Rites of Passage: Last rites III

We walked on, the mood had changed with the meditation; all of us quietly aware that there was to be something more. The broad, well-trodden path continued to wind its way through the valley, but we took instead the narrow track that climbs towards Peter’s Rock. It is odd, but we have observed so many times that few people look up at the rock as they pass beneath it. The great dome of stone is a looming presence and yet eyes seem to slide off it as if it is not there at all in their reality.

There is a place on the path, marked by a fallen stone, where the atmosphere seems to deepen. Whatever you carry there with you, or whatever you feel from the site, it is at this point that most feel the change.

At the top of the path is a bowl in the land, almost a natural amphitheatre filled with the rubble of crumbling stone. It is here that we paused and, in meditation, placed ourselves within the Web of Light.

Leaving the companions in the care of the Guide to make their personal dedications, the ‘Hermit’ and the ‘Star’ take up their positions on small, rocky ledges overhanging the drop below. Each companion will walk that path alone with the Guide, to face their fears and answer what is asked.

The Hermit stands alone on the peak, one part of his journey accomplished. In his right hand he holds a star-lit Lamp that illuminates his next few steps and shines a light for others to follow. In his left hand he holds a Staff, symbol of both pilgrim and master and of the inner voice that guides. When hearts and hands are raised to the Light, the Light descends to meet them.

Beyond him, on the farthest ledge, is the Star. Poised between two worlds, she is polarity in equilibrium and offers her blessing for the next steps of the journey. To those who ask, wisdom is given.

What passes in such moments as these is not for us to share; only those who were there can choose whether they wish to share their story…or to keep it in their hearts.

As we gathered again at the entrance to the bowl, the mood had changed once again. Each of us had faced something and each overcome something personal. Aware that some fear heights and others have physical problems that would make it unsafe, we had not asked our companions to climb Peter’s Rock, but now we offered them the opportunity, and all who could took it. For some, that was another and very real triumph over fear.

And with that, the official part of the weekend was done. It remained only to descend and to close down the sphere of Light, sending Light and healing out along the lines of the Web.

But we did have one last place that we wanted to share…a very earthy place, perfect for grounding, and, incidentally, one of the strangest places in Derbyshire…

Rites of Passage: Last rites II

We began our walk by once again drawing a sphere of Light around our party. As we walked along Cressbrook Dale, we were careful not to colour any impressions our companions might pick up about the place. We shared a little history and geology, but it was not until we stopped by the mouth of a small cave that we began to speak of its ‘alternative’ history. Even so, it seemed that they were already tasting the atmosphere for themselves and their reactions could be read on their faces, from what looked like disgust through to delight.

The cave is a low, two-pronged shaft at the base of a cliff. It is an uncomfortable crawl to get inside, as years of fallen stones line the passageways that disappear into the darkness; we would not ask them to enter.

Instead, we gathered at the mouth of the cave for a guided journey, a type of meditative visualisation, similar to those we use as part of the Silent Eye’s correspondence course. This one, part of a longer story, was not so much written as glimpsed as we had worked with the landscape here over the years.

Our companions closed their eyes and, as a low chant echoed softly through the cavern, began their journey, following the words in imagination, entering into a time and a place beyond time… what they saw is theirs to keep or to share as they choose. Join us in that journey…

‘…The walls of the tiny cave close about you.

The drums reverberate through the rock.

The fire of sacred herbs is kindled before the narrow opening and smoke fills your lungs.

The flickering shadows dance on the walls and you are lost once more in vision.

The drums slow to a steady beat; your breathing is slower too… your heartbeat echoes the drums, slower… slower… Yet it beats faster than the heart of the land. Feel its rhythm in your bones as life ebbs and flesh melts into the earth.

‘As your body disintegrates… dust to dust, water to water, flame to flame… your soul soars, higher than life, deeper than death, faster than time.

All things are yours for the knowing, nothing is yours for the taking…nor would you if you could.

There is freedom in this.

The wandering mind rests, light as a mayfly, on the world you have known, seeing with new eyes, as parents watch children as they squabble in the dirt.

You sigh; the last breath leaves, and you are still…’

‘The pale gold of dawn touches your face.

You can feel the dew damp grass beneath your nakedness and hear the chanting, soft in the morning, entwined with the song of birds.

They chafe your hands and feet, washing the pale, cold skin. You watch, detached, apart… distant, yet present.

