Fire from heaven

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There was supposed to be a meteor shower. The moon would not be bright enough to drown the display of cascading stars with its light and the skies over the village are but gently lit. The light pollution here is perhaps as minimal as you will find close to the homes of a densely populated land.

It seems odd speaking of light of any kind as a pollutant. This, however, is not a natural phenomenon, but the fabricated, sulphurous pall that hangs over our habitations. It is a paltry imitation of the light of the heavens that, by a strange irony, prevents us seeing the sky. The delicacy of the stars is drowned by the glow of the city. The greater the volume of our invention, the less we see the source of our inspiration.

I stand at the back door, staring into the night, pondering. The dog patrols the garden, checking for the intrusion of stray cats and nocturnal mammals. Her focus is on the ground, protecting the perimeter she has designated as her own. Yesterday a fat fox ran across my path; the woods and fields around the house are teeming with wildlife. Beyond the fence shadows flit through the darkness… yet Ani ignores them. Her attention is fixed on that which she calls her own.

The sky is overcast; the thick blanket of cloud hides any trace of night, reflecting back only the projected and sickly orange of the earthly radiance. There will be no shooting star tonight. Beyond the clouds I know the light shines with its own purity, unaffected by our risible imitation. Streaks of light will traverse the heavens whether I see them or not. The gold of the sun will robe the moon in silver with that nightly alchemy we forget. The moon sheds no light, it is a celestial mirror, merely reflecting and limited by its own nature.

I see the old adage of the Mysteries played out around me… ‘as above, so below’ and realise that I stand in a hall of magical mirrors. Each aspect of the scene around me reflects aspects of a wider life. The dog seeks only to guard her own, just as we cling to our familiar beliefs, secular or spiritual. She knows there is a world beyond the fence… walks within it daily… yet this tiny patch of earth is where she patrols ceaselessly, watching her borders and repelling intrusion. We too hold to the familiar, even when we know it is an incomplete reflection… even when we have seen that there is a greater reality beyond… and we too repel anything we believe may intrude upon the safe familiarity of the known.

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We have seen those we call the Lightbringers… those great Teachers who have walked the paths of history… and our recognition of their inner Light gave rise to emulation. Faith was illuminated by their presence… religious movements sprang from our quest for understanding of the wider life they sought to show us…yet would those Teachers now recognise their own teachings, clouded as they are by centuries of human politics? I wonder how much of what we are taught is now only the reflection of artificial light on the belly of an overcast sky… and what that fabricated glow might hide from vision.

The light, however, is real. Whether captured within the glass of an incandescent bulb, or making pictures on a screen… we are only fooling ourselves if we think we create it. We have bent it to our will and service, created the means to display it…but light itself is itself… pervading every aspect of our lives by its presence or apparent absence.

And yet… we would not have sought flame without the knowledge of light. Without seeing it cast its rays upon the earth and realising its central role in our existence. We would exist in perpetual darkness … or rather, we would not, for without the life-giving rays of the sun there would be no life on earth. It is hardly surprising that we have sought to harness this most precious of gifts. Whether by need or greed mankind has sought to steal fire from heaven and turn it to his own service, and in his use of the enslaved light has veiled his own vision of the stars.

There are, however, those Prometheans who seek another kind of fire, beyond the spectrum of visible light; an inner sun that eradicates the darkness of doubt with perfect flame. They see beyond the clouds, beyond the reflected pall of earthly light to the heavens beyond. They come from all faiths and none, seeking only to see that nameless, formless light within which they live, move and have their being. They seldom burn with blinding passion that sets them ablaze on the world stage, but shed a gentle, quite radiance as they move through the shadows of the world, their footsteps illuminating the lives of those they touch. They do not grasp or seek to harness the light, but to serve it … and thus, the flame they carry is not stolen, but a grace.

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What if you were wrong?

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I was thinking about a discussion I had enjoyed with a friend, about how our upbringing colours our worlds more than we realise. Both cultural and personal influences shape the images that imprint themselves upon the mind of the child and it is against these that we measure the experience of life in later years.

Life is a confusing thing sometimes and there is not always clear guidance on how best to live it. Social conduct and the parameters of acceptable behaviour differ from country to country. Laws and morality share many core tenets worldwide, but also throw up areas of wide disparity and within every nation there are even more variances dictated by local custom, heritage and the beliefs of a multicultural society.  There are as many ideas about what is the ‘right’ way to live as there are minds, hearts and rule-books to conceive them.

