Shaping the world

fox 001

Back in the earliest days when mankind had his beginnings, it was the land and our response to it that had shaped us. It has been suggested that it was the long grass that caused us first to stand on two legs… a need to spot potential predators at a distance. As animals our physical defences are minimal. It is our intellect, adaptability and ability to use what comes to hand to serve our needs that allowed us to thrive. It was the land, the environment and climate that offered the raw materials to the responsive hunter, moving with the game and the seasons and which later planted the first seeds of agriculture from which our modern societies have sprung.

We are not very old as a species. It is thought that the earliest homo sapiens dates back a mere 200,000 years. On a planet that is 4.6 billion years old and where cellular life has existed for most of that time, that is a drop in the ocean. Yet from the beginning we have shaped the world to suit our needs, carving our presence on the landscape, altering the ecology with our predation and finally building upon it on a massive scale. No other species has impacted upon the life of the planet as drastically and visibly as we.

Yet on the whole we are still children, building sandcastles on the shore of time; things we see as permanent and solid that will, inevitably, be washed away when the tides change. Civilisations have sprung up, flourished and faded, leaving arcane structures, mysterious traces we can only strive to interpret and never fully understand for we have, inevitably, lost the context of their creation. Even within our own short history we have seen this happen time and again and no doubt it will continue. Yet these mysterious histories have influenced our own; the foundations of an ancient realm may be all we think remains, yet much of what they knew will have been carried outward, casting ripples on the pool of human understanding and knowledge. Our present is built upon their past.

There is a similar process in our own lives where the fragile castles we build around ourselves as a personality, reacting to the landscape of family, society and events is shaped by and shapes the way we see ourselves and the way we project our image into the world. Events experienced through the eyes and mind of the child may leave an arcane trace, a mysterious ruin in the tangled undergrowth of being that we stumble across in wonder, trepidation or confusion. It is upon these very places that we have built the person we see in the mirror and their influence contributes to the shaping of who we become.

Yet beneath the ruined castle or lost pyramid there is a constant. The foundations of all are rooted firmly in the earth. They are shaped from the land and to the land they will eventually return, gently gathered by the creeping tendrils of plants and washed away by rain, becoming once more a part of the landscape rather than apart from it.

There is an analogy there too for those who believe in the soul, that essence of self that is beyond the realm of the of the outer world and it is from this we spring, our foundations rooted within its light and it is to this we return when the edifice of the incarnate personality is washed away.

Does it shape us as the land shaped our forefathers, or do we shape it? Both I think… within it we touch the source of being, and draw its essence into our lives; yet our living teaches and enriches and the sum of experience shapes the next ripple we cast upon the waters of existence.

Looking out across the winter fields of my home today, watching the cloud shadows race across a gilded landscape I wondered how many of our ancestors had sat thus, watching the land and pondering the nature of the soul, seeing in the earth they held sacred an echo of their own inner light.

Full Circle: Giants in the churchyard

The last of the winter light was beginning to fade as we left St Andrew’s and wandered out into the churchyard. In many respects, what awaited us outside was far more impressive and interesting than the Georgian interior. There were stones.

It is fair to say that most churchyards have stones of some description, and this one was no exception. Set within the old precinct and ringed with buildings from another era, the green space is a place of peace peopled by memories. A memorial pays tribute to those who served and fell in the great wars, and close by, one grave marks the last resting place of Mary Noble, an old lady who lived to the grand age of a hundred and seven. She was born around the time that Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, finally gave up the ghost. She lived through the years of the French revolution, the reign of Napoleon and his final defeat at Waterloo, seeing the French monarchy temporarily restored under Louis XVIII. Not that she would have cared or known much about such great events, even though they would undoubtedly have played a part in shaping her world. She was a spinner, and continued to spin her threads until three months before her death.

