We were in Ulverston, Dean and I. We’d just climbed the famous ‘Hoad’ – a tall monument on the top of a tall hill that looks like a lighthouse… but isn’t. There’s some important symbology in that, but we’ll return to it later.
He was on his way back from Somerset to northern Scotland – the Glenlivet area of the North Cairngorms, where he and his loved ones have their home. Our house in Cumbria is en-route, so the door is always open to break his journey. After a night involving Bernie’s excellent cooking and a glass of red wine or two, we decided that a local (ish) walk would put some air into the bloodstream for his second leg and return to the far north.
Ulverston is one of our local favourites. It’s about a half-hour journey up the fast Barrow road. A coffee in Ford Park and then the short but taxing climb up ‘The Hoad’ to get to the famous lighthouse that isn’t. It can be seen all over the expanse of Morecambe Bay. It’s actually a monument to the famous engineer Sir John Barrow.
We’d got our breath back by the time we got to the monument. The Silent Eye had recently carried out the ‘Jewel in the Claw’ spring workshop at Great Hucklow – our annual biggie. We had used a Shakespearean theme, casting one of our Californian visitors as Queen Elizabeth – ruling over a giant chessboard which was the royal court; and upon which the players moved with great caution… under her watchful eye.
Dean and Alionora had played two of the central characters: Lord Mortido and Lady Libido – death and life in the fullest sense. They were superb. Leaving the tiny village Dean had reflected that there might be scope for doing something else ‘Shakespearean’, in the form of a journey around Macbeth Country, centred in Grantown-on-Spey, not far from where he and Gordon live.
Now, on top of the world and next to the faux lighthouse, we began to discuss it in earnest.
It would involve several kinds of journey. First, it was a long way to travel; but we had all driven down to Dorset the year before for the similar summer weekend, so we knew we’d get the support from our hardy regulars…
Second, there had to be a dual journey in terms of both spiritual discovery and visiting the landscape. The event was to take place in a triangle of land between Grantown, the Findhorn Coast and the Macbeth castles just south of Inverness. There would be no lack of scenery! Dean had already assembled a set of places with that ‘special feel’, including a mysterious old church and a stone circle. Within this combined landscape he proposed leading a journey of self-discovery using an ancient magical symbol. Macbeth’s ‘witches’ had to be honoured – they were a very real force in the time of James VI of Scotland – and subsequently the English king on the death of Elizabeth I. Dean has an intensely esoteric background and is a qualified NLP therapist and teacher as well as the local leader of Lodge Unicorn n’ha Alba. He has recently developed the idea of the ‘magical matrix’ and proposed to use this to accompany our journey in the highland landscape.
I hadn’t realised until he told me that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. The event would mix his Scottish team and the Silent Eye, and we proposed it be called the Silent Unicorn.
Somewhat pleased with the plan, we took the long and winding path down from the Hoad to have a fruitful cafe lunch in Ulverston.
And now it is upon us. Like Macbeth we must earn our keep (sorry) and ‘strut and fret’ upon the magnificent stage of the highlands. Our weekend’s tower must be a true one and not false. Only with that intent – that something deeper is afoot, will we attract the intellectual and emotional harmony that so typifies these Silent Eye ‘landscape journeys’. By the time this is published, we will be leaving Cumbria, to join up with friends old and new from across the UK. We all face a long journey; but a very rewarding one.
For more information on joining us for one of the Silent Eye ‘discovery in the landscape’ weekends, click to see our forthcoming events, here.
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.
Euhemerus of Messene was a widely travelled man. He wrote a travel book in which he described his visit to an island called Panchaia in the Indian Ocean. In the island’s Temple of Zeus, he said, there was a golden pillar on which Zeus himself had written his autobiography as the king of Panchaia. Zeus had also written the biography of his father, Cronos, on the pillar, and Hermes had then added the biographies of Artemis and Apollo. Unfortunately, Euhemerus’s book does not survive, and no one else has ever found the island Panchaia, so later writers accused Euhemerus of inventing the whole thing.
The most sympathetic account of Euhemerus’s work is contained in Diodorus Siculus’s, ‘World History’, where Diodorus explains that even supposing one accepts Euhemerus’s story it does not necessarily follow that the gods he described were not genuine! Beings who had been human but who had ‘graduated’ to super-humanity, argues Diodorus, were common in the religious traditions of the eastern mediterranean. Immediately after summarising Euhemerus’s account of Panchaia, Diodorus explores the origin myths of the ancient greeks.