Many of our central values have grown from religious culture and the way it has been woven through human history. Regardless of whether or not an individual subscribes to a particular faith, the social code in which he or she grows will have been influenced by such beliefs. The echoes of our cultural history cast a long shadow and define the images that we choose to accept or deny in later years. Many people say they do not believe in a divinity, yet when asked what they do believe in, it becomes clear that all they deny is the image they would have learned about as a child. The shadow of those childhood images helps to shape, in acceptance or denial, the way we move through our lives.

Even without a detailed knowledge of religion, most of us have some kind of belief about what happens after death and this also informs the way we live. Some see only oblivion and a return to the elements of earth.  Others see a wheel of rebirth, a cycling of the soul through reincarnation and karma Yet others see some form of afterlife, either in a spirit realm or a paradise… or some less pleasant realm.  There are almost infinite variations of thought, but once we have found the one that speaks to us of its reality, it becomes, in many ways, the yardstick of conscience.

The deeper the belief of what happens after death, the more of an influence it becomes in life. We may seek to be worthy of a place in paradise, or to escape the maw of the nether regions… or believe that the karmic scales must be balanced …or that we owe it to ourselves as members of the human race.

Yet… what if we are wrong? We have no objective proof that any of these are the right way forward. We don’t even know for certain that there is ‘a’ right way. Maybe they are all right… or all wrong. Does it really matter?

Mankind has always argued about religious belief. Wars have been fought, schisms have occurred over the interpretation of a single word, millions have suffered and died for the belief that there can be right and wrong beliefs.

Yet ‘belief’ is defined as ‘an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof’ it is ‘an assumed truth’. Even our understanding of the world is based upon beliefs we have formed through experience. The very definition of the word makes our arguments both futile and ludicrous. We may disbelieve a belief that contradicts our own… but inherent in both is the possibility that it might be wrong.

Belief can only be a personal thing and when it inspires us, as individuals and members of the human family, to do the best we can to be the best we can, how can any such belief be wrong? Perhaps all that matters is that we follow the dictates of our own inner being and live our lives ‘as if’ our beliefs will carry us home.

The Elusive Shrimp

Caridina-multidentata-ingestion.jpg Shrimp by Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak via Wiki. This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
Image: Richard Bartz

They seek him here, they seek him there...” I couldn’t help thinking about Baroness Orczy’s Elusive Pimpernel as I watched the translucent creature foraging in the corner of the aquarium. He’s not exactly scarlet, being more of a watery pink, but he could certainly be the ‘shrimpernel’ of the tank.

Quite where he came from, or how long he had been in there, I’ll never know. I can only assume that he hitched a ride on one of the plants I brought home from the fish place. I didn’t even know I had him until he was discovered, lurking in the bottom of the old tank when I transferred the fish to their new home some months ago, and it had been months before that when I had last bought plants.

I saw him again the following morning, swimming merrily across the glass of his new home and really hoped I would see more of him; they are fascinating to watch. I even bought another half dozen shrimps to keep him company, knowing them for social creatures. But, despite cleaning the tank at least once a week, I hadn’t seen him or his fellow crustaceans since. They just disappeared into the undergrowth, never to be seen again.

Until last night, that is, when, bold as brass, a shrimp sauntered out to raid the fish food that had fallen at the front of the tank. I had been convinced for some time that I had lost them all. I had seen the vacant exoskeleton on the sand one day, just after I had medicated the tank. Invertebrates are not good with many aquarium treatments and I was convinced he had been a casualty of the war on white spot. And shrimp are a delicacy for bigger fish too.

No matter how carefully I look, though, or how assiduously I peer into the plants, nooks and crannies, there are no shrimp to be seen. It is nice to know he is there, though, quietly working behind the scenes, doing what nature intended. I only know he is still in there because he allowed me to catch that one, fleeting glimpse. It was enough to reassure me that he is alive and thriving, but it also makes me wonder what else might be in there, present but unseen.

There is something about the tranquillity of watching fish that can induce a meditative state. Or maybe I just indulge in weird trains of thought. But it seemed to me that the presence of the invisible shrimp could serve as an illustration for other unseen presences.

We cannot see love or hope, but we feel them, and see their effect on the world around us and in our own lives. We cannot see the wind, but we watch the trees bend before it and their leaves dance in its breath. We cannot see yesterday, but we know it was there… and we trust that tomorrow will come. We live our lives trusting in the presence of the invisible.

Neither deity nor the soul are visible to us, even when we have faith in their presence and existence. Without direct experience, we may trust that they are there, but we cannot know for certain; that is the very nature of faith. But, every so often, we are granted a fleeting glimpse of something beyond the scope of the everyday world.