The Late Mary Noble of Penrith, Cumberland by James Ward; Photo: Lakeland Arts Trust

Near Mary’s grave is another that is often passed unseen, marking the resting place of the parents-in-law of the poet, William Wordsworth who, with his sister Dorothy and his future wife, Mary Hutchinson, attended Dame Birkett’s School overlooking the churchyard. Home meant different things for Mary Noble and the poet. One would immortalise the beauty of the area with his words,  the other, born decades before the poet and living a long life after his death, spun the threads that clothed the ordinary people who lived and worked the land. Yet, ultimately, for both of them, home would be cold earth and the hope of heaven.

These, however, were not the stones we had come to see. What we were after were stones that had already been around for over eight hundred years when Mary was born. One, known as the Giant’s Thumb, is a tenth century carved ‘wheelhead’ cross, dated to around 920. Tradition suggests that it may have been erected by Owen, King of Cumbria, as a memorial to his father. At some point it was used as a pillory to punish wrongdoers and the lower holes may have been enlarged for this purpose.

The scheduled monument listing designates the cross as Anglian, and says of the now-weathered decoration that a drawing was made in 1921 that showed, “…the east and west faces to have displayed a decoration of scroll and interlacing with a crucifixion scene on one side depicting Christ flanked by two figures interpreted as Longinus the spearman and Stephaton the sponge bearer. Above Christ there is a serpent. On the opposite side of the stone there was another human figure too weathered to interpret.”

It is always with a sense of privilege that we stand in the presence of a stone that has seen so much history and one which, moreover, still carries the carved mark of an artist. For over eleven hundred years this cross has been part of the life of its community… and yet, it is a mere babe compared to some we would see over the course of the weekend.

Just a few yards away is a much more unusual collection of stones, known as the Giant’s Grave. On face value, the group of six stones is no more than a pair of Anglian Crosses with four Viking hogbacks, the carved stones used to mark Norse burials, and yet, uniquely, it is said to be a single grave.

The earliest hogbacks date back to around 920, like the cross of the Giant’s Thumb. They are usually carved with a pattern that looks like roof tiles and are thought to be a stylised representation of a house for the dead. Many are covered with patterns alone, often flowing and sinuous in a style wrongly named ‘Celtic’. Others are also carved with legendary and religious figures…not all of them Christian. Many such stones are beasts in themselves, others are carved with people, boars…and dragons.

The two cross shafts, of a similar date, are also carved, though they are badly weathered.  The interlacing is different on every stone and we have wondered if there is meaning to each pattern… a meaning  to which we have lost the keys. Curiously, given that we had not yet finalised the details of the weekend at that time, and never announced them, writer Mary Smith sent me, as well as the photo of Merlin’s cave, a newspaper cutting that discussed the lost language of symbolism and a booklet on the old carved crosses. ‘Coincidences’ like that tend to reassure you that you are on the right track…

Legends say that the Giant’s Grave is the resting place of Owen Caesarius, king of Cumbria between 920 and 937 AD:

“The common vulgar report is that one Ewen or Owen Cæsarius, a very extraordinary person, famous in these parts for hunting and fighting, about fourteen hundred years ago, whom no hand but that off death could overcome, lies buried in this place. His stature, as the story says, was prodigious beyond that of the Patagonians, in South America, seventeen feet high, that the pillars at his head and feet denote it, and the four rough unpolished stones, betwixt, represent so many wild boars, which had the honour to be killed by this wonderful giant”. Todd.

Some say the Grave is the burial place of the mythical giant Sir Ewan, who lived in the Giant’s Caves on the banks of the river Eamont near Penrith. One old record says that the Grave, ““was opened when I was a Scollar there, by William Turner, and there found the great long shank bones and other bones of a man, and a broad Sword besides.”

Yet others link the grave with Owain, also known as Ywain, or Yvain who was the son of Urien, King of Rheged… and thus to the legends of King Arthur. Owain was, in the later Arthurian Romances, known as the Knight of the Lion and a Knight of the Round Table, and tales were penned about his exploits of knight-errantry. The most famous episode tells of how he rescues a lion who becomes his companion… and helps him defeat both a giant and…a dragon.

