Full Circle: A Seat at the Round Table?

Three weeks before the workshop, Stuart and I had headed north to walk the ground. Most of the sites we already knew, but there were a couple we had not visited in person and, if at all possible, we will check each site before taking others there. Small details like where to park, warning of muddy paths, unadvertised entrance charges and the proximity of coffee and conveniences can make the difference between a successful weekend and an uncomfortable disaster.

These reconnoitring trips serve a dual purpose though. They are not only practical, but they allow us to get a feel for the landscape too and will, fairly often, see us change an itinerary we thought was set in stone. This trip did just that, although it waited until the very last minute to tell us so.

Lacy’s Caves ~ Geograph © Copyright Andrew Curtis, Creative Commons Licence.

We had finished for the weekend, seen all the places we needed to see, except one of the sites which had been going to play a central part in the workshop. We thought we had found a perfect place, sheltered from the wind and any foul weather, but every way we attempted to reach it seemed intent upon putting barriers in our path. Impassable mud and fallen riverbanks meant that we had to reconsider taking the party to Lacy’s Caves, a folly built by the man who had wanted to blow up the local stone circle. The story goes that the attempt ended in disaster and Lacy had a change of heart. The caves were later built for some unknown purpose, and although they may simply have been a folly, there has been suggestions of ritual activity on the site. Subsequent investigations made us feel we had not been meant to go there. Some types of ritual activity can leave behind an unpleasant psychic atmosphere… and these caves reminded us of the Hellfire caves infamously used by Sir Francis Dashwood.

Image result for hellfire sue vincent
Hellfire caves, Sue Vincent

So, by the end of our ‘recce’, we were a site down, but had replaced it with another small visit. We would have enough…but it felt as if something were missing as we began the long trek south and east. Before we left, though, we would try and find another place we had heard of that tied in loosely with our theme…

“What’s that?”

“What the…?”

Our simultaneous exclamation would have left a casual observer wondering what on earth we were talking about. Driving down the road in search of the site, we had both seen a field bounded by walls and traffic…and both been hit by that phenomenon of recognition that we are calling ‘psychic shock’. Thinking back, there was little to actually see from within the low car. We should barely have registered the site… and yet it had hit us like a ton of bricks. Parking the car, we went to investigate… and within a very few minutes, had added two more sites to our list for the weekend as well as expanding the theme quite considerably. So, on the second day of the workshop, we gathered close to the site and walked our companions to King Arthur’s Round Table.

King Arthur’s Round Table is a late Neolithic henge, around four thousand years old. The circular ditches and embankments are what constitutes a henge, enclosing a central flat platform which was used by the community. These sites are feats of engineering and would have needed a substantial community to come together, united by leaders, belief and a shared vision of what was really important to the life of the community. While some speculate that these are purely practical affairs, designed to be used as marketplaces, arenas for entertainment and gatherings, it seems unlikely that such a space would be constructed, with so much human effort and then hallowed by burials, for a purely pragmatic use.

It is far more likely that these monuments, especially when they invariably form part of a much wider sacred landscape, were designed primarily for ceremonial use. Exactly what those rituals and ceremonies might be we cannot know for certain, but we can make a few deductions given the archaeological evidence, a knowledge of so-called ‘primitive’ civilisations worldwide and the sites’ alignments with astronomical events.

It is likely that the turning of the year…the solstices and equinoxes… were observed, measured and predicted at many of these ancient sites. Stellar, solar and lunar alignments are common, as are alignments with other sites in the area and there are many close to the Round Table.

There may be burials or inhumed cremations, placing these sites in the realms of the ancestors, where the elders of the clan might mediate between this world and the Otherworld. One companion suggested that this might be a place where the clan Elders were ‘made’… a ceremonial installing of one who has reached venerable status.

King Arthur’s Round Table at Eamont Bridge, after William Stukeley, 1725, also showing the now-destroyed Little Round Table to the right.

King Arthur’s Round Table has been much damaged in the modern era and is sliced through by modern roads. There used to be two entrances, marked by standing stones. Excavations revealed a central trench had once existed where burial or cremation ceremonies may have taken place. The banks would have been higher than they now stand, the ditches lower, and the whole part of the wider ritual landscape which includes the many sites around Shap. There was once another  and much smaller henge, the Little Table, now almost entirely destroyed by roads and building, just a couple of hundred yards away.

The modern A6 that runs alongside the Table was once, in part, a Roman road. Many of these Roman roads, characterised, as we are taught in school, by the way they run straight across the landscape, may themselves be part of a much more ancient network of ‘old straight tracks’ that link many of the ancient sites. Kemp Howe stone circle now lays largely beneath another ‘straight track’ just ten miles away… mostly obliterated by the modern railway line. It is one of many circles and monuments in the remarkable Shap complex that we would have loved time to explore.

For now, though, we encouraged our companions to explore the Round Table, where legends say Arthur’s knights once jousted. The site is thousands of years older than the legends of Arthur and Merlin, but perhaps not older than the archetypes they may represent… the warrior-king whose fitness to rule depends upon his ability to bridge the worlds, and the mage-priest who was his bridge, his messenger and the gateway to the Otherworld.

