Almost…

Last minute preparations are underway. I’m looking at the pile of props, costumes and workbooks and wondering how I’ll squeeze everything and a wheelchair into the car, even though we have done this so many times before and in much smaller vehicles. Wondering what I’ve forgotten… there is bound to be something… even though I have everything from safety pins and string to gilded plant pots.

On the surface it all looks like panic stations, yet, beyond that is a pool of perfect calm. I know that no matter what we have forgotten, or how things appear to be going… it will be fine. It is a matter of trust…and of experience.

There have been lost and misplaced items, things that should have been to hand at crucial moments but were, inexplicably, not. There was the year when a last minute epidemic hit the group and two of our Companions stepped up to the mark and shared nine roles between them. Wardrobe disasters, technical glitches, on the hoof rewrites… you name it, we’ve had it, and for the most part, no one even notices.

Although we do put a lot of care into staging these workshops, that is as close to theatrical as they get. The dramatic element is not about playing a part, as you would in amateur dramatics. There are no lines to learn, there is no audience to please, no need to be anything other than yourself.

We take a story, drawn from myth, imagination, or even stranger sources, and play it out symbolically. The story always addresses some of the spiritual and psychological principles behind the human journey and, through such rituals, we seek not only to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, but to set in motion the wheels of change.

This year, the story is inspired by the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that was old when the pyramids were raised. Over the weekend of the event and afterwards, we will share the story and open the doors of the temple a little to give a glimpse of what we do. We will also be asking you to join us in a meditation. ‘Raising awareness’ can have more than one meaning…

As soon as you mention temples, rituals and robes, people react. Some are intrigued, some scoff or shy away and others make the mental equivalent of the ancient sign against witchcraft. The Mysteries have always been shrouded in secrecy and there is good reason for that where the inner teachings are concerned, for they represent an experiential journey which must be taken, not taught.  It is called by many names in many systems, but essentially it is the quest for the realisation of the true Self and its orgins…and how we can apply what we learn to our daily lives in order to grow and live in the world, fully present. The journey for each of us is as individual as we are, and there are as many paths to that realisation as there are stars.

The robes are worn simply to signify a change of state… our intent to step aside from the world for a moment to align ourselves with the sacred, by whatever name we know it or through whatever paradigm we approach it. Within the ritual drama workshops, we may also use costumes, which serve the same purpose but with a more precise symbolism. They also help set the mood for whatever theme we are using and allow us to attune to it more readily by appealing to the imagination.

The sacred space that we call a temple is, on the face of it, no such thing. It is a large, sunny room with its curtains closed and a few symbolic items that serve a similar purpose to the robes.  We don’t worship dark gods…in fact everyone is free to choose their own definition of divinity and, every year, we have an eclectic mix that ranges through a whole spectrum of beliefs, from shamanic to druidic, from Qabalists to ministers. That is one of the joys of these workshops, that folk from so many from different paths, countries and backgrounds can work together as one and share their differing beliefs in harmony, learning from each other in mutual respect.

We don’t go in for sacrificing goats (or anything else) either.  Quite apart from being a pointless waste of life, it would be exceedingly messy and land us with a heck of a cleaning bill. The only blood likely to be let is on the point of a sewing needle while making costumes. In spite of the number of times we have had to disappoint those who were expecting to learn we got up to something more exotic, the only thing we sacrifice is time, attention and energy.

The ritual dramas are scripted, with each person taking a role for the weekend. The scripts are read, not learned, so there is no demand for memorising, and each is crafted to tell a story.  We’ve even published some of the scripts, so there is no mystery there. On the surface it all seems pretty safe and innocuous…little more than amateur dramatics without the bother of rehearsals. So why on earth do people come half way round the world every year to attend?

There is more than meets the eye to what is brought to birth at these workshops and the effects can be deep and long-lasting.

It is a communion of spirit. People of many paths but one intent come together to share a journey of the heart, mind and soul that leads towards a common goal. The focused intent and dedication of the Companions are the magical ingredients that change everything and, when we come together, what comes into being is greater than the sum of its parts. Many small candles, each no more than a single flame, together can illuminate the darkness. Words that seem no more than a story when seen on a cold page become fraught with meaning when awareness shifts from the mundane to the sacred and they are voiced with emotion and understanding. Doors are opened in the mind that lead to paths as yet untrodden. Simple robes become sacred vestments and an ordinary room becomes a timeless Temple when filled with that dedication to the Light.

