St Michael de Rupe…

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It is something of a ‘dream come true’ to be here,

looking at this in all its technicolour glory.

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Traditionally, Michael is depicted either ‘slaying’, or ‘fixing’, or as we might say, ‘drawing’, or even ‘tickling’, the dragon, or, he is depicted with scales and sword in, or on, or above clouds.

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So at a stretch this could even be described as traditional.

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But look at his apparel…

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This is St Michael, the Celt,

or St Michael, the Hermit,

or St Michael, the Druid…

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Of all, of which, we whole heartedly approve.

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And look at the colours:

the golds, and greens, and reds…

Earth colours!

Or dragon colours.

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And look at the way in which he is holding his sword.

He could be ‘sighting-a-line’ or ‘plumbing-a-depth’.

*

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But if we are calling this traditional,

then where are the clouds?

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Ah, where indeed…

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Devil in the Detail…

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St Dunstan, so the story goes,

once pulled the devil by the nose,

with red-hot tongs,

which made him roar,

that he was heard three miles or more…

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Another story relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s foot when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s cloven hoof.

This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door.

*

Have you ever wondered about the nature of truth and its relation to story-telling,

or about the true nature of time and its ability to foreshadow eternity?

Join us in April as we embark upon the Quest of Quests…

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Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

A Living Lore Workshop.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Virgin of the Ridge…

*

…Come together in this countryside, where so much has lately gone undone,

Come armed with wisdom and intelligence, together we shall utter the words of truth,

which heaven’s saints are wont to hear and they will come down amongst us…

*

…We are now clambering back into Wen’s low slung car. “I have much higher hopes of the next one.”

“Which is?”

“The Virgin of the Ridge… Twelfth-century construction or earlier… presence of wall paintings…”

“Sounds promising. The presence of wall paintings seems to be particularly germane, don’t you think?”

If the church sounded promising, it looks even more so when we catch our first glimpse of it, when cresting a rise in what appears to be the forested heart of the whole area.

The Virgin of the Grove perhaps… and on closer inspection, it does indeed stand upon an idyllic spot, another raised mound surrounded by trees and fair bristling with bird song.

With a growing sense of expectation, I once more take up my role as opener and hasten into the porch. The door yields and swings inward to reveal the first of the wall paintings, which is… a scroll?

 “Oh dear, someone’s obliterated the wall painting with a scroll, with a number of scrolls in fact… The tree over the arch is quite nice… but it is still… ”

“…part of a scroll. Oh Don, I had such high hopes for this place.”

“I know, me too. What are the colour readings like?”

Wen consults her camera, “There are traces of blue light, particularly in the nave area, but they are only very and I mean very faint traces…”

“Where there’s life and all that.”

Wen has now moved into the centre of the church. ”I can feel a definite energy transfer here. It moves from hot to cold quite radically. ”

“It is odd to have the tower in such a position in the church.”

“They’ve obviously added a bit at a later date. I would say that the warm bit is original and then they’ve added the altar space and completely messed up the energies of the place.”

We move into the altar space. “That is an impressive enough window, though,” I say, admiring the Shepherd of Souls. There are a number of screens arranged around the walls depicting scenes from the ‘Stations of the Cross.’  I can see Wen eyeing them distastefully. “Well, we are still at the back end of Easter, but I know what you mean. It has never really sat particularly well with me either. This obsession with the crucifixion to the exclusion of all else… it’s akin to bad news television.”

“Regulation Fear!”

“And yet… it is not so much different than celebrating the beheading of saints. I mean, the paintings on the wall of Our Blue Chapel in all their original glory would have been, well, quite gory really… but that doesn’t seem to bother me the same, I don’t know why.”

Wen sighs, “How long have you got?”

“As long as you like, but let’s go outside.”

We reconvene on a bench in the churchyard of what, despite our various disappointments, are still idyllic settings for a church.

“Actually, it won’t take that long really. I think I can answer that question in one sentence.”

“Answer that question.”

“Anyone can become a Saint but no one else can be Christ.”

“You’re right, that is a sentence. I can hear the prison doors clanging shut.”

*

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

A Living Lore Workshop.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Hill-of-the-Buried-Sun…

*

…It was, after all, rather disconcerting to be thus accosted by a total stranger…

*

“Does this count?” he demanded, ferociously,

and pushed an admittedly intriguing photograph across the bar at us.

“Does that count as what?”

*

“One of them ‘Black’ places”

“Well, it might do, what is it?”

*

“It’s one of them there mounds.”

“Is it really, it looks just like a pyramid of light?”

*

“That’s why I was thinking it might count.”

“Strictly speaking, in order ‘to count’ it would have to be called

‘Black-something’ or ‘Something-black’. Does it have a name?”

*

“Oh aye, it’s got a name alright.”

“And that name is?”

“Silbury Hill!”

*

And at that, the Red-Lion, or so it seemed to us,

burst into a collective paroxysm of laughter…

*

Hidden Avebury: Seeking the Unseen

Avebury, Wiltshire

12th – 14th June, 2020

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A Living Land Workshop

Almost everyone knows of Avebury, the great stone circle within which a village was built. A World Heritage site and one of the most incredible sacred complexes of prehistory, it is justly famous for its beauty and mystery. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year but while most simply walk in awe amongst the majestic standing stones of the Circle and Avenue, there is far more to discover for those who will walk the paths less travelled.