Yvain-dragon.jpg

Without realising all these details when we had planned the weekend, they were beginning to make themselves felt as gifts, joining the dots of what we had planned. Another gift awaited us too,  beyond the sundial where the ley line passes through the churchyard. A peace garden was to be our final official visit of the day. Created in1971 by the local Rotary Club, its wheel-like motif and their motto, ‘Service above Self’, were perfect for a shared dedication to the work of the weekend, which would continue the next morning with a visit to King Arthur’s Round Table…

Why Myth? IV…

*

‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

Those of you with an eagle eye will have realised that next year’s Silent Eye, Spring Workshop has a mythological theme.

It is based upon The Epic of Gilgamesh which is a story worked up into its present form over four thousand years ago.

Prior to its re-incarnation as an epic poem it existed as five independant mythological episodes, which, as we traditionally split our April Workshops into five ritual dramas tends to suit our purposes rather well.

But why do we insist on revisiting the past in this way?

It is our contention that drama as we now have it derives from sacred drama as practised in the mystery temples of old where it was used to develop the psyche of the neophyte and initiate them into the sacred and secret realms of higher living and life.

A contention spectacularly borne out whilst working on Leaf and Flame in 2016, when the Arthurian Mythos which we used as the basis for the weekend revealed itself to be one strand of the Hibernian initiation sequence.

This year we will concern ourselves with the nature of the Planetary Being and how the processes worked out in the here and now relate to and body forth the wider workings of the Cosmic Undertaking.

We will be retaining the Sumerian setting of Gilgamesh’s epic tale but drawing on all currently available sources of the story and feeding this through the matrix of the Enneagram in order to bring you five dramatic rituals of high magic, no little mayhem, and the customary dose of madcap mysticism which we hope will ultimately culminate in something of a spiritual transformation for all those involved.

But that is also down to the participants.

With an interactive agenda of talks, meditations and practical presentations we think that the Nightingale Centre, nestled deep in the Derbyshire hills, is the place to be on the weekend of 26th – 28th April 2019.

*

A Dramatic adaptation of The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

*

Why Myth?…

*

‘…history became legend, legend became myth…’

What a pleasant conceit, to suppose that this process produces myth. Whilst undoubtedly true for many legends the process can also work the other way. Many legends for example have produced history. Pre-eminently in this respect, at least for Britain, is ‘King Arthur’ whose story the scholars do indeed now refer to as a mythos.

But what is really going on here?

It is probably more accurate to regard all these forms as stories. We are not supposed to regard History as a story but as ‘recorded fact’ and also ‘true’, but well, really, the clue is in the name. So why do we set such store by stories? The clue is in the question.
The truth of stories lies in a realm other than the literal. And what is ‘the literal’ anyway’?

‘The literal is something that actually happened.’

‘And what do we mean by something?’

‘We mean an ‘act’.’

‘Do we mean an act in a play?’

‘No, we mean a physical act; we mean the physical actions of a person.’

‘What, any act, and any person?’

‘Usually a significant act and a significant person’…

*

*

…A woman set off in the west, coming this way.
She was carrying her baskets for plant foods, her digging stick and a fire-stick.
She was coming, travelling along, camping and then setting off again.
As she went along she was looking about her and where she saw plenty of small creatures and plant food she would stop and eat and then camp.
At sunset she would settle down and sleep and early in the morning she would set off again.
Going on she saw that salt-water tide had come up at a place she hoped to go across.
So she camped there.
She made a sleeping platform in a tree because so many mosquitoes were biting her.
When at last early morning came she made a paper-bark canoe, paddling with her hands to cross to the other side.
Then she started off again and eventually came to a cave house…

