Two journeys, one destination (3) – the mysterious Picts

(Above: the view of the neighbouring Inverness Castle from the steps of the museum)

‘The Romans were frightened of them…”

I remember reading that the week before our Scottish workshop and being astonished. I knew the Picts had created some of the most mysterious stone carvings I had ever seen. But fearsome warriors? Weren’t these enigmatic people simply farmers?

We were in the Inverness Museum, which is one of the best places to study the history of the Scottish Highlands. Our interest was specific and restricted – though we could have happily been there half the day. We were there to gain a perspective on the story of the Picts’ existence: where they came from, how long they endured, the nature of their spirituality, and the location of their primary settlements.

(Above: the land of the Picts, stretching from the far north-east of Scotland, to the present site of Inverness, then along the Elgin coast towards Burghhead and beyond. Inverness, the site of the museum, is marked in red.
~Map adapted by the author from a photo of the panel in the Inverness Museum~)

Equipped with this mental map, the following two days of our Silent Eye weekend would enable us to place in context some of the most remarkable pieces of Pictish stone carving and other artefacts, as we travelled, in turn, up the Tarbat peninsula, down to the Black Isle and, finally, to Dunrobin Castle on our way to the Orkney ferry at Thurso.

(Above: Cast of the Brodie Stone, a mystery in two halves:)

Following the Pictish Trail throws up some wonderful mysteries and instances of great fortune. As an example (above), the Brodie Stone, a classic ‘cross slab’ – a cross carved within a surrounding stone surface. The real Brodie Stone stands in the grounds of Brodie Castle, Moray. It was discovered in 1781 during the digging of foundations for a new parish church. For many years it stood in the village of Dyke as a tribute to Vice-Admiral Rodney, for his success at the battle of Saintes, in Dominica. Since then it has also been known as ‘Rodney’s Stone’. It is actually a Class II Pictish stone, meaning it has a Christian cross on one side and Pictish symbols on the other. The Picts converted to Christianity during the 6th and 7th centuries, as we explore, below.

We’d had to reserve our places for the museum online, as the Covid-19 restrictions applied. We were allowed to enter only in small groups and at our allotted time. We were also expected to maintain a steady flow through the exhibits to prevent queuing at the entrance. A tall order, when we had so much to absorb… But at least photographs were allowed, and many of the information panels featured graphical summaries without which this post would have had much less illustration. Sincere thanks are due to the Inverness Museum for allowing this.

Before us were information displays on the geographical and geological history of the region, showing Scotland’s organic formation after the last ice age:

(Above: after the ice; the emergence of Scotland at the end of the last ice age)

The last ice age ended in Scotland about 9,000 years ago. The melting ice gave way to tundra – an arctic diversity of mosses, lichen and grasses, supporting mountain hares, arctic foxes and reindeer.

As temperatures rose, the tundra was invaded by birch scrub and then woodland, Oak and scots pine eventually replaced the birch, and cloaked the Highlands in dense forest. This became home to red deer, elk and wild cattle.. along with wolves, bears, lynx and, humans.

Around 9000 years ago, the European hunter-gatherers, enabled by the melting ice-sheets, reached the Highlands, and, as conditions improved, they settled permanently to become the first highlanders. They were originally nomads, but, as stone gave way to bronze and then iron – the iron age, the Picts established their home and became skilled farmers.

Then we came to the first of the Pict-focussed panels.

(Above: one of the panels in the Inverness Museum places the Picts and Romans co-existing from 80-399 CE. Beyond this, the Picts survived to around 900 CE, when they ‘mysteriously vanished…’)

The Iron-Age people who became the Picts were inhabitants of this Highland coast long before they were given their name by the Romans, who called them the ‘Picti’ – painted people; the reference being to their custom of painting their naked bodies before they went into battle, thereby giving a ghostly sheen to their skin and showing off their warlike body art and battle scars. Despite this frightening appearance, they were essentially peaceful farmers, whose ferocity appears to have been roused only when they were threatened.

