Why not?

Above Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

One of the joys of working with the Silent Eye is the people you get to meet. Not all of them are part of the School; most follow their own Paths, which, though they may run in the same general direction, can take vastly different routes on the journey. None is inherently ‘better’ than another; it is always the Path that speaks to the heart that is right for any seeker. Being able to share and learn from our individual experiences on that Path makes the journey richer and fosters a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

Every year, the Silent Eye runs four workshop weekends. While the correspondence course and the personal journeys of our students are at the heart of the way the Silent Eye works, the workshops allow us to take a different approach and explore new ideas in new ways. They also allow us meet face to face with people… not just students and Companions of the School, but with those who share our interests, from widely different angles, but who may have no intention at all of joining the School.

Derbyshire

Three of our workshops are run in the landscape, exploring ancient, sacred and interesting sites. These can be anything from stone circles to castles, beaches to churches, modern landscapes to ancient henges. These are informal weekends and generally fun. We currently charge a minimal fee for the whole weekend workshop.

But why should anyone come along, just to do ‘tourist stuff’?

We do the groundwork before the event. We travel to the sites to investigate access, parking, places to eat and, most importantly, routes to obscure places you might not even know exist… and that allows us to cover a lot of local ground during a single weekend.

There is always a unifying theme; while we explore the sites, we explore too the ideas, psychological and spiritual concepts they suggest and illustrate, inviting discussion.

Nine Stones Close, Derbyshire

We not only have a love of the ancient sites, but we have amassed a store of knowledge about them too, having explored around five hundred prehistoric sites and medieval churches in the past five years alone.

We do the research… so you will not only visit an ancient site, and get a little of its history, but will learn the folklore and legends attached to it too.

We do not simply visit the sites, we work with them too. You may experience a guided meditation on a beach, a divination in a wood, a spiritual exercise in a churchyard or a simple ritual in a stone circle. None of these are tied to any particular spiritual Path or discipline… just to the human journey.

And, perhaps most importantly, these weekends also, as one of our attendees put it, provide “a safe space in which to talk” about things that, for many people, cannot be discussed anywhere else. Those who come along may have different views, but all share an open mind and heart.

The annual April workshop is a little different.

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

The residential weekend takes place in the Derbyshire Peak District, at the Nightingale Centre, which provides full board and accommodation. The gardens, local countryside and the old inn next door provide a place to relax too.

Each year we choose a theme that encapsulates a spiritual idea… then spend months writing the workbook for the workshop. The workbook sets out a story, presented as ritual drama in the tradition of the ancient Mystery Schools, and written as a script. Each attendee takes a part… no-one needs to be able to act or learn lines, as it is not designed as a play and there is no audience; only the other attendees.

These scripts are either based upon an ancient text, or are written especially for the workshop. The Leaf and Flame workshop, for example, took us back to Arthur’s Court and the tale of the Green Knight, while The Feathered Seer brought in the stories of local stone circles. River of the Sun took us to ancient Egypt to see a priest made and a Pharaoh take power.

Image by Matt Baldwin-Ives

There are presentations from experienced speakers, guided meditations, an optional dawn ritual on the hillside and a chance to see the inner workings of a modern Mystery School…as well as having fun and meeting like-minded people from across the UK and as far away as the US. We do not insist upon costumes, but most people seem to enjoy bringing the period to life, and we have had some colourful workshops, in everything from Egyptian robes to Elizabethan dress.

To give people a good idea of what we do, we have not only published some of the workbooks, but we invite attendees to add their own comments and publish their personal experiences on the Silent Eye’s website. You can find you exactly what happens when you attend your first workshop by clicking here or read an account by Running Elk of the first time he came to a Silent Eye event.  You can also visit the gallery to see pictures of a few of our events.

Sumerian art

This year we will ‘go back’ five thousand years to Sumeria and the time of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, basing the story upon the oldest epic poem in the world. The tale explores spiritual and psychological principles that we meet in our everyday lives and , like all our workshops, leaves us with a greater understanding of who we are and how we can live our lives to the fullest.

There are still places available for April… and always places for the landscape workshops. Why not come along and join us for the weekend?

Lord of the Deep
26-28 April, 2019

Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

The Silent Eye’s Spring workshop for 2019

Click HERE for full details, prices and booking form

For all upcoming events, please visit our EVENTS page.

 

I and the Telescope

Do we have automatic filters of perception that screen out the magical?

How many miraculous events in the natural world occur before our eyes each day yet are not noticed by our everyday awareness? We often feel this to be our experience – but it happens within an adult ‘self’ which has grown from infancy to adulthood, and therefore is to be trusted, Such childish and fanciful notions are to be put to one side in favour of a world-picture that sees all such things as coincidental and purposeless.

