Petals of the Rose

Petals of the Rose

Guided Journeys

Sue Vincent

A collection of guided meditations, designed to open aspects of the personality in as gentle and natural way as the petals of the rose open at the touch of the sun. Each inner journey will carry you to a haven within your own psyche from which to explore layers of your own being, learning their meaning and purpose.

From mystical and silent castles, to the song of the unicorn… each journey takes you deeper into your inner being and carries you out beyond the stars.

Stories stir the imagination, casting images upon the screen of mind that allow us to explore, in safety, aspects of our lives and being that we might otherwise avoid or overlook. There is a rich vein of experience in memory that can be mined for its treasures. One of the simplest and best ways of exploring the labyrinths of the mind is to do so through a guided journey.

Meditation and visualisation are not arcane practices in which a few indulge… we all use these tools every day, to navigate our way around the world and our lives. We ask ourselves ‘what if?’, creating imaginary scenarios before we act. We visualise the route we walk to work, or what the basket full of ingredients will look like, once assembled and cooked, on a dinner plate.

There is no mystery in meditation… but when you give time and attention to the practice, it can open the door to many mysteries… including those of our own being…

Available via Amazon.com, Amazon UK and worldwide in Paperback and for Kindle

WHAT’S UP DOC? Lines of communication III…

*

… Bugs… The small rabbit came closer to his companion, lolloping on long hind legs.

“Let’s go a bit further, Hazel,’ he said. “You know, there’s something strange about the warren this evening, although I can’t tell exactly what it is. Shall we go down to the brook?”

*

Cara… “All right, Fiver,” answered Hazel, “and you can find me a cowslip when we’re there. If you can’t find one, no-one can.”

*

Bugs… Hazel led the way down the slope, his shadow stretching behind him on the grass.

They reached the brook and began nibbling and searching beside the wheel-ruts of the track.

It was not long before Fiver found what they were looking for.

Cowslips are a delicacy among rabbits, and as a rule there are very few left by late May in the neighbourhood of even a small warren.

This one had not bloomed, and its flat spread of leaves was almost hidden under the long grass.

They were just starting on it when two large rabbits came running across from the other side of the near-by cattle-wade.

Fiver had already turned away.

*

Cara… Hazel caught up with him by the culvert, “I tell you what, let’s go across the brook. There’ll be fewer rabbits and we can have a bit of peace, so long as you think it’s safe?”

*

Bugs… “No, it’s safe enough,” answered Fiver. “If I start feeling there’s any danger I’ll tell you. It’s not danger I feel tonight, it’s, oh, I don’t know, something oppressive, like thunder. I’m not sure what, but it worries me. All the same, I’ll come across the brook with you.”

*

Cara… The two rabbits ran over the culvert.

The grass was wet and thick near the stream and they made their way up the opposite slope, looking for drier ground.

Part of the slope was in shadow, for the sun was sinking ahead of them, and Hazel, who wanted a warm, sunny spot, went on until they were quite near the lane.

As they approached the gate he stopped, staring…

“Fiver, what’s that? Look!”

*

Bugs… A little way in front of them, the ground had been freshly disturbed.

Two piles of earth lay on the grass.

Heavy posts reeking of creosote and paint, towered up as high as the holly trees in the hedge, and the board they carried threw a long shadow across the top of the field.

Near one of the posts, a hammer and a few nails had been left behind.

The two rabbits went up to the board at a hopping run and crouched in a patch of nettles on the far side, wrinkling their noses at the smell of a dead cigarette-end somewhere in the grass.

*

Cara… Suddenly Fiver shivered and cowered down. “Oh, Hazel! This it where it comes from! I know now – something very bad! Some terrible thing – coming closer and closer.”

He began to whimper…

*

Bugs… “What sort of thing – what do you mean?  I thought you said there was no danger? “

Cara… “I don’t know what it is,” answered Fiver wretchedly. “There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming – it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered in blood!”

*

Bugs… “Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of the sunset. Fiver, come on, don’t talk like this, you’re frightening me!”