“…a pale blue light rises behind the seated Temple officials. The East is flooded with its purity, and I am blinded by its intensity.”

The single flame that symbolises the Eternal Light is kindled in the heart and its glow lingers.  Such magic is not born of words or gestures, nor will you find it in the robes or the trappings of ritual. It comes from within when we turn ourselves to face the Light and we find ourselves within It.


Would you like to know more?

For details of the School and our methods, how to join our Correspondence Course, or to find out more about our Workshops and Events please explore our website or email The Silent Eye at rivingtide@gmail.com

Seeds of Change

‘Dr Dee’, ‘Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I’, ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’ and ‘Master Shakespeare’

Time does strange things. It is just a week since our workshop and already it feels as if it is receding into the mists, and yet, it is also as clear and sharp as if we were about to enter the temple space for another act. In many ways, that last is the truest perception, for, even though we draw our inspiration from tales of bygone eras, any seeds we sow within the ritual drama of the weekend are designed to grow slowly within us and be taken out into the world.

Such seeds are not ours alone. We may plant ideas and nurture thought, but it is in the fertile soil of love and friendship, and the shared experience of working together with a common intent, that such things blossom. Even so, it is only when we pluck those flowers and carry them as part of our daily lives that they begin to bear fruit.

‘Essex’ and ‘Bess of Hardwick’

Although much time, effort and laughter goes into the creation of the ‘five acts’ that form the core of our workshops, the spiritual journey is not a matter of playacting, not is it enough to dip a toe in and out of the water on a whim; the journey is ongoing and ever present, the story…our story… is a perpetual work in progress, as are we.

Every one of those present at our workshops brings their own perspective, adding a unique gift to the weekend. It is in the athanor of friendship that such alchemy produces gold and I would like to think that we each leave the richer for our shared experience. Our personal paths are many and varied, from druid to ordained ministers, mystic to magician, yet ultimately, our goal is a shared service to whatever aspect of the Light we recognise.

For each of us, that service takes on a different hue, but for all of us it is at the heart of life. Being able to work with so many people from so many paths is one of the true joys of these weekends and both the experience of the weekend itself and the intent of our work is amplified by this coming together of many paths and perspectives in a simple acceptance that knows none of the judgement of ‘tolerance’.

‘Dr Dee’ and ‘Mistress Jane Dee’

Egoic myopia, intolerance and prejudice may be played out symbolically within the crafted drama, where they may be brought to healing, understanding and resolution, but outside of the written roles, such things have no place at a Silent Eye weekend… or indeed, within the hearts of any who profess to follow a spiritual path. Our ‘Essex’, admirably portrayed by Russell, sought power and was brought to his knees by his self-serving ego… only to be given into the healing care of those he sought to betray. Our much-reviled Jesuit ‘Gerard’ was embodied with quiet grace and dignity by Jan. In spite of the intolerance shown by most members of the ‘Court’, Gerard showed himself to be a man of great compassion who led the tortured Dr Dee back to life and love.

The Elizabethan Age marked the beginning of a new era in many ways, and so was a perfect vehicle to reflect aspects of the current of change now brushing the shores of the present. Can a small group of people play a part in shaping that change? The answer to that depends upon what we understand by the question, perhaps. What is undeniable is that change can only happen if we, as individuals, choose to make it so. No-one can legislate for the heart and it is there that we can each begin to shape and heal our little corner of the world.

‘Lady Frances Walsingham’ and ‘Sir Francis Drake’

 

Shades of the Golden Age…

As a child, I loved the old movies of the swashbuckling variety. Even then, I knew the stories were not real and the history likely to be wildly innaccurate. Romance and adventure did not wait behind every tree. Magic, though, had its own reality.

With a family who told me a closer-to-true version of the histories portrayed on the screen, I learned early the difference between fantasy, fact and fiction. What was produced for entertainment was never supposed to be a history lesson. I learned not to believe in what I saw… except for the duration of the film, when I could lose myself in make-believe.

The over-the-top acting, the swordplay and implausible heroics delighted me, and that has never really changed as I have grown older. A more mature eye sees the flaws with clarity, but I can still choose to ignore them and daydream about flashing steel, wild gallops through the night and the elaborate gowns of a bygone era. But, let’s be honest, the days when I could even dream of being the romantic, blade-wielding heroine are long gone. Or so I thought, until last weekend.