Much of this ‘structure’ of skeptical perception can be investigated by a useful metaphor: the antique telescope. Imagine that, instead of our eyes, we look, permanently, through two nautical-style telescopes at the world. But these are not ordinary optical instruments; rather, they divide our simple act of ‘seeing’ into three stages. The first and second are related to the world of raw perception and the near-instantaneous emotional response to it. The third stage of this ‘telescopic vision’ is that of the intellect – more usually described as the mind. These three stages are learned as we mature and fold out of the flattened telescope like the kind of brass antique that we see on collectors’ TV programmes.

What we actually ‘see’ is conditioned by the expanded telescope such that our final experience drops through each of those stages of perception before settling in our consciousness. We do not need to think about it; it just happens. The older we get the more set this pattern becomes. Some of this programming develops to reduce the energy needed to perceive. The mind is really good at taking the essence of a repeated experience and simply replaying what it considers to be the ‘skeleton’ of the event. It can add the precise details, such as whether the car in front of us is turning left or right, in real-time. Working swiftly, it both reduces our energy consumption and knows where to ‘insert’ the life-saving bits into the whole…

But it’s no longer the whole, and year on year repetition of this historical way of seeing things gradually takes the intellectual, emotional and ‘something more primal’ magic out of what would otherwise be a constant state of wonder. When we’re driving a car, this is essential. We would otherwise be overwhelmed by the data and the intensity of the experience. Our ‘robotic’ perception is fast and reliable. But when we are staring at a sunset or sunrise, and the sky makes patterns that are both beautiful and meaningful to our lives, then we might want to consider how to ‘collapse’ our telescopes and be prepared to stand more naked in front of the splendour before us.

We might then discover a much more personal and intimate relationship with the world – our world.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Modern Mysteries

The ‘mysteries’ have been with mankind as long as we have existed. They are a collection of paths that take us inwards; restoring a sense of self deeper than that which reacts, and showing us that mankind is much more than a biological animal – though animals, and their focus on the ‘now’ have much to teach us, too.

The reason these paths work is that we are more than we appear to be. The reactive nature of the self-in-the-world, the personality, fixes it into a certain relationship with its world. This is vital for survival but not so for our potential evolution. Mankind is not a finished project. Nature can only take us so far, beyond that point we have take responsibility for our own self-development, and the power for this comes from within. To begin this, we have to loosen the grip of the world on our reactive self. When this is done, a new space emerges within our mind and heart.; a quiet, creative place that feels wholly our own. Unlike the everyday world, our energy is not robbed in this place, in fact the former reactions, seen in their true perspective, actually feed the strength of this private chamber… there is a bubbling of laughter, a lightness of being.

Developments in psychology over the past hundred years have given teachers of the spiritual a powerful vocabulary to describe the nature of the reactive self, the self-in-the-world. We see that our essential self is not what has grown up, like layers of paint, around our experience of the world. For the first time, we see that what is truly ‘us’ is not only difficult to define, but also not the layers of painted self-consciousness that have developed, year on year, since we came into the world.

At this point we begin to sense the weight of the baggage we carry. As the time spent on self-study lengthens, we see that we can let go a lot of what we thought was us, and delight in the rush of powerful energy when the unnecessary is let go. As the reactive gravity is released, we begin to sense an entirely new relationship with the world in which we live – the outer world… or is it?

With the letting go of what we thought we were, we enter a new field of confidence. This confidence is reinforced when events in our lives seems to conspire to teach us each next step that we need to learn. We look up at the sky – inner and outer and ask, “Did that really just happen?” And it did, and it goes on happening as the door of perception opens onto true relationship and we come re-evaluate our whole lives.

There comes a point where we know enough to show others parts of it. We feel a honourable debt and a desire to do this. We experiment; finding what techniques work for us and which don’t. The personality is not done away with, rather it is realigned in the service of this inner relationship – spirit will do nicely as a word, but there are many more words that can serve us well. We may even change our vocabulary as we speak to different audiences. We need have no fear, for each challenge brings its own way of speaking and showing – if we remain true to the inner vibration, which, day by day, is becoming us.

These, then, are the mysteries. They are not, nor have ever been, bound up in a fixed set of teachings, They belong to all of us, they are our birthright. They are the new world we have always had. Only the self-in-the-world was ever in the way of this, and now it serves something higher and more noble as we reach for the sky.

