Alethea continues the story of her experiences throughout the Silent Eye’s Feathered Seer weekend. Here she speaks of the part played by the crystals we had chose to use as Seeds of Light…and issues her own invitation to be part of the magic…
I didn’t know why I felt compelled to bring it, but I had a feeling I would never wear it again. There had been the sense for some time that it was no longer meant for me. Perhaps it never was. For more than a year I had worn it often around my neck, and felt the comfort of its presence against my heart. Last year at the Silent Eye’s annual workshop, The Leaf and Flame, where I played the role of Queen Guinevere, the rainbow crystal wrapped in wire rested against my velvet gown. It gave me the sense of strength and protection as I experienced my first journey with ritual drama.
This year, the crystal stayed tucked into the folds of my bag, until I brought it out when we ventured into the land of the Feathered Seer. At the Raven’s Nest, where I had felt the longing to re-enchant a land that had been defiled by mankind, I thought about the small pile of stones I had with me from the workshop. Stones now energized with the collective love and light from our group, which would be seeded back into the earth from which they came. These stones have now traveled to places in the states, and have even made their way back to the United Kingdom. They will be planted by people with the loving intent of repairing the Web-of-Light in Earth.
For the next day, after I left the Nest, I thought about the small round obsidian stone I had with me, and berated myself on not leaving it where I had found the remains of a dark offering. Yet, it didn’t feel quite right.
Before we left for Barbrook to visit the final home of the Feathered Seer, I impulsively grabbed the rainbow crystal I had brought with me from the States, and tucked it into my pocket. It stayed there, almost forgotten, until after I had visited the waters that divide the moors into the lands of the living and the lands of the dead. Before we left, I visited the stone circle, and took my turn sitting first toward the outer-world, where the living dwells, and then the inner-world, where the unseen speaks through the veil.
“They say the stones sleep. That they are old and forgotten… voiceless.
Is it so, little sister? Are they silent…or do they dream, the long, slow dreaming of aeons.
They were old when they were brought here. Older than memory. Older than time.
Their song never sleeps… it is we who live too fast.”
I’d written that a long time ago after a trip to the stone circle at Barbrook, bringing the vision of a seer to the page. “Sleepers awake, tell us your dreams”… Helen had written in that in her notebook a couple of days before visiting the place. And on the Friday morning, just after dawn when two of us had come to check the circle prior to the workshop, we had been shocked by the sense of ‘withdrawal’ at the stones… as if after too many centuries alone, they had finally sunk into sadness and allowed the moor to begin taking them back into the mists.
Three is a magical number…and three times three is thrice so. In the Silent Eye we work with a system based on a nine pointed symbol… but there is always the higher presence of the invisible One. As we approached the little circle we were only eight… but I felt that she who had once kept the circle would lend us her unseen presence. I say ‘she’ as, between the archaeology and geology of the area, plus what we and others have ‘picked up’, there seems to have been a strong feminine presence in the rites of land and sky.
It may be that it is time for the presence of the stones to fade, their meaning now lost, forgotten and often corrupted by those who seek to lay a new paradigm over an older vision and call it their own. But if that is the case, we may as well say the same of every church and chapel, every temple and grove, for all faith, religion and belief starts from a single point of illumination that is unique and personal before they can grow, evolve and spread. It is this continuous evolution that brings the understanding that set one heart and mind aflame to life, allowing it to speak to the hearts and minds of many and to answer their need… and each will take that spark and make it their own.
For me, as for many others, any place that has been rendered sacred by the faith of those who once walked there is worth preserving… and not just as a museum-piece. While there are still those who sit amongst the stones and wonder, while offerings are left in respect for some unnamed spirit of place, while there is one person whose thoughts turn to a higher sphere with stone at their back and their mind reaching beyond the birth of the stars… the ancient places will be kept alive.
We let our little company explore the circle. Some simply found a stone and sat quietly, others walked the perimeter of the circle…as we would do in ritual…. before taking their places at the stones. I watched from my place at the Seeing Stone, feeling the gears shift and stir, wondering what to do next. It was while we were waiting that a man appeared, accompanied by a white dog. He stopped and waited and was invited to go through.. he didn’t want to disturb us, he said. It was good to see the place being used. He was invited into the circle, to join us if he wished.
And so we were nine. Helen began by reading the first verse of the poem she had written about the sleeping stones. Then, in imagination, we visualised the rebuilding of the energy of the circle and all the while, our ninth companion, with white Nance by his side, nodded his head in approval. The symbolism was not lost on us; in esoteric terms, the Tarot is also known as the Journey of the Fool… and the Fool represents the soul. When we had done what the moment asked of us, Helen read the rest of her poem, which could have been written specifically for that moment and was perfect…and yet which had been written with no knowledge of what we would do. We hadn’t known that ourselves until we got there.
