A New Beginning…

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…

Quest for a Quest: The Initiate’s Story

Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

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

A magical path

“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.

Sowing warmth

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.

Keys of Heaven (8): crosses at heaven’s gate ~ Steve Tanham

Reblogged from Sun in Gemini:

The traveller’s ancient friend: Young Ralph’s Cross

It’s seventeen miles long and crosses the ‘roof of the world’ in the heart of the North York Moors. You’d think twice about going there once the autumn has given way to winter. Local photos show the many times that groups of people have been stranded on the long line of its peak. In one case, in December 2010, a group of seven (two customers and five staff) were snowed in for eight days at the nearby Lion Inn that straddles the highest point on the road – a route known simply and famously as Blakey Ridge.

Continue reading at Sun in Gemini

Light and shade

The road home was flooded by brilliant winter sunlight, criss-crossed with the deep, dark shadows of the trees. The light and shade fell upon me through the glass roof of the car as I drove, setting reality a-flicker like an old movie reel. It seemed appropriate as I looked back on the days and months behind me, taking stock. They too are unreal… they exist only in memory and consequence, yet their weight can crush us if we permit it.

Tomorrow sees the beginning of a new year and a new decade. I am old enough that the thought of seeing in the year twenty-twenty still seems like some impossibly futuristic dream… and young enough to know that seeing in twenty-fifty is not a complete impossibility.

Many of the strange and wonderful technological advances that graced the pages of science fiction books when I was young are now part of our everyday lives. We may not all have a Jetson-esque ‘Rosie’ to do our chores, but our homes are filled with incredible gadgetry. We have adapted to its presence and learned to take it so much for granted that our behaviours as a species are changing… not always for the better. We are amazingly adaptable creatures, though and the void left by what we unlearn or leave behind will be filled with new skills, I have no doubt.

But of all the decades I have lived, this one has been both the worst and the best. And the two are so intimately entwined that it is difficult to separate them, as the one depends on the other.

In 2010, my son was stabbed through the brain and left for dead in a coma… every parent’s worst nightmare. For the past ten years, I have run the gamut of human and maternal emotion as I have watched his journey, through the extremes of fear, hope and grief… and watched him answer them with courage, determination and a sheer, bloody-minded refusal to be beaten. Even by himself.

Ten years on and there are still days of both utter despair and of unbounded optimism. It has not been an easy journey, for any of us… but, in many ways, it has been a beautiful one; in which we have seen the very best of human kindness and character as a direct response to the effects of the worst.

On a personal level, I have played a part in the establishment of the Silent Eye… and that too has been an amazing journey and one that has changed my life in so many ways, allowing me to explore aspects of self that I would not have believed existed. The price has been learning to look myself squarely in the eye and acknowledge a good many uncomfortable things that ego would rather not see, but in doing so, I also found a few positive things too that I would never have expected to find.

Exploring the land with Stuart and with purpose has been a delight. Even though our travels are rarer than it may seem, the adventure is constant as flashes of understanding and glimpses of unknown wonders continually reveal themselves as we work with what we learn. It is a journey that demands dedication, time and energy…but the rewards are boundless.

It is always the way… the scales, in constant motion, seek balance. We seldom live anything that is wholly dark or wholly bright. Shadows are not the absence of light, merely light interrupted… and we do need their darkness in order to notice and appreciate how bright the light can be.

As I drive, winter pretends it is spring. There are buds on the trees, daffodils sending green spears up through sodden earth. The seasons run as they will. Nature does not count the passing years; there is only the continuing cycle of growth, decay and new life nourished by old. And I wonder at our dependence on time to measure the quality of a life. Surely our experience of living should count for more than years?

What will the next year…the next decade…  bring? Who knows? I am just glad there are still adventures ahead and hope, to paraphrase a well-known quote, that I can stand at the end of my days and say I embraced every bit of the life I was given.

Whitby Weekend: Lastingham’s Holy Wells

The weekend was almost over, but before we reached a parting of the ways, there was lunch in the seventeenth century Blacksmith’s Arms opposite the church and a wander around the village of Lastingham to visit the holy wells.

The first well, St Ovin’s Well, we did not see. It is tucked away on the road that leads towards Pickering and all that remains is the eighteenth century well housing… neither spout not basin have survived. The well’s origins, however, are much older… as are those of the other wells in the village. St Ovin was a Fenland Bailiff of Queen Eltherdreda who turned his back on the life of the nobility to serve his God with his hands. Perhaps that is a true nobility after all.

St Ovin’s Well, Lastingham, ©hiddenteesdale.co.uk

The next well is dedicated to St Chad, brother of St Cedd and Bishop of Lichfield. The well housing sits beside the road and, Steve told us, used to flow until very recently when the owners of the property found out they were being charged for the water. There is a legend that says the remorseful Mercian king, Wulfhere, converted to Christianity, acceding to the wishes of his wife, Queen Ermenilda, after punishing his sons for worshipping at the well… though there is no guarantee it was this St Chad’s Well and the story may be linked to the well of the same name at Lichfield.