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

For fifty years I sought you…

For fifty years I sought you

Beneath an ashen tree

And when at last I caught you

You were hiding behind me

What jests your lips had whispered

As I darted too and fro

Till I lay down at the wayside

With nowhere else to go

Quiet, your fingers touched me

Bidding stillness in their grace

Made soft with love the journey

By turning round the face

The night of sight was ended

From this head that wore a frown

And the throne of Self lay open

As your palms displayed a crown

Now my tiny kingdom’s hidden

Beneath a starry sky

But my eyes drink light forever

As the opening days roll by

For fifty years I sought you

Beneath an ashen tree

And when at last I caught you

You were smiling back at Me

©Stephen Tanham

Dedicated to Rumi, who lit the way…

A Chip off the Old Block (part 2 of 2)

cube of space+wake you smaller

In Part One, we looked at the implications of one of the hot topics in modern physics: that of Block Theory, and its two offspring theories – Expanding Block Theory and Evolving Block Theory. These dull names hide a very exciting and radical view of the universe – our world – and the dynamic part that awakened humans can play in it.

We don’t need to change what we do to work within the ‘Block’ of Block Theory. We can’t do anything else. Our ability to ‘do’, including the logic of decision, is built into the dynamic of being Human – which means the organic part of us operates wholly within the framework of the Block universe. When we turn our head, go to the car, decide to drive to the petrol station, and then pick up a chocolate bar as we pay, we are exercising the under-considered power of choice. We are creating the next moment of the present. The result of that choice is the equivalent of what quantum physics calls ‘measurement’. Measurement, in this sense, means interacting with the now.

Evolving Block Theory is related to Quantum Physics. Within Quantum Physics, a very different universe exists from the ‘solid’ one we think we live in. Our real quantum world is a sea of possibilities so vast that the mind struggles to conceive of it. This ‘sea’ resolves itself into a ‘something’ only when we interact with it; the equivalent of the scientific action of measurement. The classic thought-experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat was initially put forward to mock this, but the (both) alive and dead cat is there in full potential until the box is opened – this is actually the truth in a quantum universe. Within our minds, we have normalised this process into the Newtonian classical and solid world, but, really, we live in a shifting sea of potential – and our minds have a unique relationship with it; they may even be able to co-create the unfolding now in an advanced way, once we have mastered the ‘magic’ of the mechanics…

How does Block Theory, and in particular Evolving Block Theory, fit into this quantum world? The two are the other halves of each other. Block Theory says that, while there is length, breadth and height, there is no time as we think of it, conventionally. There is only the human mind choosing from the possible courses of action – intelligence, in other words. Everything that could be done exists, before us, in the quantum universe, powered by something wonderful. But it is not the future; just potential. To become the present: the only place where reality exists, we have to make that choice and combine consciousness with it. Once that actualisation begins, we not only create the present, we are the present.

Evolving Block Theory contributes something very special to this: it puts forward the potential of light, itself, to be the living sea of possibility from which the present is knitted. Only light has the vastness of ‘atomic’ potential to fit the requirements of this world which constantly resolves itself into what we have chosen… But, once that choice is made we do not ‘move’ into that future, the combined now of us and light unfolds before us…

Choice has, therefore, many components. The world in which ‘we’ find ourselves from birth is not in any way fixed. At the atomic level it is the potential of pure light. We live in a three-dimensional world but the property of time belongs to us – possibly to all Life, though the powers of mentation and therefore choice are more sophisticated in the human – and often cruel. We can surmise that, as yet, we are mere infants in the exercise of this ‘supermind’ potential.

While science has made enormous progress, it has done so without a conscience. It may say that is not its role, but there is a growing sense of responsibility among scientists. The ancients did not have the benefit of our powers of instrument-enabled observation and measurement – in a general sense, though the Greeks, peoples of India, and medieval Arabs laid the foundations of what became Western science. But the ancient philosophers did understand consciousness – and the disciplining of the mind; and this has always been the other half of the equation. In this, they pursued the deeper meanings of consciousness, rather than taking it for granted in the way that science initially did.

Thankfully, Quantum Theory changed that, though an understanding of it still evades most people – and why wrestle with it, if the older Newtonian world will do just fine?. Evolving Block Theory offers a radical new view of the ‘out there’; one potentially controlled by the fully balanced human capable of bringing wise choices into the all-powerful present, whose potential, like the chess pawn becoming a Queen, would then be, literally, limitless.

The emotions empower our choices, as does habitual pleasure and pain. But in a mentally-strong human, the mind, alone makes that choice. The depth of intent is therefore of prime importance in navigating the art of the possible which unfolds before us. This is astonishingly close to the ancient art of magic, which aside from the fluff and egoic dross, is concerned with the focussing of intent.

Acting for the good is very different from acting out of self-interest, only. The greatest ‘magicians’ of the coming age may be those who combine deep intent with the universe-expanding power of ‘good’ and thereby step beyond the level of humanity as we know it, reaching back to teach and show those of us who yearn for those heights of the soul.

A Meditation

So let’s imagine that we are a new type of magician, one intent upon working with this world of Evolving Block Theory. How could we act in accordance with what we see as its potential?

