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.

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

We had assigned our second church, All Saints in the village of Piddletrenthide, to Mars, but nothing less warlike could you imagine than the tranquil stream and thatched cottages that surround one of the finest churches in the area.

Like the previous church, it has an inordinately tall tower, surmounted by more really intriguing gargoyles. Not for the first time, I am grateful for the long lens on the camera, which allows at least a glimpse of what is hiding in plain sight, just too high to see. It is an interesting church with a lot to see…

There is a plaque in the churchyard pointing out the Dumberfield graves… the family that was the inspiration for the D’Urberville family in Thomas Hardy’s book. Being a local man, Hardy crops up on many of the places we visited.

There are heraldic beasts perched on every protuberance around the exterior of the church… which, on closer inspection and in spite of their regal appearance, seem to be the symbols of the Evangelists… quite unusual they are too, given their placement. A sundial still casts a shadow to tell the time… and, like the one at Buckland Newton, it bears the ‘daisy-wheel’ symbol that had intrigued us at Cerne Abbas.

Beneath it, the Norman door is closed against the ingress of baby swallows. We watched their aerobatics… the parents seemed to be taking the babies out for a training flight and we were lucky enough to see them circling within the porch. For some reason, swallows seem to favour church porches as nesting places.

There are Norman carvings on the capitals of the pillars within the church too, but most of the present building dates back only to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries… and was inevitably and heavily restored in 1852 by John Hicks, though he left the squint in place, through which worshippers in the side chapels could see the Host being raised and which, rather oddly, today seems one of the most vibrant details.

There are a number of very fine Victorian memorials, showing weeping women, broken pillars and all the usual visual tropes of grief from that era. Apart from their historical and artistic value, these elaborate memorials never draw me.

One memorial stood out, though, and that was a stained glass window dedicated to those fallen in battle, in memory of a young fusilier from the village killed, aged twenty-five, during WWII. He stands at the foot of the Cross, his sword has been laid down, and Jesus seems to look down with love and compassion.

Curiously, there are stars surrounding the Cross and, given some of the questions thrown up by our quest, this seemed appropriate. Another window shows the Christ within a vesica once more and the pulpit is carved with the hexagram.

All the stained glass, though, is magnificent, particularly the Madonna and Child and the West window in the Tower. The Madonna is one of the best I have seen, while the great West window is a wonderful depiction of the Ascension with attendant angels.

This church has everything going for it. All the right historical and architectural details, a literary association, wonderful glass, Norman carvings and an idyllic setting. As we gathered to meditate on the colours and symbolism of our attribution of this beautiful church, I could not help thinking how inappropriate it seemed to assign this place to Mars…  or how right it felt.

When we had first visited the church, I had been excited about everything we saw… but somehow, the place left me cold. It spoke to the mind, but failed to touch the heart. The next church, however, would be the complete opposite…


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.
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The Giant and the Sun – In search of King Arthur

We wandered the summit of Cadbury Castle, each of us alone with our thoughts before gathering once again at the centre to speak of archaeology, history and legends. Now, legends are all very well, but many a place has adopted a lucrative tale, just to pull in the tourists. The monks drew in pilgrims with dubious saints and relics, and it is no more than economic sense to capitalise on something that will help the local economy. But there are a few crumbs of fact, as well as the legends, that might place our vision of Camelot at Cadbury, even though the Arthur we think of first did not exist before the medieval romances.

Who is Arthur anyway? Is he just the hero of the medieval romances or something more? Was he the historical war leader mentioned in the oldest texts? Was he a giant? Certainly there are enough ancient sites, hills and megaliths across the country that bear his name to portray him as being of gigantic stature. Or is he something other than that? When we had first visited Cadbury, five years ago, we had both ‘picked up’ a similar impression… that of a ‘wise guardian presence’, the archetypal guardian of the land. Could the King Arthur we know today be a conflation all of these strands, buried deep within the psyche of a nation?

If a historical Arthur did exist, he was most likely a fifth century war-leader, and not an armoured and caparisoned knight. The tales we know and love have their origins hovering between medieval romance and a much older tradition, in whose stories we can find fragments and parallels.

