‘Aye’ of the Unicorn: Whirligig…

*

As the weekened progressed

we were to work our way around ‘the limbs’

of an elemental pentagram.

*

Two sites from the region

were given over to each element.

*

In the first we would consider the element in question

with the help of a conducive environment and our core text.

*

In the second we would construct and walk our pentagrams,

again in a conducive environment,

whilst examining notions of our magical self

in relation to the element and its inner psychology.

*

On Saturday morning and afternoon we

considered and worked with the element of air.

*

Our character was Lady Macbeth who displayed

her own inner boundaries by acting as Super Ego

and inciting her husband to commit regicide

before turning insane with guilt and taking her own life.

*

What did we not want to become in our magical self?

*

Master of the Universe.

Instead, we shall blow where the spirit listeth…

North-easterly…

We were heading for the Castles of the Mind weekend, so time placed a curtain wall around our freedom to meander. For once, therefore, we behaved, managing to resist all temptation to stop and visit places along the road as we made our way northwards. Our destination was Bamburgh and we had to arrive in time for tea. That we arrived early enough to book in to our accommodation and check out two churches before the meeting was our reward for not straying from the road.

The route we had taken was circuitous, avoiding the rush-hour traffic by the simple expedient of going south in order to head north on calmer routes. Thus, the symbolism of the weekend began early, because although the more direct route would undoubtedly have been quicker, we would have arrived bored by motorways and stressed by traffic, where instead we learned something about the land, found new places to explore and arrived eager to greet our friends, who had travelled from across the country and from the Czech Republic for the weekend. The straight road is not always the best from which to learn.

We would begin with a cream tea and a walk on the beach below Bamburgh’s iconic castle, where Steve would introduce us to some of the concepts he wanted to explore during the course of the weekend, using the symbolism of the castle to illustrate the workings of the ego.

No-one really knows how long there has been a fortress on the site, or whether the striking outcrop on the shore began its life as something other than a defensive bastion. What is known is that it was once a place of the Brittonic Celts, who called it Din Guarie, as early as 420AD. It has been an Anglo Saxon palace, a Norman stronghold and seat of rebellion and is now a private home partly open to the public. The castle has seen many changes over the years, but it still imposes its presence upon the landscape.

Castles are strange, contradictory things, when you think about it. They fulfil many functions, from keeping goods and people sheltered within the safety of their walls, to defending against attack, whilst being themselves both bases for armies and for ruling the surrounding land with the proverbial iron fist. They may epitomise strength, will and power, yet they are also rigid, limited and vulnerable. Under attack they may be broken, under siege they will fall to starvation, flame, or fear. The encircling wall which holds everything within it in safety is also its own boundary, through which both ingress and egress are carefully controlled. The bars of the portcullis can keep people in as well shutting them out.

We stood on the outside, looking in. The gates were closed against us and, in a perfect illustration, we were denied its sanctuary as a sudden squall battered us with wind and rain. Surrounded by the elemental forces of the water and air, it would have been easy to choose a retreat, seeking the shelter of stone walls and firesides.

But the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and, after all, only we were wet. The sand still held the warmth of the day, the air still retained a memory of summer and the sea had not quite reached its truly northern chill. Closer to the waves, the sand already held more water than the clouds and the footprints it held told their own story. I was surprised by how many were booted, feet encased in miniature ‘castles’, isolated from the earth. It is undoubtedly a hassle to remove and carry boots and socks, then have to remove the pervasive sand from between the toes, but a few had done so and the very human prints ran with those of the dogs who bounded joyfully across the beach.

Already as wet from the rain as I was likely to get, with the sand soft between my toes, I walked along the edge of the waterline. It is a strange sensation, walking thus in silence with the susurration of the sea drowning all other sound. On one side, the waves roll in, in constant, repetitive motion, yet with each wave unique in form, force and sound. On the other side, the beached water rolls out to sea, levelling the sand as it passes, erasing all trace of what has gone before. You walk the path of balance, poised between the ebb and flow, a fragile creature, able to move forward in face of the elements, isolated by their song, yet part of the dance.

