‘I have gathered myself together,
Like the beautiful Hawk of Gold.
Ra enters in
Day by Day
To hear my words.’
The red kites are teasing me again, circling low over the garden… until I grab the camera, disappearing in their typical fashion as soon as the lens is pointed skywards. They were at it all morning, yet all I managed was a blurry pic and a handful of distant dots in the sky as usual.
I love those birds and cherish an ambition to get a really good photograph of the great birds in flight, one of these days. I can get a clear picture when they have landed, but in flight it always seems that I click the shutter when they are head down, or in odd positions where it is difficult to see their majesty, or a blurred one eye to eye. The birds seem to smile at my naivety.
It reminds me of the incident with the feathers. When we first began following the kites all over Buckinghamshire, it seemed that everywhere we went there were feathers of every conceivable colour. I kept picking them up. Stuart shook his head every time I took anything out of my bag, as clouds of the things fell out, the interior of the car began to look as if someone had been pillow fighting and I had feathers of every variety… except kite.
Then, on one exceptionally hot day, we climbed our first real hill and walked miles in the heat. It was right at the beginning of the adventures that led to the writing of The Initiate and we barely knew what we were getting into at that point. It was, looking back, the first real physical effort we had put into our quest too. We walked up through ancient earthworks, seeking the path with dowsing rods and really getting a feel for the landscape. I remember Stuart talking about the sacrifice of energy required to climb the hills as part of the ‘contract’ with the heart of the land…. and then a red kite flew out of the sun.
We walked on, awed, in the searing heat… waterless as usual… climbing ever higher and following the ancient path of the Ridgeway, until I caught sight of something. I bent to pick it up… a whole bunch of kite feathers, plucked, it seemed, from the breast and shimmering with unexpected iridescence. We felt then that we had been accepted for the quest. If that sounds odd, it must be remembered that we had learned to trust and follow the birds, heeding the lessons in their flight, so it felt ‘right’ in ways I probably can’t explain. That afternoon unfolded with magic as we began to understand where and how we were being led.
I came home that night and proudly displayed the feathers on the table. And because I left them there, the dog ate them. So, I was gifted a lesson in non-attachment too… and a reminder that a gift once given must be cherished and cared for; take it for granted and all you have is a memory.
So, although I still try for that perfect picture, it still eludes me and it feels as if the denizens of the sky are laughing gently. The elusiveness of the kites holds another lesson too, for some things are simply too big to fit inside a camera or to frame within the terms of the physical world. They are gifts of the moment to be treasured. Sure, I might get a good picture… but the great birds are more than just beauty and aerial grace; to watch them fly is to watch the spirit of the air and the feeling that brings is one of awe; something I don’t think any photograph could capture. They evoke a feeling I can only call love and it seems I can watch to my heart’s content, accepting the gift and grace of their presence, as long as I do not attempt to pin down their grace and essence… which is exactly how love should be.
Yet there is an acknowledgement, a reciprocal amusement, it seems, where I still try and they indulgently tease; a daily reminder that both spirit and love exist in freedom and their gift is there to be known, accepted in all simplicity, for as soon as you try to hold them, they lose something and are changed. You can only accept the gift and the grace when it is given… and cherish it.
If I get that ‘perfect’ photo one day, it will not be when I try to take it, but when it is given. All I can do is be open to the gifts of the day…
17-19 April 2020
A Living Lore Workshop.
Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
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I was talking with my son about the way life works out. The daily round of events and occurrences great and small that seem to be scattered, like pieces of broken glass, across the table of time. Some events hit your life with all the destructive power of a truck at full speed. Caught in the emotions of the moment it is hard to see beyond the pain, the fear, or the grief. Some are joyous rays of light casting bright pools of colour in the shadows. Most are the simple small-doings of everyday.
Taken individually, like pieces of a puzzle, they can be difficult to interpret… a patch of featureless blue or indistinct green may be hard to place within the image… especially if you don’t know what the picture is to begin with. Yet with a little patience, the pieces can begin to fit together. A detail here, a match there, and you begin to see the sense in the colours, to get an inkling of what the picture may be.
