Once upon a time… twelve or thirteen hundred years ago… there lived a fair maiden. She was, it is told, the daughter of the Laird of Balquhain. She was betrothed and very soon to be married. On the eve of her wedding, she went down to the kitchens, rolled up her sleeves and set about making bannocks to serve to the wedding guests who would be arriving from far and wide.
As she worked, a dark stranger came into the kitchen and, seeing the mountain of flour, said that he could build a road to the top of Bennachie before she would finish her task. Now, Bennachie was sixteen hundred feet high and two miles distant. The maiden laughed and the dark stranger made her a wager… if he could build his road before the bannocks were baked, she would marry him instead of her betrothed. The maiden, certain of victory, laughingly agreed, but to her dismay, the stranger soon returned… the road was built and her forfeit must be paid. In horror, she ran, towards the wood of Pittodrie, seeking to escape. As she ran, she prayed for salvation, for she now realised that her pursuer was the devil in disguise. But her prayers were heard and as the devil seized her shoulder, she was turned to stone.
Unlike most legends, this must be a true story, for there was a paved road up Bennachie, of which parts still remain. It is still called the Maiden Road, and from the Maiden Stone a piece has disappeared, the same that was held in the grasp of the devil when the maiden’s prayer was answered.
I have known about the Maiden Stone for a long time. It is one of those things you would really like to see, but never expect to actually see, so I was over the moon when I realised that it would be our next stop. Even though it was about to rain yet again, we had a little blue sky and a hint of sunshine… a little ironic when the worn designs would show up best in black and white on the photographs.
The Cross may once have been brightly painted and the quality and detail of the carving, even after thirteen hundred years of Scottish weather, are remarkable. The two sides of the Cross are carved with knotwork and keywork, even into the uneven contours of the edges. On the western face is a weathered Cross, suggesting that this was a Preaching Cross…a place where the evangelising brothers would come to teach the message of the Gospels. At the base is a roundel, framed within a square, intricately carved with interlacing and spirals. I have to wonder if this represents the Earth and its energies, surmounted by a Celtic Cross, symbolising the way to Heaven.
Above the head of the Cross is a figure with outstretched arms, in a pose similar to that of the crucified Christ. He appears to be holding on to two ‘fish-beasts’. I take issue with the official idea that this depicts Jonah and the Whale. There was, I believe, only one whale in that story and the idea that they carved two ‘to make the design symmetrical’ seems a bit far-fetched. On the other hand, a fish has long been a symbol of Christianity, and Jesus, if it is indeed He who is depicted, was called a ‘fisher of men’. Perhaps, too, they are the twin forces of the dragon, the earth energies… To go by some of the carvings we see, Celtic Christianity was too close to the old religious symbolism to be unaware of such things and seemed less inclined to dismiss the shadow of the old ways.
The red granite pillar stands almost ten feet high, and was once a little taller… you can see how erosion has destroyed the top edge of the design on the eastern face. This is a great shame, as one centaur is odd enough in Britain, let alone the three that are thought to have been there before the rains came. That is, if they are centaurs. They certainly look like the Greek combination of man and horse, and have been found painted in contemporary manuscripts. In the Mysteries, the centaur has its own symbolism, as the higher human virtues transcending the nature of the beast within. But this is Scotland, where legends abound and even horses may not be what they seem.
There is the nuckelavee from the Orkneys, a half man, half horse beast that retains both heads. Its breath wilts crops and brings epidemics and the stories of its terrible effect paint it as the worst of the equine demons. It is a sea creature, though, and will never come ashore when it rains, so we were safe on that count. Then there are the kelpies, shape shifting creatures that may appear as humans or as beautiful black horses that will carry their riders into deep waters…where they drown. In Aberdeenshire, some are said to have manes of serpents… but we were far from the lochs in which they live. The dullahan is a not a horse, but rides one, carrying its own head and whip made of a human spine. It is a bringer of death and the only thing that will drive it away is gold. We were probably safe on that score too, if only for the nature of the company.
Below the centaurs is a “notched rectangle and Z-rod” symbol. No one seems to be venturing a guess on the meaning of this symbol. It looks, though, like some kind of gateway or portal and reminds me, for some reason, of the great pylon gates of Egypt. The ‘Z rod’, which has been seen as a spear, seems to go through the body of the design, rather than be overlaid.
