Seeking a path

Labyrinth, Glastonbury

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of emails from people trying to find their way through the maze of possibilities now available to those seeking their spiritual path. Tap ‘spirituality’ into the search bar of Amazon and you will be faced with around half a million choices. Not so very long ago, you could trawl every bookstore in town.. and most towns had a fair few to choose from… and you would be lucky to find anything more than a bible. Ask for the esoteric section and the assistant would look at you with a blank expression and/or back away from the weirdo before directing you towards the poetry shelves. There were books… but not many, and they were both hard to find and expensive because of their rarity. The best places to look were the scruffy, second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, invariably tucked away down a side street in a seedy part of town. When you found a good one, you didn’t forget.

These days, it seems as if everywhere you look there are books, CDs and videos promising you the earth and the heavens… or heaven on earth… or ascension… or, well, you get the idea. Spirituality has become big business.

I have lost track of the number of Avatars and Ascended Masters currently plying their trade. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a deep distrust of anyone who has to tell me they are such a thing. Inspire me, make me think, lead by example and show me the results made manifest in the way you face your life and the way you inspire others… ‘show, don’t tell’ is as important in the spiritual world as it is for writers. The true spiritual teachers I have had the privilege to know would never see themselves as any more than students sharing a journey towards the Light.

While there are some excellent books, many reputable schools and organisations and a handful of genuine spiritual teachers, it is very difficult to wade through such a plethora of promises and find the ones that speak to the heart. It becomes even more confusing when the lines have become blurred between the truly spiritual and those books and systems guaranteeing worldly happiness and success. Many of the techniques employed are very similar; indeed, many of the ‘feelgood’ systems appear to have hi-jacked magical techniques lock, stock and barrel, repackaging and rebranding them as something new and unique that will bring the subscriber their heart’s desire.  The trouble is, they have taken the heart out of the practices to do so.

The true intent of those ancient techniques that work upon the personality is not to hone and polish it for worldly success and a happy life.  The need to ‘Know Thyself’ is at the core of all spiritual paths, but not in order to make money or attract a mate, though your life will change if you follow the old teachings and find yourself opening up the greater potential of your own being. Such studies give access to great joy as inner balance is real-ised. Confidence comes with the knowing and eyes come alive with wonder. ‘Success’ may well come too because of the expansion of understanding of yourself and your world, and though it may not always be measurable in worldly terms, by the time it arrives, you value each experience for its true worth.

The purpose of such study has a higher aim than filling a bank account or an empty space in the bed. Sadly, there are many self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who seem all too happy to fill their own at the expense of the true seeker, confused by the sheer amount of information and promises now available to them.

Mankind has always recognised that there is something beyond himself. For some the highest good is seen in the heart of humanity and how, beyond the petty griefs and greeds that shadow his days, humanity can know compassion, generosity and love. For others, that ‘something’ is reflected in the small gods of hearth and home and the spirits of Nature. Still others raise eye and heart towards a universal Intelligence. While the beliefs of individuals differ, there seems to be a common need to perceive and acknowledge a higher good.

For much of humanity’s history, that higher good has been found through the direction of bodies of religious knowledge. For centuries, religion and politics were closely aligned and until relatively recently, it was simply not good for your health to question the prevailing belief of your country. Those who did so publicly suffered for their freedom of thought. Sadly, there are many places where this is still true today and the emergence of a genuine and global freedom of belief is an ongoing process still far from its goal.

Over the past few decades, much of the world has seen a real, noticeable increase in the freedom and desire to question dogmatic teachings. More and more people are recognising that the key to spiritual development lies in their own hands and heart. It is not necessarily a turning against the traditional teachings, but a desire to understand their inner truth and deeper meaning, as well as an acknowledgement that to follow the rules blindly is a far cry from taking personal responsibility for our own lives and actions.

Our personal relationship with our own spiritual nature and our concept of divinity is unique. Whether we look to the heart of humanity or a higher Source does not matter if we truly seek to grow into the best of ourselves. There is no lid on the sky and no limit to the inner vision that can lead us forward.

No book, no school, no one human being can teach you ‘spirituality’. What they can do is share knowledge, experience and a system that has been found to work and give results. They can be your guide, hold your hand on the journey and share it with you until you reach a door through which you alone may walk. It is not always a comfortable journey to examine your self and begin to fit the fragments of your being into a bigger picture, becoming part of something whole. Not for nothing is it called the Work. But it is always worthwhile. Spirituality cannot be sold any more than you can sell a sunset… but you can be shown where to stand and in which direction to look. And no-one, no matter how much they charge, can teach you to be a spiritual being… because that is something you have always been.