The sea too has its power and its will, the strength to erode the foundations of a castle, and the freedom of fluidity. Bounded only by the shores it creates, water rises to form clouds that travel overland and beyond the ocean’s visible limits. Even so, it is vulnerable and suffers at the hand of Man. It may protect its creatures, but it is dangerous, and like the lords of the castle, must be treated with respect.

Walking the shore, with the castle behind me, I would rather be at one with the sea than the fortress, yet both are neither more, nor less, than what they are, their form and function intimately linked and both serve their purpose. The real question, perhaps, is do I want to remain within the apparent security of the walls of my own nature or take my chances with a wider landscape of adventure… Perhaps the path between is the wisest place to walk.

The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill II

 

(Continued from Part I)

Halfway across the length of Maiden Castle, the terrain changes. It is a slight demarcation… little more than a step ‘up’ at one end… yet the change is palpable. While the western entrance leads onto a place where people lived, the eastern end of the enclosure is where the dead were laid, in the care of the priesthood. We do not know exactly how these people worshipped, though we may glean a little insight from the so-called ‘primitive’ tribes that still exist.  Their beliefs would have been animistic and their priesthood would have included the healers and seers, the shaman and the wise-woman. The earth was a living being and every rock, tree and creature a manifestation of Spirit. The forms of faith may differ, but in essence, they are the same as our own.

Spearhead embedded in a skeleton’s spine. Image taken from photo of information board.

On our first visit to the site, five years ago, we had felt the change in the land. It was only later, when we did the research that we found that we had ‘seen true’. There are many graves in this part of the hillfort, all buried with reverence and respect, though some had died violent deaths. In the 1930s, Sir Mortimer Wheel found a cemetery containing fifty-two skeletons and, although many of the males had died of horrific injuries, they were buried with care. Grave goods of pots, metalwork and even joints of meat were sent with the dead to the otherworld.

Image taken from photo of information board.

At the easternmost point of the hillfort there is a gate. Few visitors seem to venture through it to the mirror-maze beyond. Echoing the western maze, this one is more unkempt, left in peace for the atmosphere to build and the energies to whisper, and it seems more ceremonial than practical. It had been within this maze that we had seen how it could be used for the rites of passage and we had planned on gathering our companions here for the third and final visualisation of the weekend. Unfortunately, when we reached the eastern end, half our companions were already following their own calling to the Roman temple…

 

Artist’s impression of the Temple of Minerva. Image taken from photo of information board.

While many hillforts had fallen out of use by the time the Romans arrived, Maiden Castle continued to be occupied and acted as a centre for crafts and trade. When Vespasian subdued the south in AD43, it seems likely that resistance was strong from the fortress… over 2000 slingshots were found stored in pits near the entrance to the maze, the confusing and winding pathway that served as a defensive measure and processional way.

Plaque showing Minerva, found at the Temple. Image taken from photo of information board.

On the northern side of the Castle is the outline of a Romano-British Temple dating to around AD400. It was built on the site of an Iron Age building and may have replaced a much more ancient shrine. We do not know to whom the original shrine was dedicated, but a plaque found at the site shows Minerva and suggests the Temple may have been dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and had particular significance for one of our company. It had something to tell me too, had I but realised it.

The Briggate Minerva, Leeds; a sculpture by Andy Scott.

Her symbol is the Owl… which was going to prove astonishingly significant over the next few days. Being kept in the dark by your own mind sometimes where these things are concerned, it is only now that the pieces are coming together. The Owl is the symbol of my own home city, where a modern Minerva wears the Owl mask and holds three aligned stars, like those of Orion’s Belt…which ties us back to the Giant and its alignments. I won’t even mention that my city got its Owl from the nobility of Anjou, who were granted lands in the area after the Norman Conquest, or that the nobility of Anjou were major players in the birth of the Knights Templar… and we had started our adventures that weekend with a Templar Head.

