The Saturday night ritual drama saw Gawain taken to meet his fate. The Green Knight waited in the Green Chapel to return the blow traded so long ago… and Gawain’s own actions left the outcome in doubt. How can he survive a beheading? Only by bringing all his being to a single point and acting through the higher heart…
It is in this melding of body, mind and heart in perfect balance that freedom is found. It is in the relinquishing of the unquiet ego that knots the mind, shuns the perfection of the body and sears the heart with sentimentality, that the true and higher Self can take its rightful place in beauty.
To Gawain, blind by torment and guilt, the true nature of his Hunters remained hidden. The calls and whispers of the animals were a threat… the perception of ego is often clouded by fear. He could not see that they came in love and in compassion, bringing their encouragement and the gift of their presence.
He could not see that the tortuous paths upon which we are led fulfil not desire but need. Nor could he know that, in laying his head upon the block… in surrendering self to Self… he could pass beyond the veil of death and return with the Grail… Sometimes, there is only Trust….
Where were we, before time and other concerns overtook me? I was sharing the weekend in the north… the one with all the heather in bloom. We had found a lost stone circle and failed to find our fairy woman and her ice-cream van… There was only one thing for it at this point… we needed a pub and a prison. We headed on down into the village and seated ourselves outside the Devonshire Arms which, to our delight, had suddenly begun to serve Guinness and decent cider again… There was a reason for our surprise, as the occurrence was rather wierdly mirroring our current topic of conversation… the plot of our next book.
This fact had not escaped us as we sat beneath the parasol watching the drunken wasp, rescued from my cider, skeeter happily sideways across the table. A pot of homemade lemon and ginger marmalade was acquired from one of the cottages before we clambered back in the car … we needed a gaol in which to incarcerate a friend. Not what you might think, I hasten to add; we needed an image for the Black Shade … and we had seen just the spot out at Edensor.
The village of Edensor lies on the road that runs through the grounds of Chatsworth and is built with a rustic elegance that sits harmoniously within the grounds of the great house begun by Bess of Hardwick in the 1560s. Our focus was a turreted building we had spied on the way through to the moor, but as there is also a church there, it would have seemed churlish to simply click and run, especially on such a beautiful day.
The church sits high on a mound above the village. Neither are what you might call indigenous. The original village was right next to Chatsworth, but was moved out of sight of the house, over a hill in the mid 19thC by the Duke of Devonshire and the 12thC church that had once stood on the spot was replaced by a new one designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott… a name we have come to know well on our travels.
The church seems typically Victorian from the outside. It is only as you approach the porch that things begin to get a bit more interesting. First there was the little plaque commemorating the planting of a yew tree by the Duke, to mark both his 80th birthday and the millennium fifteen years ago. The yews are such an important part of our folklore and our churchyards that it is good to see this sapling growing here.
Then there was the sundial.. which, of course, isn’t a sundial at all, or rather, probably never was to begin with and the five foot tall column may be the shaft of a more ancient standing cross. Certainly, given the height of the ensemble atop its steps, there are few who could read the sundial with any ease…
We wandered towards the porch through the churchyard where almost all the Dukes are buried in surprisingly simple graves. Buried here too is Sir Joseph Paxton, a gardener who oversaw the new village of Edensor, but who was best known for designing the Crystal Palace… a vast structure of glass and steel… for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Perhaps the most visited grave however must be that of Kathleen Kennedy, sister of U.S. President J.F. Kennedy. Kathleen, Marchioness of Hartington, had married the brother of the present Duke. She and her husband married in 1944. Five weeks later, William was posted to serve in Germany during WWII where he was killed by a sniper, just a month after Kathleen’s brother, Joe Jr was killed. Kathleen herself was killed in a plane crash in 1948, aged just 28. A plaque commemorates the visit of President Kennedy to his sister’s grave in 1963, shortly before his own death.
We were not to get inside the church this time… a christening was about to take place and the guests were gathering. Opening the door for one old lady to enter gave me a glimpse of magnificent stained glass and possible reasons to come back; Scott incorporated many features from the original church into the new one, including the Norman carving and medieval grave-slab of the porch.
