‘Claims to ancient reach’?…

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (15)

Throughout the books written with Stuart France there are visions; moments of a past long fled that ‘Wen’ still sees written in the ancient stone of the landscape and within the circles of the Old Ones. They come when they will, flooding her consciousness with something that may be no more than imagination, no more than a waking dream… or perhaps they are shadows that are cast across the face of time…

The stone is warm beneath her back. Above her the clear blue of the sky is powdered with clouds, barely moving. It is sheltered here in the circle, the earthen banks of the henge protecting the centre from the ceaseless assault of the winds in this high place.

She closes her eyes and waits, feet towards the centre, hands crossed on her breast, relaxing each muscle, each limb in turn, breathing deeply of the clear air.

The shift comes. The world falls away. She can see her companion through closed eyes, across the circle, mirroring her. She does not need to look to feel his presence.

On the screen of inner sight a single glowing point of light that seems farther than the farthest star, yet closer than the sun. Between her and the light nothing but the streaks of passage… a stream of movement, as of a million suns caught racing comets in the blackness of space. A wormhole… dragons… serpents aflame with brilliance… a tunnel through which she is rushing faster than the light itself, falling inwards, forwards, upwards… she does not know.

Then a figure blocking the brightness… a dark silhouette against the torchlight and the tang of smoke. A hand extended, smiling eyes unseen but felt. She takes the hand, stiff after the long vigil in the chill of night, accepting assistance to regain her feet.

The grass is cold, frost biting her bare toes. Above, a million stars streak across the heavens. It is done. The old one smiles, raising his hand…

…. Voices call her back. The sunlight casts a pale golden glow … across the circle her companion opens his eyes. There is something she recognises in them…. She knows not what it is.

***

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (49)

Atop the mound the grass is chill and damp though the sun shines clear. There is no shelter and the wind ruffles her hair, an ancient grandmother caressing her child.

She closes her eyes, folds her hands on her breast beside him, relaxing into the other sight.

The shift comes. The world falls away. She is glad of his presence as the veins of her eyelids are painted green against the grey light… green and grey he had said of the one he had seen….

On the screen of inner sight a single glowing point of light that seems farther than the farthest star, yet closer than the sun. Between her and the light nothing but the streaks of passage… a stream of movement, as of a million suns caught racing comets in the blackness of space. A wormhole… dragons… serpents aflame with brilliance… a tunnel through which she is rushing faster than the light itself, falling backwards, away from the light. The unexpected sensation is sickening, stomach twisting.

Hands reach up from the earth, dragging, clawing… nightmares and hell… women, children… She refuses their hold and turns. Flesh melts from her bones and she dissolves into earth… She is only the wind…

He moves. She opens her eyes to a world wreathed in fog, ghostly shapes, amorphous and shifting…

It takes a moment before reality returns…

“We need to go to Fin Cop.”

Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (21)

***

Doomsday:

The Aetheling Thing

Stuart France & Sue Vincent

 ‘Doomsday: The Aetheling Thing’

The Cafe at the end of the Writing World

“It used to be called, simply, vanity publishing,” a good friend said to me, recently. She is more than just a friend, she’s the kind of good friend who tells you the truth, not always what we want to hear.

I’ve made some wonderful friends as a writer in the WordPress.com community. Although I’ve written a few ‘Amazon books’ as well, I’m not going to talk about them, here. This is for something far more important: a personal vision of the future and the content of self-publishing.

We can easily overlook the fact that WordPress is a self-publishing mechanism, as well as a blogging world and enabler of websites. We think of the vast machine that is Amazon books or ebooks as the dominant mechanism for getting from idea to ‘print’, although Amazon’s genius was to offer an international print-on-demand machine from which the majority of its writers – the content providers of its product – receive nothing…

I’m torn here, because Amazon does a lot of things right. I’m not sure we would have fared as well as we all did without them during Covid. The idea of ebooks is an excellent one, but…

It feels good to have a set of paper books on the shelves that bear your name as author. That’s important, because for the majority of us, that’s all we’ll get. There is an argument that the effect of our satisfaction with very little (apart from our vanity) has greatly eroded the quality of the book market. There are no certificates for good writing… Perhaps we need a General Certificate of Competent Writing.

It’s difficult to find a way through this, but some do. It’s all about marketing, of course. But experienced marketeers will tell you how much effort they have to put in, each week, to keep any income stream at all. I know of none who make more than a basic income, even those very good at it.

Perhaps the very nature of writing is changing – and, importantly, its value as an asset. My weekly blog-writing consists of three posts shared across two sites: Some fun fiction on Sunday; a Tuesday post on both Sun in Gemini and the Silent Eye, and a serious post on Thursday, usually centred on the core of what the Silent Eye does – modern mystical practice.

To me, this is more like a magazine than a book. I always stick to this weekly cycle; it allows my readers to know what’s coming. If they want to try my latest poetic offering, for example, they will always find them on a Tuesday.

The beauty of this cycle is that I always know from the stats what those regular readers actually think. Many are kind enough to tell me, on the day, what they feel about the latest post. These ‘live’ comments are at the heart of the ‘aliveness’ of the WordPress world, and the reason I view many of my readers as friends, even though I may never meet them.

