Riddles of the Night: Unconventional methods…

A labyrinthine path leads to a summit that ends abruptly in a sheer and unforgiving cliff. From this side, the settlement on Cratcliffe Tor would have been impregnable. Yet, there seems little space or evidence for a group of homes in this place. There are other sites nearby where ancient settlements have been found and, although Cratcliffe, Robin Hood’s Stride and the stone circle below them may have been at the heart of a community, we do not think it was here that they lived. They were important for another reason. The rocks, the confusing pathway and uneven landscape seem rather to lend themselves to a minimal population and reminds me of other sites that we suspect may have been ritual landscapes, places where the births and deaths of a clan would have been marked. Certainly the summit, with its great beds of stone, would have been a perfect place for air burial.

One stone bed in particular seems designed for this purpose. A low, pillowed couch that slopes down to a trough… that got me into trouble when I suggested it could have been ‘for the juices’. For some reason, the phrase did not go down well with my companions.

This is not pure speculation. We know that air burial was an efficient way to clean the bones of the dead and it would seem that our forefathers held a belief that the process of dying was not complete until the bones were clean. We know, from archaeological evidence, that many different methods were used to hasten this process. Perhaps the dead could not become ancestors, guarding and promoting the wellbeing of the clan in the otherworld, until their bones were properly prepared.

The presence of a stone circle and other ritual sites close by would suggest that this was a place where the human journey, from birth into death, and from death into the otherworld was ritually marked. One of our companions felt strongly that a tranquil glade had been a place where the healers worked. At another spot, where a stark cut in the high cliffs drops to the valley below, has a ‘feel’ of a place of judgment, where one guilty of the most heinous crimes against his people would be cast down the sheer drop to his death. Dowsing seemed to confirm this.

Much of what we suspect about the way in which these sites were used in prehistoric times cannot be substantiated by any means that the scientific mind would accept, but in many ways, this does not matter. It is alternative archaeology. When the land whispers stories to the inner ear, there is no way of knowing whether what we hear is fact or fiction. What we do know is that such promptings make sense of the landscape, bring it to life for us, and allow us to see it with a new understanding, possibly one that brings us closer to the vision of our most distant ancestors.

On the plain below, forming a triangle with the Tor and the Stride, is a stone circle known as Nine Stones Close. Only four of these stones now remain… ‘squaring the circle’… though at least one other remains close by, reused in a stone wall. The circle used to be called the Grey Ladies and legends told of maidens who danced on the sabbath and were turned to stone for their impiety. I wonder if the story originated with the hermit of the crag, for certainly it is a Christian gloss on the story of the stones.

Another story tells of a farmhand who, resting from his labours against one of the stones, found a pipe. Lighting the pipe, he watched as the stones became transparent and through their surface he could see into the fairy realms. This tale may have its origins in an older memory, perhaps, of a time when sacred herbs were used to enhance vision and allow the priesthood of the stones a glimpse into the otherworld.

The Bronze Age circle would have been over forty feet in diameter, with the stones standing over seven feet tall. It is from the centre of this circle that the major southern moon can be observed between the pinnacles of the Stride. The stones are the tallest standing stones of any circle in Derbyshire… but our next visit would take us to a place where these stones would be dwarfed. As the light faded, we left the fields and headed for the warmth of an old inn to await the coming of darkness…

Riddles of the Night: Guardians of the Way II

 

 

Cratcliffe Tor is a rocky crag, prized these days by rock climbers, and a treacherous twin of Robin Hood’s Stride. It was once the site of an ancient settlement and vestiges of prehistoric earthen ramparts remain. Cross the Portway, and a gentle slope leads to an intriguing jumble of stones, bracken and trees. It takes some imagination to make any sense of the landscape here.

Our first point of interest was the hermit’s cave, nestled under a rocky overhang and guarded by two great yews, a tree held sacred in these isles from time immemorial. We do not know for how long this open shelter was used, or when it was first occupied. We do know that it is situated close to the ancient track called the Portway and that was in use from prehistoric times, through the Roman occupation and right through the Middle Ages.

