The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Stations of the sun

We were up and away early again, this time well supplied with munchables on which to break our fast. We may have missed the dawn, but we still caught the echoes of its gilding on the mountains. We wanted to take a look at a stone circle we had noticed at the end of the road, catching a meagre glimpse of the stones as we had driven back to the hotel Even from such a brief encounter, you could tell it was not a ‘real’ stone circle, but a modern reconstruction. However, in Wales, these are still a significant part of the culture.

This one, just outside Tremadog, was built for the National Eisteddfod when it visited the area in 1987. The Eisteddfod is a traditional festival: a celebration and competition of music and poetry. It is held under the auspices of the Archdruid and the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain. ‘Gorsedd’ comes from the Welsh, meaning ‘throne’ and Eisteddfod comes from the Welsh words for ‘sit’ and ‘be’. Circles are often constructed as memorials of these important events and are completed a year in advance so that the Archdruid may proclaim the themes and details for the coming year.  The stones are still placed with ritual care. The Archdruid will stand upon the Logan Stone. To the east and facing him, will be the Stone of the Covenant, that station of the Herald Bard. Behind this are the Portal Stones and of these, the one to the right of the entrance to the circle is aligned with  the midsummer sunrise, while the stone to the left is aligned with the midwinter sunrise. Whilst they lack the powerful presence of the ancient circles, there is still something about these places that mark the stations of the year.

As for us, we had a more mundane station awaiting us. We were still way too early, though, and wandered back to Borth y Gest on a fruitless search for coffee before heading for Porthmadog. By this time, the mist had cleared on yet another splendid morning and we watched the swans in the harbour perform their morning ablutions as we waited.

One white vessel caught my eye for its name. Branwen was the sister of Brân the Blessed, he whose severed head had entertained and informed his companions for so long on the mound at Harlech, before being taken to the White Hill to protect the land. They were children of a marriage between the dark house of Llyr and the ‘Bran’ means ‘raven’ and ‘wen’ means ‘white’, ‘blessed’ or ‘fair’.  I have a personal interest in the name since ‘Wen Weston’ came into being as ‘Don’s‘ partner in The Initiate and the ancient tales have run alongside the adventures of Don and Wen.

It occurred to me that, as the raven and the swan are both traditional psychopomps, as Morgana had illustrated during the Feathered Seer weekend…and as we had unconsciously cast them for one of the rituals… then perhaps the ‘white raven’ refers to the swan. It would certainly fit with the tales of the brother and sister from the Mabinogion. I wondered about the significance of that in symbolic terms too, Brân and Branwen were children of a marriage between the Houses of Dôn and Llŷr, light and shadow. Dôn was the mother goddess, while Llŷr was associated with the sea…two states of being. Death, the realm of the psychopomp, could also be said to be the point where two states of being meet, like a wave upon the shore…

But it was not the time for such musings. We were meeting our companions to take the first of the mountain trains up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The station in Porthmadog has been beautifully restored and the trains bring back many childhood memories.The views from the tracks are spectacular, by all accounts and the old slate-mining town sits within the heart of Snowdonia…

… except that, when everyone had arrived and the timetable had been checked, we found that we would either have too little or too much time to spend at the terminus. Fifteen minutes was never going to be enough and the alternative would have made everyone far too late for the long drive home. Alternatives were discussed, but the question was settled when one of our companions said that he would like to share a very special place with us. It was not far away and would be well worth the drive….

The drive alone was ‘worth it’… passing through some incredibly beautiful places as we headed towards Cwm Pennant, a hidden valley often cited as one of the most beautiful in Wales…

An Eye full of Reflections (7 of 7)

Amidst the seemingly pristine field of stones, the old oak tree usually went unnoticed…

Like this group of happy but somewhat weary pilgrims, newly entered via the gate at the top of the narrow, fern-lined path, most visitors stood in amazed silence at the large oval of twin-chambered stonework in front of them, conscious of the oak within the oval of stones but seeing it as out of place and not part of the sacred grove where the revered ones had met… and some had died.

