The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes

(Above: The beautifully restored town of Arras in northern France)

We are in northern France, visiting relatives that were only re-discovered three years ago, after an eighty years gap… My paternal grandmother was the youngest sister of an elder brother (also Stephen) who survived the horrors of WW1, married a French girl and eventually settled near Calais.

(Above: North-West France, with Arras highlighted bottom right)

When France was overrun, the Nazis wouldn’t allow Stephen to take his family back to England and, eventually, contact was lost… He escaped arrest because his adopted craft of running a local bakery – which his wife’s family had taught him, was a ‘protected’ occupation and so, apart from being watched, periodically, he was left alone.

His frequent assistance to the Resistance went undetected, or his fate would have been very different…

Today there are two branches of our once-lost family: one in Calais (the Duffys – after my great uncle) and the other in Lille (the Bertaloots) near the Belgian border. For the first few days of our trip, we are staying with the family in Lille. Nearby is the small city of Arras, an ancient Roman town whose last-century history is dominated by the First World War. The damage to the town, and the magnificent reconstruction undertaken by the local people faced with the devastation of their home is the basis and the inspiration for this post.

We; the Tanhams, the Duffys (Stephen’s surname) of Calais and the Berteloots of Lille have become good friends – indicated by the fact that these lovely people have taken two days off work to show us around a couple of the places we asked to see.

(Above: Late January afternoon in Arras)

Returning to WW1, the ‘Battle of Arras’ was fought in May 1917, as a joint operation between general Haig – at odds with his Prime Minster, Lloyd George – and the senior French commander, General Neville. The French forces dominated this part of the war’s front and it was Haig’s job to support them.

The French plans proved over-ambitious and Haig’s forces suffered heavy casualties for little gain, though four divisions of the Canadian army combined to take the important Vimy ridge. The nearby town of Arras was largely destroyed during the shelling.

Following the Armistice in November 1919, hostilities ceased and the battered French citizens set about the huge task of rebuilding their city…

(Above: Arras as it looked after the devastation of WW1. From a photo in the town hall. There was nothing I could do to escape the reflection in the glass!)

I found the photos of the post-war ruins poignant and relevant to current British politics.

Recently, the same people who drove the ‘Brexit’ process turned their backs at the opening session while a dignified European Parliament looked on in disbelief. The same people, still funded by the EU, now want to have London’s Big Ben strike out the chimes of Britain’s official ‘leaving date’ at the end of January in a show of jingoistic pride… one could hardly write a novel to match the recent events, but we would be unwise to consider this fantasy… nightmare, maybe.

For me and people like me, they have created a similar devastation in the minds and hearts of the half of Britain’s population who wished to remain part of the united Europe that emerged from the ashes of blitzed London and shelled Arras.

(Above: a Canadian sculpture representing a country’s sorrow after war)

Fascism is innate in human nature. The school bully is a fascist, recruiting the weak and unthinking to a cause of personal glory which elevates his or her ego above any common cause of progress. By doing this, he finally exists… However, the emotionally settled child, perhaps growing up in a good family, knows that their existence must be balanced with the needs of a wider circle of caring humans.

What is little considered is that the dictator-fascist is only a school bully… and that sustained courage will unseat them.

(Above: the restored town hall of Arras)

Arras emerged from its ashes when its people rejected the devastation bequeathed to them by the madness of privileged ego. Everyone came together to rebuild the town; and the collective consciousness of that town recreated the ‘extravagant gothic’ style of each house and shop, street by street.

(Above: inside the restored town hall of Arras)

A little-known fact is that, from the 17th century, it was obligatory for anyone building a new house in Arras to submit a copy of the plans to the town hall. It was the possession of these plans that enabled Arras to emerge, accurately, from the devastation of the war that exploded like a volcano around it, to reconstruct what it had been… Its past, with all its art and tolerance was documented.

(Above: the mother figure – The female Elder – at the Vimy Ridge monument to WW1 Canadian soldiers. She stares down at her empty womb…)

The process of war via fascism – all war and all fascism – is, for me, perfectly symbolised by the nearby Vimy Ridge monument. This startling sculpture by Canadian artist Walter S. Allward rises high above the ridge-line at Vimy – a place where eleven thousand Canadian soldiers were killed in order for the ridge to be taken back from the Germans.

