Spreading wings

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The hill was a verdant emerald rising into a sapphire sky that sparkled with motes of light… so high and clear. My companion walked behind, following at a far more sedate pace as I ran headlong to the summit, an uncompromising, absolute joy within that seemed to inundate every fibre of being. The white path led me higher and higher until I could see the curvature of the earth and felt I could reach out my arms and embrace the whole world and gather it to my breast…

My dreams have been vivid of late. They always are but even more so than usual, with the clarity and reality I knew as a child. I recall the flying dreams with the rollercoaster feeling in the stomach… I cannot have been more than eight years old and every night I would soar. Far too young to have any knowledge or interest in aerodynamics, lift or thrust, I can yet remember the minute adjustments needed to stay in the air and direct my flight. I seem to remember them in my flesh even though it was just a dream. I can feel even now the memory of physical sensation as my body swooped and banked through the air, learning to ride the wind, seeking the air-currents and updraughts, like a small fish playing in water, darting and diving through sunbeams. It was sheer joy. Every night as I closed my eyes I would wait for that first moment of flight with happy anticipation.

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It felt utterly real… the sensation of rise and fall in the gut, the air on my face, the wind in my hair. So real that my waking self would stand on my bed beneath the window, certain I would not fall but would fly if I launched myself from there… yet knowing also that it was supposed to be impossible. Wasn’t it? There was always that doubt in the mind, even though the body felt it knew just what to do.

So real was the experience for that young mind that it was, in those moments by the window, impossible to distinguish dream from reality. It was as if I was perfectly poised between two realities, each equally valid by their own rules and in their own world… which I believe they are. Yet I was in neither… I was apart from both, a third reality, if you will, where I was subject to neither of the others but could see and judge with yet another part of me what fragment of experience should fit where.

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I had always been aware of the existence of that higher part of being that we call the soul, the essence… and many other names. It was simply something I grew up with, that awareness. Yet this was the first time I remember feeling conscious of its reality. Not because I could see or feel it specifically, but the observation of the two realities by the third… and the fact that on yet another level I was somehow ‘seeing’ that observer… So what was seeing it? And was anything watching that? And where did ‘I’ end and Something Else begin?  This seemed to ‘click’ and I understood somehow in a way for which I am still not sure I have words.

To the eight year old mind that was something of a revelation. To us now, as adults, it is an illustration of infinite regress, a concept we explored at the first of the Silent Eye’s Glastonbury talks some years ago, yet it took a while before I made that connection. One of the inner ‘observers’ finds that highly amusing, that the conscious mind should take the best part of half a century to really realise a gift given so young.

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However that is often the way of things and we are adept at accepting what we know and believe, filing them in the cabinet of facts by which we live and not revisiting them with the added experience and understanding of years. As we grow and learn our store of facts expands, but we seldom take out the old ones and update them. We can, indeed, get very protective of them and refuse to even consider that we may have misunderstood, or been plainly wrong, through lack of a salient piece of information.

Over the past few years, as I have examined more and more the entrenched beliefs to which I have clung, I have found myself being obliged to discard and update many of them. I have also revisited many ideas I discarded as facile when I was much younger, realising that with the knowledge and experience I can now bring to them, they are richer by far that I imagined when I first dismissed them. The adventures with Stuart and our books have made me re-evaluate many things, while the School has seen me set aside the framework of many decades and begin to look at the essence of those beliefs from a different perspective.

When, some years ago, a friend and renowned author who had walked a similar path, told me he had spent half a lifetime building the inner Qabalistic Tree of Life… and the rest steadily dismantling it, I was surprised and recoiled from the very idea… now I know what he meant.

The ideas we cling to limit us. We do not seek beyond their bounds… why would we if they satisfy us? They are our beliefs and they ‘work’ for us. Yet, should we step across those self-imposed boundaries, prepared to risk seeing what might lie beyond, a whole world of possibility may open before us. It is worth a thought. Who knows… some part of us may even learn to fly.

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Storytelling

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Our earliest ancestors looked out upon this world and framed what they saw in stories that reached the heart through the imagination. As man and his questions became ever more sophisticated, the stories evolved, couching abstract concepts and ideas within the age-old tales. The mythology of any culture goes back beyond memory and history to a time before time was… to the Creation and before… in an attempt to answer the questions that arise in all of us.