‘…The majority of the gods, the Cretans say, had their beginnings in Crete and set out from there to visit many regions of the inhabited world. The Idaean Dactyli, of Crete, discovered both the use of fire and what the metals copper and iron ore are, as well as the means of working them. Since they were looked upon as the originators of great blessings for the race of men they were accorded immortal honours. After the Idaean Dactyli, there were nine Curetes who excelled in wisdom and discovered many things of use to men generally. They were the first to gather sheep into flocks, to domesticate several other animals which men fatten and to discover the production of honey… The Cretans also say that Poseidon was the first man to concern himself with sea-faring and to fit out fleets and this is why the tradition has been passed along to succeeding generations that he controls whatever is done on the sea and why mariners honour him by means of sacrifices… As regards the gods then, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable, such as the sun and moon and other stars in the heavens, for each of these their generation and duration is from everlasting to everlasting, but the other gods, we are told, were terrestial beings who attained immortal honour and fame because they were benefactors of mankind…’
Brigit, a woman poet, daughter of the Dagda. She is Brigit, the lady of wisdom, that is, the goddess whom the poets adored. For great and brilliant was her tender loving care. Therefore they call her the goddess of the poets. Her sisters were Brigit, the lady of healing, and Brigit, the lady of metal work, the Dagda’s daughters, from whose names Brigit was called goddess among the Hibernians.
“Somewhere in all that cloud stands a Druid at the head of a circle.”
“Let’s go see if we can find him.” …
The Pillars: Penmaenmawr.
Tee minus Six hours and counting…
“It’s odd, I had no recollection of these pillars, yet now that I see them I do remember and it seems like only yesterday. We went that way, which is, I believe, the long way round, so we’re going to go in the opposite direction.”
“Not before we’ve taken a reading we’re not.”
“It is working isn’t it?”
“It seems to be. One-Five-Eight, so that’s Five, or One-Five Nine, or Six?”
No 5 (Light)
‘The Logos of creation in whom all things were created can be nothing other than divine wisdom. Thus it is that wisdom is eternal, for it precedes every beginning and all created reality.’
– Nicolas of Cusa
“Ha ha ha! Eternal Wisdom on our way to meet a Druid, I like that.”
“It does seem to be having some fun with us. So what’s the shadow side?”
No 6 (Dark)
‘Humanity will find that it is not a diversity of creeds, but the very same creed which is everywhere proposed. There cannot but be one wisdom. If it were possible to have many wisdoms these would have to be from one; for before any plurality exists there must first be unity. Humans must therefore all agree that there is but one most simple wisdom whose power is infinite; and everyone, in explaining the intensity of this beauty, must discover that it is a supreme and terrible beauty.’
-Nicolas of Cusa
“Spoken like a true Druid.”
“Three-Zero minutes this way, according to the book.”…
Nine-Zero minutes later…
“We’re going to be late.”
“We’ll have to skip drinks and meet them at the restaurant.”
“At least we found the Druid.”
“So now we’ve found him, what does he have to say for himself?”
“One-Six-Four, so Two or, One-Six-Five, Three?”
No 3 (Light)
‘It is necessary for one who wants to attain understanding to raise the intellect above the meaning of words rather than to insist upon their properties which, in any case, cannot be properly adapted to such great mindful mysteries.
Intellectual knowledge, alone and unaided,
desires and exaggerates
the victory of words
and it is far from that
who is our peace.’
– Nicolas of Cusa
“Cusa, again, he seems to have an affinity with this place.”
“One can hardly blame him.”
“It’s a nice spot for a circle, and there’s a smaller five stone ring further down.”
“Let’s do the shadow reading from there.”
No 2 (Dark)
‘The relationship of our intellect to the truth is like that of a polygon to a circle: the resemblance to the circle grows with the multiplication of the angles of the polygon; but short of the polygon actually becoming a circle, no multiplication of its angles, even if it were infinite would make the polygon equal to the circle. It is therefore clear that all we know of truth is that the Absolute Truth, as it is, is beyond our grasp. The more mindfully we learn this lesson of ignorance, the closer we will draw to truth itself.’
– Nicolas of Cusa
“It’s not possible.”
“What’s not possible?”
“To move from an excessively peaceful stone circle where a randomly chosen reading speaks of peace, and then move to a collection of stones arranged in a polygon and get a reading that talks about the relationship between a circle and a polygon.”