(Above: a picture of the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll stone. We had no idea that the weekend would bring us face to face with a large and exact life-size replica! Note the twin circles in the upper and middle parts; these are considered feminine and depict ‘comb and mirror’. The inset ‘V’ shape is another classic Pictish symbol called a ‘V-Rod’)

The Picts left no written record of their history. What we know of them comes from the striking images they carved in stone – which therefore endured. They were written about by both Scottish and Roman writers. The Roman Eumenius, in 297 CE, was the first to refer to them as Picts. There is an alternative theory of the name ‘Pict’, which refers to their own word ‘Pecht’, meaning ancestors. This link to those of their own who ‘went before yet still remain’ has strong spiritual overtones, as we shall see when we get to the Orkney part of these journals.

Recent evidence suggests that the Picts came to Scotland from Orkney, and before that were descendants of Scandinavia, though they lived much earlier than the Vikings, who, according to some sources, were to feature cruelly in their eventual demise. Orkney played a fundamental role in the advancing civilisation of what became Britain, and the age, sophistication and influence of its works is staggering. When we come to consider the spiritual beliefs of the Picts, Orkney takes on an entirely different importance…

(Above: Wolf Stone
Found at Stittenham, Andross, Ross & Cromart
This incised Pictish stone was found in 1903 built into an old wall. The graceful figures of the wolf is depicted using a few carved lines to give a sense of movement and shows the power of the animal)

The Picts lived here in the Highlands; the Romans invaded. With the Picts, they came up against something they didn’t understand…and came to fear. If the local forces were losing a battle, they would simply vaporise into the landscape – a wild landscape they knew well, unlike their oppressors. The Romans became frustrated, then despondent, at the failure of their traditional military tactics.

The Picts held their ground against the invaders in a number of engagements, but also lost major battles. It’s often said that they lost the battle but won the war. Scotland was never successfully conquered by the Romans, though they tried many times and succeeded in establishing forts well into the Highlands.

(Above: a Pictish picture of an ‘unknown beast’. Also found at Stittenham, Andross, Ross & Cromarty)

The Picts left no writing, unless their art contains a hidden phonetic key, awaiting the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone that enabled the translation of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Written records, by others and about the Picts exist from 297 CE until 900 CE, when they supposedly vanished. Scholars caution against interpreting this as extermination, since it is likely that they simply merged with the surrounding Scots tribes. It is also probable that the Picts’ adoption of Christianity in the 6th century CE was (at least in part) political.

The ‘Scots’ were, in those times, the rival tribe to the south. Further south, still, was Northumbria – one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe. In 664 CE, Northumbria’s King Oswiu hosted the Synod of Whitby at which the rivalry of Celtic and Roman Christianity was determined in the Roman Church’s favour. By the time the Picts embraced Christianity, the Roman church had become the de-facto Christian faith across most of Europe. That the Picts came to embrace it is the logical act of a people who wished to live ‘in harmony’ with their neighbours. This may also explain the eventual merging of the Picts and the Scots, and the apparent disappearance of the former.

But what of their art? One of the main goals of the Silent Eye’s weekend was to consider its extraordinary clarity of design, its refreshing simplicity and the use of recurring motifs. The museum had little to say on this, so we hoped that our further journeys to the Tarbat peninsula and The Black Isle would help us. We had been successful, however, in placing the Pictish people, in understanding a little of their motives and culture. We had a framework within which to work. Inverness had served us well.

(Above: The Achavrail Armlet
The example of ‘massive metalworking’ reflects the designs adapted from continental Europe. Dating to the first or second centuries CE, this large bronze armlet was made by the ‘lost wax’ casting method)

Our time was up. The enforced flow around the exhibits had meant a rushed gathering of information. What we needed next was a degree of immersion in the Pictish culture. In the morning, a forty minute drive north from Inverness would see us enter the Tarbat Peninsula (see map). There, on one of Scotland’s most beautiful coasts, we would find a former church dedicated to a much deeper social understanding of the mysterious Picts.

But first, it was time to chill for an hour or two and then get ready for some much-needed pizza!