(Above: the father-figure – the Elder – rakes his skin in anguish)

I intend to write a post dedicated to this moving monument and reveal some of its intricately-wrought emotional detail. For now, here is a glimpse of two of the figures that are revealed when you pass through the anguish of the parents and into the actuality of the war as it happened before their loss…

(Above: the process of war; its participants and victims. The downward facing side of the Vimy Ridge monument – the subject of a future post)

To conclude, let’s go back to the title of the blog: The Sun, the Lion and the Ashes.

(Above: the Lion has always been one half of the story of Arras)
(Above: the sun-symbol of Louis XIV – part of the identity of all the towns in this region of France. This example is from the Vaubon-designed Citadel at Lille)

We can all find ourselves the wrong side of how we think things should be. The views above are my own and do not necessarily represent anyone else in the Silent Eye School. What is important is how we react to the ‘ashes’ of our perceived world. If, like the people of Arras, we have ‘documented’ what be believe to be vital in our world, we will be able to begin again in the new circumstances secure in the knowledge that we brought the best of it with us.

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye school of consciousness, a distance-learning teaching organisation that operates on a not-for-profit basis to help people deepen their life experiences without fluff and with personal supervision. You can find out more about the Silent Eye by clicking here.

Keys of Heaven (10): A Final Resting Place

continued from Part 9

The village of Lastingham, of the southern edge of the North York Moors, was a fitting place to end our weekend – both for its mysterious wells and also on the basis that the crypt of St Mary’s Church marks the final resting place of St Cedd. Following the fateful Synod of Whitby in AD 664, Bishop Cedd returned to his beloved Lastingham, the place where he had founded his originally monastery; but tragically caught the plague and died, bequeathing the care of Lastingham to his brother, Bishop Chad – later St Chad. Chad became bishop of Lichfield shortly thereafter and had to manage his brother’s bequest from afar.

(Above: St Mary’s Church, Lastingham, in all its simple beauty…)

We have to wonder at the irony and sadness of this: first to lose (in the service of his king, Oswiu) the Celtic Christian tradition in which he had been raised since a boy; then to lose his life in one final visit to his beloved Lastingham.

Cedd was buried here, and the place of his burial in AD664 became the ground on which all the layers of the present church were constructed.

(Above: The unusual semi-circular apse of St Mary’s church contains the entire history of the building and its ancient foundations)

St Mary’s church attracts visitors from all over the world. Christian and non-Christian ‘pilgrims’ are welcomed here in a warm spirit of spiritual openness. Though not formally a Christian, I am entirely happy with the scriptural idea of Christ as the ideal and perfected ‘inner man’. I am at home in most temples of the spirit, but seldom have I felt the kind of harmonic energies that are present in St Mary’s.

There is, in the words of one of our companions of the weekend ‘Something very special here…’ And you can feel its presence in the air around you.

(Above: Ancient Celtic designs in the crypt)

The original monastery was wooden, and nothing remains of it. But the present church of St Mary’s is built upon its site, and specifically, upon the original crypt that was constructed over the location of St Cedd’s grave two hundred years after his death. This region (of what was then Northumbria) was a wild place, and lawless – possibly one reason why Cedd devoted so much of his time establishing the original monastery as a spiritual refuge for the local people and their hard lives.

(Above: St Mary’s extraordinary crypt)

After the Synod of 664, the seat of religious power moved south from Lindisfarne to York, though Whitby survived for a while, in the form of the influential Abbey whose abbecy passed from Hild to Eanflæd, the wife of King Oswiu, upon his death. A royal princess and later queen to Oswiu, she brought grace and dedication to the abbey in the town that would later become Whitby.

(Above: the Benedictine Abbey at Whitby)

But, the age of the Vikings was upon the land and the northern Saxon kingdoms were eventually overrun. Little is known of life here during that period and the former monastery was left to decay.

