In spite of the rainbow that had greeted our arrival in Cumbria, the skies looked none too promising as we gathered beneath the shelter of the park gate in Penrith. The chill winds of December had brought showers, but at least, for the first afternoon, there would be a little cover. We could only hope that the following day would bring better weather. Not that rain would stop us. Since the downpour we had encountered in Scotland, we had accepted that rain was a natural benediction… a blessing and a cleansing beyond the gift of Man and, therefore, a perfect way to start a weekend of spiritual exploration.
We had chosen to begin at Penrith Castle, built between 1399 and 1470, probably on the site of a much earlier Roman encampment, as part of the defences against raiders from Scotland. Once thought to have been first built by William Strickland, who later become Bishop of Carlisle, it is now thought that the most likely builder was Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury. The castle’s main claim to fame, though, is that in 1471, it became a home for Richard, Duke of Gloucester who would go down in history as King Richard III of England, and it was this concept of ‘home’ that was to play such a large part in our weekend.
First off, we would need to think about what the concept of ‘home’ might mean. The obvious answer might be a brick-and mortar-structure, or the people within it. Could a castle be a home? Even in this dilapidated state, we found enough reminders of our own homes; kitchens, hearths and wide windows designed, not for defence, but for comfort.
Like everything that we take for granted, though, there are layers of meaning and, even such a simple idea as ‘home’ might mean a multitude of things, from the land upon which we walk to a more abstract concept of the source of being. We gathered, in part, to seek our own answers to such questions.
We had chosen the castle not just for its history or its almost alien homeliness, but for another reason too. It is one of those places that ‘jumps out’ at you when you see it for the first time. We were to visit several sites that had that surprising ‘wow’ factor that goes beyond physical appearance alone, a phenomenon we have variously referred to as a ‘psychic shock’, a ‘kick’, and, as one of our Companions put it, a ‘gut-punch’. Almost impossible to describe, it is equally impossible to mistake or ignore when it happens.
The cause? Who knows. Perhaps it has something to do with the placement of these sites on energy lines…and that was something else we would be looking at over the weekend. Telluric currents… earth energies… are real, not speculative energies. Leys and alignments may be argued, as may the purpose and positioning on these lines of so many ancient structures worldwide, but the existence of earth energies is well established. We do not fully understand their nature or potential use, any more than we understand our own ability to shape, direct, augment or sense their presence, but there is sufficient scientific evidence for their existence to leave many questions open to be answered.
Are we sensitive to unseen energies? Why not? Birds navigate across the globe when they migrate… other animals use methods of navigation and communication that seem alien and almost incomprehensible to a species that has long since divorced itself from its animal nature, deeming it too primitive to be explored. We are constantly reading and reacting to unseen signals, from the chemical signatures of moods sensed as smells, to changes in barometric pressure. That we might have a sensitivity to the earth upon which we walk seems feasible. ‘Feeling beyond form’ was another aspect of what we wanted to explore.
We allowed our companions time to explore the castle before gathering beneath the arch of the Red Tower. There are the remains of a White Tower too… and red and white are the colours of the Dragons of Albion, who, in legend, fought beneath Vortigern’s Tower until Merlin stilled their battle…and the dragons have been used to symbolise earth energies since time out of mind.
And then there was the Arthurian connection, for the castle at Penrith, according to some of the old tales, was one of his seats. His ‘round table’ was on our list of sites to visit too, and not far away, at Arthuret, the Merlin had killed his nephew during one of the Three Futile Battles of Britain, sending the mage mad with grief and guilt… In a curious ‘coincidence’, I had just been sent a photograph of the place to which he had supposedly withdrawn during his madness.
We gathered beneath the Red Tower to share and begin to explore the ideas everyone brought to the proverbial table, affirming our intent for the weekend with a simple meditation. It had, we felt, been a good beginning…and our next site was just a short walk away…