Why not?

Above Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

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

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

Derbyshire

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

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

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

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

Nine Stones Close, Derbyshire

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

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

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

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

The annual April workshop is a little different.

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

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

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

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

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

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

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

Sumerian art

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

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

Lord of the Deep
26-28 April, 2019

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Click HERE for full details, prices and booking form

For all upcoming events, please visit our EVENTS page.

 

Hands of the Future

Sun in Gemini

It was cold, very cold on that Friday… just five days ago.

Across the road, people were trickling out of the railway station and along the busy main road through Penrith. Three hours from now it would fill with commuters both leaving and arriving in the Cumbrian town on the main west-coast line to Glasgow.

But not yet…

“Full Circle: Finding the Way Home’ was the name of the Silent Eye’s weekend workshop. The town of Penrith its base for the three days; and the bitter Cumbrian wind was seeing it start in true local style. The land of lakes and mountains was mounting a traditional Winter welcome…

Nine of us had Penrith Castle to ourselves and I was standing by the English Heritage notice-board quite stunned by what I was looking at. The word ‘Cycles” had just taken on a quite different meaning, and I was staring at an…

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A Wooded-Isle…

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Brother-Wizard and Brother-Warrior immediately set out for the sea-shore.

There, moored at the mouth of a natural cave in the cliffs, bobbed a coracle.

They both clambered aboard…

*

…The King of Castle-Hill took the magic halter to the cell of the tower on his wooded isle and presented it as a gift to appease his imprisoned daughter.

“Of what use to me is a magic halter,” sobbed the princess, “if all my days are to be spent cooped up here seeing none but my hand-maids.”

“With the halter comes a wondrous cow, my child, its inexhaustible supply of milk will sustain you,” soothed the king, “and I shall bring your food everyday and relate the comings and goings of the kingdom. Far better a sequestered life than one without a father.”

As the King of Castle-Hill left the tower to attend to his duties, the magic halter cascaded against the back of the cell door…

*

Brother-Warrior and Brother-Wizard landed at the wooded isle in their coracle.

“The magic halter is with the king’s daughter,” said Brother-Wizard.”

“And where is the king’s daughter?” said Brother-Warrior.

“The king’s daughter, is in a tower in the centre of the wood which is surrounded by nine home-steads,” said Brother-Wizard, “you must enter the tower and sleep with her.”

“And what’s in the nine home-steads?”said Brother-Warrior.

“You’ll see,” said Brother-Wizard. He gave his brother a Cloak-of-Darkness and put a spell on his hands so that whatever door he came to would open for him.

“Wish me luck, brother,” said the warrior, turning to leave.

“One more thing,” said the wizard, “be sure to leave the magic halter with the princess, we will return for it another day.”

“I thought…” began Brother-Warrior but a withering look from the wizard stayed that thought and sent him swiftly on his way into the wood.

*

A Red-Haired Boy…

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… The king immediately ordered a tower be built on a densely wooded isle off the coast of his lands and had his daughter put in the tower away from all danger.

Nine home-steads about the foot of the tower and nine hand-maids, one for each home-stead, to ensure that none but the king himself could enter the tower and see the princess.

Once completely satisfied that such a defence could not be breached, without his knowledge, the king set about planning the procurement of the magic halter.

After much deliberation he transformed himself into a red-haired boy and set off for the abode by the sea that housed the three brothers.

The  disguised king arrived in the nick of time.

Brother-Smith was busy in the forge making weapons while Brother-Wizard stood alongside casting spells on those weapons.

Brother-Warrior was outside the forge holding the magic halter.

The wondrous cow grazed sedately in a field alongside the forge.

A dispute between Brother-Smith and Brother-Wizard had just arisen, over the tempering of the blades, and Brother-Warrior was summoned to settle the matter.

“Just look after this for awhile will you,” said Brother-Warrior to a red-haired boy who was passing by, “I won’t be a moment,” he handed the magic halter to the boy and entered the forge.