We do not seek to revive an outdated belief, nor do we seek to cling to what was. We honour what is… and what has lain at the heart of all of Man’s quest for understanding, since the dawn of time itself. What our ancestors understood from the earth and sky, we seek elsewhere, through the words of Books and the lives of Teachers. The teachings we are offered are appropriate to each successive Age of Man, building one upon the other and adding to a greater understanding. Yet the questions we have asked, of our origins and our purpose, will barely have changed…and however we clothe our vision of the truth across time and evolution, Truth itself does not change, even if we see only glimpses of it, like stars in the velvet night.
Our friend stayed with us as we reconstructed a simple divination, using the tokens our companions had chosen at the carved stone that morning. The method could not be historically accurate, for obvious reasons, but was based upon our own system and drew upon the ancient methods too. What we did was to show one of the ways in which we think the circle may have been used for the life of its people and it was in keeping with the spirit of the place. Of the stones that we used, each companion retained their chosen token, which left us with four. Steve, Stuart and I joined in a final blessing… which left us with one, a piece of labradorite, the magician’s stone, and this we gave to our friend. It seemed the right thing to do.
He accompanied us to the gate. He too had been to the other circle and had sat where we had sat. He is often on the moor and sits with the stones and we hope that we will meet him there again. Many of the small offerings we have seen there are his, gestures of respect… a guardian of the stones. As we walked away from the circle, we looked back to see a hawk, with wings outstretched, hovering over the stones.
We walked through the cairns, seeing their contours in the rise and fall of the heather, knowing many more were now hidden by the late summer bracken. We were heading for the prosaically named Barbrook II. We know it better by another name, but that is a different story.
“…We reach the house-place. My eyes see only the encircling wall of stones, a few courses high… standing stones in the walls… even here she did not escape the Seeing… Her eyes join mine and I see the angled roof of thatch… the low opening covered with hide.
A fire burns within and I enter.
By the door a rough cot covered with fur… On the far side an alcove, draped in hides to keep out the draught, piled with furs… a necklace of seashells, incongruous on the moor, lies beside the bed. Beneath it, I know, is the stone cyst where she placed their ashes. The last of the embers glow softly on the hearth.
It is a curious place, unlike any other stone circle I have ever seen. At first glance it seems no more than a hut circle, the remains of a dry stone wall that might once have supported a conical roof, thatched with reeds. That was my first impression, though I have never found any recorded evidence of this. Closer inspection, though, reveals something extraordinary… a small stone circle of nine stones is built into the internal face of the walls. The site is recorded as a ringcairn with a revetment of dry-stone walls and an earthen embankment, but that is only a technical description.
It was, as were so many, excavated in the 19th century by antiquarian Samuel Mitchell who found nothing of significance. It was again excavated, carefully and extensively, in the 1960s. Several cup-marked stones were found, along with the remains of four human cremations. Two of them were simply interred within the circle, one was buried in the stone cyst and the other beneath the small cairn within the circle itself. Radiocarbon analysis of the remains from the small cairn gave a date of between 2192 BC – 1430 BC. Vandalism in the late eighties gave rise to a further investigation and a careful restoration of the circle to how it would have appeared back in the Bronze Age.
For us, it is a place of peace. A homely place, where I feel I should be offering hospitality and making my friends comfortable… which sounds silly, in a pile of stones out there in the middle of the moor… but that is how it feels. As we entered, everyone found a place to sit…and it seemed everyone gravitated to the upright stones of the circle. For a while no voices broke the hush… there was just a strong sense of companionship. Then we spoke of the circle and our thoughts on its usage and some shared the readings they had brought. there was no hurry. The first two were song lyrics, both pertinent, and, with that odd synchronicity that is no coincidence, one of them raised some very personal memories and emotions that led to a third reading that meant a great deal to its author and, through that curious and magical bond of love, to his listeners also.
We fell silent and shared a little quiet time, a comfortable quiet apart from the over-friendly midges and one persistent wasp. When the moment passed, our companions again tried their hand at dowsing… the shift in the reactions of rod and pendulum are quite clear there, especially around the cairn and the small standing stones. It was a gentle sort of an afternoon. The weather was kind, the land beautiful in its own, wild way and went a good way to restoring us after the morning at Gardom’s. We moved off, continuing over the moor towards the modern pathway that would complete our circular route. There was still much to see before we reached the final circle of the afternoon…
There are some places that seem to have a timeless quality. As if, when you step within their atmosphere, you step beyond the constraints of place and time; you could be anywhere…and anywhen. This little stretch of moor is such a place. Patches of heather were still in full bloom, stones lie hidden in the bracken and reeds, quite appropriately, mark the path of underground streams.
We had gathered for lunch on Baslow, just a few minutes’ drive away and taken a little time out to settle after the morning at Gardom’s. The afternoon would be spent amongst the cairns and circles of Barbrook. It is a strange place. At first glance… and if you stick to the wide track across the moor… there seems to be little to see. Yet this small area is rich in archaeology. Like most of the Derbyshire sites, the stones are small and little shows above the summer vegetation, unless you know where to look. But almost as soon as you step onto the moor, you begin to feel it.