*

Cara…The sun set behind the opposite slope.

The wind turned colder, with a scatter of rain, and in less than an hour it was dark.

All colour had faded from the sky and although the big board by the gate creaked slightly in the night wind, there was no passer-by to read the sharp, hard letters that cut straight as black knives across its white surface.

They said…

to be continued…

The Last Post?

This may be the final post that I get chance to write for the Silent Eye… that decision has been taken out of my hands. I spent much of last week in hospital, having, as many of you know, been diagnosed with incurable small cell lung cancer last September. It has been an interesting and informative journey on so many levels as familiar things have been stripped away and a gift of love left in its place… rather like the tooth fairy leaving something of real value in place of a discarded incisor.

First to go was the illusion of near-immortality that gets us through life, one way or another. We know there is a certain inevitability about life leading to death, but we tend not to apply it to ourselves until we are forced to pay attention. Dealing with the situation that made me sit up and listen meant that the body came under attack. As its fitness levels diminished, my job went… and so did my face and figure. All core things with which I have identified myself over the years.

Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Even language conditions you to that… ‘my face’, ‘my body’… ‘my life’, forgetting that we borrow the raw materials of our physical existence from Mother Nature and that they will, one day, have to be returned.

Bit by bit, the human version of one’s identity is stripped away. You are too weak now to dance, couldn’t climb a slope, let alone a hill, if you tried and are going to have to be pushed in a wheelchair… the way you have done for your son all these years, in a complete role reversal. Except that he is still stuck in the wheelchair and you can’t even trade places to make it a good deal. Because there are no ‘deals’ at the end of life.

So, eventually you accept that you won’t make it to retirement. Your voice changes, disappearing every so often. Then, an eye goes… and not in some fixable way. So you can no longer drive the thousands of miles that have been your joy. Or see to paint or write with ease, or even watch the birds on the feeder. And while you are given lots of hope about the outcome while they wait for test results, it is not a surprise when you are told that the cancer that had started in your lungs has now set up multiple homes in your brain.

Or that the ‘months’ you had been given have now been reduced to ‘days to weeks… if you are lucky’.

If you haven’t started to let go of the identification of yourself by what you have done, the definitions of ‘self’ imposed by language, role and label, then having them forcibly torn away is really going to hurt. The human personality is programmed for survival, and the possibility of extinction… like a candle flame forever snuffed out… is anathema to the ego.

The ego… the personality we wear like a protective shell as we walk through the world…  wants to have mattered, to be remembered, to have made a difference. Sometimes it has… and may learn before life ends that it did. And that is a joy, although it comes with a certain regret. How would life have been different had you always known that you were so loved and made a difference? Yet each one of us, every one of us, does so…simply by being present in the world, we change it indelibly. By reaching out to a friend, by comforting a child, by simply being human, sharing life and love and laughter… and tears… we each make the world a different place, moment by moment. We may never see the ripples of what we do or say, or know how far we can shape a day or a person by our actions. We each have that power… and responsibility.

But if we had known how much we mattered in the world, or how much love might be out there waiting for us to let it in, would we have tried to become better at being human? A better vessel for the spirit that animates Mother Nature’s gift of form? Who can say? But I suspect that complacency could be a real danger.

And then you reach the real goodbyes, realising that letting go of the illusions of identity which have, inevitably, helped get you through life, was just a step towards learning how to look at someone you love and say goodbye for the last time. We say goodbyes all the time… it shouldn’t be so hard. But that ‘last time’ seems awfully final. You look at the spring flowers and know you will not see the heather bloom again, or look up at a full moon and know, with a fair amount of certainty, that it will be your last. That ‘tomorrow’ is now an uncertainty.

There is grief at leaving behind the human loves, the beauty and all the things that make our experience on earth so rich and varied. There is, for many, a clear roadmap of where we go next. For those who hold such beliefs close to their heart, there is no ego-fear of annihilation. Nor is there an ending…

Spring is the time of rebirth and the daffodils are in bloom here. I hold to an inner certainty of an existence beyond this one. It is more than belief, but if there are those who choose to call it an expression of that very ego-fear it erases, that is their privilege. I have experienced enough ‘otherness’ to know the difference.