Fair bristling with concealed weaponry, this Elizabethan lady was not happy when her betrothed attempted to discard her in favour of a rarer prize. Mine was really not supposed to be the role of heroine. But, just for a moment, with ‘Lord Essex’ on his knees, and a wicked blade poised over his heart, all my daydreams came true. (Which might be why my younger son asked if I should be ‘looking so cheery’ with a knife aimed at someone’s chest.)

The pictures were taken after the final ‘curtain’ had fallen on our Elizabethan escapade… we do not take photos until the work is done. I think most of us were on a high, either because of the weekend itself… or because we had survived it! By this point, all that was left to do was discard the costumes for the last time, talk, hug and say our farewells.

Many of the photos that were taken are blurred, and that is why I rendered a few in monochrome. I was immediately struck by how they reminded me of the golden era of Hollywood and my love of old movies.

We had come together to explore a story… a fictitious history that drew upon the lives, dreams and beliefs of some of the prominent people of Shakespeare’s day. It was never supposed to be an accurate history… but in truth, it was crafted as somewhere we could lose our ‘selves’ in make-believe.

The everyday self is left behind in play. We are hidden by the mask of our role and so our true self is free to explore the magical and spiritual concepts presented throughout the weekend, concealed, like my daggers, in velvet folds of imagination, friendship and laughter. And that particular alchemy is always in glorious Technicolor.

Above and beyond…

Over the past few years, the Silent Eye’s weekend workshops have covered many scenarios, from the gilded glories of ancient Egypt, to the medieval grandeur of the court of King Arthur. The themes and stories are no more than a vehicle through which we can explore facets of the human journey into awareness, just as the costumes and colour are no more than psychological window-dressing. By creating a visual illusion, we are fostering that ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ that allows a reader to invest themselves in a book, a film star immerse themselves in a role or our Companions to set aside their everyday self and explore deeper aspects of being.

Steve, Stuart and I go to some lengths with the costume in order to create that illusion. We would never expect the Companions to go to the expense of providing authentically detailed costumes. In fact, the requirement is simply for a symbolic shawl to mark the entry into another mindset and intent. Even so, every year, the Companions get creative and the illusion is complete.

Land of the Exiles

This year, we had a bit of a problem in that department. Stuart and I would be dead for most of the weekend. We would be the Ancestors; robed in black and, with veiled faces, we would haunt the shadows. Not much colour there, then. Steve would have a central role as Guide, but even that was not going to provide much ‘window-dressing’.

Normally the characters are familiar in some way… archetypes presented as Egyptian gods, Knights of the Round Table or something similar with which the Companions can identify. This year, there was only one named character and almost everyone was asked to wear plain white robes. Somehow, we needed to ‘set the scene’ with colour and life… and we had three Companions to whom we turned for that… the Shaman, the Lore Weaver and the Lore Spinner. Their roles would be ‘outside’ the circle, allowing them to act upon the single soul represented by the majority of the Companions and so they could be different and wear all the colours of life.

We didn’t ask for much specifically…we left it up to them… but somehow all three of them exceeded our wildest hopes. Running Elk was our Shaman. We had no idea how much of himself he would bring to the task, nor how deeply his presence would enrich what we had planned. We could not have known…he didn’t himself….and much of it simply unfolded as the weekend went along.   Running Elk is a Shaman, trained in the Zuni tradition and his own accounts of the weekend tell the story through his eyes. Even so, I would have given much to see his huge, dark-cloaked form shielding the temple Veil during the fourth ritual.

Alienora and Dean were our Lore Keepers… and their costumes were utter genius, adding all the colour and life that we needed. With Running Elk, they formed a triangle of Life and Light that could not be ignored and with our Shaman, they held the heartbeat of the temple.

Leaf and Flame

But we had another problem too. When Steve writes the workshops, Stuart and I have always added something extra, something a little different. Last year, Stuart had the helm and instead, we had the Foxes dance with flames and dragons. That was going to be a tough thing to follow. We turned to the Lore Keepers and asked them to tell a pair of interwoven stories on the Saturday evening. I have mentioned it before, but have not done justice to the sheer spectacle they provided.