Over four hundred years later, in 1078, Stephen, abbot of the recently rebuilt monastery at Whitby, obtained permission from no less a person than William the Conqueror to take a team of skilled monks to restore the monastery at Lastingham as a Benedictine house.

Stephen designed the crypt we see today and built it over the place where Cedd had been buried. Above this crypt he began to build a new abbey church, but work was abandoned in 1088 when Stephen and his monks moved from Whitby to the all-powerful York; there to build St Mary’s Abbey… This may have been due to the increasing lawlessness of life within the hills making things impossible for the monks.

The Lastingham Crypt deserves a post in itself, but our story of the Keys of Heaven weekend (now ten posts) has to be brought to a close.

There was a communion service on that Sunday morning. We took care to arrive after it had finished, but I hoped we would be able to meet one or two of the local team. Historic places are fascinating, but the ‘now’ contains some miracles, too. As we pushed open the heavy oak door, one of the church wardens greeted us and we were welcomed into the ‘coffee area’ of the church and urged to join the larger than expected residual group of parishioners.

(Above: The main floor of St Mary’s interior – above the crypt, but the shape of the apse walls reveals the upwards continuity of the structure)

This was my third visit to St Mary’s. The main floor of the building is special in its own right, but I knew the ‘attracting power’ of what lay beneath. Most of our companions drank their coffees then melted quietly away down the stone staircase and into the crypt. But, by that time, as leader of our group, I had not only been given ample coffee and biscuits, but introduced to a cleric in a splendid set of robes… somewhat grander than I had expected for a small village.

Bishop Godfrey is well known throughout the North York area. He has served the Christian cause all his life and is now part-retired with a special attachment to Lastingham; a place in which he feels very much at home. He asked about our group and I was honest about our affiliations and goals. He seemed delighted with our attempts at local scholarship and offered to solve my one remaining problem of the weekend…

(Above: the kindly Bishop Godfrey with Briony, one of our companions of the weekend)

Ten minutes later, happy to pose for a photo as long as someone else was in it, Bishop Godfrey waved us with his blessing down into Lastingham’s very special crypt – the final resting place of St Cedd. As I walked down the stone steps I couldn’t help but feel just a little ‘blessed’ as we finally entered the place where the mortal remains of another very special bishop were interred.

(Above: a peaceful figure in meditation…)

Most of the group had already found their bearings, and were quietly exploring the beautiful crypt. But, one figure sat in the middle of a stone pew locked in total inner and outer silence. His back was to us, and he later described how the crypt had both embraced and entranced him… exactly the effect it had always had on me.

(Above: the vaults of the crypt are filled with priceless history)

The meeting with Bishop Godfrey had made me late into the crypt and we had two important things to do. With an inner certainty, I knew that this visit was for my companions. I had done my part in bringing them here and the magical place was doing the rest. Snapping a few photographs to supplement the ones I had taken in October, I sat quietly, giving thanks that the weekend had gone well; and that we had largely achieved what we set out to do.

(Above: just across from the church – the Blacksmiths Arms)

I could see that the group were tired and in need of some lunch. Across the road from the church is the Blacksmith’s Arms, a lovely and traditional Yorkshire pub with a fine Sunday lunch menu. There are no ‘facilities’ in St Mary’s church, but Bishop Godfrey and the landlord have reached an amicable agreement. The pub displays a sign saying that those attending or visiting the church may use the pub toilets but are asked to leave a donation towards the upkeep of the church. The bishop had smiled as he told us of the monthly cheque the landlord brought him…

The lunch was wonderful… An hour later, with the afternoon upon us and time running out, we set out on the last trek – a last walk around the village to visit Lastingham’s celebrated wells.

(Above: the first well is on private property)

Space does not permit too much description, but, briefly, there are four of them. Two are set into the walls of local properties and one is in the garden of a private house near the church. None of these are currently flowing… but the fourth one – St Mary Magdelene’s well – is. The problem is that it’s well outside the village and very hard to locate. On our recce trip in October, Bernie and I had failed to discover its location, despite directions from the Blacksmith Pub’s landlord.

(Above: St Cedd’s well)

But now I was miraculously equipped with the more precise instructions from Bishop Godfrey and I could feel the ‘cogs of happenstance’ aligning.