A fourteenth century Rule of Hermits states, “Let it suffice thee to have on thine altar and image of the Saviour hanging upon the Cross, which represents to thee His Passion, which thou shalt imitate, inviting thee with outspread arms to himself.” The hermit’s shelter contains only a stone ledge upon which a man could sleep and a crucifix and candle niche carved into the wall. The carving, which may have graced the wall for seven hundred years, is a curious depiction of Christ of the Cross. The figure seems to have His arms raised in both triumph and welcome, rather than in agony and the Cross is portrayed as a living tree, not an instrument of execution. Does this Tree of Life carry the Christ to Heaven? Or do the arms invite heaven to Earth? The hermit who knelt before this image of eternity every day may have touched upon something his staid brethren in their cathedrals and abbeys may have missed.

We know nothing of the men who occupied this cave, except for an entry in the accounts of Haddon Hall for the 23rd December 1549, when a payment was made to ‘ye harmytt’ for supplying rabbits to the Hall and for guiding travellers thither.

The hermits were not simply reclusive men with a vision of solitude; a thirteenth century decree by Pope Innocent IV had bound the hermits, who had to be properly authorised by senior churchmen, to live by the Rule of St Augustine. It was their task to serve the road, giving aid to travellers, guiding them over difficult ground and offering all help needed. One of their tasks was to guide travellers to fords and river crossings, thus embodying the stories of the Good Samaritan and St Christopher.

 

St Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, was particularly important to pilgrims and those medieval churches on pilgrim routes often had a large wall painting of the saint opposite their door, so that he would be the first thing a pilgrim saw upon arrival and would gain, thereby, a special blessing.

This particular area is so rich in stone circles and Neolithic monuments that it is easy to find possible leys and intriguing alignments in the landscape. When you walk such pathways, you cannot help but ask questions. Did the builders of these routes know something we have forgotten? Or were they simply practical routes for travellers and traders, with recognisable landmarks? But if so, why choose some of the most difficult and inhospitable terrain for such tracks to run, when there are sheltered valleys with food and sources of water so close to hand? Why struggle over hilltops when a river valley follows the same path far below?

Whatever modern beliefs and opinions about such things may be, that these alignments were significant to our ancestors seems indisputable. The leys, the ancient trackways and the pilgrim routes have much in common, running across the land and ‘joining the dots’ between sacred or significant sites, earth and stone, both natural and constructed, but always, it would appear, tended. First, by those who made them, and who raised great earthworks, stone circles and burial mounds and cairns beside them. Next, perhaps, by the boundary markers called ‘herms’, reminiscent of the Greek god Hermes, the patron of travellers and messenger of the gods who moved between the worlds… and whose name means a boundary cairn. Then by the holy men and hermits who served the road and also, oddly enough, by the Templars, formed to protect the pilgrim routes to the Holy Land during the Crusades. As we continued our journey, we were left with more questions than answers…

Riddles of the Night: Guardians of the Way

Beyond the forest’s leafy shade,
The hooded one, with giant’s pace
From pinnacle to pinnacle
Leap’t silently, in moonlit grace…
In eremitic solitude
In caverns deep to meditate…
Within, the riddle of the night,
A key that will elucidate…
Beyond the stones, to four once nine
To where the goddess meets her mate
And heavens dance at winters turn
Bends earthwards to illuminate.

After lunch at the Druid, there was another riddle that would give clues to the location and the significance of the sites we would be visiting that afternoon. It didn’t take long for the company to divine that it had something to do with a hood in the greenwood, a giant’s ‘stride’, a stone circle and a hermit. A search of the books we had on the table…and a bit of Googling too… and we were on our way to Robin Hood’s Stride.

The Stride itself is a fabulous outcrop that looks as if it would be more at home in the landscape of some fantasy film or the American west. It is another site we know well, as it is part of a much wider sacred landscape whose history begins in the Neolithic era and continues into medieval times. The area immediately around the Stride holds Bronze Age settlements and barrows, an Iron Age hillfort, a stone circle and a hermit’s cave… and through the middle of this landscape runs an ancient track, now known as the Portway.

Mam Tor – the Shivering Mountain above Castleton.

The Portway runs across the Derbyshire landscape, from Mam Tor… the ‘mother hill’ above Castleton to the Hemlock Stone, forty miles away in neighbouring Nottinghamshire. The old tales say that the Hemlock Stone was thrown to its current position by the Devil himself when he lost his temper at the constant ringing of church bells. This is obviously a later legend… the stone has probably been there since the Ice Age and the track was in constant use from prehistory to medieval times… but it does link both ends of the trackway. Like the Ridgeway, which is some five thousand years old or more and possibly Britain’s oldest road, the ancient track runs close to some important prehistoric sites along the way.

