Keys of Heaven (4) – through the bones of the whale

(Above: Saturday morning. Our path down to Whitby framed and given destination by the Whalebone Arch – a monument to harsher days in the town)

The pale winter sun lies – to our symbolic view – just beyond the East Cliff horizon. Its lowness and lateness in the cold sky speaks of the approach of the winter solstice, a time of maximum darkness and minimum light…. but also a time of turning.

History is made from a series of turning-points. Changes – some of them completely unforeseen and incapable of being predicted – but all of them remaking ‘the world’ in a way analogous to how baking irrevocably alters the ingredients of bread. The changed world can be different things to different people. For some it is positive change. For others, apparent sadness. Often, the death of a loved one; for others it is the death of a idea or a way of life or the perceived heartbeat of goodness in a civilisation.

Every turning point is a gateway into the new. Every turning point invites us to be a part of where it goes with eyes wide with possibility… or closed with regret. Until the point when things turn, we can resist or accept that, this time, the ship’s course may not be as we would wish. But it is a course that has been set and we are on that ship.

There are ships below us, now. Physical ships in Whitby’s harbour.

So, through the arch we must go… Perhaps the man known by history as St Cedd walked down this way to the bridge, or more likely, ferry, across the river Esk. On the far side, beyond the market square, there lay and lie the near two-hundred steps to the gateway of the Abbey. Inside waited Abbess Hild and their King, the mighty Oswiu, ruler of Northumbria, the most powerful of the Saxon kingdoms.

We can barely grasp the solemnity of that occasion.

These weighty thoughts on our mind, we descend. Sue (who was here, many times, with her Grandfather when she was a child) points out – perhaps mischievously – that I should note the contents of the horizon; with particular reference to the view of the Abbey. Dutifully I do so, and make sure I take photographs with the longer lens of the ‘proper’ camera in my bag.

(Above: Taken from the West Key and across the river Esk to the Abbey at Whitby… or is it a more complicated view?)

You never know when you’ll need them…

Flattery>Pride>Humility>Will. These are the four connected words I drew from the little bag at our opening meeting in the cafe. In a series of blogs not far away, one of my fellow Directors of the Silent Eye, Stuart France, is working his way through his own sequence of words; words which I have come to think of as ‘Back Along The Spoke‘- I smile at the acronym BATS. There are twelve such sets of BATS. I will explain what they are as we go along. Each of the companions of this weekend has drawn one of them – their own set of four words. Their meaning is to be teased out as we travel and experience. There are no uniquely right answers – but there is a right direction.

We descend through the cold December sunshine and Sue remarks that I’ve been lucky with the weather, again. It would appear I (and usually Barbara, who, sadly has missed this workshop due to an operation – from which she is recovering remarkably) have, so far, thwarted the usual December weather’s attempt to crush our bold expeditions. I put it down to the indomitable willpower of our companions on these journeys… that and my very personal childhood link with the Norse God Thor – he of the hammer and deepest mysteries; at least before Hollywood got hold of it.

(Above: taken on our scouting trip at the end of October. One of the many tourist boats returning to Whitby from a short cruise up the coast)

Walking down the last section of steps, I think of how busy the quayside was, in October, just over a month ago, when Bernie and I made our scouting trip – whittling down the possible sites and checking the timing – and cafes, of course. Got to get the cafes right in December.

(Above: What was October’s bustling quay is now quiet…)

Now, the quayside has no more than a handful of visitors walking along it. The pubs and cafes are Christmas busy, though – which is a good thing for Whitby. I look at the empty pontoon used by the bright yellow ferry in the picture above… there’s a sense of ‘rest’ about it – a rest that will make it stronger when the sun’s arc takes us past the (solstice) feast of St Stephen and, slowly, into the warming arms of St John at midsummer’s polar opposite.

I wonder if perhaps Cedd arrived here by boat? And if he did, whether the element of water helped calm what must have been a feverish mind; helped frame his thoughts beneath the screaming voice of his Celtic faith:

“I do not go to my death, but to the death of everything I have loved. The powers will applaud but the voice within will be silent at the execution of the truth…”

I’m projecting this onto the unknown real character of St Cedd. But my inner senses tell me there is truth in the words. That truth will be confirmed by a real bishop before the weekend is done; confirmed in a way I could not have foreseen. After the unexpected meeting with historian and St Oswald’s churchwarden John Secker, it would be wise to leave us open to the grace of circumstance… and its kindness.

I think about cousin Barbara, again, and how much she would have enjoyed this moment. The new hip will make her so much stronger for what lies in the year ahead. And next year sees us using April to reveal the inner mystical power of the fairytale; June to the inner mysteries of astonishing Avebury; September to the likely journey of a lifetime to Orkney via the Pictish trail of northern Scotland. These are all listed in the Silent Eye’s Events page.

I’ve had my hand in a pocket of my jacket. My fingers stray onto a small, cloth case. I take it out and remember it’s a piece of Whitby Jet jewellery that Barbara bought here when on their family holiday a few years ago. As she couldn’t be at the workshop, she asked me to carry it to absorb the ‘vibes’.