When Brother-Warrior re-emerged from the forge the red-haired boy, the magic halter, and the wondrous cow were gone.

He set up a shout and the smith and the wizard came running out.

“It can only be the King of Castle-Hill,” said Brother-Wizard looking into the far distance, “long has he coveted our wondrous cow.”

“You will have to get the magic halter back,” said Brother-Smith.

“I’ll need your help,” said Brother-Warrior disturbing the wizard’s reverie.

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Brother-Wizard, his eyes narrowing darkly…

*

The King of Castle Hill…

*

…There once was a king who lived in a castle on a hill.

He was lord and master of all he surveyed.

One daughter he had sired but his wife had died in giving the child life.

His daughter was very beautiful and the king looked forward to the day when she would come into her own.

By a cunning device of his mother the King of Castle-Hill had been made invulnerable and was possessed of a baleful eye which was capable of blighting all that it gazed upon.

The eye was normally kept covered by five leather patches.

The King of Castle-Hill was also a great wizard in his own right, well versed in the magical arts, and nothing happened in his kingdom without his knowledge of it.

There was little that the King of Castle-Hill wanted save for a wondrous cow which was looked after by three brothers who lived by the sea.

One of the brothers was a blacksmith, clever and skilful.

One of the brothers was a wizard, cunning and resourceful.

One of the brothers was a warrior, strong and fair.

The wondrous cow was possessed of an inexhaustible supply of milk and it daily traversed the kingdom supplying the people with nourishment.

The wondrous cow was governed by a magic halter.

Wherever the halter went, there too went the wondrous cow.

The King of Castle-Hill determined to acquire the wondrous cow and realised that if he could somehow get the magic halter then the object of his desire would follow.

About the same time as the king determined upon a plan to acquire the wondrous cow it came to his attention that certain prophesies were doing the rounds of his kingdom.

The prophecies spoke of the king’s demise.

The king summoned his soothsayer.

“It is true, my lord, words have been uttered describing your death,” said the king’s soothsayer.

“But I am invulnerable,” said the King of Castle-Hill, “I will live forever.”

“Not so,” said the soothsayer, “your grandson shall slay you by casting a spear through your baleful eye and on out of the back of your skull.”

The king fell silent in thought.

It might possibly be true, the king’s baleful eye, though a potent weapon and an effective deterrent against those who might oppose him, was also his only vulnerable spot.

“Will he indeed!” seethed the King of Castle-Hill fingering the first of the leather pouches that covered his baleful eye, “we will see about that.”…

*

North-easterly VII: A final grace

 

“…Manifest thy light for my regeneration, and let the breadth, height, fullness and crown
of the solar radiance appear, and may the light within shine forth!”

Abbe de Villars, ‘The Comte de Gabalis’

“We’ve just got to the top of the slope by the castle,” said the voice on the phone, in answer to my query. We had been a few minutes late arriving on Holy Island, and our companions had begun to stroll out towards the medieval castle that dominates the island landscape. Having failed to find them in any of the three cafés where we had looked, we had located them by phone and, putting on a bit of a spurt, finally caught up with them. From here we could look back at the beginning of our journey, over the water to Bamburgh Castle, just as the spiritual pilgrim looks back on his inner journey and sees with greater clarity than before, how short was the true distance he had to travel , no matter how difficult and tortuous the route he felt he had to take.

The plan was that we should spend an hour exploring in our own way before meeting for a light lunch and our departure, so while some visited the castle, the rest of us walked back into the village and met the sparrows. Time always makes its presence keenly felt on Holy Island, which is odd, because, in so many ways, it is a timeless place. As you cross the causeway from the mainland, that sense of stepping outside of time is one of the most striking feelings, and, if you remain when the tides come in, flooding the causeway and cutting off the island from the shore, there simply is no time, only the spirit of place. Yet the tides rule all and the clock ticks regardless, and for those who must leave before the waters rush in, time is always limited. The very consciousness of that knowledge makes every moment precious.