The act of dying-in-place had pervaded the ground so deeply that the oak as seed, some thousands of rounds later, had felt the guiding presence in its infancy; urging it to grow strong and be the most it could be, reaching for the sky and creating a four-dimensional picture of time-meeting-life.

The Oak watched, speeding up its vertically-flowing heart to synchronise with theirs, seeing something unusual, something lacking in triviality in the tired but intent expressions. The act would have cost it dearly, but the nearing of the Fullness filled the sky with energy, and it, like them, fed from the gold-flecked deep blue, above.

Those with the knowing in their eyes sometimes came at the Fullness. Not understanding, perhaps–but seeking to, at least. Few looked at the Oak. Most were captured by the pureness of the field of stones with the twin nipples.

So many stones? said their thoughts. Why were they not taken away for the making of dwellings? Another: What a perfect oval... then the Oak would place into their minds the picture of the great oval of the above, with all the great children, laughing with the evening breeze in its hissing leaves and showing them the wonderful ‘accident’ that time had wrought in a place that should no longer look like this… as though it had been protected, thus.

Which it had, of course. On a hillside which contained the fresh and lovely minds of the schoolchildren and the church a minister who was strangely sympathetic; and whose neighbouring roads included one named Bro Arthur.

As though it had been protected…

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The Oak pulled its climbing life back from the outer edges of the canopy and reached back into the pilgrims’ afternoon. They were spread around its base, but not seeing it, taking their photographs. The Oak read their own history of the afternoon. The salty moisture still on their sandy ankles, their heads alive with snippets of wisdom, their eyes full of sun… solstice sun, Sun of the Fullness.

The Oak liked them, it decided. They knew it not, but revered the place. That was enough. The Oak, the alive one, would always help those that loved the place, its home. They that loved the stones always helped it to protect them, like the children and the minister and the great names etched into the landscape.

The Watcher Oak whispered its name to the one who had first seen the aberrations of the light, now avidly trying to capture their images in his machine… and smiling, as she, his companion had done, moments before.

There were two others, two who stood back and studied the joy of the group. Two with a sense of almost mischief in their eyes, delighting in the wonderful feeling of discovery that always greeted those who came here near the Fullness. The Oak, the Watcher Oak whispered to them, the hissing of summer leaves, the story of the great oval in the sky and the small oval of the pristine stones with the twin chambers, below.

One of the two began pacing the oval, while the other watched. With delight, the Watcher Oak read their intent, sending the inner breeze to clear their minds of doubt. Yes, the leaves hissed, that will do wonderfully…

And so it was that the two asked the rest to align themselves in the North, at a place where the radial from the centre of the oval projected. They were greeted, in turn, by the woman of the North, who spoke softly of their journey around the oval to the south, the reflection of her radial, then bade them make pace it in silence and in reverence.

Around the small oval, below – and around the great oval, above – they walked, individually, slowly and with reverence. He – the other, the man of the South, the place of the sun’s Fullness – stepped from the Watcher Oak’s shadows to intersect each one, bidding them hold the beauty and the energy of the Fullness and take it into the darkness of the West – and the greater darkness of the North. Oval meeting great tilting oval, life in its roundness recognised and honoured.

They had come with a phrase in their heads: Authority. The Watcher Oak took it and replaced it with another: Inclusion in Life; then the rustling leaves kissed them farewell, for now.

But it did not loose its eye on the thread of their immediate lives. Drawing from the golden energy above it, followed their moves as they returned, sated, to their temporary dwellings, and later, replete and happy, as the sun set on the mellow waters.

The rose. At the limits of its perception into space-time, the Watcher Oak smiled as the morning’s plans were changed and one – the memory man – took them on a journey to the landscape of his childhood, within the glory of a green, tree-lined valley named Pennant.

There, they sat and carried out the last of their readings, by a river that was crystal clear and full of the blue sky.

The Watcher Oak strained to follow them into the valley, losing contact at the bend in the road where the sheep were herded for shearing; the woman of the great heart weeping for their fear.


And then the long curve to the next part of the valley took them from its golden sight. The Watcher Oak could follow no more. Just before the seeing was lost it passed their keeping to a child oak growing on the side of the valley.