In idle moments, I let my mind extrapolate from what this stuff of mine actually is, and how this ownership might evolve. The content has grown over the seven years I’ve been blogging. I’ve probably got enough there to fill fifty or so books. That’s a lot of substance, and it’s got me thinking about the real value of content, and how much more it would be worth if we, collectively, got tired of being fleeced…

WordPress doesn’t do that. It protects its ‘creatives’ very well, though it has some amusing notions about testing code.

This arrangement of the world’s content providers starving on one side of the fence, across from the mansions of the few companies that feed off it is all very one-sided,

So here’s what I think will happen if we creatives get our act together in the world of small-scale writing; as contrasted with newspapers and printed magazines. This is a world that WordPress are ideally placed to support and profit from.

Books will become less important though their content will not. The website will become the ‘iCafe’; a place in which you can get to know ‘Steve Tanham’ and find out whether you share ideas, curiosities and certain convictions. You won’t have to do this by spending days trawling through the writer’s website because there will be automated ‘avatars’ representing both your interests and privacy. These will utilise Artificial Intelligence (AI) to hold an ongoing discussion with the owner of the iCafe – the writer.

Both viewer (via avatar) and writer (cafe-owner) will only share as much as they wish, but the process will be one of gradual revealing of the ‘self’ of the cafe and its visitor. More experienced writers on WordPress will have an advantage because they will be familiar with both the methods of scammers and the ‘getting to know you’ phases of engaging with their actual and potential public.

The AI will help a lot in this, which is not intended to be a substitute for secure e-commerce or any banking practice. The modern banking apps on our phones and computers is a very sophisticated facility, one we need to support.

If your avatar likes what it sees, there will come a period when the curtains are pulled back and actual dialogue is engaged, But the AI avatar will watch over this for danger signs – if you wish it to. The Avatar and its protective settings belong to you.

It would not surprise me if Apple, with its committed focus on the privacy of our data, releases such an avatar architecture in the near future. By that time, WordPress might even work, reliably, on Apple platforms.

At the end of this process, I as a browsing person, have, effectively, made a friend. Armed with confidence that ‘I’ have integrity, am honest and a bona-fide member of this new iCafe Community, you decided to explore further. Perhaps we, across Zoom link or similar, arrange to actually ‘meet’ over a coffee. We bring our own coffee, of course. But look out for Amazon shipping seriously good coffee by drone at this point in the near-future.

Now we really talk. You’re interested in my new Sci-fi ‘book’ about how our master genes really came from outer space, and I’m fascinated by the work you’ve done on a little known but influential character in Jane Seymour’s family – about to be turned into a Zoom play.

Now this may seem like an awful lot of work to sell one book or play. But… One of the reasons this works is that I don’t know, yet, that you’ve got ten thousand followers until we’re having that drone-shipped coffee and are already friends. You are tired of being digitally abused and the avatar system prevents that. You can get to the reality of someone you like the sound of very quickly. And your delight in life is to meet and befriend ‘real’ people.

You’re happy that we both are genuine. I offer you a free digital copy of my book because I know that a good fraction of ten thousand people might just be interested. In turn, I appreciate that reading my book is a major investment in time for such a busy and successful person, but you assure me that, for the right friend, it’s fine.

The book isn’t on Amazon and it never has been. It’s in your iCafe Format, which is based on a new world public standard, but encrypted so that only those with the second part of the key (the buyers) can continue to read it beyond the trial period, when, in the spirit of ‘mission impossible’, it normally self-destructs. Because I trust you, I grant you a digital ‘key’ that allows you to send out a certain number of trial chapters to your other friends, possibly thousands of them.

I think about this and order you a drone-delivered latte of the best quality to say thank you. We have become friends, and time will show that we are two people in an increasingly enabled world-wondered-web of trusted iCafe Communities who continue to own their own stuff.

Scammers, con-persons and scumbags still exist, but they will be finding it harder to get anywhere as the AI possessed by the iCafe Circles learns from its experience… and patterns their demise.

Amazon will have moved out of books, but will own all the food we eat. And the world’s best coffee. Some you win…

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Deepest Night

We are creatures of cycles; the smaller fitting within the increasingly larger. We may have little conception of the very largest, but the effects of that level of creation trickle down to remind us of our true natures…

(750 words, a five-minute read)

We live in cycles within cycles. Every day, we wake up to a period of brightness which is essentially the same experience as the last. Yet we do not see this ‘endless’ stream of days as being without structure. Our days fit, seven at at time, into weeks. Weeks fit into months, whose length has been played with by powerful rulers over the course of our various societies and civilisations. The ability to manipulate such months is limited by the fact that there is, finally, a physical barrier – the year – to remind us that some things are not subject to our whims, but objective in their nature – that is, they have their own being, outside of our mind’s attributions.

The absolutes are very special, because they were here before we were; and they remind us that they had a hand in our creation.

It is of great importance for us to collide with objective things. It reminds us that we are creatures and beings that have been created by our environment. There may have been other forces involved in that creation – even in its nurturing – but we can clearly see that we are evolved creatures possessing a potentially high degree of intelligence.

We can define intelligence in many ways. My two favourites are that intelligence is the ability to abstract a problem. This goes hand in hand with the other: to play ‘what if’ in the mind. The ability to ‘run the tape’ to see what might happen if we stay on the present course of action is, literally, a life-saver.

The year can be said to summarise the forces working with us to further this intelligence. In the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the Earth, there are four observable seasons, each with its different character and ability to generate the mysterious things we call emotions.