Stories travelled and changed with each retelling, taking on the character of the teller, coloured by the season, the place, the landscape and by the politics of the local priesthood or rulership… and the myths rooted in different forms in the places they reached.

Yet if we look at the stories mankind has told there are striking similarities beneath the surface. All the mythological systems have some common themes… star-crossed lovers, the trickster, good versus evil and the unlikely heroes. All have the slayers of monsters or demons, their tales of magic and the parallels with fertility, life and death.

Many theories have been propounded, arguing for a common psychological expression of religious impulse through to a simplistic attempt to explain the seasonal growth of vegetation. It has been argued that all the stories are poetic allegories for spiritual truth and, at the other end of the scale, that they are nothing but linguistic misinterpretations… where the functions of the gods arise from the words for their names and stories are built upon them.

I have a feeling there is an element of truth to all of the theories and that the birth of the mythologies arises in as much complexity as the multi-layered mind of man.

What is certain is that there is something in these old tales that speaks to us at a very deep level of intuitive understanding. We can see the morals clearly in some of them, get a grip on the abstract through others and relate to all of them on an emotional level of personal engagement and life experience in spite of the passage of millennia.

The Egyptian myths give us the most complete record of how a system evolves over the centuries and scholars can chart the rise, evolution and demise of the various versions across the landscape of Egypt in both time and space.

From the simplest of stories a cosmogony evolved which encapsulated much of Egyptian history, culture and religious change. Between the words and images that remain we have a window into the minds of those who walked the Two Lands.

We can read their stories for entertainment, much as they would have been told around the hearths of old to while away the hours of night.

We can read them as they might have been told by the priests to the populace and see through their eyes something of the sacredness of the world, learning to see once again that same wonder in our own world, where the landscape is alive and as holy as the gods themselves.

We may choose to look at them as the priesthood may have seen them and read a deeper meaning behind the images and relationships of the gods, seeing in their interaction the story of all things… of mankind and his fallibility, of the relationships between man and nature as well as between man and that which he perceives as greater than all… the Source of Being from whence all arose.

We can read them in another way also and see ourselves in the gods, understanding the fractured facets of wholeness that make up our personalities. We may see that as the gods are both the fragments and the product of the One, then so are we a fragmented whole… pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle waiting to be reassembled… and in doing so might see that we too are of the same essence as the gods.

I have a feeling that the best way to read them is as a child would read, with an openness to wonder and wondering, without analysing too much or dwelling on apparent inconsistencies and impossibilities that the adult may reject but which the child accepts without a blink.

Perhaps we just need to remember how to listen with the heart.

Extract from The Osiriad (Appendix)

The Time Vampires

 

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It’s a tough one, this. I love technology and I have a lasting belief that it has brought us a lot of good… but a nasty feeling that we are touching some of its ‘dark edges’; brought on, not because of the technology, itself, but because of the motive for profit and dominance inherent in the power that a few mega-companies wield.

Such companies are ‘enablers’. The real threat is the big money that has seen the potential for manipulation – global manipulation.

It was a 19th century historian and Cambridge professor, John Dalberg-Acton, 8th Baronet, who said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It’s a quote many of us know, but what he went on to say in the same speech is less well known; “Great men are almost always bad men…”

We all like to believe in ‘great men’ (and women). Many of the The tech giants have risen, like David against Goliath, to overturn traditional market leaders and introduce vast innovation that benefits us all. When I compare what I can do, what I can reach, what I can understand, courtesy of the Internet and its access to largely-free resources, I stand in awe of what the past few decades have brought. My writing, and my supplemental efforts as an illustrator, have all been the result of what would now be termed Tech tools.

So why the opening sentiments?

They were prompted by a quote from one of the product directors of a major Tech company. He was quoted as saying that a new breakthrough in that company’s products would help ‘use up the mind cycles’ of the young people who formed the largest proportion of its customer base. Young people are increasingly targeted by Tech companies, such as social media sites. The young see it as a natural extension to their ‘talkative’ world – a sign of belonging, a ‘cool’ skill.