(Above: Mobile populations.. The Inverness museum illustrates many facets of Highland life. Silver pocket watches by Primus Mink and Faller brothers, 1870s. Mink and Faller brothers were craftsmen driven from Germany by political unrest during the late 1800s. They and at least six other German watchmakers flourished in Inverness at this time…)

To be continued…

Other parts of this series of blogs:

Part One, Part Two, this is Part Three

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Two journeys, one destination (2) – Inverness

It begins in Inverness, that beautiful confluence of water, road and mountain. Like any journey through northern Scotland, it will be dominated by water…

The year 2020 will be etched in all our memories. It was not a good year to try to hold the kind of workshop we run: three days of shared travel, feeling the landscape, and thoughts about the nature of consciousness; that most precious jewel every human carries. Add to that the possible extension to visit the archipelago of Orkney, and we had something very difficult to achieve.

Covid had caused us to cancel three of the planned workshops of the year. We hung out for the September one, hoping that the physical heartbeat of the Silent Eye could endure for at least one annual pulse in these challenging times. Bad news after bad news threatened it, but the core bookings had been made and we intended to honour them – even if it meant a small group.

Finally, it was time to get in the car and begin what was to be a vast journey… Inverness would be the point where those able to attend were going to meet up. For most of them, it was a journey of hundreds of miles even before they began the weekend.

(Above: one of the Pictish slab crosses in Inverness museum)

The workshop was to be in two parts: the first, centred in Inverness, would follow Historic Scotland’s Pictish Trail; the second would take advantage of the fact that we were already near the top of Scotland and could easily board the ferry to Orkney. Bernie and I had visited Orkney in 2018. We were keen to return with the others, and even more eager to share the wonders of this magical place.

(Above: the fine lines of Pictish art display the high culture of its people)

The mysterious Picts have long held a fascination for me; ever since I first saw their art, and was struck with an inner sense of wonder at what I can only describe as its ‘quality’. The only other time this had happened was when I saw an Egyptology exhibition in London, and gazed on that ancient civilisation’s wonders.

Decades on, I was lucky enough to visit Egypt with a mystically-oriented group and finally see the relief figures on their beautiful temples. Later in the trip, we were to encounter traces of a people even older than those Egyptians, and much closer to home…

(Inverness’ beautiful and formidable River Ness, with its set of islands connected by walkways. What looks like the far bank, here, is actually the largest of these)

But first, we wanted to have a beginning that would ‘wash away’ the miles that most of us had endured to get here. Inverness offers the perfect answer: a walk by the River Ness.

The River Ness is the channel that connects Loch Ness with the North Sea by way of the vast Moray Firth. It is one of the most powerful rivers in Britain… and yet, to my mind, one of the most peaceful. Near the city, it is criss-crossed by several pedestrian bridges, three of which link both sides of the river to a set of islands in the middle of its flow; effectively creating a set of natural wild gardens in the middle of the river.

Using these, we were able to take a circular walk and finish at a coffee stop that reminds me of something you might see in Paris. The bright and unexpected sunshine helped, and you could feel that the tired spirits were rising.

(Above: A Parisian-style coffee hut on the bank of the River Ness)

The coffee hut was a colourful place, and clearly popular with seasoned local folk – one of whom agreed to pose with ‘his’ seagull for this shot…

I had wanted the walking tour to finish here because of its proximity to one of Inverness’ hidden gems: the Cathedral Church of St Andrew, a Scottish Episcopal Church situated by the River Ness a few minutes’ walk from the city centre. It is the seat of the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness – a vast geography.

(Above: the exterior of the Cathedral Church of St Andrew)

It is the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain (but, later, we will encounter another, magnificent one in Orkney…).

Inverness Cathedral was the first new Protestant cathedral to be constructed in Britain since the reformation. The cathedral was built during the years 1866-1869. The foundation stone was laid by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, in 1866. The architect was a local man, Alexander Ross.

(Above: the graceful lines of the Cathedral of St Andrew, created in the Gothic Revival style)
(Above and below: the eye is drawn to the high, wooden ceiling)

I had wanted to see inside this building because, since a visit to the Belgian city of Ghent, two years ago, I have developed an interest in religious icons, and I knew that the Cathedral of St Andrews contained a very special set.