With distant leaves hissing, it held them, briefly, one last time. Then, they were gone…

Across the miles, it gathered its strength, returning to the guardian task for which it had been born, rejoicing in its inclusion in the glory of outer life on this new and most beautiful day.

In the returning Fullness it was embraced and loved. Its roots reached deep into the ground… and it was good… In the ancient place the Watcher Oak watched.

——- End ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,

Part Four,

Part Five

Part Six

©Stephen Tanham

All right reserved, text and pictures.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Solstice stones

We had no idea where we would be taken for the final visit of the day. We suspected an ancient site as the area is just strewn with them. A brief glance at a map of prehistoric sites had left me wishing we were going to be in the region for at least the whole summer… you would need it to have any chance at all of seeing  surviving remnants of our ancestors. We were not disappointed. A short drive and a shorter walk and we found ourselves at the neolithic burial chambers of Dyffryn Ardudwy.

It is immediately impressive and unusual, though the brilliant sunlight reflecting on white stone and the deep shadows cast by a stand of oaks made it difficult, at first, to take in the full scope of what we were seeing. Small rocks cover an area around a hundred feet long by fifty feet wide. It is roughly trapezoidal in shape and, once again, reminiscent of the ceremonial stone axes that played such an important part in the culture of our ancestors.

Aerial image showing the shape of the enclosure, half hidden beneath the trees. Image: Google Earth

These axes, particularly those made in the most renowned ‘factories’ were traded across the country and even through Europe.  So many have been found unused, buried as grave goods or offerings, that they seem to have been much more than a mere practical tool. These ‘axe factories’ where the stone was quarried and crafted all seem to be in areas where the stone itself has special beauty of properties…and they are always in areas where major stone circles and monuments remain.

You have to wonder why. Was the stone itself prized for its qualities, or was it more to do with the location from whence it came? What did the shape represent, a mere stylising of a more practical form or did it hark back to early and symbolic representations of the womb of the goddess? That we will never know… but the shape itself crops up far too often at these sites to be ignored.

There are two burial chambers set within the field of stones. The smallest, set to the west and facing east, is the oldest. In fact, it is amongst the earliest of such tombs in the country, dating back possibly six thousand years. To put that in perspective, it was already ancient before the Great Pyramid was conceived.

There are many dolmens and traces of the ancient past around the village and a glance at the map shows some startling alignments across the landscape. The church of St Dwywe within the parish was built upon one ancient mound. A straight track from the church runs past the cairn of Cors-y-gedol to another cairn on Moelfre that aligns with the summer solstice. On the hills above Dyffryn Ardudwy, a line of standing stones tracks across the mountains. There can be no question of the importance of the area to our ancestors.

The smaller, older chamber is a classic shape, with tall pillars at the eastern entrance. They support a massive, sloped capstone and between them, a blocking stone still stands, closing the chamber. In front of the blocked entrance is a shallow ‘V’ shaped  ‘pit’. Excavations in the 1960s found no bones within the chamber, but fragments of deliberately broken shouldered urns and polished stone plaques were found in the pit.

When it was first constructed, the smaller chamber was enclosed within a round barrow. Almost all dolmens were so enclosed, the shape of the barrow changing over time. Most had a passage or forecourt that gave entrance to the tomb which was often used for multiple burials, with bones being added and removed over the years. It would seem that to our ancestors, their ancestors still had a part to play in the life of their communities.

The most curious feature of the western tomb, though, is the enigmatic carving that adorns the stones… stones that would have been buried and out of sight. Except, perhaps, to the dead. We have come across this too in many places and it suggests that these were not ‘just’ burial places, but houses of the dead, where the dead were seen to have a life after their own fashion.

The larger chamber also faces the east, but is in a slightly more battered state. Local stone has been used to shore up the slowly sighing uprights and though the stonework of the repair is obvious, it has been done with some sympathy.