(Above: Barbara’s silver bat – from Whitby and now visiting!)

It’s a very special and rare piece: the last one of a specially commissioned run – and it’s a bat. I smile at the coincidence – my four words prompted the acronym BATS for Back Along The Spoke. Now the two are united. I won’t dwell on it but it raises a smile…

(Above: Christmas carol singers near the swing bridge)

We’re almost at the Swing Bridge – the vital highway and footpath across the river Esk. The lovely voices are carol singers. We stop… of course we stop. There is joy here.

(Above: Looking up from the quayside, and wary of Sue’s smiling advice, I notice that the Abbey has disappeared but the church that wasn’t there before, is now present… What’s going on?)

Just before we cross the bridge that will take us – in the footsteps of St Cedd – through the East part of Whitby town and to the base of the near two hundred steps, I look again at what should be the Abbey ruins on the mound that is the East Cliff.

They are not there… instead, there is a church. I know it is St Mary’s but what’s happened to the Abbey? And if the loss of the Abbey is due to the edge of the East Cliff, then why couldn’t we see the Church of St Mary, before, from the higher West Cliff?

You’ll find the answer in a detailed second photograph in the blog. And, yes, it was a good idea to have the other camera with the long lens…

(Above: A mere ten minutes later, we stand before the ‘stairway to heaven’. The Abbey and St Cedd ‘s destiny await…)

Other parts in this series of posts: 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.

Divide and be Conquered

It’s a funny thing, division – its principles apply to many aspects of our lives. We can cut something up, but its original ‘wholeness’ persists in ways we may never have considered.

Wholeness as a concept is worth some thought. Can we step back and consider why we think something is whole? Is it simply that ‘it works’ – in the way that a car works because all the pieces are in the correct working order and create a functioning machine?

Humanity has an innate skill in its ability to decide something is whole. Maturity teaches us that our individual life’s learning leads to a degree of wisdom. This is reflected in what we admire. Music is a good example of this. If we are considered person, whose state of mind is calm and searches for insights into the world and how it impacts us, then we will seek out music that – in its wholeness – reflects this. If we are a younger or less mature person, our state of agitation or angst might be reflected in a love for a more discordant style, whose essence is rebellious… or even violent.

The songs or instrumental tracks we seek out will have a certain resonance with how we feel about life, and , importantly, how we choose to extend our experience. In this way our ‘comfort level of wholeness’ will guide how we allow experience to make our life ‘bigger’.

Experience is, potentially, so vivid that, if we have the means, we may end up rejecting it and turning away from the new. Most adults do this to some degree; indeed, we may consider society’s measure of maturity to be the ability to throw a kind of ‘shield’ in front of the stream of life experience that would otherwise come at us – like a gale-force wind.

In so doing, we are saying to the universe ‘I have enough. I’ve learnt what I need to, I don’t want to go back into that fearful place where what I have stored up as ‘me’ can be threatened by change…’

And then we stop and look at that last sentiment: ‘threatened by change’.

It’s a frightening moment in itself. Are we to cast off the defences we have constructed over a mature lifetime? We will, at the end of our lives, go through an enormous change, as our physical mechanisms lose their ability to stabilise the flow of apparently chaotic universe coming at us.

Yet, people report seeing great peace on the faces of those loved ones they have partly accompanied on that journey. I have watched a small number of people die, and seen nothing but peace in that passing.

But, such considerations are for the end of our lives. What about the catastrophes that seem to triumph against our values, against what we call our civilisation? There is a widespread feeling that our beloved planet is beset by these from both political and environmental sources. New super-powers are arising, often with very different value systems to those we respect in the so-called West. Even within our societies, there is a renewed arising of populism, which seeks to throw away that which is established, simply because it is so.

I suspect it had always been that way; that we have lived through an unparalleled period of post-war prosperity and stability. Sadly, the lessons of the major wars of the past one hundred years seem to count for nothing within whole sections of our world. A historian friend once said to me: ‘When you forget about the real horror of societal chaos, it is free to live again…’

It may be that our coming struggle with what we are doing to the natural systems – wholeness – of the Earth are a kind of final maturing of the being and consciousness of its dominant life form. But, it is hard to see how our present political systems would permit the needed changes.

Perhaps even this is wrong. Maybe when what seems like self-evident goodness is swept away it is because it has been passed on as learning and opinion and not as experience. But, how could we pass on experience? It is impossible – and therefore eternally transient and changing. Its value is to the individual who collects it, consciously – who seeks it out. When enough such people combine their selfless desires and experience, a new civilisation is born.

When the dams break we may face our greatest test; and it may not be further resistance, but ‘going with the flow’ and being a true ‘elder’ in a world that will desperately be seeking a living memory of the former wholeness – even though the age may need a new one… It’s own.

It is a vast wheel – as depicted in the sacred literature of the ancient ones. The only bit of it we are in control of is our refection of that whole, filtered by the lenses of perception we have established from what has happened to us.

In that there is a great key to our lives.

In our forthcoming weekend workshop: The Keys of Heaven – In the footsteps of St Cedd, 6-8 December, we will be considering these deepest of questions from the perspective of the spiritual psychology of mankind, and its ability to interact with our fate. A few places are still available.

