.

For now, though, we encouraged our companions to explore the Round Table, where legends say Arthur’s knights once jousted. The site is thousands of years older than the legends of Arthur and Merlin, but perhaps not older than the archetypes they may represent… the warrior-king whose fitness to rule depends upon his ability to bridge the worlds, and the mage-priest who was his bridge, his messenger and the gateway to the Otherworld.

We gathered for a meditation before leaving the site. We were impressed… only confirmed megalithomaniacs, we thought, would find this site interesting for more than a few minutes, but they had chosen to spend almost an hour there. What, we wondered, would they make of the next site… and what we wanted them to do there…

Captured from Google Earth

Being Beyond Seeing…

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One of the ‘hardy perennials’ on many of our workshops is the thorny problem of intent.

Thorny because much of what we now see may not have been originally intended by the erstwhile perpetrator or perpetrators, yet some of what remains most definitely was!

On our recent sojourn around Cornwall, having been cruelly divested of our guide book, we still managed to find one particular unsought spot ‘blind’, as it were, and this is pretty much the task we had now set our Companions…

The telluric current we were ‘following’ passed through the remains of Penrith Castle and on through the site of the Old Church.

The legends that attach themselves to these sites in many cases assume the outward appearance of unbelievable ‘gibberish’ and most certainly do not follow the reasonably delineated form of history, official or otherwise…

And yet, the wry smile which they inievitably engender, the moments reflection which they sometimes inspire, if held onto, and wondered about, and returned to, and nurtured, may well turn into a personal revelation carrying more truth than any spuriously contrived history.

Did Arthur’s Knights ever fight Dragons was the unspoken question gnawing away at the fringes of consciousness? There were none which immediately sprang to mind. And if not, then why not? Given their raison d’etre it would, at first sight, be an obvious way for them to spend their time.

The telluric current we were ‘following’ specifically passed through the body of Penrith Parish Church and was marked on either side by a Sun Dial and a conglomeration of stones which now goes by the moniker of the Giant’s Grave.

The plinth on which the Sun Dial now stands is undeniably late, but has it recently replaced a much earlier one? The conglomeration of stones are much, much, earlier but how long have they been associated with a Giant?

Perhaps, at least as long as the story of Yvain and his friendly lion…

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Feeling Beyond Form…

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We certainly hadn’t intended to talk about Arthur, let alone Merlin when we pencilled in Penrith as the starting point for our weekend workshop.

But the land has a way of communicating it’s own ‘sweet terror’ and when we came across a Welsh Triad referencing Penrith or ‘Pen Rhionydd’ as one of the ‘Seats’ of the legendary British King the ‘cogs’ had inevitably started to turn…

Our June workshop in Dorset had thrown up some poignant ideas with regard to how the ‘ancients’ might be regarding their kinship with Mother Earth…

The constellation we now know as Orion, with its mid-summer rising over the Cerne Abbas hill figure may well have gone under a different name in former times and we still have Arthur’s Wain or ‘Waggon’ illuminating a course across the night sky, better known today as The Plough…

Since our research for the very first literary outing we penned together we had been aware of a plethora of local legends that predated our national Dragon Slayer, George, himself a late medieval replacement for Edmund, as Patron Saint of our Blessed Isles and all relating a similiar tale of sinuous earth energies ‘brought to book’.

The Lambton Wyrm, The Wantley Wurm, and The Laidley Worm, which also featured in our September workshop, to name but a few that we had, only recently, encountered.

Could the notions of authentic, living-land directed, leadership and ‘snake charming’ be linked in some esoteric way we had singularly failed to spot?

Our thoughts came home to Penrith with a jolt of recognition.

The ‘Spirit of Place’ had certainly been operative all those years ago when first it had impinged upon our consciousness and insisted we cross the busy main road to say, ‘Hello’…

And was that any different from being dragged to Dragon Hill at Uffington, or being repeatedly accosted by Glastonbury Tor, not to mention our Ambush by Stone at Long Meg? etc.