The grandest of the wells sits beside Hole Beck and is dedicated to St Cedd himself. It is believed that some of the stones may have come from nearby Rosedale Abbey. Like the other wells, the origins of this holy well is far older than its current appearance would suggest.

The most interesting of the Holy Wells, however, lies just outside the village and issues from a grassy bank. The well is dedicated to Mary Magdalene… and there was once a chapel to that Lady in a nearby village. A spring of clear water issues from the well to be collected in a stone basin sunk into the earth and surrounded by water mint. When it was cleared and excavated in the ‘sixties, fragments of medieval and Saxon or Roman pottery were found, suggesting the well has been in use for at least fifteen hundred years and very possibly longer. There were ribbons left as offerings when we visited and this well in particular has the feel of a sacred place… though to what god may be open to debate. Local legend says it is haunted by a white Lady… The Holy Wells that now bear the names and legends of the saints have, very often, an allegiance to the spirits of earth and water that predate the Christian story.

Here we filled the empty vessels we had carried throughout the weekend with the pure water of the spring. It was the final act of the Silent Eye weekend… though, for some of us, there was still a little time to share. With hugs all round and thanks to Steve for organising the weekend, we went our separate ways… knowing that it may not be too long before we meet again.

Whitby Weekend: The Crypt at Lastingham

A few of us made our way down the stone steps of St Mary’s in Lastingham, into the crypt where the bones of St Cedd are reputedly buried. To do so is to step back in history and be outside of time; it is a place of quiet reflection, hallowed, one would like to think, by many centuries of prayer… except that, at one point, the crypt was supposed to have also been used as a cock-fighting arena…

Nevertheless, it is the hallowing of space that strikes you… a place to which those of faith have made pilgrimage, when countless have prayed, whether to the God of the saint or to their own vision of divinity. There have always been many who can see beyond the labels of religion to the kernel of truth held in all.

The crypt is part of the original stone church mentioned by the Venerable Bede, built between 664 and 732,  and remains almost untouched since that time. Some believe the stone altar to be even older than the crypt and one single, carved oak beam remains from the early church.

Each of the pillars supporting the vault is carved differently, with a disregard for symmetry typical of the period; artistically, symmetry seems to be a relatively modern concept. From the pillars of the cathedrals at Dunfermline and Durham, to the tiny Saxon crypt at Repton, we have seen this so often. Perhaps the designs had a meaning now lost… or perhaps it was simply the stonemason’s art at play.

There are carved stones and relics of a millennium and more of history ranged around the edges of the crypt, from an old, wooden burial bier to fragments of standing crosses, including the Ana Cross that once stood along the road we had just taken from the moors, to the arms of the great Lastingham Cross, now resting beside the bier.

There are a selection of gravemarkers, carved with crosses or, on one curious stone, what appears to be a chalice and sword as one, which, in esoteric terms, is suggestive of a  melding of the ‘masculine’ and dynamic energies with those that are ‘feminine’ and receptive… the agent of force and the vessel of form as one.

Perhaps the most curious thing, though, was the preponderance of serpents and dragons, from those intertwining up the face of an ancient stone, to the serpentine carvings in the church above and the dragons tucked away in a corner with fragments of masonry. What were they intended to symbolise? The many leys that have been dowsed and reported as meeting in the crypt? Or perhaps the streams that feed the four holy wells in the village?

In spite of there being so much to see in the little crypt, though, its true invitation was to share its silence, in prayer or meditation. Whatever gods the stones now kept here may have served in the far distant past, all may be but fragmentary perceptions of the One, kindled by recognition and reverence to hold a spark of that something that shines in the depths of being.  Joined by the others, we lit our candles together and sent their warmth out into the world.

Whitby Weekend: The church at Lastingham

It was only a few miles to the final destination of the Silent Eye’s weekend in North Yorkshire. We were heading for St Mary’s church at Lastingham, the final resting place, or so it is believed, of St Cedd, who had played his part in the decisive Synod of Whitby in 664, when the Roman form of Christianity was adopted in place of the old Celtic Rite in which he had been raised.

In the October of that year, St Cedd died of the plague at the monastery of Lastingham and was, according to tradition, buried there in a grave. When a stone church was later built, becoming the chapel of the monastery, his remains were enshrined within its walls and are now said to be in the crypt of the church, to the right of the altar.

In fact, Cedd’s brother, St Chad, who became bishop of Lichfield, took over at the monastery after his brother’s death and Cedd’s remains were eventually moved to be with those of his brother in Lichfield. Some of their bones were later taken to the Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham, so the best that can be said, according to Wikipedia, is that ‘Cedd is believed to be mostly buried at Lastingham.’