Join us in June, 2020, as we explore some of the hidden corners of this amazing landscape, ranging beyond the boundaries of the Circle to seek a deeper understanding of what our ancestors hoped to touch by building this earthly temple to the stars.

Based in the landscape around Avebury and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking. There will be time during the weekend to explore Avebury and its stones.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

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

The Incomparable Comper…

*

…The nearest church is St Nicholas’ of Great Kimble so we head off there.

“Why blue specifically do you think?”

“Well, we’re sort of assuming that it’s a healing energy but if we follow the Theosophists then I suppose it could be devotional.”

“And what are we expecting at St Nicholas’s?”

“To be honest I’ll be surprised if there is anything.”

“What, nothing at all?”

“We were given Our Blue Chapel, remember and I just think that it is special.”

“Well it certainly feels special but it will not be the only church built on an old site, I mean it went out as a definitive edict, to ensure the populace kept coming to the old sites they built their churches on top of them.”

“It very much depends on what has happened in the meantime.”

*

I hasten along the gravel path, and enter the church porch, pause, look back at Wen as mysteriously as I can, and then twist the iron door ring with a yank and lean into the heavy oaken door.

The door yields…

The door is open…

We step inside.

Now it is a curious thing that since experiencing Our Blue Chapel, we tend to judge all other churches by its incredibly exacting standards and if it does not immediately have the same feel, there is a definite sense of disappointment, which is palpable here, yet this is not a disappointing church by any means. It is well kept. It is obviously well attended and it has some wonderful features, a lovely little side chapel and some quite astonishing stained glass windows, Wen even picks up a bit of colour around some of the side aisles although to my eye there looks to be green mixed in with the blue which sets me thinking…

Wen is quite vociferous in her disappointment. She has appropriated the ‘corporate’ word for use in her appraisal of the place. If you know Wen, you know that ‘corporate’, is a bad, bad word…

“What if the colour is linked to the name?”

“Go on…”

“…Blue for All Saints, Green for St. Nicholas…  I don’t know… purple for Our Lady?”

“You are aware that there were tinges of purple in the central isles of Our Chapel and that the blue from the windows is a different blue to the blue on the walls and floors?”

“I was not aware of that no…It did seem though that the more I looked at the photos the more blue there was.”

“That’s probably just you attuning. The blue from the windows is a lapis blue, whereas the earth blue if that is where it comes from is more of a royal blue.”

“This is crazy…crazy… but true…possibly.”

“And how do they name the churches anyway?”

“There’s a special office, they’re called ‘planters’ but I suppose it’s like priests. There are good ones who know what they’re doing and there are those that don’t. Get a good planter, he tunes into the energy vibration of the place, sees the colour, or feels it and gives it the correct name.”

“It’s a stunning idea but I’ll be amazed if it works like that even though it evidently should.”…

*

… “And for a long time that is all we had.”

“That, and the Green light of the Lady Chapel.”

“That, and the Gold-Green light of the Lady Chapel.”

“And, when that is all you’ve got you tend to attend to it.”

“Enjoyed ‘tend to attend’ but what did we in fact, have?”

“Well, even that’s not certain.”

“So, what did we appear to have?”

“We appeared to have the head of Christ, which appeared to be floating.”

“I may have to take issue with ‘floating’. I may even have to take issue with ‘head’. I am duty bound to take issue with ‘Christ’.”

“Oh dear, taking issue with Christ is not a happy place to be. Is there a particular reason?”

“Red hair.”

“Ah, well, yes, red hair for Christ is, perhaps, not a familiar attribute, but he is wearing a crown of thorns and he is affixed to a cross.”

“‘He’ is wearing a green crown of thorns and the cross may be a halo and appears to be feathered.”

“Floating?”

“Carried, or ‘raised’ by angels. Carried, or ‘raised’ by red haired angels to be precise.”

“Do we ‘know’ any red haired angels?”

“Michael has red hair.”

“That’s that then, but what about the head?”

“It looks more like the angels are carrying or raising a banner with the representation of a head on it.”

“Or, an icon! Is there such a thing in the tradition?”

“There is such a thing, although, whether or not it can be regarded as traditional is very much open to question.”

“Pray, tell of this thing?”

“The Veronica.” …

*

… “The Veronica?”

“It is one of the ‘Stations of the Cross’. One of Christ’s female adherents approaches her Lord and wipes the sweat from his face as he struggles to Calvary under the back breaking load of the cross. When he has gone, Veronica looks at the cloth, she has used to administer to her Lord, and it bears the imprint of his visage upon it.”

“Another miracle? But of questionable traditional authority you say?”

“The ‘Stations of the Cross’ are supposed to represent Christ’s journey to the cross and beyond as related in the Gospels.”

“Supposed?”

“The Veronica does not occur in the any of the four canonical gospels.”

“And the apocryphal gospels?”

“It is not in any that have so far come to light.”

“So where did it come from?”

“It was ‘made up’.”