Historically, Nennius, writing in 820, names Arthur as the dux belloram, or war commander, who fought alongside the British kings against the Saxon invasion by Horsa and Hengist and the victor of many battles, including the decisive victory of Mount Badon. The name ‘Arthur’ may have a number of origins, but the most likely seems to be that it comes from the native Brittonic arto– ‘bear’, which later became arth in Welsh.

Similar names were common throughout the Celtic world. Oddly, one of the names for the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is Arthur’s Wain. A wain is a wagon or a wheeled vehicle, and one of the earliest references to Arthur is from Gildas who lived from around 500 to 570, and who wrote of the British King Cuneglas that he had been “charioteer to the bear”. For a king to be anyone else’s charioteer would suggest that person held an elevated status. Dux belloram, perhaps?

Stars were to play a major role in our weekend workshop, in many guises. The Great Bear has been used from time immemorial for navigation, pointing the way to the north star, with Orion’s rising and setting marking due east and west. Orion too was going to crop up again…

But, back to Arthur. There is the circumstantial evidence on the ground. An ancient trackway runs from the base of the castle to Glastonbury and is known as King Arthur’s Hunting Track. The river Cam runs close by and the nearby villages of Queen Camel and West Camel bear its name. Cadbury Castle used to be known to the villagers as Camalet too. And, from the summit of Cadbury, you can see the Tor at Glastonbury, the mythical Avalon to which most of the Arthurian stories are tied and where Merlin himself sleeps beneath the Tor.

The name ‘Cadbury’ may come from ‘Cador’s fort’ and while the legends speak of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, history tells that Cado was the historical son of a Dumnonian king named Gerren. In the old stories, he was a friend and relative of the legendary Arthur, conceived at Tintagel and therefore possibly also a Dumnonian prince. Local tales have been associating Cadbury Castle with Camelot for hundreds of years, long before the people of the land were able to read for themselves Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and there are snippets of history that add fuel to the fire, as well as local legends.

The Saxon conquest of Somerset took about fifty years longer than anywhere else due to the fierce resistance by a local king. Legend has it that this king was Arthur Pendragon. The size and scope of Cadbury, plus the etymological links and archaeology, may not confirm the claim for Arthur, but it certainly fits the known facts of resistance.

For the doubters, there is the tale of a band of knights who sleep in a cave beneath the hill, beyond a pair of iron gates, waiting to be called to the land’s need. On Christmas Eve and Midsummer’s Night they ride to water their horses in the spring beside the Saxon church at Sutton Montis, in the shadow of the hill. So deeply ingrained is this story, that when archaeologists came to work at Cadbury, one old gentleman asked if they had come ‘to wake the king’. We had not done so… or perhaps, in a way, we had, waking something higher, buried deep within ourselves, as we visualised an ancient rite and opened ourselves to the whispers of the land.


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.

Drawing a dark veil…

“Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” Pope Gregory’s letter to Abbot Mellitus, 6thC, on the conversion of Britain.

***

You have to admit, Pope Gregory was sneaky. The mission to bring the blessed isles of Britain into the Christian fold was not to be accomplished so much by conversion as subversion. To ‘convert’ means to turn in a new direction, to subvert means to destroy from below… and that, is pretty much, the definition of sneaky.

The instructions to the missionaries were clear… take and use the old sacred places for the new worship. The letter was quite detailed in how this should be done, but basically it meant allowing the people to celebrate the same festivals, in the way they had always done, and in the same places. The only difference wa that, while they were doing so, the clergy of the Church could gradually add a Christian gloss to the festivities. Many of the old gods were adopted as Christian saints and their stories rewritten accordingly, magical places were rendered ‘officially’ sacred by appropriating them for Christian myth and the symbolism of ancient festivals was reallocated to the Christian story.

Gregory was right. The people were soon turned to the new religion.

They may have neither noticed nor cared; when you worship God made manifest in Nature, the names and stories of the gods matter less than natural and cosmic force they represent… and Britain already had a long history of accepting ‘foreign’ gods into the pantheon. The new Jesus-god was little different from many who had come and gone before, after all. Miraculous births abound in religious history, across the globe and throughout the ages. Gods who walk the earth as men are not uncommon, nor are the gods who come to teach. Saviour gods and sacrificed gods were ten a penny, and Jesus was not the first to be hung upon a tree.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Gregory must have been well aware of this ready acceptance of new gods into the pagan fold. Throw in a few incentives…and eternal life isn’t bad for starters… add a dash of hellfire and brimstone to put the fear of God into the laggards, put learning, healing, economic and political power into the hands of the priests, and he was right; within a generation or two, the conversion was pretty much complete. The old gods faded into myth and their altars were forgotten…or repurposed.