Lore Keepers

Dressed in multi-coloured tatters, they were already whirling and spinning as we entered the room. It is impossible to capture in words the incredible energy the pair of them brought to the tale. For perhaps forty minutes, they never paused for breath. Taking one of the entwined stories each, they read and acted out the script while the other mimed, hammed, acted and clowned a silent counterpoint. There were highlights… Dean as a dog and a little old woman nearly brought the house down. Alienora’s dramatic death-fall landed her with a bang on the floor…and flat on her back, script to nose, she never missed a single beat, but continued declaiming. Ali’s aside, to ‘stop upstaging me’ when Dean had everyone in stitches with his antics… And yet, in spite or perhaps because of the comedic capers, the truly tragic tales they shared brought real tears as well as laughter. I do not have enough superlatives, but we are agreed that it was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the best live, improvised performance art we have ever experienced.

Not only did we learn the tales of Giant Hulac and the massacre at Fin Cop without being traumatised by the horror of the stories, but we also got a genuine trip in a time machine, seeing and feeling how storytellers have taught through entertainment for millennia. It was a rare privilege.

These three, Shaman, Lore Weaver and Lore Spinner went above and beyond the call of both duty and friendship.

They were not alone though. Alethea, at only her second workshop with us, stepped up and embodied the central character with grace. Our technician had volunteered to help instead of taking a role. And when every person present brings their whole self to the moment, with intent and belief, that is when magic happens.

Flight of the Seer IX…

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Shortly after the ‘Leaf and Flame’ event in 2016, the outline for, The Feathered Seer, workshop took shape for us on the edge of an ancient necropolis overlooking Big Moor.

The seeing that day, be it courtesy of the seasonal sun light, or more esoteric manifestations, allowed us to work out one possible function of the Barbrook 1 stone circle.

And this ‘rudimentary ritual’ was replayed in original situ later that year for the group of Companions who attended our Living Land workshop, ‘Circles Beyond Time’, in September.

Naturally, it also formed the basis of R3 of The Feathered Seer and its working proved to be one of the most intense undertakings we have ever experienced.

What the ancients knew was that only the querent holds the answer to the question, but that the clues to those questions are everywhere played out in living experience.

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Exploring the Inner and the Outer…

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The symbolism employed by our forebears was both simple and profound.

Rock sculptures designating ‘living lands’, stand and face the horizon.

Rock sculptures designating ‘dead lands’, lie and face the sky.

The earthen monuments of the dead are linked by sky paths.

Wisdom is found within and only then utilised to shape those without, not vice versa.

Our modern cultures, it seems, still have an awful lot to learn.

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Sky-walking…

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Circles Beyond Time – Mysterious mounds

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The weather was surprisingly good. Normally when we visit this particular site it is freezing cold, driving rain or both, for the last stretch of our journey would take us to Arbor Low, one of the finest ancient sites in Derbyshire and certainly the best known. It is often referred to as the Stonehenge of the north, yet it bears little resemblance to that great circle, on the surface at least. The similarities are more subtle than that and anyone expecting towering pylons of stone are in for a disappointment. On the other hand, it does closely resemble the better known site in other respects. The ritual landscape of which it is a part is potentially enormous. Mysteries abound and yet, unlike Stonehenge, here they have not been thoroughly plotted, excavated or investigated and what little is known is open to renewed interpretation in light of the discoveries and understanding we have gleaned over the past century. Even English Heritage in whose care the site now rests and who provide the information boards for visitors, admit that we know little and understand even less.

Image: Google maps

We crossed the farmyard which is the only way to access the site, paying our coins in an echo of an age-old rite of passage. Rather than heading for the obvious gate, and knowing the site well, we cut across the fields, following the path that most would take to exit the site. We had always done so before, but on our last visit, in the company of our friend Running Elk, we had kicked ourselves for not realising that here too, as at Barbrook, the accepted, clockwise path around the site runs the wrong way. This time, though, that deduction wasn’t based on some nebulous feeling of rightness alone, but on the layout of the site itself…and it made perfect sense.

We were heading first for Gib Hill. At first glance it looks odd. It is neither a standard shape for a round barrow, nor for a long barrow. If anything, it more closely resembles in shape the type of mound usually dismissed as a ‘castle’… or a diminutive version of Silbury Hill. It stands at some distance from the circle and is thought to be the oldest surviving feature of the site. The strange shape of the mound has an equally strange explanation. It was originally a Neolithic barrow. The Neolithic period in Britain covers the period from around 6000 to around 4,500 years ago and was followed by the Early Bronze Age, which lasted until around 800 BC. During the Early Bronze Age, a second, round barrow, was built on top of one end of the older mound and it is this superimposition that has altered the shape of Gib Hill.