I am reminded of this when I am wandering around the old churches with their beautiful stained glass. Look too closely and they are just fragments of colour, odd shapes and sizes with little meaning. Stand back a little and the picture becomes clear. You can see how the seemingly random shards have been pieced together by a master hand to produce a glowing jewel of an image.
Some windows are simple; easy to read, as the images are those we readily recognise from life. A face, a form, a creature or landscape. Others are abstract and require closer attention and more thought before the design becomes clear.
In some places, I see where fragments of glass have been salvaged from the destruction of history. There is no knowing what the original image may have been, yet the shards have been lovingly collected and fashioned into something new… different from the original design, but having a beauty all of its own when the light shines through.
All the fragments have their place. We may not always see the bigger picture to know where they are supposed to fit, especially when we are concentrating too closely on the details. They may seem as though they will never make sense, or even as if they do not fit our design at all. Sometimes it seems things need to be broken apart so, as a friend put it, the light can shine through. Even the most glorious window, after all, is colourless in the dark. It is only with the light that the beauty becomes visible. The fragments of glass may make the picture, but only the light behind it gives it life.
Our own lives are so much like these fragmentary shards, a jumble of bright and dark as we immerse ourselves in them, dwelling on the details and getting so close we have no hope of seeing what the picture holds. If we stand back a little we may get a better idea, seeing the traced design running through our days.
When you are lost in the events it is hard to make sense of them, but looking back you can sometimes see how all the pieces, light and dark, have their place and time, taking on a rhythm and a purpose, building up the picture that is our own becoming.
One of the things that have struck home over the past few years, wandering around the churches of Britain, is just how much we learn and understand from stories and images. The record held in these ancient places goes back over a thousand years, with artefacts much, much older preserved in many of them. And these are not random old buildings, but all aligned with a single tradition, a single faith, a single story that the builders, artisans and holders of the lore saw as paramount.
Painted walls, carved stone and wood, stained glass… these were marvels of media that recounted the biblical story for all with eyes to see. At a time when books were hand-drawn and precious, the masses untutored, unable to read or follow the Latin of the service, these images were the key to understanding. In many churches there are older, pre-Christian artefacts. Were they a remnant of the desire to convert almost through stealth or a genuine acknowledgement of the sacredness of the older pagan faith? That is not impossible given Pope Gregory’s instructions to Mellitus in the 6th century Mission, “Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” The whole letter is revealing.
It is fascinating to see how the emphasis of the story has evolved and shifted to suit the needs of the prevalent authorities, secular and religious, and how thought has been subtly directed. Many of the oldest churches, particularly in areas where Celtic Christianity was prevalent, seem to focus simply on a gentle faith not dissimilar to some of the older tales, and we can trace many of the early stories of the saints back to pre-Christian deities, adopted and absorbed into the new story. Then comes the hellfire and brimstone, later still the break from Rome followed by the Puritanical obliteration of imagery in many places. Yet another thread winds through as the local barons and lords endow churches in a display of political power and wealth, matched in kind but surpassed in magnificence by the lords of the Church with the great cathedrals and abbeys. No matter who ruled the land, it was easy to see where the balance of true power resided.
Yet away from the seat of power was the guy in the street… the you and me… and in spite of a constant bombardment of imagery quietly shaping thought, behaviour and morality, mankind has always had both imagination and questions. There have always been those who do not conform and who, while paying lip service to social necessity, have walked their own inner path of interpretation and discovery. While entry to the clergy was for many a true dedication of service to their God, there must have been many too for whom it was more a career move at a time when such choices were limited. The stories of many minds are preserved in the old churches and not all seem to hold to what would have been the prescribed line.
A language of symbolism evolved, one that would have been readily readable long ago but which we have lost the habit of reading in the same way we have lost the old languages. Yet it doesn’t take much to begin delving behind the appearances to the inner meaning, for symbols bypass the processes of the surface mind and speak to something deeper, a more archaic and instinctive level of understanding less coloured by the times in which we live. Many can be universally understood, some belong to a specific tradition… on the surface at least… but can be interpreted from the human perspective of emotions or from the viewpoint of the spiritual journey. While stories once widely known may have faded, and traditions are lost in the dust-covered recesses of history, it takes little to begin to glean the meaning behind them from the images that survive.