Emotions might be said to be a movement of energy within us, reminding us that we are not just cyclical biology and desires, we also are capable of experience related to invisible causes. With training, we can develop a certain control over the effects of emotions. We can use intelligence to question their effects, for example. They are often vivid, but sometimes destructive and weakening. We can learn, through our powers of self-observation and the intelligence of ‘what if’ to spot the good and bad patterns as they are arising, and before they overwhelm us and impel us to negative action.

The good emotions reflect their energy into our higher faculties. For example, they empower creativity. They are also used in gradual spiritual awakening, where the stale egoic cycles of experience are broken though…to find a fresh new world of the Self.

In all cycles there are peaks and troughs. We enjoy the green vitality of spring, before surrendering to the colourful decline of outward life known as the autumn. The rapidly declining light heralds the winter. Within this cycle, two days are of special importance. They are the Solstices – the longest and shortest days. In late June is the Summer Solstice. The 21st December 2020 marks the Winter Solstice, which is the shortest day and the longest night.

But that longest night might just be the greatest gift of all, since it marks not only the switching of the light to increasing length and brightness, it also can also mark the emptying of our ordinary selves.

Perhaps you will joins us in the Silent Eye in taking your candle, unlit, into a real or imagined dark place and holding in your mind and heart an emptying of your self as the astronomical moment of the solstice arrives. Then light the candle and see that, although it is small in the darkness, its light travels out, unresisted, into the world.

Hold the thought that, because you have used this to empty yourself, you are now a vessel of consciousness which can be filled to its maximum potential.

With that, smile and go happily into your deepest night.

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of personal being.

The City and the Stars (8) : Longships

The traditional picture of the Vikings – looting, marauding, raping invaders – may not be entirely true of their time on Orkney, though they did rule this gentle archipelago with an iron fist for five hundred years… (1300 words, a ten-minute read)

(Above: the glory of St Magnus (Viking) Cathedral, Kirkwall)

History can be complex. Patterns of events that fit in one situation may not, even from the same peoples, dovetail into another. To understand why Orkney’s history of these times is likely to have differed from what might be expected, we need to put ourselves in the minds of the Vikings and examine what Orkney represented to them.

(Above: one of the ancient religious stones)

The sophisticated stone-age race that built the Ness of Brodgar temple-complex and neighbouring stone circles had long gone from Orkney. But the Norsemen did not immediately fill the gap.

No-one knows if anyone did, though farming continued – but without the intense spiritual concentration of former times. During the late Iron Age and for at least 400 years, the dominant cultural force on Orkney was Pictish. It’s likely that they came north, expanding their successful base centred on Inverness. They ruled Orkney for almost as long as the Vikings did, after them. Orkney had its own Pictish Kings, but, though powerfully autonomous in the islands, they were subservient to Inverness in wider Pictish affairs.

In many ways, our own journey over this extended weekend had mirrored that of the Picts. But we had already covered their achievements and culture further south, and they are documented in the earlier blogs (see below). The much more ancient wonders of Orkney had been our focus here. But, now, the story of the Picts had come into view, again, if only in the way they were subsumed into the Viking future, here on Orkney. There seems to have been little warfare, so perhaps they co-existed for a long time, Eventually, the Viking tribes emerged as the stronger cultural force, in line with the expansion of the whole Norse culture, driven by the ambitious Kings of Norway.

In many ways, Orkney was already theirs…

(Above: the pulpit at St Magnus Cathedral)

The Vikings were, essentially, seafarers. They were brave and fearless warriors and mariners of great skill. From their native bases in Scandinavia, they expanded across the world, following oceans and river systems deep into Europe and along the northern and western edges of Britain. Whenever they made these western journeys, they had to sail past Orkney. Its gentle hills and safe harbours were a haven to them. It was a natural stopping point on their outward and return journeys; and there are records (and sagas) of Norwegian royalty being entertained on Orkney, by their Earls – a measure of how important this place was in Viking times.

I hadn’t realised that the Vikings built Christian cathedrals, or that they had Earls, like the English. But both were here in Orkney during the height of their power. It’s confusing when you first look at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, and the place which became their power base in the later years of their reign. The location of the Cathedral is co-existent with the Earl’s Palace and the Palace of the Bishops across the street. So your first reaction is why there was so much ‘British hierarchy’ so far north?

(Above: the ruin of the Earls’ Palace, opposite the Cathedral)

But it’s not. Both the Cathedral and the two palaces are from the period when the Vikings ruled Orkney, administering it under the control of their own, powerful Earls – often two at a time, which was the gravitational force that created St Magnus Cathedral.

(St Magnus Cathedral: the main East-West axis)

The story of how St Magnus Cathedral came to be, and came to be here, is one of internecine warfare and a touch of Viking opportunism.

In 1103 the Viking cousins Magnus Erlendson and Haakon Paulson succeeded to the Earldom of Orkney. At first all went well, but, by 1117, major disputes had arisen. It was agreed that these would be resolved by a meeting on the island of Egilsay on 16th April of that year. Rules of engagement were drawn up, the core of which was that each Earl would take only two ships.

Haakon arrived with six, overwhelming the honest Magnus, who, though threatened with his life, refused to give up his Earldom. Haakon ordered Magnus’ own cook, Lifolf, to kill his master with a meat cleaver blow to his head.

A cenotaph now stands on the spot where this happened. Magnus was buried at Birsay, in the north of the ‘mainland’. Birsay was the Viking Earl’s base at the time, from which they could watch the northern waters. Magnus’ fame and the horror and dishonour of his death meant prayers were said for his soul and pilgrims began to visit his grave. Miraculous cures were reported and soon the place assumed legendary status.