*

*

…A Dust-Devil was living in the cave house.
Tall, thin and hairy he was with a crooked body and bat-like wings.
‘My woman has come,’ he said, ‘my body’s no good but today we two will sleep together.’
When they met the woman offered him vegetable food and the Dust-Devil reciprocated with fish.
They slept together but the woman did not like the look of him so she cast about the cave house, found a stone axe and began sharpening it whilst he slept.
The Dust-Devil woke up.
He stretched himself and was preparing to eat the woman. She slashed his neck.
Then she looked around made a fire and cooked his body.
Perhaps he just tossed away the flames that Dust-Devil?
He came out the fire, ‘you woman, why did you kill me? I will cover you with my wings.’
The woman tried to hide but he found her.
He sealed her up in the cave where she was lying.
That cave remained for her then a dark cave.
She kept on talking in there, abusing the Dust-Devil.
At last she became like a rock.
She stands there a rock, forever.

A Young Woman meets a Dust-Devil

(Adapted from ‘Speaking Land’ by R.M. Berndt and C.H. Berndt)

North-easterly VI: Ringing a pele

There is something about a map, a proper, paper map, that makes a journey personal. We don’t tend to use sat-nav, resorting to such technologies only when cities force us to do so… and we had invested in a brand new map too, the other one having been worn to shreds over the past couple of years. So, instead of following the directions given by the leader of the expedition, we took the winding backroads to get to the last site of the day and arrived there a little while before the others. We killed a little time by snacking on the remains of lunch, then had a wander up the path to wait outside the tower.

Time, though, was getting on. Knowing Steve had been really impressed by this place and worried that it might close before the others arrived and we had chance to see it properly, we decided to go inside. They couldn’t close the place while we were in it, and we would have hated to miss it, so it seemed the best thing to do.

Preston Tower is a pele tower, built between 1392 and 1399 to give the alarm and protect its people when Scotland and England were in an almost constant state of war. It looks like a miniature fortress and that is exactly what it is. Built with walls seven feet thick to withstand attack, a small postern door through which the animals could be brought inside in case of danger, and with tiny windows that could be blocked in case marauders attempted to smoke out those within, it seems almost impregnable.

In later years, the most common problem was caused by the depredations of Border Reivers, the cattle rustlers from across the Border between England and Scotland, whose lands were seldom enough to support their clans as all estates were split on the death of their owner between all the surviving sons. The Reivers had a code of honour, nonetheless, and it was required that they help each other regain their own cattle or answer insult… and any man who refused to do so could be put to death, thus perpetuating the feuds and bloodshed.

Within the tiny entrance to the tower we found another map, this time showing where the Border clans were based, including my companion’s clan on the West March. It may well be that he was the first of his clan to actually get inside the Pele Tower.

The ground floor was reserved for bringing the animals in to safety. But also housed a tiny guard room and a prison cell. We had not, at this point, found the light switch, and the atmosphere in both was that of a condemned cell. The darkness, alleviated only by the merest slit of a window, was oppressive, heavier than darkness should be. The guard room is only slightly larger than the prison cell, and the floor-space is little bigger than a coffin. It feels like one too, even when the lights are on.

We went up to the next floor, climbing a precarious wooden staircase, taking in the two tiny chambers, furnished as a sleeping chamber and living room, after the fashion of six hundred years ago. Above that are other rooms, marked with curious geometric symbols which have been highlighted in yellow and are probably masons’ marks.  Here too is the mechanism for the Victorian clock that was added to the tower, and above it on the roof is the eleven-hundred-pound bell which, when it struck five, was loud enough to wake the dead.

The tower is incomplete, being only half of the original building, but it gives a very complete picture of what life must have been like for those required to retreat within its walls. The conditions are incredibly cramped, daylight almost non-existent and the thickness of the walls effectively cuts off all sound from the outside world. It must, we agreed, have been hellish, but as nothing compared to the absolute hell suffered by those in similar towers when the attack came.

You can imagine the stone cracking as flames that could not breach the walls were kindled to smoke out those trapped inside. You could hear the panic of the animals on the ground floor, adding to the fear and chaos, the crying of children and the sound of battle from the roof. A safe haven? Perhaps… but it could also be a deathly trap.

