Riddles of the Night: Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Amanda Norman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddles of the Night – A walk in the park…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddles of the Night: Clues on cue

We had known for a long time the main sites we intended to use for the Riddles in the Night workshop. The trouble was, we did not really know why, or what linked them. They are far from being the only sites we could have chosen; we know the area well, we have worked with the landscape in some detail over the past few years and there are enough ancient, sacred and interesting places to fill several workshops.

The sites we had chosen might not necessarily be seen as the ‘best’ or most impressive in the area. And, although most are clustered quite close together, one of them is a fair distance. There are others closer to our chosen base in Bakewell, but they were not speaking to us… at least, not this time. So why, we asked ourselves, had we decided upon these sites? It was almost as if they had chosen themselves without bothering to tell us why.

It cannot be said that we were happy with this uncertain state of affairs, and with only a few possible planning meetings to go, we were getting a little concerned at our lack of insight.

Then on our journey north for the last workshop, by a curious set of coincidences, we met two people over breakfast. It was one of those pleasant encounters where we all seemed to be on the same page, even though our paths differ. They were in Scotland visiting Rosslyn, the Templar chapel made famous by Dan Brown’s novels. We spoke briefly about dowsing, earth energies and the ‘dragon lines’… the leys… all of which tied in nicely with what we would be doing in the north. But it was a brief meeting and we headed our separate ways.

A few days later, ensconced in the last hotel of the journey and with one workshop over, we were glumly contemplating the next, still no wiser about the direction we would take. As if on cue, an email arrived stating that we had a booking from the ladies we had met for the December event… the one we had still to construct.

We had already decided to ask the attendees to solve riddles to find the locations of the sites. This had a dual purpose… both as a bit of fun and with the serious aim of illustrating how, on the spiritual journey, cryptic ‘clues’ are dropped into our lives which can lead us to greater understanding if we pay attention. Like riddles, which always contain all the answers, such clues often become clear only in retrospect, once knowledge is added and understanding has dawned.

We had no intention of hitting the attendees with the proverbial wet fish if they failed to solve the clues. Life has no such compunction and, over the next couple of weeks, set about demonstrating the fact.

It was almost immediately after that booking email that things began to fall into place, as if the flood-gates had been opened. We stared at the brilliant colours of a stained glass St Michael and the best dragon we had seen to date… dragons had been part of that breakfast conversation…. and we suddenly felt that things had begun to fall into place.

Had we been paying attention, we might have gleaned a few more clues that day. The church at Skipton had been built by the Cliffords, the family who held the manorial castle next door. The Clifford family was a prominent one in the early days of the Normans, but fell from grace when Roger de Clifford rebelled against the king in 1322. He was hanged at Clifford’s Tower in York… the tower in which the Templars, rounded up and charged with heresy, were held just a few years earlier. But although the connection to the tower was mentioned, it was only in the context of the appalling anti-Semitic massacre in 1190.

As it was, we remained clueless, knowing only that we were somehow back on track… we still had no real idea where the track was leading. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, though, by revisiting some of our old haunts, seeing new significance in things we had thought we knew well and finally getting into a place we had long intended to visit, the clues began to make sense. When December arrived, we felt we had the outline of a workshop. Where do you begin to tie together centuries of history, sites that span thousands of years and our own quest for understanding? We chose to begin at a well…