So it was unexpectedly perfect that we gathered for the final visualisation at the centre of the Temple of Minerva, where we again joined with the Web of Light to send thoughts of peace and healing out into the world. It never matters that our plans must change when the unexpected occurs… leaving ‘space for spirit’ means accepting the gifts of the day and being aware that sometimes, the day knows best. And then the weekend was over. All that remained was to say our farewells in the car park… but once again, for some of us the weekend was not the end, but only a beginning. But that is another story…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill

 

Our final site of the official weekend workshop was Maiden Castle, an enormous prehistoric structure just outside the Roman town of Dorchester. We gathered in the car park beneath the hillfort and began the climb to its gates.

The name, Maiden Castle, is of debated origin, with some scholars taking it to mean an impregnable or unconquered fortress, while others look to the old Brittonic language and see it as mai-dun, the great hill. Perhaps it is both, but for our purposes, the site was definitely well named and large enough to be the virginal bride of a Giant.

Aeriel view of Maiden Castle; image from photo of information board.

The human occupation of Maiden Castle goes back over six thousand years to the Neolithic era, when the hilltop was cleared of woodland and a causewayed enclosure was built. Finds suggest this was a place of gathering for ritualistic purposes, rather than a settlement at first.  There is evidence that stone axe heads were made and polished there and these axes were as much a part of ceremonial regalia and a mark of authority as a weapon. They are found as grave goods in important tombs and were traded across Europe.

The graves of two children were found within the low banks of the enclosure and it is thought the banks were more a symbolic separation, perhaps between the lands of the living and the lands of the ancestors. A little later, a huge bank barrow was built, over eighteen hundred feet long, but which is barely visible today. The barrow may have represented the presence of the ancestors within the community as well as acting as a dividing landmark.

 

In the Iron Age, a hillfort was built on top of the original structure and later extended to the west to enclose more than double the original area, until it covered more than forty-seven acres. The information board graphically illustrates the sheer enormity of Maiden Castle when it tells you that the summit alone is the size of fifty football pitches. It is the largest hillfort in Britain and one of the largest in Europe.

We entered via the maze… a complex arrangement of deep, steep ditches and high, blind banks. Worn by millennia of weather, the banks have eroded and the ditches have lost their original depth, yet it is still an incredible feat of engineering. Defensively, it is a fabulous way of intimidating, separating and confusing an enemy, but we wondered if that were its only purpose. As a processional way, the snaking progress of torches in the dark would look both impressive and magical as they climbed the hill through the coils of the maze.

Artists impression of Iron Age fort at Maiden Castle, showing the western ‘maze’. Image from photo of information board.

We began there… and all our plans, ideas and research went for naught, as our companions were drawn, this way and that, called to their own explorations and following their own visions and inner prompting. That is as it should be… anything we create for these workshop weekends is designed to encourage that inner voice, so we can hardly complain when our companions hear and follow.

A few of us began to walk around the ramparts, marvelling at the scale of what remains and discussing the history of the site. What began as a small settlement became the largest of its kind in the area, with many roundhouses built in a random pattern. Then, for a short while in its long history, the castle was organised and held under strong leadership. The old homes were demolished, and orderly streets of houses built. The ramparts were strengthened and the community reorganised. Little now remains visible of what was once there, but the inner eye sees beyond time and recreates the conical rooftops, the grazing of goats and kine and the slow swirl of many hearthfires. Where does imagination begin and end? When does conscious thought become unconscious vision? And where is the portal beyond which we cannot see…until we do?


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – Accident or Design

Although the hexagram was the main ‘pattern in the landscape’ that we had come to investigate… with a little help from the Giant on the hillside… there was another pattern that had been intriguing our companions… that of the crop circle that had recently appeared on the hills opposite the Giant.