(Above: The icons are located on the north wall of the nave)

The central figure is that of Christ. The inscription reads:

“These icons were presented by the Tsar of Russia, Alexander II, to the Right Reverend Robert Eden, Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, on the occasion of is pastoral visit to the country in 1866’

A detailed review of the Cathedral is not the point of this post, but it is worth drawing attention to two more unusual features of the building, The first is the magnificent pulpit, rendered in marble and local sandstone.

The second is a beautiful reproduction of a Pictish Christian cross, located in a special chamber near the entrance. I know nothing of its origin, but spent a full ten minutes at the end of our visit just staring at it…

The magnificent Pictish-style cross

We had met well. The rest of our afternoon was to be spent in the wonderful Inverness Museum, deepening our knowledge of the Picts. We had much to learn…

To be continued…

©Stephen Tanham, 2020.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Dr Joy’s Garden

Real dedication, like an enduring friendship, is a quiet thing…

I was standing, in the early morning light, with Tess, our Collie, in hand, entering a compact garden which overlooks the headland at Alnmouth. We are on a week’s holiday; Bernie and myself, her sister and my mother. In some ways, it’s our annual ‘offering’ because my mother needs a lot of looking after. She has vascular dementia, and, year on year, the condition worsens and the change in the previous twelve months becomes apparent in the everyday events of holiday life repeating themselves – but differently.

(06:30 – Our Collie, Tess, getting excited because the beach is just over that rise!)

I had taken Tess, our dog, for our early morning walk. These normally take place around 06:30, not long after the dawn . Doing this allows me to get a head-start on the day, and, quite literaly, calm myself. I return, about an hour later, charged with the morning’s dawn-kissed air, and set about the day with my ninety year old mother.

Each day, Tess and I walk a slightly different route. The small town where we are holidaying, for the fourth year in a row, is circular in its geography, though it takes a while for this orientation to establish itself in the mind. This being the case, one can criss-cross the beaches, estuary and streets in a variety of ways…

 

(Above: An eager Collie, wanting more throws of the ball)

And so it was that we found ourselves, at the end of our hour, with a cup of take-away coffee from the enterprising post office cum general store in hand, in a memorial garden overlooking the estuary.

I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before. It was as though the time had to be right… The name on the dedication plaque was Dr Joy.

(Above: Dr Joy’s Garden)

The plaque in Dr Joy’s Garden reads:

‘Dr Joy’s Garden. This fine viewing area in which you are standing was created following a generous gift to the community by respected cardiologist Dr Joy Edelman (1937-2004), a long-time visitor, resident and friend of Alnmouth

The words on the plaque touched me deeply, particularly the last phrase, ‘friend of Alnmouth’. How simple and how meaningful to be a friend of somewhere in that sense. How treasured…

(Above: Dr Joy Edelman – eminent cardiologist)

Before me was the half-circle of the River Aln in its final approach to the North Sea. The sandy curve is beautiful, and defines Alnmouth’s history as well as constraining it’s present..

There is no spare land in Alnmouth, so what there is has been in place for a very long time, and the only development possible is to replace what is already there… requiring permission not easily achieved. This town knows it is a hidden gem, and they like that status. Surprisingly few outside of the north-east even know of it’s existence.

(Above: Practically every corner of the old paths and streets of Alnmouth lead to a visual delight)

We’re in the most northerly county in England: Northumberland, a place where, historically, the royaly-appointed wardens of the North defended England’s most vulnerable border from the ‘troublesome and warring Scots’, and centuries of border brigands – ‘Reivers’ as they were known.

(Above: the town’s Information Board shows the thin spine of Alnmouth, encircled by the River Coquet)

The map on the park’s Information Board within the memorial garden, tells the story of this beautiful and largely-forgotten place. The town has only one major thoroughfare – Northumberland Street; but it’s full of beautiful and interesting buildings. We are, indeed ‘here’ on the map, facing out to the mysterious island with a tiny cross; an image that features in most visitors’ momentoes.

It was this scene, featured in an episode of the detective series ‘Vera’, that first brought Alnmouth to our attention, five years ago. We became avid watchers of the TV version of the books by Anne Cleaves, admiring how the production made clever use of the Northumberland landscape.