(Above: St Cadmon’s well)

I explained to our companions that we had the chance to discover St Mary’s well in a very real way. We drove to a where the place where I had given up looking in October and I pointed out the sloping bank to which Bishop Godfrey had directed us.

(Above: Finally found! St Mary Magdalene’s well)

Within seconds, Gary – the figure in a peaceful trance in the crypt – had found it…

We stood around it in an arc and I explained the final purpose of the small empty jars given out to everyone on our opening trip to the beach, so long ago on the late Friday afternoon.

St Mary’s well is a small arch of stonework set into a stream-filled bank that leads down to the small river that flows through Lastingham. And now, as the only person with wellingtons, I needed to fill each of the jars. The only way to do it was to stretch my legs over the small valley of the spring and lean towards the stone arch, reaching down (thank you, Pilates) to fill each jar. I could hear the mental bets being taken that I would end up in the water, but reached the last jar still vertical, albeit locked into the muddy banks on either side…

(Now to try to fill the small jars…)

A set of friendly hands were outstretched in case I lost my footing, but, with one last push and the weekend’s second sound of a mired boot breaking free, I managed to reunite my legs and scramble away from the water and mud. Everyone now had a Christmas candle and a small jar of very rare St Mary’s well water to take away.

Moments later, with jars tucked safely into travel bags, we hugged and said our goodbyes. The Keys of Heaven workshop was over; and it had been a success. In silence, I drove back to Runswick Bay to collect Bernie for our promised beach walk for Tess and our extra night in the location to unwind.

Later, we would walk through the darkness to the Cod and Lobster and reflect on the weekend. But that is where our story began…

End of Series

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine This is Part Ten, the final part.

©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.

Keys of Heaven (9): blown down the mountain

The welcoming warmth of the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge

continued from Part 8

My companions of the Silent Eye’s ‘Keys of Heaven’ weekend were waiting when I arrived at the Lion Inn. We had coffee and biscuits and discussed the options for our last day of the workshop. Everyone was looking forward to the visit to the celebrated St Mary’s church at Lastingham – the final resting place of St Cedd.

The coffee before the storm…

There was a group excitement; a buzz. Human nature responds to being ‘on top of things’ in both a physical and metaphorical sense. We had all managed to find the Lion Inn – it’s not trivial! We were at the highest point in the North York National Park, but we weren’t here just for coffee and the views. We planned to take advantage of the rich history to be found in the immediate area of the Inn, which, although completely isolated, has a site that has been occupied for hundreds of years; and contains archeology that is thousands of years old.

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(Above) Top of the world…

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

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

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

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

The story of the inn on Blakey Moor dates back to the 16th century. During the reign of King Edward III a house and ten acres of land on Farndale Moor were given to the Order of Crouched Friars, who had been unable to find a home in York.. It is thought that the friars founded the Inn around 1554 to lighten their poverty. Friar Inns are common enough in all parts of the country – Scarborough has two. Since that time there has always been an inn here.

We were fortunate that two of the most significant historic sites are adjacent to the inn. All we had to do was take the short walk from the Inn’s door.

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(Above) The Neolithic Burial mound of Loose Howe is next to the Lion Inn

The grave at Loose Howe (above) is a short scramble up a hillock to the east of the inn. It can be seen from the windows in the bar. Here, a Bronze Age chieftain was interred in a boat-like oak coffin: armed, clothed and equipped for his voyage.

Cockpit Howe is a Neolithic burial mound just behind the inn, facing the Ferndale valley, below.

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(above) Cockpit Howe

The ancient Waymarks – standing stones and stone crosses – known as ‘Fat Betty’ and the Ralph Crosses (previous post) bear witness to the continuous tradition of passage over this pinnacle of the North York moors. The earliest history of these markers remains a mystery.

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We had a plan. Our destinations were all within a few hundred metres of the Inn – two of them much closer. The above photos (taken during our recce trip in October) show how simple it should have been…

But…

What really happened, when we stepped out of the Lion Inn on that freezing December Sunday, was this:

Loose Howe stands about twenty metres taller than the Lion Inn. By the time we had climbed half that height the winds were making it difficult to walk forward. By the time we reached the mound itself, we had to huddle or grasp the stone to stay upright.