Few of us now know the old legends of the pelican, for instance, but this common symbol can be readily understood in Christian terms simply by looking at the picture of the great bird restoring its young through her blood. Even traditional colours and geometrical shapes hold meaning, like the trifoliate leaves for the Trinity for example, and a little thought opens many possibilities to explore. Very quickly you begin to see that no part of the story written in images… or any story for that matter… stands alone, and there are many possible layers of meaning.
What we read in these ancient symbols is less a reflection of the symbol itself than it is of the knowledge and understanding we bring to them and our openness to new ideas and interpretations. What the artist or the patron who commissioned any work intended should be encoded there may not be what we see… or not all that we see… as our own minds bring their own meaning. I have often wondered about some of the stranger symbols we have found whilst visiting these places to write The Initiate and its sequels… symbols that seem surreal or out of place within the churches. Maybe they were simply a bit of humour, or artistic licence… perhaps they hold the thoughts of another questioning mind touched across the centuries or maybe they were designed to be so surreal we would have to take notice and start thinking instead of blindly accepting.
Whatever the case, we have found without doubt that there are more stories written in these ancient buildings than the laity would have ever seen or understood and few today do more than marvel at their beauty or antiquity. Yet the stories follow common themes, and the closer you look the more obvious it becomes that there is little difference except detail in these stories, through time and space mankind asks the same questions, seeks the same understanding, we simply do so from different starting points and in different clothes. Not just in our little churches, but in the ancient temples the world over, in fairytales and rhymes, in the stones and the very land itself, stories wait to unfold their mysteries, their revelations and their complex simplicity to anyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear.
Poised to write, I leafed through the notes scrawled on my pad. I remembered the conversation and context… it was worth writing about. Given the sketchy nature of what I had written, it was a minute or two before I recalled that I had already done so. It isn’t the first time that has happened. I turned the page, skimming through scribbles meant to be informative reminders, but whose meaning evades me. Which bones at Newbury?
Odd phrases jump off the page. “Atoms on the body of God, unable to see, not noticed when sloughed…” That sounds like a conversation with my son. “Steal standing stone.” That was for But ‘n’ Ben. “Castigated as outlandish and irrelevant in their time, raised to beatitude when dead. Their beliefs can no longer be questioned…” Each scribbled phrase a reminder of a conversation, condensed into a few words that convey both much and little.
Some I remember better than others. “Systems are two-dimensional, experience is three-dimensional.” By extension, gnosis, that indefinable grace that comes through no logical channel, could be said to be four-dimensional. It had made perfect sense at the time. Any system of teaching, no matter how beautiful, is of itself, flat. No more than transmitted knowledge. It is not until someone works with a system, experiencing it, that it takes on depth and meaning. It comes to life for them, as a seed comes into bloom with all its colour and perfume. Yet without the seed there would be no flower. Knowledge can be shared, but understanding has to grow and it can only do so through experience.
Then “no problem with memory, just retrieval” seemed rather too appropriate. That was another conversation with my son, but if ever I needed an illustration of what we had been talking about, this was it.
The scribbles in the notebook are just snippets of conversations that lasted hours. An odd phrase that stuck in the mind that was written down later… notes on works in progress… isolated ideas that made it to the page. Yet without the context of the conversation, they relay but the tiniest fraction of what was said and often seem to make little sense. For a while, that bothered me. These were conversations that lit up the mind and sent it spinning down unexplored pathways… and I’d lost them!
Or had I?
Without the step by step volley of ideas, it might be difficult to pin down exactly what we had been talking about and how we arrived at those realisations. It might be hard to put them into meaningful words… the details may fade…but the essence of the experience remains.
Somewhere in the vaults of the mind, every moment is neatly filed away. We could not handle so much detail on the surface of memory. Only those things we need to remember remain at the most immediately accessible level, the rest is buried deeper, requiring a trigger to bring it to the forefront of consciousness. Ideas that accumulate like pennies are exchanged for the banknote of understanding. The pennies are not lost, but they look different and take up less space… we do not need to carry their weight.