In front of the entrance, you can still see the line of larger boulders and a single standing stone that would have formed part of the forecourt. When the second chamber was constructed, the covering mound grew to include and encompass the earlier round barrow. When you consider how much stone remains that has not been robbed over the centuries and how much more it would take to build a hill of that height and area, enough to cover both the chambers and the twenty five feet in between, you begin to get some idea of the scale of these constructions. To see the sunlight gleaming on white stone, even today, is a striking sight. Especially as it turns the white stones blue… echoing the sea and sky… and the blue light we found at the start of our adventures.

Light seems to play an important role at all these sites, even though many of them would never have seen the sun once construction was complete. Did our forefathers deliberately include the light within their houses of the dead? We know that they did;  famously at Newgrange and we have found evidence at other sites we have visited too. The play of light in the larger chamber, though, can only have been a fortuitous gift when it cast a hawk at my feet, flying into the east.

We explored…. not to our heart’s content, but as time allowed. Then, to honour the place and the solstice, we shared a simple ritual of light and darkness, passing, appropriately enough, through the brilliant sunshine and the velvet shadows cast by the trees. As we prepared to depart, something was nagging  from the stones and a persistent black and gold dragonfly convinced us to linger when the rest of our companions had left. The dragonfly seemed to approve…. and what better approval than that of a dragon could you have in Wales?

You always know when it is time to leave these sites. There is an indefinable shift in the feel of the place. Leave too soon and you may miss the gifts. Linger too long and you spoil the magic. You can only listen to the land and the moment… and wait to see what the next moment brings. And that means every minute is fraught with possibility.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Beached

In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
Tolkien.

I know very little about seagulls. We do get them here where I live, far inland, raiding the landfills… but they seldom cry. There is something heart-aching about that sound that pulls at the soul with an indelible longing. And always, when I hear them, those lines from Tolkien wander through my mind. It is not a discontent with what is, but rather a yearning for the possibilities of what might be; a feeling very similar to that of childhood and the first sight of a summer sea. That too was carried on the cry of the gull. And we were heading for the beach…

The plan had been to take the train into Harlech and walk back, a couple of miles along the beach. The heat, however, was intense, so we settled on a more gentle perambulation, seeking out a quiet corner on the sands. It is our custom to invite our companions to share readings at these events. Some choose pieces that fit the theme of the weekend, others choose readings that speak to heart and mind. They always seem to fit the moment and the environment somehow, even when we have not given a detailed itinerary or when we have changed our plans to suit the day. This time, we had added the bibliomantic readings into the mix too and the randomly chosen quotations had a special relevance and nowhere more so than on the beach.

“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.” 
Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

We found a spot where someone had been balancing rocks. There were a number of these ephemeral sculptures around the place where we rested. It is not as easy as it looks to get even these fairly regular pebbles to retain their place. Michael Grab is an master of the art and his gravity-defying sculptures are something else entirely. He describes the meditative state of awareness that is both required and engendered by the stones as ‘finding a zero point or silence within yourself’ where awareness can be brought to understanding the form and the stone. It seemed the perfect place for the readings and subsequent discussions. It seemed, too, as if the readings were already answering those discussions, even before they arose.

As we sat on the sand, children ran along the beach, destroying most of the balanced art, except those pieces closest to us. It was a small sadness, knowing that the wind and tides would have taken them anyway. The children had no concept of what was involved in their creation. Their parents did not seek to stop them, and that brought the role of authority back into play. There is a place for it, when it teaches values, but how often are those values skewed or blinded, I wonder, by those authority itself has learned?

Those who gaze at you in joy will find your face joyfully reflected back at them.  
Nicolas of Cusa

Yet, it was as children that we waded out into the cool of the sea. Typically British and unprepared, shoes and socks were removed, trousers and skirts were tucked up…all that was missing was the proverbial knotted handkerchief. My one regret was the lack of swimwear… though I went out farther than was safe for my dignity, at least the sun was hot enough to dry the sodden skirt. Such moments, when the years fall away into unimportance are reminders of who we are behind the authority of our own outer personalities. The child remains within us and just as we would not confine a child in life, so should we offer the inner child its freedom.