The expressions and body language are all the narrative needed. Photo by Gary Vasey
Loose Howe – moving safely was a two-person job! The intense wind was literally tearing at our clothes.

It was no better down behind the Inn at Cockpit Howe. If anything, it was worse. The wind was so strong that it was becoming dangerous.

Even strong figures like Gary struggled to stay upright…

By the time we got to the third site, a marker stone a hundred metres down the Blakey Ridge road, only a handful of us were still able stand against the ferocious winds. We knew when to give up.

Only four of us made the final leg along the Blakey Road to the last standing stone…

My success crossing the bog, earlier in the morning, seemed a long time ago…. The winter had won. Our only choice was to abandon the peak at Blakey Moor and escape down the mountain, earlier than planned… However, wildness has its attractions and no-one seemed unhappy with the experience!

But fate and circumstance have a habit of ringing the changes… and continuing to do so. We retreated to the warmth and safety of the cars and, once warm again, drove – slowly – down to Lastingham,

Where the magic was waiting…

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight This is Part Nine

To be continued…

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.

Keys of Heaven (7): the path to gentle darkness

The tiny fishing village of Staithes is a place of peaceful beauty. It lies part way between Whitby and Saltburn on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s geography is also one of the few breaks in the vast cliffs that define this region; and which are the main source of the famous Whitby Jet semi-precious stone.

(Above) Whitby Abbey to Staithes along the Cleveland Way. Image Google Maps

Staithes was our destination… and I was taking a calculated risk in order to give us a dramatic contrast to the morning. The visit to the Abbey – to recreate in our own minds the seismic events of AD664 – had been intense. At the conclusion of the synod, Bishop Colman had known that his world was over; that the new age of Christianity would follow the Roman church model. He took his followers and walked out of the Abbey, northwards.

(Above) Whitby Museum – full of ghosts…

We can never know the emotion that flowed between Bishop Colman, King Oswiu (who was, until that point, a Celtic Christian) and the two facilitators of the synod, Bishop Cedd and Abbess Hild, but we can know that it did exist, and that as wise and experienced a king as Oswiu would not have acted without being aware of the consequences – including the impact on the holy island of Lindisfarne…

Symbolically, the group of us walking against the keen winds on the cliffs beyond Port Mulgrave had as little a choice as had Bishop Colman, walking away from Whitby – but our predicament was brief – whereas his changed the rest of his life.

We had been dropped off a Mulgrave… our only refuge would be to get to Staithes. Our risk was not great. The weather has been kind: windy but not too cold. December on the high Cleveland Way can be very different…

(Above) The sun begins to set on the Cleveland Way, which follows the edge of the cliffs from Whitby, north to Saltburn

Development of the Cleveland Way began in the 1930s when the Teesside Ramblers’ Association pressed for the creation of a long distance path in the north-east of Yorkshire linking existing paths along the boundaries of the North York Moors and footpaths on the Yorkshire coast.

(Above) The Cleveland Way: over one hundred miles of wild beauty from Helmsley to Filey (source)

A formal proposal to create the route was submitted in 1953 to the council North Riding of Yorkshire, by the National Parks Commission. In 1969, the path was finally opened – only the second of its kind in the UK.

Our problem was not the cold. It was the light. The path was muddier than we had expected and progress towards Staithes was slow. At an open place where the views of the coast fell away on either side, we stopped for our final exercise of the day. Once again, we revisited the sequence of four words we had each selected at the opening meal. By now, we knew each ‘pointed’ to a process whereby we could bring to consciousness one related set of psychological obstacles to our spiritual growth. Mine was:

Flattery – Pride – Humility – Will

Facing the wind off the sea, we each voiced how our words could be seen as one of the keys of inner transformation.

With the light beginning to fade, we came down from the cliff path and onto the flat agricultural land that borders the upper village of Staithes.

(Above) The high cliffs from which we had descended to get to the fishing village of Staithes

Below us, the lights of Staithes were twinkling.