Earl Haakon, now politically secure, became worried by this notoriety and made a pilgrimage to Rome to stabilise his position with the Christian church. He seems to have been successful. He was succeeded as Earl by his son, Paul… and now the tale gets interesting…

(Above: Rognvald Kolson holding a model of the original Cathedral dedicated to his uncle)

Paul was deposed in 1135 by the murdered Magnus’ nephew Rognwald Kolson, who declared his uncle a saint and vowed to raise money from the farmers of Orkney to build a vast cathedral dedicated to St Magnus. Durham masons – among the most skilled in Britain – were drafted in to supervise the design and construction. The new generation of Christian Bishops were a powerful force, and Rognwald Kolson, St Magnus’ nephew, made sure that the three buildings sat side by side. We can assume his political skills were as astute as his military prowess…

The cathedral was consecrated in 1150, when St Magnus’ remains were transferred from Birsay to a shrine in the east of the new church. The building was lengthened and extended in the next two centuries, and was completed to its present form in the 14th century.

Over the years that followed, it fell into disrepair – the Viking rule is not remembered here with fondness. But, in the past twenty years, extensive repair work has been carried out, which has made the St Magnus Cathedral more a more positive part of Orkney’s emotional future. It’s a very beautiful building, and a thriving centre of Kirkwall, which is a feature-rich place to visit.

Our time on Orkney was nearly over. We had one more day to explore, and we had chosen to leave the ‘Mainland’ for the first time and visit one of the neighbouring islands – Rousay. There, we knew, was an extensive defensive structure from the Iron Age. But first, we had to face a tense time on the ferry crossing!

The humorous and terrifying short ferry journey has already been written up as part of the parallel ‘incidentals’ blogs. The link is here.

The story of our final full day on Orkney and its visit to Rousay will be published on Thursday’s blog.

To be continued.

If you would like to be notified of future Silent Eye weekends, drop us a line to rivingtide@gmail.com, saying what your areas of interest are.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, this is Part 8.

The preceding Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye – a journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

The City and the Stars (7) : The Standing Stones of Stenness

The Standing Stones of Stenness are reduced in importance compared with their former status. But 5,000 years ago, they were the stone circle for the Ness of Brodgar spiritual city. Only later, in the period culminating in the deliberate act of self-destruction of the Ness of Brodgar structures, were these stones eclipsed as the ‘guide to the heavens’…

(1300 words, a twelve-minute read)

The Orkney site of the Standing Stones of Stenness is overshadowed by its neighbour – the Ring of Brodgar, which is just a few minutes away by car, or fifteen minutes on foot. We had done it both ways… the first time was under a spectacular golden sunset, in 2018. This was the second, and our final visit to the Ness of Brodgar area. 

There were other reasons to visit Orkney, but seeing the entire Ness of Brodgar area – in light of the implications of recent excavations – had been the main reason for extending the Silent Eye’s weekend onto Orkney.

For a long period of time at the start of what we now call the Neolithic era – the new stone age, the stones at Stenness were the major stone circle on Orkney, and a key component of the life of the ritual city centred on the Ness of Brodgar, whose sophistication is just coming to light, as detailed in a previous post. 

The Standing Stones of Stenness were raised between 3,000 and 2,900 BC. Originally, the circle consisted of no more than 12 stones. Today, only four survive. They were surrounded by a wide ditch and raised circular bank (a henge) which was crossed by a single causeway. The whole is reminiscent of how the interior of the Ness of Brodgar’s Structure 10 led only to one point at the centre of the building…for those granted the privilege of being there. In both cases, the recipients are likely to have been carefully selected, and few in number.

(Above: across the lochs of Harray and Stenness, the neighbouring island of Hoy in the distance. The valley between the far mountains is a key alignment of the Ring of Brodgar at the winter solstice – see post)

There were several related stones that lay outside the stone circle. These include the Stone of Odin, which features in local legends but was destroyed by a local farmer in 1800s, and the Watch stone, which marks the land bridge to the area which contains the Ring of Brodgar, though the latter had not been constructed at the time the Stenness Stones were erected.

(Above: The Stenness Watch Stone, photographed in 2018)

At the centre of the Stenness circle was a large hearth. In Neolithic houses, such as those we had seen at Skara Brae (and, though not visited, Barnhouse, next to Stenness) the hearth formed a ritual focal point. The fire there would have been viewed as sacred, and as demonstrating to ‘nature’ that the tribe understood there was an inner fire possessed by all of life, and passed down to it from the ‘stars’.

(Above: a hearth at the centre of the circle would have held deep symbolic significance. This hearth is at Skara Brae)

We have lost the sense of ‘specialness of fire’. To us, fire is commonplace and practical. Unless we are young children there is no wonder in it, even though, if civilisation ended and we found ourselves freezing, few would have the ability to make it, again. The comforts of the modern world have their benefits and their disadvantages. One of the latter is the loss of contact with the vital forces of nature…

(Above: the key alignment with the line of the midwinter solstice sunset)

Like Struture 10 at the neighbouring Ness of Brodgar, the single entrance at Stenness created a hallowed central space where access could be controlled. Its use can only have been ceremonial and ritualistic: the birth of a child, perhaps; the survival of that child beyond seven years; the coming of age as an adult; the passage of a trainee into the priesthood… perhaps all these things took place here.