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The Moment that Teaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

The perception of memory

I slowed to let the young lad on the bicycle pull out onto the roundabout. That looks like… I raised my hand to wave to my son’s friend and instantly realised my mistake. It might have been his son, but it certainly was not the boy I had known. It couldn’t be… he would be in his thirties now and this youngster was little more than a child. Even worse, he looked like my son’s best friend when we had first known him, almost twenty years ago, not as I had last seen him a couple of years ago, well over six foot tall and as broad as a tank.

Memory is a funny thing. I recalled a recent conversation where we had discussed how the images that we hold in our minds of people we know are not always accurate. Sometimes we picture them from a single moment in time, often the first time we met them. Sometimes we build up a composite picture, snapshots from across the years we have known them, all melded together and occasionally shifting from one angle to the next. Then again, we always look through the eyes of emotion, seeing a face that may reflect more about the true depth and nature of our feelings for that person than what they actually look like.

Memory and emotion are intimately linked. When we look back from the now, we see both events and people through the emotional eyes of the then. Our memory of events will inevitably be skewed, coloured by the emotions of that moment, rather than being the accurate record we think we hold. In many ways, that does not matter; what we remember is true… for us, as whatever we recall is what will have affected us as we moved through that moment and forward into the rest of our lives.

Some of those impressions will change us for the better, teaching us love, happiness, hope and understanding. They are gifts upon which we will build, little by little, for we are made of such fragments of memory, each one adding, as we grow, to the picture of who we will become. Some of them will leave a darker mark and a deeper scar, especially when we are very young, when we are not always equipped with the experience to see beyond the surface and simply react to the emotions.

Take, for example, the very small child who does something to upset his parents. He does not truly understand, only that he has upset them. He may feel he has let them down and disappointed them. His parents may simply be doing their best to teach the child or keep him safe… but the child cannot comprehend the adults’ motives. He only knows he has failed them…and that is what he feels. He feels it too when he knocks a glass of water over at school and the teacher is disappointed in him… That feeling is stored away as memory and becomes one of the most formative moments for him, though his parents may well have forgotten what was to them just a minor incident.

The child grows, always feeling that he can/has/will let his parents down. He does not necessarily remember the incident either, but its effects are carved on his heart. He tries hard, harder… so much so that he almost inevitably ‘fails’ to achieve his goals, in his own eyes at least, though to all others he seems to be doing well. That insecurity, that feeling of never being able to make his parents proud may go on to colour the rest of his life, actions and future relationships… and neither he, nor his parents, will ever know where it came from.

It is a tragedy that is played out in a hundred different forms, through almost all of our lives.

It is not always what we do that matters, but how it makes other people feel. It is that which imprints itself on their memory. Yet we are not responsible for how others interpret our words and actions, that responsibility lies solely with them. For ourselves, we can only act with consideration and thought, letting empathy be our guide. We will not always get it right… and if we did, we would learn nothing, but we can try.

But what to do about all those invisible scars that have formed and created fragile places in our hearts and minds? A trained therapist might take you safely back into the trauma of childhood dealing with the perceived events and the misconceptions that may have arisen. For most of us, that is probably a step too far and rather unnecessary… we are who we have become, based on our experience of life so far. It doesn’t really matter what or where the cause, what matters is to see the patterns that have formed and begin to address those that are having a negative impact on our lives and wellbeing.

One of the ways we begin that journey in the Silent Eye is to break down the human personality into ‘bite-sized’ pieces so that we can learn to understand them, relate to them… and see how, where and if they relate to our own lives.

We do not have to delve into the deep and murky memories that are buried beneath the weight of years. We do not have to reopen painful wounds. We can simply find the effects and work with them until we can see that the bars they have placed around us no longer hold us. We can learn to see them as gifts, for every experience adds to the richness and depth of our personalities and our possibilities of understanding both ourselves and each other. In this way we can free ourselves from old misunderstanding and, like a flower when the shadows of weeds are removed, grow to our full potential with a better knowledge of who we truly are.

 

The Whirlpool

Underlying image by Gordon Johnson on Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear and Love in the High Peak – part one

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

Rites of Passage: Seeing beyond Fear

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

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

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

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

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

Baslow Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Riley Graves

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

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

Stuart… showing how it should be done

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Land of the Heart

This is a self-help exercise I developed recently. I call it ‘Land of the Heart’

It’s an exercise that involves the surrender of the small self that feels so much pain and anguish, especially at a time of national division, such as we have on both sides of the Atlantic, today.

