Rites of Passage: Beyond well…

Our last ‘official’ site for the day was Mompesson’s Well. The small, stone-capped well-housing sits in an enclosure above the village of Eyam, on the old salt road that once joined Sheffield to Cheshire. The well is fed by a stream and we had hoped that its pure waters would symbolically wash away the taste of grief after plunging ourselves into the dark history of the plague.

Mompesson’s Well, renamed in honour of the clergyman who had convinced the village to quarantine itself in 1665 when the plague had struck, was one of the places where money and goods were exchanged during the village’s self-imposed isolation. Money was left for supplies for the plague-ridden village, and the coins washed in the water in the belief that it would prevent infection. There are still coins left at the well today, though whether that is in homage to its history or part of an older tradition of leaving offerings by sacred springs is debatable.

The plague in Eyam lasted for fourteen months. The quarantine was lifted a little while after the death of the last victim of the pestilence, farm worker Abraham Morten, had died on the first of November 1666. It must have been a time of both hope and terror as the village held its breath, waiting to see if he were indeed the last.

Figures vary from source to source about how many people were living in Eyam when the plague first struck and how many died. The church holds records of two hundred and seventy three deaths, but that may not be the full total. While one source claims there may have been around seven hundred villagers at the start of the plague, many seem to agree on a mere three hundred and eighty. Either way, the loss is a staggering proportion of the population and no-one would have been left untouched by loss.

Yet, without their chosen actions and self-sacrifice, the plague would have undoubtedly spread, not only to the villages immediately surrounding Eyam, but thence to the towns and cities such as Bakewell, Buxton and Sheffield where poverty and the density of the population would have spelled disaster.

The quarantine was no empty gesture. The villagers knew that through their choices, most were condemning themselves and their families to a painful and horrible death. There was no effective treatment for the plague in the seventeenth century, but while tens of thousands were dying every week in London, in Derbyshire, the comparatively low death toll  is due to the sacrifice of this one village.

And yet, there is, in spite of their actions, and in spite of the vibrant internal life of the modern village, still a heavy taste of old fear hanging over Eyam. Even the atmosphere of the well did not feel truly clean… it was not the place to end our day. It is not always enough to heal the body; old pain leaves its scars and its ghosts. Instead, we followed the road up onto Eyam Moor, where older inhabitants had built stone circles thousands of years ago and where the air is clear and clean.

We had begun our afternoon together with a visualisation, placing our work within a circle of Light. High on the moors, amid the last of the heather, we offered what light we shared for the healing of old pain.

All that remained for us to do was to return to base. We had booked a table for dinner at the Queen Anne in Great Hucklow, the inn that has seen us every year during our April ritual workshops. The pub, just three miles from Eyam and built in 1621, is just a few years older than the story of the plague. There was something rather comforting about its familiarity at the end of such an emotional day. And sometimes, warmth and friendship are all it takes to make the world right.

We had been lucky with the warm weather too… a beautiful autumn day. As we watched the sun go down from the pub’s garden, we were hoping for fine weather for the next day too… for we would be spending it high on the moors with the stones…

 

Silent Eye: Sixth Weekend Draws Nigh! – by Alienora

Reblogged from Alienora’s Anthology:

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Silent Eye: A Modern Mystery School has been an important part of my life since its birth way back in 2013; though, actually, the story starts even before then…

I first met Stephen Tanham and Sue Vincent (who, along with Stuart France, comprise the Silent Eye Directors) at Savio House, during either an SOL Gathering of the Light weekend or a Ritual with Purpose one. We clicked. I enjoyed the company of both.

I was, therefore, intrigued and tempted when they set up the Silent Eye School of Consciousness – and was keen to be at the Opening.

Five very different ritual experiences later, I can safely say that this initial enthusiasm has never waned, and I am now getting very excited about the forthcoming, Jewel in the Claw, weekend.

The setting is beautiful: The Nightingale Centre in the little village of Great Hucklow, deep in the heart of the Peak District. The drive up is always a journey of magnificence -especially when we leave the motorway and meander through Bakewell (for the tarts, you understand!) and the stark peaks and mountainous roads of this atmospheric part of Britain’s landscape.