It may be the beauty of a sunset or the first rosy blush of dawn, the perfection of a newborn babe, an act of love, or the whisper of that still, small voice within that holds a wisdom far beyond our own. These things can all be explained away as mere manifestations of a prosaic reality, but when they touch your heart and fill your being with wonder, you are gifted a glimpse beyond the mundane realms of fact and know that you have been touched by grace.

Principles of Fire (2) belief-faith-knowing

Continued from Part 1.

Before me on the table is an electrical device. It needs a new battery and to do that I have to remove the cover. The small screw holding it is of the type that requires a screwdriver with a cross-head. My mind is intrigued that this illustration of ‘knowing’ has come into the ‘now’, but it has, and I’m grateful.

I open my domestic toolkit that lives beneath the shoe polish in the utility room. Inside is a group of small cross-headed screwdrivers. As long as the size of the head is correct, I know this will open the battery cover of the clock. How do I ‘know’ this for a fact? And how did I come to have such a certainty of success that I can lay aside everything else I’m doing to focus all my energies on this simple but important task?

In Part 1, we spoke of belief and faith – but not in terms of religion; rather in terms of psychology and a more general spirituality. In that post, I said that belief advanced to faith, but that there was something beyond faith. Now we come to what that something is, and it may come as a surprise that is knowledge – or, rather, the act of knowing; something we take for granted… but shouldn’t.

I ‘know’ because I’ve done it, before. But even that is not the start of the trail. I only know this because someone once showed me how to do it. Even then, we haven’t finished chasing this back. Someone showing me is not the same as doing it myself. When this happens, successfully, I get more than a mental tick in the box; I get the rush of entry into a new world. This may be a small victory, but think back to bigger examples, like the first time your parents removed their supporting hand and you rode your bike…wobbling off into your excited future.

Science might say you that your brain and muscles simply added a capability. This is certainly true, but is that how it felt? And doesn’t our motivation to try for other expansions of self get driven by how it feels?

For spirituality to have any real meaning – beyond the intellectual ‘purity’ of the zealot – it should take us into a newer world each time we make a breakthrough. Belief and faith are not exempt from this expectation. The belief in an ‘afterlife’, where we live in a state of bliss, free from our ‘lower’ natures, has caused more heartache than can be imagined. Life is now, life is here. We know that the biblical parables spoke in metaphor, yet we don’t always think to apply this to the meaning of life and death.

Death happens, there is nothing we can do to change that. Biologically, we are programmed to die. The forces that shaped us could have made it differently, but didn’t. So we can say that death is part of the cycle of life; or that the two are day and night in a revolution of the personal planet. The personality is produced by cumulative effect of our reactions to life, going right back to the fundamental experiences of being ‘one with mother’ and the inevitable separation and lack of satisfaction engendered. And so our individual lives began, never able to be reunited in that total oneness and belonging that brought us into the world.

Is this just a tragedy, or a longing that can take us, like the Prodigal ‘Son’, home? And what sort of maturity and home would that quest involve?

For what do we exchange this inevitable closeness with mother? Something wonderful, certainly: the ability to self-direct our lives – to go out there and ride that bicycle, change that battery–things which are mundane at that level, but very different if we see that there is a wholly new way of living associated with spiritual growth. That is the goal of real spirituality: personal transformation. What passes from this life at death is a different consideration, and not one within the scope of this post.

Let us continue the bicycle metaphor. We become competent riders. We can ride in a very straight line. We become qualified to ride, with thousands of others, along large, adult roads. The bicycle becomes more complex, heavy and sophisticated; and faster, ever faster. Riding along is filled with excitement, and we carry on letting the clever machine do more and more for us. One day, we don’t even notice that there is an us and a bicycle, we just see our lives as movement in a straight line, along the road followed by so many other bicycles.

Then, one day, we speed past a person of great interest who is cycling very slowly at the side of the road. We don’t know why she or he is of great interest, but we know they are… There is, perhaps, a calmness, or even a sense of adventure about them. They have an air of being slightly different, detached from the world of the straight line road we take for granted. The next day we see them again, but we have time to slow our bicycle down to stop next to them. They smile. They may even say they have been expecting us…

They invite us to ride with them, but, immediately, they race ahead and turn off onto a track that runs through a beautiful forest. We only know how to ride along the road, so, in a panic, we stop at the point where they left our road and stare at the wonderful strangeness of what’s happening. Were we not so bored with the straight line of the road, it might seem frightening. But it’s not frightening, it’s exciting, and it tastes of the same kind of newness as when we first got on our bike, knowing that the world of our self was about to get much bigger.

Other bikes and riders are flashing past us. Some may disapprove of us standing there, feet on the floor. We look along the track into the forest. Far ahead, the stranger is standing next to his bike but has turned back to face us. He is smiling. How can this be? Bike and rider are one, surely? To get off would be like… dying.