You are aware of curiosity, watching the body whose spark of life has fled, yet which lives still.

They sit you on the hide, one behind, two besides, chanting softly and marking your face with their fingertips, stroking your skin with the black feathers, passing the smoke before your face.

A cup is lifted to your lips the bitter liquid forced into your mouth… you choke…

… as you meet the eyes of the Old One, you swallow, and the world explodes…’

 ‘Smoke hangs in the hollow before the rock, the Place of the Dreaming.

The air is heavy, the fires not for warmth.

All day they have drummed.

All day they have chanted.

All day you have sat, rigid in the smoke that swirls and roils in your vision; great beasts and creatures populate your sight.

Death in life and life in death.

Yet now, once more, they bring you back.

This is the third night.

The last…or the first.

Your eyes are clear, looking up through the pall to the faces of man and beast, god and spirit carved by the Goddess herself in the rock.

Their eyes stare unseeing, seeing all.

As darkness falls the dance of flame gives them life, leering or smiling… the rectus of fear or the faces of desire.

You know not.

You know only what must be done.

A circle of torches spirals around the Place of Dreaming.

They have come.

For a birth…or a death.

There is only that. It is all you have left to give. You will not pass that ring of flame unchanged. You can only climb the pathway. You cannot run from yourself. Not now. Not anymore. You have seen too much. Your mind is clear, your body weak but renewed as you walk the spiral to the base of the rock; naked and nameless still.’

‘They stand away and you are alone. One step… two….

You approach the channel that leads up to the mound atop the pinnacle of rock.

You can see the smoke rising through the chimney… the sacred fire is kindled; smoke white against the dusk.

Fear grips your gut, a hand clenching in your entrails. Each step an aeon, each footfall touches terror.

In silence you battle the warding. You have earned the right to pass.

You climb, naked still, all that you are has been stripped from you… all thought… you simply are…

Up through the narrow crevice, up and right onto the rock… only silent swirling below, ringed with flame.

And then up once more, feet touching the grass of the mound, pushing through terror, wanting to flee. you sit, cross legged to wait. Knowing what is to come…

…Knowing… nothing…

…Fear remains, your only companion, whispering in the night. You see it… know it… taste it on your lips.

The torches are extinguished; the flames cold.

There is only the silence and the fear and the smell of smoke.

Smoke from a sacred flame… herbs and woods known to the few… to the old ones… gate of vision or funeral pyre.

If you fail, they will burn your body, scattering your ashes to the winds.

You will be lost forever.

Nameless.

You will not fail.’

Rites of Passage: Last rites?

On the Sunday morning, the last day of our weekend workshop, we had arranged to meet close to the entrance of Cressbrook Dale, a deep, green cleft in the hills that has a strange and often dark history. Our destination was an orphaned island of rock that stands isolated in the valley that is thought to have slid away from the adjoining hillside. It is called Peter’s Rock and was supposedly so named for its resemblance to the dome of St Peter’s in Rome… though perhaps a Christian overlay was given to an older and forgotten name. Locally, though, it is also known as Gibbet Hill.

In 1815, the same year as the battle of Waterloo, the vicar of Tideswell found his church empty and the congregation missing. They had found something more exciting to do with their morning and had departed, en masse, to witness the gruesome end of Antony Lingard, a convicted murderer, who had killed tollkeeper, Hannah Oliver.

It is said that he had stolen her property to give to a young woman who was carrying his child as some kind of bribe. Hearing what was suspected, she gave him back the goods and eventually testified against him.

The local cobbler, a man named Marsden, had provided the key evidence though, averring that shoes found at Lingard’s home had belonged to the victim. Lingard was hanged following his trial in Derby and his body gibbeted near the scene of his crime. Many accounts say the gibbet was erected on Peter’s Rock, also known as Gibbet Hill, others that it was in Gibbet Field. Lingard’s was not the only gibbeting there… the highwayman, Black Harry had also met the same fate and was hanged in Gibbet Field.

Nick Birds SE Ilkley 2015 uffington avebury cropton Helmsley 112

Lingard was the last man to suffer this final public punishment in Derbyshire, but his bones hung there, rattling in their cage, for eleven years, until the locals complained of the noise they made, rattling in their iron cage.