It’s an exercise that addresses that feeling of helplessness that many of us are enduring as we watch our civilisations change. We have been raised in an age that encourages us to take responsibility for things. On a personal level, this is healthy; but when confronted with the kind of societal change we now face, we can become narrow and negatively focussed by thinking we should be making a difference. In truth, we can only make a difference to our selves.

But the power of that should not be underestimated…

This exercise involves packing all those troubles – many of which are imagined, for we are seldom in real pain or danger – into a little mental kitbag and carrying that ‘wrapped’ bag with us into the world – our daily world – in a very special way.

At this stage we don’t surrender those troubles, feelings or anguish; we just keep them wrapped. But we carry in our hearts a conviction that there is somewhere else they belong.

As we set off into our daily world, we think of that little kitbag, perhaps slung over our shoulder like the Tarot card of the Fool.


The Original Rider-Waite Tarot card of The Fool, by Pamela Coleman Smith. Source Wikipedia

The Fool card, with its happy and ‘naive’ figure has different levels of significance. It would take a full blog just to provide an outline of them. It is the first of the Major Aracana of the Tarot and sits on the Tree of Life in a position that links the place of the Crown of consciousness with the place of the first emanation in the act of cosmic creation.

 

For the purpose of our exercise, the naivety of the supposed Fool is important. He has no fear of what lies ‘beneath’ him (or her) in the creation. This is because he IS the unfolding act of creation…

One more thing remains before we can take the walk of the Fool into the Land of the Heart. We need to find an old leaf, or a dead or dying flower… or something similar, that has experienced the glory of life, but is now fading… Its pattern remains, to show us something important; but a higher pattern that imprinted it has departed, to return to its pre-life potency.

Above: Find a leaf, flower or other organic vehicle, now discarded

Our final search is to find (or ask to be show) somewhere of great beauty. We need not be physically there, though that’s wonderful if it is possible. A photo of such a place works well, as does an abstract image. If the first photo in this blog moves you (as it did me) then feel free to have it and hold it.

We now have everything we need to carry out the exercise. In our minds we become the Fool in the Tarot card. Walking forward into our new day. We take the old leaf or flower and hold it in one of our hands, feeling love for the wonder of its life, but knowing that what it really WAS is gone… to become another IS.

Looking at the view or image of the place we have selected, we surrender our small self and the kitbag into the image of the eternal and constantly changing world of which we can only ever have a tiny amount of knowledge.

And then, crushing the remains of the leaf or flower, we return the pieces to the ground, to feed what needs to grow next, thinking of the Fool’s kitbag as we do so.

We have freed ourselves from the contents of the kitbag. We have embraced and surrendered the smallness of our personal self. In so doing we have become a living part of the Land of the Heart.

©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 Creature on the Beach Beyond Thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©Copyright 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.

Three Days of the Oyster-Catcher (Part 7 Final) Face to Face with Macbeth

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It was time to come face to face with the man who may well have inspired Shakespeare’s Macbeth…

We were standing in the car park near Drumin Castle. Dean was using the visitor map of the Glenlivet Estate to describe the day ahead.

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The visitors map of the Glenlivet Estate with our two intended locations highlighted in red

We were to begin by exploring an ancient and little visited stone circle on the nearby slope above the river Livet – The Doune of Dalmore. After this we would cross the river to the nearby ruin of Drumin Castle before driving across the Glenlivet estate to its south-eastern edge to conclude our work on the elements at Scanlan; the home of a secret seminary.

It was expected that we would be able to finish our workshop in time to allow the usual local lunch, together, followed by our departure. Many of us had far to go before we got home on that Sunday. In our case, the journey even to Cumbria was going to take at least six hours.

Both locations for the planned day are marked on the photo of the Glenlivet Estate, above, and have their own maps within the text.

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Glenlivet Estate: our first two locations are shown above. The Ring Cairn and Drumin Castle are described in the text. Map provided by the Glenlivet Estate on their notice board.

The Glenlivet estate comprises 23,000 hectares of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and lies at the northern edge of the Cairngorm National Park, between the northern Ladder Hills and the Cromdale Hills. Two rivers – the Avon and the Livet run through its heart.