©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.

A Prospect of Whitby (3) Touching the Sun

(Above) Touching the Sun…

There’s something ‘monumental’ about planning to be high on the vast moorlands of the North Yorkshire National Park at the end of the first week in December. Yet that is exactly what we’ll be doing on the Sunday morning of the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the start of the workshop’s final day – weather permitting.

If it doesn’t, there’s a plan B…

Bridges and pathways…. I wrote earlier about how bridges are significant; how they divide and unite at the same time. That theme of division and unity are the twin poles on which the Silent Eye’s Whitby weekend is based. Its very topical for Britain at the moment – possibly so for the USA, also…

Pathways are significant, too, as any walker will tell you. The work done by centuries of previous walkers is reflected in the path before you – a ‘way’ made possible by their persistence against an often hostile landscape.

There are some very special pathways that cross the moors. Some of them link ancient sacred sites, often marked by crosses that surprise with their age – over a thousand years old in some, cases… possibly a lot older in others.

(Above) A warm welcome awaits…

Where they cross – or meet, might be a better word – they create a special place of exchange and, often, hospitality. Years pass, then hundred of years, and there becomes established a place of meeting that defies the often hostile elements by become a permanent building of refuge.

(Above) The Lion Inn – a refuge in the sky

The Lion Inn on the top of Blakey Ridge is one such. As high as you can be in the North Yorkshire National Park (1,325 feet), it sits astride a crossing of ancient ways and alongside the more modern linking the coast to Hutton-le-Hole. It has been run by the Crossland family since 1980. Being on the highest point, it offers breathtaking views down into the Rosedale and Farndale Valleys.

The history of this highest point on Blakey Ridge has been known to travellers since man first set foot here. We are fortunate in that three of the most significant sites are within a short walk of this very special place.

(Above) The Neolithic Burial mounds just behind what is now the Lion Inn

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn which we shall visit after our morning repast. The grave at Loose Howe can be see from the East window in the bar, where a  Bronze Age Chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin, armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

(above) Cockpit Howe

During the reign of King Edward III a house put and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars (see below), who had been unable to find a home in York and received this land for the building of an oratory and other buildings. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough having  at least two.

A Mendicant (‘living in the community’) Friar (image Britannica)

The order of Crutched or Crossed friars (Fratres Cruciferi) was a mendicant order whose origins are unknown. Despite having their own buildings, Friars from Mendicant religious orders lived and worked among those they served – usually the poor. They claimed a middle-eastern foundation in the 1st century AD, but were later reconstituted in the 4th century in Jerusalem. Time has not allowed me to look into possible Knights Templar or Knight Hospitaler links (with deliberately obscured origin) but this would bear investigation, especially given their medical work – their properties usually comprised a hospital and a chapel.

Historically, they were known in Italy in the 12th century, when Pope Alexander III gave them a constitution and rule life similar to that of the better known Augustinian order. In England, the order first appeared in England at the synod of the diocese of Rochester in 1244.

We need to consider also the proximity of Lastingham, which will be our final visit of the weekend. This Celtic Christian church was established in the 7th century, prior to the polemic Synod of Whitby. More on this will be discussed in our final blog, prior to the worskhop.

The Crossed Friars were not a large order in England, but they established houses at Colchester, London, Reigate, Oxford, Great Weltham and Barnham (Suffolk), Wotton-under-Edge (Gloucestershire), Brackley (Northamptonshire) and Kildale (Yorkshire). The order seems to have disappeared in the 15th century, possibly because of Henry VIII’s dissolution of monastic orders.

Returning to the more recent history of the Lion Inn, around 1750, local farmers from Commondale, Danby, and Fryup established a market on the site to sell surplus corn to horse breeders and stable owners from the more prosperous Rydale area,

In the 19th century, the newly established iron mines brought increased custom to the Inn. The arrival of the motor car opened up the moors to visitors, and the age of the modern Lion Inn was begun.

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and ‘Ralph’s Cross’ bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this the highest point on the North York moors. Much of its earliest history remains a mystery.

But… stand on the edge, looking down into the twin valleys and ‘feeling’ the inherent spirituality of the peak, and some of that ancient mystery becomes self-evident.

Our Sunday morning begins with a small challenge for those attending… locating and getting to the Lion Inn! So much easier by car than the hours or, more likely, days of walking that ancient visitors had to make to get to this point. Once there, we will gather for morning refreshments and to discuss the final day of our weekend.

We will also consider the ease with which we achieved the ‘climb’ and reflect on the dedication of those pilgrims whose journey was less opulent – such as the journeys by foot of St Cedd; Bishop Cedd as he was then, in the days when he travelled through his ‘diocese’ in this bandit-infested and lawless region of intense winter hostility…

Following our visit to the Lion Inn and its historic ridge, we will descend into the surrounding valleys to begin our visit to our final location: the magical church at Lastingham… and its wonderful and mysterious crypt…

Lastingham… our final journey

To be continued…

Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend

Places are still available. Email us at rivingtide@gmail.com

©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 Moment that Teaches

Most people who venture into the mystical encounter it before too long – that momentary sense of the world dropping away and an intense silence taking centre stage. In that silence is a new perspective which does not belong to the subjective, reasoning consciousness.