A few years later, his younger brother, William, was deported for highway robbery committed close to his brother’s remains, and a young girl poisoned her rival in love and was sentenced to death. Shadows seem to gather around this place, even on a sunny day.

Close by, when the turnpike was being built in the mid eighteenth century, two stone coffins were found when a cairn was excavated. Around the coffins were the remains of seventeen other people, buried like the spokes of a wheel. The place has a dark and mysterious history. Even the local pub close by, the Three Stags Heads, still displays the remains of the mummified cat found in the chimneypiece, placed there to ward off evil spirits…

Just beyond Peter’s Rock, the valley changes its name, eventually becoming Ravensdale and leading to Monsal Head and Fin Cop, where an ancient massacre occurred. It was a place of women, set apart and walled from the world. The women whose bodies were found showed no sins of manual labour and it is thought they were priestesses; no men were found to have lived there, though at least one of the murdered women was with child.

The attack was sudden, their bodies thrown unceremoniously into the ditch and the walls toppled upon them. On the slopes below is a ‘fairy castle’ of natural stone and, deep within it, caverns descend into the earth. It is the perfect spot for a sacred college and local legends and folktales appear to confirm the idea.

It is almost inconceivable that, linked as they are by a valley made largely of fluorspar, a stone said to enhance connection to Spirit, and a rise named locally Star Gate, that the two sites should not be connected.

The first time we had climbed up to Peter’s Rock, I had been infected with a quite unreasonable fear. I have little fear of heights and none at all of the rocky high places… yet this place got to me for some strange reason. My own panic infected my companion and, to my shame, while he scaled the rock, I beat a retreat. The second time was worse… and when we took Steve there, I was a wreck.

Quite what I had ‘picked up’ at the site we do not know, though we have our theories based on later visits and research. Whatever it was, it seemed the Rock was warded in some way. Even our recent visit to check the lay of the land had resurrected a ghost of that fear and it was only when we actually began to work with the place that it had dissipated.

There are many fears connected with this site. The gruesome fear of the murderous living… and the fear of the wakeful dead, the superstitions against which locals mummified cats, the historical massacre and strange, radial burial… and not least, the fear engendered by the possibility of a fall from rocky heights. They are all fears of transition, all ask us to look at where we are and where the journey we share might take us.

If a college of ancient priestesses used the Rock, it may have been for an initiatory rite. Every initiation contains a symbolic facing of death… a moment when the initiand must transcend fear so that the fear of annihilation is no longer the baseline against which life is measured.

Fear itself is not the enemy… it is a survival mechanism, designed to keep us safe. It had its place in making us flee the sabre-toothed tiger, but in our more sophisticated world, we have replaced that physical threat to life with more subtle terrors.

How we choose to face our fears and how we choose to transcend them is up to us… and can serve a purpose greater than our own.

Rites of Passage: Off Duty…

We left Tideswell with one eye on the clock and the other on the horizon. The drive to Castleton would take no more than twenty minutes and we had plenty of time before we were due to meet for dinner, but Castleton and its surrounding countryside deserve to be seen and the light was fading fast.

The limestone country of the Peak District in Derbyshire is spectacular. Dry stone walls follow medieval field boundaries, enclosing green meadows, while above them tower the hills, scarred white with old stone that was once a seabed. I took the long way round, driving westwards into the setting sun, because I wanted to drive our companions down Wynatt’s Pass, the narrow, steep sided gorge guarded by pinnacles of rock. We were gifted with a sunset that spilled liquid gold across the horizon before setting the sky on fire.  There are times I wish I had a roof-mounted camera on the car…

As we approached the top of the pass, we pointed out Mam Tor, the Shivering Mountain, so called for its habit of shedding its friable stones. Mam Tor, the Mother Hill, is a hillfort, with traces of the ancient settlement still clinging precariously to its sides.

Below it, Wynatt’s Pass snakes between the hills and there was still light enough to see the valley unfold before us. The Pass is said to be haunted by the ghosts of Alan and Clara, lovers whose family disapproved of their union and who eloped, planning to marry and begin a new life together.  Thieves, seeing their wedding finery, ambushed them in the Pass, stealing their savings and murdering the couple. Their bodies were thrown down a mine shaft and only found a decade later. The thieves, though, did not enjoy their ill-gotten gains for long, as each one of them died in strange and horrible circumstances…

Beneath the Pass are many caverns and mines, from the old lead workings of the Odin Mine to the caverns where the rare Blue John stone is found. Appropriately enough, I had been given a beautiful pendant set with Blue John and peridot as a birthday gift that morning. Wearing it seemed to deepen the connection to this landscape that I love.