During one episode, we noticed an curving its estuary and an island with a small cross. Neither of us had any idea where it was. We ‘googled’ it and came here on our first holiday that summer. Every year we’ve been back. It’s poignant because these will become the memories of my mother that I will most treasure…

(Above: the seaward side of the one large street in Alnmouth)

Northumberland street has just about everything you could want: general stores, several cafes, take-away coffee stops, and several gastro-pubs. There’s also an enterprising art gallery with modestly priced prints of local artworks and a cafe.

(Above: the continuation of Northumberland Street, taken from a favourite cafe, just re-opened. The farthest point of the photo is the end of the town)

From the headland, where Dr Joy’s garden is located, you can walk in two directions. One takes you to the harbour, where a delightful hut announces itself as the Alnmouth Boat Club. I couldn’t help comparing it with the venerable ‘police box’ in the BBC’s Dr Who series; and idly mused if the club offered time-travel views of Alnmouth ‘through the ages’…

(Above: the much-loved Alnmouth Boat Club’s HQ. The passing figure of Tess the Collie gives an idea of its size…)
(Above: Beyond the boat club, the harbour teams with life)

If you go the other way down from Dr Joy’s garden, you come to two of the main features of Alnmouth: the golf club, and the long, sandy beach – one of the best in Europe.

(Above: Situated next to the beach, the Alnmouth Golf Club boasts that it is ‘The oldest nine hole links course in England. We didn’t see anyone playing there who didn’t have a smile…)
(Above: Alnmouth’s long, sandy beach – one of the best in Europe)

One of the most delightful aspects of Alnmouth’s buildings is the use of the local stone.

Northumberland County Council’s website says this:

“The predominant walling material is sandstone in shades of ochre, grey and pink, generally laid as coursed rubble, used both for buildings and boundary walls. The relatively large scale of the building stones, together with low window and door heights, enhances the small scale of the buildings.”

(Above: Taken not long after the dawn on our first morning, this shot reveals the pride in the local buildings of Alnmouth, and their conservation)

I hope this brief tour of Alnmouth has given you a flavour of this special place. Dr Joy Edelman was obviously moved by the delights of this remote haven. My mother loves it, too. In our own small way, we have become ‘friends of Alnmouth’, a quiet testimonial, like that of Dr Joy, to its tranquility and peace.

©️Stephen Tanham, 2020 text and images.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

Eyes to See

“By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation,
nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I remember one hot, summer’s day as a child, laying in the long, tickly grass of the field behind my home, watching the clouds race. All around me I could hear the bees and insects buzzing away, drowning the distant traffic noise and the passing train. As I write I can smell again that particular perfume of hot earth, sweat and new mown grass, with a little tang of melting tar hovering as an afternote. I watched as a ladybird and a very strange caterpillar made their way to the tip of the burdock, neither bending the leaves, but moving lightly as if that was where they belonged.

I knew, even then, that I was lucky. I had been raised in a family where belief in the unusual was as commonplace as knowledge of the divine, yet there were never any labels affixed that limited those beliefs and I was free to find what spoke to my own heart.

I did not know what God might be, nor did it matter… It just Was. Some saw Him as depicted in the Churches, others had a more abstract idea…some took a more pragmatic view, others a spiritual one. But though I learned of their ideas, none told me this was what I had to believe. So, for me, I could, on that day, look up at the heavens from my cocoon of grass and feel myself held in the hand of a God of which I was a part.

As I grew older and learned to live with others, growing as I was, I watched and learned how beliefs are imposed by parents and teachers, even by culture. It is natural, of course, for a parent who, through faith, feels they have found the answers they have sought to pass these to their children as a gift, hoping, perhaps, to gift that beauty and spare the child the quest for answers.

But I saw, too, where people were forced to accept beliefs that did not sing to their own inmost heart and, in accepting them, lose the light in their own eyes. The faith, for these, goes little deeper than the lip-service and they are left adrift, serving an ideal from which they feel divorced.