The day was drawing to its close as we left the beach. Flowers as joyous as the sunshine lined the paths and birds, well-used to bounty seemed unflustered by our presence. There was, we were told, one more place to visit before heading back to Porthmadog for dinner. It was to prove, in its way, as stunning a site as any we have seen…

An Eye full of Reflections (6 of 7)

 

Apart from its sheer presence in the landscape, the castle at Harlech has a location that is breathtaking – perched high in the elevated centre of the small town, looking back down the valley at a vista that embraces the area of Porthmadog, then slides your eye leftwards to take in the whole of the Lleyn Peninsula.

On our scouting trip in May, we had searched for a location that would meet the needs of the third of our main themes: authority. Our first sight of Harlech Castle decided it. Seen from below – a straight line of a road that runs close to the magnificent beach – it appears that the castle sits on top of the hill with little else around it. In fact, it is in the centre of the town; logical, as the modern town has developed around it from early times.

There are two roads (photo below). One follows the line of the sea, the other climbs a slow and  winding curve through the lush Welsh countryside and enters the town at its heart. Parking is a challenge, but the castle and associated tourist centre offers a small number of places directly adjacent to the castle grounds.

Keeping a party of several cars together on such a trip is always a challenge, though we have all got better at it over the years – to the extent of developing our own ‘protocol’ about who stops if the next car gets out of sight of the rest. It’s a simple thing but it can help to avoid disconnected delays that can easily add up to a cream tea…

How do we react to authority? It depends on many things, including age. As young children, the authority of the caring adult is paramount in the relationship by which that child is moulded to fit into its society. This is seen as necessary, yet robs us of much of our spiritual originality. Most would agree it is essential for the child’s survival and prosperity, even though, beyond the original love of the home, it forms the first great ‘container’ of reactions that eventually create the personality. From there on, that hard container is wrapped around the soul in an increasingly dense way.

 

Portmeirion blog 5 - 1 (14)

Later in life, and as our personal power grows, we may feel so aggrieved about the society in which we have matured that we literally go to war with in – as the Prisoner did in the McGoohan series. Seen as a superficial spy story, the man was on a hopeless quest, seen as someone reclaiming his spiritual originality, it takes on a quite different shape. McGoohan’s character was at war with himself…

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 41

As a child, holidaying in Wales, and captivated by its beauty, I marvelled at how many castles this ancient race had built to defend themselves, little knowing that this was completely wrong. Most, if not all of the Welsh castles were built by English kings, such as Harlech Castle’s creator, the military and battle-hardened Edward I.

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 23

Their purpose was to provide fortified and administrative outposts for the English ruling class, in a country transformed by 1066 and the Norman conquest. Edward I built Harlech Castle to secure the lands he had won from Llywellyn of Grufford, the Prince of Wales. For two-hundred years after the Norman invasion, there had been continuous wars between the conquering Marcher lords and the Welsh princes. In 1267, the Treaty of Montgomery recognised Llywelyn as Prince of Wales, in return for annual tributes and subservience. Llywelyn later lost most of his power an authority in further skirmishes which cost him all but his title.

When you realise that you are inside a foreign power’s redoubt, the secure and ruthless architecture takes on a different flavour, and there is a sadness that such a proud and folklore-rich race lived under the English yoke in such a bloody way; though it is probably true that the Welsh of that time were as warlike as the English.

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 46

The model above shows how the castle was originally created. Much of it remains, as least as a visitable ruin. The model illustrates that, at the time of its construction, between 1283 and 1289, the castle was next to the sea, whereas today the long line of dunes constitute a barrier of nearly a mile between the lower part of the castle (and the foot of the town) and the coast.

It was the proximity of the sea that made Harlech such an effective fortress. In times of siege, supplies could be brought in by boat directly to the lower jetty, which was highly fortified. Harlech had its own English lifeline…

Our final act within the castle was to climb the spiral stairway of the west tower – something that proved quite a challenge. Breathless, we reached the top, to gaze in wonder at the commanding view it afforded. Very little could be hidden from the eye based here. One might say the same about the way our own governments seem hell-bent on overseeing all our lives, in the name of such ’causes’ as safety and terrorism. Same psychology, different mechanisms.