When we had gathered once more, we walked over to the ancient parish church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. In spite of the fact that there have been people on the island since the very earliest of times, this is the oldest building to remain. It is built on the site of St Aidan’s original monastery, founded in 635, and parts of the building date back to that century.

A service had just finished, and we had no wish to intrude, so simply sat quietly for a while, in contemplation. Faith is unique to each of us, no matter by what name we know it or what path we walk. Each of us has our own relationship with something other and greater than ourselves and the simple silence of St Mary’s seems to welcome all those who turn their faces to the Light.

There are beautiful stained glass windows, touching tributes to those who have served in the church and those who have lived on the island and worked with the sea. There are windows that glow with colour and light, a statue carved from elm and called ‘The Journey,’ that shows the monks who carried St Cuthbert’s coffin on its long odyssey, a transcript of the Lindisfarne Gospel… the beautifully illuminated manuscript from the last years of the seventh century, made by a monk called Eadfrith in honour of St Cuthbert.

Fourteen hundred years is a long time for any place to be at the heart of a tiny community, and the church holds that community in its heart.

You ‘may sense the ‘thinness’ linking with the ancient saints who trod the same ground so many years before,’ says the church website. And you can. There is a very real sense of the sacred here, of something older and deeper than the exoteric Church that we know today. It is impossible not to be moved by the echoes of so many centuries of prayer.

In the churchyard, the lives of those who walked here are both remembered and forgotten. The oldest inhabitants have no grave-markers, their names and stories are, for the most part, lost. Only those whose stories were written in the annals of history are remembered by name and deed, and those who lived recently enough that their headstones survive.

Two nineteenth century headstones caught my eye. One was that of a Freemason and soldier who served in India. His affiliation to Freemasonry is not explicitly mentioned in the inscription, but the Masonic Square and Compasses tell their own story. Another local rejoiced in the name of Field Flowers. Time and weather have worn away much of the inscription, but he still rests in the shadow of the Saxon Abbey.

From the church, we walked down to the shore, passing the old well that shelters beneath the walls. I had long wanted to visit St Cuthbert’s Island but on our previous visits, either the tide or time had always been against us.

St Cuthbert’s Isle is a tiny islet just off the island’s shore. At low tide, it is just a short walk across the mussel-encrusted rocks, but to fully appreciate its isolation from the rest of the community,you have to see it when the tide comes in, completely sundering it from the island. We had done so one day, when we had stayed the length of a sea-tide on Holy Island, watching the sun gild a roseate path to the mainland as it sank beyond the hills.

It was to this tiny islet that St Cuthbert would retreat when he needed solitude. He had become a monk after a vision that came to him the night that St Aidan died. he felt called to a contemplative life, but his kindness, charm and generosity, as well as his gift of healing and deep faith, were to take him from his cell and make him Bishop of Lindisfarne and one of the best loved of the early saints.

The little island was his retreat, until in later years he sought the greater solitude of the Farne Islands. Today the foundations of his chapel remain on the islet, marked by a simple cross where pilgrims still leave tokens of respect, and earthworks that may be the foundations of his cell.

 

I once heard the monastic life described as being ‘in the world, but not of it’. In some respects this relates too to the journey of the spiritual seeker… pilgrims in the land of the living… who embrace the earthly life and its world fully, yet who know that the source of being is not of this world. It was the perfect place for us to end our weekend.

From here we could see the mainland and the dark outline of Bamburgh Castle. We could look back too at the Holy Isle and see the ancient church and the Abbey. Our journey together was drawing to its close, yet our journeys would continue. For a moment, we were once more outside of time and the spirit of place caught at the heart.

“I can hear mermaids singing,” said one of our companions. Sure enough, she was right. Turning our eyes to the sea, we scanned the waves and saw their faces in the waves. It was indeed magical to watch the seals watching us from the sea… playing and diving through the waters with what looked like joyful abandon.