A ‘staithe’ is an old English word meaning ‘landing place’. The plural name “Staithes” of the fishing port is due to its twin ‘landing places’; one on each side of the stream that flows down from the moor and into the sea- named Roxy Beck.

(Above) Staithes’ twin ‘landing stages’.

Staithes was once one of the largest fishing ports on the north-east coast. It was also an important source of minerals such as jet, iron, alum and potash. These days, the huddle of cottages nestled between towering cliffs is an attractive holiday destination and lies within the North York Moors National Park.

The village is famous as a source of inspiration for artists, in particular the impressionist artist colony known as the Staithes Group, among them Laura and Harold Knight. The quality of light and the variety of perspectives offered by cliff-top views and winding paths have made Staithes a magnet for artists.

(Above) The timeless image of Staithes’ harbour front

The risk had been worth it. We arrived at our destination just as a gentle darkness fell. We had picked the Cod and Lobster tavern on the main quayside as a meeting point. Those who had been unable to make the walk met us there. After the intensity of the day, we needed simple refreshment. Tomorrow would be a challenging day.

(Above) The Cod and Lobster – our final destination for Saturday

To be continued…

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six This is Part Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can barely grasp the solemnity of that occasion.

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

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

You never know when you’ll need them…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Above: Christmas carol singers near the swing bridge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other parts in this series of posts: Part One Part Two Part Three This is Part Four

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Cycles of Light (2) – Wheels of Fortune

In Part One, we examined the days of our week and the planets after which they are named:

Sunday – Sun’s day

Monday – Moon’s day

Tuesday – Mars’ day

Wednesday – Mercury’s Day

Thursday – Jupiter’s Day

Friday – Venus’ Day

Saturday – Saturn’s Day

And back to Sunday

The civilisation we know as Mesopotamia gave us (via the Romans) the week, and named each day in a specific order of celestial influence. The focus of these ancient astronomers, in what became Persia – modern day Iraq, was on how Life on Earth was affected by the seven most important celestial bodies. Five of these were ‘the wanderers – true plants; the other two: sun and moon, were ‘luminaries’ – light-bearers.

They reasoned that the faster a (true) planet moved across the sky, the closer it was to the Earth. Using this as a basis, they classified all of what we could now call the ancient, visible plants and included the Sun and Moon. They arrived at another sequence of the seven celestial bodies.

This was: Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn

The two sequences are related by a figure from the world of sacred geometry and we will examine it in a later post.

We need to ask the question: Why were the planets so important to the priest-astrologers of Mesopotamia that they named all present and future time in recurring cycles of seven?

The human mind, guided by scientific thinking, is masterly at shutting off wonder. The emotions of longing and belonging generated by the cycles of the night sky are largely lost to the modern western mind – and yet what they are based on is now acutely observable with the aid of modern astronomy. What we’ve lost is the intimate sense that when we study the night sky we are studying ourselves. 

For these ancients, there was an immediate and intimate connection and correspondence between the patterns in the night sky and life ‘below’.

The importance of the number seven in this context is related to the Mesopotamians’ use of a 28 day cycle, which they divided into the four phases of the moon. The lunar month was observed to be 28 days, divided into four major states: new, waxing, full and waning. The week of seven days was the result. The symmetry confirmed itself in that there were seven objects in the night sky that behaved differently to the general backdrop of the star constellations.

The ancients knew that the 28 days cycle was only an approximation, (it is really 29.5 days ) but it yielded an enduring mapping of time that is still with us today – and so embedded in our lives that it may never be changed. We still have leap-years, of course… to bring things back into true alignment.

This seven-day structure is seen by many scholars as the mythical basis of the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. God created the world in the week of seven days; six days of work and one of rest.

So, we have the effective creation of the concept of ‘universal’ time, defined by the Moon, within which each of the days had a ‘nature’. This nature corresponds closely with what we might view as the ‘good fortune’ (or otherwise) of the specific day… or as we shall see, the divisions thereof.

The derivation and implications of these natures of fortune will be discussed in the next of these posts.

©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.

Cycles of Light (1)

Have you ever considered how strange our week is?