No experience, no conversation is ever lost or wasted, even if it seems forgotten. The essence of what we can draw from each moment is added to our store of knowledge and understanding. We would not even try to identify each individual drop that makes up a glass of wine… and how could we, when there is neither beginning nor end to any drop that is part of the whole? Experience fills the cup of life, each moment melding with what has gone before, another drop in the Cup. And sometimes, it sparkles.
Since the birth of the Silent Eye, we have held regular workshops, including, for the past seven years, an annual residential weekend of ritual drama in Derbyshire. We have had a huge amount of fun with these weekends over the years, in spite of the months of writing, work and preparation they entail. We have made some wonderful friends and seen our companions rise above the challenges to create pure magic within our place of working.
At the same time, we have also been pioneering a new kind of workshop, set within the living land. It is not enough to follow a spiritual path within the confines of a hallowed hall. Spirituality must be part of everyday life and must move in the world before it truly comes to life.
With this in mind, our landscape workshops visit ancient and sacred sites, right across the country, in varied and beautiful places, allowing the land and its history to illustrate and reveal the heart of the spiritual principles we explore.
Last year, we took the decision that we would follow the call to move all our workshops out into the landscape, with this year being the last residential weekend for a while. At our last monthly meeting, with confirmed bookings not meeting the necessary criteria, we decided that, rather than risk being unable to deliver a well-rounded weekend for our companions, we would move this event too out into the landscape.
And, as soon as we made that decision, the details and structure of the weekend fell into place.
Sometimes, you simply have to listen to what the winds of change whisper… and when you do so, magic happens…
17-19 April 2020
There are mysteries just beyond the doorstep, sacred places and hidden stories in every landscape. From the five thousand year old track that once crossed the country to the enigma of the secret orders that have hidden their true purposes behind sanctity or debauchery, the landscape of rural Buckinghamshire abounds in unsolved riddles.
Join us as we ask why a medieval church was built upon the site of a prehistoric settlement… Why Sir Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club met beneath a sacred hill… and how the landscape beyond your threshold can open the door to adventure.
The weekend will be based around Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and runs from Friday afternoon to early Sunday afternoon, and costs £75 per person. There will be a moderate amount of walking, some of it across field paths.
Meals and accommodation are not included in the price and should be booked separately by all attendees. Meals are often taken together at a local pub or café. For those arriving by public transport, we are able to offer a limited number of places in shared vehicles; please let us know if this would be required.
Contact us at Rivingtide@gmail.com for more details. Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf
“What,” asked my correspondent, enquiring about the School, “is magic?” It is not the first time I have been asked that question, once the difference between performance magic and the magical work of the esoteric path has been established.
Read any tale of magic, or indeed, the centuries-old treatises and grimoires that survive, and you would have to assume that magical work is all about gaining control. Spirits, demons, elementals and angels, all are to be summoned by the magician and bound to his bidding. Even those who have trained within an established and respected magical system will still use the old forms that look and sound as if this is the case. Young students who are just starting out on their path may well hold a vision of standing on a mountaintop commanding the storm like a Hollywood Merlin, anticipating the wild exhilaration of power. Are they deluded? Is there something real behind the dream? Or are they simply destined for disappointment?
The universe is held together by vast, natural forces; amongst them are many things science does not and may never understand. Is it really possible for a single human soul to take control of the machinery of the cosmos?
In his book, Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley, quite justifiably, acquired a polarising reputation amongst contemporary occultists that continues amongst their more modern successors. At best, that reputation is ambivalent, at worst downright unsavoury, but few would deny the value of his body of written work to the serious student of magic. Personally, I found his books invaluable… as long as you strip back the intentional blinds and ambiguities that are strewn throughout and read them with clear eyes.