But, let’s be honest, Gregory was not exactly the first to bring Britain to Christianity, whatever his letter might suggest. The process had been going on for quite some time. There were already Christians in Britain before the Romans left in 410AD. The very earliest missionaries, according to the legends, had arrived much earlier than that, when Joseph of Arimathea had come to Glastonbury, bringing with him relics of Jesus’ life and mission, and founding the first Christian oratory there. Joseph, according to the Bible, was the man who asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the Cross… so, if the legends are true, then Christianity came to these shores within a few years of the Crucifixion.

Celtic Christianity, which carried a greater love and respect for the natural world, was already firmly entrenched in these isles before Gregory wrote to Mellitus. The last pagan warrior-king was Penda of Mercia…and he died in 655AD. So it was not so much Christianity that Gregory wanted to bring to the land, but Roman Christianity. be that as it may, after the Synod of Whitby in 664, Britain was officially under the sway of the Bishop of Rome and the spiritual landscape was confined to the churches and chapels.

For those who seek a greater understanding of our spiritual past, Britain is particularly rich in archaeological remains dating back thousands of years. There are over a thousand stone circles, innumerable barrows and many other ancient monuments to baffle, intrigue and illuminate the seeker. Sacred sites continue to document the evolution of belief throughout the Roman Occupation, then you hit what was known as the Dark Ages (until political correctness renamed it the Early Medieval period) and nothing much remains except the imported Norse and Saxon gods and the earliest beginnings of the Church. The lines between them blur as the one blends with the other and our original spiritual story sinks further into myth… and the seeker is left with the task of unpicking the resulting tangle.

Unfortunately for Pope Gregory, his directive had an unexpected result. By building his churches on sites of a far more ancient sanctity than the sanction of Christianity, many of those sites were preserved. We not only know where they were, they are still there.

There are barrows in churchyards, ancient yews, once held sacred, still cast their shadows on holy ground, sacred springs run beneath foundations and local saints with strange names and even stranger stories leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow.

And follow them we do, finding mysteries and motes of ancient light as we delve into the origins of belief. Why do we search? What can such ancient beliefs offer us, and how do they relate to the modern world? You have only to look at the political evolution of ‘official’ faith to see how murky the waters can be and how the minds and hearts of a nation can be quietly subverted.

But somewhere beyond all the chicanery, beyond dogma, beyond all organised religion, when we reconnect to our ancestors, we touch a time when the questions we still ask today were first being explored. Their world was simpler… everything was either sacred or magical, or both. There were spirits in stone and tree, there was healing in the waters. Everything was seen as connected. Animals, even the hunted, were held in reverence and the green and growing land was the body of a goddess. Nature was the self-expression of divinity and mankind no more than a part of that expression. With humankind seemingly determined to despoil and destroy our home, I believe that perspective to be more than relevant today.

Bearding the lion…

“You busy?”
I flick the phone onto speaker, my hands are otherwise occupied. “Just a bit.”
“What’re you up to?”
“Sticking pasta in a beard.”
There is a long silence on the other end of the phone…
“Could you repeat that?”
“You probably heard me right.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.” His startled tone makes me laugh. “Whose beard?” I can practically picture my son’s thoughts… he sports a rather magnificent beard of his own these days. Then I hear the shift as the light dawns. “Isn’t it a bit early for that?”

No, it is not too early, and even if it were, it would be worth it to have had that conversation. The annual workshop is barely past and we still have eleven months till the next April workshop, so yes, we have plenty of time to gather, make and play with props and costumes. We shouldn’t actually need many props next year, and the costumes will be simple enough, but the ones we do need have to be right. I’d rather start early, with the bits I am doing, and give myself plenty of time to start over if I make a mess. And, to be honest, I love this part of the process and couldn’t wait to get started.