We gathered for a meditation before leaving the site. We were impressed… only confirmed megalithomaniacs, we thought, would find this site interesting for more than a few minutes, but they had chosen to spend almost an hour there. What, we wondered, would they make of the next site… and what we wanted them to do there…

Captured from Google Earth

Spirit Animals by Running Elk

Fractured vision – the eye of the image

cr1“That’s not how I see it at all!”
“Well, you wouldn’t…you’re coming at it from a completely different angle!”

The conversation was good natured, but the debate was real. Two opposing viewpoints meeting in the no-man’s land of middle ground, where neither felt their personal perspective was being given due consideration, yet both realised that the other was not ‘wrong’. It happens to most of us, probably more often than we realise. How else could it be, after all, when we alone look out on the world through our own eyes and every other person on the planet looks from their own unique perspective, bringing their own particular experience and understanding to every moment of every day.

Even reality has to be based upon this middle ground… a general consensus that accepts the dictates of language, usage and empirical evidence to construct a vision of the world that agrees with that of the majority. Not everyone, however, has access to the same data. Location, sensory ability, age and culture all affect how we perceive our environment.

How, for example, would you explain a snowstorm to a native of a desert without access to the media that brings such phenomena into our homes? Even were he to admit the possibility of snow, his belief would be tinged with a reserve of judgement, perhaps, and at best would be lacking the depth of detail that comes only with feeling cold flakes settle upon your skin and watching their delicate patterns dissolve to water or turn the world to white. Personal experience shapes all our beliefs.

Even, perhaps especially, our understanding of each other is based upon our own perception and experience. In the Silent Eye, for example, we make use of the Enneatypes… nine basic ways of interacting with the world. The system is best known for its use in profiling in the psychological and corporate worlds. It does, however, have a deeper application. For the purpose of the school, we shape the system into a way to explore our own personality from a spiritual perspective. Nine archetypal figures, each reflecting a particular pattern of reaction to the world and the way in which we, as individuals, move through it.

In contrast to the popular misconception, none of us are ‘a type’, but show aspects of all of the types in varying proportions. It is not a case of saying, ‘he is a six,’ or ‘I am a nine’… all we can say is that each of us interacts with the world around us predominantly through the characteristics of one of the ‘types’.

There is a problem, of course, because the essential nature of each of these archetypes is designed to illustrate a particular numbered ‘type’, and, in order to teach we must present a clear picture. Yet how can we do so with absolute objectivity, when our personal interactions with these types is purely subjective?

The perfectionism of the archetypal One, for example, will judge each of the other eight characters through a personal and critical lens. This will not be the same perspective as that of the archetypal Two, who seeks only to be loved, whatever the cost; or the Three who needs to cover a lack of self-worth by standing out from the crowd. So, even for our Nine basic types, there are 72 individual viewpoints. The One might look at the Two, for example and see only base manipulation in their desire to gain love through good actions. To the One, the Three might simply be seen as vain, where the Two might see that type as in need of compassion for the underlying fragility…

To teach within the School, therefore, we had to create a set of archetypes to embody a middle ground… a consensus… for the traits inherent in each of the types, yet of course, those traits are not fixed, but evolve, ranging from the ‘worst case’ to the pinnacle of humanity… so our 72 now shifts to a multi-layered spiral of experience, where our way of interacting with our world may rise from self-preservation to saintliness… or anywhere in between.

Complicated? It would be, except for one small point… while it is necessary to realise the extent of the subjectivity with which we view each other and our world, for each of us there is only one viewpoint possible… our own.

Even though that viewpoint may shift and change over the years and with experience and understanding gained… even though we may change our opinions and beliefs as we grow and learn, allowing new influences to work upon us in ways both positive and, sadly, negative, our view of the world remains unique and personal.

The spiritual journey is one of change. It is a journey we all take as part of our personal growth and evolution. To make a conscious choice to walk a spiritual path is to deliberately set foot upon a journey of ‘accelerated evolution’. It is not always an easy path and there are times when the road seems full of rocks and sharp stones. Yet it has a purpose. By embracing this path, we can change the world around us, we can change the people we know… not by altering a single thing about them, but by changing ourselves and in doing so, moving our own perspective and perception to see a wider view with a clearer sight.

To change our own viewpoint may be the only act that can simultaneously change our present, our future and how we perceive and understand our past, as we learn to see the underlying causes of our present selves and how that shapes our world-view. To be able to look on past pain with compassion and see it unfold, revealing seeds of possibility that have lain fallow within, can have a dramatic effect on how we are able to address the present.

Many find their personal path leads them forward alone, others seek the comfort and companionship of fellow travellers in a group or school. All share a similar journey, learning to see ourselves with a clear sight that will, in turn, change how we see our world.

‘Know Thyself’ was written above the doorway at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is often quoted and one of the first maxims learned in the Mysteries. Within the Silent Eye, that is where our journey begins, not only in acknowledging the darker side of our human self, with the weaknesses, hurts and fragilities shaped by the experience, but, by using guided journeys of the imagination, in learning to separate the ‘I’ from the image and see the Light that shines within each and every fragment of creation… and within our own Being.