The land in Glenlivet is an elevated plateau and is always higher than 200m (600ft). Although remote, and on the edge of some of Britain’s highest mountains, the gentle landscape is easy to access and explore. People have lived and farmed this region since prehistoric times.

From the 1500’s to the early 20th Century, Glenlivet Estate belonged to the Gordon family, who became the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon. Their legacy can be seen throughout the region.

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Crossing the river Livet

First, we had to cross the river Livet and begin the walk through the gentle meadows.

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The hilltop of the Doune of Dalmore can be seen at the far end of the meadow.

It was an easy climb to the Doune of Dalmore. Soon, we were standing at the base of the ancient site.

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The Doune of Dalmore – Stone circle and burial chamber.

The Doune of Dalmore comprises the ancient remains of a ring cairn – a prehistoric burial monument with an open central area – and a stone circle that surrounds it. This type of circle and ring is known locally as a Clava cairn. The cairn is 13m in diameter and 0.7m high. Four of the stones of the surrounding circle are now standing, but some others, which have fallen, lie where they fell.

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The edge of the ring of stones

The day was mild and the weather kind. For the penultimate time, we assembled our ribbons into pentagrams, cornered with our special stones, and gathered in our groups of two to partner in inner vision and notation on the element of alchemical ‘Fire’. Fire is both potent and dangerous. It can work good and bad. Thoughts of the witches on the blasted heath came to mind; and also the essence of what they represented within the Macbeth story: they had no power to compel, merely to dangle before human ambition what ‘might be’.

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In the distance… the home of the Wolf of Badenoch

And then it was time to turn and look across the valley of the Livet river to see our next destination. It was our final day… and we had to be open to conclusions – our own and that of the landscape we had ‘asked’ to teach us. With some trepidation, I looked across the clean, flowing water of the Livet to the ruins of Drumin Castle beyond… Drumin was the home of the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’, known in history as ‘Scotland’s vilest man’…

In the words of Scottish historians, “Scottish history has its fair share of deeply unpleasant characters, but Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, is a strong contender for the title of least pleasant of the lot.”

Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, but more commonly known as the Wolf of Badenoch, and the Celtic Atilla, lived from 1343 to 1394. He was the fourth illegitimate son of the future King Robert II of Scotland and of Elizabeth Mure of Rowallan, but became legitimised in 1349 upon his parents’ marriage. His life is a classic example of an egoic character provided with the means to destroy on a wholesale scale.

The element of Fire had well and truly returned to our presence with the glimpse of the life of this evil man. He systematically abused the power his royal father granted him and was fond of burning towns and sacred buildings to the ground. The town of Forres is an example of the former, the destruction of Elgin Cathedral is the worst example of the latter.

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Drumin Castle as seen from the steep approach by the river Livet – a forbidding aspect….

Shortly after, we descended across the meadows, re-crossed the river Livet and began the climb to the Wolf of Badenoch’s castle – Drumin. Scottish castles are usually compact structures. Drumin is strategically placed – overlooking both the river valley and the confluence of the rivers Livet and Avon (pronounced a’an).

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Nothing is permanent – not even stone walls this thick…

Alexander Stewart died in 1394. He was buried in Dunkeld Cathedral. His tomb is, ironically, one of the few to have survived from Scotland’s Middle Ages. The details of the ‘Wolf’s death’ are unclear, but, as so often happens, the folk legend sheds light on both his life and death.

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Ironically, the Wolf of Badenoch’ tomb is one of the few surviving from the Scottish Middle Ages. Image Source: Undiscovered Scotland

It is said that on the 24th July 1394, a black robed visitor arrived at Ruthven castle and challenged its owner to a game of chess. During the night that followed the castle was battered by a terrible storm, with intense thunder and lightning. In the morning the castle servants were discovered dead outside the castle walls. The Wolf of Badenoch was found dead in the great hall. His body was unmarked…but the nails in his boots had been torn out. This may have been a reference to Christ’s execution – Alexander Stewart’s being the opposite.

There was no sign of the dark stranger… Play ‘chess’ with the devil at your peril…

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The modern garden of Drumin castle provides a place of peace amidst the terrible history

I think Shakespeare would have liked the story. There is no direct proof that Macbeth was based upon Alexander Stewart. Witchcraft was rife at the time of James I (James VI of Scotland) and the King lived in terror of it. Shakespeare based many of his plays on real historical figures. It is reasonable to propose that the Wolf of Badenoch was the fictional twin of the ambitious psychopath who brought such chaos to this part of Scotland.