(Above: Bernie demonstrates the size of one of the largest stones)

There is also celebration. The coming together of the people – probably from far away, as this was such an important centre of Neolithic life. You can stand on this place, look back at Lochs Stenness and Harray and feel how they might have rejoiced at such a gathering.

There was in all probability an earlier building at the site partially represented by sections of masonry, empty stone holes and an earlier central hearth setting.

(Above: The Stenness stones are slender, and look quite fragile; yet they have withstood five thousand years of weathering)

The form of the stones themselves is of architectural note in that they are very tall and very thin blades of stone i.e. they are structurally very slender and probably at the very limit of structural stability. The stone monoliths were derived from at least five different sources, one of which was Vestra Fiold, on the west coast of Mainland, north of Skara Brae.

A leading archeologist writes:

“The Stones of Stenness speak of an early and sophisticated society in northern Britain: it is a rarity to have evidence for contemporary and adjacent ritual and settlements sites; it is an added bonus that their stories appear to weave together to present an imaginative and new appreciation of life in early prehistoric times.”

We had run out of time… No-one wanted to leave the Brodgar area. We gathered to review what this landscape had taught us about the sophisticated people who had lived here, so long ago.

  • The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar have shown that all the sites here, plus the ‘village’ of Skara Brae, were part of a single, spiritually-focussed landscape that involved both a trained priesthood and a dedicated (and hugely ‘expensive’) temple-building programme. The ritual chamber at Maeshowe is a foremost example of this.
  • The so-called ‘Dressers‘ – see image below – were the central edifice in the kind of worship these people performed, and we should examine them accordingly. From this perspective, we can see that there is a significance to the three legs. The idea of ‘threeness’ was central to much of the Celtic world, and invokes the idea that an impelling higher will uses the ‘descending’ power of duality to achieve its purposes. Mankind, as an intelligent recipient of a creative Nature, can come full circle and project this back to the Creator to demonstrate understanding.
(Above: the ‘dresser’ turns out to be the ‘altar’ of the ancient priests)
  • The excavations at the Ness of Brodgar uncovered ‘shelves’ of these dressers decorated in bright reds and yellows – very likely solar in their representation.
  • The use of the midwinter solstice as the most sacred time of the year (rather than the midsummer) indicates a subtle comprehension of the ‘tension of cycles’. In my previous ‘fictional’ example, the new priest is chosen and ordained by an appearance of the last sun of the ‘old cycle’ i.e. before the start of the six months in which the sun gets brighter, and the days longer. The priest is thus associated with the power of light over the darkness…
(Above: a sad farewell to the Ness of Brodgar area, and a certainty that we would be back for another workshop…)

The day was ending. The following morning, we would sample the best – rather than the worst – of the Viking culture that eventually overtook Orkney, bringing a long period of imposed feudalism to its occupants. But, even within that, there were elements of great beauty.

(Above: Viking beauty…)

To be continued.

If you would like to be notified of future Silent Eye weekend workshops, drop us a line to rivingtide@gmail.com, saying what your areas of interest are.

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six. This is Part Seven

The preceding Pictish Trail weekend blog posts:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye – a journey through the forest of personality to the sunrise of Being.

Three faces

For  November, it was a surprisingly pleasant morning. In need of somewhere to go to stretch our lockdown-cramped legs, we wandered to a neighbouring village to explore its history. Whilst personal preference may direct our attention to the ancient face of the land, it was because of more recent memory that we had landed in Whitchurch… this sleepy little backwater, like every other town, village and hamlet, has played its part and paid its price in time of war.

To most of us, the fallen from long ended wars are simply names inscribed upon the Rolls of Honour or cenotaph.  It is their families who feel the loss of life, love and presence most keenly. They may not even know what happened, how or where their loved ones died. There may be no grave at which to stand in mourning, no chance to say goodbye.

There are others who do return home from conflict, broken, scarred, both physically and mentally, to families who may be equally traumatised by separation and fear. Theirs are the forgotten stories… and sometimes it needs a name or a face better known to highlight and illustrate the tragedy.

Bolebec House: Image: Stuart France

Whitchurch is typical of so many of our Buckinghamshire villages, built along the course of the major road out of town. It has the almost obligatory Norman church, the remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle, a handful of holy wells, its fair share of half-timbered buildings and far more than its fair share of thatched cottages. Today it is home to around a thousand souls. Some, amongst the many who lived and served here, stand out.

Rex Whistler, self-portrait, circa 1934

Once, in the years of peace between the First and Second World Wars, Whitchurch was home to a young artist named Rex Whistler. He lived at Bolebec House, a beautiful old building whose back lawn nestles in the shadow of the old Norman castle, looking out across the valley. In 1933, Rex painted that scene, a painting now known as The Vale of Aylesbury, and famously used it as part of the advertising campaign for Shell.

One of the “Bright Young Things” of the 20s, Rex, a man of great charm, had made a name for himself as an artist, designer and illustrator as well as painting the portraits of the rich and famous and accepting commissions for murals. When war broke out, he was a successful artist and thirty five years old. He joined the army, and, in June 1940, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the  Welsh Guards.  On the 18th July 1944, he left his tank to go to the aid of other men in his unit, he was killed by a mortar bomb and lies in the military cemetery of Banneville-la-Campagne. He never came home.