On the horizon was Lose Hill, one of a pair of conical hills in the area, steeped in legends of giants and battles. And, on the hillside above the town, the skeletal remains of the Norman Peveril Castle, once one of the most important strongholds in the area, now just a shell of its former glory.

Castleton is one of those place that seems to have everything, from the industrial history of rope-making in the caverns, to prehistoric sites, a medieval church, a ruined castle and a wealth of legends and folklore, from ghostly apparitions to treasure, highwaymen and thieves. It was just a shame there was not enough time to share it properly. We may have to base a future workshop there…

With the church closed, the light fading and the temperatures rapidly dropping, we decided against exploring the town further and headed, instead, for the warmth of Ye Olde Nag’s Head, the seventeenth century coaching inn where we were to meet the others. It was a lovely evening, and a perfect end to my birthday. All that remained was to drive back to Sheffield and fall into bed…  we were going to have a busy morning ahead of us next day….

Rites of Passage: Brief encounter…

The Silent Eye weekends are not just about what is built into the schedule, they are also a chance to spend time with people we have come to know through the events and who have become friends. We are always glad when there is time to spare, as that allows us to take a more leisurely approach, whether that is a long talk over dinner or, if we are lucky, time to visit and share an extra site or two.

On Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves with a couple of hours to spare and a rather curious site not five minutes away from where we were. Rowtor Rocks is a favourite haunt, one we have visited many times, both on our own, with friends and as part of a previous workshop. It is a curious, natural landscape that has been altered by man, from the prehistoric rock carvings to its reshaping by a local clergyman.

Many of the rocks have faces, there are strange ‘blinds’ and false paths leading to sheer drops, caves and a staircase that seems to lead through a narrow cleft to rebirth. It could be a dangerous place for the unwary, with steep cliffs and misleading pathways, but with a little knowledge and care, it is a fascinating place to explore.

We have theories… a good many of them… but the most pertinent to the journey we had been taking that weekend was that, whether seen through the Christian symbolism of the Stations of the cross, or from a more esoteric perspective, the Rocks had been re-designed to provide a perfect initiatory landscape, where the need to face the deepest of human fears is part of the journey. We had looked into the history and possible functions of the site in some depth during our Riddles of the Night workshop and, although we would not have time to share it all with our companions, there would be time enough to give an overview. It was as I was pointing out a skull-like rock with a ‘font’ cut into its crown, that a vacant-eyes woman appeared and approached, wafting a stick ineffectually at the undergrowth. My impression was that she was wearing a floral tea dress, reminiscent of the forties, such as my grandmothers would have worn… and that whoever was supposed to be watching her needed to take far greater care with the steep drops from the rocks. She neither spoke nor acknowledged us, just wafted dolefully and retreated after a few moments.

On the next level up, a man with both the moustache and dress of Clark Gable in Mogambo was also watching us. He looked vaguely angry… and his expression never changed throughout the encounter. I did not hear him speak either and that was odd, as everyone else we passed exchanged smiles or greetings. There was just something odd about them… apart from their dress from half a century ago…

The two gave the impression of being together but did not communicate with each other, at least, not verbally. Taking one of the company into a cave, I missed most of what happened next and will have to leave it for one of the others to fill in the gaps. I came out of the cave in a hurry, having the distinct impression that our other companion was somehow under threat. It made no sense, but that was what I felt. There had been a brief encounter, but the situation had been diffused.

It is difficult to convey the sense of unease, as if something was ‘not quite right’ with the two oddly garbed figures. It was even odder when, after they had disappeared, we compared notes and found that while we could all describe the man, we all recalled the woman as being dressed differently, though the colours we remembered were the same. Even odder when we realised that they had left the area via the steps at the far end of the platform… steps I had warned our companions against climbing as they are slippery and broken… and lead to nowhere beyond what can be seen except a sheer and unclimbable drop…

For no reason we could put into words at that point, the whole encounter had been rather unnerving. Even so, we put it to one side as we showed our friends the series of caverns and played with the acoustics. One of the caves is incredibly dark. I had borrowed a torch to check the safety of the floor before inviting everyone in… it would not do to have broken glass underfoot in the pitch blackness. That too is unnerving…until you turn to look back at the light from whence you came and realise that it is not really dark at all. The shadows are all perception.