By this, I mean we get to the end of its seven days and fall off into an infinity of named celestial objects like Gemmda5, Godiano554, Artuix Sunburst and on, and on, and on…

But no, we don’t… I made them up. Instead, we look out at the cosmos and name (in various languages) our periods of wakefulness after seven of the ‘ancient planets’, which repeat, infinitely. Our whole universe is patterned with a plate of rotating flavours from which we (subjectively) transmit the qualities of one-seventh of our lives.

We have:

Sun – day (easy enough, even in English)

Mon – day (Moon’s day. In French, which is very helpful in this regard – Lundi, after La Lune – the Moon)

Tues – day (English not much help, but French comes to our rescue: Mardi – Mars Day)

Wednes – day (French is Mercredi which sounds a lot like Mercury)

Thurs – day (Thor’s day, possibly… not much help. French gives us Jeudi, which hints at Jupiter)

Fri -day (French: Vendredi, clearly Venus)

Satur – day (Simply Saturn’s day)

And then, back to Sunday

So, we name our days as: Sunday – Sun’s day; Monday – Moon’s day; Tuesday – Mars’ day; Wednesday – Mercury’s Day; Thursday – Jupiter’s Day; Friday – Venus’ Day; Saturday – Saturn’s Day)

Do we simply have an anachronism – a naming convention for the days of a repeating week based upon an ancient view of our solar system – including the ‘solar’ in our solar system? You might think we would have replaced them with something like the European SI units: OneDay, TwoDay, ThreeDay and so forth, ending at SevenDay.

Or is there something deeper?

Do these planets link us with something so real in our existence, that they – or what they represent – deserve to cycle within our lives every ‘week’.

In this series of posts, we will examine whether this ancient cycle of Sun – Moon – Mars – Mercury – Jupiter – Venus – Saturn – Sun – Moon really links us with the forces in our solar system, or whether the connections are more subtle; and therefore, potentially, more powerful.

And why seven? Who said there should be seven days in our week? Why not, for example, twelve?

To being this journey of discovery, we need to consider the importance of ‘seven’ and the science in which the qualities of these seven ancient presences (the original planets) were first studied.

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Divide and be Conquered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In that there is a great key to our lives.

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

©Stephen Tanham

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

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

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

Standing on Plastic (1): eco-bricks and suburbia

(Above: Standing on a nearly ready EcoBrick)

I’m standing on a plastic bottle, and, for once, I’m not trying to crush it for disposal so that it won’t fill up the bin–or even the recycling box. What I’m doing is testing it for weight-bearing density.

My bottle, which used to contain four pints of milk, is jam-packed with thin pieces of cut-up plastic, such as wrappers, carrier bags, the outer layers of couriered online-order packages… and a thousand other things for which plastic is essential…

But, such plastic in the wrong place is, as we’re all realising, deadly.

Many, larger-scale plastics are recyclable and so can be put into local centres. This milk bottle is, too. But this blog is not about the bottle, it’s about the bottle as container for the compressed contents – three weeks’ worth of non-recyclable plastic wrappings.

Most of our packaging and food wrapping materials – such as those used for toffee and chocolate – are not recyclable. Singly, each of these feels small – almost not worth worrying about. But start to collect them to fill a plastic bottle and you’ll be surprised how quickly they accumulate.

Sadly, being light, they are most likely to find themselves loose in the landscape, and then the oceans, where, as we now know, they become part of the marine life food chain and eventually enter our children’s brains… Soon, all our brains, and others part of our bodies, will be directly polluted by micro-plastic. No-one knows what the long term effects will be; but we know they will be harmful… possible even fatal to our species. You can’t take an antibiotic for plastic poisoning.

Plastic is a new material in the history of life on Earth. Our slowly evolved natural defences are good at dealing with molecular structures that have been around a long time. Plastic hasn’t… it’s a complex set of molecules derived from oil and it’s new to our biological defences.

(Above: Take a wooden ‘plunger’…)

The bottle I’m standing on is an ‘EcoBrick’, a term invented by the South American creator of the device – Susanna Heisse. Horrified at the level of plastic waste around her home near Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. She came up with the idea of using plastic bottles stuffed with non-recyclable other plastic as a building material.