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The mound was excavated in 1824 by William Bateman, who seems to have owned the field. Along with flints and a stone axe, he found that the earlier long barrow was made of layers of clay mixed with charcoal and cremated human bones. In 1848 his son, the antiquary Thomas Bateman, who became known as “The Barrow Knight” for his propensity for digging up these ancient mounds, dug a tunnel into the barrow, finding flints and the bones of oxen in the lower layers. Nearing the completion of his tunnel, a stone burial cyst fell through its roof containing a human cremation and an urn. Bateman appropriated the cyst and re-erected it in the grounds of his home at Lomberdale House. It has now been replaced in the mound and its capstone is visible on its summit.

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The name, Gib Hill, would normally imply that a gibbet once stood there but there are conflicting opinions on this. Most, including English Heritage, say there is no evidence for a gibbet. Others maintain that one stood there in the 18th century. They were usually placed where they would do most good as a deterrent and although there is an old Roman road close by and the main turnipike road from which Gib Hill can be seen, it does run at quite some distance from the mound and there are other mounds, at least, if not more prominent on the surrounding hills that would have been more visible. Only the antiquity of the site would have made Gib Hill a ‘good’ choice.

Gib Hill, it would appear, has another name locally too and one I did not come across until I started researching for this article. It is known as ‘the serpent’, which, in light of what was to come, was something of a surprise… and another one of those very odd synchronicities that attended the weekend.

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Arbor Low

The other mounds are curious, topping almost every one of the hills in the area that can be seen from Gib Hill. Whether they are all recognised as  ancient tumuli or not, they do seem to form an integral part of the landscape as seen from this point. Considering that Arbor Low has a ‘sister’ site at the Bull Ring in Dove Holes about ten miles away, this scale of work across the landscape cannot be discounted and it is seen in so many other parts of the country, including at Stonehenge; that famous site is more than just the iconic circle and it is accepted that it stretches for many miles across the Wiltshire landscape.

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Bull Ring

We climbed the mound, explaining our thoughts on the landscape and pointing out the features that could be seen from its summit, including what appears to be the remains of another henge in the field beside it. We showed our companions the mounds that top the surrounding hills and where the earthen embankment runs that seems to form an avenue between Gib Hill and the stone circle. We spoke too of our theories on how these mounds could have been seen by our ancestors as gateways to the Otherworld…and how they could have been used by the shamans or priesthood.

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Apart from the mound itself and a few of the stones that surround it, there is little to see of the site, though much to feel.  You can see how the avenue leads into this side of the stone circle, rather than following the accepted clockwise route. And it is only from here that you begin to get a true sense of the stone circle that lies invisible behind the high banks of the henge. From here, those banks look like a sleeping female form…and from here we would follow the course of the avenue to enter the circle from the ‘head’, swallowed by the goddess, who would, when we were done, bring us to a symbolic re-birth into the world.

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Circles Beyond Time – Convoy

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We left Higger Tor after the sunrise and headed back to our respective breakfasts. Most would have to pack their bags too, before gathering for a final journey together. We were the lucky ones with time to spare and a drive back across the moors into the edges of the city. The early morning light was beautiful, though the first hint of autumn was showing in the iridescence of the clouds and the turning colours of the moor. For most of the year these high, wild places wear the colours of autumn… the russet, copper and pale gold that anywhere else would mean a sleeping time. It is only for a few brief weeks in late summer that they dress in amethyst and emerald and show their true colours. It matters little to me… though the heather makes my soul sing, it is the heart if the high places that speaks to mine.

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We gathered in the car park, most of us taking advantage of the clear, bright morning to capture last shots of Carl Wark where we had begun the journey so short a time before. A lot happens on these weekends and time seems to bear little relation to how much we manage to see, do and experience. As the party would be breaking up after lunch some miles away, we had ourselves a convoy as we headed back across the moors, passing Barbrook and Gardom’s and then onwards into territory we had yet to share.

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It is times like these that I don’t want a convoy… I want a mini-bus. “Over there to your left you can see the traces of the medieval ridge-and-furrow field system,” ” to your right you will see Devil’s Drop, officially known as Peter’s Rock, that features heavily in the Doomsday books,” “on the horizon you can see the huge hillfort above Great Hucklow where we hold our annual ritual workshop…” So many things I would have liked to point out and share… but there is only so much you can do. At least we could stop halfway and tell a tale or two.