Below that is the Pictish Beast, a strange and sinuous creature, sometimes called the Pictish Dragon, that looks unlike any known animal. It looks a little like a seahorse, so it has been suggested that it could be a kelpie… or even a dolphin. It is a very common symbol on these carved stones, though, so must have been important to be so widespread. Did it relate to some forgotten story or legend, or did it have significance in clan heraldry? Or was it purely symbolic of something too abstract for a figurative artistic representation?
The lowest panel contains the two clearest carvings…a mirror and comb. We all agreed that although they appear, on the surface, to be far too ordinary to be immortalised in stone, they must have a far deeper meaning than as simple accoutrements of beauty. They would certainly have been objects of value, given their materials and the work involved in creating them, but did they have a value beyond their price? One of our companions suggested that they were the symbols of office, or the power of the priestess. Did she work with the mirror to capture the moon or direct its light? Was it a scrying glass or a portal through which other realities could be reached? Modern magical techniques still use such practices to access those other realities which lie buried in the layers of our own consciousness.
One of our companions had a story to tell of an experience he had at Easter Aquhorthies that seemed to shed light on both mirror and comb. I will not share it here without his permission, but hope he will do so himself in due course. Stuart,who has a gift for interpreting symbols and seeing their deeper implications and ramifications, suggested that the whole face of the pillar could be read as a process… directions for the spiritual journey.
“The mirror,” he said, “fixes and allows focus on the moon so that it could be scryed or seen beyond.” The moon is often used in magical systems as a symbol for the subconscious mind. “The comb is in this context a meditative tool or process to symbolically clear the head or still the mind in order to facilitate communication… Success in this process gives access to the animate soul, perhaps depicted here as a ‘water’ beast.” Water is symbolically associated with the flow of emotions and, by extension, a heart-centred consciousness.
“In other traditions, this would the White Horse or Sleipnir…” Otherworldly creatures that may carry the seeking soul onwards. “By raising this aspect of consciousness entry is gained through the portal to the otherworld of spirit where we see shamanic type figures… ” And onwards transcending the physical world to reach the spiritual realms… symbolised, perhaps, by the centaur… the beast transcended by the higher human consciousness. As an on-the-spot interpretation, that made perfect sense, especially if the top two centaurs were embracing… not ‘wrestling’… bringing the physical and spiritual natures of Man together as One.
We may not have solved the riddle of the stones, but with ideas and input from almost everyone present, we had certainly come up with some workable hypotheses. One mystery remained untouched, though. The legend of the maiden’s marriage must have come into being after the stone was erected. Was that why it was called the Maiden Stone, or was the name referring back to the priestesses or a pre-Christian religion that still held the faith and respect of the people of the area? Or was it simpler than that… and the stone been named for what I and others may have seen in the shape of the stone itself…*
We took our time getting organised, intending to take a leisurely drive cross-country… perhaps stopping along the way, wherever the spirit moved us. In the spirit of the planned walk-and-talk weekend, the prisoners had escaped and were heading for the border. Anyone would think we were on holiday. We did ourselves. We should know better by now.
We may not have been heading for our respective places of work, but the Work that we do when we are not at work…and even when we are… is not something that can be switched on and off. It cannot be neatly compartmentalised or assigned a designated slot on the timetable, to be dipped into when the fancy takes you; it is a state of being, not doing. Once a pinhole has been opened in consciousness, the pressure of life floods through in an unceasing current.
The problem is that the conscious mind is rather dense. It seems to forget, from moment to moment, that the flow is constant, even if our attention is elsewhere. Which is why the discrete presence plucking at your sleeve may go unnoticed until it sighs, gives up and hits you round the face with a wet kipper.
The first clue that we missed was my apparent reluctance to break our journey at a place we actually want to visit. I came up with no good reason and we sailed blithely by, choosing instead to take the coast road, rather than the more practical route to our destination. There was little to see for some reason. Nothing that caught our interest or eye apart from an odd glimpse of the sea and some rather spectacular castles perched on hillsides, where we could not even stop to take the odd picture.