Above the caverns, we showed how easily a great boulder can be moved; so perfectly balanced is the rocking stone that it moves with the lightest touch. Further up, we looked at the isolated pillar that is impossible to reach… and the three ‘judgement seats’ carved into the stone, before looking down once more to a prehistoric symbol of light.

It was just a shame there was no more time. We saw only a part of what there is to see… but it was enough. Rowtor is a place of contrasts. Dark and light, man-made and natural, ancient and modern, Christian and pagan, winding paths and sheer drops. In many ways, it was the perfect precursor to what we had planned for the next day. But first, we had planned dinner in Castleton, and if we were lucky, there would be just enough light to show our companions the Shivering Mountain and a little of the spectacular limestone countryside…

Rites of Passage: Going deeper…

We had only a field to cross before we reached or final planned destination of the day. Doll Tor is a secluded little circle, now set within a wooded grove, a little off the beaten track. Following the unofficial addition of stones to the circle in the 90s, by well-meaning but misguided visitors, archaeologists carefully restored the site to its original layout, removing extraneous stones and it now looks much as it would have done when it was first built in the Bronze Age.

Thankfully, the site had been well documented. The circle is around twenty feet in diameter and consists of six standing stones which were once connected by drystone walling, traces of which still remain. The design reminded us of Barbrook II, though here the connecting walls take a back seat and may be missed by those concentrating on the standing stones. As we had seen at Nine Maidens, and on previous trips to Barbrook I, there is a cairn close to the circle, this time, though, instead of being at a small distance away, it is right beside it. Almost connected to it. Given the nature of the finds unearthed here, it could be seen perhaps as a mortuary temple… or perhaps its purpose was to forge a strong connection with the ancestors.

Bateman’s excavations in 1852 uncovered burial urns and cups within the circle. Eighty years later, Heathcote found five more cremations and a number of urns within the stones. In the cairn, he found a central stone cist containing the cremated remains of a woman. Around the edges, four more cremations had been buried, along with a faience bead. For such a small, withdrawn circle, set apart from the main settlement, sites and cairns of Stanton Moor, it was obviously a place of some importance to contain so many burials… almost as if it had been ‘supercharged’ with ancestral presences. It gives the impression of a place set apart for a reason.

Because of its seclusion, Doll Tor is a place still used by those for whom there is still magic in the land. It is one of those places where saying that the ‘veil is thin’ is more an accurate description of the atmosphere than a cliché. Our own experiences at the site had convinced us that the link between the land and its people was still functioning and we hoped our companions would join us in an experiment to reconnect with the ancestral presence.

We feel that this was once a place of seers. It has a distinctly feminine feel and even its form echoes that of a gravid goddess. The trees that shield the circle from view offer their own presence and the grove of wood and stone feels very much alive.

While two of us held the space, we would journey back, following the paths that open on the screen of imagination, and see what might come into the mind. Opening ourselves to the unknown is another threshold of fear, whether in everyday life or in any form of psychic or magical work. The pathways of the mind can lead us to some strange places, not all of them comfortable.

Motionless, with arms outstretched, we stood as our companions walked the inner paths that lead beyond time, space and realities. What they found there is not our story to share, but it is safe to say that for them, too, the circle was still alive and functional.

Such experiences may be dismissed by the sceptical as pure imagination…which is, after all, one of the most powerful forces in our world and the root of all innovation and creativity. For others, it is psychism or vision. When images surface from the deeper levels of the mind, such labels matter little. To those who experience such a moment, what matters is what is felt and learned. And none of us were left unmoved.

Before we left, we shared bread and wine, a symbolic communion of Earth and Spirit, that has its roots in a tradition far older than its current religious association. There is shared purpose at such moments, and a trust that knows no barriers. Then, having performed the closing visualisation, we made our way back towards the road.