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So we stopped at Monsal Head and looked out over the valley so high above sea level now, but whose rocks are made from petrified coral,  waiting for ice-cream and we told the legend of the beautiful shepherdess, Hedessa and the misshapen giant, Hulac Warren, who had loved her and of how she fell to her death to escape him…and how, where she fell, a healing spring welled from the ground. And we showed them where to look to see the giant’s form in the rocks.

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And we told them of the tragedy of Fin Cop, an enigmatic site upon the top of the hill. There too, like Carl Wark, there are walls that were built to protect an ancient enclosure. The wall stood ten feet high and in front of it was a deep trench and wide embankment. Yet it did not stop those who came with murderous intent. They took the plateau, a place of women and small children, toppling the walls upon their  victims, it seems. One of them was either heavily pregnant or bore a new-born child. Their bones were found beneath the stones.

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The ice-cream was still not forthcoming and time was getting short. There would be no time on this to do more than look at the valley from our vantage point, which was a shame as there is a lot  to see here. Through the valley, the river winds; in places, wide and slow, in others magical and strewn with flowers. There is even a waterfall…and high on the hillside, a fairy castle…or so it seems… that hides a cave where yet another skeleton was found. To look at the beauty of the place, you would never guess that it hides such tragedy… yet that too is a lesson and is true of many faces, not just places.

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We piled back into the cars and headed off on the final leg of our journey, leaving the heather and bracken behind and entering into the other Derbyshire, of rolling green hills and dry stone walls. It is a very different landscape, yet you can see it shares a common ancestry with the high places, where the pale rocks thrust through the green of the fields. We were heading for the great stone circle of Arbor Low…

 Arbor Low and Stanton Moor Imbolc 001 (11)

Circles Beyond Time – A rock and a hard place

gardoms-9We left the standing stone and walked back through the gate onto the Edge. Normally we would walk back a different way, but the path is a morass at the best of times and it had rained a lot in the area lately. At least the path would be fairly dry this way. The trouble was, we didn’t know what to expect. It is always a delicate decision… how much should you say, indeed, how much can you say without someone calling for the men in white coats to haul you away?

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The first time we had walked this way hadn’t been so bad. That is a matter of opinion, I suppose and depends largely on how you view the whole process of death. But it is not the first site where the stones suggested excarnation. The idea of stripping flesh from bone to help your loved ones rejoin the ancestors may seem  less than palatable to our culture, but it is and has been a common practice both in this country and around the world. Oddly enough, it was something I had never really thought about… though had I done so I must have realised that the practice went on even into the Middle Ages here. When important or saintly people died and their remains had to be transported long distances, the bones would be defleshed to protect against decomposition en route…and to provide relics too.

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I had first been obliged to consider excarnation after a visit to another site… one we would be visiting later that afternoon. It was only afterwards that I had begun to do some digging and found that air burial and other methods of excarnation had been used by our Neolithic ancestors. It made sense of the stacks of long bones and skulls found in so many of our ancient burial places, but it had never occurred to me before and it is not something that the archaeologists tend to mention in general articles or on prime-time TV.

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One theory suggests that the soul was seen as being bound to the flesh and could not be freed to join the realm of the ancestors until the flesh was gone. This would make ensuring rapid excarnation a final act of love and respect. Even in later centuries there is an echo of this, when Silius Italicus (c. 28 – c. 103) wrote of the deaths of Celtic warriors:

‘to these men death in battle is glorious;
And they consider it a crime to bury the body of such a warrior;
For they believe that the soul goes up to the gods in heaven,
If the body is exposed on the field to be devoured by the birds of prey’.

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So, the first time we had passed this way, in the company of friends, we had done little more than look at the stones and decided that it must have been an area for the preparation of the dead. My companion had moved me along, quite rightly… not the best subject for  post lunch conversation perhaps.

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The second time, there were just the two of us and the place really got to us and with it the sense that, although it had been a sacred place it had been desecrated in some way. It had knocked us for six, being so unexpected… which was why we had hurried our companions through the stones on the way to the standing stone. Somehow it wouldn’t seem quite as bad after visiting the stone…or perhaps we were just expecting it. Or maybe we had just been imagining things. After all, there was nothing visible to support what we were feeling. A sort of folie a deux perhaps…

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One of our companions for the weekend was fellow author and blogger, Helen Jones. Helen is sharing her own account of the weekend and graphically describes the feeling she experienced there that ran closely with our own. Nor was she the only one to pick up the images and emotions of the defilement of a once sacred place. Even the photographs already posted of the spot drew a comment about excarnation and sky burial. We will never know the truth of it, but it is a curious and unsettling place.