© Copyright Alan Murray-Rust and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Hemlock Stone. Image: Geograph.org © Copyright Alan Murray-Rust CCL

From the village of Elton, it follows Dudwood Lane to pass between Robin Hood’s Stride and Cratcliffe Crag, or Tor, and beside the stone circle. ‘Dudwood’ may come from ‘dod-wood’ and Alfred Watkins, the author of the Old Straight Track and father of the modern interest in leys, posited that the ‘dod-men’ were the prehistoric surveyors who laid out the original network of trackways.

The existence of the ley network invites much controversy and many theories, with some believing that they are simply routes between significant sites, others that they map earth energies and yet others claiming they do not exist at all. Our purpose was not to impose a view, but to explore ideas and, considering where the breadcrumb trail had been leading us, to offer a few possibilities of our own… and this site provided us with an ideal location to explore some of them.

But first, we needed to explore the land itself, starting with the Stride. Boulders of strange shapes and aspects litter the ground around the Stride. One looks like a giant hare, with its ears folded back moongazing. Others look like giant heads. There are traces of prehistoric rock art, hidden amid more modern graffiti, showing that the place was important to our more distant ancestors and the continuing tradition of climbing to a dangerous point, to hang there a wicker heart as a symbol of love, suggests a memory of old fertility rites.

At one end of the Stride is a rather odd cave, open at both ends to the winds and containing a deep depression that fills with water, making it an ideal scrying pool. Above it is another, smaller ‘cave’…and alcove with superb acoustics. Stuart has chanted in there before, but has never heard its effects…so Steve kindly ascended alone to test how the sound carried to the open cave below. The effects were startling… and the sudden rising of a wind that lasted only as long as the chant? Pure coincidence…

You could call it coincidence that a perfectly shaped nose forms one wall of the cave… a single stone, unattached to the main body of the Stride, that rests against it. We know that the ancients moved huge slabs of stone…we could see four that had been indisputably erected in antiquity from where we stood. We also know that if we, modern humans who are so far divorced from the life of the land, can see the faces and forms in the stone, be they natural, coincidental, fortuitous, or not, then our ancestors, whose survival required their attunement to the life of the land, would have seen, used and possibly adapted them too.

Twin pinnacles rise from the apparently jumbled heap of rocks and, just as at the recumbent stones we had seen in Scotland, there is an astronomical event that would not have failed to impress. From the centre of the stone circle, close by, the major southern moon can be observed as it sets between the two stone pillars on top of the hill. That our ancestors knew about this seems proven by the positioning of the stone circle… there is no other reason for it being just there. I would love to know if it is reflected in the scrying pool as it sets…

It would have been easy to spend the entire afternoon discussing possibilities at the Stride, including the idea that the ‘Hood’ of the Stride refers to the phases of the moon as it pulls darkness across its face, but the short December days were dictating our pace. We crossed the ancient Portway and moved on to Cratcliffe Crag…

Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone II

Traditional initiation ceremonies tend to follow a roughly similar outline. The initiand is put through a series of symbolic trials, including the acceptance of mortality, each designed to test resolve and dedication, before symbolically ‘dying’ to their old self and being ‘reborn’ into the new. The landscape of Rowtor Rocks lends itself perfectly to the traditional scenario and, as part of the workshop, we demonstrated this by walking through a mock initiation ceremony. We cannot say that we reproduced what did take place, but the symbolism of the landscape dictated the form and it worked perfectly to demonstrate what could have taken place there.

The candidate is first led past the Guardian’s seat… to a rock shaped like a skull, into the top of which a square font has been cut. There is a sheltered ledge cut into the rock close by where they could wait to be called… or upon which they could be laid as if in a tomb.  Through a portal built of cut stone, the land opens out onto a level area that contains three caves. The first and largest is natural, but contains twin Columns that were added by masons. In many traditions, and particularly in Masonic traditions, the twin Columns of the Temple of Solomon, Boaz and Jachin, are remembered.

At the far end of the plateau is the smallest cavern, with a low entrance that requires a bowing of the head. It is a perfect antechamber and a low wall in front of it would make it possible for a blindfolded candidate to exit safely, without falling down the sheer cliff in front of it, ready to be led to the central cave, known as the Condemned Man’s Cell which is also a ‘birthing chamber’.