I think of it as the ‘moment that teaches’.

It is to be sought after as though it were gold. We will not find it by normal methods of analytical reason. The brain cannot reason beyond what it already knows, in some form. It can re-assemble the pieces, but the ‘moment that teaches’ comes into the consciousness whole.

That very sense of wholeness describes it as something other. Other, in this sense, means originating from a place not inside the usual stream of consciousness. The new perspective owes nothing to memory – other than the ability to try to communicate it – like this blog. That very act is doomed unless the receiver; the reader has, at some point in their lives, been ‘touched’ in this way by their own silence talking to them…

It is a natural condition that societal forces have obliged us to put to one side in favour of analytical reasoning. I’m not one who advocates disparaging the brain or its reasoning. It is a magnificent organ of consciousness that has taken millions of years to evolve. It makes sense of the billions of sense impressions available to us every second. Learning is largely a process of diminishing this flow of possible events – thereby avoiding madness and also creating a reliable picture of our world in which we can ‘not bang into things’ as a good friend of mine summarised recently.

In doing this, and allowing us to communicate the essential elements of our existence, the brain serves its purpose. It keeps us alive, and alerts us to potential and real danger. Potential danger can become anxiety, something whose collective danger I suspect we are learning society-wide as we wrestle with the moral foundations of our western lives… and the nature and value of truth.

Beyond morals lie values. And these come from a world which is not based upon logic but upon inspiration – seeing with different eyes. Each element of a moral code has at some time come into existence in the human consciousness as a spark of deeper knowing. It is seen to be ‘right’ and that rightness is grabbed, grasped and remembered by a mind opened to the entry of what mystics call ‘the higher’. The extracted facts can be passed on for contemplation Bearing witness to the truth of the revelation can only exist in the personal consciousness.

The higher speaks to us when we learn to listen to its silence. It speaks to us in moments that teach.

In the Silent Eye’s cycle of three ‘landscape’ workshops each year, we try to provide a formula of experience and place which has the greatest chance of allowing the entry into our lives of such a moment that teaches. Sometimes we do this by being in a place that has a vibrational history of the sacred. Sometimes we do it by being in an ordinary place that we psychologically ‘dress’ in the collective imagination to be somewhere different.

Sometimes, we are lucky enough to have a combination of real history and real sacred place around which to spin a special tale -based on the truth. Such a place is the internal space of Whitby Abbey, the location, in AD664, of the Synod of Whitby.

We will go into the detail in the coming weekend and in the blogs that follow, but in brief, the Synod was the place in which Saxon Britain’s most powerful king – Oswald (Oswiu in old English) set in motion a ‘court of learned opinion’ that would determine some very key elements of how Christianity flourished in the future.

Two streams of Christianity operated side by side in the seventh century. One we know a as Roman, the other Celtic. Celtic Christianity, as practised by King Oswald himself was a descended from St Patrick’s ‘conversion’ of Ireland, through the monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona and to the establishment of the monastery at Lindisfarne, off the Northumbrian coast.

A local man gave his four sons to the care of the monks at Lindisfarne. Two of them excelled in their work and became Bishops. One of them was summoned by King Oswald to carry out what we would now call the ‘facilitation’ of the competing ‘learned opinions’ of the synod.

Our deliberations are made more complex by the fact that King Oswald’s beloved queen was also a Christian, but of the Roman faith – established in Britain by Augustine and gathering momentum as the Pope pushed for consolidation of belief in an important outpost of his religious world view. Husband and wife were therefore on opposite sides of the debate… or were they?

One of the young bishops from Lindisfarne was Cedd – later St Cedd. He had risen to fame and religious prominence by the force of his intellect, and his religious devotion – learned from the Celtic Christian monks on Lindisfarne, only fifty miles north of Whitby.

The man who became St Cedd is the psychological focus of our weekend; and in the story of the last year of his life, we will trace our own footsteps – spiritual and physical, across the former landscape of Northumbria, a place that is now the beautiful county and coastline of North Yorkshire.

It begins on a Friday in December, when Bishop Cedd arrives, via the near two-hundred steps, at the Abbey of Whitby. He has a heavy heart, but knows that his duty to his king must be at odds with the only life he has every known. And he also knows that duty must come before all else, regardless of the effect it must have on everything he has always loved.

Cedd knows what he shouldn’t… and is powerless to act upon it.

In that decision, he opens himself to the moment that teaches… And we will try to follow…

The Keys of Heaven: in the footsteps of St Cedd takes place on the weekend of 6-8 December, 2019 in Whitby and surrounding region. Come and join us in the mind and heart of the man who became history’s St Cedd.

©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.

A Prospect of Whitby (2) Steps in Time

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The Cross of Caedmon – a modern monument (erected 1898)

Good food is everywhere in Whitby. Even with our Collie dog in tow, we were able to find a wonderful and furry-friendly tearoom – Sherlocks in Flowergate. Forty minutes later we had enjoyed it so much we decided it would make a great refreshment stop for those coming to the ‘Keys of Heaven’ workshop on the first weekend in December.