A glance at the clock told us that the scheduled day had finished earlier than anticipated. With our table for dinner not booked till eight, we had time to spare…and a very intriguing site just five minutes down the road. The chance for a whistle-stop tour of the site seemed too good an opportunity to miss. It is a strange place, but one we know well. We knew our companions would find it interesting. But we were not expecting the weirdness that would find us there…

Rites of Passage: Worlds apart

Our next stop was not only a site extraordinarily rich in archaeological remains, but also a local beauty spot with plenty of parking nearby and well-defined paths… always a difficult combination. We would always wish to have these places to ourselves, but as they are freely accessible, the better known sites are seldom deserted on a sunny afternoon. It is a balancing act… while it is undoubtedly a good thing that people visit these sites, taking even a cursory interest in their history and thus helping to preserve them for future generations, not everyone treats them with respect. Much damage has been done over the years, and you never know what you are going to find.

One of the first things you see as you enter the area known as Stanton Moor is a pillar of wind-worn gritstone known as the Cork Stone. The face of a watcher guards the entrance to the moor, a place where, for over four thousand years, a continuous human story has shaped the land.

The past few hundred years have seen damage and changes wrought by quarrying, plantations and medieval field systems, but it is the Bronze Age that renders this area one of national importance and spiritual significance. By the time you reach the Cork Stone, one of four such guardian pillars on the edges of this small patch of moor, you have already passed between two of the seventy or more burial cairns veiled in heather and bracken.

Many of these cairns were excavated in the mid twentieth century. Interred cremations and skeletal remains were found, along with grave goods, food vessels and personal possessions, all of which show care and attention to the dead, both as individuals and collectively, rather than our more modern attitude of fear and hasty disposal.

The grave goods imply a belief in a life beyond this one and a place for the ancestors within the lives of the living. Why leave offerings unless the departed with know about or need them in the space beyond death? Why worry about their remains, save for love and respect, unless you expect them to still be around in one form or another?

The cairnfields cluster around four stone circles. Most are almost impossible to find except in winter when the vegetation is sparse, but the best know, Nine Ladies, draws many visitors. The legend, a common one for stone circles, says that the stones are nine maidens, turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath and the outlying stone was the fiddler who played for them.

There are, in fact, ten stones at Nine Ladies… in addition to the outlying King Stone, a flat stone was found to the east in 1976. The small stature of the stones is typical of Derbyshire circles and, although the circle is over thirty feet across, none of the stones are more than three feet high. To those used to the tall stones in other parts of the country, it would be easy to dismiss these small circles as somehow ‘lesser’ than their grander counterparts, but when you are lucky enough to stand alone in their presence, you are very aware that here, size really does not matter.

There is a possible embankment around the circle and there may once have been a cairn or burial at its centre. A solitary stone now stands in the path a few yards away. This is the King Stone; long thought to be an outlier, it has now been found to be the central pillar of a ring cairn, now lost. It has sadly lost much of its height thanks to a collision with a car… vandalism has long been a problem at this site.

Most, but sadly, not all of the time, the damage is not deliberately caused. The stone circles draw innumerable visitors and simple erosion by the passage of thousands of feet will eventually create problems. When we arrived at Nine Ladies, we were treated to the terror of a young lamb, separated from its mother, fleeing for its life from an uncontrolled dog… its owner nowhere to be seen. There were families, campers with hammocks strung from the trees and walkers… and, with the poor lamb having just run through, the atmosphere was not good.

It strikes me as sad that these old places, once sacred centres for their builders, should be given less respect than more familiar places of worship. Those sprawled across the stones or partying in their midst would not dream of repeating their behaviour in a church, even if they do not subscribe to its faith. We may not wholly understand the beliefs of those who built the stone circles, but we know they were seen as sacred places… and I believe that their beliefs deserve respect.

We stopped at the threshold formed by the King Stone, the central pillar of the now-invisible cairn, unwilling, for the moment, to go closer. The juxtaposition of cairn and circle is seen at many of the sites in Derbyshire. Barbrook, Doll Tor and even Arbor Low seem to make this deliberate connection between the rites of the living and the presence of the dead.

Quite how significant this may have been we have no way of proving, except by working with the sites and seeing what comes. What is known though, is that the cairns and circles on this stretch of moor and beyond were arranged in quite specific alignments.  Author John Barnatt, senior survey archaeologist for the Peak District, has used modern methods to confirm these alignments… though their purpose may elude us.

The archaeological evidence, however, does indicate that life and death were seen as intimately linked and suggests a belief that there was a line of communication between the two. Perhaps the ancestors were thought to care for the living, even from beyond the veil, perhaps they were believed to be able to influence or advise on events. It also suggests that while the innate, life-preserving fear of dying would have been at least as strong in our ancestors as it is in ourselves, the fear of the dead, and of death itself, was less prevalent than it is today.