I believe that we are all expressions of the One, by whatever name, story or symbol we seek to understand It. Talking with my son today, he compared us to a microbe on our skin trying to understand the workings of our universe. So much we may be able to deduce, sometimes we are granted a glimpse beyond the Veil… but for the most part, we are far too small to see the Design or know its reasoning in its entirety.

From its essence we are brought into manifestation, still part of the One… and when we depart this world, we are still part of the One. As the components of our bodies are returned to earth, so is the animating spirit returned to its source, carrying with it the fruits of our learning and adding to the store of Creation’s understanding. If the One is All, then it can be no other way and the separation we feel through loss or death is an illusion, painful to the human side of us, but perhaps with a purpose too. If we are here as ‘crystallised spirit’ as some have called it, then we are here to learn things that spirit alone cannot learn and we cannot do so without seeing both sides of life, bright and dark, joyous or sad. How would we know how deep love goes without the grief of loss?

Like many others these days, I have been given the privilege of being able to say goodbye. To leave those I love with memories of smiles and laughter, fierce hugs and gentle tears… for, when you know in advance, the grief of letting go works both ways.

I watch as those I love and am leaving find their own place within themselves and within the circle of love that surrounds them unseen, knowing that they will grow through the grieving, and that anything I could have done to help is done. In the end, as friends, teachers, partners or parents… we can only ever guide faltering footsteps and hold a hand along the way. Choosing the way forward and having the courage to take that chosen path is always down to the individual and when they realise that, they also begin to realise how strong they can be.

And now, for me, comes a time of gratitude, where I look back at what an amazing life I have been granted… for they all are, even when they seem small and pale against the big screen of fame or notoriety. And I can wonder at how much I have learned from the living of it. And how much love it has held… and then find that there was even more than I could possibly have believed.

This may be the last post I write for the Silent Eye, a school with which I have worked for years and which has given me so very much more in return than I could have dared to dream. I would not have missed this adventure for the world. And any time now, I will embark upon the next… and all I will take with me is love. And that is always enough.

The Art of Drowning

I’ve drowned before…

Drowning comes in the form of waves. Eventually, when your ability to fight back has gone, even the smallest wave can make the difference and take you beneath the surface to a place of the unknown.

Many years ago, I faced the inescapable collapse of the software business that we had spent eight years building from nothing. The business climate had nose-dived, and no-one was spending money in the sector that our products served. We went from healthy company to likely extinction in about four months. It seemed that nothing we could do would make a difference.

It was likely we’d end up with nothing. We were going to drown…

Nothing can be a potent idea, and more potent than we know. Facing the idea of nothing – of the removal of our normal world – is a truly sobering process.

The world seems to be drowning at the moment. Hospitals are drowning in the fight against Covid, with doctors and nurses working on seriously ill patients at a level of four or five times their previous maximum load. 

Compared to that, our own troubles should be trivial, but often aren’t.  If you can’t escape them, then they matter –  especially if someone else’s health or even life is in the balance. Not all problems are Covid related.

Two days ago, I was staring at the living pink tube of flesh that protrudes from the lower stomach of a person who survived ulcerative colitis via an operation that removed all of the lower intestines. Such operations require a ‘stoma’ – an aperture stretched into a tube (stomata), through the skin of the abdomen to the outside world from the digestive tract.

The most common forms involve the patient wearing a ‘stoma bag’. The bag replaces the bowel, and often the intestine, and must be emptied, manually, whenever needed. In the case of the ileostomy, which applied in this case, the waste matter is continuously produced by the body without the normal regulation of the intestine and bowel.

The person whose fleshy ‘stoma tube’ I was looking at is a ninety year old woman. She is my mother… Somewhat exhausted, I was wondering why my (untrained) third attempt to attach her stoma bag hadn’t survived for more than two hours.