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Bridges are always significant. We’ve lost that sense in our busy age: too consumed by ‘doing’ to think back to how civilisation was practically divided and delineated by these ‘crossings over water’ that used intelligence to change borders… Quite something, yet, today they are simply a convenience and we travel over them as though they were just another part of the road.

Children don’t… they squash their faces to the car’s windows to fully experience the water crossing – something in them is still alive to the magic of this.

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The ‘swing-bridge’ over the Esk river is in the centre of Whitby and unites the two halves of the town

The bridge in the centre of Whitby is known simply as the ‘swing bridge’. But it divides Whitby in two and allows three types of crossing: foot traffic and cars move over it, boats move beneath it. For both a junction in time and space is created. The river Esk completes its thirty mile course here, meeting the sea under the watchful eyes of light and cannon at the harbour’s entrance.

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The Gun and the Light… Whitby’s West Pier

We had come down from Whitby’s West Cliff and were passing the point of the cannon and one of the town’s historic lighthouses, when Bernie, looking up at the still-distant Abbey ruins, had said, ‘A light in the winter; something new will happen, I think…”

At the time, I hadn’t given much though to it. I presumed she was referring to our present visit and not the destination workshop in December.

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(Above) Sandgate – on of the two main commercial streets on East Quay

Now, crossing the swing-bridge and thereby the mighty river Esk, we entered the major shopping streets of Sandgate and Church Street and something made me return to her words.

“When you said something new would happen here, did you mean at the workshop in December?” I asked.

“Yes, December,” she replied. There was something in the landscape, back there with the cannon and the lighthouse that made me think that…”

She’s very intuitive. Sometimes I miss it the first time… She was right. There was a sense that this was a different type of landscape from what we had used before… and maybe we needed to react to it in a slightly different way?

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(Above) Across the ‘Swing Bridge’ – lower left – lies the older part of town – and leads to the Abbey

Historic towns always have a contrast between what is old and more modern. There is little in Whitby that would be classed as modern – its beauty lies in the fact that it’s an historic port. The ‘Dracula’ reputation has made it a centre for ‘Goth’ festivals – which are generally good-natured; but somewhat at odds with the religious past of the Abbey and its history. Despite this, there is one thing that epitomises the town and unites the two: Whitby Jet.

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Whitby Jet is a local gemstone made from fossilised wood which, millions of years ago, had been covered in other sediment in water environments and compressed into the shale beds that eventually became the North Yorkshire coast. It is a beautiful and lightweight material, making it ideal for jewellery.

Mining of Whitby Jet has never been allowed. Instead, a local tradition of lowering young men over the cliffs was permitted. They would dig into the cliffs to extract larger pieces of the raw Jet gemstone, fill their baskets and be pulled back up the cliff. It was considered an extremely dangerous career! Today, there is little left of the original deposits, but the local industry is resourceful – and world famous.

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The cliffs to the north of Whitby – a severe working environment!

Weather permitting, we would be including a cliff walk in the plan for the weekend. Time would not allow us to sail as the ancient pilgrims in these parts did, but we could be close to the water… and high above it!

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We made a note that ample time needed to be given in our December itinerary for a wander around the streets of Whitby to allow for some Christmas shopping…

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Beyond the market the streets began to narrow. You could just ‘feel’ that this far part of the town was the approach to something very different…

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A final turn – a final tearoom – and there were the steps up to Whitby’s famous Abbey. Nearly two hundred of them, apparently… The next stage of our exploration beckoned – and we would have to work for it… We were finally approaching the symbolic centre of the coming weekend.

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To be continued…

Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend

©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.

A Prospect of Whitby (1) The Abbey at the centre of time

Above – A Prospect of Whitby Abbey from West Cliff

The title’s cheeky… Bram Stoker created Count Dracula of Transylvania and had him come ashore at Whitby in a ship named The Prospect of Whitby. We’ll not be talking much about Dracula in our coming weekend workshop; we’ve got enough to contend with considering the truth…

There are many ways to approach the centre of Whitby, but only one to truly approach its heart… In the opening shot the phone camera is straining at the maximum of its zoom abilities, but at least generates a clear image across the considerable distance from West Cliff, where we stand, not far from where the car is parked, and excited to be back here here after a gap of fifteen years.

The right of the image shows the key detail: the wide, winding steps ascending from the bustling streets to the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey. Even from this distance – which is across the mouth of the estuary – there is a feeling of sheer importance about that far place… Something of immense significance happened there, and it’s our job to consider it fairly and reasonably without too much emotion… and then turn it into the basis of a deliberately emotional workshop that will involve both heart and mind – and the undoubtedly freezing winds of a December weekend on the famously cold north-east coast of Yorkshire.

(Above) An edited photo of the town map showing (red mark) where we are at West Cliff; and (green marker) where we’re going (The Abbey). The nature of ‘approaches’ is symbolic and important.