In a society where the ethos of winners, losers and ‘every man for himself’ has become the desired and necessary approach for those seeking material success, we seem to have lost that sense of community and continuity that places the wellbeing of the many before the desire of the one. Ego is in the driving seat…and ego fears nothing as much as its own obliteration.

With a certain reluctance, we led the way into the circle, allowing our small company time to become acquainted with the stones. The circumstances were not ideal, but when we gathered to share the visualisation of the Web of Light, we might as well have been invisible.

We began the long walk back, passing through the huge but hollowed cairns, as well as those yet to be excavated, that line the pathway. Two by two, caught in our own part of the story, we headed back towards the Cork Stone. With more time and fewer people around, we could have spent a day exploring here. As it was, there was a quieter place that we wanted to share before the afternoon ended…

Slimegrobbels and custard…

“Tell me a story…”

My granddaughters and I were sitting on the floor of their pink-painted cabin at the bottom of the garden. I had evicted yet another invading spider and, while the youngest sat on my knee, her almost-five year old big sister was sprawling in the pink armchair.

The three of us had been playing. I had pushed little Imogen on her swing until she giggled with joy and had chased Hollie around the garden, swinging her up onto my shoulders and teaching her to stand on her head in a fairly unorthodox manner. Somehow, small children make you forget the aches and pains… at least until next morning when you try to move again.

By this point though, we had settled down in the playhouse and eaten a meal of chocolate-dipped worms and green slimegrobbels with custard… a menu chosen by Hollie and lovingly prepared by the smallest of chefs. I could only be thankful that the meal was imaginary… and delight in the serious expression with which Imogen, barely two years old, ‘cooked’ and ‘ate’ the ‘food’ while Hollie supervised. Watching a child’s imagination begin to flower is a beautiful thing.

As we settled down in the pink palace built by a besotted father for his princesses, Hollie asked what we should play next. I asked her to tell me a story.

“I don’t know any stories…” She held up empty hands, but that, I knew, was far from the truth. Not only can Hollie tell a good story from those she has heard, she also creates whole imaginary worlds for us to play in.

“You know lots of stories…” Hollie sighed and rolled her eyes in a manner that will serve her well when she has children of her own.

“Just pretend I don’t know any stories, Grandma… so, you’ll have to tell one.” I had walked into that, so we snuggled up and I began with the traditional words…

“Once upon a time, on the edge of a forest, there lived a little girl. She was as pretty as a princess and loved to wear a red riding cloak with a hood. Her name…” I could see the satisfaction as Hollie recognised the tale, “was Fred…”

Fred???”

“Fred.”

Hollie, her interest well and truly caught, sat forward in her armchair as I told how Little Fred Riding Hood had gone to visit Grandmother in the woods, carrying a basket of slimegrobbels, because Grandmother’s best friend, the Wolf, was poorly…and how, when she arrived at the cottage, Fred found that the wicked witch, disguised as a woodcutter, had changed them both into gingerbread men who had been packed in a giant’s lunchbox and had to be rescued by the fairy godmother who turned them into pumpkins by mistake.

Imogen was almost asleep, but Hollie had listened to every word. She sighed again.

That was just a pretend story, Grandma. Now tell me the real one…where Red Riding Hood isn’t called Fred… or anything else…” She went on to give me a synopsis of the whole adventure so that I would not miss any of the important details.

I smiled and told the story, pleased that my little granddaughter could tell the difference between a ‘real’ and a ‘pretend’ fairytale. It wasn’t simply that she knew the original plot well, she recognises that such tales have to be told in a certain way… ‘properly’, she called it. That is a common thing for children. The words and how a story is told matters.

What struck me most, though, was that from the way she was telling me the storyline, she also seems to understand, at some instinctive level, that while fairytales are not true, they are real in their own way. They have their own integrity and, when ‘properly’ told, they are important. Arbitrary changes are not allowed as they alter the essence of the story completely and, at the heart of every old fairytale, there are lessons to be learned whose sense will be lost if the salient details are altered.

In the days before the majority could read or write…and even further back, to a time before the written word was invented, storytelling would have been very much a part of the life of the tribes and families as they gathered around the light of the hearthfire. Stories would have been valued, from the anecdotes the old ones told of their youth, to the tales of the hunters, to those told by the shamans and teachers.