There is a lightness of laughter as we flex our feet, secure on the ground. All the riders with whom we were cycling have gone. There’s just us, the empty straight road and the enigmatic stranger on the path in the forest, inviting us to join him or her on that mysterious path.

Since we got on the bike, so many years ago, we have never been off it. We look at the figure in the forest and see that rider and bike can be separate things; that we can live perfectly well off the bike. More importantly, we can see that the massive cycling highway, with its shared straight line that misses so much of the beautiful land, is not the only way to travel in this wonderful landscape.

In a moment that will change our lives, we examine the mysterious stranger’s stance, and get off our own bicycle. For a second, we mirror his pose, then, we begin to walk towards him, pushing the bicycle, whose direction we now control. After a few steps, an idea comes to us: we get back on the bike and cycle towards him, achieving the power of the machine plus our own choice of direction, freed from the habitual highway. The very air around us sings with the intensity of what we are doing. Even without a destination, we are somewhere new… and it feels so much like home.

Like any metaphor, this can only be taken so far, but it contains many truths about human life and its spiritual psychology. More importantly, it contains, by analogy, the elements of how belief grows. The child we were believed that it was possible to ride a bike. In the hands of a good teacher – our mum or dad – we extended that into faith that we could do it, too. When we finally wobbled away into the world of riding, we took a step beyond faith into the world of knowing… The theoretical belief evolved into the empowering faith, which, with a deep breath, became the spiritual world of knowing.

In the last stage of our metaphor, above, we jumped, deliberately, to a different level of meaning. The child-become-adult riding along the shared highway became a higher level model for how our lives as a personality exist in parallel to others – the other riders on the highway. In this we had forgotten that we and the bicycle (the personality) were actually separate. Meeting the mysterious stranger showed us that there were other roads and tracks we could travel; without losing the carefully cultured ability to ride within our evolutionary arena of time, space and body.

So, what will you do when you step off your bike and begin to push it along a different track and into that wonderful forest? The first thing you will discover is that it was your strength that gave the bike its power. Smiling with this knowledge, you might get back on the bike and cycle towards the stranger on the path; not only free of the common highway, but able to use everything you have learned, before, in the service of your newfound spiritual freedom, and its ability to choose in a very different way.

This second, this moment, this now contains all these things; and they are real. You only need act with enough resolve, and in the right way, to enter that magical path into the forest of personal potential and real individual freedom… and for that, you will need a very deep breath. But you need not fear you will be alone…

One final thought to consider is this: when we experience that rush of knowing, and enter that new world, are we really adding something to our lives and selves, or are we recognising the truth of a world we never left, but just forgot? Have we become ‘bigger’ because we are nearer to home?

©️Stephen Tanham


Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

 

Drawing a dark veil…

“Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God.” Pope Gregory’s letter to Abbot Mellitus, 6thC, on the conversion of Britain.

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You have to admit, Pope Gregory was sneaky. The mission to bring the blessed isles of Britain into the Christian fold was not to be accomplished so much by conversion as subversion. To ‘convert’ means to turn in a new direction, to subvert means to destroy from below… and that, is pretty much, the definition of sneaky.

The instructions to the missionaries were clear… take and use the old sacred places for the new worship. The letter was quite detailed in how this should be done, but basically it meant allowing the people to celebrate the same festivals, in the way they had always done, and in the same places. The only difference wa that, while they were doing so, the clergy of the Church could gradually add a Christian gloss to the festivities. Many of the old gods were adopted as Christian saints and their stories rewritten accordingly, magical places were rendered ‘officially’ sacred by appropriating them for Christian myth and the symbolism of ancient festivals was reallocated to the Christian story.

Gregory was right. The people were soon turned to the new religion.

They may have neither noticed nor cared; when you worship God made manifest in Nature, the names and stories of the gods matter less than natural and cosmic force they represent… and Britain already had a long history of accepting ‘foreign’ gods into the pantheon. The new Jesus-god was little different from many who had come and gone before, after all. Miraculous births abound in religious history, across the globe and throughout the ages. Gods who walk the earth as men are not uncommon, nor are the gods who come to teach. Saviour gods and sacrificed gods were ten a penny, and Jesus was not the first to be hung upon a tree.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Gregory must have been well aware of this ready acceptance of new gods into the pagan fold. Throw in a few incentives…and eternal life isn’t bad for starters… add a dash of hellfire and brimstone to put the fear of God into the laggards, put learning, healing, economic and political power into the hands of the priests, and he was right; within a generation or two, the conversion was pretty much complete. The old gods faded into myth and their altars were forgotten…or repurposed.