It’s a very powerful ‘pull’. It also makes Tech billions…

The young and the naive fill in mock ‘surveys’: What type of doggie walker are you? With the results, Tech can sell deeply effective profiles of each person, so accurate that exact product targeting can be placed in front of them, in their favourite colours, linked to their favourite games or cartoons or literature heroes…. or other products, of course – ‘your best friends are showing how grown-up they are by eating frizzzle-joys in luscious purple….’

And then there are drugs… Drugs are what you can’t live without; habits of ‘feel good’ that, especially in the impulsive and immature young, take hold very quickly. Like gambling, or children’s computer games that require them to pay for the key to a ‘level’ that ‘all their mates’ have already achieved… “Daddy!”

Drugs don’t need to be chemicals. The body and mind can make its own.

Online gambling has grown totally out of control. Some very big names are buying up the stragglers because the profits are so vast. As are the wrecked families and the huge debts that lead to crime to ‘repay’. Social networks I can understand; gambling has always been designed to exploit those who can’t comprehend the inevitability of their suffering. And children are being targeted: ‘just click here to say you’re over 18.’

The word ‘evil’ isn’t used much any more. It should be…

From a spiritual point of view, Tech can be seen as angel or devil. It has turned the ‘globe’ into a village. But the downside is that every atom of that village is now a target for money – big money. But that’s judging it from my perspective – someone who can see the massive abuse that is taking place.

Why aren’t we doing something about the downside? Because the problem is global and we’re not. Big money in Tech doesn’t want its opposition to be global, because that would enable effective control of its excesses. Britain votes Brexit and is leaving the only institution that is really trying to clean up this mess. America lurches to the right and its president wants massively less regulation and a weaker UN. In both cases the Tech social media machines were a dominant part of the Tech used to manipulate the elections – in fact, the same Tech companies were involved on both sides of the Atlantic.

On a very simple level, I don’t want my children (grandchildren, really – my children are in their thirties) to have their ‘cycles’ stolen. I want them to have some time to think, to dream, to read and enjoy fantasy. I want them to walk through the woods and climb the hills… and create in their growing minds. I want all that to lead to an eventual awareness of the living magic in the now, to a series of questions about themselves that will begin their real search for meaning in their lives.

So, next time I read of a rich, Tech product director who wants to interfere with the core of my grandchildren’s life, I’m going to get angry…

… Oh, yes, I just did.


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

The quiet ones…

The computer decided to play the fool, doing unmentionable things with no provocation. I’d only just sorted the email that had blocked me from answering anything, even though it let me see all the emails piling up. And, to make matters worse, I have one of these horrid winter bugs that turn your brain to mush. By the end of the day, I had tried everything I could think of… it was time to ask for help.

That can be a difficult thing to do sometimes… not for a technical problem like mine, when we are all too ready to scream for any help we can get, but for the real things that affect how we can live our lives. My son and I have been talking about this a lot since his return from India, where the kindness and compassion of the people he met there allowed him to experience many things he would otherwise not have been able to access, and indeed, had it not been for a complete stranger, a ‘knight in shining armour’, his trip could have been a disaster from the start.

What does a knight in shining armour look like? They are everywhere, hidden in plain sight, quietly ready to take up the quest and tilt at windmills on our behalf. People are often ready to go to extraordinary lengths to help each other, as long as we ourselves are able to admit a need and accept the help that is offered. Compassion may see the need before we are ready to admit that it is there. It never makes a noise about itself, but simply gets to work to do what it can.

How do you define compassion? We all understand the word, but how often do we think about what it really means… both in fact and on a personal level? Looking up the definition in a dictionary, especially glancing at the synonyms, is a bit of an eye-opener and produces everything from pity to empathy. The latter is probably the best definition, as the word itself comes from the ecclesiastical Latin compati… ‘feeling with’. And that, to me, defines what motivates any act of compassion. Pity is a cold and distant thing. Sympathy looks on kindly from a distance. Compassion takes things to heart and carries them very personally. Compassion understands, if not through personal experience of the cause, then empathy and an opening of the heart. Compassion is love in action.