The entrance to the cave is narrow and distinctly feminine in shape. Once inside, there is only blackness and echoes. A little light shows an alcove, in which the acoustics are exceptional; chant in that alcove and the sound vibrates through every pore of rock, bone and flesh. There is a single, small hole drilled through the outer wall of the cave… and one can imagine the spiritual and symbolic effect of seeing a point of light in the blackness.

The cave can be seen as both tomb and womb, as birth and death are but the two sides of a single coin, and each contains the other. From the Cell, there is a steep, narrow staircase of boulders to climb, also very feminine, and the initiand emerges, reborn, into the light. The steps are difficult…it takes a ‘leap of faith’ to ascend, and as faith can move mountains, so the initiand, coming into his inner strength, can move the great ovoid rocking stone that awaits.

From here, there is a choice of path to reach a goal only glimpsed from below… the Broken Column. When they have chosen, they arrive at a sheltered bench. Were the ceremony to take place just before dawn, from this spot they would watch the sun rise in splendour over the octagonal turret of the church. Stepping forward and turning, they would find themselves beneath the Broken Column. Steps lead up onto the highest level of the rocks, yet do not allow access to the Column which seems held in a mighty hand. In Masonic tradition, the Broken Column represents Hiram Abiff, the murdered architect of the Temple of Solomon, as well as the unfinished work of the Temple itself. The symbol is explained as part of the ritual of the Master Masons degree. In Qabalistic terms, a tradition in which we ourselves were trained, the Broken Column represents the Middle Pillar on the Tree of Life, which joins the earthly realm to the perfect Unity of the divine. Between them is the point of Christ-consciousness…Beauty… and beyond that point, it is said that no man can go until they cross the Abyss. This concept too may be represented as a broken column.

Our initiand, then, standing beneath the great hand of stone in which rests the Broken Pillar, is asked, ‘Can you grasp the Beyond?’. And they try, finding the hidden pathway, climbing to the next level…yet still unable to touch the Column that stands separate from the rest.

At the base of the pillar an inverted pentagram has been carved into the rock. This is usually seen as a symbol of Baphomet… a name associated with both Templars and Freemasons and erroneous accusations of ‘devil worship’ within those organisations. The popular modern image of Baphomet as a satanic figure differs greatly from the medieval image. During the Templar trials, when ‘confessions’ were tortured from the victims, the Baphomet  was described variously as an idol with a human skull, a head with two faces or a bearded head…and at least two of those are Qabalistic symbols for divinity. Stuart reminded us that there is a cipher by which Baphomet is transformed into Sophia…Wisdom… and it would indeed take Wisdom to cross the Abyss and approach Unity.

For the initiand, one can imagine the scenario. The trials of fear and uncertainty, the reward of the inner strength to ‘move mountains’ and the glow of the sunrise… and after all that, he is reminded that no matter how high he may rise, he must always remain humble as there is always an Unreachable Height.

The final act of our mock initiation took place before the seat of judgement. There are three seats carved together in the rock and they are a lesson in themselves to anyone wishing to occupy them. Coincidentally, three Master Masons constitute a Master’s Lodge. To ascend to these seats, because of their size and construction, you must either kneel and show humility…or show wisdom and walk along the top of the rock. From here, the initiand may look out across the land to where the sun sets… and down on a prehistoric solar symbol that seems to encapsulate far more than we understand.

Was this what was happening at Rowtor Rocks?  Were the legends of Druids there really based on hushed memories of something like the scenario we had created? Could Thomas Eyre have been involved in something other than orthodox church business? We may never know…. But something was going on in the hidden history of the area and the clues kept on coming…

Riddles of the Night: The Temple of Hewn Stone

Just behind the Druid Inn and across the narrow lane from Thomas’ Eyre’s church of St Michael, is the strange landscape of Rowtor Rocks. We have visited the place on many occasions, but it needed only one visit to realise that there was more going on here than meets the eye. That the natural, rocky outcrop was a sacred place to our ancestors, five thousand years and more ago, is evidenced by the number of prehistoric rock carvings that have survived. That it was used as a hidden temple by our far more recent ancestors is mere speculation… until you start looking at the evidence.

The Rocks were substantially meddled with by Reverend Thomas Eyre in the 1700s. Odd flights of steps were put in, shelves and seats carved, fonts cut into rocks and a Broken Column erected at the highest point. There are natural caves amid the tumble of boulders and new ones were cut. We do not know if these were completely new, or whether they enlarged natural features.