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The feeling does not extend beyond a few yards of the hilltop. After that, there is just the quiet peace of the stones and the horizon. The boulders here would be classed as erratics… stones deposited by the flow of a forgotten glacier… but some of them seem to stand out. Either for their shapes or their positioning, we are not convinced that all of them are erratics.  Even if they were, if we can recognise a face or form in the weathered shapes, our ancestors, ready to see the spirits in all things made by Nature, would have done so too.

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We showed our companions some of the stones we felt were significant, including a small stone table supported on two boulders in a way that seems deliberate. On our previous visit, I had placed my hands on that table, looking out across the valley, and the feeling is a strange one. You get the impression that where you stand, others have stood for centuries before you. It was here that, without a word spoken, everyone simply sat down in silence, spaced out across the Edge and lost in their own thoughts.

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We left them for a while; there seemed to be a reluctance to move, even though the morning had not been physically strenuous, then gathered everyone together and made our way back across the moor. Lunch was five minutes away…and there is nothing like food for grounding you after a place like Gardom’s Edge. We needed grounding too… the afternoon would be spent in a landscape of stone circles…

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Circles Beyond Time – The enclosure

derbyshire-heather-gardoms-carl-wark-moon-134We had, quite unfairly, asked the company to dowse for the next stone we were to visit, giving them the simplest of descriptions. Following the person who was on the right track, we set off through the sodden grass in the direction of a curious bank of bracken. When the green fronds do not bury the bank its true nature is revealed and its scale is staggering. It is a Neolithic enclosure of dry stone walls that still stand up to five feet high in places, although many of the stones have been removed to build more modern walls. The enclosure they contain has seven entrances and runs for around two thousand feet in length over a width of up to thirty feet. No trace of settlement has been found during the archaeological explorations there and the conclusion is that it was a ritual gathering place. The other structures found there seem to confirm this idea, for although there are the remains of nearly thirty round houses and several other enigmatic structures quite close by, none of them seem to indicate a permanent settlement and the largest was used to perform funerary rites over a period of time.

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If we seem to spend a lot of our time walking the realms of the ancient dead, there are several reasons for that. First and foremost is that it is in these very places, the ritual and mortuary sites, where the realm of spirit walks hand in hand with the living lands, that our forefathers seem to have lavished the most care and invested the most effort to create permanent structures of such strength that they still survive today after many thousands of years. While the domestic sites may have fallen to plough and bulldozer over time, the legends and folklore may have kept many of the standing stones and cairns safe from intrusion. Even today, many of these places are woven about with strange tales, and sightings of eldritch creatures and spectral lights are not uncommon.

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There is another reason too, less ‘logical’ perhaps, but no less real for all that. We spend a lot of time on the moors and while we feel welcome in the realm of the rites of the ancestors, there is an uneasy feeling about walking through their settlements, as if, being outside their time, we should not be there. There is another part to that theory that has to do with time and perception that we shared with our companions as we walked through the wet grass within the enclosure.

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The boulders within the enclosure are strange. Many would not look out of place in Fred Flintstone’s back yard and, although we have no knowledge of their individual significance, it is obvious that here again we are looking at stone that was left for a purpose in an area that could have been cleared. The stones themselves would have provided perfect material with which to build the enclosure walls, yet their strange shapes were left untouched and the walls built around them.

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One huge boulder is covered in white lichen and stands out from the rest. It was to this we were drawn and everyone was intrigued by its hollowed bowl. One of our companions wondered if it was the particular energetic properties of the stone that made it a target for this particular variety of lichen…. none of the others seemed to wear it. Another suggested that it looked like a ‘font’ in which infants might be cleansed and purified… tying the two extremes of life together at a place where only the rites of death have left any trace.  Whatever the truth and the purpose of the stone, it brought the enclosure to life for us as we looked back upon the lives of the people to whom this place had meaning.

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Having left the main path, we walked back to one of the seven entrances that pierce the enclosure wall. There is a path here to the stone that was our final destination on this stretch… but the bracken is taller than most people here and the fronds, heavy with mist and rain, were bowed across it. We forged through, knowing it was worth the wetting and brought the company to the little clearing of the carved stone…

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