We are just home from a few days in Glastonbury where, with dear friends from across the world, we met to share the Beltane celebrations. It was with deep sadness and incredulity that we heard of the folly that has caused damage to the venerable trees that are all that remain of a processional avenue of oaks. Morgana West of the Glastonbury Pilgrim Reception Centre shares a plea for care in honouring the landscape with flame and cloutie…
On the 26th April, just before the Beltane weekend, our ancient tree guardian, known as Gog, was set aflame. More than 2000 years old, Gog is partner to Magog and this is a plea to all those that that have ever used a candle (and ribbons) out on the land. There is someone out there, possibly still in the Avalon landscape, sitting with the knowledge that, in their misguided understanding of ‘honouring the trees’, they instead have burnt the bugger down.
Photo: Sally North
(EDIT These two ancient oak trees –with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – stand in one of the further reaches of the sacred Avalon landscape, where they are in a relationship of alignment with other aspects of the sacred landscape such as the nearby Tor, Chalice Hill, the Abbey and Wearyall Hill. The Oaks gained their names from a legendary race of giants who, save for Gog and Magog, were slaughtered by Brutus and his Trojan army. Gog and Magog, marched to London, were held chained to walls of the city palace and their effigies can still be seen in the Guildhall to this day.
Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are said to be a traditional point of entry onto the island, and part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond. Gog has been dead these past ten years, and indeed has burnt once before, [Edit: It was Magog that was previously set alight] but stood strong, keeping vigil with Magog as she too let go of her long life. To make a pilgrimage to these two sentries is to take a walk through time. They have stood witness to ever-changing populaces, beliefs and cultures, and watched whilst individual humans, long forgotten, have come and gone, passing beneath the leafy canopies fed by roots reaching deep into the sacred land. Nowadays, a conscientious visitor, paying homage to the Oaks, is shocked to see spent night-lights placed at the base of the trees, some even in the bowls of the tree themselves and it took such foolish actions to turn Gog into a funereal pyre for 2000 years of myth and history.
Hey folks, have a care! Consider how leaving behind a metal casing, harmful to both flora and fauna and something that ‘hangs around on our planet’ for a very long time, can ever be considered ‘honour’. Muse a while also on how placing a burning flame at the foot of a tree, especially a 2000-year old dead one, is up there with the most stupid of actions. JUST. DON’T. DO. IT! Leave nothing behind save your love.
I might as well mention that the same people who leave their night-lights might also be about the landscape tying ribbons to a tree. DON’T DO THAT EITHER! This particular practice stems back to pilgrimages to holy wells, often places that would always have a tree growing by the side or nearby. The pieces of cloth, known as clooties, were dipped into the water before being tied to a branch with a prayer, often to cure an ailment, believing that as the rag rotted away, the ailment would disappear with it. Our forebears would use natural fabrics such as a strip of cotton petticoat and these would quickly rot away without harming the tree. Modern day ribbons are made from plastic and take an extraordinary amount of time to break down; tied to the branches of a tree, they strangle and prevent new growth whilst leeching chemical dyes into the wood.
I’m asking, as I am sure you are too, are both of these acts of ‘homage’ something to be undertaken by one who professes to care for the land and its spirit? No way, Jose! They are entirely selfish deeds, symbolic only of our own needs and desires. There are hundred’s of different ways in which we can serve those, but proclaiming that we are also working for spirit is to make a complete error of judgement. We are not serving anything, other than ourselves. This is a one-way street. We are no more re-enchanting the land and connecting with the Spirit of Place than we are when we drop litter. Leaving non-biodegradable products of the modern age is about as non-magical as it gets and, if we claim to be ‘of the land’, should these ever really feature in our thinking?
The careless act of the person that lit and placed a flame within the dead heartwood of Gog is hard for some to bear. Grief strikes at our own hearts and if we allow it, sinks into the soul. In 2010, another hallowed tree was destroyed in these sacred precincts when the Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill was chopped down, by persons unknown, in an act of wanton vandalism. A community came together and wept. Bridges across voids were built. Pagans and Christians held each other and mourned…and a shift of consciousness took place. In the seven years since the Thorn gave up its life, understanding, acceptance and mutual explorations have taken place. Bridges that didn’t exist previously have been created between secular and spiritual communities. The death of the Wearyall Thorn can, if we wish, be seen as an emblem of new understanding arising out of the collapse of an era. A new period where possibilities and positive actions are born out of the desire to connect and give way to a time where the re-connections of a community give rise to the re-enchantment of the land.
Two people stand just ahead of the main group at the edge of a Llyn Carrig Bach, the sacred Druid lake which now lies just off the end of the runway at RAF Valley, on Anglesey. Being the weekend, RAF Gnats – the UK’s primary jet training aircraft, made famous by the Red Arrows aerobatic team – are silent.
The two gaze into the setting sun, drinking in the vivid colours of twilight, and give unspoken thanks to the modern forces of happenstance that this most special day could have ended with such a magical event in the early night’s sky.