Through my teenage years, I shied away from the word ‘God’, as do many who follow an esoteric path. It conjured too many conflicting images in my own mind, from the gentle Jesus to the avenging and jealous God that I could not reconcile. Then, too, in a nominally Christian country, I realised it would do the same for others, and each would bring their own interpretation to any conversation where the Name was used.

But I never really found another way of referring to It that everyone would understand. It is easy to write and avoid the word, a capital letter here and there makes it plain. But in speech it does not work that way.

So now, I look around me at the beauty of the world, trying once more to leave the imposed definitions behind me and simply see the glorious details with the eyes of that child, so long ago. And I can speak of God, for whatever It is to another’s heart, It is the One to me, and we are part of It and so is the world in which we live. I do not need to explain or define, I do not even need to understand. Just to perceive It and know It is enough.

Marking the Horizon

Our garden is south-facing, which is lovely when the sun shines, as we benefit from its rays through most of the day.

I’ve begun to write about the history of our ‘gunpowder’ village of Sedgwick in other posts. The old (drained) canal bed that runs through our garden has been a challenge to incorporate into a coherent design, but, a decade on, we seem to have achieved it.

One benefit of the garden’s orientation is that the evening sun sets along a ridge about a mile away. In winter and early spring we have a clear view of this progression, as each day gives it a little more clockwise distance along the horizon line. As the foliage on the far side of the canal grows with the maturing summer, the ridge becomes more difficult to see, but is always there to our right – given that the sun is visible at all…

The approach to midsummer is, for me, the most emotionally powerful time of the year. As a mystically inclined person, I marvel each year at the level of sheer ‘aliveness’ that permeates the summer air, particularly as the sun is setting over that far ridge and filling the Cumbrian world with a last blaze of gold as it sinks between the distant trees.

I take a lot of photographs, as you may know from previous posts. One of the delights of the summer is to poke a long lens towards that sunset and let the blends and reflections create Their own work of art. It doesn’t matter if the photo is not technically good. What matters is to bathe in the beauty of the blazing reds and oranges as they project through the wooden branches of the near and far trees and shrubs.

Beginning in late March, if the day is clear, I will often be found nurturing a final cup of tea on our patio (occasionally, something stronger) and snapping dozens of shots of the moments just before, and just after, the sunset. I throw away most of these, but the odd few are worth keeping… and on a correspondingly dark day in winter, provide some fuel for the soul and a sense of ‘hang on in there’. Cumbria has long, dark and wet winters, which makes the spring and summer all that more precious. Summer, itself, is not guaranteed, though we always have the intense green and the knowledge of summer.

I’ve often tried to express that glorious feeling of the gentle months. It’s not just the obvious warmth, though that is pleasant. There is also a softness to the air, and the sense that it is filled with a kind of creative energy. There is the sense that you are being pulled out of the body and into a state of merged being… I suspect that we all, as children, do this naturally, and that is why kids go crazy with energy and fun when the sun shines.

Really, it’s a state of just being. As a verb it doesn’t need an object: In that golden state, I don’t need to be anything… It’s bigger than that and I will dilute it if I restrict it to a something. That golden feeling of summer captures this. Just to be is the most powerful thing possible. Throughout mystical history, people have sought to express and symbolise this in different ways. The Christian world, for example, names the longest day the Feast of St John. John is viewed as the most mysterious and the most mystical of the Christian fathers, and, for me, the attribution fits well.

This year, Bernie and I have decided to create a permanent marker in the garden to show the alignment with the solstice and the Sun’s final point of zenith on the horizon. One of my sons and his wife bought me, for my birthday last year, an armillary sphere, otherwise known as a spherical astrolabe. This is a model of objects in the sky, based on the the celestial sphere above us, rather than the celestial globe, which is a smooth sphere that maps the constellations.

The armillary sphere consists of a spherical framework of rings, centred on the theoretical Earth or the Sun. It shows lines of longitude and latitude and other important features such as the ecliptic. Our intention is to design a setting for it whereby the arrow can point to the point of farthest progress of the Sun as it crosses the far ridge in its final moment of setting.