It is this awareness of the problems of others that allows us to place ourselves in their shoes, feeling their pain, sorrow or worry as if it were our own, just for a moment, and which allows us to act in some way that feels right. It may be something practical… a cup of coffee, sleeves rolled up to help, even good advice… or it may be something more ephemeral, like a hug or a smile or a simple word that acknowledges both presence and need.

There is a selective blindness sometimes to the hurt we can see lingering in another’s eyes. If we see, we have to acknowledge and then we feel… and must act. It is, perhaps, in self-defence that we have become able to insulate ourselves and we can be good at ignoring pain. So good, in fact, that we often cover our own and pretend it isn’t there. Part of that comes down to pride… few of us like to admit we cannot cope, regardless of the problem. Some of it has become ingrained… many children are taught not to whine. Boys are still taught not to cry… girls too, though it is still seen as more acceptable. Those who do speak and air their inner hurts often make us uncomfortable, whether we care to admit it or not and we may take refuge in some kind of moral superiority, feeling that we would not have said/written/shouted that… or else we try and ignore them; pretend we don’t see… like failing to meet the eyes of a tramp in the street.

While it is undoubtedly good to learn that tears should not be a first recourse when things go wrong, that there are things we can do, choices we can make, actions we can take, it is not, in my opinion, a good thing to teach our children to stifle their feelings. To learn a modicum of control, to learn not to be enslaved by reactive emotion is a different matter, but the ability to recognise, accept and express emotion lies at the heart of compassion. How can we ‘feel with’ if we do not first learn how to feel?

There is a huge difference between the tears shed in frustration or sentimentality and those that prick our eyelids when our hearts ache and bleed for the plight of another. When we can feel at least the shadow of their pain and heartache. It is these that can move mountains and change the world. And it starts with the small things.

What does a knight in shining armour look like? He looks like the man who opens a door for a young Mum struggling with a pushchair. He looks like the woman who smiles at the beggar in the street. He looks like the child who rescues an injured bird and brings it home. He looks like the granny who puts on the kettle or the friend who sits for hours on the phone. He looks like the guy who stands by you when you tilt at windmills. He looks like anyone who meets the eyes of another with an open heart in acknowledgement of a shared humanity.

He looks like you.

Deep and Personal

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“At what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal?

The red-haired man in the corner had asked the question. He always sat in the corner of the room at the talks and always asked a stupid question.  I could feel my lips curl… As a field officer in this particular mystical organisation, I had the notional responsibility for making sure such events went smoothly; and that such dumb questions were kept to a minimum.

I half turned from my reserved seat at the front and shot him a look – the kind of look that  said, listen, fella, you should know better…

He always sat in the rear left corner, always asked the kind of question to which you could not supply a clear-cut answer. Deep and personal! Who did he think he was, a guru or something?

Of such occasions is wisdom made; but often, not until much later. The character of the red-haired questioner did not fit the usual profile of those following the course of study that the venerable organisation provided. He was not exactly a trouble-maker, but had the potential to be so. I didn’t want anyone of that ilk upsetting my carefully constructed agenda.

Of course, that was exactly what he was doing: upsetting my carefully constructed agenda. He was trying – and succeeding – in injecting a real question of the spirit into the mechanical, though precise, vision that I had of how the teachings should be discussed.

It’s a classic question: at what point should we expect the contact with the universe to become deep and personal. A scientist would very likely hate it. It would imply the kind of soggy thinking that, in such a mind, typifies mysticism. We might follow his train of thought thus:

‘The universe is an ongoing sequence of events, triggered by the Big Bang. Life on Earth began through a random creation of a self-sustaining proto-cell, probably in the deep oceans, near a thermal vent; and the long cycle of increasingly intelligent life began with primitive awareness of inside and outside, which eventually gave rise to consciousness as we know it. None of this requires a belief in there being intelligence behind such an event. The notion of a personal relationship of the distant relatives of such a single cell with the mechanical universe that gave it birth is nonsense.’

Deep breath… because there’s nothing wrong with that view, except the findings of consciousness, itself; and thankfully, science can’t get hold of that or measure it.

A good course of mystical study will not actually be study. It will be involvement. If it’s really good you may not know that’s happening, as you investigate how the part of you that considers itself to be a ‘self’ is put together. You will find that, as you journey into or alongside your self, the world begins to look different. This strange occurrence produces the beginnings of a question: where, exactly, is the world… and where am I?