“By whom?”

“If he had a name it has long since been lost to the annals of time, but it is ten-to-one-on that we know not who he was but what he was.”

“You are starting to make less and less sense, ten-to-one-on?”

“He was a Jesuit.”

“Okay… Why would a Jesuit make up something like that?”

“Why, indeed?”

*

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Keys of Heaven (10): A Final Resting Place

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Whitby Weekend: Lastingham’s Holy Wells

The weekend was almost over, but before we reached a parting of the ways, there was lunch in the seventeenth century Blacksmith’s Arms opposite the church and a wander around the village of Lastingham to visit the holy wells.

The first well, St Ovin’s Well, we did not see. It is tucked away on the road that leads towards Pickering and all that remains is the eighteenth century well housing… neither spout not basin have survived. The well’s origins, however, are much older… as are those of the other wells in the village. St Ovin was a Fenland Bailiff of Queen Eltherdreda who turned his back on the life of the nobility to serve his God with his hands. Perhaps that is a true nobility after all.

St Ovin’s Well, Lastingham, ©hiddenteesdale.co.uk

The next well is dedicated to St Chad, brother of St Cedd and Bishop of Lichfield. The well housing sits beside the road and, Steve told us, used to flow until very recently when the owners of the property found out they were being charged for the water. There is a legend that says the remorseful Mercian king, Wulfhere, converted to Christianity, acceding to the wishes of his wife, Queen Ermenilda, after punishing his sons for worshipping at the well… though there is no guarantee it was this St Chad’s Well and the story may be linked to the well of the same name at Lichfield.

The grandest of the wells sits beside Hole Beck and is dedicated to St Cedd himself. It is believed that some of the stones may have come from nearby Rosedale Abbey. Like the other wells, the origins of this holy well is far older than its current appearance would suggest.

The most interesting of the Holy Wells, however, lies just outside the village and issues from a grassy bank. The well is dedicated to Mary Magdalene… and there was once a chapel to that Lady in a nearby village. A spring of clear water issues from the well to be collected in a stone basin sunk into the earth and surrounded by water mint. When it was cleared and excavated in the ‘sixties, fragments of medieval and Saxon or Roman pottery were found, suggesting the well has been in use for at least fifteen hundred years and very possibly longer. There were ribbons left as offerings when we visited and this well in particular has the feel of a sacred place… though to what god may be open to debate. Local legend says it is haunted by a white Lady… The Holy Wells that now bear the names and legends of the saints have, very often, an allegiance to the spirits of earth and water that predate the Christian story.

Here we filled the empty vessels we had carried throughout the weekend with the pure water of the spring. It was the final act of the Silent Eye weekend… though, for some of us, there was still a little time to share. With hugs all round and thanks to Steve for organising the weekend, we went our separate ways… knowing that it may not be too long before we meet again.

Whitby Weekend: Moorland stone…

On the Sunday morning, we met at the Lion Inn, perched some thirteen hundred feet above sea level and high on the North Yorkshire moors. The sixteenth-century inn is an isolated spot above Rosedale, in an area fair littered with archaeology that demands further exploration. It is also a warm and welcoming place, with a fire in the hearth and, at this time of year, full of Christmas greenery. We met there for coffee but could have happily stayed there for hours.

Outside, though, within just a few yards of the inn, was the first of three standing stones that Steve wanted to show us. We had already passed Young Ralph’s Cross on the way and another couple of intriguing stones. Had the weather been a little less wild, we would have stopped to explore… but it was truly blowing a gale, with nothing in that exposed spot to mitigate the winds.

But out we went anyway, with me battling a gale that mistook my wide skirts and cloak for sails and seemed convinced that, with just a little more effort on its part, I could be persuaded to fly. Held earthbound by Steve’s firm grasp, and with the wind whipping all sound but its own from my ears, I set my back to the first standing stone, perched on the bank above a hollowed cairn.  I caught only fragments of what Steve told us about Blakey Howe, or Cockpit Howe as it is sometimes called, after the so-called ‘sport’ that used to take place within the hollow. The standing stone itself is an eighteenth-century boundary stone, though it may have once been a true standing stone, later re-used.

The area is rich in history. At Loose Howe not far away,  excavation had found a boat burial, where the deceased was sent on his final journey with a hollowed log resembling a canoe. A number of these have been found on the North Yorkshire moors, with radiocarbon dating suggesting the burials are around four thousand years old. At Loose Howe, hazelnuts and a dagger were also buried and a later cremation interred above the boat.

Behind the inn is another stone that has both the look and feel of a more modern construction, though possibly reusing an older stone. It does not appear to be marked on the map-catalogue of ancient sites, but it is impressive enough as it stands. That, however, was as far as I could go.

Straining stand against the wind had set off the pain again and I was obliged to go back to the car and wait while the others walked to the final of the three stones in the area, another eighteenth-century boundary marker placed upon a Bronze Age round barrow. As it turned out, I had made a wise decision as, by the time the others returned, they were drenched, having been caught by a sudden change in the weather. I think we were all thankful that the final sites of the day would be a little more sheltered…

Only a Horse and a Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not too much to ask, or too onerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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