Consequently, we had not actually broken the journey to Llandudno at all and arrived a bit deflated at our destination. There was a half seen glimpse of a sculpture as we sought the guest house where we would be staying the night, a flurry of activity to get booked in and settled, then a rather half-hearted decision to go out and find dinner and check out the sculpture.
“It looked like the White Rabbit.”
“Odd, that, because this hotel feels a lot like the Alice-in Wonderland hotel in Cumbria…” That had been the Lutwidge Arms… a strange place with Alice on the ceiling; a last minute discovery on our wander up to Scotland… a trip that had set us off on a whole new phase of adventuring.
I glanced at the pictures on the hotel wall as I opened the door… and there was Alice.
“There must be some connection with Alice and Llandudno…”
We can, I think, be excused at this point. We were tired and the only wet fish we had on our minds came with batter, chips and mushy peas. The word ‘rabbit-hole’ would have had nothing to connect with anyway… The only entry to the earth we had encountered in ages was my accidental glimpse of Thor’s Cave.
We sat on the promenade for a while, beneath the fluttering Red Dragon, watching the sea and the flock of corvids who came to investigate… they too were probably ready for dinner.
“Shall we take a reading?”
At the informal weekends we ask our companions to bring readings that speak to them or capture the theme of the event. We had taken a slightly different approach this time and brought a book of mystical quotations that would be used following the old pronciple of bibliomancy. The pages, chosen at random but with intent, would hold a pair of readings. One of these would be selected numerically to represent the light, the other would be the shadow side. “The light reading is what can be seen in a given situation, the dark is what has to be intuited.”
Obviously intuition had already called it a day. We wandered back to the hotel, with its view of the Great Orme to the rear and the Little Orme to the front.
“Orme – worm – wyrm… It’s a dragon.”
“There are ancient mines on the summit…”
“We could have a wander up there before we leave…”
So, although the intuition wasn’t filtering through to consciousness just yet and we had managed to ignore the sleeve-tugging and even failed to register the wet kipper, we were, it seemed, finally getting there. So next morning, after breakfast, we threw the bags in the car and climbed the steep road up the Great Orme…
There is an ancient art of divination known as bibliomancy…divination by books. It has been around a long time…the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes, has been in use for at least three thousand years, and who knows how much further back the practice began. The idea was to take a book that is considered to hold truth and allow it to point the way in random fashion.
In more recent centuries, the most common method of bibliomancy in his country used the Bible and, during our visits to churches, following the trail that led us on our adventures, Stuart and I have made a habit of consulting those Bibles we have found on the lecterns.
It isn’t true bibliomancy… we are not exactly doing it by the book…that would require us to let the closed book balance upon its spine and fall open at a random page. Many of these church bibles are old and fragile, so we content ourselves with looking at the open pages, or seeing where the bookmark is placed. The intent is not quite the same either…we do not ascribe magical powers to the printed page..at least not in that particular way… but we have found that the first verse or passage to which the eye is drawn will usually hold something pertinent to where we are on the quest.
A psychologist might suggest that the eye selects what is relevant…I wouldn’t argue with that. What is odd though, is it how frequently the selected verse will shed light on a current problem or clue on the quest. It is as if the mind knows what is needed at some deep level and uses the printed page as an interface through which the deeper levels of mind can communicate with the surface, effectively spelling out for you what you already know but do not realise or understand.
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:47
That was the verse that caught my eye in the little church in Blore. I pondered it as I wandered the church, taking photographs and studying the mosaic of glass in the window. There were many ways to interpret the phrase beyond the obvious or literal, but, for this to have any relevance, there is usually another clue…and I found it in the window. The largest fragments show the story of St Anne teaching the Virgin to read.
It is a common motif in medieval art and the legends of Mary’s early life and the origins of those stories make interesting reading in themselves. But, spiritual and biblical interpretations aside, the verse and image combined made perfect sense. It is odd, because depending upon which translation or version of the Bible you read, the sense of this verse may be completely changed by the addition of a comma or a slight change of phrasing. In this version, the interpretation is equivocal, but I read it as saying, “What right has anyone to judge another’s readiness when we are all equal.”