While it may seem odd to modern minds that bones and relics are scattered, it must be remembered that the reverence of saintly relics is still very much a part of Roman religious culture. It is also worth considering that in ancient times, the bones of the ancestors were revered and cared for, keeping those who had passed as more than faded memories and making them very much part of the living community. Even in Victorian times, relics such as locks of hair were taken from the deceased for love and memory. It is only in very recent times that the remains of the dead have been so definitively disposed of.

But, although the crypt was the object of our visit, the church itself was not to be ignored. It is a beautiful old building, St Cedd had founded the monastery in the seventh century and built a wooden church. Cedd’s monastery is thought to have been razed in a raid around 870, but in 1078, Stephen, the abbot of Whitby, restored the monastery and began the building of a stone church. The work under Stephen was never completed, but the main body of the interior is a place of beautiful, pure proportions in the Romanesque style.

The church continued to function, adding aisles and developing over the centuries, until a final restoration and completion took place in the late 19th century, in memory of a child who had died in her seventh year.

The exterior is simple, until you look closely at the carved stone corbels that seem to echo, albeit in a more restrained style, those of Kilpeck and here, as at Kilpeck, there is the curved apse and an association with holy wells and springs. At Kilpeck, a stream flows beneath the central line of the church and dowsers have reported four streams flowing in to that point. In Lastingham, there are four holy wells, that we would later see, and we had to wonder at the coincidence and its significance in the siting of the two ancient churches.

In spite of the inevitable changes and additions that have been made to the church over the centuries, it retains the sense of being a simple and sacred space. Traces of its history can be seen in faded carvings around the base of its pillars, the rounded arches and the repurposed Roman altars, which may once have served a vision of divinity different in name, but perhaps not in essence. Humankind’s search for divinity has worn many faces, but the heart of the quest is the same and all places that have been held sacred to that Light, regardless of our own beliefs, may evoke a sense of reverence.

We arrived just after the Sunday service had ended and the congregation was still gathered in the aisles, sharing refreshments in an echo of something more ancient and timeless than any organised religion. We were made welcome by the community, and while some talked, the rest of us wandered off to explore.

We have long since learned that, when visiting a sacred site of any age, if there is something in particular that you are there to see, it is best to explore the rest first… for the likelihood is that you will otherwise be so caught up in the moment that everything else will be missed. And Lastingham crypt was to be no exception…

Whitby Weekend: Moorland stone…

On the Sunday morning, we met at the Lion Inn, perched some thirteen hundred feet above sea level and high on the North Yorkshire moors. The sixteenth-century inn is an isolated spot above Rosedale, in an area fair littered with archaeology that demands further exploration. It is also a warm and welcoming place, with a fire in the hearth and, at this time of year, full of Christmas greenery. We met there for coffee but could have happily stayed there for hours.

Outside, though, within just a few yards of the inn, was the first of three standing stones that Steve wanted to show us. We had already passed Young Ralph’s Cross on the way and another couple of intriguing stones. Had the weather been a little less wild, we would have stopped to explore… but it was truly blowing a gale, with nothing in that exposed spot to mitigate the winds.

But out we went anyway, with me battling a gale that mistook my wide skirts and cloak for sails and seemed convinced that, with just a little more effort on its part, I could be persuaded to fly. Held earthbound by Steve’s firm grasp, and with the wind whipping all sound but its own from my ears, I set my back to the first standing stone, perched on the bank above a hollowed cairn.  I caught only fragments of what Steve told us about Blakey Howe, or Cockpit Howe as it is sometimes called, after the so-called ‘sport’ that used to take place within the hollow. The standing stone itself is an eighteenth-century boundary stone, though it may have once been a true standing stone, later re-used.

The area is rich in history. At Loose Howe not far away,  excavation had found a boat burial, where the deceased was sent on his final journey with a hollowed log resembling a canoe. A number of these have been found on the North Yorkshire moors, with radiocarbon dating suggesting the burials are around four thousand years old. At Loose Howe, hazelnuts and a dagger were also buried and a later cremation interred above the boat.

Behind the inn is another stone that has both the look and feel of a more modern construction, though possibly reusing an older stone. It does not appear to be marked on the map-catalogue of ancient sites, but it is impressive enough as it stands. That, however, was as far as I could go.

Straining stand against the wind had set off the pain again and I was obliged to go back to the car and wait while the others walked to the final of the three stones in the area, another eighteenth-century boundary marker placed upon a Bronze Age round barrow. As it turned out, I had made a wise decision as, by the time the others returned, they were drenched, having been caught by a sudden change in the weather. I think we were all thankful that the final sites of the day would be a little more sheltered…