Riddles of the Night: Raven’s Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddles of the night: Beneath a starless sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…