This marking of the horizon of the longest day is, of course, an ancient practice. The solstice has been associated with festivals of ‘full-nesss’ for as long as mankind has gazed at the heavens and given thanks for the energy than enables us to have food for our bodies. The harvest comes later. The energy of the Sun is, by then, embedded in what keeps our bodies alive.

We hope our marking of the horizon in this way will provide us a little ‘food for the soul’ as we inch towards the third week in June. This simple act of marking the horizon, will become very special in the weeks to follow.

©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 Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©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.

Mimir’s Bubbling Head…

*

We seem to have finally lost the Hawks.

The day feels somehow empty.

But for Wen the day is still young and she is keen to introduce me to another chalk figure. This one is much later than the Uffington Dragon and, I have to say, a lot less impressive. The chalk does not even appear particularly white just a sort of dirty grey colour.  It now seems to depict an equal armed cross surmounting an upward pointing triangle but Wen thinks it may have been a phallus and keitis in its earlier days. One thing is for sure it is clearly visible from the road. When we get up onto the top of the hill the sky has darkened with cloud cover and the earlier highs on Hawk Hill are beginning to feel like a hallucinatory lapse in time. Happily there are a couple of burial mounds on the hill which reinforces Wen’s contention about the antiquity of the place if not the figure. It is a nice enough spot, if a tad exposed, and Wen finds a landscape feature which could well be a naval. It seems beyond doubt that the ancients did this type of thing. Seeing bodies in the earth or seeing the earth as a series of sleeping bodies needful of awakening to animation. Two ravens land simultaneously on the top of the barrow which reminds me of Castle Rigg when two ravens did something similar as we approached the entrance stones and that in turn reminds me that Wotan’s birds were ravens known has ‘Memory’ and ‘Mind’… Nine nights he hung there and he sacrificed an eye in order to comprehend occult wisdom… I wonder if it was pecked out by the ravens… or whether that is merely a clever blind for spiritual insight and make a mental note to re-read the story and meditate on it. I wander out to the edge of the hill just past the scouring poles and my heart leaps. On the plain below walking across a field two figures are discernable and just above them quite close to their heads a Red Kite circles, although the figures themselves appear to be totally oblivious of the bird above them.

“It’s not only us they follow,” I point out to Wen with some satisfaction.

“It probably thinks they are us” says Wen as the hawk keens, wheels, turns and heads directly for our position on the hill.  They do appear to have phenomenal hearing as well as their legendary eyesight.

“It cannot know we are here,” I say with total conviction as the hawk labours to climb towards our position.

“It cannot know we are here” I say with less conviction as the hawk showing no inclination to alter its course is now two thirds the way to our position and is still working terribly hard to reach us.

“It cannot know…”

“Wound round the hanging tree…I sacrifice… myself… to myself… and now seek wisdom’s word from the breach in Mimir’s bubbling head,” says Wen as the hawk flies directly above our standing position on the hill-top and then screeches, loudly.

The ravens cackle in unison fly up and off from the barrow and head into the tree cover, their wings moving in lazy unison.

“How do you do that?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

That’s a reference to Yggdrasil, who is an eight-legged horse but also a tree spanning the three worlds and I was just thinking about that very story how do you know all this stuff?”

“I didn’t know I knew it until a moment ago, it just sort of emerged,” Wen smiles apologetically.

“It’s only the same as you and the birds, how do you do that?”

“I don’t do anything, it happens naturally.”

“We must be chosen ones,” says Wen as an icy blast of wind gusts over the hilltop.

“… or frozen ones,” I reply, zipping up my jacket and heading back to the car.

*

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

17-19 April 2020

A Living Lore Workshop.

Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

In Hack-Pen Hedge…

Ilkwknd 077*

Animism
1. Doctrine that the soul is the vital principle of organic development.
2. Attribution of conscious life or spirits to nature or natural phenomena.
3. Belief in the existence of spirits separable from bodies.

*

“There’s a large stone in that hedge…”
“Correction, there’s a large head in that hedge.”
“A pity then that hedge derives from edge and not from head.”

*

It is a recurring question and one which crops up every time we visit ‘circles’ of stone.
Are the forms which we ‘see’ in them in us or in the stone?
Are they merely subjective projections or do they inhere in the stones themselves?