At the far end of the chocolate-box village of Whitchurch, they played with bombs and explosives at The Firs. The house had been built in 1897 for Charles Gray who had served as an officer with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa.

By the outbreak of WWII, The Firs was owned by Major Arthur Abrahams, from whom it was requisitioned to serve as a part of Ministry of Defence 1 (MD1), also known as “Churchill’s Toyshop”. Housing around two hundred and fifty people, the Firs was part of a British weapon research and development project, responsible for dreaming up weapons like the limpet mine and anti-tank weapons… such as the one that killed Whistler. There could be no clearer indication of how humankind brings tragedy upon itself…

Joyce Anstruther, better known as Jan Struther

Just a few doors away from Whistler’s residence is Whitchurch House. This was the childhood home of Joyce Anstruther, a name unknown to most. She is better known as Jan Struther, who not only wrote some of our best-loved childhood hymns, such as “Lord of All Hopefullness”,”When a Knight Won His Spurs” and “Daisies are Our Silver”… songs which take me straight back to Assembly at school… she also created the character Mrs Miniver as a newspaper column for The Times.

Mrs Miniver was supposed to be an ordinary suburban housewife, but when the war began, her remit subtly changed, reflecting the changing world. The columns were eventually released as a book which became a real success, particularly in the US, which was still maintaining its neutrality at that time. Winston Churchill is credited with saying that the book had done more for the Allied cause than a flotilla of battleships and that the book (and later the film) was worth “six divisions of war effort.”

I have to wonder whether Jan Struther would have been glad about bringing the United States into the war, placing so many more at risk…or simply glad to see some end in sight?

Whitchurch House: Image: Stuart France

Then the movie rights were acquired by M.G.M who went on to make Mrs Miniver.

The movie, released in 1942 and rushed into theatres at the behest of President Roosevelt, touched hearts, especially across America, by showing how the war was affecting every corner of every family, in every village and street in Britain. The war was no longer some distant and hungry beast, growling in the night, but a persistent predator, taking away all that was most loved and cherished.

Even Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, wrote of the film that  while saying not one word against Germany, the film managed to become a powerful weapon against his regime.

Jan Struther, born Joyce Anstruther, later became Joyce Maxtone Graham and finally Joyce Placzek. She died of cancer in New York, in 1953 at the age of fifty two. She did come home and her ashes are interred beside those of her father in the family grave in Whitchurch.

Three stories… three different faces of war from one sleepy village. And yet, there is one thing they all share…they would all have recognised and agreed with the sermon a local vicar gives at the end of the film… and it has a relevance and resonance still today, though our wars are fought as much in the corridors of power as they are on the battlefield… and our search for discernment and truth remains our most urgent necessity.

“The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There’s scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely, you must have asked yourselves this question? Why, in all conscience, should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?

“I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield, but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman, and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead, they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down.“

Lest we forget…

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The Entered Dragon (5) : a seat in the gods

Continued from Part Four

The stage is set. The feeling of expectation is deep. In the darkness of the auditorium, we cannot see those sitting beside us.

The stage is dark, yet the darkness is not empty; in fact the darkness is full of that which is not yet formed, but can be. None of our senses can yet register what is happening. But something within us at the deepest place that we can call our selves is filled with this potential. But the potential is not dark, in fact, The potential has an unseen brightness and a powerful sense of immanence.


In this series we have examined the nature of what the early psychologists called the unconscious. We have considered that the conscious part of our existence is like the visible part of an iceberg seen above the water. Most of its mass and energy and potentially dangerous presence lies beneath.

In the last post we encountered Carl Jung’s  dramatic conclusion that all consciousness emerged from this ocean of unconscious being. What does that mean? We can be without there being any differentiation between what is perceived and what is considered a centre, an us

The world is a continuous creative explosion of events, which to us forms a screen of experience around what we call ourselves. This self isolates part of the happenings and calls it its own. As this analysis proceeds the separated being becomes more sophisticated in the way it divides self and not self. It’s crowning glory is to give the things it has perceived names, and language is born.

After a while the self becomes so fascinated with the power of its own separated existence that it does not want to relinquish what it sees as a gain. But the costs of separation are hidden and subtle. Once part of an ocean of creative and continuously changing being, the small self is is now responsible for the maintenance of its entire psychic ecosystem. Its creativity may be bright, but eventually the separation from that which gave it birth becomes painful and depressing. The things of the self-world lose the sparkle; and yet there is the ghost of a memory of what a world filled with joy was like…

Here we have the vast theatre which is mankind on Earth. On the one hand the creation of something so precious that it was worth this lonely journey. On the other the anguished separation from a creative, all-powerful vastness which longs to reconcile it’s ennobled child. It’s a paradox… as so many things of a spiritual nature are.

Going far deeper into this mystical vision Carl Jung made it his life’s work to provide us all with a language to map this ‘fall’ and separation from the glory of all-being.

But the journey that mankind undertook was and is not taken in isolation. Throughout our history artists, writers and mystics have spoken of a deep kind of communication from an inner state of ‘holiness’ carried out by beings whose role was to be communicators of hope and inspiration. Sadly, religious metaphors do not always communicate well, nowadays, so a different set of words is needed.

One of the best names for these beings is the word Messengers… 

The Greeks had no difficulty in describing a real, but inner, world populated by Gods – plural. To them, the inner experiences of a lifetime had a pattern and were overseen by powerful inner forces that could be courted or challenged. The essence of this inner world was that it was already there… Scholars had not invented in an academic or poetic exercise. If you could find inner quietude, and you were gifted in sincere two-way communication, then you could converse with this inner world. Those with deep skills were cultivated and asked to communicate for others less able – Oracles – but the essence of this inner land was that it was and is there for all of us.