We need to comprehend that, organically, we are already its child. Our creative power within the ‘Block’ will already have been at work in our lives – in both positive and negative ways. But, consciousness of this brings greater power to work with it in the light of knowledge rather than accident.

Realising that we stand in the threshold of a new world, our first action might be one of cleansing; by which we mean freeing the apparently frozen world around us from negative patterns we have unconsciously imposed on it – as creator…

To help us, we can consider that what we thought of as being ‘set in stone’ might not be; that thoughts, feelings and outdated opinions can be, literally, dissolved.

Let us see ourselves as a castle made of heavy and solid stone. Imagine each part of you: thoughts, emotions and your sheer physicality. Let each of them be a part of a castle of self – see it clearly.

Now imagine that this, your castle, has actually been carefully constructed by skilled builders from blocks of ice, not stone. See that fixed structure melting slowly until it resolves itself into a lake of water. It has lost none of what it had except for the restrictive patterning that held it fixed. Really, it was always water…

When the waters of the ice castle have melted, and the lake is full, let us imagine that we are gazing down onto the pure, glowing surface of the lake. Behind us, high in the sky, is the golden disk of the Sun. The gold is so bright that, initially, we see ourselves only as a silhouette. But then our eyes become more powerful and we look deeper…

What do you see?

Stay as long as you wish above the golden lake. When you are ready, close the meditation with this affirmation:

“I am a co-creator of this world and I will create in full consciousness.”

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

Derbyshire Delights…

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It was over 14 years ago now in March 2004 that I first sampled the delights of Derbyshire at a Mystical Weekend in the Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.

In those days I was a relativley new member of a worldwide Mystical Order and the idea of a ‘Weekend Retreat’ amongst strangers was unfamiliar and rather daunting.

I recall a moment of panic on my way to this remote spot as the bus from Sheffield headed deeper and deeper into the Derbyshire wilds… ‘It’s in the middle of nowhere,’ I thought with mounting hysteria, ‘we could all be murdered in our sleep and no one would ever know…’ I can now smile at such momentary fears brought on no doubt by a teenage staple of Dennis Wheatley and H.P. Lovecraft but there is a legitimate question here for those with no experience of such matters.

‘What does one do on a Mystical Retreat?’

Well that depends of course on which particular school is running the retreat and what the particular brief or theme for the weekend is.

My first retreat was a heady mix of group and private meditations, and informative and engaging talks and presentations by members of the Order of which I was then part.

But that is to describe only the formal aspects of such events; there is usually between the scheduled programmes plenty of time to commune with fellow participants or if one prefers time enough, to simply be alone with nature in the peaceful surrounds of the centre.

…But really the best answer to such an enquiry is, ‘one needn’t do anything on a Mystical Retreat, it is far more effective to simply be… and see where it leads.’

The annual trips to Derbyshire became something of a pilgrimage for me and with continued presence my involvement in the formal running of such events grew…

…In 2011 and now under the aegis of a Magical School but again back at the Nightingale for a weekend retreat our lodge staged a four act dramatic ritual which focused on the search for the philosopher’s stone.

Very ‘Harry Potter’ and all rather grand sounding but really it is just a group of life-affirming people with common purpose exploring together the notion of that which is more than the sum of its parts.

And in 2013 and now as the inaugural event of The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, the four act drama had become five acts and a tradition had been put in place which we hope will continue long into the future…

The dramas are script led and no prior experience is assumed.
There is no audience because everybody participates so there is no pressure and no one to mind if a ‘mistake’ is made…

In the words of one recent attendee: ‘It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s profound.’

No one has been murdered, of course, but a goodly number of folk have returned from our events with their sense of life purpose refreshed and renewed and their belief in the spirit released to soar…

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We hope you can join us in 2019 for, Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

We will be delighted to see you.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

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

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

The Stone and the Pilgrim (6) final part

“It is what it is…”

I remember the evening Morgana said that to me, many years ago. We were in Glastonbury, doing the first of our year of bi-monthly talks.

The truth of it is profound. The sentiment behind the simple wisdom is how we resist what is…instead of embracing the new ‘world’ that has just revolved into view. The problem is like and dislike, of course, but that reaction is within us and nothing to do with the objective world that constantly reveals itself to the eye that watches from a different place…

It was the end of our weekend; Sunday morning – the last visit, and I wanted it to go well for all the Companions of the trip. Then the phone beeped. The text from Stuart said that half our party, travelling in the same car, were stuck on one of the roads leading to Lindisfarne, unable to overtake a large pack of cyclists who seemed unwilling to let traffic past.

“It is what it is…” I thought. Now what possibilities have just opened up?