Along with the image of St Anne teaching her daughter, I took that to mean that what we know, we should share…not withhold because it makes someone feel superior to have knowledge others do not possess or because we might think another is not ready to hear it. At worse, unreadiness will not have the understanding to know what to do with what it learns, at best, it will take a leap forward and grow.
It is something seen all too often, that knowledge becomes a weapon of superiority, serving nothing but the ego of the player who keeps their cards to their chest. Knowledge alone serves no purpose without the experience that brings understanding… and the verse had a point; by what right do we judge another’s worth in the bigger picture? What we see in any man or woman is no more than the tip of the iceberg; what lies beyond our vision may be far greater than we realise. We are all recipients of the Holy Spirit… our kinship with each other goes beyond the chemical and physical matter of our bodies.
Does that mean we should give every scrap of knowledge to everyone we meet, robbing them of the chance to learn it for themselves? There is another pertinent verse from the same tome that comes to mind, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.“ I think that therein lies the clue.
I always believed in answering the questions that my children put to me as honestly and fully as I could. I might speak in terms I knew they would understand, language relevant to their age, but I told them the truth as I understood it. Because that is another problem with exclusivity where knowledge is concerned…regardless of any personal certainties, we could be wrong.
In the Mysteries, it has always been the maxim that if a student can formulate the question, they should be answered. In practical terms, we always have the inner self to whom we can carry those questions even when there is no-one else… and such questions are always answered. Even though you may have to open a book or look at the world in order to find them.
The churches have been off the menu for a while as we have put the books aside to work on more pressing tasks. It is odd that in this, the first new church we have visited in a long time, the message should hit home so directly. Perhaps this bit of bibliomancy was also a nudge to take up our staffs and pens and get back to work.
The Apocalypse of St John serves as more than just a Coda for the New Testament.
Its constant cycling and recyclying of ‘sevens’ also re-works the creation of Genesis,
subsequent Hebraic festal traditions and the calendrical speculations of the Prophets.
We give below a taste of the seven-fold structure which runs throughout the whole of the mighty work…
“It was on the island of Patmos.
I was meditating on the seventh day when I heard behind me a voice as of many waters, “I am the beginning and end, first and the last.”
I turned to see who it was that spoke and I saw a figure resembling the Son of Man.
He was standing in the middle of seven golden candlesticks.
His beard and his hair were like white wool
And his eyes were flames of fire.
His countenance was bright, as the sun when it shines at its height.
He was clothed in a long white robe
And wore a golden girdle about his breast.
In his right hand he held seven stars.
His words rang out of his mouth clearly with the poignancy of a double-edged sword:
“I am he that lives and was dead.
I possess the keys to death and hell.
I shall live forever more.”
I fell down at his feet and they were like fine-brass forged in a furnace.
He laid his hands upon me, “You must write down all you see in a book, and send it
to the Seven Churches of Asia.
Let all the churches know that I am he who searches the reins of the heart and gives to every one, according to their works. Tell them to remember from whence they have fallen, to return to their first love lest I come upon them like a thief and remove their candlestick from its place, thus speaks the ‘Amen’: ‘I know your works, I know that you have a name, I know that you live, and yet, you are as the dead!’
To the guardian of the Church of Ephesus write,
‘He that is the beginning and end, first and the last says this:
‘I know your labours and your patience, yet this I have against you, that you love the Deeds of the Nicolaitans which I hate.
For to those that overcome the tribulations of the world will I give to eat of the tree of
life which is in the paradise of God. Let those with ears hear the words of the Spirit.’”…
The Kabbalah is a Ten not an Eleven.
The Octave is an Eight not a Seven.
The Tetragrammaton is a Four and not a Three.
The World is a within and a without.
The Word is a Whole; the Not-Whole is the World.
How to make the World Whole?
Figure 2 – Future and Past.
Our Cube of Space constantly turns or flips.
One moment the Future holds sway
The next moment the Past.
The Past and Future are
‘Death and Hell’
The Old and the New,
But what of the True?
Where is the Present?
Where is the Now?
Where is the Spirit?
To be present is to be centred within…
Within is a Temple:
A temple is a Church;
A church is a Kirk:
A kirk is a Circle…
…But what kind of circle can be considered a Star?
Next up we will look in more detail at some of the Geometries involved…