But, let’s be honest, Gregory was not exactly the first to bring Britain to Christianity, whatever his letter might suggest. The process had been going on for quite some time. There were already Christians in Britain before the Romans left in 410AD. The very earliest missionaries, according to the legends, had arrived much earlier than that, when Joseph of Arimathea had come to Glastonbury, bringing with him relics of Jesus’ life and mission, and founding the first Christian oratory there. Joseph, according to the Bible, was the man who asked Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the Cross… so, if the legends are true, then Christianity came to these shores within a few years of the Crucifixion.

Celtic Christianity, which carried a greater love and respect for the natural world, was already firmly entrenched in these isles before Gregory wrote to Mellitus. The last pagan warrior-king was Penda of Mercia…and he died in 655AD. So it was not so much Christianity that Gregory wanted to bring to the land, but Roman Christianity. be that as it may, after the Synod of Whitby in 664, Britain was officially under the sway of the Bishop of Rome and the spiritual landscape was confined to the churches and chapels.

For those who seek a greater understanding of our spiritual past, Britain is particularly rich in archaeological remains dating back thousands of years. There are over a thousand stone circles, innumerable barrows and many other ancient monuments to baffle, intrigue and illuminate the seeker. Sacred sites continue to document the evolution of belief throughout the Roman Occupation, then you hit what was known as the Dark Ages (until political correctness renamed it the Early Medieval period) and nothing much remains except the imported Norse and Saxon gods and the earliest beginnings of the Church. The lines between them blur as the one blends with the other and our original spiritual story sinks further into myth… and the seeker is left with the task of unpicking the resulting tangle.

Unfortunately for Pope Gregory, his directive had an unexpected result. By building his churches on sites of a far more ancient sanctity than the sanction of Christianity, many of those sites were preserved. We not only know where they were, they are still there.

There are barrows in churchyards, ancient yews, once held sacred, still cast their shadows on holy ground, sacred springs run beneath foundations and local saints with strange names and even stranger stories leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow.

And follow them we do, finding mysteries and motes of ancient light as we delve into the origins of belief. Why do we search? What can such ancient beliefs offer us, and how do they relate to the modern world? You have only to look at the political evolution of ‘official’ faith to see how murky the waters can be and how the minds and hearts of a nation can be quietly subverted.

But somewhere beyond all the chicanery, beyond dogma, beyond all organised religion, when we reconnect to our ancestors, we touch a time when the questions we still ask today were first being explored. Their world was simpler… everything was either sacred or magical, or both. There were spirits in stone and tree, there was healing in the waters. Everything was seen as connected. Animals, even the hunted, were held in reverence and the green and growing land was the body of a goddess. Nature was the self-expression of divinity and mankind no more than a part of that expression. With humankind seemingly determined to despoil and destroy our home, I believe that perspective to be more than relevant today.

Easter

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In England today there are chocolate eggs and rabbits. In France the church bells are silent as the bells of St Peter’s fly to the children, tied with ribbons and flowers. Across the world images that combine the Christian and the older pagan festivals of spring and rebirth abound, hijacked by a consumerism that somehow forgets the sacredness of both. Yet today, for once, the shops are closed.

For those who follow a pagan path this season is one of the renewal of life after the darkness of winter, a time for the rebirth of the sun, the exuberance of spring. In the fields young lambs gambol and play; birds are busy with nest building… even the kites are flying over with their beaks full. A grey and cloudy day cannot dull the blaze of green and gold that is an English spring. For those who follow the path of Nature, confirmation of their belief is all around. You can feel it in the woods and on the hills, in field and valley… everything is bursting into life.

For those who follow the Christ, this is the holiest season, the time when Jesus, crucified and entombed, rose again. It is on this event that the Christian faith is based. That in purely literal and physical terms this is not possible makes it a miracle, something beyond the understanding of logic and science, and it is this that forms the foundation of faith; that knowing of the soul that goes beyond reason. There is no confirmation in the world around us, there is no objective proof, no comfortable reassurance. You simply accept the teachings of the Church or you do not… or you feel Truth in your heart and that is enough, regardless of logic, teaching or dogma.

Faith… not religion… is a very personal thing, an intimate thing, and none among us has the right to judge the faith of another, to discount or degrade it, to ridicule or dismiss. It sings to heart and soul. It is the personal relationship between the innermost being and the Highest, however we choose to name or conceive of It. There is a purity in true faith that shines and radiates, no matter what religion, path or denomination shapes the outer form. Faith is always a thing of the inner world, regardless of the way it manifests in the outer realm in which we live.