We had a coffee, at a cafe that the others couldn’t miss on their way into the village, but, when it was going cold, gave up on Plan B and did some real-time adjustment. The issue with Lindisfarne is the tides… You only have so many hours to complete what you want to do before the sea returns and covers the causeway. There was a lot we wanted to do and only half a party. So, we did what anyone would do on a weekend named ‘Castles of the Mind’ – we went in search of our final one – castle, that is… We left a message with the others to meet up at the castle and set off…

From one perspective, I was dreading the first view of it. The last time I was here, and the time before, it was covered in scaffolding – the result of a complete refurbishment programme to weatherproof the exterior and restore the interior. As a result, once again, I had only been able to look at the workings, criss-crossed in its steel lattice.

But now, in the first of many wonderful surprises that the day was to contain, the castle that came into view as we emerged from the main street was wonderfully renewed…

And I started to smile, then laugh, as we made our way up the winding pathway to the high entrance… ‘Renewed’ – there it was: the key to the day, the gift to the symbolic Pilgrim, renewal at the end of a personal quest. What greater gift could there be?

The restoration work was a £3M project carried out by contractors on behalf of the National Trust. The castle has always been the main focus for visitors, though there are other very good reasons to visit this farthest part of the island. These include the headland itself – with an older and smaller mound nearer to the often wild sea; the lime kilns and the famous but often overlooked garden…

Visitors often assume that the whole history of the island is based on its religious past; but Lindisfarne’s intermediate history went far beyond its ancient holy status – though that religious link to a possibly more ‘vibrant’ and nature-facing Celtic Christianity is what attracts the thousand of pilgrims of all flavours who make their way to its shores. Monks don’t usually build castles – they build churches or monasteries. There was a monastery on Lindisfarne, too, and its ruins survive, today.

The history of Lindisfarne is written into the fabric of the castle, but we were not here to study history; but our own natures… It was therefore important to begin with what was there, now, before peeling back the layers of how it came to be so. In that, too, there was something symbolic to accompany our final footsteps.

The castle, with its restoration work complete, is a rather luxurious place – most unlike the typical castle. Thoughts of the previous day’s closing visit to the spartan Preston Pele Tower were fresh in our minds. There’s a good reason for this feeling of well-being: it was a luxury holiday home for a rich American publisher, Edward Hudson, from 1901 until the mid-1920s, and the restoration project has reinstated this look and feel. To accomplish this dramatic re-design of the building, Hudson used the services of a young architect and designer Edwin Lutyens, whose patron was the famous landscape gardener, Gertrude Jekyll. The latter contributed the planting scheme for the crags and added a small walled garden just North of the castle. Lutyens went on to become one of the most famous architects in British history.

The scheme for the work was to follow Lutyens’ plan to simplify the castle’s older structure by converting its interior into a great ’L’ shape. Rooms, doorways, fires and furniture were added, and a stream of well-heeled Edwardian visitors followed.

Sadly, the furniture is yet to be replaced and we were faced with a curious art installation, filling just about every room with wooden cubed frames, open on one side and – most of them – draped with coloured cloths. A poster explained that, as the furniture was still to be reinstated, the art ‘installation’ was deemed timely.

After much neglect, the castle was given to the National Trust by its third owner in 1944.

None of this is religious… To find the intersection between politics, power and religion, we need to go back to the time of Henry VIII, father of the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry ‘dissolved’ the monastery of Lindisfarne in 1537. But such locations made useful coastal forts, particularly one so close to the troublesome Scots, and the last bastion of England – Berwick on Tweed. The result was that the island – and particularly the castle – became part of the Tudor military machine.

In 1543, France allied itself with Scotland. In response, King Henry mounted a military response designed to crush all such resistance to his rule. The military expedition was led by Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, one of Henry’s many wives. Seymour landed on Lindisfarne with ten ships and over 2,000 troops. This army set off from their temporary island base to punish the Scots… The campaign was brutal and achieved its goals. It was the last time that Lindisfarne was to play an important role in English military history, though Elizabeth I did order improvements and fortifications to the building. Coastal guns were deployed up to the 1880s, after which the castle was left to its decay until Edward Hudson found it and decided it would enhance his ‘English’ status…

But what about St Aidan, the man most associated with Lindisfarne – and the famous Lindisfarne illuminated Gospels. They belong to a much earlier time, a time when Celtic Christianity was spreading from Ireland via the Scottish Hebrides.

The man who would be St Aidan was born, on an unknown date, in Ireland. He is known as the apostle of Northumbria – the old name for the Kingdom of what is now Northumberland. Aidan was a monk on the island of Iona, in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. King Oswald of Northumbria requested that a bishop be appointed to lead the conversion of his kingdom to Christianity (Celtic Christianity at that point) and Aidan was selected.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne because of its proximity to the sea; the only way to travel, speedily, in an age where roads were tracks of rutted mud. Aidan was consecrated as Bishop of Lindisfarne in AD 635.