Two days before that, I had been in an ambulance for the first time in my life, being ferried from Westmorland hospital to the larger Lancaster hospital for my mother to have a CT scan. She had fallen out of bed and landed on her lower back. Resistant to any form of medical treatment at the best of times, she had protested that it was ‘just a bruise’.

The morning after, we knew it was more than that and I drove her into the local Westmorland hospital, where the wonderful Urgent Care Team saw her rapidly, shook their heads and wheeled her off to “give her a rapid MOT”. This led to the rapid diagnosis of a fractured lower back, but, thankfully, not a pelvic injury. The bad news was that it needed a CT Scan at Lancaster Hospital to confirm, which might then lead us on to the specialist team at the Preston Spinal Unit.

An ambulance team were on their way. I was assured that my now-insufficient parking ticket would be overlooked, and mentally watched my car disappear in the distance as the ambulance crew took charge of us – mum now on a stretcher.

She had been staying with us for a few days of care and company to warm her spirits in these difficult and isolating times. Being heavily dependent on us for her health, this was within the brief of the current guidelines. Her vascular dementia has been getting worse, and we hoped that a weekend in Kendal would restore her spirits… and alleviate some of the paranoid fantasies (of theft of money and keepsakes by relatives, for example) that dementia sufferers, living alone, often face.

The ambulance staff were fabulous. They briefed me on how to not be separated to my mother and tagged her so everyone would know I was her official carer and allowed to enter Lancaster A+E alongside her trolley.

There was nothing I could do about it. I made sure we were liberally doused with hand gel and wearing surgical masks. Then I stayed with her, standing by the trolley, within the main A+E corridor.

After two hours, we were told that she could go up to the CT Scanner unit. A porter collected us, and, only fifteen minutes later, we had the results. She had fractured her ‘L3’ vertebra. This had been diagnosed by Westmorland, but needed the more powerful scanner to confirm. Treatment was not possible, but rest and painkillers would assist her body’s own recovery and bone-healing. It could have been much worse…

Fortunately the Preston team, having been sent the scans, confirmed they could add nothing to the diagnosis and the ‘rest and painkillers’ treatment.

My wife, Bernie, came for us at Lancaster…. It was nine in the evening on a day that had begun at ten in the morning.

But now a three day break with us had just become an indefinite period of residence, as there was no chance of her returning to the Bolton terraced house with its steep staircase… possibly ever. Mum has always been fiercely independent and we could imagine what this news would mean to her. But she was uncharacteristically accepting.

We settled her in as best we could. She slept well, exhausted by the events of the day. The following morning I helped her out of bed and she took some painfully slow steps around the bedroom. I helped her to the bathroom and was about to leave when she called out that her stoma bag had burst.

Her ileostomy operation was sixteen years ago. She nearly died from the colitis in the days leading up to it, the surgeon describing her chances as no better than 50:50. The family have been deeply grateful to the surgical team at the Royal Bolton Hospital for those extra years. The stoma is a small price to pay for continued life, and she has managed it on her own, with an occasional visit to the stoma team at Bolton.

But we had not reckoned with the effect of the dementia, combined with the shock of the fall and the spinal fracture. She had literally forgotten how to change her own ‘bag’. Fortunately, we had a box of the stoma supplies at our house for safekeeping. I sat her on the toilet seat and grabbed a pack… I would have to figure it out from the spoiled one now in front of me. I gently peeled it from her sore flesh.

I do not propose to dwell on details. I am the father of two boys and remember the more pungent details of their infant life with nappies. There is a difference between the peachy bottoms of babies and a ninety year old’s stomach, but it’s basically the same science at work.

At that moment, the dawning extent of our new situation was a point of drowning. They are characterised by the knowledge that you can do nothing about the overall nightmare. You just have to put one foot in front of the other and look for any help that might come your way.

Now, three days later, I am able to change a stoma so that it stays sealed, but I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Living in Kendal, Cumbria, we are three counties away from where she is medically registered, but, as she cannot go home, we have at least been able to register her with the local stoma clinic in Lancaster. Some help will be forthcoming, if only to teach me how to do the job properly. We have discussed the situation with her local Bolton doctor of thirty years – who has been very supportive, and advised us that my mother really needs 7×24 care.