There are many who were raised within a nominally Christian society who accept its teachings without question in childhood, when the impossible is perfectly feasible, and it is no more challenging to believe in Resurrection than it is to believe in fairies or dragons. There is beauty and comfort in a faith that shows a way to live that is based on love and which has love at its ultimate blessing. There is comfort too in the knowledge that there is no loss of self after death… only believe and follow the tenets of that faith and you will be with the Father in Heaven.

There are those too who come to their faith through living, growing into it gently, or through pain, or with the lightning flash of personal revelation, finding within it the answers to the questions of the soul.

Yet there are many who do not find faith in that way, who look at the anomalies of the biblical stories and find them impossible to reconcile. They question and find no answers within the Church and yet feel that within the heart of the story there is something. Perhaps they begin to read the stories with a detached discernment that allows them to question the disparity between the political ramifications of a powerful Church that has constructed a body of teaching to suit its needs over the past two thousand years. Perhaps they see the stories as a symbolic journey of the soul… an initiatory experience echoing even older tales. Perhaps they simply look beyond the letter of the words to the spirit of them.

A blind acceptance seldom addresses the questions of the heart. Many people are raised within a religion and yet pay only lip service to its outer form, feeling a gnawing void where the kernel of faith should reside. There are many too who, having questioned and found the literal tales wanting, have searched behind them and come by unorthodox routes to a deep faith. The exoteric Church may not suffice, but there is a Light behind it, behind all religions, that draws the seeker, often by strange pathways towards a single centre of Truth that is greater than the sum of the pathways we walk.

In the Christian story of Easter it is the Son of Man who is crucified, sacrificing himself for our redemption. Yet it is the Christ who rises, different, unknown to those closest to Him… a Mystery. For those who find faith that Mystery may take many forms and names, or none, remaining Nameless and formless as the One. I wonder if anyone can redeem another, or are we simply shown the way for the sacrifice of Self to something greater and deeper than we now know. Perhaps in walking that path we can come to understanding, to a knowing of the heart that surpasses knowledge and transcends doubt; to a place that knows neither fact nor fiction… to the awakening touch of the inner Christ that is the Light within.

May the Light shine always upon and within you.

The courage of conviction…

‘They’ve got that completely the wrong way around.’ I almost winced as I read the article, completely disagreeing with the perspective that was being outlined. The basics were correct, I felt but there was something decidedly ‘off’ about the way it was being put across. I read on regardless, listening to the running commentary in my mind… then winced in good earnest. This time at me.

By what right did I think I could judge another person’s perspective? Anyone can challenge facts if they have better information, but this was not a factual piece; it was an article on an aspect of spirituality, which, by its very nature, deals with the unseen and unknown. I may have the right to disagree with a belief or an opinion, just as I have a right to my own perspective… but I have no right to judge another to be wrong on such a subject, no matter how deep my own convictions may run.

How can we know? None of us can prove there is anything beyond this realm. None of us can prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that anything exists beyond what we are experiencing right here, right now, with our own physical senses. And even that is debateable, subjective and at the mercy of quantum physicists. We cannot even be sure that we exist in the way that we think we do.

We accept that we are solid beings in a physical world where walls are impenetrable and water is wet, all the while knowing that there is more space between the particles that make up everything in the universe, than there is solid matter. Even though, theoretically, our atoms should be able to pass through walls, we don’t try to walk through them. Experience says it doesn’t work.

But we all know that there are things beyond what we are seeing. I know my sons are in their homes as I write. I know the dog is sleeping in the hallway and that the sun will rise in the morning. I cannot see any of these things, but I know them to be true. I have learned from experience, and such things are part of my image of the world that has been built over time. If I doubted that experiential reality, how could I move through the world?

When it comes to spirituality we are, by definition, dealing with things unseen and unprovable in any scientific way, yet as soon as we wonder whether there is a greater reality of some kind, we are looking at a plane of causation, something which affects and is an integral part of this reality.

We are faced with three ways we can go. There is scepticism, where we withhold judgement until and unless we find some reason to change our minds. There is belief, where we can choose to accept …or reject…a vision of reality put forward by others. Belief, on its own, implies that choice and choosing not to believe comes into that category. There is faith…trust, conviction, knowing…call it what you will. It may have, but does not require any religious affiliation or dogma, it transcends logic and simply settles on the heart.

Scepticism and belief can argue their corner. They are based on knowledge and reason. Faith is unreasonable, subjective, emotional, often illogical… and yet it can grow from both scepticism and belief. Faith ‘just knows’ and the conviction is so deep it permeates every aspect of your life and answers its every question.