We had no luck in finding it with the scant information we had that morning, but the girls had been doing some research of their own, and it was no surprise when they bounded into the pub, looking as pleased as punch.

Crop circle below Hackpen Hill, Avebury

Trawling the internet for pictures and asking the locals, they had, between them, located the circle and two of them had gone in search of it on the ground. They had found the field in which the crop circle had gone down but had been unable to find anywhere on the narrow lanes to park their car and walk. Could we, perhaps, knowing the area a little better, find the time next morning, before the final site, to go and have a look? We agreed a meeting, set the rendezvous for the last visit of the weekend and eventually headed to bed.

The nature, purpose and origins of crop circles may be open to debate, but their fascination is a given, especially the ones that had appeared around the village with such seemingly perfect timing. First, when we had only just made the decision to do a workshop in the area, the very first thing that came up when we Googled ‘vesica’ and ‘Cerne Abbas’ was a crop circle of a vesica containing a goddess figure; uncannily appropriate when we were looking at wholeness and completion below a giant priapic chalk carving.

This latest figure was just as strange, having gone down days before, and being made up of the same geometric elements as the symbols we were using. Steve had given one of his excellent presentations at a workshop some years ago, where he demonstrated that the astrological glyphs representing the planets can all be drawn using elements of these simple forms… the circle, the semi-circle and the cross. At Cerne Abbas, we were working with those planetary symbols… and so, coincidentally, were the creators of this latest crop circle…

Next morning, as is our habit, Stuart and I were awake and out very early. We decided to see if we could find a way of accessing the crop circle for the girls and headed for the hills. We found the field with no problems, found a spot to park and even found a footpath. We had about three quarters of an hour before we were meeting the girls. We could actually see the landmark of the mobile phone tower, yards from the circle.  Plenty of time!

We set off down the track at a fair pace. We soon realised that the tower was much farther than we thought. We pushed on, determined to walk till the last possible minute. As we neared the tower, we passed a huge boulder beside the track, remarking that it looked like a ‘significant stone’, but there was no time to linger. As it was, we had run out of time before reaching the tower and had just a minute or two to verify the presence of the circle, snap a few useless pictures and dash back to the car.

Image© Richard M 1992-2016

There would not be enough time to get to the cop circle before meeting the rest of our party for the final site, but at least we had clear directions and a parking spot for the girls, two of whom would be back in a couple of days, though Helen would not be with them.

When Larissa and Alethea did return, they visited the crop circle… and I hope Alethea will tell more of her story when she gets the chance. What they did not know, because we did not know, was just how odd it was that the circle went down just there.

It was not until I started playing with Google Earth, when we were home again, that I had chance to work out where our hypothetical vesica in the landscape might fall, and things got even odder. Using the positioning of the six churches to create a hexagram, you can extend the geometric forms to draw…and therefore find… a vesica. I am no expert with that software, but even I could see that Cerne Abbas itself was not the exact centre of the hexagram as we had assumed. The centre of that shape, which, with the extended geometries is also the base point of the vesica, falls close to the hamlet of Up Cerne. I took a closer look.

geo

I trawled all my usual sources and found they were referring to an ancient way-marker or boundary stone beside a track.  My sources had pictures. Not only was it the same ‘significant stone’ that we had noted on the approach to the crop circle, it was the Bellingstone that stands beside the Wessex Ridgeway and which we had decided, prior to the workshop, would be far too difficult and time consuming to locate. Instead, we found it by accident.

The crop circle is in a field close to the Bellingstone, close to one of the best viewing points for the Cerne Abbas Giant. According to Peter Knight, the stone and Giant are astronomically aligned with the Beltane sunrise. Belenos is one of the old Celtic gods whose name means ‘Shining God’. Beltane is celebrated with fires and Belenos was worshipped as a solar god. The sun is the centre of our planetary system… and the crop circle made of planetary symbols was, as near as I could determine, right at the centre of our hexagram… and one of the two points of the vesica we had been seeking. Apparently, we had found that by accident too.