From experience we know that different people see different things.
From experience also we know that these forms change, constantly.
Among other things they are affected by;
1. Distance.
2. Angle of approach.
3. Atmospheric conditions.

*

Would that the flickering blaze of flame
In the moonlight
again illuminate these forms…

The beat of a drum
A flare from the sun
When will they in unity thrum?

*

They deal then with perception and perceptions.

If all one sees are silly things
Is one a silly person or merely being silly?

Is it likely that stones would be chosen for their similarity to animals or beings which have never shared their environment?

Do we know for certain which fauna shared their environment?

Context too is important.

If we have an idea of what these sites were for,
then we may be able to find a correlation in the images in the stones.

Or is that simply more projection
and hence an even greater error of interpretation?

*

The ‘new circles’ can be instructive.
Apart from the obvious fact that for the most part they are not situated correctly, and thus do not feel ‘right’ or indeed feel ‘wrong’ and do not function at all on an energetic level, the choice of stones also leaves a lot to be desired.
These stones are ‘dead’.
Individually they appear too regular and too square to hold any forms,
not that a square or regular stone could not hold such a form, mind.
Collectively they do not ‘speak’ to each other, or as a whole.

*

Whatever else the people responsible for ‘Our Stones Circles’ were or were not, they were certainly artists of an exceptionally high degree of accomplishment, as well as consummate surveyors and engineers.
And that is not to mention, supreme organisers and masters of matter in motion.
These skills were probably not compartmentalised or regarded as separate.

One possible function of this artistry and science could have been in order to facilitate ancestral contact.

*

I just wish I’d moved the grasses away from the other side of the stone and taken a peek,

and then gone into the adjacent field and done likewise. Time…

*

Hidden Avebury: Seeking the Unseen

Avebury, Wiltshire

12th – 14th June, 2020

*

A Living Land Workshop

Almost everyone knows of Avebury, the great stone circle within which a village was built. A World Heritage site and one of the most incredible sacred complexes of prehistory, it is justly famous for its beauty and mystery. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year but while most simply walk in awe amongst the majestic standing stones of the Circle and Avenue, there is far more to discover for those who will walk the paths less travelled.

Join us in June, 2020, as we explore some of the hidden corners of this amazing landscape, ranging beyond the boundaries of the Circle to seek a deeper understanding of what our ancestors hoped to touch by building this earthly temple to the stars.

Based in the landscape around Avebury and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking. There will be time during the weekend to explore Avebury and its stones.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Hill-of-the-Buried-Sun…

*

…It was, after all, rather disconcerting to be thus accosted by a total stranger…

*

“Does this count?” he demanded, ferociously,

and pushed an admittedly intriguing photograph across the bar at us.

“Does that count as what?”

*

“One of them ‘Black’ places”

“Well, it might do, what is it?”

*

“It’s one of them there mounds.”

“Is it really, it looks just like a pyramid of light?”

*

“That’s why I was thinking it might count.”

“Strictly speaking, in order ‘to count’ it would have to be called

‘Black-something’ or ‘Something-black’. Does it have a name?”

*

“Oh aye, it’s got a name alright.”

“And that name is?”

“Silbury Hill!”

*

And at that, the Red-Lion, or so it seemed to us,

burst into a collective paroxysm of laughter…

*

Hidden Avebury: Seeking the Unseen

Avebury, Wiltshire

12th – 14th June, 2020

*

A Living Land Workshop

Almost everyone knows of Avebury, the great stone circle within which a village was built. A World Heritage site and one of the most incredible sacred complexes of prehistory, it is justly famous for its beauty and mystery. The site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year but while most simply walk in awe amongst the majestic standing stones of the Circle and Avenue, there is far more to discover for those who will walk the paths less travelled.

Join us in June, 2020, as we explore some of the hidden corners of this amazing landscape, ranging beyond the boundaries of the Circle to seek a deeper understanding of what our ancestors hoped to touch by building this earthly temple to the stars.

Based in the landscape around Avebury and beyond, this weekend will entail some relatively easy walking. There will be time during the weekend to explore Avebury and its stones.

The weekend runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com