The last stage of their path, here, with their companions of the weekend, was from the RSPB car park situated at the end of the main road through the small town of Valley. As they walked the sun set, and the final stages of the short climb to the plateau were carried out in the day’s fading light.
This juxtaposition, here, of ancient and modern has its military overtones, too, – which are not lost on the group. The Silent Eye teaches that in the moment, the now, there is continuous magic. This magic conspires to bring to us the ‘bigger’ picture – the work of the spiritual – in what is usually viewed as the ordinary or the accidental. We see what expect to see. When we widen that expectation – in the final analysis, letting go of any ‘us-generated’ expectation – we begin to see a very different world.
In this place, right over the marshy lakes which marked the end of our first day, some of the world’s most advanced small jets hurl themselves into the air with unbelievable speed.
Unbelievable…. a word that might also describe how those we were gathered to honour – our Druid ancestors – felt, in A.D. 60, knowing that the greatest military machine in the world was a few miles away, waiting for the right time to cross the Menai Straits from the mainland and end the Druid’s magical existence…
Disbelief, perhaps, would be a better word. One theory is that disbelief was so strong that the Druid chiefs assembled here (already a longstanding sacred site) to cast into the waters a large sacrifice of their most precious objects – damaged by themselves so that they were beyond their own use. We have forgotten this form of sacrifice, yet we embed such principles into various logical instruments such as financial trusts.
Swords, shields, slave chains and even a cauldron, all were thrown into the waters of Llyn Carrig Bach only a short distance from where we had gathered in the fading light. What became known as the ‘Anglesey Hoard’ was rediscovered when the airfield was under construction in the 1940s and is now housed in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.
Now, on the hilltop overlooking the ancient lake – now largely silted up and with a shoreline protected by sharp gorse bushes – the two light candle flames and gathered their spiritual kin to begin the simple rite…
A day such this can be focussed on either its beginning or its ending. At the summer weekends, we focus on the dawn, symbolising the rising power of life – a universal, magical event, that we all take for granted.
For the winter solstice, we view the sunset as the event around which gather; and the whole of the Saturday on Anglesey was constructed to support that…
We had begun with the vast history of life and pre-life on Earth, beautifully illustrated in the twin climbs (down and up) of the cliffs at South Stack.
Back at the top, after the struggle of the ascent – representing the long climb of evolution – we visited a wonderful ancient village that has such a special feel that it could still be inhabited by the happy ancestors who lived and thrived there…
From there, we travelled in our car convoy to a strange dolmen located in the middle of a large and very muddy field.
Both Barbara (in the stone) and I had been moved by the folk-tale of a family who, in relatively recent times, had made a home beneath this ancient structure in their times of dire need. The contrast with the ‘happy’feel of the Holyhead Mountain group could not have been stronger and emphasised how mankind’s structures have played a pivotal role in the ascent of the species.
Our brief (soup) lunch had been at Rhosneigr, where, after our simple meal, the beach provided a contemplative place to each select a pebble to be used as a sacrificial token during the sunset ceremony at Llyn Carrig Bach. Each person was asked to imbue the stone with something that had served them well, but which they had outgrown.
Our penultimate destination, with the sun setting fast into the ocean, is one of the most beautifully situated burial chambers in Britain – Barclodiad y Gawres. Located on a clifftop near Aberffraw, this site has been reconstructed with a roof of concrete, newly covered in soil and grass, and is most strongly associated with the Druids, as this picture site guide shows. The facial decorations were mirrored in the headland stones.
Here, we had a place of ritual splendour which, sadly, is now locked behind steel shutters to prevent vandalism – a sad contrast to the reverence of our ancestors.
On one of the previous visits, the early fencing had been bent back and we were able to spend a few moments inside.
Then, with the light fading, and fearing that we were too late to bring the Saturday to the conclusion we had planned, we had set off for Llyn Carrig Bach, arriving just as the sun set on the western horizon. The sacrificial site is a few hundred metres across a field, and the final ascent to the raised plateau overlooking the lake is a bit of a scramble…
But, we need not have worried. Everything was waiting for us, as perfectly arranged and timed as we could have asked for…
The small ring of pilgrims collect their lights and their blessings from the priest. In complete silence they take light and token to the high edge over the water, where the priestess is waiting. She greets them with a sign and her own blessing, standing back so that they can cast away into the sacrifical water what they no longer have need of, and which is holding back the embrace of their spiritual future.
The simple rite ends. There is a feeling of great peace. It has been a day well spent. The moon and venus have borne witness to this gathering. We are blessed.