Much wisdom can be concealed within a story… and such tales would have been learned young, perhaps long before they were fully understood. Because they were stories, not obvious lessons, they would have been remembered and both the stories themselves and the hidden wisdom they held would have been passed down through the tribes and clans, just as we still remember the fairytales of childhood and tell them to the children at our knees.

As I sat there with my granddaughters, I felt that we were part of a story that goes back to the earliest human lives… and forward into a future that will one day leave even our memories behind. I remembered my own early years, looking up at great grandma and saying those same words. Images flitting across the screen of memory like gentle ghosts… a child absorbing lessons unawares, their stories attached to the emotions they engendered… and to the love of the storyteller .

Will Hollie tell her granddaughters about Little Fred Riding Hood one day? Will Imogen teach her grandchildren to make slimegrobbels and custard? How far into the past do we reach with that one simple phrase? How far into the future will one shared fairytale carry us as children uncountable say the magic words…

“Tell me a story.”


There is a lot more to fairytales than the wide eyed child understands, especially in the older versions. The archetypes we meet in these old stories echo many aspects of the human condition and the journey of the soul.

We are born into a magical world, where our childhood is peopled with wonders. We are given gifts and talents yet our soul is held within the body, like the princess in the castle. As we grow to adulthood the magic fades…or more precisely, our awareness of it fades. Like the princess, we fall asleep, lost to the song of the soul as the ‘curse’ takes hold. Alive but slumbering, waiting…

Join us next April to explore the hidden beauty of fairytales… and awaken the beauty that sleeps within.

A fully catered, residential weekend.

Click below for prices and to
Download a Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

On the horizon…

I always look forward to September. It is one of the most  beautiful times of year in Britain. The days are usually mild and often beautiful, the last of the heather lingers as summer slides into autumn…a perfect moment for a wander in the landscape…and what better way to spend my birthday than with friends in the ancient and sacred places that I love?

The very first September event that we ran was the Harvest of Being in Ilkley, up on the moors that I have loved since childhood. There is nowhere else on earth that I would rather have been at that moment. It was a small informal affair, just as we like to keep these events; no crowds, just a few friends exploring the landscape and sharing our different perspectives on the spiritual journey that is mirrored by that taken by our feet. The following September we returned to Ilkley and our company had grown a little. Last autumn was the Circles Beyond Time event in Derbyshire, where we shared the landscape in which we work with an ever-growing, but still intimate group.

Since that first weekend we have travelled through England and Wales, exploring ancient sites, old churches, modern wonders and wild places… but we have not yet shared an event in Scotland, a land I love.

That is about to change. In September, we head north to the Don Valley in Aberdeenshire with a very old friend. I have known Running Elk for a decade or so and have, on occasion, been able to wander briefly in his company. It is always a revelation to learn his perspective on the ancient sites and a joy to share his enthusiasm. So this year, more than ever, I am looking forward to September.

Join us, if you can, exploring some very special places…

Inverurie, Scotland
15th-17th September 2017

2The gently undulating and fertile landscape between the foothills of the Grampian Mountains and the North Sea proved an attractive place to settle for the early Neolithic peoples colonising the furthest reaches of the British Isles. Nowhere else contains a greater concentration of late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age remains; from the earliest recorded flint mines, through numerous burial mounds and cairns, to the highest density of stone circles in the country.

Yet, there is a mystery. Unique to the area, with the exception of a few examples in the South West of Ireland, the circles of the region are exclusively of the “recumbent” type; a form largely intended for monitoring the “solstices” of the moon, more 3-copycommonly referred to as the lunar standstill, with specific interest in the major lunar standstill which occurs in an 18.5 year cycle.

Join us in the heartland of the Picts, for a weekend of discovery and exploration of the enigmatic astronomical sites created by their Neolithic forefathers, and the equally enigmatic rock art they themselves left behind.

4-copyThe event will consist of three days exploration of local sites in and around the market town of Inverurie, in the beautiful Don valley, Aberdeenshire.

The weekend is informal, no previous knowledge or experience is required. We ask only that you bring your own presence and thoughts to the moment.

Workshop costs £50 per person. Accommodation and meals are not included and bed and breakfast/hotel in Inverurie should be booked separately by all attendees. Lunch and dinner are usually shared meals.

Click below to

Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com