The west’s age of enlightenment, ironically, put an end to this world of ‘myth’, consigning it to the realm of fantasy. In separating it from the ‘demonstrably real’ world of brain-knowledge and quantity, we lost the glory of personal contact with figures from the inner which were sharable among us all.

Carl Jung’s work in psychotherapy – whose main purpose was to restore the ego (self) to health and stability – gave him access to a base of scientifically recorded information of patients’ inner states. He observed that there was a pattern of images described by those he was treating, a commonality of experience, or, rather, a commonality of the inner characters they met within their own mental and emotional worlds. Far from being schizophrenic, these characters enabled a healthy communication with the patients’ inner states, from which Jung was able to provide healing patterns of reconciliation.

As he ventured deeper, he realised that these healing forces had a purpose: that they were actively communicating with their own ‘host’ personality, though the patient might have seen them as fantastical. Further work showed him that the nature of many, but not all, of these inner characters was shared… by all people. Most of us did not seek this active inner communication with the messengers, but some did. After all, the greater part of mankind’s history had revered them. Psychology had provided at least a partly-trusted window back into the ‘realm of the personal gods’ to combat the creeping coldness of the scientific view, though the latter was providing the basis for much more comfort and security in our daily word… as long as you forgot its power to destroy that world, entirely-–in itself, a form of global schizophrenia.

Over many years, Jung got to know these inner figures, and named them ‘Archetypes’, a word overly familiar to us now, but dramatically new in Jung’s time. Freud would have nothing to do with such a concept, which, to him, smacked of mysticism.

Today, through the writings of such authors as Robert A. Johnson, anyone can discover the nature of these inner messengers – whose role is to help us heal our self’s divisions – and work with them, if we are bold enough…

Next week, we will consider some of the faces of our Messengers, and the precious gifts they bring.


The stage is so quiet, it is almost painful. We look into the darkness to see a kind of swirling. Within seconds the smiling face of a King emerges, and behind him, a figure of pure love, so beautiful that tears are unavoidable, rests her gentle hands on his shoulders…

They have come…..

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four this is Part Five.


©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.

The Entered Dragon (4) : the world within

Continued from Part Three

I know these posts, so far, have been intense. The picture painted by Carl Jung and his Jungian successors of our linked internal and external lives is a detailed and vivid one. We began by looking at the Shadow, that suppressed ‘mind’ of parts of our psychological self (psyche) that have been pushed, by conditioning, society and personal choice, from our everyday lives. Censored might be a good word to describe their fate… or exiled, perhaps.

By way of a more gentle read, this post will set the scene for the space in which the relevance of Jungian thought is unrivalled in all of psychology – the Unconscious.

The Shadow lives in the unconscious, but so do many other energy patterns waiting to play their parts in our life’s story…

The unconscious is very much present in our lives, and might be said to ride alongside us, in quiet presence… until it interacts, often without our knowing.

We think of such things as distant, as though there is depth to the place of the unconscious. In fact, we can easily see how close the unconscious psyche is to our ‘normal’ state by reference to a simple example.

Imagine I am playing a game of tennis. I swing my arm back to take the forehand to win the point, but just at that moment, a family member calls to me from the side of the court. My conscious attention is diverted to this ‘high-priority’ interrupt. The relative is simply delivering an unfortunately-timed hello, so, smiling in acknowledgment, my alerted attention is relaxed.

But while the head turns to acknowledge the arrival of the family member, the arm continues its arc. In what seems like a fraction of a second, I re-engage my consciousness with the court to find the ball, bouncing inside the baseline and winning the point.

I nod, sheepishly, at the person across the net. The opponent may have grounds for thinking I am showing off! What’s really happened is that my unconscious, ‘shadowing’ me and able to take over from its normally recessed position, has helped my body to complete the desired action.

Have you ever been lost in an extended creative thought on a car journey home and arrived at your dwelling with no active memory of the last mile? It’s not an ideal way to drive, but our ‘autopilot’ has got us home, safely, once our primary attention wandered…

From these examples we can see that our initial ‘dark’ picture of the personal unconscious may be far short of both its capabilities and its intentions… To get the whole picture, we need to begin with Carl Jung’s radical view (for a psychologist) of the place of consciousness in the story of the universe.

Jung was a religious man in the widest sense, though he often ridiculed the actions of the church. Today, we might call him a ‘mystical psychologist’, but, back in the early years of the last century, mysticism was little known outside of academic circles. His professional work led him to see the unconscious as the real source for all human consciousness. In the unconscious, he saw the origins of our capacity for all awareness, orderly thought, reasoning and feeling. In short, that the unconscious was the original mind of the human species; a matrix of energy that took millions of years to develop a body, then a conscious mind – a stage very different from just awareness…

Jung saw this as a creative force at work in all nature. He envisaged every element of our complex consciousness being born in the unconscious before reaching for the full ‘light’ of human consciousness. Indeed, it might be said that the latter stage created the human…

Put another way, the vast unconscious ‘self’ of nature has slowly made a part of itself conscious. He believed that mankind had a unique potential to carry the evolution of the universe forward – such was the preciousness of consciousness.