To help with that objectivity, I am doing my prep visit with my wife, Bernie, who is an historian by training… and is also a Catholic. I’m not a Catholic. I was raised in a Rosicrucian family which fell foul of the local Church of England vicar in a small Lancashire village… but that’s another story. The important thing is that, between us, we can be objective about the religious importance of Whitby and what happened here…

Fourteen hundred years ago…

We take one last look across the bay before beginning our descent into the town. It’s a bit like a mystical view of a life – seen before birth and imagined as a final glimpse of the whole before you become in-volved and begin the evolution that the individual life brings within the necessarily different existence of the gritty details…

(Above) Captain Cook was here…

Entering the grassed area at the top of the West Cliff steps we noticed an image of Captain Cook. Although not born here, he began his marine training in Whitby, aged eighteen, as an apprentice to the master of a local ship: John Walker. For the next nine years he served aboard cargo ships between London, Liverpool, Dublin, The Netherlands, and the ports of Norway and the Baltic. In the course of this, the gifted James Cook rose from apprentice to mate, developing skills that would enable him to become a master-mariner and lead his world famous voyages of discovery.

The significance of this to our forthcoming Silent Eye weekend is not lost on us as we walk down the steep hill. The steps become a winding road, and the road becomes the harbour that was the home of Fishburn’s yard. Fishburn’s produced all four of the Collier-class ships used by James Cook; including the famous Endeavour.

(Above) Captain Cook is celebrated with marine replicas, too…

In the broadest sense, a ship is a container…

The makers of such soul-carrying containers bear a great responsibility: to ensure they are fit for the passage of time, events and circumstance in which a group of people will travel. Our coming weekend bears little relation to Cook’s epic journeys; except in this regard: that if we make it a fitting vessel, it will serve the consciousness-deepening goals of the workshop with integrity.

“We should begin, then…” I say as we start to walk along the harbour’s quayside. Bernie gives me that look and smiles, knowing I’m about the launch forth into one of the pivotal statements for the coming workshop. “It’s not sufficient to say that the Christianity of the Anglo Saxons resembled two armies that met from north and south to meet at a battle named The Synod of Whitby – in AD 664..”

She inclines her head. Not used to such a fair-minded opening. “Mmmm… Whereas the truth is?” she asks.

“Whereas the truth is that both Celtic Christian and Roman Christian faiths were interwoven from region to region across Saxon Britain and no-one made much of a fuss about it till King Oswald (Oswiu) responded to his wife in the matter of settling the date of Easter!”

“Which was important because…?” She taunts.

“Which was important because he followed the Celtic Faith and she followed the Roman, which meant that when he was feasting she was fasting…”

“And, as King of Northumbria, he was the most powerful monarch in the Anglo Saxon world.”

“Quite!” she says, then, “Look – fish and chips ahead… The famous Magpie Cafe… with the usual queues.”

The celebrated Magpie ‘fish and chips’ Cafe – perhaps the Friday night of the weekend?

Whitby’s like that… From the deeply historic and serious to the frivolous in an instant. I look around and wonder if a Goth from the adjacent festival might rush us and offer something outrageous.

The swing bridge and then the lovely ‘Whitby jet’ jewellery shops await, on the way to the Abbey steps, but, first, we need something to eat. Breakfast was meagre and a long time ago.

St Mary’s Church and the Abbey await.. but it’s a long way up and we haven’t eaten yet

Across the harbour, the East Cliff looms over the town like an old guardian. But our own pilgrims will need refreshments upon their arrival on the Friday lunchtime of the weekend, so the body-not-soul research, trivial though it is, must be done before we make the climb.

To be continued…

Details of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ Weekend

©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 Whirlpool

Underlying image by Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

It begins with a feeling… A feeling that something has fallen: like a vital bridge being destroyed.

As it develops, you sense the landscape being stretched, allowing forms of life alien to your own to enter the world.

And then you become conscious that there is a velocity, here – that we are all going somewhere we didn’t ask for. After a while you realise that the world is not only changing, but is being buffeted from the same place…

That place is the centre. The place from which the tearing winds are coming.

Soon, the low roar, the dull moaning, gain strength. They become a voice… and there is anger; an anger that won’t go away, like a wild beast dying.

By the time you see that, the whole world is moving, beginning to spin, tearing loose from everything you thought was fixed and, and… ‘of the elders’.

It’s too late… is it too late to do anything?

The riven world is full of creatures, creatures gloating that their views have triumphed against the overburdened weight of the controls that kept the world from breaking up, from spinning, from feeding that dreadful centre.

You look again at the place from which the noise is coming; only you can’t see it any more. It’s gone… spinning, faster and faster, it has become a vertical pit into which everything is being sucked – a whirlpool of hate.

You look at the far edge of the red whirlpool and see millions of people staring back at you – only they’re staring back at all of you and they’re screaming and shouting and laughing as the edge of the red water washes them faster and faster into more energetic screaming and shouting.

They are the opposite of what you believe yourself to be, and they generate the strongest of emotions in you… until you realise that this emotion, too, is hatred, and that your loathing of the hateful creatures is adding to the red spinning that now sucks in you, as well as them.