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The Community Garden – produce available to all…

There was a pleasant end to our visit to to Drumin castle. Part of the garden (see above) has been given over to allow the creation of Glenlivet’s Community Orchard – a place of mutual industry and kindness.

Soon, we were driving across the length of the Glenlivet estate to a place close to its south-east border.

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Our final destination. The location marked “Walk 2” shows Scanlan Seminary

We were headed for the isolation of the Braes of Glenlivet; specifically, The Scanlan, a former and secret Catholic seminary for the training of priests and young men set to become priests.

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Scanlan Seminary – now a quiet and (usually) infrequently visited place…

During the 18th century, ‘The Scanlan’ was the only place in Scotland where young men could be trained to be priests – they were named the ‘heather priests’. During the period 1717 – 1799 over a hundred were trained, despite the persecution by Hanoverian soldiers following the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion. The location of The Scanlan was a closely guarded secret, and the site – at the head of a remote valley – was impossible to see until you were close to it.

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Dean had visited the site of Scalan Seminary several times. He said that, often, he was the only one visiting. He had considered – given its remoteness and usual emptiness – that it would be an ideal basis for us to gather for our final exercise with the ribbon-based pentagrams.

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The Scanlan still has no interior electric. Heating and lighting are as they were in days gone by…

But the ‘witchy fates’ had other ideas. Having made Findhorn beach disappear, and conjured mysterious winds to drag apart our ribbon pentagrams, they pulled off a spectacular strike on the final act in our ‘Macbeth play’.

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How Scanlan used to look. For much of its later life it was a farmhouse, prior to its restoration as an historic museum.

The college played a vital role in keeping the traditional Catholic faith alive in northern Scotland. It’s name derives from the Gaelic word for a hut made of turf pieces – which is how the initial building at Scanlan was constructed.

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A spartan interior…

In 1799, the religious training work of the Scanlan was moved to a less remote site, Aquhorthies College, near Inverurie. In researching this blog, I discovered I had a personal link to the tradition begun at Scanlan. My father’s eldest sister married a Glasgow man of the Catholic faith. The local church were helpful during the upbringing of my seven cousins, whom I used to visit every summer. The eldest son (my cousin) eventually left Glasgow to study to become a priest at Blairs College, in Aberdeen. Eventually, he left the priesthood and became a successful lawyer in Glasgow.

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The most recent building (and now museum) is on the left. The old stone structure on the right replaced the original, secret turf hut. The bend in the stream to the right is the location of an ancient well.

Blairs College had taken over the work of training priests from Aquhorthies College in 1929 and continued this work until 1986. It is, now, also a museum. There was therefore a strong, religious and cultural link between where I was standing at the end of our weekend and my cousin’s life… But I didn’t know at the time.

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The ruin of the second generation Scanlan…

But… the witches, the tricky fates…

No sooner had we arrived ( a twenty minute trek along the land from the car park) than others began to arrive, too. By the time we had taken a quick look at the museum there were upwards of thirty people gathering in a pagoda outside the main door. One glance at the approach track showed there were hundreds more arriving.

It transpired that there was an annual (and well-dressed) pilgrimage to Scanlan… and this was the day…

In deference, we retreated to a point out of sight and over the next small hill, there to lay out our humble pentagrams and perform the last movements that would resolve our work of the weekend, bringing our inner strengths and vision to help dissolve our perceived limitations. All this was focussed on a set of inner symbols that grew into a composite image which we were to take away with us as a lasting focus and token of the work done.

It was beautiful.

By the time we had battled the incoming tide of visitors, and regained the road system, it was five in the afternoon; several hours later than intended. But everyone felt we had enjoyed an excellent weekend among the hills and valleys of this beautiful Scottish landscape.

The oyster-catchers were never far away, and their beautiful calling accompanied our entire weekend.

Our thanks to Dean for the great amount of work that went into planning and realising the three days. We look forward to further Scottish adventures, including “On the trail of the Picts”, our workshop for September 2020.

End.

Other parts in this seriesParagraph

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six,

This is Part Seven

©Copyright 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.Paragraph

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.

Harlequin Solstice

Harlequin Solstice

St John Kin

A picture in the fading sun

A race of fingers, digits

Of Solstice long earned

Short departed

How little

How sadly

You are understood

Your music the struggle

Of madness

Made harmony

Until this moment

When kings detach your strings

When single song

Descends

Towards the dark arms

But brighter eyes

Of St Stephen

©Stephen Tanham