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 53

Our group had split into two to explore the small town. We reunited at the famous ice-cream shop and were to be found, silent and entranced, sitting outside the shop/cafe in the Welsh sunshine.

Two parts of our Saturday remained. One – the finale – was still unknown by all but two of us; the other followed the castle visit as we gathered on the quiet end of a beach, two miles south of Harlech, to admire the sun, now descending towards the western sea, and shared our final readings of the day.

The day could hardly have gone better… but it was not over, yet…

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 63

——- to be concluded in the final part (7) ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,

Part Four,

Part Five

©Stephen Tanham

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Harlech

Leaving Portmeirion and its mysteries behind, we drove across the estuary to Harlech in search of lunch. Stuart and I had parked beneath the Norman castle that morning when we were in search of breakfast. The imposing bulk of the walls, towering high upon the castle mound, still makes a powerful statement today. I was glad we had seen it from beneath in the grey morning mist, with the remnants of its curtain wall enclosing the rock, as it allowed us to get a true impression of its scale and erstwhile might.

We had lunch in its shadow, looking back across the estuary to the mountains. Snowdon dominates the skyline here, almost everywhere you go, and I was torn between the desire to wander those hills and a need to get close to the sea. The hills make my heart sing…they always  do, no matter where they are. There is something about the high places that calls and always will. I can understand that; the hills were my first love, a place where I first learned the stories of the old ones from my grandfather and mother …and where I learned a sense of wonder that is with me still.

The sea is a different thing. I have always lived far from the shore yet the waves have always whispered in my veins. I suppose it comes of being island-born… although we tend to forget that our country is, after all, no more than a small island in a big world. The song of the waves touches something primal in most people.  Life arose in the oceans and so the waves sing of home. Although most of the ancient gods of the sea are male, they live within her ever-changing body and, like to like, she calls to us.

For the moment, though, we were poised between the hills and the sea, looking out at both and yet our attention was drawn, inevitably, by the vast stone presence of the castle. It was built by Edward I towards the end of the thirteenth century when he invaded Wales. There had been an impromptu Shakespearian theme running through the morning, though, and so, for me, it was the figure of Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, who caught my imagination. Glyndŵr had taken the castle in 1404 and it ecame his base thereafter. I had first come across him when reading Shakespeare’s Henry IV and, although I knew little about the man, the power of the name and character had stuck in memory and imagination. He could ‘summon spirits from the vasty deep’ and was described as ‘profited in strange concealments; valiant as a lion, and wondrous affable; and as bountiful as mines of India. ‘

There were those who were for knocking the castle down and restoring the hillside to its natural and more appropriate state as a holy place. It was here, so tells the Mabinogion,  that Bran the Blessed, high king of the Island of the Mighty, was petitioned for the hand of his sister, Branwen. When the marriage ended in tragedy, betrayal and war and Bran was mortally wounded, he instructed his companions to cut off his head and carry it home. It was here too that the severed head of the king entertained his court with stories for many years before being finally buried beneath the Tower of London on White Hill…. but that is another story.

Even though I was glad to have seen Glyndŵr’s castle, I had no real desire to walk its walls. To be honest, I would have struggled to climb its turrets… especially in the noon heat. I was fine on the flat, but slopes were still knocking me for six and the thought of the inevitable spiral staircase to the top of the tower was just too much. While most of our party explored the castle, a symbol of armed might and power, Stuart and I wandered off to the house of a Higher Authority… the parish church of St Tanwg.

St Tanwg is the patron saint and founder of the little church of Llandanwg, whose beach we would later visit. It is thought that the medieval church that remains there is built on the site of the original church dating back to the 5th or 6th century, when Tanwg, son of Ithel the Generous, came over from Armorica to assist King Vortigern in re-establishing Christianity in the area. There are several unusual carved stones in Llandanwg church dating back at least fifteen hundred years.

The church in Harlech, however, is not particularly old, nor does its architecture bear the marks of grandiosity. It sits on a hill at the centre of Harlech and was built in 1840 to replace the older church on the beach. It is a simple, peaceful building, cool in the heat of the day and with the colours of bare stone the only adornment on its walls.