Fighting despair, you raise your gaze to look beyond the descending red waters and see – far away and behind the forces of the vortex, dotted here and there – a set of people whose eyes are not red, who are not shouting… not even speaking. No energy flows from them into the redness, though you can see and feel their pain. There is a different way to react… or maybe, not to react at all, simply to hold the good that was, so much of which is being sucked, like wreckage, into the red whirlpool.

The new knowing lodges in your heart. It breaks the force of the red gravity that had pulled you nearer the centre of that dreadful noise. You are moving backwards on the boiling waters, holding the eyes of the others who are holding yours… do not feed it, they whisper, gently.

It is calm, now. The dreadful vortex has gone, taking much of what you loved with it. But the waters that remain are the same waters that gave rise to a new world, long ago. The energy of renewal can begin its work.

The world is washed with its tears, but there is hope. There is no choice, now – you must be an elder, even if you are young… especially if you are young.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – (2) “I want a posset!”

The first visit of the Silent Eye ‘Rites of Passage: Seeing Beyond Fear’ weekend was to the Derbyshire village of Eyam (pronounced Eem) – The Plague Village.

Our family has a personal connection with Eyam and the terrible events of 1665-6, when bubonic plague, newly arrived in Derbyshire from London, took the lives of 260 of its occupants: over seven-tenths of its population.

The parish church of St Lawrence, Eyam

No-one began the weekend thinking of heroes or heroines, but they were there in the records–and in the living landscape, though the word may not be entirely appropriate to describe the profound selflessness of its former inhabitants during that fateful year of 1665-6.

The Saxon cross in the church of St Lawrence

The name of the man who is our family connection was Edward Unwin. We do not know his occupation, but it was probably that of lead miner, a common occupation in those parts. This assumption is made on the basis that a close friend of his reported the strange events that follow to Catherine Mompesson, the wife of the new rector of Eyam, William Mompesson, who was a disciplined diarist. Her records are the basis of much of the history of the plague year of 1666.

From Diary of Catherine Mompesson, 5th July 1666:

‘I first encountered John Carter [the neighbour of Edward Unwin] on the morning following his summoning of Marshall Howe to give his ministrations to his near neighbour…’

Catherine Mompesson’s journal goes on to explain how Carter, the neighbour of Unwin, was ‘sharp-spoken’ and unkempt in the way of the local lead miners, but was ‘direct and honest’ in his conversation. In common with the other lead miners, he looked ten years older than his reputed thirty-four years. Catherine Mompesson relates that, in telling the tale, he had ‘a certain jocose air’ about him as he related the story of the previous day.

The grave of Catherine Mompesson, wife of Rector William. She died in 1666 of the plague.

The journal continues: ‘Knowing that Unwin was either dead or on the verge of death, Carter had summoned his fellow miner, Marshall Howe, who was acting as a self-appointed ‘sexton of the plague’; seemingly heedless of the danger to himself, but well aware that, since Unwin’s wife had already died of the plague, choice possessions from Unwin’s house would pass to him as his fee for the ‘sexton’s’ funeral duties…

Bodies had to be buried in the gardens of the deceased’s dwellings to reduce the risk of contagion from communal graveyards. The journal tells that Marshall Howe had already dug Unwin’s grave in the man’s ‘sweet smelling’ orchard at the back of the property and was carrying his body over his shoulder down the stairs when:

‘The still-warm body started to writhe and thrash.. then shouted out, “I want a posset!”

The interior of St Lawrence’s church

Edward Unwin was my wife’s tenth great grandfather. He survived the encounter with the ‘plague sexton’ and got his posset from a sympathetic neighbour. The self-appointed sexton fled but is recorded as subsequently continuing his job and surviving the plague. The incident gave voice to the opinion that Marshall may ‘have been overzealous in the execution of his duties several times…’

We know that Edward Unwin survived the plague. My wife, Bernie, hopes that whatever resistant DNA he may have had was passed down through the generations. The posset in question was a mixture of boiled milk, ale, bread and fats – a miner’s favourite sustenance and inexpensive, too.

Edward could not be described as a hero, regardless of his miraculous recovery… But the plague village and the area around it did have its heroes. Eyam, discovering that it was the new centre of a potential explosion of bubonic plague infection, did something remarkable: with some guidance from the clergy, it chose to cut itself off from the surrounding villages and towns, condemning all those ‘within’ to almost certain death.

The credit for this is normally given to William Mompesson, the young local clergyman. But the truth is more complex… Two rectors were involved in the formidable alignment of wills that gave Eyam its fame and historical status.

1662 was the date of the Act of Uniformity. Charles II was on the throne of England and Scotland, and Cromwell’s age of the Puritans had come to an end. The Act of Uniformity forced the ‘ejection’ of hundreds of puritan clergymen from their ‘living’. One of these was Eyam’s much respected rector, Thomas Stanley.

The old sundial on the walls of the church

Traditionally, these ‘ejected’ clergyman were expected to leave the region in which they had ministered. But Stanley continued to live close to Eyam – something the nearby Duke of Devonshire had the power to correct but didn’t, such was the standing of the former rector.

William Mompesson, Rector of Eyam Church. I could find no surviving pictures of Thomas Stanley.