More than either of the grand castles we had seen, both restored and ruined, this was the perfect illustration of the ego and we could see why Steve had wanted to make it part of the weekend. Our lives are varied… we have roles in many arenas… but at the core of the ego is a strongly fortified haven within which we can survive and into which we retreat when we feel threatened in any way. Like the tower, the very thickness of our own personal walls can protect us from harm, real or perceived, but like the tower, it can be a trap. Any refusal to come out into the world for fear of its dangers will lead to our becoming increasingly isolated from our fellow beings, and if we linger too long within those walls, cut off from the beyond, the light and life within us will surely perish.

We looked out from the rooftop across the trees to the sea. There is a place in our lives for looking inwards, a time to withdraw and contemplate what is real, who we are and what truly matters to us. But freedom lies in stepping beyond the barriers we beset ourselves with and in embracing life in its entirety… even, and perhaps especially, when we fear it.

Far below us, we saw cars drawing up and the faces of our friends laughing up at us. Leaving reverie behind, we rejoined the human race. An evening would follow where the ‘walls’ stayed down and, fuelled by excellent food, a little wine and much talking, peals of laughter followed our visit to the the pele tower. We would share stories, discover coincidences, chat with a complete stranger about the magical community, find the fact that two of our number shared a birthday… and oddest of all, that the gentleman we had met in such strange circumstances in a Cornish fougou five hundred miles away, was a member of a group run by one of our companions for the weekend. Later, three of us holed up with a glass of mead and talked until we were falling asleep… None of which would have happened had we immured ourselves behind our inner walls…

 

Getting personal

This weekend saw the monthly meeting of the Silent Eye in the north of England… a time when we reconnect, share and explore ideas and discuss plans for the four workshops we run every year. Work is already well under way for Lord of the Deep, the April workshop, which will explore the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest stories known to man, but our next workshop is a far less formal affair.

These informal workshops are held at various places across the country, making them as accessible as we can to anyone who would like to come along and meet us, see what we do, and visit a variety of historic or ancient sites in the process.

Readers who have followed our adventures at previous workshops, such as the recent Giant and the Sun weekend in Dorset, will know that we manage to see and experience a goodly number of places while exploring the mysteries of the human heart and mind, the spiritual quest …and a few odd theories for good measure.

For our next workshop, Castles of the Mind, organised by Steve, we will be exploring some beautiful parts of the north- eastern coast and its history. It is an area I love, one of which I have many fond memories and in which I have some personal roots; my grandmother and great-grandmother were from the area and my father’s ashes were scattered on the beaches he loved, many years ago.

We will be visiting some of the great castles of the area, and on the Sunday, will spend time on Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, a place of stark beauty, and one which has more history in its thousand acres than many cities.

There are the graceful arches of the old priory, a church that has been a serene presence since Saxon times… although it has also seen the incursions made by the Vikings and other marauders… and, when the sun pours the gold of its setting across the waters, lighting up the ancient stones with a rosy glow, there can be few more beautiful places to be…

…especially as the first day of the workshop coincides with my sixtieth birthday. I have no problems with attaining that age. I count it a privilege, even though I distinctly remember turning thirty and thinking that sixty was positively ancient. The fact that I still feel thirty… inside, at least… is sufficient compensation for attaining the threshold of venerability. And I will be celebrating with friends in a landscape I love. Why not come and join us?

Castles of the Mind

Seahouses, Northumberland

Friday 14th – Sunday 16th September 2018

Bamburgh Castle smaller

Do we have ‘castles of the mind’?

Traditionally, ancient castles were built where there was trouble… Do we have the equivalent in our minds and emotions? Have we, over the course of our lives, built up strong fortifications with which to repel those intrusions which, as children, we considered frightening?

Our ‘walk and talk’ events are friendly and informal. We ask those attending to bring one or two readings from their favourite books, poems, or other sources of inspiration. We listen and talk… and share. If someone is ready to enter their personal borderlands, we hold their hand and walk with them.