All we could do was wander back to the car. The day was still beautiful… the heather in bloom and it was early afternoon… it wasn’t as if we would be stuck for places to go… we just needed a place that would have an ice-cream van and as luck would have it, we knew just where to go…
On a rather bleak day, when I was feeling low for some unspecified reason, the first complete chapter of Dark Sage landed in my inbox and had me laughing out loud. The story that began in The Ætheling Thing is developing beautifully.
Now, I suppose I shouldn’t say it, but I really love these books. It isn’t just the writing of them… which means the living of their story first. Or the research… which takes us out into the landscape and chasing through history. Or the laughter and the succession of pubs that go into their writing. No matter how often we read them we find they lead to new discoveries, which is odd when you are the writers. There is so much in there!
You might think it would be fairly reasonable for each of us to find things in what is written by the other, but it isn’t just that. We find stuff in what we ourselves have written, largely I suppose because of the context… the framing thoughts that build up around them, the research and the discoveries we make and the ensuing discussions that usually last until the early hours of the morning. There is a cross-fertilisation and what one of us brings to the mix seems to illuminate what the other has laid on the table.
That, I think, is how learning works, adding layers to a seed idea until it takes on form and substance, accumulating myriad correspondences and associations until understanding sets in and takes you beyond simple knowledge towards understanding. So the more I read the books, the more I see and learn.
It began with our visit to Uffington and Wayland’s Smithy in Wiltshire, sacred sites from the earliest history of our land and its people. We didn’t realise at the time where it would lead, we knew only that we had shared a truly magical and unexpected experience in the mists. A gift. The first of many. From there the history of our land seemed to respond to our interest, dropping jewels in our lap at every sortie into the landscape, from the sacred sites of pagan worship to ancient churches that now stand on the white hills or in the green henges of our ancestors.
Entwined with our travels and discoveries is the story of a nascent mystery school, taking its first steps into the world after its long preparation, something that is just as deeply entwined within us. Then there is the story of a friendship and Don’s quirky relationship with Wen’s dog. There is laughter and tears, serious philosophical debate, ancient history and mystical symbolism and the visionary passages that took us both by surprise and taught us more than we’d bargained for. And then, of course, there are the birds… and it is only looking back through the pictures of that first misty morning that I realised I had caught the first buzzard on camera.
It seems incredible to think that we celebrated the publication of The Initiate on my birthday last year and now our fifth book together has begun, not quite a year later. When we first put pen to paper we had little idea where it would go… we weren’t even sure we would get one book out of our adventures… and now we already have so much we know we will not be able to get it all in this one either. As soon as we push the door ajar on one myth or mystery a whole corridor of portals seem to open up that simply cry out to be explored.
For myself, I can honestly say I’ve never had this much fun learning in my life.
That, I feel, comes from the living of the books. Don and Wen are not Stuart and Sue, but there is much of us in them, and much of them in us. Anu, of course… well… that’s a different story. Yet the stories are real… the events described are largely as they happened, the conversations echo our own… and the adventures?
Don and Wen, following the breadcrumb trail of arcane lore and ancient knowledge, scattered across the landscape of time, turn their attention to the myths and legends of Old Albion. They delve into the tales of King Arthur, asking some very strange questions about biblical family trees and exploring the many stories that abound in the very landscape of Avalon. Meanwhile, in Derbyshire, the voices of the past still whisper from the stones, opening a passage through time, place and memory to another world…
How is it possible to hide such a story… the hidden history of Christianity in Britain? Oh, there are legends of course… old tales… Yet what if there was truth in them? What was it that gave these blessed isles such a special place in the minds of our forefathers? There are some things you are not taught in Sunday School. From the stone circles of the north to the Isle of Avalon, Don and Wen follow the breadcrumbs of history and forgotten lore to uncover a secret veiled in plain sight.
Doomsday: Dark Sage
…. something was spawned up on the moor… something black that flew on dark wings. It heeds not time or place… but it seems to have developed a penchant for the travels of Don and Wen….
“Are those two still at it?”
We were determined not to get wet, so we went to Chesterfield, on the general principle that there would be both indoor parking and a cathedral big enough to keep us both dry and occupied for some time. We got those points right… but we failed miserably in the staying dry department as the heavens open and the chill, northern rain pelted down. As my companion made a judicious dive for the porch, I found a convenient tree under which to shelter the camera and get some shots of the famous crooked spire.