Crowley’s definition is, in my opinion, probably the clearest and most concise way of describing magic. Yet, even in such a short phrase, there is enough ambiguity to lead the seeker astray. Over the years, I reached the conclusion that the magician’s quest for control is accurately described, but lacking one significant clue to the true nature of magical work; the arcane forces that are to be brought under control are all elements of our own being. We are part of the universe and its forces flow through us and have their echoes within us. The dark and bright aspects may be externalised and personified in order that we might work with them, but their source and the result of that work is the same; what changes is the magician.
On the surface at least, that sounds as if all you would have to do is train the will and bring it under full control and focus, in order to effect change. That would fit the common understanding of the type of magic of which neophytes might dream. It is, I believe, behind the misconception that human will is the highest manifestation of man. But what if the Will of Crowley’s definition is not our own, but that of the Divine? Is it then not saying that magic is the art and science of causing change by conforming to, and aligning ourselves with a Higher Will than our own? Creating change, both within the world and within ourselves, in accordance with the Cosmic Will. When you get right down to it, that is pretty much the aim of all spiritual and religious practices, regardless of the name or definition that is applied to divinity.
The definition is a clever one, precisely because of its ambiguity. Within the phrase lies the story of the seeker’s quest… a journey from the reactions and desires of the ego, through realisation, to harmony. How it is read reflects where we are on the path and whether it is to our own will or a higher Will that we surrender ourselves.
Within the Silent Eye, it is this change from within that we seek and encourage, allowing our Companions to seek their own, personal path to realisation and their own door to open to the forces of being. But where does that leave our hopeful Merlin? Is there no storm to control after all? No wild exultation to feel as the forces of the universe course through him, body, mind and soul? On the contrary, once we ’open up and get out of the way’, setting the stormy and imperative desires of the ego aside and allowing the universal forces free expression, through and within us, we experience that change in accordance with Will. And that is truly magical.
There was a road closure on the way to work, so, to avoid the build-up of traffic, I took to the back streets, wending my way through a residential area and passing the house in which we had first lived when we moved south. To let oncoming cars pass, I pulled to one side, almost outside our old home, and was able to see what had become of my garden.
It had been a blank canvas when we had moved in, with nothing but grass and a bedraggled jasmine, struggling to survive in the concrete near the door. With little money, but lots of ideas, we had set about making a family garden. At the back of the house, surrounded by high walls and fences, we made a little wonderland for the boys.
A small pond, just big enough to attract a bit of wildlife, was lined with sheeting supplied by an undertaker friend. He also brought us a couple of sheets of wood, with an innocent suggestion that we ask no questions. These we turned into a wishing well filled with flowers, making shingles for its roof from a scrap of old roofing felt we found in the shed. Disposable plastic tubs were painted to make wall planters. Tin snips made a flock of painted butterflies up the side of the house and we added a waterwheel to the pond. Strange beings looked out from flowerbeds filled with the seeds, cuttings and wild herbs I collected. It didn’t take long before it was ablaze with life.
The front garden, though not the kind of place where you would spend much time, could be seen through the sitting room window and sloped upwards, giving a good view of the bare grass. I dug borders, planted as many cuttings as I could acquire. While they rooted and grew, I threw in seeds to add colour, and within a few months, the garden looked respectable.
While planting the back garden had been a case of filling space with whatever I could acquire, the front was planned with due regard for eventual height, spread, colour and flowering season, mixing in as many evergreens as I could with summer flowering shrubs and plants, so that it would be attractive all year round.
I have often wondered what became of our little wonderland. I can’t imagine anyone else would have enjoyed it the same as we did, when we had all been involved in its creation. The front garden, though, I have seen a few times over the years. At one point, it was an overgrown jungle. Then someone moved in who took care of it and it began to bloom again.
Today I had just enough time to see that what was left of my winter planting had worked and was still offering scented blooms, colour and texture, even on a cold January day. Many of the plants I had acquired were unlabelled mysteries. Unless I could recognise shoot, bark or leaf, I just planted things and tended them. The handfuls of seed fell where they would and grew how they chose. But the known shrubs had done as I had hoped… even though it is more than twenty years since I planted those first little cuttings.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I drove away after that brief glimpse, how good an analogy a garden can be for aspects of our own lives. I am far from the first to come to that conclusion: the parable of the Sower is well known. We never know if, or how, what we ‘plant’ will grow.