The cost per attendee is £50.00. This is an administrative cost, only. All personal costs and bookings, such as hotels, meals and admission charges are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are generally shared in a local pub.

Click below to
Download our Events Booking Form – pdf

Enquiries: rivingtide@gmail.com.

The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill II

 

(Continued from Part I)

Halfway across the length of Maiden Castle, the terrain changes. It is a slight demarcation… little more than a step ‘up’ at one end… yet the change is palpable. While the western entrance leads onto a place where people lived, the eastern end of the enclosure is where the dead were laid, in the care of the priesthood. We do not know exactly how these people worshipped, though we may glean a little insight from the so-called ‘primitive’ tribes that still exist.  Their beliefs would have been animistic and their priesthood would have included the healers and seers, the shaman and the wise-woman. The earth was a living being and every rock, tree and creature a manifestation of Spirit. The forms of faith may differ, but in essence, they are the same as our own.

Spearhead embedded in a skeleton’s spine. Image taken from photo of information board.

On our first visit to the site, five years ago, we had felt the change in the land. It was only later, when we did the research that we found that we had ‘seen true’. There are many graves in this part of the hillfort, all buried with reverence and respect, though some had died violent deaths. In the 1930s, Sir Mortimer Wheel found a cemetery containing fifty-two skeletons and, although many of the males had died of horrific injuries, they were buried with care. Grave goods of pots, metalwork and even joints of meat were sent with the dead to the otherworld.

Image taken from photo of information board.

At the easternmost point of the hillfort there is a gate. Few visitors seem to venture through it to the mirror-maze beyond. Echoing the western maze, this one is more unkempt, left in peace for the atmosphere to build and the energies to whisper, and it seems more ceremonial than practical. It had been within this maze that we had seen how it could be used for the rites of passage and we had planned on gathering our companions here for the third and final visualisation of the weekend. Unfortunately, when we reached the eastern end, half our companions were already following their own calling to the Roman temple…

 

Artist’s impression of the Temple of Minerva. Image taken from photo of information board.

While many hillforts had fallen out of use by the time the Romans arrived, Maiden Castle continued to be occupied and acted as a centre for crafts and trade. When Vespasian subdued the south in AD43, it seems likely that resistance was strong from the fortress… over 2000 slingshots were found stored in pits near the entrance to the maze, the confusing and winding pathway that served as a defensive measure and processional way.

Plaque showing Minerva, found at the Temple. Image taken from photo of information board.

On the northern side of the Castle is the outline of a Romano-British Temple dating to around AD400. It was built on the site of an Iron Age building and may have replaced a much more ancient shrine. We do not know to whom the original shrine was dedicated, but a plaque found at the site shows Minerva and suggests the Temple may have been dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and had particular significance for one of our company. It had something to tell me too, had I but realised it.

The Briggate Minerva, Leeds; a sculpture by Andy Scott.

Her symbol is the Owl… which was going to prove astonishingly significant over the next few days. Being kept in the dark by your own mind sometimes where these things are concerned, it is only now that the pieces are coming together. The Owl is the symbol of my own home city, where a modern Minerva wears the Owl mask and holds three aligned stars, like those of Orion’s Belt…which ties us back to the Giant and its alignments. I won’t even mention that my city got its Owl from the nobility of Anjou, who were granted lands in the area after the Norman Conquest, or that the nobility of Anjou were major players in the birth of the Knights Templar… and we had started our adventures that weekend with a Templar Head.

So it was unexpectedly perfect that we gathered for the final visualisation at the centre of the Temple of Minerva, where we again joined with the Web of Light to send thoughts of peace and healing out into the world. It never matters that our plans must change when the unexpected occurs… leaving ‘space for spirit’ means accepting the gifts of the day and being aware that sometimes, the day knows best. And then the weekend was over. All that remained was to say our farewells in the car park… but once again, for some of us the weekend was not the end, but only a beginning. But that is another story…


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – The Great Hill

 

Our final site of the official weekend workshop was Maiden Castle, an enormous prehistoric structure just outside the Roman town of Dorchester. We gathered in the car park beneath the hillfort and began the climb to its gates.