What was the good vicar up to? You could simply accept the whole thing as a rather elaborate garden feature and think no more about it. There are tales that Eyre sat on the carved seats to write his sermons. There are also reports that he entertained guests on the rocks… but in what manner, no report survives. Tales of hauntings would certainly keep the idly curious away once darkness fell and the pale glow of candles from dark caverns would reinforce the fear.

One could make a case for his masons having created a three-dimensional ‘Stations of the Cross’…and certainly, there are sockets that could have held crosses, either side of the Broken Column on the summit. Had the Bishop questioned the works, that would have been a perfectly good explanation. You could even argue that he was Christianising an erstwhile pagan site.  The Broken Column is often used as a grave marker to symbolise a life cut short. In Christian symbolism, it represents Christ. It does have other meanings though, and particularly within the Masonic tradition.

While a number of Papal edicts have threatened excommunication to Catholics who become Freemasons, the Anglican Church has a more lenient history. Many churchmen have been Freemasons and many others have been members of satellite associations, not officially Masons, but Masonic in origin. Like the landscape of Rowtor itself, it is all rather ambivalent.

One of our early impressions was that it reminded us of the landscape created by Sir Francis Dashwood and the notorious Hellfire Club at around the same time. We were gratified to find that there was at least a tenuous a connection, via John Wilkes, a journalist, politician,  member of the Oddfellows and one of the early members of the Hellfire Club. But perhaps it was no more than a folly…though anything to do with the Fool may also point to initiation and the result certainly appears to be an initiatory landscape. We resolved to put it to the test…

Riddles of the Night: Family fortunes?

Where silver trees have bent their bough
O’er sleepy village streets, we go
to solve the riddle of the stones
A scattered presence in a row.
To nourish soul and body’s need-
A place where ancient bards ovate,
A haunted landscape sows the seed
For seeker and initiate.
A stone that moves, a mount aligned,
And after Glaston’s tower named…
And Bronte’s heroine maligned
Associate of pastor’s fame…

The first riddle of the day would take the company to Birchover, a village just outside Bakewell where we had booked a table for lunch at the Druid Inn. The inn had acquired its name because a Friendly Society, romantically named the Ancient Order of Druids, would meet there in the 1700s. Behind the inn is a hill, reputedly haunted… Rowtor Rocks. The Victorians had erroneously named it a Druidic site and capitalised on the nascent tourist industry. We have been there on a number of occasions, in all weathers, and decided that the truth may be far stranger than any Victorian invention.

We had been mulling over our theories about Bakewell and the Templar connection as we went out there, prior to the workshop, to check on the sites we planned on visiting. For some reason, we wandered down to look at the little church which looks pleasant enough, but rather bland. We had never even bothered trying to go in there… which is unusual, because we will always try the door of a church. An uninteresting exterior can conceal real gems… our favourite chapel of all is a tiny, ordinary-looking place that holds wonders. That morning, some inner prompting finally led us down the lane and through the church gate.

The nominal was interesting in itself given the connections with the leys that we had been looking at. It is a St Michael’s church which fits with at least one of our themes.  Behind the church is a peaceful resting place for the village…but, as we half expected, the door to the church was locked. However, all was not lost…perhaps we had found what we had come to see. Over the door was another dragon, carved in stone. Not an ancient beast, this one, the stonework of the porch is relatively new, but a dragon nonetheless. And looking up to the gables, we found the church had a single, small bell tower… an octagonal one.

We were suddenly very disappointed that we could not get inside. Later research would make us even more so when we found that there is a St Michael and All Angels window in the east and a very curious pulpit carved with a creature that combines elements of each of the Four Holy Creatures of Revelation, beloved of both Christians and ritualists. The discovery, of something we have seen goodness knows how many times but never really seen, was so exciting that we completely missed the ancient stonework and heads set into the wall of the porch… one of them almost identical to a Celtic head Stuart had drawn years before. We didn’t find those until our final check, the morning of the workshop.

One thing we did find though, by dint of peering through the clouded Perspex that protects the leaded windows, was a plaque on the far wall of the church commemorating the burial, beneath the church, of the vicar who had built it…Thomas Eyre.

The Eyre family are an important part of Derbyshire history. It was whilst visiting the area that Charlotte Bronte had chosen the name of her heroine, Jane Eyre. The Eyre name has a rather intriguing legend attached to its origins. The tale goes that, during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, a knight named Truelove fought beside William the Conqueror. When William’s helmet was crushed to his face by a blow received in battle, leaving him unable to breathe, it was Truelove who came to his aid and removed the helmet. Because Truelove had given him ‘the air to breathe’ William declared that from that day forth he should be known as L’Eyr. Truelove, now known as L’Eyr, lost a leg during the battle and was granted the use of a severed leg, the ‘leg couped’, as his crest along with a grant of lands in Derbyshire.