And then, there is the whole time thing. It flies, these days. There are always workshops coming up, even though those we run in the landscape do not take much preparation in terms of making things, there is still research, planning and writing to be done. The time in between just seems to run away.

Our next workshop, in Dorset, is just a month away. Stuart and I have already been there for a research trip and work is ongoing, organising, writing and planning how best to illustrate the phenomenon of the mysterious patterns in the landscape.

Bamburgh Castle smaller
Image: Steve Tanham

We get to sit back in September, and simply enjoy the Castles of the Mind weekend in Northumbria, organised by Steve, where we will look at the physchological correspondences of the fortresses we build both in the mind and in stone.

We are back in the saddle for December, when we will be visting Cumbria, where Castlerigg, one of the most beautiful stone circles in the country, may show us a gateway to the otherworld of the ancient tales.

Then we will be into the final preparation for April’s residential weekend, Lord of the Deep, based upon the four-thousand year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving great work of literature.

And another year will have passed before we know it.

It is both a blessing and a curse, perhaps. The years are sliding past at an incredible rate, it is true, but they are full of purpose, direction and a joy in what we are able to share. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But, if anyone has a current address for Old Father Time, I would happily beard the proverbial lion in his den and ask for an extension…

Riddles of the Night: Raven’s Nest

Our final site was to be a stone circle high on the moors, but first, we had to get there, and the journey can be as interesting as the destination. We walked the ‘long way’ up to the moor, rather than climbing the short, steep slope that would have taken us to the circle in minutes. There were a few reasons for that, but mainly it was so that our companions, who had not visited the site before, could see it within the context of its landscape, because that is the only way it can really be understood.

The longer route takes you around the bottom edge of the moor, following a path whose age is indeterminate. It is what you might call the natural route across the moor, the path of least resistance, especially if you do not know what lies ahead.

We have often found at these ancient circles that they sit in a landscape where a stream divides the habitations of the living from the ‘lands of the dead’ where the cairns and circles are found. We have also found that the paths leading into the sites from a distance seem to follow the course of the water on the ‘dead’ side and this circle is no exception. They never run directly to the ritual sites, always skirting them at a distance. There would be practical reasons for being close to water, but why on the opposite side of the stream from the settlements? Was it a matter of respect for the living? Or was it so that travellers came into the tribal lands under the watchful eyes of the ancestors, treading sacred ground?

We pointed out where the settlement might have been, across the water, as we passed beneath the trees. We also discussed Pointy Stone Theory which had first come into being at this site. Pointy Stone Theory (as opposed to the Ubiquitous Pointy Stone Theory which lends significance to every pointy stone) came about on an early visit. My companion had taken the high path, while I took the lower route. The first thing you see on this stretch of moor is a triangular stone against the horizon. If you head for the stone, you come out on the ridge within yards of the circle.

But, if our theories about the trackways were correct, no stranger would want to come that close. How then did they navigate across these vast and seemingly empty moorlands? Following the lower path, it was noted that seemingly random boulders presented a single triangular face…if you followed the route. Deviate from the path and that face was lost. So far, it seems to work, leading you close, but not too close, to the ancient sites.

Our forefathers worked with the land on a vast scale. Whole hills have been shaped, and indeed built, to serve their needs and beliefs. Sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, though best known to us for their very visible stones, cover great swathes of land with interconnected monuments. A simple and necessary thing like a navigation system is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

By the time we had demonstrated our PST, we were at the foot of the long, steep climb up to the moor beside a winter stream. Turning back at the top, we followed the track to the Outlier… a prominent stone from which an average height man of the bronze Age would have been able to get a first glimpse of the stone circle.

But, before reaching the stones, there was something else to see. A huge bed of rock perches on the edge of the moor, seeming to shadow the shape of the distant landscape, although you must lay on the mossy earth to see it clearly. This phenomenon is usually known as mirroring, but as Stuart had pointed out a while ago, a mirror image reverses what it reflects…these features in the landscape recreate the horizon in miniature.

The same phenomenon can be observed on the tallest of the stones of the circle. Its contours shadow the form of Win Hill. From this point, at Samhain and Imbolc, the setting sun appears to roll down the contour of the hill itself.