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness offers a low-cost, three-year home study programme which delivers a deep and experiential understanding of the human spiritual journey using the Magical Enneagram.
There are at least three dimensions to one of the Silent Eye’s discovery weekends. There’s the place itself, with its features – ancient and modern; there’s the social side, most present in the evening when we mellow into the chosen restaurant and share good food and a glass or two of wine; and then, there’s the way the whole event unfolds, which is the most important of all.
Good unfolding is the essence of a good weekend, and it does not come about by accident. For “Of Ash and Seed’ The organisers made two separate trips to Anglesey during the year leading up to December’s pre-solstice weekend. Each time we were ‘sensing’ how the plans would flow into a near-solstice day which is very short. We work on the basis that, social time, aside, December allows us only the daytime hours of ten till four and then the darkness wraps around us.
If the weather is foul, as last year’s was, then we also need places of retreat along the way. Last year, for example, the long-term forecast was dreadful so we booked a Christmas lunch at a nearby pub (The Jolly Crofters, Bolton) – one on the same height level as the top of Leverhulme’s gardens, leaving us only to stagger through the gale force storm to get to it…
But even those grumbling by then were the first to admit that it made the day very special.
When you start planning such an event, you look a the meagre list of places you want to include and your first thought is: there’s not enough! That won’t fill a day and we’ll have a ring of people looking expectantly at the sodden itinerary that has just been raced through…
Cafés…. I confess to finding great happiness in cafés, liberally scattered through the day so that a pleasant half hour can be spent out of the wind, rain or sandstorm… Can’t beat it. They also come in handy when you’ve lost the leader of your party and you need to wait somewhere predictable so you can be found. I’m very predictable… you’ll always find me in a café – ideally one that (rapidly) serves big pots of tea, with anytime cream teas… I’m a simple soul.
The climb back up South Stack, with its four hundred-plus steps, is demanding, but there were many stopping places where we could rest the legs and take in the splendour of the views. Being December, bird life – in abundance on the RSPB cliffs during the warmer months – was scarce, though several beautiful choughs, with their orange-red beaks, were gaily in abundance.
It is important to go at the pace of the slowest, and we take that seriously. This is why such days need to have lots of ‘elastic’ in them – think tea rooms…
The RSPB café, part of the visitor centre, is just down the road from the top of the South Stack steps and well-placed. Gratefully, we trundled in and the sound of relatively happy people sipping good tea and coffee was soon to be heard. The day was going well… allowing for the aches and groans the four-hundred steps were always going to induce.
For those deeply into the mysteries of the ancient landscape, there was a treat in store, just across the road from the cafe.
The Holyhead Mountain Hut Circles Group, to give it its full name, is the remains of about twenty dry-stone-built huts and associated field systems, belonging to a series of prehistoric and later farmsteads. I could go on to describe it, but Sue has done such a good job with her post of the 13th December, that I can simply put in the link, here… and add a few photos of my own:
The last photo – of the gorse and the site of the ancient fortification – marked a particularly poignant moment. Having discovered that there had been a hill fort on the top of Holyhead mountain, I could imagine how warrior guards would have been stationed up there, in the freezing and exposed conditions of winter, to guard over the settlement below. The mountain offers views right across to Ireland, on a clear day, and history records that it was a point of security of both Druid and, subsequently, Roman guards.
The lasting impression of this place was one of peace. Despite the settlement being very old, there remains a feeling of great tranquility, as though it is still lived in, in some form. You get the other-worldly feeling that its inhabitants were happy here, under whichever guardian paced the mountain fort, above…
Our own offerings to this lovely settlement took the form of poetry and the first of three scrolls between a Roman Centurion, Amathus, and a Druid High Priestess, Camma. Amathus, the centurion, had spent time in his wandering youth and fallen in love with the Druid tribe who adopted and trained him in their lore and wisdom.
Later, his travels took him away, but his skills saw him co-opted as centurion into the Roman Legion of Seutonius Paulinus, the much-feared leader of Rome’s campaigns in Africa, now sent to exterminate the last of the Duids, shored up on the Ynys Môn–present-day Anglesey.
These scrolls, which were to foreshadow the playing out of a tragic sacrificial death at Bryn Celli Ddu on our Sunday morning, were published in the run-up to the weekend and can be read here.
Another tearoom beckoned, one next to the beach in the lovely coastal town of Rhosneigr, but before that, we needed to visit a mysterious dolmen in the middle of an easy-access, but muddy, field.
The Silent Eye School of Consciousness offers a low-cost, three-year home study programme which delivers a deep and experiential understanding of the human spiritual journey using the Magical Enneagram.