Now, oddly enough, the ‘leg couped’ just happens to also be the crest of the Foljambe family. There is another connection too between the Foljambe and Eyre families, through marriages in the thirteenth century. One of these marriages brought Templar lands into the families.

‘Eyre’ is not only a name but also a legal term for a circuit travelled by an itinerant justice in medieval England, called a Justice in Eyre. It also applied to the circuit court over which they presided. The word comes from the old French ‘erre’ which means ‘journey’… which, given some of the other theories we were going to present about the leys, the ‘old straight tracks’ and the pilgrim routes, seemed  appropriate. The name ‘Foljambe’ is also French in origin and means literally, ‘mad…’ or ‘foolish leg’ and was originally an epithet for one who walked differently from others. Adding the crests to the translations, we could not help wondering how that tied in with the Journey of the Fool… which in esoteric terms, is the journey of the soul or the journey of initiation. Given where we were going next, that seemed way too appropriate…

Riddles of the Night: Connections

We toured the church in Bakewell with our companions, stopping at each of the eight chosen points of interest that highlighted the story we were speculating upon. There is far more in that church than the details upon which we were focussing, but knowing that time was limited, we wanted to ensure we covered the unfolding tale. As it was, our timing was more perfect than we could have planned… a group of schoolchildren left as we entered the church, leaving the place empty apart from our party and the wardens, who locked the door behind us as we left.

There was time to look around though. We wanted to show our companions the fantastic misericords, with their carved beasts and dragons, as well as the Elizabethan and medieval tombs that now occupy the Newark. They also needed time to find the token that had been hidden within another octagram. It would give the party access to the next clue to get them to the first location of the following day. The first clue they had been given had the eternity symbol on the back, itself a beautiful piece of geometry, which, when turned from landscape to portrait, becomes the figure eight.

Before leaving, we stood together beneath the Crossing, where the dowsed anomalies come to a single point within an eight-pointed star, at the centre of an octagonal tower built to a geometrical design so perfect it can symbolise both harmony and eternity.  The eight-pointed star has, in one form or another, a place in almost every religious and spiritual tradition throughout history. From the Sumerian Star of Ishtar, to the Islamic khatim-sulayman, the seal of the prophets, to the Hindu Star of Lakshmi. Pope Francis has chosen to place an eight pointed star on his papal coat of arms to symbolise his personal devotion to the Virgin Mary and, by the time we had researched all this and more, it came as no surprise to realise that the croix pattée, one variant of which is the flared cross associated with the Templars, is also an eight-pointed star in disguise… and very similar to the design on the aumbry in Bakewell church…

We stood in quiet meditation for a moment, each of us dedicating our personal quest to that Light which shines upon all spiritual paths and charged the stones we had brought to continue the sowing of symbolic seeds of Light that we had begun at the Feathered Seer workshop in April.

Outside, the moon was almost at the full and shrouded in pale mists. The day was fading, but there was light enough to see the large, medieval carved head tucked away on one side of the porch and the far-too-tall stone coffin on the other that seems to have been built for a slender giant. The coffin is one of several propped up against the porch and the tallest of us can barely squeeze into the narrow width, yet the person for which it was designed must have stood head and shoulders taller than they.

The great west door is around a thousand years old. It would once have been the main entrance to the church and the octagonal baptismal font would have stood between the faithful and the altar as they came in to the worship. There has been a church here since Anglo-Saxon times at least, but Christianity would have been known here much earlier, and some of those who were with the Roman legions stationed here in the second century could have been Christians themselves.

High on a corner of the north wall is a curious carving… a chalice whose cup and base mirror each other. It is carved in high relief and we believe it may be a mason’s mark. The Chalice is also used as an important symbol in many spiritual traditions. In Christianity, it is the Grail and a symbol of the Virgin as the vessel. Both popular fiction and speculative research have made much of the potential connection between the Templars and the Grail symbolism, but it is also central to many other spiritual traditions and paths, including Masonry, which, like the Templars from whom some say Masonry is descended, traces its roots back to the Temple of Solomon and the Dome of the Rock.