It would seem as if our ancestors, observing the movements of planetary bodies, chose or shaped their sacred stones to echo the topography of the land, recreating features of the wider world in miniature. This would suggest that their rituals involved sympathetic magic, where working with the microcosm they had created, the cosmic forces of the macrocosm could be harnessed or directed.

Within this ancient and sacred space, we shared a simple meditation, sending light radiating out, joining the sacred centres of this land as nodes of light, and then beyond to the wider world, continuing the work we have been doing for the past few years. It is as if the land itself has taught us what it is… what to do… and what it needs from us.

We had also found over the past year that many groups and individuals are, quite independently, working in the same way with land, stone and crystal. In oddly fortuitous circumstances, we have met and been made aware of each other, as if we too are ‘dots’ being joined together in a vast network of those who serve the Light.

And that brought us back, full circle to the questions we had pondered at the beginning of the weekend. What is it that causes this breadcrumb trail to be left for the curious to find? What prompts unconnected groups and individuals to set their hand to the same task? What did the ancients have in common with the Templars and their spiritual kin, the Freemasons? We all have the land itself in common… all the time… but we seldom pay attention to its whisperings. But when the Underground Stream resurfaces as a fountain of inspiration, there are always those who are able to drink from the well.

There were many questions unanswered…all we had hoped to do was sow the seeds of thought. Much more was discussed than has, purely because of space, made it onto these pages… and many more ‘breadcrumbs’ would lead us deeper into our quest for answers. But that is another story, outside of the bounds of the workshop.

We had one final stone to show our companions…the Raven Stone after which we privately name the site, the Raven’s Nest. Oddly enough, given our preoccupation with the dragon-lines, and serpent symbolism, this is one of only two places we have seen snakes. Quite symbolic when you consider the reptilian nature of birds… and the esoteric convention that sees the symbols of winged creatures as representing a ‘higher’ arc of spiritual evolution.

By the time we came down from the moor, the afternoon had almost gone and we were obliged to take leave of our companions who had a long way to go. We repaired to a local inn for a late lunch, before taking the long way back into Sheffield, over the moors, as the day ended with a final grace.

Riddles of the Night: The long and the short of it…

We had arranged for everyone to meet on our final morning at the church of St Michael and All Angels in Hathersage. It is a place we have visited on many occasions, but, as had been the way lately, recent visits had shed new light on old, familiar details. Even ones we had previously photographed and written about, but still not really seen.

The current church is largely fourteenth century, with all the usual later renovations and additions, though there had been a church on the site, close to an old settlement of the Danes, since at least 1100. The names of all the vicars are still remembered, as far back as 1281.

Initially, the decision to visit the church had been taken simply to provide a point of interest along the way, as our main site for the morning was at some distance from our base in Bakewell. A visit to reconnoitre had changed that perspective, once we had made the Eyre connection.

And anyway, given that we had spent the previous afternoon at Robin Hood’s Stride, it seemed only right to pay our respects at the giant grave of his companion, John Little, better known as Little John…and chuckle at what appears to be a parking meter beside his resting place.

Charlotte Bronte stayed at the vicarage here when she was about to write Jane Eyre. The name of her heroine is that of the influential Eyre family whose tomb dominates the chancel of the church, along with a number of medieval brasses showing the Eyre knights and their ladies.

It was one of their descendants, Thomas Eyre, who had been the parson at Birchover and who had shaped enigmatic landscape of Rowtor Rocks where we had spent the previous morning. And as if that wasn’t enough of a connection, there were all the other details we had missed…

As with so many things we have known but not realised until the time was right, it hadn’t even registered fully that this was a St Michael and All Angels, in spite of the dragons carved as gargoyles and grotesques on the outside of the church. The St Michael dedication is commonly found in areas where the leys… the dragon lines… can be found and the All Saints/All Angels attribution, we have found, tends to be significant.

Oddly enough, it is only as I write that it bothers to register that the little church in the village where I have lived for over fifteen years is also a St Michael and All Angels. Even odder still is the fact that the village of Hathersage has two churches dedicated to St Michael.

Arriving early on the last morning of the workshop, we had time to look around the churchyard, noticing how may of the crosses on the headstones were of the ‘cross pattée’ type, or resembled those on the medieval grave-markers we had seen at Bakewell.