It does, however, have some beautiful stained glass and a medieval font dating back to the 1400s. The font was probably once in use at Llandanwg church, but was found abandoned in the sand dunes before being moved to its current location. Around it are the toys and drawings of the children of the community, many of whom will have been baptised with the waters of the font, as their forefathers were.

In fact, the whole building has an air of being ‘lived in’ and used by the community. Plans for its modernisation are on show along with people’s comments and ideas. Evidence of meetings and events are everywhere. The nave of the church is very much alive with the life of the community it serves, while the sanctuary is set apart in simplicity, with an elegant cross bearing the risen and crowned Christ and the Four Holy Creatures marking the separation between the mundane and the sacred.

It is an odd and obvious contrast with the temporal power exhibited by the castle. The  display of secular power was designed to cow and coerce; there is strength and a violent authority built into the very fabric of its walls. Yet, just a few hundred years after it was built, it fell from use and into ruin when that power shifted, as it always does. The little church represents another authority, and while opinions of any organised religion may be polarised, there can be no denying that humankind has always sought a higher source of direction. The spiritual journey has taken many forms over the millennia, from the earliest stone circles and sacred groves, through the temples and great medieval cathedrals to the aspiration of the individual. No matter what shape it takes or Name it wears, the quest for Light remains at the heart of Man.

The ‘Village’ and its occupants

Portmeirion recci from hotel up hill copy

It is hauntingly  beautiful. It sits in its own part of a lovely estuary, just east of Porthmadog, in the south of Snowdonia, Wales. Its name is Portmeirion and it was the life-work of an architect named Clough Williams-Ellis, who held a passionate belief that a ‘tightly-grouped coastal village’ could be developed in that majestic mountain setting, and that its development would illustrate how such a design could grow into the landscape without spoiling it.

Chess thru arch colour

In the late 1960s it became the setting for the ITV series “The Prisoner”, created by and starring Patrick McGoohan, famous for the Danger Man series. The then head of ITV, Lew Grade, eventually got fed up with funding the rather eccentric series, causing McGoohan to bring it to a premature conclusion after only seventeen episodes. The final episode caused the television company’s switchboard to be jammed for hours, as tens of thousands of people rang in, demanding to know what it all meant!

Prisoner Logo Wiki
Image: Wikki, reasonable use

The Prisoner became a cult classic, overnight, and is still written about and quoted today. Something in it captured the imagination of the 1960s audience and was in-tune with the darker side of post-war civilisation and the cold war era, with its emphasis on the psychological aspects of dissent.

Today, a high proportion of those visiting Portmerion do so to follow in the footsteps of McGoohan’s character, the kidnapped British spy ‘No 6’, who had mysteriously resigned from the secret service to find himself drugged and transported to the surreal ‘Village’ so that his motives could be probed- psychologically and in increasingly deadly ways…

So what was it all about? McGoohan would never say. It may be significant that, as a devout Catholic, McGoohan had refused many other roles on moral grounds, including that of James Bond (twice). We can assume that the inner meaning of The Prisoner was close to his heart and portrayed something morally essential about mankind’s nature.

The Silent Eye holds four workshops a year. The main event, in April, begins our spiritual year, but the other three mark the nearest usable points to the dates of the summer and winter solstice and the autumn equinox. The midsummer period is very special, as it allows us full use of a long day with a chance of good weather. This year, we are using the landscape of Portmeirion and the story of McGoohan’s resigned and kidnapped spy, No 6, to create a ‘walk and talk’ basis for a weekend (Friday 16 – Sunday 18 June) of shared insights, fun and exploration in this beautiful landscape.

For each of the ‘themes’ referenced below, we invite you to bring (or, if you wish, create) your favourite readings of any nature, to share with the group at a time you find appropriate.