So, we had the beginnings of a theory. Tenuous, perhaps, but with all the other research that has not been added to this account, perhaps not as thin as it may seem. What if, following the forcible disbanding of the Templars, some had escaped to Derbyshire? The Templars held lands in the area, but did not have a Preceptory closer than Yorkshire.  They could have gone ‘underground’. What if they were the ‘wealthy landowners’ who had funded the tower, with the geometries of the Dome of the Rock, and the Newark where the Knights of the Shrine met? What if the Masons had taken over where the Templars left off? What, if anything, did Foljambe have to do with it all?  And was there any proof at all that either the Templars or the Masons had ever had a presence in the area?

Well, that last, at least, was easily and fortuitously answered. Researching Masonic symbols, I stumbled across an article by Amanda Norman and Mark Kneale who share an interest in photography and arcane symbolism. The article contained a picture of a gravestone in Bakewell churchyard and an exploration of the symbolism, which is indisputably Masonic. Amanda graciously gave permission to reproduce the photograph.

Image: Amanda Norman

Interesting though the theory may be, does it really matter, you might ask. Well, it might. Not because of some Da Vinci-esque conspiracy theory, but because of our own relationship with the life of the land and the Underground Stream. What if, instead of asking ‘what if?’, we started to ask what were they doing and why..?

Riddles of the Night: Knights, saints and ley lines…

Walking through the town towards the church in Bakewell, I couldn’t help thinking that it was all a bit weird. There were inexplicable gaps between what we had seen and what we had been brought to realise, gaps that were only filled in by some fairly heavy research. We don’t normally go in for genealogies or land records, but this time, the situation seemed to warrant it.

The St Michael and the Dragon window at Skipton had started us off on a journey we had no idea we were taking until we finally arrived. And we are still not sure whether we have arrived or are merely taking a break. Probably the latter.

Shortly after Skipton, and in preparation for the workshop, we had wandered into Bakewell to revisit the church. We have been to All Saints too many times to count and find something new every time. They are usually things we have already seen, but which become significant only when we have put together new pieces of the puzzle. This time was no different. The St Michael window had set us off talking about the dragons that adorn the church tower in Bakewell. Both St Michael and the Dragon are associated with leys and one ley, or ‘dragon line’, runs through Bakewell from Arbor Low stone circle.

St Michael is particularly associated with the ‘Michael and Mary’ leys that run right across the country. Churches dedicated to both Michael and Mary are found on or around the line and it is something we have been looking at exploring further. In Christian terminology, St Michael is slaying evil, or, quite often, paganism. In basic esoteric terms, the saint may be seen to represent the ‘higher’ self, bringing the ‘lower’ self under control.

We had noted that the tower of All Saints is octagonal and has a dragon on each of the angles. Eight sided towers are very unusual. The church, founded in 920AD, is superb and contains examples, not only of the arts and crafts of a thousand years of faith, but also of many of the anomalies we had found in our explorations.

In the porch is a collection of Saxon and Medieval stonework. We had been primarily occupied with the Saxon period, but now, the eight-sided geometries of the carved crosses on many of the stones caught our attention. Especially as many of these cross designs are associated with the Templars…

Just inside the door is a magnificent carved font dating to the 1300s. Oddly, that too is octagonal. Beyond the font are the information boards, and for once, we read them, looking for any facts about the tower. We learned that it had been funded by ‘wealthy land owners’ coming into the area…  So had the Newark, the newly designed side chapel of the south transept.

St Hubert, with his stag is the first stained glass window you come to. Between the stag’s antlers is the vision of the crucified Christ. Christianity overcoming paganism again? Or the more abstract Christ-force crowning earthly consciousness? St George and his Dragon stand beside him, and looked down on us indulgently as we wandered, taking in the lily sceptre of the little ‘Walsingham Virgin’ who looks like Isis holding Osiris.

A little further down the north aisle is a Henry Holliday window of all saints and all angels, surmounted by the Agnus Dei. While that symbol may be used to represent Jesus as the lamb of God, it is also a Templar symbol much associated with John the Baptist who was beheaded by Herod. And the Templars had been accused of ‘worshipping a severed head’ many believe may have been that of the Baptist. The knights had been rounded up in France, their lands confiscated, and many put to death. In England, some were held at Clifford’s Tower. Others escaped and, following the Underground Stream theme of the weekend, themselves went underground.