It’s that external help that makes all the difference. You know that organised assistance is out there, but can’t access it until someone at the centre of things shows you how.

The experience took me back to the commercial nightmare, now so long ago. Then, three of our largest customers said they did not want us to go bust, and brought forward enough business for us to survive the cash flow crisis. We did; and eventually prospered for another fifteen years until it was time for me to hand over the reins and step away… to do something else, which turned out to be the Silent Eye.

Sometimes we’re not meant to see the logic, or even the pattern. But the rescue from drowning can be there, and not within the scope of our own minds. Small miracles do happen.

So, forgive me for not doing the next instalment of the ‘Big Picture‘ series. By next week, I should be more settled on this new ocean of ongoing uncertainty. I have no intention of drowning.

©Stephen Tanham, 2021.

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

Outside in

Image result for cat and lion mirror

It was odd. I look at this particular blogger’s page every day…and every day there is a reblog button. On every post. Except today. I clicked into the title, hoping that by going deeper, I would find what I was looking for. Nothing. I couldn’t understand it at all. There were, in fact, few of the usual options and I could not imagine what had prompted the blogger to make this particular piece unshareable. Or why I suddenly had to fill in a form to leave a comment. Or why, when the theme had not been changed, it should look so different.

They must, I decided, have been the victim of some online horror… trolls, ID theft, hackers… all sorts of scenarios began to roil around in my mind. I thought about my own online presence and its security and wondered if I ought to take the hint and tighten things up. I hoped my friend was okay. These things can be nasty and upsetting. Perhaps I should email to check?

In those few seconds, my reaction to the lack of a simple button was going a long way…and the possible causes and consequences were already starting to pile up in my mind and imagination. Until I realised what the problem was. Between clicking the link in the daily email and arriving at the site, somehow, I had been logged out of WordPress. There was nothing wrong with my friend’s page at all. What was wrong was how I was seeing it; as an ‘outsider’.

I was looking at the page in the same way as any casual visitor to a WordPress blog, if they had no account and therefore did not possess the magic password that admits them to the privileges of the ‘inner circle’. It was an interesting lesson. Because I remain logged in unless WP logs me out, it is a world I never see. Equally, there is a world unseen by non-account holders that contains much more than they would see or could know. They might get intimations of it… reading references to reblogging perhaps or seeing the ease with which the exchange of comments can flow, but it is a world to which they do not have the keys. For a moment, I had joined them, looking at my ‘world’ from the outside in and not only was the perspective strange, but it made me realise  how quickly I had accepted a different reality, becoming used to what I do know and forgetting that I haven’t always been ‘on the inside’.

It was obvious as soon as I realised. With any group, of any kind, those on the inside are privy to knowledge that the uninitiated cannot see clearly, even if there are clues of its presence. It doesn’t have to be anything of great importance… it can be as simple as showing the office newbie where to bang the coffee machine to get it to work…. but there is always some level of inner knowledge that brings a group together and binds the individual threads to a common centre.

We’re all aware that looking at someone else’s life from the outside in only shows us part of the picture…and not always a true one. Even though we know that we cannot see the whole story, we can forget it too. We may not see the tenderness of a father when we look at tattoos and bling…yet it may be there. We do not always see the hidden grief behind the outward smiles. As a species, we are not only adept at assuming masks, but we are pretty good at forgetting they might be there and react by forming an opinion based solely upon the surface; for reaction is instinctive, not considered, and springs from that basic fear that fuels our instinct for survival.

It seems even worse in some ways when you consider how often we judge ourselves in the same way. Even just looking at physical surfaces, how many of us feel we are the ‘wrong’ shape, size or style to fit the mould that others deem good? How much more confidence would we have if those comparisons were never made or thrust upon us?Instead of looking at ourselves from the inside out, we rely on the world to mirror ourselves back at us, accepting that incomplete image as the whole truth and basing our actions upon it. We learn to value ourselves by the reactions of others to the partial person they can see, instead of looking at ourselves as whole and unique, with inner depths not visible to those who see only a glimpse of our true selves.