What really struck me, though, was that most of the time, we don’t even realise we are planting ‘seeds’. With every anecdote, every bit of life experience shared, every insight or opinion we offer, every bit of hard-won wisdom we can pass on… even in the lightest of conversations. What seems rather mundane to us, might be exactly what someone needs to hear, even though they may not need or recall it for years to come. When the need does arise, that ‘seed’, unwittingly planted, may just flower and bear fruit.
We may not be around to see it and may never know how our words, deeds and actions affect another’s life. It can be the smallest of things… something we ourselves have not even noticed, from a kind word or a shared smile, that changes a day for someone we don’t even know and may never see again. But it matters. Every time.
I was awake far too early again this morning. Moonlight wandered in and dream-filled eyes looked out. The sky was still dark and the stars were hidden behind cloud and mist. I had been half awake for some time, thinking about stars… and that state on the edge of dream holds some strange concepts. The thoughts were not new… are any thoughts truly original? I wondered how many human beings have paused on the edge of slumber to consider the stars that wheel overhead every night, unregarded by most of us, most of the time.
I wondered about stars. We know there are planets… suns… galaxies… billions of the things twinkling away up there. To us they are just ‘stars’ most of the time. We assume we understand them to a certain degree, knowing what they are made of. Yet does that mean we really know what they are?
I thought about water. H2O… everybody knows that. We all know what water is and how it is made by two hydrogen atoms waltzing with an oxygen atom. We know what it looks like, feels like, where it comes from, what we use it for, what we need it for… but do we know what it actually ‘is’?
Every culture, every people, even any writer who has touched on these things, has created their own mythology of the stars to explain their nature. Long before telescopes and spacecraft we already ‘knew’ what the stars were. They were gods and heroes, mythical creatures… the souls of the dead. They were angelic beings or divine lights in the sky. They were, in my somnolent state, the souls of the departed, rainbow fragments of being awaiting rebirth…pinpricks in the map of heaven that let the Light shine through, showing us that there was something beyond the world we live in.
I suppose I wasn’t questioning the nature of the stars as much as the nature of reality and how the time and place of our birth on history’s pages colours our perception and understanding of that reality.
In this era of science and fact, of wondrous discoveries about the natural world around us, I wonder if we have lost something of the magical landscape our forefathers knew? Were they closer to the true nature of water, perhaps, when they saw it as sacred? By knowing the chemical composition of water and its cycle we are able to understand its physical nature, it is true, and it enables us to see clearly the impact our own species is having on the world for good or ill.
But perhaps we are no closer to understanding what anything actually ‘is’? I think we just like to comfort ourselves with the labels of knowledge and call it understanding.
Just think about it a moment… what are you? What am I? Are we simply the bodies we inhabit and in which we move through the inculated reality of the world? Are we more… or less… than our thoughts and emotions, aspirations and dreams? Behind all those there is that indefinable something that is ‘you’ and ‘me’… that unique and unfathomable ingredient that makes us all different. Even identical twins raised together have their own unique note in the symphony of life.
Perhaps reality is simply whatever we believe it to be? Most of the time, we would never question why o if an apple is an apple, a wall just a wall. Indeed, as children that incessant ‘why’ is often silenced with an exasperated ‘It just is, okay?’ and we cease to ponder reality, simply learning the rules by which we can move through its observed parameters the same as everyone else, agreeing a reality by consensus.
The odd thing is that as soon as you begin to question the true nature of the smallest grain of sand it throws everything else into question and possibilities emerge that bring the magic back to life. You have to wonder if our very acceptance brainwashes us into blindness, so that we fail to see the marvels and mysteries hidden in plain sight in a world we think we know.
The mind wanders odd pathways in that somnolent stare when the body sleeps while the mind is wakeful. Through mine, a phrase from an old ritual meandered, seeming to make an abstract kind of sense… that we are ‘the marvellous seed of the stars’. The image that rose in my mind was one of a wondering beauty and if we create our reality ourselves, I think I’m going with that one.
Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.
~ Chief Seattle, 1854 ~