Aidan established his church and monastery within sight of our first location of the weekend – the royal castle of Bamburgh. Under Aidan’s direction, and that of his successors, particularly St Cuthbert, Lindisfarne flourished as a leading religious centre.

St Aidan died on 31st August 651, after a remarkable lifetime. It is ironic that Celtic (Ionan) Christianity travelled south and met Roman Christianity coming north. The latter was to win out at the Synod of Whitby, in AD 665, fourteen years after Aidan’s death.

Being next to the ocean had its downside, too, and in AD 793, the Vikings sacked the island, and the religious settlement was moved to Durham.

The story of St Aidan is well illustrated in the church of St Margaret, near the centre of Lindisfarne village.

We gathered here after a brief lunch, conscious that the tides were soon to encroach…

There is never enough time to see what Lindisfarne has to offer. Each time I go, I find new aspects to explore. We had to bring the Castles of the Mind weekend to a close. We were already running late and those attending had long journeys home.

Stuart knew of a small island, accessible at low to mid tide, which lay beyond the church. The simple wooden cross at its highest point marked the place of one of the original hermits. We picked our way across the wet beach and clambered up the rocks to see both cross and the view across to Bamburgh, our starting point.

It was perfect…

We conducted our last readings then held a silent meditation to mark the end of the weekend. Then we hugged and said our goodbyes.

Our journey as pilgrims was complete…


Interested in the next Silent Eye weekend?

Full Circle?  – Finding the way home…
Penrith, Cumbria
Friday 7th – Sunday 9th December, 2018


End of Castle of the Mind

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Stone and the Pilgrim (5)

We stumbled upon the Preston Pele Tower, fifteen miles south-west of Bamburgh, back in February, 2018. My wife and I had seen a reference to it on a noticeboard in a cafe some distance to the north. It’s quite hard to find; tucked away down a tiny country lane not far from the A1 – the main road through Northumberland to Edinburgh. We’d never heard of a Pele Tower, either… We got out of the car and stared at it, never having seen anything quite like it. Was it a castle – or the remains of one? The location suggested not. It looked purpose-built, yet somehow incomplete….

Right up to the time the Castles of the Mind group approached the building, I didn’t know what part of the ‘self’ we could use it to describe. I entered the (to me) familiar building and trusted that the answer would reveal itself. Either way, and even at the end of a long day of adventure, the Companions of the trip were not disappointed, and seemed to be having the same ‘look at that!’ experience that we had enjoyed in early February.

The famous architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, described Preston Pele Tower as ‘amongst the most spectacular pieces of medieval masonry in England’. Its stone walls are seven feet thick and carry the same mason’s marks as those of the evocative Warkworth Castle twenty miles south. Sadly, we did not have enough time in our short weekend to visit the latter… another trip methinks!

It was never a castle, but it is incomplete; what you see in the top photo is only a half of what was built, originally. So, imagine that the two vertical towers are reflected back on themselves and you have it as it was created in 1392 (pic above): a four section Pele Tower.

How to pronounce Pele Tower? Probably because of the famous Brazilian footballer, it’s natural to call it a ‘Pel ay’ tower – and some of the locals we spoke to did just that. But Sue, who’s a fluent French speaker, says it’s probably derived from a French word and should be ‘Peel’ – that the final ‘e’ is there to turn the ‘eh’ in the middle to an ‘ee’.

It matters little; but there were a lot of them – nearly eighty, in fact. So they were rather important in this part of the world… The hand drawing from the Tower’s museum shows the location of the fortified dwellings in Northumberland, most of which were towers. The original of this chart was drawn up by Henry V, just prior to his departure for France and the victorious battle of Agincourt.

Many of the fortified towers were constructed during the frequent wars between England and Scotland, which ended with the Act of Union in 1603 – after James I came to the English throne.  In the sixteenth century, while the rest of England enjoyed relative peace, Northumberland – the eastern border county with Scotland – remained on a state of alert due to a scourge called the Border Reivers, and the towers saw a second lifetime as an essential way for the landed gentry to protect their people, servants and livestock.

Reivers were lawless gangs, both sides of the border, who would steal, murder and rape their way across whole swathes of an undefended Northumberland and its disputed border with Southern Scotland.

One of the Preston Tower’s celebrated features is a combined great bell and clock. The bell is approximately four feet in diameter and weighs 500 kg. The mechanism for the bell, which strikes on the hour, is linked to the twin clocks on both sides of the Tower faces. The power is provided by a set of two giant stone weights whose ropes run most of the height of the building.