The name, Maiden Castle, is of debated origin, with some scholars taking it to mean an impregnable or unconquered fortress, while others look to the old Brittonic language and see it as mai-dun, the great hill. Perhaps it is both, but for our purposes, the site was definitely well named and large enough to be the virginal bride of a Giant.

Aeriel view of Maiden Castle; image from photo of information board.

The human occupation of Maiden Castle goes back over six thousand years to the Neolithic era, when the hilltop was cleared of woodland and a causewayed enclosure was built. Finds suggest this was a place of gathering for ritualistic purposes, rather than a settlement at first.  There is evidence that stone axe heads were made and polished there and these axes were as much a part of ceremonial regalia and a mark of authority as a weapon. They are found as grave goods in important tombs and were traded across Europe.

The graves of two children were found within the low banks of the enclosure and it is thought the banks were more a symbolic separation, perhaps between the lands of the living and the lands of the ancestors. A little later, a huge bank barrow was built, over eighteen hundred feet long, but which is barely visible today. The barrow may have represented the presence of the ancestors within the community as well as acting as a dividing landmark.

 

In the Iron Age, a hillfort was built on top of the original structure and later extended to the west to enclose more than double the original area, until it covered more than forty-seven acres. The information board graphically illustrates the sheer enormity of Maiden Castle when it tells you that the summit alone is the size of fifty football pitches. It is the largest hillfort in Britain and one of the largest in Europe.

We entered via the maze… a complex arrangement of deep, steep ditches and high, blind banks. Worn by millennia of weather, the banks have eroded and the ditches have lost their original depth, yet it is still an incredible feat of engineering. Defensively, it is a fabulous way of intimidating, separating and confusing an enemy, but we wondered if that were its only purpose. As a processional way, the snaking progress of torches in the dark would look both impressive and magical as they climbed the hill through the coils of the maze.

Artists impression of Iron Age fort at Maiden Castle, showing the western ‘maze’. Image from photo of information board.

We began there… and all our plans, ideas and research went for naught, as our companions were drawn, this way and that, called to their own explorations and following their own visions and inner prompting. That is as it should be… anything we create for these workshop weekends is designed to encourage that inner voice, so we can hardly complain when our companions hear and follow.

A few of us began to walk around the ramparts, marvelling at the scale of what remains and discussing the history of the site. What began as a small settlement became the largest of its kind in the area, with many roundhouses built in a random pattern. Then, for a short while in its long history, the castle was organised and held under strong leadership. The old homes were demolished, and orderly streets of houses built. The ramparts were strengthened and the community reorganised. Little now remains visible of what was once there, but the inner eye sees beyond time and recreates the conical rooftops, the grazing of goats and kine and the slow swirl of many hearthfires. Where does imagination begin and end? When does conscious thought become unconscious vision? And where is the portal beyond which we cannot see…until we do?


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do.

If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.

The Giant and the Sun – In search of King Arthur

We wandered the summit of Cadbury Castle, each of us alone with our thoughts before gathering once again at the centre to speak of archaeology, history and legends. Now, legends are all very well, but many a place has adopted a lucrative tale, just to pull in the tourists. The monks drew in pilgrims with dubious saints and relics, and it is no more than economic sense to capitalise on something that will help the local economy. But there are a few crumbs of fact, as well as the legends, that might place our vision of Camelot at Cadbury, even though the Arthur we think of first did not exist before the medieval romances.