Many of these symbols were also associated with the Templars and their successors. And, just to put the icing on the proverbial cake, one grave is carved with the All-Seeing Eye that is a symbol frequently associated with Freemasonry.

We know that it is easy enough for the human mind to join the dots and make patterns, finding significance where there is, in reality, none at all. It is all too easy to come up with a theory and start making the pieces of information you find fit that theory, rather like the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, cutting off toes to squeeze their feet into the Glass Slipper. We didn’t have a theory… we didn’t have a clue what we were seeing to begin with, only that we were being presented with a lot of odd facts, artefacts and coincidences that all seemed to be related. All we were doing was trying to make sense of it all…

Had we any idea of what we were doing? More importantly, did those who had left us this centuries-old breadcrumb trail know what they were about? If they did, what were they up to? And if not, why were the same pertinent symbols showing up again and again in the most disparate places? What could possibly link a medieval church, the Templars, Eyres and Freemasons, a ‘green’ giant and the Bronze Age stone circle we would be visiting as our last site of the weekend?

Riddles of the night: Beneath a starless sky

After dinner in a cosy inn, warmed by good food and roaring fires, we set off for the final adventure of the day. Officially, the visit was not part of the planned weekend, but something we wanted to share with our companions. We had been granted permission by the landowners to visit the great stone circle of Arbor Low after dark.

In daylight, the site is spectacular. A huge henge… a banked and ditched earthwork… encloses a central space containing a circle of stones ranging from small boulders to great monoliths. None of them are standing and the official jury is still out on whether or not they ever were. Today, the immediate impression is of a clock face or a zodiac laid out on the ground… a star temple, perhaps, within the body of the Mother…bringing outer space and inner space together. There are rumoured accounts of the memories of standing stones from the eighteenth century, but personally, I do not feel the outer stones ever stood, though the unusual inner cove would have done so. These coves are found only at major Neolithic sites and a skeletal burial was found beneath it, missing both hands and feet.

The circle is high on the Derbyshire hills… so high that you have no sense of how far the land has climbed, save only the lowering clouds that seem close enough to touch. From the outside, the henge looks like a feminine figure reclining on the hilltop. From the air, the female symbolism is even more striking. As the solstice approached, we would enter the darkness within the body of the goddess and emerge renewed.

Although not an official part of the weekend, it did tie in with our look at the ley network and the ancient tracks. A Roman Road, built to follow the course of a much older trackway, runs just five hundred yards from the circle. We knew, from previous research, that Arbor Low formed one of the points involved in a countrywide set of geometries and was considered a major centre for leys. Curiously, as the leys are also known as dragon lines’ and serpent energies, most of the women we have taken to this circle in daylight have reported feeling that the stones were connected to serpents or snakes… not surprising when some of the stones themselves look reptilian. What we did not find out until afterwards…and which could not have tied in more neatly with our findings at Bakewell with its octagonal tower and eight-pointed anomalies in the church… is that the leys which pass through Arbor Low form an eight-pointed star. That would have been a strange enough coincidence on its own.

There was utter silence as we crossed the farmyard in the pitch blackness of a December night. The nearest town and street lighting are miles away. Had the sky been clear, the stars would have been amazing… but, although our luck had held with the weather so far, a clear sky was not on the menu. Instead there was a heavy pall of cloud that descended to meet us as we climbed the last slope through the muddy fields.

Passing between the serpent stones, we each chose a stone in silence for private meditation. As I lay on one of the stones of the stones of the cove, closing my eyes to outer darkness, rain as fine as frozen stardust began to fall. Perhaps it was not rain, but a cloud come down to kiss the earth…we would be drenched, but gently so.

From that meditation, I emerged with a symbol in my mind, an arrow-head with an eight-rayed star glowing at the centre, which would not begin to make sense until later when we found out about the star-patterned leys.

With that symbol in mind, we shared a simple dedication and healing at the centre of the circle, sending light through the leys and out into the world. Whether or not one believes in the ley network or the power of ritual, the power of the imagination, fuelled by sacred intent, is a potent thing. If it changes nothing but something within ourselves, it has wrought a change in the world. Like the tiny raindrops whose touch was no more than a whisper on the skin, but whose cumulative effects were felt by all, from such small changes, great change can grow.