But time touched us even here, and it was time for the weekend to end. Gary read the beautiful Invocation to the Flame from Abbe de Villars’, ‘The Comte de Gabalis’ and Barbara ended the weekend with a poem she had written. Then, with hugs and the knowledge that we would hopefully meet again soon, we parted.

For three of us, there was still a little time. Just enough to linger on the island for a moment or two… long enough to realise that the dark shadow on the sandbanks was not seaweed, but our ‘mermaids’.

The three of us, joined by silence and friendship, watched from afar, listening to their song. Such moments can justly be called a grace.

The sea-song continued, eerie and haunting on the wind as we left the islet and climbed to the Heugh. Sheltering in the lee of the ruined Anglo-Saxon chapel, we watched the seals from afar and saw a heron gliding over the waves.

But although, for once, we were in no hurry, Gary had a long drive ahead and had to leave. We walked the length of the Heugh, looking down into the ruined Priory that was already nearly a thousand years old when the castle was built. Time and distance were about to make themselves felt and it was with a certain amount of sadness that we descended from the outcrop, knowing that the world was about to take us once more by the hand. And that although at such moments we may wish the demands of the world elsewhere, it is right that it should do so. We are born into this world for a reason and to live in it fully is at least part of our purpose.

The weekend held one final and surprising gift though. As we walked across the fields towards the village, we came face to face with the past in the most surprising manner. Our timing could hardly have been more perfect and we watched archaeologists brush fourteen hundred years of earth from the faces of the early monks in the newly uncovered Priory burial ground.

“These men would have known Aidan or Cuthbert,” said the archaeologist, when I asked if it were permitted to take photographs. “Treat them with respect if you use the pictures.” I could not do anything else, for these were the men in whose footsteps we had walked the island, the men who had ‘trod the same ground so many years before,’ and whose faith has made this a place of pilgrimage, both religious and spiritual, for centuries. I may not share their particular form of religion, but we share the essence of faith and, in coming face to face with the past, I came face to face with myself. And surely, that is what any pilgrimage is supposed to achieve?

With thanks to Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh for organising the Castles of the Mind weekend.

If you have enjoyed reading the story of our time in Northumberland and would like to join us for one of our informal weekends exploring the spiritual landscape of Britain, or at our annual April Workshop in Derbyshire, please visit the Silent Eye’s Events page.

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In the Similitude of a Dream III…

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… At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed

that what he said to them was true, but because they thought that

some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing

towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains,

with all haste they got him to bed.

*

*

But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore,

instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears.

So, when the morning was come, they would know

how he did. He told them, Worse and worse:

he also set to talking to them again; but they began to be hardened.

*

*

They also thought to drive away his distemper

by harsh and surly carriages to him; sometimes they would

deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes

they would quite neglect him.

Wherefore he began to retire himself to his chamber…

*

*

… to pray for and pity them,

and also to console his own misery;

he would also walk solitarily in the fields,

sometimes reading, and sometimes praying:

and thus for some days he spent his time.

*

*

Now, I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields,

that he was, as he was wont, reading in his book,

and greatly distressed in his mind;

and as he read, he burst out, as he had done once before, crying,

What shall I do to be saved?

*

The Pilgrim’s Progress

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Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

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In the Similitude of a Dream II…

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…In this plight, therefore, he went home and refrained himself as long as he could,

that his wife and children should not perceive his distress;

but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased.

*

*

Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them:

O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I, your dear friend,

am in myself undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me

*

*

… moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven;

in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably

come to ruin, except some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered.

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A Pilgrim’s Progress

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Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

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In the Similitude of a Dream…

*

As I walked through the wilderness of this world,

I lighted on a certain place where there was a Den,

And I laid me down in that place to sleep…

*

*

And, as I slept, I dreamed a dream.

I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man

clothed with rags, standing in a certain place,

with his face from his own house,

a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.

*

*

I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein;

and, as he read, he wept, and trembled;

and not being able longer to contain,

he brake out with a lamentable cry,

saying, What Shall I do?

*

The Pilgrim’s Progress

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Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.