Portmeirion Chess Pieces+View

In “The Village”, No. 6 experienced different stages of separation and rebellion as he fought to find who was ‘No. 1″. His catch phrase, often shouted at cameras that were monitoring his every move was “I am not a number, I am a free man.” Nowadays, we all have numbers, and if those who seek to control society succeed, we may soon be expected to be ‘chipped’ so that the whole of a population may be tracked – purely to prevent terrorism, of course; and ‘those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear’, though my history books tell me that may have been used, before…

Portmadog area bigger
Map: Google Maps

No. 6 experienced disbelief, as he woke from his drugged transportation to find the pastel-coloured and surreal ‘Village’ as his new home.  This act of non-acceptance becomes one of our core themes for the weekend.

What do we do when we wake one morning to find that our world has changed, forever? That we don’t even live in the same land we thought we inhabited?

There are so many parallels in our domestic and political lives at present. On the Friday (16th June) of the weekend, we will explore what kind of things we can, psychologically, ‘Resign From’. The venue for this will be a via short walk along the coastal path from our base at Porthmadog to the beautiful cove of Borth-y-Gest, where drinks and dinner await us at the Moorings Bistro.

Saturday morning, 17th June, will be spent at the village of Portmeirion. We will meet at the famous No. 6 Cafe, just inside the Portmeirion village boundary. There, over a coffee or two, we will watch the beginning of the first episode of the Prisoner TV series… to set the scene for the day.

No 6 cafe sign

Our arrival will be timed to join one of the guided tours of the Village.

Portmeirion grand terrace

Portmeirion taxi road and dome

Portmeirion Ship on ball

Following our guided tour, we will visit some of the key places from the Prisoner series, before taking a short coastal walk around the boundaries of the gardens and the forest, beyond. Here, our theme will be the consideration of the word ‘Resistance’. Does it have value? What forms does modern resistance take? And what we – who have lived in an age of relative peace and prosperity – have to learn from history?

Forest back to main square

Portmeirion column and house

We will then have an hour’s free time to wander and take in the beauty of our last moments in Portmeirion, meeting at the No. 6 cafe for our departure to the next destination.

Portmeirion cove

Harlech, with its famous castle, lies about 30 minutes drive south of Portmeirion. Weather permitting, we will take a late lunch on the wooden deck on the Castle Museum’s cafe, looking down on the castle and the steeply-sloped valley that sweeps down to the sea; and points back at Portmeirion.

Here, we will consider the nature of ‘Authority’. How much effect does it have on our individual lives? Do we adapt our lives to ignore it or is it a constant pressure on our freedom and creativity? What are the sources of oppression in our lives? Are they all real or do some of them originate in ourselves?

Harlech Castle and estuary ace
Harlech’s famous castle

Harlech is a tiny town with a big castle and its ancient streets hold many pleasant surprises… some of which may be hard to resist…

Harlech ice cream

Our final destination for the Saturday afternoon is a secret; but there we will conduct a simple group ritual to mark the coming summer solstice, before returning to Porthmadog for a period of rest before drinks and dinner at one of the restaurants in the town.

It will have been a day well spent…

IMG_0123

Sunday 18th June will be spent considering the theme of ‘Escape’. Is there really such a thing as a noble escape? Are we greater or lesser if we take such a choice? Perhaps there are certain situations too intolerable which requires us to say, ‘enough’, and use all our energies to leave?

Our ‘escape’ will be from Porthmadog, rather than the Prisoner’s Portmeirion.

https://www.visitsnowdonia.info/ffestiniog_and_welsh_highland_railway-151.aspx

The Porthmadog Quayside also hosts the station from which the famous restored steam trains depart for the mountains of Snowdonia. After exploring our destination, we will have a light lunch and return via the train to say our goodbyes and make our departures.

These events are open to all. They are useful, informal occasions if you are interested in meeting the people behind the Silent Eye’s enneagram-based consciousness programme, delivered, with personal supervision, as a correspondence course.

For all but the main April workshop, those attending make their own arrangements for accommodation and share in the cost of the meals. We charge an administration fee of £50.00 per person for each weekend.

For details of any of our events, see the website at: www.thesilenteye.co.uk

Or send us an email at rivingtide@gmail.com

All text and images ©️Stephen Tanham.