Each of us has the capability of reliving the entire history of life and its associated ascent to self in one lifetime. When we do this, we connect with that which gave us life and that which can take us so much further than we know.

To do this requires that mankind understands this vision – gaining power and inspiration from it; and reconciling the unconscious with the conscious. Modern society created science; and science, having given us so much, superficially, has, tragically and unknowingly, cut us off from the very practices which facilitated integration with the reservoir of the unconscious, branding them superstition… Many of them may have been so, but their origin and essence was from a much deeper wisdom than we commonly possess, now.

The plan for our individual potential in this lifetime is contained in the unconscious. We need to work with our own unconscious to realise this. In the course of that work, we will find a vast reservoir of energy and insight waiting for us, just below the surface…

Having shown in the first three posts the power of one element of the unconscious – the Shadow – to affect our conscious lives, we must now venture deeper into the map of the unconscious and its interactions with what we consider to be ‘us’. In this place of liminal energy, we will find keys to our future.

Next week, we will look at the nature of what Jung called ‘the inner life’, and explore more deeply the relationship with our usually quiet companion who is capable of winning our tennis point and driving our car…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, This is Part Four.


©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.

The Entered Dragon (3) : beauty and the beast

Continued from Part Two

The dream continues…

We are frozen, the dragon and I. He cannot be seen, as he is mirroring my every move, behind me. My fingers explore the tip of the spear, the only movement left…

I press the sharp tip into the skin of my right thumb. There is a slowing of time as the ancient metal pierces the flesh. Then I can feel the tiny warmth of blood dripping from the wound.

“Don’t…” comes the hissing red voice from behind my head. “Please don’t…”


The holding of values must be ranked as one of the highest achievements of civilisation. From the perspective of religious morality, each human is born with a challenge: to choose which side of their nature to supply with attention and therefore energy – the man or the beast.

But the Jungian psychologists discovered it was by no means that simple…

Within mankind are represented all the kingdoms of matter and life. We are made from supposedly inanimate matter at the atomic level. Biological life, based – apart from viruses -entirely on cells, is an organisation of that matter into self replicating structures. Over billions of years, these became plants, then animals, then humanoid bodies.

Sophistication through evolution produces higher levels of creature intelligence, but we do not lose the supposedly lower aspects of our physical being. As the brain and mind mature, the choice of internal government is ours, just as it is within society.

Something is trying to express itself through increasingly higher levels of organisation. Concordant with that should be an external level of civilisation that mirrors the sophistication of the inner, creative urge.

But we experience, at both the individual and societal levels of our lives, continuous challenges to our ideas of society. These cyclic challenges are not based upon forces separate to those in the individual human psyche. What we see in darker ages, such as the one we are living through, is a collective externalisation of the shadow within each individual being.

Examined in this way the legacies of deceit, populism and authoritarianism are simply an externalisation of the darker side of our psyche. Within darkness like attracts like, for its nature is weak and it seeks collective strength against what it knows to be superior yet repressing higher intelligence.

“I’ll show them!”

This is the true arena of events within which we as a species have always struggled. It may be necessary that each ‘third generation’ fights once again for the values of good, truth and vision. Values, like any organic fruit, decay over time when the source of their vitality ceases to pulse.

The Jungian model of the psyche, which includes the shadow, is of great value in understanding what happens within an individual life and within the life of that person’s country.

It would seem that humans as a species are forced to live within a continuous paradox. Individually, we seek to better our circumstances and provide for our families. Collectively, our animal-derived focus on success and individual supremacy produces a society with an increasing lower tier who struggle to survive in a medium where the nutrients are syphoned off to furnish luxury at the top.

‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Can Jungian thought suggest answers to a life of paradox? In looking at this we come face-to-face with our own past. The age of science has worked wonders for the physical side of our lives, but has emasculated folklore and tribal practices that were exactly designed to balance the individual and collective forces of chaos generated by a suppressed and unheard shadow.

The answers lie in the functioning of consciousness. We have seen that what we call the subconscious or unconscious is simply that from which we have withdrawn attention. Few people, for example, study their dreams, and yet dreams are the other half of our lives. This does not mean that we should fret and go without sleep, simply that a parallel sleeping consciousness – a kind of night eye – exists within our being which can gain great insight into the truth of what is happening to us in our day world.

This night eye may be much closer to the creative forces of nature than we have ever envisaged.

We cannot hope to examine the shadow of a society without first understanding our own. To do this we must know it and then make peace with it. Once we have achieved that the power of its friendship is immense.

Does this mean that we have to release its chaotic wildness into our world? Thankfully not. The processes of the subconscious do not differentiate between our waking and unconscious existences. The way we regain the conscious and positive friendship of the shadow is to ‘dance’ with it. Dancing can be any creative act which allows it to exist in an un-persecuted state. Actual dance, theatre movement, poetry, visual art are all examples of a kind of ritual which opens the harmonic door to the other half of our being.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud parted company because their understanding of the unconscious became fundamentally different. Freud considered the subconscious to be largely concerned with the energies of sex. Jung saw the subconscious as the gateway to the spirit… and the history of non-dogmatic spirituality would agree with him.

The temples of the ancient world were focussed on loosening the intellect and giving the ‘other half’ of us life; and opening the gate to spirit in the process…

Next week, we will look at the nature of the paradox in which mankind lives, and ask if we must be eternally trapped between its twin polarities, or whether their inescapable presence is the gateway to something else…

Other parts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, this is Part Three

©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.