You cannot, as the saying goes, make this stuff up. No-one would believe the sheer volume of coincidences… and yet they happen. All the time. Why and how? Do we simply read more into coincidences than is really there? Does the subconscious process unconsciously gathered information in some way we do not yet understand? Or are there indeed unseen forces moving us like pieces on a chess-board? If so, they have a wicked sense of humour!


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The one in the garden…

On our research visit to Dorset, we had really had to look for the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Hermitage. We had driven up and down the lanes for ages, before finally spotting a sign that led behind the village green and into the gardens of a cottage. We could see the church… a tiny, single-cell building, but felt a little awkward invading someone’s garden to get to it. Apparently though, that was the path to the church.

One of the reasons we had been unable to locate the church originally was the lack of a tower. Not only had this made our quest a little more difficult, it had also obliterated our theory about the tall towers and their significance within this six-pointed landscape in the shadow of a priapic giant. Luckily, however, a bit of digging soon reassured us on that point at least.

The village of Hermitage is said to take its name from the presence of the Augustinian Friars who settled here nine hundred years ago. They were under royal protection and were eventually given grants of land by the Crown. The friars remained for three hundred years, and built the little church in the fourteenth century.

The present church was heavily altered and restored in the seventeenth century and the font dates from this period. There was once a tower, that contained an apartment for the curate, but that was removed, leaving only a lonely gargoyle, jostling for place with the modern wires.

Around 1800, the barrel roof was installed, giving the church its current appearance. There is still a medieval door in the north wall and a scratch dial… the primitive sundials used for telling the times of the services… on the outside of the building.

The setting, like the church, is simple… it is very much a part of the community and obviously loved. Not far away is The Lady’s Well, a sacred spring once used by the Friars, but whose origins…and the Lady to whom it is dedicated… may go back much further in time.

Within the church, the Lady is the Virgin Mother with Her Son, a beautiful and unusually human sculpture. In some magical systems, the dark, Cosmic Mother is associated with the planet Saturn, the planet at the centre of our meditation, while the little church, filled with summer light, we had assigned to the Sun.

For our purposes, though, the chair carved with the hexagram seemed a most appropriate find, as it was here that we would complete our meditation. Beneath the ghost of the tower, we ourselves symbolised the seven points of the hexagram, moving to bring the fire and water triangles together to create a symbolic representation of harmony and wholeness.

Our day was complete. We were to meet for dinner at the old inn in Cerne Abbas that had once been part of the Abbey buildings, so everyone had a little time to themselves. Some went back to their hotel. We went for petrol and spent a little while in the quiet of the Silver Well. And some went off on an adventure of their own, hunting yet another pattern in the landscape… 


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The one with the magician…

5 Batcombe (41)

Our penultimate church was in Batcombe… these days a small and straggling hamlet, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. There has been a church on the site of St Mary Magdalene for nigh a thousand years and very possibly more. It stands in a green valley, far from enough people to make a congregation seem barely feasible.

The church boasts a tower taller, in proportion to the rest of the single-celled building, than many grander churches we have seen. Indeed, the first impression you get when you arrive is of the height of the tower and the isolated beauty in which it stands.

The church is a simple one, with the main entrance still being through the base of the fifteenth century tower, and leading to a nave and chancel. It is a long, narrow building and lacks both ornamentation and stained glass. It is vaguely unkempt, appears almost abandoned… and yet it has a curious tranquillity and a welcoming feel. Of all the churches we visited, this was the one where I felt most at home.

Outside, there is a warmth about the stone and the simplicity of the doorway is inviting. There are gargoyles watching from the four corners of the tower and a pair of heads flank the door.