The clock mechanism on the second floor drives the twin clock faces on the north and south faces of the tower, and is based on the same mechanical design that powers Big Ben in London. The clock was added in the nineteenth century, which shows that the Preston Tower continued to be a place of historical interest for a long time.

AAPele Clock Mech

As part of its function as a museum, Preston Pele Tower contains rooms which are furnished as they would have been at the time of its construction in the 14th century. The recreated interior spaces are sparse, and, to us, feel very basic. Being safe during a time of great insecurity was their central function.

AAPeleBedroom

The basic cooking facilities are shown in the second of the two rooms.

AAPelePot Room on Fire

The staircase is a simple wooden structure that runs all the way to the roof on the east side of the internal wall.

AApeleStaircase alone

Once on the roof, the view of the countryside around is commanding.

AAPele rooftop 1 to sea

Standing on the roof, in the last few minutes of our visit, the key I was looking for came to mind: Hope

The Pele Tower was not a basis for aggression; its purpose was to defend the home and hearth, the family and those who worked for them, including the animals.

An image came to mind: that of the householder standing watch under the stars, scanning the horizon for reivers. The dawn is beginning in the east, but the sky is still filled with the strange darkness of the pre-dawn. He nods his head towards the coming light, then opens the door to descend to the chambers in which his family are sleeping, safe within the thick stone walls.

He pauses by the thin window, a defensive structure so narrow that a man could not pass through it. The shutters have not been drawn on this single light and he stops to consider the pale light, one final time. In that moment, I catch his thoughts in a line of poetry, a gift from the now that places such as these are so good at bestowing…

Through these thin lights, now so forlorn

Will one day stream a different dawn

It will take another hundred years – a time during which the rest of Tudor England will undergo transformation to modernity. But in this liminal zone of Northumberland, the change will be slower, as borders and reivers are set to rights.

But that day will come… and that fervent hope in my ghostly host’s eyes will empower it… And there is something very spiritual about that…

We left the Pele Tower quietly. Others had felt its unique personality. We were all tired, and the dinner booked at a nearby pub was very welcome.

Our mental and emotional preparation was complete. We had been witness to the internal architecture of the self as seen in these vast and very different structures of stone.

The sun would rise on a day dedicated to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne… and its ancient mysteries; the Companion Pilgrims were coming home…

The Preston Pele Tower is a privately-owned museum. It charges a very reasonable £2.00 admission and has car parking and toilets on site.

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One, Part Two,  Part Three, Part Four,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

The Stone and the Pilgrim (2)

Part 2.

Rested, the group of pilgrims gathers beneath the vast presence of Bamburgh Castle. The castle was restored to its present glory by the 19th century munitions entrepreneur and inventor William Armstrong. Lord Armstrong bought it from the Crewe trustees in 1894 for the sum of £60,000 – a fortune then. He went on to spend a further one million pounds creating an iconic English castle which would be used as a convalescent home for ‘well educated people who had fallen on hard times’.

Armstrong’s descendants still own and use Bamburgh Castle, though they have other dwellings, too. They are very much a part of Northumberland’s life and social hierarchy.

The portrait above was painted in 1846 and hangs in the museum within the castle walls which is dedicated to his work.

But we are not here for history. We are here to engage with the now, in a way that invokes the surroundings as a metaphor of our ‘interior’ state.

Seen from the beach the previous evening, the castle was the embodiment of protection… but also, possibly, conformity and obedience. Its structure is heavy, fixed. Whatever ideas gave rise to its creation are reflected in its unyielding stonework. The way it has grown and evolved is an accurate parallel to how the egoic self arises and dominates.

On the Friday evening, In our minds, we created an image of a portcullis being raised, and a mental journey into the castle to locate a symbolic key that would epitomise our pilgrim’s journey from here to Lindisfarne. But we know that things will happen when we actually pass inside its walls…

Psychologically, we will be transformed from being free but vulnerable, outside; to being safe but caged, inside. It’s not a new dilemma. The very first cell of biological life created that polarisation – that duality. From then on, the vehicle of life – the final product of organic chemical organisation – would thrive, but only inside the container which allowed protection and persistence… The world of consciousness changed at that point- becoming dual: the in-here and the out-there.

Sea bacteria became plants. Plants became fish. Fish became land and sky animals and finally, mankind emerged. At each stage, nature built on the best of what had gone before, while still allowing diversity in all its glory. The castle supports and protects ‘the best’. The inheritance of its wealth and prestige mirrors the DNA that allows life to endure in a cellular world, but only in a material sense.

We pass through the heavy wooden door and are assimilated into the interior of the ancient building. From here, even as group leader, I cannot speak for any of my companion’s experiences. Each is here to experience for themselves; each will or won’t find a key emotional space within the castle.