The church dates to the 13th Century and the tower was added in around 1362. The tower is twisted by 45 degrees and leans 9’ 6” from true centre. Several local legends tell how it became so contorted, many have to do with the Devil and the purported virginity of brides. Wikipedia says : “One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only 3 weddings in 2010 in the church it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape.” There are others, and it is well worth looking some of them up.
I didn’t linger too long under my tree. It was raining quite heavily and my feet were already squelching in the little slippers I habitually wear for some strange and unfathomable reason. You would think I would have learned by now… Even the pigeons had given up and had taken shelter where they could, so I too followed their example.
For all the church has been embellished over the centuries, being the foremost building in the area, it still retains its atmosphere of calm peace, and every nook and cranny inside hides symbols and artistic treasures, bits of history and the evidence of the faith of hundreds of years.
The Lady Chapel, as so often for me, had the most attraction, and a curious Revelations window in the north chapel too had us thinking. There is an eclectic mixture of styles here, from a dreadful neon cross to lovely sculpture with an African feel, from medieval marble tombs to a modern St Francis window full of gentleness.
The place was full of visitors, though, and that always ends up with me documenting as much as I can with the camera while my companion wanders in search of his own inspiration… we then adjourn, usually to a local pub, and compare notes; knowing we have enough to go on in order to make a decision about coming back on a quieter day. It is these subsequent visits where you begin to really get to know a place, both by its details and by its feel.
Today was no exception, but, unfortunately for us there was a bookshop and we became a tad sidetracked as we delved through the shelves, exiting with what rapidly became known as the Book of Assassinations as we trawled its pages under an awning while the rain still fell.
It is odd, of course, we think we are going to places for our own purposes, but so often, if you are open and ready to go where you are led, you end up finding far more than you had envisioned. We had gone to see a cathedral, but came away with a couple of years of speculative thought confirmed by the well-thumbed pages of a dog-eared book. Not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday in Chesterfield.
We were being watched. It was palpable. In fact, as I raised the camera to watch the watchers, others could see it too… we weren’t imagining it. They had been following us all day, dark, hooded figures flitting in and out of vision, all across the Derbyshire landscape. Sitting on fences, following our footsteps, watching our every move at every site we visited. We even had evidence in bag and pocket… and the camera had quietly documented their stealthy observation…
Sitting in the little courtyard of the pub in Castleton, by some miracle on the part of my companion, the staid half of shandy I had reluctantly asked for had been transformed into a nicely chilled Stowford’s … I love Derbyshire!… and we were surrounded.
There were jackdaws on the low rooftops, on the chimneys… whole families of them, including the young one that misjudged and went flying in a way that failed to involve wings.
I snapped away happily while the pint of Guinness and half of Stowford’s slowly disappeared, then passed the camera across to my companion so he could see the day’s photographic haul. As always I wait, judging his reaction by the tilt of his head and the set of his lips.
“We’ve got our Dark Sage.”
Yes… it looked a bit that way. We had been waiting to be ‘given’ a picture for the cover of the next book… Doomsday: The Ætheling Thing is in the final stages of editing and the second book in the series is about to begin. Honestly, with all the stuff we have at present we barely dare go out in case we find some more! Not that we have to… from north and south of the land the pages of books rustle, the keyboard taps research terms and texts and emails fly between… some of them so weird that they sound like coded messages. The latest research has seen me rifling the tool box in search of a saw and soldering iron…nothing like some practical experience! Mind, the scalpel should be interesting…
But we had a meeting to attend, so it was time to go, reluctantly and promising ourselves a return trip in the not-too-far-distant future.
We had a lovely evening; the meeting went well and in spite of absent friends everyone seemed to bring something beautiful and individual to the mix and we took the long road home much later feeling relaxed and awake… which may explain the late night talking in our accustomed positions… my companion on two legs of the chair, I on the ‘hobbit cushion’ on the kitchen step.
Saturday morning brought rain. For once we decided to avoid getting wet and drove to the pub… only for coffee and toasted teacakes, I might add, and access to the internet… and there we played with pictures and created the cover for Dark Sage. It is odd, but it isn’t until we have a cover that we feel we have a book, and starting with the cover always seems to be the point of departure for the next phase of the adventure.
Then, as the heavens continued to douse the world in water and with continued determination not to get wet again, we very sensibly turned the car towards Chesterfield and the ancient cathedral with the twisted spire….