Everything we know, or think we know, derives from signals received in the brain. These signals are the fruit of our senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Each takes a section of the ‘out-there’ and feeds it to the magnificent super-computer that is the brain. Our lives are programmed to enable the question ‘who am I’ to be answered. Our own arising is the biggest mystery of all. What was I before I was born, cries our self; what will I be after my supercomputer dies?

Fear is at the root of much of our ordinary learning. A better equipped machine can defend itself more capably. The human race mirrors this at the national level. Fear is the key to most madness.

A truly mystical journey must concern itself with the dismantling of fear, and that requires an understand of where the notion of ‘authority’ comes from in our developing consciousness.

In our search for the true Self we encounter the false self – false only in that fear made it the centre of the only universe that counts – ours. Finding the edge of that cellular bubble called organic life brings us face to face with the division that never was…and then things can really begin to unfold.

The irritating man with the red hair knew this. He knew that we do not become real mystics by knocking on the edge of the cellular universe; we do so when that universe gets deep and personal and knocks on our door…


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

Into the Dark Earth

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I have always thought that, from a mystical perspective, we are lucky to have winters. This may seem a strange sentiment, but I have my reasons. If we believe that we are a part of what is all around us, then the seasons assume great importance.

In reality each season merges slowly into the next, but our ancient forebears gave us four divisions of the year, each corresponding to a major ‘event’ in the way light – our primary enabler of outer consciousness – changes.

In the middle of the ancient Summer, the day would be longest. The time of fullness an warmth would have returned, albeit briefly, to the earth. The Christian church borrowed the ancient rites and named the Summer Solstice the Feast of St John; it marked a time when the joyful ascent of light (an upwards gradient, if you like), gave way, in a moment of profound stillness, to the descending gradient that led from the longest day to the shortest. There was no actual moment of pause in that glorious fullness – planets and suns do not stand still – but the human consciousness recorded and knew that a primary quality of existence had changed; and not for the better…

Halfway during that descent of the daily light, the times of day and night became equal at the Equinox: a word derived from Latin meaning ‘equal night’. The harvest was gathered in – probably the most important time of the ancient year, as it determined whether the long, wet and cold months ahead could be survived. There was little of more importance than that…

At the end of the darkening half-year begun with the Summer Solstice came the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night – Christianised as the Feast of St Stephen. The Christmas tradition has changed the Pagan calendar, somewhat, but the underlying principles of the Light-bringer’s birth in the darkest of days hold true.

The physical and agricultural marking of these times is obvious. Modern scholarly interpretations of such events focus simply on these, dismissing any other considerations as fanciful and superstitious – as though our forebears, often starving, had time for such diversions. They simply cannot conceive of the world-view of those of our ancient past, because they have been taught that anything outside of ‘science’ is invalid.

There are two deeper layers to these key points in the year – one is psychological, the other spiritual. We need to define our terms carefully: psychological refers to the workings of the mind – really ego; spiritual refers to contact with a layer of being which is greater than the small self; an experience or series of experiences within which the individual self realises oneness with a super-physical that is beyond question. In doing this, we have encountered that which simply ‘is’ – the Objective World.

Emotions are not the whole story, nor necessarily the highway to spirituality, but they can provide the energy to throw off the mundane perspectives that keep us locked into the world view of the small ‘me’ – now protected by science. At the time of the Winter Solstice, our emotions undergo a kind of ‘death’ – if we are sensitive to this unmeasurable ‘pause’ in the flow of life’s energies. For a brief moment, which may have more to do with the observer than the observed, we sense the awe of cessation… Of a death of the small self in the face of the fullness of objective existence around us.

What is around us has not died, but it challenges us to see the internal ‘death’ with which we need to come to terms if we are to sense the greater life that surrounds us, and from which the small self keeps us separate.

In this sleep of nature the one Life prepares the raw materials of the next phase of its expression. This is done in the dark places of the soil and the unconscious places of the self. When that rest is complete the Life comes forth from darkness, marked, symbolically, by the light-bringers’ victory over the darker days, and the advancement of the light-filled days – an outer sign of the manifest potential of what lived and lives through the dark night of Winter. In spiritual terms the physical return of the light is mirrored by the growth of human understanding, and its connection to all life around it.