What were these sites trying to say?

There was really only one way to find out…

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Full Circle: Fragments of home

 

Penrith is a lovely old market town with narrow alleys and some wonderful old buildings. Sadly, we would not have time to do the place justice over the weekend, but at least we had a glimpse as we walked to our next site, the Parish Church of St Andrew.

The church itself is an interesting one. It appears to be a Georgian edifice, having been largely rebuilt and remodelled in 1720, by Nicholas Hawksmoor, inspired by St Andrew’s in Holborn, London. The elegant interior seems almost out of place in a northern market town, and lacks the homely feel of churches that have retained their character and appearance of antiquity. But the church has stood on this spot since 1133 and, taking a moment to ‘feel beyond form’, you can indeed feel its age and the centuries of prayer its walls have held.

The building is perfectly cross shaped, but, unusually, the ‘crossing’  is at the far end from the altar. You may enter from any of the three short ‘arms’ of the cross, with the nave and altar forming the longest axis. Coming in from the cold between the incongruous pillars that flank the west door, we found two medieval grave slabs and a carved font… one of three in the church of various ages. The font is used in the rite of baptism, which could be seen as one of the keys to the ‘way home’ for those choosing to follow the path of Christianity. This particular font is carved with symbols and we asked Steve to explain the one representing the nature of the Trinity.

On either side of the entrance, stairs lead up into the tower whose height was extended in the fifteenth century. The stairs are flanked by the weathered effigies of a husband and wife in Tudor dress.

On our visit a few weeks earlier, we had found the nave decked with banners bearing the names of the Celtic saints… it seems that the Ionian form of worship still has a place in the heart of the northern church. This time, though, it was discretely decked for Christmas, with each window embrasure holding a small tree, dedicated to various sectors of the community… including a poignantly bare tree for those who cannot celebrate this Christmas.

Leaving everyone to explore, we asked them to think about what the idea of ‘home’ might mean to the congregation here, knowing that the embrasure of the East Window behind the altar holds a heavenly mural, painted in 1844 by local artist Jacob Thompson.

There is plenty to see inside the body of the church, including some beautiful stained glass by such renowned makers as Burlison and Grylls, Clayton and Bell and Hardman and Powell. These are all ‘modern’ windows, with the newest being installed to celebrate the Millennium.

The oldest windows, though, consist of mere fragments of medieval glass, salvaged from the depredations of time, storm and war. Most of the fragments are unidentifiable… just whispers on the wind of time. A few can be recognised… the hand of St Peter holding the Keys of Heaven… the angels of Revelation swinging their censers… a crowned and sceptred king who may well be Richard III.

Set into another modern window embellished with the white roses of the House of York are two fragments once thought to represent Richard and his queen, but they are now thought to be his grandparents. It is curious that Richard, the last Plantagenet king, should feature so much in Penrith, when the theme of the weekend was ‘finding the way home’. Richard was killed in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485 and his body, tied naked to a horse, was taken to Leicester and, eventually, buried at Greyfriars Church. That church was lost after the Dissolution, and Richard’s remains were thought lost too…until a team from Leicester University managed to locate them in 2013. There followed a long, and ultimately unavailing campaign that sought to bring the last monarch of the House of York back ‘home’ to Yorkshire.

There were monuments too to those who had fallen in more recent battles, that their names and deeds might, at least, be carried home, even though their remains are scattered across the battlefields of the world. And a tree in a window for those who have no home at all.

So many concepts of ‘home’ in one small church, so many layers of history; a story two thousand years old had seen nine hundred years of worship in this place. Did the story of this site, though, go back even further? Many old churches are built on far more ancient sites, where once a wooden chapel may have stood unrecorded, chapels which may have been built upon pre-Christian sites. Although there seemed to be no definitive mention of an earlier church here, there were certainly clues in the churchyard… and as the light began to fade, we headed outside to have a look…