We are not our reflections, we are ourselves. The world looks from the outside in and sees but a fragment of our being. We can learn to look from the inside out, privy to all our secret depths and gifts; knowing that for every weakness there is a strength that is ours alone and that we are more than the two-dimensional trigger of reaction seen by a passing stranger. And if we look deeper still, to the very core of being, we may find that we are more than we had ever thought.

Another country…

« Qu’il est loin mon pays, qu’il est loin… »

Claude Nougaro

“…and Claude Nougaro,” said my boss, brandishing the baguette. Her husband nodded. The three of us were at the dinner table, lingering over the cheese as usual. My employers had asked how I was managing, living in France. I had been there a couple of months, arriving with no more than schoolgirl French and was getting along quite well. I had made friends of many nationalities in Paris, shopped, dined and travelled in French and was fast learning the difference between the stiff formality of the language I had been taught in school and the laid-back colloquial version as spoken by Parisiens. I was even getting to grips with the local ‘argot’… those slang terms which, if they are in the dictionary at all, are used in an entirely different way from that suggested by their definition.

One thing I could not do, though, was grasp song lyrics. If I could read the words as I listened to music , I had no problem, but plucking the words from the music? I had no chance.

The French like music and my employers were passionate listeners. From jazz through pop to the classics, music was very much a part of our lives. I learned a huge amount from them about areas of music I had barely touched upon before and I had the use of their enormous and eclectic collection of vinyl and cassettes. But I struggled to understand anything with words. Music felt, quite suddenly, as though it was a world to which I had no key. I would see eyes filling with tears or sharing a glance sparkling with laughter at the lyrics of a song… and have no idea why. I knew this other world was there, just waiting for to be explored… but to ears unused to the nuances of its expression, understanding seemed as impossible to reach as the Otherworld.

I explained this to my employers and they came up with a list of singers I should explore. It started with artists whose diction was clear, but soon became a lesson in the music and poetry dear to the national heart… laying out before me yet another world, another layer of reality.

So I started listening, really paying attention, catching phrases here and there. Sometimes, although I could mimic the sounds, it would take a while for the words to separate out enough for me to recognise them… and sometimes they were words not yet in my vocabulary.

And then, one day, I was doing the housework and not thinking about the music at all. I realised, quite suddenly, that I had been singing along to the tape that was playing. It stopped me in my tracks. Not only did I understand the lyrics, but I also grasped the layers of meaning implied by them, could see the way the writer had played with the words, understand the symbolic landscape painted by the song. When had that happened? After that, there was no stopping me. I eventually married a French musician, wrote songs with him and my reality became a world of music.

It was driving home from work yesterday that took me back. I was singing along to an album by Claude Nougaro and, although it is now more than thirty years since I was last in France, neither the language nor the lyrics have left me. Some doors, once opened and stepped through, never close.

It occurred to me that the same leap of understanding happens in many areas of life. We struggle to grasp a new concept, a new and pertinent language… without which we do not even have the most basic chance of the proverbial lightbulb moment. And then, very often at a moment when we are neither concentrating nor struggling to ‘get there’, the light comes on. It is as if some unconscious process has synthesised all the random bits of information we have gathered, all the groundwork we have done, all the hints and intimations… and, deciding that the sum is greater than its parts, assembles a whole from the fragments, filling in the spaces between scraps of knowledge with intuitive understanding.

It is the same when you study the Mysteries. Those moments of utter illumination that come out of the blue and with no prior, conscious knowledge do happen, but they are rare indeed. There is a theory that such moments come from unlocking the memories of previous lifetimes, from the unconscious mind that pays more attention to life than the surface mind, or even that something is  passed down at a cellular level as part of the genetic memory.