And you cannot prove a thing.

You might very well be wrong.

The only ‘proof’ you can offer is how you live your life. How your convictions shape you and carry you through the trials and tribulations each new day can bring. And the trouble is that, regardless of the specifics of that faith, you are not alone. There are people whose convictions sustain them exactly as you are sustained… yet their path is different from yours and may not include faith at all.

So how can we judge another’s faith, belief or conviction when we cannot prove our own? As long at it follows some version of the Golden Rule and harms none, how can we say who is right and who is wrong?

All we can do is refuse the impulse to dismiss another’s belief, believe without seeking to impose our own perspective and accept that there is always a paradox… we can know with utter certainty, knowing that we might be wrong and that it is okay.

That, I think, is the true courage of conviction.

The uncertainty of fish; random questions on the nature of existence…

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“Fish simply do not exist.”

My son, well used to the odd phrases that make it past my internal censors, merely grunts; his expression that of a man very well aware that to ask for elucidation would start a debate that could last for hours. This is good, it leaves me with the silence in which I can explore my thoughts.

We are watching his fish on TV. Not as silly as it might seem; although undoubtedly it is beautiful to stand in the sunshine gazing down at the water, the camera which brings the live video feed into the house is submerged, taking you right into their world. You see them from another angle completely, watching as they move in what appears to be a multitude of dimensions to which our bodies have no access. You do get up close and personal with the fish that appear on the screen.

Except… there aren’t any.

The huge screen is full of light and movement. Bubbles swirl like a billion stars in the night sky. But of the sixty or so fish in the pond, some of them as much as three feet long, there is not a sign.

It occurs to me that, right at this moment, there is no way I could actually say for certain whether such a thing as a fish exists… had, indeed, ever existed…

I remember fish, both in general terms and at a personal level. In my mind, I remember feeding them moments earlier. I can call up the image of the sturgeon we had rescued when the pump had died… of Simon, the bubble blowing character with the voracious appetite… of Bent-Tail fish, whose appearance had sparked a whole train of thought… I can, indeed, call up an image of most of the fish allegedly in the pond, right back to when they were fingerlings. And all the other fish I have seen, even caught and occasionally cooked.

But how can I, in the isolation of my own mind, be certain that all these memories are not just some figment of my imagination? Creatures dreamed and on an evolutionary par with, say, pink elephants?

I could turn to my son and asked his opinion of their existence. I could call my younger son, ostensibly intent on catching a few carp today… but folie à deux or even trois is a recognised disorder… a shared believe in the existence of fish is no guarantee that we are not all affected by the same delusion.

I could simply get up and go outside, lean over the pond and verify their existence for myself. Or could I? Who is to say that what I see is real? I could, at best, only be assured that I perceive something I choose to refer to as fish, swimming in a perception I call water….

But anyway, that isn’t my focus right at that moment. It is simple… if I cannot see fish, I can only believe that they exist. I cannot know for sure.

Through personal experience I can say that I have had empirical proof of their existence. Except that, in fact, right at this moment, I can’t do more than say that I believe I recall having experiential evidence of their existence. I can look at circumstantial evidence… we are sitting on the sofa watching a screen full of bubbles in the stated hope that fish will appear. The camera was specifically installed for this purpose, to compensate for my son’s damaged vision. So he could watch fish. Would we have gone to all that trouble had we no proof that fish exist? Would we, in fact, have even dug the huge pond and purchased fish were we not certain of their existence?

Yet, unless I can see them… and right at this moment I cannot… how on earth can I be certain of anything? The bubbles on the screen swish and swirl, changing direction with the passage of something. I can only believe that they must be fish.

Whether or not fish exist, I know that my belief in them has changed the world and continues to change it each day. I am, in a very real sense, in service to fish… each day I tend their environment, offer them food and learn their ways. Work has been done, things crafted, built, made beautiful, because of a belief in fish. I have risen above my phobia of wet worms to serve their needs, finding courage because of their existence and my love for the beauty they bring to life.

Even though I cannot see them, I sit here watching the shadows of their passage, seeing them move the bubbles, themselves unseen, and feeling the effects of their invisible presence as my body relaxes, my mind lets go of care and I watch expectantly for a golden glimpse of beauty.

Their presence is, to my subjective view, the only plausible explanation for the effects I see, and feel, their existence to have caused. It does not matter if my perception of fish is flawed, that perception serves them, changes my world… and changes me for the better. It does not matter if my perception of fish is not the same as, say, your perception. I can’t change that for either of us… can’t even be certain of the clarity of my own vision in any provable way… All I can do is hope that your experience of fish is joyful. As for me? I choose to believe… I have faith in the existence of fish.