The mythological archetypes of the light-bringers are there to enable us to attune with the subtle energies pervading the Earth at this very special time. They are our deepest friends…

Wishing you a very special Winter Solstice.

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Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via low-cost supervised correspondence courses.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com

©️Stephen Tanham.

 

 

 

Riddles of the Night: Templar Shadows (2)

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Imagine a tiny village, just a few miles from a major Derbyshire town, yet unknown to most people passing by on the busy road between Bakewell and Matlock. The village contains an ancient mound of boulders of millstone grit layered on the underlying limestone base – typical of this part of the White Peak.

Aside from its geology, the intricate and serpentine rocks hold a deeper mystery. They show signs of being used for initiatory purposes for at least the past six thousand years.

Initiation is a process whereby an experience is arranged for an incoming person who has proved themselves worthy of a higher, and life-changing, viewpoint. The selected person(s) is led through a series of strange encounters in order to ‘open’ their being to higher spiritual truths. If successful, the arranged and symbolic nature of what is experienced will trigger a different relationship with the world for that person. Although the deliberate arrangement of circumstance is ‘contrived’ the internal experience of those going through such initiations is not…

Welcome to Rowtor Rocks, Birchover, a tiny dot on the map between Bakewell and Youlgreave… with a very mysterious past. Let us explore it, together…

We look up at the mound of rocks, which have that unique shape characteristic of the weathered gritstone formations in this part of Britain. Many of them are covered in lichen and mosses which shines bright green in the December sunshine. Prompted by our guides, Stuart and Sue, we begin to climb in silence. Even at the lower levels of the mound there are caves – caves which show substantial evidence of workings. Regardless of its isolation, this place has been the centre of something intense and historically ancient… Carved in the stones here are rings and ‘cup-marks’ from the neolithic era – thousands of years ago.

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Our guides stop us beside a font, clearly carved out of the rocks and beautifully symmetrical. The vessel is filled with rainwater. In our mind’s eye a young figure dressed in white skins is led to the water and ritually cleansed of his or her past. There is silence on more than just the physical dimension. The candidate – or to use a more appropriate word, the initiand, enters a world between two worlds, aware that their past is slipping away and that they cannot know what lies ahead – the unknowing is the essence of the process that will elevate…

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Our role is to witness. We watch as the initiand is led to the base of the cliff face and shown the narrow and treacherous path by which they must ascend to the level of the chambers, above. They turn, one last time, and look at us. We remember the nature of the feeling behind those eyes, but turn away. The spiritual process must work its magic, and aloneness is part of it. Their experience must be real or the psychological and spiritual ‘opening’ will not occur. We hear the unsure scrambling of able feet as the one whose fate we guard comes to terms with the physically difficult start of their solo journey up the rocks.

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At the level of the first of the transition chambers we gather in silence. Our path here has been easy, the initiand’s is hard. We close our eyes and say a silent prayer that the very real danger faced is mastered, and inner readiness achieved. They cannot yet know the intensity of that holding that emanates from above them.

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The temple chamber awaits us. The initiand emerges, breathless and wide-eyed from the climb, passes, tested into the sacred space, coming face to face with the twin pillars – simple-looking but the result of months of work during the seventeenth century. The initiand is given time to consider the significance; these rocks, set in place forever by nature, need no buttressing… the pillars represent the mastering and use of the polarities of life by human beings, the generation of goodness in the face of adversity… many other things that they will come to understand in the years of growing wisdom ahead. No explanations are given – they will come later, from within and without.

For now, they are simply brought into the presence…

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It shocks them when the cloth binding is placed over their eyes. Initially, they can see nothing, but, as we gather around them and light the flames, tiny flashes of light penetrate their darkness. Figures come and go, gently brushing against their immobile form; eventually settling into a pattern of eight sides. Our One purpose now has eight faces.

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The Elder, whose purpose has been to block the light from the entrance, moves out onto the ledge. We withdraw from the partially-sighted one, but not before lighting the aromatic herbs whose smoke will fill the chamber.