The first of the two ‘small rooms’ is unimpressive. Weapons and paintings hang from plain, white walls. There is no connection here, no sense of a powerful emotion related to our weekend’s quest, no test for the pilgrim…. it is spartan in its ‘feel’.

It is only in the next room that I discover that these two ‘small rooms’ were once part of the kitchens, which explains their plainness.

The connecting corridors and staircases wind into the centre of the building. The ancient is mixed with the familiar and familial, such as this bronze of Lady Armstrong and her two children, crafted by sculptor and film maker David Rawnsley, who, earlier in his multi-talented career, had produced the famous wartime naval epic ‘In which we serve’. The film was based upon the life of Earl Mountbatten.

A warship would make another good model of the egoic self, I think to myself…

And then the nature of the interior changes. It becomes obvious that we are approaching a different part of the castle; one with very different functions.

The stone is somehow grander. The lustre of the wood is deeper. The final flight of stairs is steep and heralds a dramatic change of perspective as we emerge into the King’s Hall.

The roof of the great hall is what first catches your attention. The false hammer beam ceiling is made from Thai teak. The King of (then) Siam was a close friend of Lord Armstrong and is said to have personally helped with the intricate carving. The King’s hall has served as the main ballroom and function suite since Edwardian times. It contains a minstrel’s gallery to house the musicians.

The austerity of the previous two rooms is replaced by a physical and emotional warmth. This is a place you want to be. Though only the ‘best’ would get that right, of course. It is ours for a few minutes. Within that time we each need to decide its significance in the scheme of the weekend.

‘I’ feel very at home here. The opulence speaks of a place evolved to suit the needs and the feelings of a ruling class. That is not how I feel about myself, of course, but I can appreciate the effort and skill that has gone into its design. There’s little here that is new; it’s all traditional – and of very good quality. The sheer height of the ceiling casts a sense of ‘freedom’ about the place. We who live in low-ceilinged, modern houses forget how special this feels.

And then it hits me: how far in mind I am from the spirit of the group on the beach, the previous evening; how I have indentified with the quality of the contents in the hall. And there, now plainly visible, is the slow undermining of the search for the real Self that such luxury promotes. It’s quite natural to want to be comfortable, to appreciate quality things, but the purpose of this weekend is to make visible the working of the egoic self and its (literally) trappings.

Smiling, I do a little nod to the power in the room and leave…

The two martial figures, devoid of real content, couldn’t be better placed. Their presence is almost threatening: “Look, we’ve tried it the nice way, but you’re being stubborn.” They seem to say. “Just turn around and embrace the opulence… forget the other nonsense…”

Seen with a ‘normal’ eye, it’s just dark humour. But we don’t do these things to see with normal eyes; we try to see differently. Here’s a classic case: the finding of a key, the resolution to ‘leave it behind’ and then the act of running straight into authority. That’s exactly what the ego does to us when we challenge its position at our centre. It has a scary counterpart in the ‘superego’ – an internal authority figure that mimics someone in your life – like your mother or father; someone whose standards you can never live up to.

But the suits of armour have another attribute that fits them well with our search for metaphor: they may look fearsome but they are empty… And, in particular, they have no centre of being. They are just a shell, grown in reaction to life to protect us. But what protects also imprisons…

Now, my time is nearly up and I’m on a mission to leave, to get out of there. I have one more thing I want to do, and that’s outside the main body of the castle. I walk quickly though the remainder of the rooms on the higher level, looking for the exit staircase to the lower corridor.

But, just before the staircase there is a well – a very ancient well, mentioned in the History of the Kings of England and dated 774 AD. It is nearly 44 metres deep and two metres wide, and was cut through hard rock to reach the water-bearing sandstone, below, giving the castle its life-sustaining water for over a thousand years.

Suddenly, my subjective day has a very special connection with the objective world ‘out there’ and my hand slides over the wooden cover in a gesture of gratitude as I take the staircase and leave the castle.

At the far end of the interior grounds of the castle is a raised platform on which sits the old windmill. From it, I know I will get a view of the whole structure – just like being on the beach. For long minutes I stand and look back, restoring the perspective of the evening before. Then, conscious that the others will be gathering outside the halls, I walk to join them.

Stuart, one of my fellow directors of the Silent Eye School is there, already. He is sitting in a reproduction of the ancient royal throne of Bamburgh, reconstructed from a fragment found on the site. Behind him, the companions of the weekend are gathering after their own interior experiences. Whenever we can, we open such moments to any kind of reading or spoken observations. Poetry or prose is a popular choice. Stuart has on his knee a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress…

We gather and listen… It’s surprisingly apt.

To be continued.

©️Stephen Tanham

Other parts of this series:

Part One,


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation 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.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.