The plague arrived in Eyam at the end of August, 1665, in the bite of fleas wrapped in a damp bale of tailor’s cloth. The inexperienced rector knew he had to do something radical but struggled to gain support from the people of Eyam – until he met with Thomas Stanley and shared views across the new religious boundary. Together, they framed the stance the people of Eyam would adopt; to imprison themselves, facing almost certain death, in order to protect the surrounding populations.

The Story of the plague. An unlikely stained glass window in St Lawrence’s church…

The Earl of Devonshire deserves mention in this context, too. He and his family resolutely supported Eyam in its self-imposed isolation. They provided food and other vital supplies for the villagers, left at safe boundary points, for the duration of the plague’s effects.

William Cavendish, First Duke of Devonshire and benefactor of Eyam during the plague. Image Wikipedia, public domain

Space precludes more detail of the beautiful village of Eyam, but Sue Vincent’s recent blog describes our exploration of Eyam in considerable detail.

The day in Eyam had generated heavy hearts, even though these events were four hundred years ago. They let us reflect on the nature of fear… and of love. But this was an important counterpoint to the following day, which would begin on a much more sun-filled note.

———————————-

©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.

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

It’s not the best of photo resolutions, but the above image says it all. Briony saluting the Derbyshire landscape in her own way at the end of three days of the Silent Eye’s Tideswell-based workshop: Sue and Stuart’s creation; and a wonderful experience for the group of souls who braved the provocative title for the weekend…

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

…and decided that they would examine the roots of their own fears… and face them in the warmth of loving companionship and symbolic danger.

It’s a time-honoured formula for all mystical organisations; one that brings us all to a point where the day to day ‘fog’ of habitual perception is cut through by the vividness of landscape and experience. That’s what we hope to achieve on these weekends. This one worked well – and in different ways for each person, as it should, for we all have different stories that have brought us to our ‘now’.

Sometimes, especially in reviewing such things, it’s better to start at the end. The picture (above) of Briony is of her at the ‘peak’ of the weekend; the last act of the formal part of our physical, emotional and spiritual wanderings across the ancient and mysterious landscapes of Derbyshire.

A short time later, we would be laughing in one of the oddest, oldest and most wonderful pubs in England…

But that’s for the final chapter of this short series of blogs. For now, let’s drift backwards in time to the sunshine of the Saturday morning. A day of ‘Indian Summer’ as good as any we been blessed with over the years.

Baslow Ridge

We were up high in a place called Baslow Ridge. Looking down on a series of valleys that lead to places like Bakewell, and the glories of the Chatsworth Estate.

The Eagle Stone – a place of proof of maturity, and a precursor to local marriage

The Eagle Stone stands alone, an outlier from a distant time of glaciation. It dominates the landscape like the monolith did in Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s story 2001: A Space Odyssey. People are drawn to it from miles around. It even featured in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as the place that Elizabeth Bennett visited and climbed… to get away from it all.

It is still used by local folk as a rite of passage. Those who seek the hand of marriage with the girls and ladies of the nearby town of Baslow are expected to demonstrate their suitability by climbing the stone unaided. It’s not a trivial ascent, as this second shot of the rock shows:

The Eagle Stone close-up shows how the higher layers overhang the lower; making an ascent difficult

The Eagle Stone is an example of a sacred folk-object at the centre of a local custom; a ritual, in this case. The ritual was a gateway into adulthood–and maturity. There would be real caution – if not fear- for anyone faced with the challenge. But, with some secret help from your friends, there was only an element of danger, rather than the certainty of death…

The Riley Graves

But many in the history of these parts have not been so lucky. Going back in time to our first visit of the weekend, we were brought face to face with personal fear and sadness of a degree that would be hard to envisage in modern life… and one of the most heart-rending sacrifices we could have encountered.

It’s 1666 in a small High Peak town, not far from Chatsworth. In the space of a single week, a lone woman buries all six of her children and then her husband. No-one will help her; no-one can help her. It is the most awful piece of personal history imaginable and yet the act which surrounds it is of the highest nobility.

Stuart… showing how it should be done

And so the story – the plot – of the weekend, moves from an historic example of fear and self-sacrifice – but seen through modern eyes, through the ancient stones set in the Derbyshire landscape and their cultural and symbolic use, to its finale in a rather foreboding place, high above a valley with a dark history…

Seen like this – backwards from the end, we can appreciate the careful construction of the weekend carried out by Sue and Stuart. Sue has begun its re-telling in her Silent Eye and personal blogs. She’s a great storyteller and there is little point in my replicating her excellent eye for detail.

Instead, I will pick certain moments of significance and focus on them – and hence this backwards-in-time introduction to set the scene.

It’s a long way from the Friday meeting place at Eyam to our final (small for drivers) glass of Black Lurcher at the Three Stag’s Heads near ‘Hanging Rock’, but it’s a fascinating journey. The weekend demanded a degree of serious intent… but we had lot of fun, too.

In the end, on Sunday morning, everyone was alone for a moment on that dark peak… Very Carlos Castenada, really…. but that’s just my personal take on it.

Next time we meet, it will be August 1666 and, in this part of Derbyshire, something remarkable, unique and utterly selfless will be about to happen.

 

 

©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.