An odd shield-shaped marking…perhaps a mason’s mark… looks rather like a smiling face, positioned close to the door. Around the corner, a fragment of pre-Norman masonry hides amongst the flints on one of the buttresses, suggesting the presence of a Saxon church on the spot, long before the Normans arrived and began building the churches we appreciate so much as repositories of art and local history.

All in all, it is an inviting place. Once inside, the air is cool and ‘clean’ in some indefinable way. The tower walls hold a handful of memorials that show a little of the history of the community.

I was particularly taken by the elaborate border of one memorial that combines an angel with fruits, foliage and a skull, as well as the rather startled-looking skull on another that has an almost cartoon-like feel.

The font stands at the back of the church, where the tower meets the nave, and is a curious affair. It has a Norman column with a curvaceous yet cube-shaped limestone basin which is older than the pedestal upon which it stands. There are circles inscribed on the sides of the basin, looking very much like those odd consecration crosses we had found earlier at Cerne Abbas.

 

There is little to see in the rest of the church at first glance, especially after the wealthier places we had already visited. But look a little more closely and there are still wonderful artefacts to be found.

The fragment of an old screen hides beside the organ. Pews hide an ancient holy water stoup and a rare twelfth century pillar-piscina, set against a triangular alcove.

A carved stone screen separates the nave from the chancel and illustrated Bible graces the lectern. The fifteenth century collar-beam roof is held in place by roof bosses carved with foliage and curves gently over the nave.

Victorian restorations erased the Minterne Chapel that once held a very curious burial and a bit of local folklore. The local squire was known as ‘Conjuring Minterne’. He dabbled in magic and was regarded with fear and superstition. After setting off to ride over steep Batcombe Hill one day, he suddenly remembered he had left his spell-book open on the table, where his servants might find it.

To save going back by the road, he turned his horse round and spurred it to attempt a massive leap over the church, knocking off the pinnacle as he soared clear over the tower. The fearful villagers were afraid that they might offend the devil by repairing the damage, and bad luck was promised to those who attempted to do so… and for a hundred years they left it alone. When it was repaired, they repaired it at a crooked angle.

It is said that Minterne vowed that he would be buried neither in nor out of the church, so he was buried half in and half out of the Minterne Chapel. The church was redesigned and rebuilt by John Hicks in 1864, and the Minterne chapel was sadly lost. The memorial tablets were repositioned on the north side of the tower and one must wonder if the John Minterne mentioned in the carvings is the conjurer…

A “conjurer” used to be an important character in a Dorset village, and was held in respect. He was supposed to be gifted with supernatural power, which he exercised for good, and by his incantations and ceremonies he could cure many sicknesses.

In another of those curious coincidences, we had assigned this church to Mercury as part of our meditation…and in many systems, Mercury is associated with magic.

The afternoon was drawing to a close…we had one more church still to see, if time allowed, yet it was with some reluctance that we left Batcombe. With its air of quiet, resilient grace and a standing stone hidden in a nearby hedge, it really is a magical place. 


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The one with the light…

The current Church of the St Nicholas, at Sydling St Nicholas,  dates largely to the fifteenth century, with the tall tower being the oldest part of the building. However, it stands on the site of at least two earlier churches that go back to the earliest days of Christianity in the country.

We had been unable to get inside the church when we had come down to reconnoitre for the workshop weekend as it was in use, so this would be an adventure for all of us… we had no idea what we might find.

There are a good many unusual features. For a start, the church is covered in gargoyles, all of whom are up for adoption in an effort to raise funds to preserve the building. Gargoyles were working sculptures, designed to carry water away from the foundations of the building when it rained, while grotesques served either as decorations only or as a symbolic spiritual message… although there are many that seem to be a covert commentary by the mason, making a point about local notables.

Above the porch, an ascetic saint holds his finger skywards in blessing or warning. Most of these niches are now empty, but most parish churches would have had a similar statue before the Reformation. There is an old fireplace in the porch, where, one assumes, the parishioners could warm themselves in winter. I doubt if Cromwell’s Puritans would have approved of that either.