Continue reading at Alienora’s Anthology

The Magical Roundabout

Magical Roundabout

I remember the moment, a few years ago, when Stuart – one of my co-directors of the Silent Eye – said to me: “And that’s it, vanished in an instant: all that work about to be packed up, filed away and forgotten…”

He was referring to the hour at the end of our annual workshop during which we tear down the props, pack the period (or futuristic) costumes and collect up any spare workbooks, each one the better part of two hundred pages of lovingly crafted mystical theatre…

Around us is a scattering of people who don’t want to go home… Old friends, returned for their yearly round of camaraderie, fun and some deeply moving psychodrama, are standing in the residual warmth of a living thing which, like a vessel, has held and nurtured us all for the weekend. New friends, wondering what just happened…

I hate the word ‘psychodrama’ but that’s what it is. Hitchcock has a lot to answer for… ‘psych’ because the weekend is a process that works on ‘the self’, involving everyone in a play – a scripted five-act drama that starts off slow and ends with a rush that is all too real. It’s not drugs or alcohol that fuels this, it’s the largely forgotten state of ‘egregore’ of a group of people ‘playing’ at something with spiritual intentions whose success they are committed to.

We play via scripts and, often, costumes based on the characters enacted. No-one is expected to remember their lines over the five acts of the play. But watch any one of our players reading theirs and you’ll see that person giving total dedication to being the best they can be.

They may be a medieval knight, a soothsayer, a priestess. They may be a jester, a demigod or even a Queen. They might even be a cyborg from the future, struggling to become human, and challenging all our preconceptions in the process.

Sounds serious stuff? Yes, but beneath this is a strong and incredibly supportive layer of fun. A very good pub is next door to our conference venue: the lovely Nightingale Centre in this idyllic part of the Derbyshire hills. We are not averse to a glass of wine or beer to help wind down in the evenings, and the included meals in the venue are very good, indeed – and all this for less than three hundred pounds, per person, inclusive…

We don’t do it to make money, as the annual tax return would demonstrate. We do it because it reflects the best of the various ‘Schools of the Soul’ in which we were brought to a more inclusive state of consciousness. Over the five short years of our existence we have made it our own, and created our own teaching styles, along the way developing some leading-edge approaches to distance learning.

We are not gurus – we don’t believe in them. We are just ordinary folk who enjoy teaching a deeper approach to life… and ‘playing’ in this magical and creative fashion.

This year, 20-22 April, on that final Sunday afternoon, we will be standing among the torn down bits of electronics, cables, fabric, giant chessboard and well-thumbed scripts. Stuart may well be standing there as the last box gets packed into the car and ask, in his customary fashion, ‘Well, was it all worth it?’

He’ll be smiling his ‘it’s not really a question’ smile, and we’ll both chuckle. Oh yes, it will indeed have been worth it!

———–

For more information on this and future Silent Eye workshops click here or contact us at rivingtide@gmail.com

©Stephen Tanham.

“We become panoramic…” – River of the Sun

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There is something magical in rising before dawn and setting out to greet the sun. We had changed things this year; the traditional hillside ritual had been replaced by a visit to the Cave of the Seers… but it would not have felt right to forget the hills and stay cosily indoors. The landscape has always offered itself to our needs, seeming, almost magically, to provide what we have asked of it, even when we haven’t been certain what that was going to be. In some way, the Saturday morning walk through the pre-dawn light was both an expression of gratitude and the renewal of a bond.

It is even more than that, though; the connection to the land of this place runs deep. The hillside that has seen strange figures in the luminous dawn is part of an ancient settlement and an even older dance of earth, sky and Man. We spend so much of our time on concrete and asphalt, ruled by the ticking of necessity, that to choose to rise before dawn and walk into silent fields for no other reason than to greet the sun allows us to break a long fast and simply be a part of the flow of life again.