Who is Arthur anyway? Is he just the hero of the medieval romances or something more? Was he the historical war leader mentioned in the oldest texts? Was he a giant? Certainly there are enough ancient sites, hills and megaliths across the country that bear his name to portray him as being of gigantic stature. Or is he something other than that? When we had first visited Cadbury, five years ago, we had both ‘picked up’ a similar impression… that of a ‘wise guardian presence’, the archetypal guardian of the land. Could the King Arthur we know today be a conflation all of these strands, buried deep within the psyche of a nation?

If a historical Arthur did exist, he was most likely a fifth century war-leader, and not an armoured and caparisoned knight. The tales we know and love have their origins hovering between medieval romance and a much older tradition, in whose stories we can find fragments and parallels.

Historically, Nennius, writing in 820, names Arthur as the dux belloram, or war commander, who fought alongside the British kings against the Saxon invasion by Horsa and Hengist and the victor of many battles, including the decisive victory of Mount Badon. The name ‘Arthur’ may have a number of origins, but the most likely seems to be that it comes from the native Brittonic arto– ‘bear’, which later became arth in Welsh.

Similar names were common throughout the Celtic world. Oddly, one of the names for the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is Arthur’s Wain. A wain is a wagon or a wheeled vehicle, and one of the earliest references to Arthur is from Gildas who lived from around 500 to 570, and who wrote of the British King Cuneglas that he had been “charioteer to the bear”. For a king to be anyone else’s charioteer would suggest that person held an elevated status. Dux belloram, perhaps?

Stars were to play a major role in our weekend workshop, in many guises. The Great Bear has been used from time immemorial for navigation, pointing the way to the north star, with Orion’s rising and setting marking due east and west. Orion too was going to crop up again…

But, back to Arthur. There is the circumstantial evidence on the ground. An ancient trackway runs from the base of the castle to Glastonbury and is known as King Arthur’s Hunting Track. The river Cam runs close by and the nearby villages of Queen Camel and West Camel bear its name. Cadbury Castle used to be known to the villagers as Camalet too. And, from the summit of Cadbury, you can see the Tor at Glastonbury, the mythical Avalon to which most of the Arthurian stories are tied and where Merlin himself sleeps beneath the Tor.

The name ‘Cadbury’ may come from ‘Cador’s fort’ and while the legends speak of Cador, Duke of Cornwall, history tells that Cado was the historical son of a Dumnonian king named Gerren. In the old stories, he was a friend and relative of the legendary Arthur, conceived at Tintagel and therefore possibly also a Dumnonian prince. Local tales have been associating Cadbury Castle with Camelot for hundreds of years, long before the people of the land were able to read for themselves Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and there are snippets of history that add fuel to the fire, as well as local legends.

The Saxon conquest of Somerset took about fifty years longer than anywhere else due to the fierce resistance by a local king. Legend has it that this king was Arthur Pendragon. The size and scope of Cadbury, plus the etymological links and archaeology, may not confirm the claim for Arthur, but it certainly fits the known facts of resistance.

For the doubters, there is the tale of a band of knights who sleep in a cave beneath the hill, beyond a pair of iron gates, waiting to be called to the land’s need. On Christmas Eve and Midsummer’s Night they ride to water their horses in the spring beside the Saxon church at Sutton Montis, in the shadow of the hill. So deeply ingrained is this story, that when archaeologists came to work at Cadbury, one old gentleman asked if they had come ‘to wake the king’. We had not done so… or perhaps, in a way, we had, waking something higher, buried deep within ourselves, as we visualised an ancient rite and opened ourselves to the whispers of the land.


The Giant and the Sun: Patterns in the landscape was the Silent Eye summer workshop weekend. These informal events are held several times every year and are open to all. You do not have to be a member to join us as we wander the rich landscape of Britain, visiting ancient, sacred and intriguing places. We seek out myth and mystery, exploring what the land and its stories can teach us about our own daily lives and our place in the intricate tapestry of human Being.

After each event, we publish an account of the places we have visited and share a little of what we have discussed during the course of the weekend to give a taste of what we do. If you would like to join us for a wander through the mysteries and history of Britain, please visit our Events page.