The mystery deepened as we looked again at the Comper reredos of St George apparently fixing his dragon to the earth, while above him, two golden dragons support the crucified Christ. In esoteric terms, you cannot help but see the symbolism of ascension through transmutation. All of which seems rather alchemical. But then again, both Comper and Holliday had thrown us curve-balls before.

And there is the almost unique Foljambe memorial, showing the knight and his lady looking out of a window, surmounted by shields bearing their arms… the scallop shells of the pilgrims and the fleur de lys. Godfrey de Foljambe was a prominent landowner and a Knight of the Shrine, a term we had not come across before. A bit of research showed that a Knight of the Shrine is part of a confraternity authorised by the Church and with special dispensations. The Shrine Knights at Bakewell met in the Newark, the south transept that had been funded by wealthy landowners… The same chapel now holds the tombs of the Manners and Vernon families of Haddon Hall.

With all due respect and discretion, we dowsed the entire church and found anomalies indicating an eight-pointed star of currents, directly beneath the tower. We also found a pattern that reflected an odd symbol on a bishop’s tomb in Scotland that had been puzzling us. But it was not until we realised that the geometry of the octagonal tower is based on that of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, that it all began to make sense.

The Templars had identified the Dome of the Rock as the Temple of Solomon. They set up their headquarters in the building next door and used the Dome on their official seals. Legend has it that they found a great treasure beneath the Dome. Perhaps it was not a treasure of gold and silver… perhaps all they found beneath the temple built by Solomon, famed for his wisdom, was the Underground Stream…

And perhaps we should have entitled the weekend Riddles of the Knight?

Riddles of the Night – A walk in the park…

We began at the well that gave the town its name. Baecca’s Well is an ancient healing spring that rises from deep within the earth. It is thought to have taken its name from a tribal leader whose story is lost beyond memory. It is one of the points on a proprosed ley running from the great circle of Arbor Low and yet, it sits incongruously within the modern recreation ground and right next to a children’s wet play area that is open in summer. I wonder if the water for that comes from the spring too and hope that it does… there would be a nice continuity to that… and the continuing flow of the Underground Stream was one of the major themes of the weekend.

The Underground Stream refers to that continuing flow of knowledge and understanding which, like pure water, flows through mankind’s spiritual history, resurfacing from time to time to heal and speed our evolution, both personal and global. Like water, it has neither form, taste nor colour, but takes the shape of the vessel that contains it and traces of the inner landscape through which it passes. Each time it resurfaces, it is shaped by the needs of the times and will take on new forms, new vocabularies and symbols, but the essence remains pure. It is neither teaching nor dogma, but a wisdom distilled from the essence of human experience.

We had visited the well to make sure it was still running through the winter and found that we had been provided with a perfect bit of symbolism. The spring now flows from a relatively modern urn, set, circle within circle, in a sunken garden, both within and apart from the park. Beside it is the old stone trough into which the water once flowed.The spring remains, though in a new form while the old form, which allows us to see something of its origins, has been preserved. The name of the well too has been changed, Christianised to St Peter’s Well, reflecting the changing forms of the spiritual story. The water no longer flows continuously, but intermittently…it flows for a time, then ceases until the pressure rebuilds and then it can flow once more. It was a gift… we could not have asked for a better analogy for the Underground Stream.

As we arrived at the gate, there was another gift… a jackdaw was perched on the edge of the spring. Recent studies have shown jackdaws to be one of the few creatures able to read eyes in a similar way to humans. Curiously, this accords well with their traditional symbolism as birds of vision. As corvids, they are also associated with death, but for the jackdaw this takes the form of transition or rebirth into another state. It has been called the ‘bird of tomorrow’ and looks to the unfolding of the future. Another perfect symbol.

We began the weekend with a blessing and symbolic purification, according the waters once more a moment of recognition, remembering ancient reverence and sanctity and aligning our intent with its unbroken flow. There was also a slightly more mundane reason… in Scotland, at the last Living Land workshop, when we had been drenched, it had been mooted that purification was needed before visiting these ancient sites. In England, in December, the weather needs no excuse to be unpleasant… we hoped that a purification now might save us from a drenching later!

We handed out the riddles that would provide clues to our next location and what we would find there. On the back was the infinity symbol that would play an important part in the work of the weekend…one way or another. The whole visit took no more than fifteen minutes and yet, between the symbolism we had known about and that which we were gifted, what should have been a proverbial walk in the park had deepened into something far more significant. Leaving the well behind, we walked back into the town, in search of fantastic beasts…