The EcoBricks have to be clean and filled with clean, non-organic material. Once sealed, organic waste would generate methane gas, which could explode the ‘brick’. In addition, EcoBricks need to be stuffed so that an adult could stand on them without deformation to the repurposed bottle, as in my picture.

It’s important to use some brightly coloured plastic at the bottom of the stuffed bottle, because that lets the base of the brick be identified if one construction project comes to an end and, say, a wall has to be demolished and reused.

Once these conditions are met the bricks are used either horizontally as true brick substitutes, or vertically for cavity insulation – which they are very suited to. But this is a technology in its infancy…

Initially, Susanna Heisse built a simple wall, layering the stuffed bottles horizontally, with mud-based mortar on top of each layer. The local community picked up the idea and many similarly poor regions of the world began to investigate the potential for using EcoBricks as building materials.

(Above: and compress it as hard as you can)

But what about families in western suburbia? Are we really likely to have local projects to which we can contribute our efforts?

There are several dimensions to the problem of plastic disposal. The fundamental one is that our societies have fostered an attitude of ‘someone else can deal with this problem better than I can’. That, alone, produces an approach where its someone else’s problem. We could argue that in a society that was functioning for the good of all we could expect this, but the big drawback is it takes us – our shared consciousness – away from the problem – from the cutting edge of why our world is filling up with waste plastic…

Equally significantly, our trust that the ‘commercial’ disposal of our plastic waste will be carried out with care for the environment can be misplaced. As the headlines have shown us, small bits of ‘rubbish’ become part of larger batches commercially sold on. Many of them become part of a huge load dropped onto the open pit of a cargo ship; and then…

Do these end up somewhere that is sensitive to the wishes of those of us who recycled them at the local unit? How many of us would bet on this? Very few, I suspect. We are content with the ‘should have been’ situation that removes us from the problem; someone’s else’s problem.

Only now it doesn’t. Now, the plastic is coming back into the food chain and it is the problem of our developing children…

Sadly, I have to report that I can find nowhere local to take my EcoBricks… I will continue looking, but this has prompted other, and deeper, deliberations.

I may simply have not looked hard enough, but I think we may be missing the point. EcoBricks were developed in a poor part of South America. The greatest take-up has been in countries like South Africa, where projects in poverty-stricken townships have used musical carnivals to be the centre of clean up and restore projects involving them. The difference between them and, say the UK, is that they need to do it…

Will this stop me making my EcoBricks? No…

Every time I roll that washed chocolate wrapper, or cut-up sections of an old plastic bag to stuff them in the latest bottle, I know I’m doing something important… and that’s not just the act of packing the EcoBrick. The important part is the consciousness of the waste, and the determination that we in the prosperous west should be bringing local technology to all of this. I want to own this problem and fix it!

Remember the ‘Back to the Future’ films?

The bit where the time-travelling car needed refuelling and the professor hunted around the street for some rubbish, tipping it into the hyper-recycling unit, before hitting 88 miles per hour and saving the day…

We don’t have skateboarding Martys… or do we? To our children and their children the tyrants who stood in the way of solving these problems will be held up as examples of a (literally) dying age.

So, I’ll go on making my EcoBricks. It will keep me focussed on the need for a solution. Maybe a future government will create a working ‘corridor’ to the needy parts of the world. More likely, some engineering genius will develop a home machine that ‘bakes’ plastic into a universal raw material.

And who knows, when the PortaFusion Recycler Mark I comes along, I might still be here, with my garage full of plastic bricks, at the front of the queue. I hope to see you there…

In the meantime, I’ll keep researching and writing up that search. Please contribute here or on Carol’s blog from the Retired? No one told me! website.

Some useful links about EcoBricks. Warning, some may be commercial:

The GEA, Global Ecobrick Alliance – https://www.ecobricks.org/circular/

Ecotricity: https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/news/news-archive/2019/what-is-an-ecobrick

Earthship Biotecture: https://www.earthshipglobal.com/

UK Facebook Page for EcoBricks UK: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ecobricksUK/

©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.