No words are given. They must draw, now, on their own resources – including intuition. Outside, arranged in a curve that will greet and embrace them, we wait. We can picture the scene within: the swirling, sweet-smelling mists, the bright light creating a half image. We picture their progress as groping hands feel for the chamber’s wall; then the shock as a gentle hand takes their arm. The message of that moment will never be forgotten: In the fearful darkness you were not alone…

The gentle hands take the fingers from the harsh rock and guide the trembling figure towards the vertical eye of light. At the first sight of the hands emerging, the gathered group let out a sigh and reach for the stumbling one, taking the wrapped cloth from the eyes and head.

The glory of the new view of an old landscape is forever burned, with joy, into the newly-opened eyes. No words have been spoken, but much has been conveyed.

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The respite is brief. The initiand is shown a narrow cleft leading back into the central rock and then upwards. The steps are steep and awkward. There is not room for both feet, and yet the ascent cannot begin until the body and its weight are committed to the climb. It is a paradox made physical. To get it wrong risks a painful fall onto hard stone, but there is no other way. Empowered by the emergence from the dark cave, the initiand throws his weight upon an upwardly-stretched leg and propels himself higher. The first step is everything; get that right and the momentum lets the legs return to normal function and the ascent is made.

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A new figure waits at the top of the flight. He takes the emergent one to a higher ledge where there sits a huge rock. Words are finally spoken. “Move the rock.” As witness, you watch the body stiffen, feel the habitual response: “How… It’s a heavy rock.” These are not voiced. no-one says this, but you can hear the mind’s words of doubt… always doubt.

The wise eyes nod in encouragement, indicating another sentiment: “Try, give no home to doubt…”

You watch as the initiand’s hesitant hands reach out to touch and then push the rock. You know what will happen, but the gentle hands do not. The Rocking Stone is one of many on the ancient mound. They are all miraculously balanced about a single point. With very little effort their entire mass can be pivoted and moved, falling back to their previous state when released. You watch the wonder in the eyes of the initiand. The message is clear: right knowledge can move the world…

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From the gullies, caves and paths they emerge, now – the others; the ones who were candidates for this rite in the past. They embrace the initiate; their heat is the clothing of love, of respect…most of all, of belonging

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But such knowledge carries responsibility. The new initiate is taken around another spiral in the rocks. They are pointed at the highest point which is just ahead. It is pillar, a pillar that has been constructed half-broken… Or is it half-finished? Alone on the the top of the whole edifice, it points at the sky. The initiate is shown the faint path over the climbing rocks. The ascent is difficult and brings them back to look down at where you are gathered, below. There is nowhere else to go, now…

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When the questing feet can go no further, the pillar remains a few feet out of reach. The initiate looks around for another way, but there is none. He cannot continue his quest.

Then there comes the sound of skilled footfalls on the rock. Before the initiate can react the thighs are grasped and hoisted. “Reach!” Comes the command as the body slaps flat to the topmost rock surface. Stretched fingers clutch at space, anguished that, still, the final few inches cannot be crossed…

“So it is for us all,” says the kind voice of the Elder, “but the presence of the Companion always takes us closer…”

The initiate is led down from the top rock. The embraces are warm and knowing. All watching have stood here. It is finished… for now. Everyone takes a final look at the high pillar, knowing the meaning, knowing the quest that will fire the life that follows: to take your world closer to the sky… to share the Work with others. Eventually, when the skills are many, to become an elder in the tribe, and one day complete the initiation of another young soul.

The initiatic reconstruction fills us all with wonder. We cannot know the exact details, but we know, without doubt, that we have sensed the heart of it.

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Far below, next to a popular pub called the Druid Inn – the actual meeting point of the Ancient Order of Druids, a friendly society founded in 1781 – is the Church of St Michael, created in 1717 by Thomas Eyre, the owner of the lands around Birchover.

There is historical evidence of intermarriage between the families of the Eyres and the Foljambes, and the land here once belonged to the Templars…

To be here, is to feel that history.

One part of the wall of the church contains ancient stones which must have been recovered from the site. Something ancient has been at work, here, for a very long time…

These researches belong to the work of Sue Vincent and Stuart France. We were lucky enough to be the recipient of this very special weekend, an event that brought together, in a beautiful and living landscape, the fruit of their well-researched thoughts.