For most of us, though, such clarity of vision comes only after putting the foundations in place. We study, meditate and learn, accumulating knowledge about ourselves and the path we have chosen until we come to a fork in the road. For some, it is that accumulation of knowledge that matters the most and they may go on to become lore-keepers, hoarding or making knowledge available to posterity, adding to its store for others.

Many, though, will take a step onto an unknown path, and, like the Fool of the Tarot, carrying unseen treasures in his knapsack, will walk towards a new landscape in trust. That journey is very much like setting out into a foreign land, where the ‘vocabulary’ of reality is different. And, although knowledge is necessary as a starting point, it is understanding… that unteachable knowledge of the heart… that leads to those moments of clarity when the doors of perception are opened.  And those doors, once opened, never close.

Graven Image…

*

‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

*

It is very difficult to find any illustrations for this piece.

Perhaps that is linked to the Hebraic injunction against graven images.

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In the current climate of image saturation it might be worthwhile

 considering the possible reasons for such an injunction…

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Speaking of his encounter with the ‘man clothed in linen’ Daniel says, “I alone saw the vision and the men that were with me saw it not but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled and hid themselves… I was left alone and threw myself to the ground. When he spoke I stood, trembling, and when he had finished speaking I was strengthened.”

Elsewhere in the text Daniel is less sure of this being’s precise nature:

“… And look! One like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips. I opened my mouth and spoke… Then there came again, and touched me, one like the appearance of a man…”

Michael is described both as a ‘Chief Prince’, and as ‘Daniel’s Prince’ by the narrator.

And later, as a ‘Great Prince’… “How long until the end of these awful things?”

Then I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the water of the river, swear by the Ever-Living One as he lifted his right hand and his left hand to heaven, “For a time, times, and half a time and when the breaking of the power of the holy people comes to an end, then shall all these things be fulfilled.”

*

Already, after this brief overview we can glimpse some of Michael’s traditional attributions.

He is concerned with ‘end times’.

He strengthens and protects the individual and can be petitioned on behalf of nations or ‘a people’.

He acts as a bridge and can communicate, high to low, and low to high.

*

In times of hardship and stuggle he may well be worth invoking…

 

Curiosities…

St Michael’s victory over the Devil – Sculptor, Jacob Epstein

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The French occultist, Eliphas Levi, the German philosopher Franz von Baader, and the Theurgist, Louis Claude de St. Martin spoke of 1879 as the year in which Michael overcame the dragon.

In 1917, Rudolf Steiner the founder of anthroposophy, similarly stated, “In 1879, in November, a momentous event took place, a battle of the Powers of Darkness against the Powers of Light, which ended in the image of St Michael overcoming the Dragon.”

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All of which is, to say the least, curious…

The traditional texts which mention Michael, and they are few, do not mention a dragon, and yet, iconographically, St Michael slaying the dragon is almost as ubiquitous as St George…

Religious paintings, sculptures and stain glass windows are all in agreement despite many, if not most,  of them being produced before 1879!

So what is going on?

Pull up a seat…

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‘ … And look! A man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold… His body also was like beryl and his face had the appearance of lightning. His eyes were as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to burnished brass. The voice of his words was as the voice of a multitude… and he said, “… To you am I now sent. Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, your prayers were heard and I am come for your prayers… I am come to make you understand what will befall your people in the latter days. I will show you the literal truth of these things. There is no other that can do this.”‘

– First appearance of Michael :  The Book of Daniel, Chapter 10: 5-21

Looking for answers…

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It wasn’t a dark and stormy night… this book that lies open on my desk begins with a rather less evocative phrase. More mundane  and far less atmospheric…though the writer who had penned them both was the same. I’ve never really seen what was wrong with that opening, though it has passed into the realms of ridicule as ‘purple prose’ and the Right Honorable Lord Lytton now has an anti-literary prize named after him, awarded for the worst opening phrase of a story. A tad unfair, I feel. His style was the product of a bygone era and a society that held different tastes close to its tightly corseted bosom.