We left the main track immediately; that had been put in place for modern access. We headed west, following a path we had found when the vegetation was lower by following the stones into the moor. Going that way also means that you complete the circle widdershins, rather than deosil… anti-clockwise, against the movement of the sun, rather than clockwise. To those of us who have studied and worked in the Western Mysteries or magical traditions, this really did ‘go against the grain’ at first, but we have found that at many of the older sites, this seems to be the natural way to move around them. As Helen said when this subject had been raised, perhaps the coming of Christianity and the subsequent demonisation of earlier pagan practices accounts for why moving widdershins has been associated with darker paths and bad luck. Another factor may be that the majority of the ancient sites we visit were built either for ritual or as part of the realm of the dead. Both would have been seen as gateways to the Otherworld that runs ‘at a tangent’ to our own… and perhaps that is why they require the opposite approach from sites pertaining to the lands of the living. Oddly enough, we still walk instinctively clockwise when we visit a church. It as if the site itself dictates the ritual of movement, if you listen.
As we walked, we pointed out the remains of the Swine Sty hut circles and settlement site, over on the opposite side of the little valley that is divided by Bar Brook. These were once the lands of the living, which often seem to be separated by running water from the ritual landscape, and yet it feels far less welcoming than the cairn field where we now walked. There are around eighty cairns on this side of the brook, making up part of a Bronze Age necropolis. Some are thought to be clearance cairns, some are burial sites and, when the bracken is low, they can be clearly seen. Some have been robbed over the centuries, either for stone or from curiosity and their internal structure and the cysts they contain can be clearly seen. Most have never been legally excavated and the whole area is now a designated Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The first major structure we came to was the large cairn behind the stone circle that would be our last stop of the afternoon. This particular cairn was excavated and reconstructed around fifty years ago, the structure having been much disturbed in previous centuries by the amateur antiquarians who were the precursors of our modern archaeologists. Four carved stones were found there and removed to Sheffield’s museum. Cremated bones and pottery sherds from a collared urn were also found, along with an urn with the cremated remains of a child. So many unanswered questions in this one cairn! And with so many cairns, where so many of our ancestors were once laid to rest how many stories could this land whisper? It was perhaps a fitting start to our journey across a moor that holds at least four thousand years of human history, walking between the heather-covered cairns towards a very strange stone circle…
It is difficult to describe the feeling when we arrived at ‘our’ stone circle. The last time we had been there, we had spent hours in the landscape, just sitting and absorbing the feel and the vibrant serenity of the place. Looking at the devastation we found when we arrived to check the site prior to the workshop, it was as if that previous visit had been in a different time-frame altogether. As if centuries, rather than months, had slowly eroded the memory of joy and left the site bereft of presence. Or as if the hours we had spent had been passed in some ‘otherwhere’ that took no account of the passing of time.
It is even more difficult to describe why it should be so. The stones, small and typical of Derbyshire’s circles, are always half buried in the grass. The reeds that have begun to invade the site have been there all along, though not as prominent as at this time of year. The small offerings of coins, feathers and flowers were still present… yet there was something indefinably missing. As if the stones, that had so recently seemed awake and aware, had been put to sleep. It was profoundly shocking.
Our plan was to work in the little circle the following day, demonstrating how we thought it might have been used by the seer who kept the stones. As we walked around the overgrown lawn, we both came to the same conclusion….we would have to do something else too; try to help somehow…. though quite how we could do that, we didn’t know.
Our carefully laid plans were altered; we had no idea what we would end up doing there. All we could do would be wait and see, trusting, as always, that what was needed would come with the moment.
The rest of the moor looked just as it should. The fading heather cast patches of soft purple, the rowans were full of berries and the bracken was high, sending up waves of sharp, fragrant incense as we brushed against its fronds.
Across the brook we saw deer grazing in the mists. Nothing too unusual at that time of morning; we had encountered deer here before… but for some reason, their presence was reassuring.
So was that of the furry caterpillar. We have found them at almost every significant moment of our adventures and watching the little creature make its determined progress across the damp grass was almost as if we were being given a nod of approval.
It is hard to say why it matters. The heyday of the stones is long since gone… but what was behind their builders’ quest for understanding has barely changed across millennia. The faces and shapes of the old gods are forgotten, but the land that inspired their creation remains beneath the vault of the heavens; Man has always been rooted in earth and yet turned his face to the stars.
We left the moor quiet, grateful for the silent wings of the hawk as it passed over the far hills. We would be returning the next day with our companions and would see what happened then. Our aim was to open a pathway to the ancestral wisdom of the past, tracing that link back beyond the generations of Man to the planetary heart and beyond, to the Source of Being.
You can never tell how such work will unfold, only know how you think you will approach it, knowing too that, when you listen to the whisper of ancient voices on the wind, all plans may bend like a rowan in the breeze. For the moment, we headed back to breakfast and to prepare a first encounter with the Old Man of the Fort…