They certainly did not approve of the stained-glass, and little of the early glass survived their stones and muskets… just a few intriguing fragments placed in a frame and hung above the font at the base of the tower.

The font is a really curious affair, most unusual. It appears to have been made from a Roman column and set upon a later pedestal. Beside it, leaning forlornly against the wall, is another old basin, large enough to be a font.

High above the nave is a collection of painted roof bosses. Most of them are simple floral designs, but a few of them seem to have more to say…

The protruding tongue of one of the bosses is echoed in another fragment of old masonry, now ensconced in the squint. Traces of the old pigment remain and you get a glimpse of how magnificent, colourful and possibly garish these churches once were, when they were painted throughout. They must have been startling indeed to the common folk for whom dyes, tapestries and colour were largely out of reach.

They were reserved for the wealthier families, like the Smiths who once lived at Sydling Court. Rumour has it that there is, or was, a tunnel from the crypt of the church to the Court too, and not for the first time, I wish we could access some of the lesser frequented areas of these old churches.

There are several memorials to the Smith family, including one to Mary Smith, a mother of twelve who lost eight of her children in infancy. She died aged eighty-one in 1797, ‘full of years and good works’.

4 Sydling St Nicholas (30)

The two most intriguing features of the church for us, though, were in the east and west. In the east, on the altar, is a carving which we assume must be Christ with outstretched arms as it sits in the place of the Cross. I wasn’t the only one to think this figure looked rather like an alien from a sci-fi movie…

In the west is the tower where we gathered for our meditation. We had assigned the planet Jupiter and the colour orange to this spot, along with our seed thought. As we finished our meditation, the sun came through a small fragment of stained-glass and it appeared that we had made the right choice…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The one with the dragon…

The little church of All Saints at Nether Cerne is in the most beautiful and peaceful location imaginable. On our first visit, we drove down the tiny country lane that runs beside the infant River Cerne, expecting to find a village. There are only a couple of cottages, a farm and a beautiful seventeenth century manor house… and a sign saying ‘to the church’ which seemed to point between two tracks leading into the middle of nowhere.

Leaving the car, we took the right-hand track, following it behind the manor’s stables, until we found a gap in the wildflowers through which we could see the church. Feeling rather like naughty children, trespassing where we shouldn’t, we followed the hint of a path into the manor gardens.

The church is tiny and stands opposite the door to the manor. By contrast, its tower is proportionately huge. There are a handful of graves, including a military grave bearing a carving of crossed rifles, and a feeling of utter peace.

All Saints, though remaining a consecrated place of worship, is a retired church. After eight hundred years, the building is at rest, yet it retains a luminous sanctity and tranquillity matched by few others we have seen. It is a place that simply needs to be felt.

It is surrounded by fields, sheltered by trees and a silence broken only by birdsong and the quiet whisper of the river. We did not expect it to stand open… yet the door swung inwards to allow us entry to a little church that keeps an antler with the candlesticks.

Although it was built in the thirteenth century, it was remodelled two hundred years later. It is a very simple church, seeming bigger on the inside than the outside.

There is little to see at first, just a few stained-glass windows, two of which are superb. The face of the Christ in the East window, above the altar, has faded and lost its features, but the Lamb and the Crucifixion are worthy of any place of worship.

The font is a curious affair, oval, rather than round, and looking rather like half an upturned melon. It is pre-dates the present church and may come from a much older building. I cannot find out whether the Purbeck marble font was part of a church already on the site, or whether it was brought from elsewhere, but it appears to be at least nine hundred years old.

The tower is the most interesting part of the building, with a tiny door leading to the stairs and some curious carvings on the pillars. Small, shield-bearing angels guard the entrance to the tower, but from within, you look up to see an eagle and a tiny dragon.

As we gathered there for our meditation on the planetary colours and seed phrase, it was evident that these could not have been better chosen.

 

 


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.