This particular book, I haven’t read in a good many years, but as it is fairly obscure yet has been mentioned by three people in as many weeks, I thought I should rummage through the shelves and find my battered and dog-eared copy. I’ve always liked the work of Bulwer Lytton, a prolific novelist and playwright.  His style, I grant you, is heavy and sometimes ponderous… like many writers of his epoch, he will seldom use one word when five will do. His storytelling, however, is a different thing and he manages to evoke times long past and populate them with unexpected characters. Little known today, his ‘dark and stormy night’ is not the only phrase he has added to the language. His novels were hugely influential when they were first published. ‘Pelham‘ changed fashionable dress. Verdi, Wagner and others wrote operas based on his historical works. His friend, Charles Dickens, changed the ending of ‘Great Expectations‘ on his suggestion and Bram Stoker was inspired to write ‘Dracula‘ after reading Lytton’s ‘A Strange Story’, which was the first of his works that I read. The Hollow Earth theory was also popularised by Lytton in ‘The Coming Race’, published in 1861 and was credited with helping to launch the science fiction genre. 

I was barely fifteen when my grandfather gave me two of Lytton’s works. ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ and ‘A Strange Story’. The books could not have been more different. One, a vividly portrayed piece of quasi-historical drama, the other a dark and unsettling tale, set in what seemed to be my own backyard. The locations were referred to only by their initials, but the town sounded remarkably like my own and the Abbey and the old house sounded like those at Kirkstall, Simply because of that, I ploughed through the heavy prose when most of my contemporaries were turning to Barbara Cartland for ‘historical’ fiction.

The tale tells of youth and ego that seeks to perpetuate itself through the fear of not-being, drawing on the life of others in true vampiric style, though without the blood. It is one of those stories where nothing happens… yet lives are changed as the characters act out their fate. The reader may be changed too, as questions begin to form in the nether regions of the mind and parallels are drawn with less lurid occurrences in daily life. I went on to read his ‘Zanoni’,  where a choice between immortality and humanity lifts the veil on many arcane themes; that book also brought questions and my grandfather’s library was a gold-mine.

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Dion Fortune, Robert Graves, Aleister Crowley and MacGregor Mathers were probably not average teen reading. Many of the books my grandfather gave me raised questions. Some gave me answers too, or better still, were signposts that showed me where to look to find my own. In that I was lucky; far luckier than I would realise for many years. At the time, I just assumed that when such questions arose, everyone would have someone with whom to discuss them. It was not until much later that I found that my situation was the exception rather than the norm. In those days, books on alternative approaches to spirituality were still rare and hard to find and, even today, many will have no-one with whom they can explore the deepest thoughts that arise within the hidden regions of the soul.

We all have questions. Many people still turn to books to explore their ideas and seek inspiration, but with the advent of the internet it has become even simpler to tap in a query and see what comes up. The problem is that there is just so much information out there…and most of it conflicting. From the strangest concepts to the harshest diatribes against them, the genuine seeker will find every possible shade of opinion, every argument for and against and every wild and wacky theory there is… and where do you start to sift through them?

Common sense is usually a good place to begin and filters out the worst offenders. Anything that promises the earth will probably not deliver. Especially if it says all you have to do is sit back and pay your hard earned cash for them to wave a magic wand that makes the world right. The wonderful and inspirational sites that tell you that all is right and beautiful have a point; I would agree with them in principle… but when you are stuck in confusion or a dark place in your life, that isn’t really all that helpful. Abstract ideas are all very well, but sometimes what you need is a stout rope… an idea of what you can do to climb out of the hole and there are many excellent schools, groups and systems out there who will throw that rope to you. But how do you know which one?

The best advice I ever read on how to find the school, organisation or system that would work for you came from Dion Fortune when she wrote that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. She advised that the seeker look at those who are part of those systems … not those who have gone a little way and left for one reason or another, but those who have walked the path and stuck with it. Look and see whether those people have something that speaks to you, something you can trust.

The best advice I have ever heard, was simply to ‘ask the question’. Turn your attention to the quiet place within and listen to the prompting of the heart. The spiritual seeker has already knocked on the door and the wordless inner voice, that expression of the higher self, is waiting to answer.

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