Circles Beyond Time – Dreaming Stones

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“They say the stones sleep. That they are old and forgotten… voiceless.

Is it so, little sister? Are they silent…or do they dream, the long, slow dreaming of aeons.

They were old when they were brought here. Older than memory. Older than time.

Their song never sleeps… it is we who live too fast.”

I’d written that a long time ago after a trip to the stone circle at Barbrook, bringing the vision of a seer to the page. “Sleepers awake, tell us your dreams”…  Helen had written in that in her notebook a couple of days before visiting the place. And on the Friday morning, just after dawn when two of us had come to check the circle prior to the workshop, we had been shocked by the sense of ‘withdrawal’ at the stones… as if after too many centuries alone, they had finally sunk into sadness and allowed the moor to begin taking them back into the mists.

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Three is a magical number…and three times three is thrice so. In the Silent Eye we work with a system based on a nine pointed symbol… but there is always the higher presence of the invisible One. As we approached the little circle we were only eight… but I felt that she who had once kept the circle would lend us her unseen presence. I say ‘she’ as, between the archaeology and geology of the area, plus what we and others have ‘picked up’, there seems to have been a strong feminine presence in the rites of land and sky.

It may be that it is time for the presence of the stones to fade, their meaning now lost, forgotten and often corrupted by those who seek to lay a new paradigm over an older vision and call it their own. But if that is the case, we may as well say the same of every church and chapel, every temple and grove, for all faith, religion and belief starts from a single point of illumination that is unique and personal before they  can  grow, evolve and spread.  It is this continuous evolution that brings the understanding that set one heart and mind aflame to life, allowing it to speak to the hearts and minds of many and to answer their need… and each will take that spark and make it their own.

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For me, as for many others, any place that has been rendered sacred by the faith of those who once walked there is worth preserving… and not just as a museum-piece. While there are still those who sit amongst the stones and wonder, while offerings are left in respect for some unnamed spirit of place, while there is one person whose thoughts turn to a higher sphere with stone at their back and their mind reaching beyond the birth of the stars… the ancient places will be kept alive.

We let our little company explore the circle. Some simply found a stone and sat quietly, others walked the perimeter of the circle…as we would do in ritual…. before taking their places at the stones. I watched from my place at the Seeing Stone, feeling the gears shift and stir, wondering what to do next. It was while we were waiting that a man appeared, accompanied by a white dog. He stopped and waited and was invited to go through.. he didn’t want to disturb us, he said. It was good to see the place being used. He was invited into the circle, to join us if he wished.

Rider-Waite Tarot by Pamela Coleman Smith

And so we were nine. Helen began by reading the first verse of the poem she had written about the sleeping stones. Then, in imagination, we visualised the rebuilding of the energy of the circle and all the while, our ninth companion, with white Nance by his side, nodded his head in approval. The symbolism was not lost on us; in esoteric terms, the Tarot is also known as the Journey of the Fool… and the Fool represents the soul. When we had done what the moment asked of us, Helen read the rest of her poem, which could have been written specifically for that moment and was perfect…and yet which had been written with no knowledge of what we would do. We hadn’t known that ourselves until we got there.

We do not seek to revive an outdated belief, nor do we seek to cling to what was. We honour what is… and what has lain at the heart of all of Man’s quest for understanding, since the dawn of time itself. What our ancestors understood from the earth and sky, we seek elsewhere, through the words of Books and the lives of Teachers. The teachings we are offered are appropriate to each successive Age of Man, building one upon the other and adding to a greater understanding. Yet the questions we have asked, of our origins and our purpose, will barely have changed…and however we clothe our vision of the truth across time and evolution, Truth itself does not change, even if we see only glimpses of it, like stars in the velvet night.

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Our friend stayed with us as we reconstructed a simple divination, using the tokens our companions had chosen at the carved stone that morning. The method could not be historically accurate, for obvious reasons, but was based upon our own system and drew upon the ancient  methods too. What we did was to show one of the ways in which we think the circle may have been used for the life of its people and it was in keeping with the spirit of the place. Of the stones that we used, each companion retained their chosen token, which left us with four. Steve, Stuart and I joined in a final blessing… which left us with one, a piece of labradorite, the magician’s stone, and this we gave to our friend. It seemed the right thing to do.

He accompanied us to the gate. He too had been to the other circle and had sat where we had sat. He is often on the moor and sits with the stones and we hope that we will meet him there again. Many of the small offerings we have seen there are his, gestures of respect… a guardian of the stones. As we walked away from the circle, we looked back to see a hawk, with wings outstretched,  hovering over the stones.

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