End Part Two.

Other parts in this series of blogs:

Part One 

© Copyright Stephen Tanham

Weather window…

For the past few days I have up to the proverbials in rose-thorns, leaf litter, mud and, inadvertently, the stream that runs through my son’s garden. I may have moaned about the cold and the wet, and the  sojourn in the stream was entirely unplanned, but I do enjoy gardening. Not so much the wafting around with a pair of secateurs, dead-heading the blooms and tutting at the greenfly, but more the heavy-duty stuff. I have always enjoyed digging…though that will not stop me complaining about it, just on principle, and if I didn’t, my joints would do it for me.

Last year, the winter weather set in before I had put either my garden or my son’s to bed for the year, so this year I was determined to get it done. I managed to get my grass short before the ground became too waterlogged to mow it, but what with one thing and another, this week was the first chance I have had to tackle the bigger job at my son’s home.

That has not been too much of a problem as, until the last few days, there has been no frost and the weather has been unseasonably mild. The roses are still in full bloom, as is the fuchsia, coreopsis and even some of the bedding begonias… it seemed a shame to curtail such persistent beauty.

Even so, this is England at the end of November…time was running out and a weather window presented itself that was too good to miss. Several consecutive days of dry, sunny weather… and if it was going to be cold, the work I needed to do, I thought, would keep me warm. I was wrong about that… the temperature plummeted and the spray from the jet-washer would have made a snowman shiver.

After yesterday’s mishap, falling in the stream, I really did not feel like driving back down there today and starting again, but it was another sunny day…and how many more of those can I expect? So, I got the job done….and, as I drove home, finally satisfied with the results, I saw rain clouds coming in and the first drops beginning to fall.

Weather, like life itself, is notoriously unpredictable, even when the forecast looks good, anything can happen. That recalcitrant butterfly in far-off climes can cause havoc with the wind patterns and bring the rain clouds early, putting paid to any idea of ‘leaving it till tomorrow’.

You have to accept what the day offers and run with it. Refuse or procrastinate, and the opportunity may not come again to achieve what it is that you desire. How often do we dream our dreams and think ‘if only’ or ‘I will do it when…’ We put things off until some future date because the conditions are not quite what we would like….only to find that, when that ‘when’ arrives, it is too late. We no longer have the freedom, youth, money or health to seek the fulfilment of our dreams.

A weather window does not always mean getting perfect weather. It may indeed be sunny, but the temperature may be sub-zero. It could be warm enough…but raining. It does not have to be perfect…we just need it to be sufficiently okay to get the job done.

Had I not cleared the garden for winter, the garden would not have minded. It continues to grow as it will whether it is scrubbed and trimmed or not. But, had I not done the garden, I would not have spotted that one of the local stray cats has hurt its paw and so could not have tried to help. I would not have had the joy of watching the wren and the blackbirds, seen the squirrel scurrying through the branches or smiled at the curious kite circling overhead. I would not have had the robins following me for days, so close I could have touched them and I would not have seen the first signs of spring piercing the earth.

And, had I put the job off because, in spite of the sun, it was very cold, the garden would have survived the winter but, come spring, its treasures would have been hidden beneath the dead leaves and sprawling thorns. When spring comes again, the clematis flowers would have been drowned in dead branches and the tiny roses lost in the evergreens.

There is a season for everything, and a garden teaches you that not only are its needs seasonal because of the weather patterns, but present and future gifts depend on them being done when the time is right. Tomorrow’s beauty depends upon what you are prepared to do today.

Weather windows come when they will, for gardens, and for dreams. We have to be ready to accept them, even if they do not seem perfect… because not only may they never come again, but sometimes, what does not seem quite right, may turn out to be just perfect after all.

Congratulations…

We would like to offer our warmest congratulations to our Companion, Jan Malique, on her ordination as an inter-faith Minister with the Sacred Rites Foundation.

Jan writes at Strange Goings On in the Shed and Dispatches from the Hinterland. She is the author of Pathworking with the Egyptian Gods, with artist Judith Page, published by Llewellyn.