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We feel it through the soles of our feet, through the song we raise, and the air we breathe. The chill of dew, the rolling green starred with the gold and silver of celandine and daisy still waiting for the kiss of the sun to unfurl their petals.

We climbed the stile and walked through the fields to a natural portal… a gap in the curtain of trees that, quite appropriately, separates the lower from the higher, and there we waited. Two stood cloaked and raised an adaptation of the ancient Hymn to the Aten, penned over three thousand years ago. The rest, in an arc like the bowl of a chalice, joined their voices in a song penned just weeks before, especially for the River of the Sun.

Do we worship the sun? No, of course not… but we revere its light as a symbol of a greater Light and that, perhaps, is something the ancient ones whose shadows walk the land would have understood, for just as the rays of the sun give life and growth, so too does that Other Light… and perhaps that is the greater of the two.

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A small flock of sheep, led by one with a darker fleece, slowly climbed the Mound of Creation… a small hillock we had used the year before and which, to us because of that moment, is very special. They stood and watched, facing us all the while. I had to wonder if one of them was the lamb who had greeted us before dawn on that morning two years before, when a silent company had shared a moment’s delight and wonder. The Lamb too, reflects the Light.

The clouds did not break. The sun did not appear in the east as we had hoped… and so, when the sky had brightened, we turned back. It is not about the sunrise itself; that too is a symbol. Ali, for some reason, began to recite poetry… and arm in arm, laughing through the lines of Lewis Carroll, we headed once more for the stile. And the sun broke through the clouds, as if in response to our laughter.

We turned as one, the whole group, and watched the pale opalescence unfurl in the heavens; in silent peace, sharing a moment and our smiles. Something greater than we held centre stage, and in our very smallness we grew.

“We become panoramic…”

We were quieter on the way back to the centre… the line from the song played through my mind, knowing we would be using it as part of an innovative meditation on perception designed by Stuart. It seemed perfect for the feeling of those moments.

We had risen before the dawn and, at the end of the day, it seemed as if we were given the blessing of the sun itself in answer as the sky went up in flames…

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Another round – River of the Sun

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Friday evening is always a good sign of how the weekend is going… and by Friday evening we were pretty much all in the old pub next door. You can picture the scene… a low-beamed ceiling that has sheltered its patrons for centuries, a blazing fire against the spring chill and a crowd of people talking, laughing, getting to know each other and catching up. There is something quintessentially British about these moments… almost all conversations seem to involve the weather at some point… even if they then go on to the lightest of drolleries or the deepest philosophical discussions.

river of the sun SE15 034To be fair, good weather makes all the difference and the day had been a perfect example of an English spring. The little village of Great Hucklow looked beautiful decked in flowers and blossom and the sunlight was reflected in the beaming smiles with which we had greeted each other. By the time we headed for the pub, the sun had gone down and everyone had relaxed.

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The first ritual drama had introduced the story, setting the scene for our journey through a period of Egyptian history. A young man had been taken to the Temple at Philae to be trained by the priesthood… years had passed in that training and, at its culmination, the rite had been interrupted by the arrival of Ramases and his entourage… The scene was set for the story to unfold next day.

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It is quite strange… one moment you are buzzing around like the proverbial flies ensuring that all is in readiness… the next, imagination and the skillfully crafted ritual drama have carried you beyond these sceptered isles to another time, another place and anothe mindset… and you are travelling the River of the Sun in a reality far removed from daffodils and forget-me-nots. Then the ritual ends. There is a brief interlude… a time between times… when everyone doffs their robes and returns to a more familiar reality… and, in the evening, heads for the Queen Anne, filling the small inn with smiles and conversation… and making serious holes in the stock of Stowfords.

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The weather was still a subject of some concern, though. Next morning we planned on rising long before dawn to greet the spring sunrise on the hillside. These early morning rites have become something of a tradition. They are optional…yet we have been blessed by having the majority of our company gather to walk the hundred yards through the silent village each year; usually with at least three of us in somewhat unusual garb. It can be cold before dawn in April and the dew can lie heavy on the grass. As we wandered back to the Nightingale Centre, we wondered what the morning would bring.

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